by Marguerite Elisofon
My 22-year-old son Matt has been back at college for two weeks, but in some ways he’s still here, like the aftermath of a storm. Just as my husband and I are about to fall asleep after the evening news, our son calls to say he and his girlfriend (of three months) have broken up. He’s not devastated, just a bit sad and confused. He thought we should know. Matt realizes she has problems, a bad relationship with her father and a kind of feminist angst he can neither soothe nor debate and which seems to have nothing to do with him. Like most parents, we sympathize; it’s probably all for the best, we explain. He’s a senior; she’s a freshman. He lives in New York; she lives in Arizona. He should move on, enjoy the rest of his senior year, and oh yeah, get some sleep.
Sunday morning as we’re enjoying French toast and scrambled eggs, the phone rings again. Our son is coping well with the loss of his girlfriend. Another girl has offered to introduce him to a friend who’s supposed to be hot. But Matt is upset over a new problem. He went to a party and got bitten by a poodle. This call comes from the college infirmary.
“Shouldn’t I get a rabies shot?” he wants to know.
“Absolutely not,” my husband says. A lengthy discussion ensues over college protocol, getting in touch with the vet to be sure the dog has been vaccinated. “You need to call the dog owners and have them fax us Fido’s medical records.” Our scrambled eggs are now room temperature.
I take the phone so my husband can eat a few tepid bites.
“Why can’t I just get a rabies shot?” Matt demands.
“Because you don’t take rabies shots casually.” I try to be patient. “It’s a month-long series of shots. No doctor gives them unless they’re warranted.” I poke at my eggs, but they seem to have congealed into a stiff yellow paste.
The nurse at the infirmary proposes having the dog quarantined for ten days. If the dog is alive after that, there’s nothing to worry about.
“But I don’t WANT to wait ten days to find out whether I have a fatal disease,” Matt complains.
“Of course you don’t.” His tone reminds me of when he was three.
“Why do I have to do all this work when it’s not my fault?”
“It’s called growing up and taking responsibility for yourself,” I reply.
“Aren’t you worried at all?” He sounds incredulous. Why am I so matter-of-fact? He doesn’t always like being treated as an adult in these situations.
“No.” I shift the phone to my other ear and try a bite of cold French toast. It’s soggy from sitting in maple syrup too long. “From what I’ve gathered, the dog comes from a wealthy home and isn’t running around in the woods foaming at the mouth.”
In fact, it turns out the dog—named Mouse—resides on Park Avenue and probably lives better than we do. Mouse’s paperwork is up to date. That should have been the end of the problem, but no. It turns out there were two dogs in the house and our son doesn’t know which one bit him. More phone calls need to be made, more papers faxed.
“Why me?” he whines.