Today I woke up before the alarm went off; a rarity in my life as I generally try and squeeze in every drop of sleep that I can, head happily wedded to my pillow, lidded eyes calm and peaceful. When I do open my eyes, I am still, listening for signs of movement in the house, trying to gauge the time by the quality and strength of light through the lacy curtains. It seems late, probably 9:30 but it could be close to 11. I feel rested and ready to get up, another rarity. I reach for my phone on the bedside table, stretching the other hand to pat the empty pillow beside me. No cat comes to cup her head into my open palm. I glance beside the bed, no black furred dog lying in wait. I squint as I bring the cell closer to my face. 8:15.
I could lie in bed and wait for the alarm. I could lie in bed and wait for my lover, hope for a consoling cuddle. I could try to divert him back into bed for more. Or I could stick to my plan of getting up and taking the dog for a walk. Obligation to others is so much easier, sticking to the promises that I make to myself seems impossible at times. I get up, pull on shorts, a bra, sit down to put on socks and tennis shoes. My lover comes in, approves of my outfit, grins as I pull a face at him and slip on my tee-shirt.
Downstairs, the dog looks up at me uncomprehending when I grab her leash and ask her if she'd like to go for a walk. It's a rhetorical question, but her lack of tail-wagging enthusiasm is disconcerting. I guess I've skipped too many walks; she used to start circling and prancing in circles in the bedroom whenever I slipped on a pair of sneakers. I ask her again about taking a walk, my voice higher and more enthusiastic as I slip on her collar. I used to walk her nearly every morning, but fell out of the habit as the demands on my time from my job became stronger, the hours longer, the unwillingness to get up rising with the shrill voice of my alarm clock. Well, I think, a grim smile on my face, I can do this every day now if I like. I can make it up to the dog, get back in the habit, I can walk more or try and start jogging again. I can swim in the afternoons, get my bike fixed for doing errands instead of driving. I can walk her twice a day if I want. Last week my job ended unexpectedly, unceremoniously; no more 14 hour days no more being too tired, no more turning down invitations, no more demands on my time. My time is now wholly my own. I can do whatever I want.
I walk out the door, automatically start to turn right at the end of the driveway then pause. She looks up at me, confused. This is the way down to the park, this is the way that we always go. We could go any direction today, though, I don't have a set time for the walk, I don't need to know how long it will take to get back home so I can shower and eat breakfast before getting in the car and driving to work. I don't need to prioritize checking my email or packing a lunch. Maybe a new route would be better, I hardly ever just stroll around the neighborhood. The leash tugs at my hands, but I pull back and my dog sits down, still looking up at me. Maybe I should just head back inside. I can't decide which way to go.