At first and from afar I could not identify the foreign shape—too large for fuzz, too small for something spilled. So I walked over to touch it, to retrieve the unwanted object, until my index finger slipped through and touched the soft blanket underneath. And then I knew: a hole lay in the centre of the new grey quilt atop my bed. A small hole, edges uneven, it had been punctured with the teeth and nibbling of a pup who had grown to perceive the world as a place for his play and pleasure, its trinkets his toys. “Ollie just chewed a hole in the new comforter,” I texted Teo, my husband. “I’m so upset. I just bought it a few days ago. Maybe I should just make him sleep on the floor.”
It was among several bed coverings I’d replaced since finding Oliver, at least one for every year since he appeared on my grandmother’s porch as a stray dog—small, emaciated, and abused, in need of food and a home and the ability to once again trust a human. But normally he’d wait longer, let me enjoy my new purchase before sinking his teeth into the softness. And then for months afterward my bed would bear its battle wounds: a down comforter suddenly emitting a new puff of feathers called for my mom’s latest round of patchwork until one day I stuffed the whole unsightly thing into a duvet cover. It wore its newness well until holes also began to appear in the cover, and I pulled the comforter from it for more patching with a sea of feathers gathering at my feet. Repaired once more, the comforter sat in its cover on the bed, and I closed the new holes with oversized safety pins then hid them beneath a quilt that came to bear its own holes. Then one day I finally decided that the battle for newness wasn’t one worth fighting, at least not so vigilantly. And I let the holes gather. Holes upon holes upon holes that seemed to appear from nowhere—I’ve never caught Oliver in the act of making even one.
When Teo and I moved from Georgia to New York, the holes weren’t so easy to mend. The tailor across the street from our first apartment was not as accommodating as my mother and came to bemoan our appearance at the front door, our arms full of a comforter with perforations held together precariously with chip clips. During our first visit, the tailor ensured we knew our makeshift tactic had failed as she made a scene of sweeping the feathers from her shop’s front counter. It was returned to us a few days later in a large, black trash bag, tied as though to be quarantined, with jagged thread lines closing the holes, the chip clips nowhere to be found. And we came to dread the journey to the tailor more than the discovery of new holes in need of tailoring, a puff of feathers foreshadowing the uneasy encounter. Not surprisingly, the tailor across from our current apartment is also not too fond of us and has intimated that a bed may not be the most ideal location for a dog. Many others—family and friends who have seen me pick out yet another bed covering—have asked more directly: “Why don’t you just make him sleep on the floor?”
I don’t remember exactly when Oliver moved from sleeping on the floor to sleeping in the bed. But it did not take him long to begin using my shoulder as his pillow or the arc of my legs when I lay on my side as a place to nestle. It did not take him long to begin moving from the foot of the bed to where I slept so he could lie with his belly next to mine. I also don’t remember exactly when Oliver changed from the timid dog I found to one who knew it was safe to love and be loved. But it did not take him long to trust me, to know that I would protect him whether awake or in that uniquely vulnerable state of slumber. And I cannot help but think that redefining human contact as a source of comfort rather than physical pain underpinned that transformation.
Shortly after discovering the most recent hole, I calmed myself and sent another text. “People have asked why I don’t, but I just can’t do it,” I told Teo. “One day when he is gone, am I going to look back on his life and wish I’d put him on the floor more often to save my comforters? Or am I going to be happier that each night he snuggled next to us and knew that he lived, for the time he was with us, a very loved life?” In fact, if there’s any relationship in life that we shouldn’t view this way—with full consideration of what we may one day come to regret, of the love we can give while we still have the opportunity—I’ve yet to find it. It’s among the many things that a once timid dog has taught me with shredded fabric and a mended heart.