Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

by Kevin Isom

In the South, the adage "it's better to let sleeping dogs lie" has a long and honored history of accuracy. Everyone knows that if you wake up a sleeping dog, he's a damn sight more likely to piddle on your feet.

The adage applies to humans as well as canines. Especially when referring to ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and ex-spouses, where the canine-human distinction isn't necessarily clear. The basic rule is that once an ex is an ex, especially if the break-up was painful or fault-based, it's better to leave 'em alone. One of my father's divorced friends takes this philosophy seriously. He's intentionally forgotten all his ex-wives' names. He just calls them all "Plaintiff."

But even with the best distancing techniques, sometimes an ex is like used dental floss. No matter how hard you fling it, it keeps sticking to your fingers.

I had an ex like that. Until recently. Every six months to a year, he'd show up in my life, do something really weird, and disappear again. Like the Ice Capades. I sort of figured it was God's punishment to me for teaching my Aunt Elsie's parrot to say "cunnilingus." But whenever my ex -- we'll call him "Dean," a good name for a dog -- reappeared, I simply thought of him as a sleeping dog and left him pretty much alone.

Then a few months ago, there was a message blinking seductively on my machine. It was "Dean." He was in Atlanta for a conference. He said he really missed me, he would understand if I didn't want to see him, but he hoped I would consider it. The sleeping dog looked so docile and harmless at my feet. Against the usually restrained urgings of my inner voice, which was now screaming "RUN, DON'T WALK, RUN!", I reached down and stroked the dog to wake it up. I called my ex, and we arranged to meet for a drink.

Our evening was surprising and completely unexpected. There was none of the old rancor that had characterized our interactions before the break-up. He no longer seemed like a strange gay space alien in human form intent on making my life miserable. Prozac is apparently a good thing. This time, the waked-up dog licked my hand affectionately. And he wanted to lick other things.

I've never been one to turn away a puppy, so the evening naturally progressed down a more intimate pathway. Never mind that he'd put on twenty pounds in two years and seemed to have lost a commensurate amount of hair. My feelings of connection with him, once re-awakened, were still there. I found I'd missed the way his body felt, and the way mine felt against his. I felt safe again, as though nothing bad could ever happen to me, so long as we were in each other's arms.

Yet my little voice was nagging at me, telling me that the encounter would be full of sound and fury, latex and lubricant, ultimately signifying nothing. And my inner voice was right. "Dean" left Atlanta two days later, without returning my calls, or even calling to say good-bye. At first, I was stunned. Then I was hurt. Then I was, quite oddly, really amused. I'd fallen for the same ruse all over again, the same power game that led to the end of our relationship in the first place. I could almost see a dog sitting at my feet, laughing at me, hyena-style (doggie-style seeming an inappropriate expression here). So I decided to stop worrying about it, and I did the unthinkable. I let him win. I walked away from the game.

I also walked to the nearest phone -- someone else's phone -- and paged an escort, Helga, Princess of Pain, Whip and Cuffs Optional, to his home. The best revenge must always fit the crime, have a sense of humor, and never hurt anyone. "Dean" was clearly seeking the services of a prostitute in Atlanta, so I sent him one. Actually, two. Hans, the Bavarian Slave Master looked interesting, too.

Of course, the sad part was that "Dean" was someone I truly, deeply loved, and this was hardly the final good-bye I would have envisioned.

But I've learned my lesson, and melodramatic moments aside, I guess I'm just lucky I didn't need a pooper scooper.

Next time, you can be sure I'll remember to let sleeping dogs lie.

Kevin Isom is an attorney and writer in Atlanta. His columns appear in newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. His fiction has appeared in Paris Transcontinental and other magazines.
©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.