Three's a Crowd
My husband, Scott, and I sleep with someone else.
His name is Charlie.
We found Charlie when we were newlyweds and our love was too big to keep between the two of us. The adoption ad was for an underweight, abused black-and-white mutt and in the photo he was chained to a pipe, looking up at the camera with big wet eyes. Beneath the picture was the line: "He's just a sweet dog with soft ears who needs a chance." Did we want him? Of course we did.
We picked him up a few days later and were immediately in love. On the walk home Charlie was thrilled as only a dog can be, his sad past scrubbed clean. Later he leapt from one piece of furniture to the next and horrified the cats -- and then it was time for bed. This is when we introduced him to his crate. He circled the perimeter, whining, sniffing around for an escape route. "He'll get used to it," I said. "Right?" But as soon as the lights were off, he began to yowl.
Excuse me? Mom? Dad? Did I mention that I already call you "Mom and Dad"? So! Hey! What's up with this prison?
We listened to him whining, and that line from the ad kept coming back to me: He's a sweet dog with soft ears who needs a chance.
"Maybe we should let him out," Scott suggested.
Sweet dog. Soft ears. Chance. Needs it.
"Won't that send the wrong message?" I asked.
"What message?" Scott said.
Charlie cried louder. Hey, hello? Can someone, you know, save me? Again?
"I can't remember," I said. "Wasn't there a message we didn't want to send?" Scott got up and opened the crate, and Charlie leapt onto the bed, scouring our faces with his tongue. "I suppose he can sleep by our feet," I said. "Just for tonight." On cue, Charlie turned to paw at the sheets. When Scott lifted them, he slid right in and settled down. Charlie had found his place, and it was between us. We sandwiched him, stroked his ears and gazed into each other's eyes. Charlie's trembling quieted. Our love had rescued this malnourished, frightened dog. Who would eventually sleep in his crate, or at least in a dog bed, or whatever. But definitely not in the bed with us. Because that would be weird.
It has been 11 years since that first night. Scott loves that Charlie wants to sleep with "his pack," but I have mixed feelings. I might not mind his presence as much if Charlie didn't so obviously prefer Scott to me -- at bedtime, at least. During the day Charlie gives his love freely to us both, but come night, he is a one-man dog. There is an awkward third wheel in this ménage, and it's me.
Every night, once Scott's under the covers, Charlie climbs on him, rests his paws on either shoulder, and licks Scott's face like it's his job. After their make-out session, Charlie gets under the covers and positions himself so that his back is suctioned to Scott's chest. Then he closes his eyes, lets out a satisfied whumph, and rams his legs directly into my solar plexus. Sometimes Charlie's dreaming will lead him to patter and thump his paws against my back, like I'm getting the worst shiatsu ever.
As if that's not annoying enough, Charlie must rotate his sleeping placement throughout the night. Scott sleeps right through these maneuvers, but I, a normal human being, wake up if I'm being trampled. Despite all of this, I might feel differently if Charlie burrowed up next to me and put his head on my pillow. At least sometimes.
When Scott isn't around, Charlie refuses to sleep with me. If he agrees to be on the bed at all, it's at the farthest point from me, facing the door, ready to leap up at the hint of a key jangle. "He's the same way when you're not here," Scott insists. "He just wants his family together." My husband, of course, is a liar. I've come home late at night to find the two of them spooning in bed, no bothersome female getting in the way.
My first attempts to cast Charlie from the bed began weeks after we adopted him. Mommy and Daddy needed some alone time, I reminded Scott. Our sexual escapades were being usurped by platonic cuddle orgies. "He seems so sad out there," he'd tell me as we snuck away. It doesn't help that Charlie has the saddest face you've ever seen.
In spite of Charlie's best efforts to keep our bed a relations-free zone, a few years later I got pregnant. The dog would have to get out of the bed, for real this time. As a pregnant woman I was growing less tolerant of Charlie poking and nudging me all night long. There wasn't enough room for me, my husband, Charlie, my full-length body pillow, my snacks (sometimes there were snacks), and the fetus.
Scott agreed, reluctantly, but every time we banished him from the bedroom, Charlie scratched at the door and wept. We put a dog bed right by ours. He sometimes used it during the day, but otherwise he regarded it as little better than the crate. Even on nights I did get him off the bed, when I woke up in the morning he'd be there in between us. Then he'd stretch out and stick a paw in my eye.
When our son, Henry, was born, I knew that would be it. Charlie would have to get used to that dog bed, because there was no way he was getting on the bed if the baby was there. Only Henry didn't like to sleep with us. It seemed he and Charlie had reached an understanding: Henry would sleep in his crib and Charlie wouldn't eat him. Whenever Charlie licked Henry's face, Scott would say, "Aw, he loves him!" but I think it was a reminder. I like the taste of baby, kid. I like it just fine.
Charlie is 13 now, so lately my efforts to kick him out of the bed are met with the argument that he doesn't have much longer and his last few years should be happy ones. This one always gets me. There's going to come a time, and it may be soon, when I'm going to miss being prodded in the butt by Charlie's paws. Charlie's face has turned from mostly black to gray. Scott has grayed just enough to match his dog. Sometimes I'll come in and I'll see my two gray-haired men sleeping on their respective pillows, both of them snoring away.
I shove Charlie over and take my place.
From I'm Not The Biggest Bitch in This Relationship, edited by Wade Rouse. Collection copyright Wade Rouse, 2011. Essay copyright Alice Bradley, 2011. Published by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2012.