[Of the thousands of stories I've written, this is easily the most important one. It first appeared on October 2,1994 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.]
Here in Texas, I've met the woman of my dreams. Unfortunately, she lives with the dog of my nightmares.
Karen, a woman I've known only six months, is calm and self-assured. A godsend. To me, she easily is the First Lady of Watauga. She lives in Watauga, is first in my life and is very much a lady.
Sadie, a Labrador retriever, is her dog. And she easily is the Last Dog of Watauga. She is last in my life and very much an obstacle. The Psycho Dog.
While Karen and her two children appear to love me very much, Psycho Dog hates and fears me.
The First Lady, who like me is divorced, rescued the Last Dog at age 6 months from an early life of apparent abuse – probably at the hands of some mean male. At age 2, Sadie is still skittish, hyperactive and impossible to deal with. Karen says the Last Dog is a lot like me.
But Sadie and I share the most important thing: We both love Karen with all the force of life. And we both gather strength from her thoughtful ways and tender hugs. If only the dog and I could get along.
The truth is, I didn't like Sadie. So how could she like me?
With Karen's two children, it didn't appear to matter that I have never been a father. We got along well from the start. No, Sadie was the problem. Karen says there's a hole in my life when it comes to animals, and filling that hole will make me whole.
Before our first date, Karen and I talked on the phone for hours. When I finally picked her up for a formal dinner in Grapevine, we felt like we'd known one another forever.
At the dinner, we sat with some top executives of this newspaper. A little nervous (well, a lot), I began the meal by spilling water on my editor. Not to be outdone, Karen dropped a pitcher of cream on the lap of my publisher. Knowing that the embarrassment was now off of me alone and shared by both of us, Karen turned and gave me a high-five. I knew then that it was love.
That's her style. From the start, we shared everything – unless it was something that Karen could do better. Amazed that it took me three hours to mow my lawn, she bet $20 that she could do it in less than an hour. She locked in at 49 minutes and 32 seconds.
Then one night, when I had a bad cold, Karen gently applied vapor rub to my chest – a daring act in this age of selfishness. In one stroke, she became my Florence Nightingale of Texas. “I don't want you to call me that,” she said. “I want to be Doctor Karen.”
We both feel that the search of a lifetime is over; we've found each other. And her children appear to feel the same.
Jonathan, who is 10, longs for a stable father figure. He hugs me when he sees me, asks about my day and kisses me good night.
Desiree, who is 12, has opened my eyes to her world of hormones and mood swings that I never knew existed. And she has taught me the language of youth – her favorite expressions being, “Oh, I'm sure!” and “You're pathetic.” She hugs me when she sees me and kisses me good night.
And what of Sadie? The runt of her litter, the Last Dog is half-sized, but she has big, expressive eyes and a pretty, white coat. Karen wanted me to get along with Sadie. Karen talked to me about compromise, about meeting Sadie halfway. I tried – to no avail.
Dog bones, canned meat and my special hamburgers didn't do the trick. Sadie ate them all – but showed me no gratitude.
When I called Sadie “Psycho Dog” to her face, Karen warned me to be careful: “She understands you.” And Karen reminded me that filling the hole in my life would make me whole.
Finally, one day, I decided to see the world through Sadie's eyes: I was a big, smelly brute who invaded her turf and came between her and her mother. A brute who didn't like her.
So that day, I sat down beside Sadie and told her that I was sorry. Sorry for the way some man had apparently treated her. And sorry for how I hadn't shown her the proper understanding.
“I'll try to love you, Sadie,” I said. “We're both lucky that Karen found us. I love you. I love you.” I said it over and over. Those big expressive eyes looked up at me, and she licked my face.
Since that day, I always tell Sadie when I'm about to go – so as not to startle her. Karen says, “I'm glad you and Sadie have made peace.”
But now I see the hole in my life needs more than just a dog to fill it. Karen, there's something magical about you, me, the girl, the boy – and even your doggone little dog.
I love you Karen. I'll always tell you when I'm about to go – so as not to startle you. And I promise to come back.
I'll always come back.
I want to stay forever. I really do.
Karen, will you marry me?
Postscript: Karen said yes. The couple married in February 1995.
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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is the founder of Watchdog Nation, a consumer rights group. The new 2017 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change.
The above story appears in The Dog of My Nightmares: Stories by Texas Columnist Dave Lieber.