Dad was a cologne and aftershave man. He used a dented metal cup with a soap cake and horsehair brush to create a lather when he'd shave. The razor was old, was his father's, and when I was little I used to watch him in the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, leaning over the sink, and the great big white glops of whipped cream with little black flecks of hair and sometimes blood plopped into the basin. I often wished he wouldn't turn the water on because I liked the way it swirled down the drain on its own. The little drops of blood where he cut himself were especially neat with the way they turned pink at the edges when they mixed with the suds. It reminded me of a strawberry sundae with chocolate sprinkles.
If the cut was bad, he used a styptic pencil, but normally he just used little bits of toilet paper. Then he'd put on aftershave and the whole room would smell like him. He kept the bottle in a little cabinet above the toilet; one I was expressly forbidden to get into. There was an eye hook lock near the top I couldn't reach even when I stood on the toilet seat. Mom caught me up there once and spanked me so hard I couldn't sit for two days.
I loved my dad like any kid does. On Valentine's Day Mom and I went to Woolworth's and I held her hand while we looked at the big bins of candies and roasted nuts and I got one of those silver balloons with an orange cartoon cat. Then we went to the section for dads and Mom wanted to get him a fancy electric razor since the one he used was old, but I saw a bottle of the cologne he liked and said we should get that instead.
"You think he would like it?"
"I think so."
"Do you want to give it to him for Valentine's Day?"
I was five years old.
That wasn’t the snoopy dog cologne. I don’t really remember what it was anymore, honestly. From that point on I got my dad cologne for every Valentine’s Day until he passed away. Now that I think about it, I don’t really remember how he ended up with the snoopy dog. I only remember seeing it on his dresser one morning and it always had the cologne I bought him and he wore every weekend. At first, I wanted the snoopy dog. I love the Peanuts specials on tv and the strips in the funnies section of the Sunday newspaper and Snoopy was my favorite after Schroeder. But whenever I was in Dad’s room and no one was there I never really felt alone.
In fact, it felt like I was being... studied. Not just watched, but more like the way a scientist looks at its subject. I didn’t want to go into the bedroom unless Mom or Dad was in there because at first I thought it was something about the room that made me uncomfortable. It was terrible when I would have nightmares and I wanted to sleep in bed with them where it was safe.
The last time I did I had a bad dream about an army of badgers that broke into the house and were creeping through the halls looking for little boys to eat. I ran into the bedroom and woke my dad and told him badgers were going to get me. He opened one eye, frowned, and told me to crawl into bed next to Mom and he would go take a look. I wanted to tell him he should bring something for protection, but he was already out in the hallway in his underwear and I cowered beneath the sheets with only my face uncovered so I could see if any tried to get into the bedroom. Not that it would have done any good.
A couple minutes later he came back saying he couldn't find anything and got back in bed. I huddled in between him and Mom and tried to get back to sleep but something made me feel funny in my stomach. I peered over the covers and looked around the room and saw the snoopy dog sitting on the dresser. It was glowing softly, like my bedroom when moonlight came through the window, but it didn't illuminate anything around it. As I watched it, I could see it smiling at me. I mean, it was always smiling, but somehow I knew this time it wasn't just smiling, but doing it at me. My stomach started to hurt and then I could see teeth and they were sharp, like an alligator, and the smile stretched up the sides of the snoopy dog's head almost to its ears. I was so scared I buried my head under the covers and pillows and eventually fell asleep even though my stomach still felt bad.
From that point forward, I avoided the snoopy dog at all cost.
"Daddy. Can you shut the bedroom door?"
"And can you keep it that way all the time?"
"I need to know why, son."
"It, umm. The room, I mean. It uhh-- scares me."
"I'll keep it shut then."
Dad usually kept the door open, even at night when he and Mom were asleep, but he started keeping it closed or mostly closed when he napped. For the most part, I couldn't see the snoopy dog from the hallway because my room was kitty corner from my parents' and the only other room was my sister's, who was away at college, and I had no reason to go down there. Once in a while, though, I'd notice the door was cracked open during the day and when I'd look inside I'd see the snoopy dog on the dresser, looking right at me. I only ever saw it glow or the alligator teeth the one time, but the smile never went back to its normal size.
As time went on, I stopped thinking about the snoopy dog, even when Dad wore his cologne, and things pretty much got back to normal.
That is, until the day it got out of the bedroom.
I was six and in kindergarten. Yeah, I was held back a year. Not because I was stupid, I just had trouble getting along with other kids. That was the polite conversation version. The real story is I was beating someone up or getting beat up on an almost daily basis. I went to a private school because my parents thought it would afford me the attention I likely wouldn’t get in public school. And while that wasn’t necessarily untrue, a handful of kids with those problems is manageable, but a school full of them? The building sat like a spider in a wooded area owned by an old money family, and recess, weather permitting, often consisted of breaking off into two teams, heading into the woods, and spending the next thirty minutes throwing rocks and sticks at each other. If someone got hit, we’d immediately stop and make sure it wasn’t a serious or obvious injury. Then it was back to business until we heard the whistle.
That day I was the recipient of a rather impressive bruise from a broken tree branch with a knotted, spiked end. It hurt like hell and turned yellowish-purple almost immediately. Everyone gathered around to inspect it and one of the older kids had the wherewithal to spread fresh mud over it in some white suburban eleven-year-old equivalent of primitive medicine. It was far enough up my arm my sleeve hid it sufficiently and I did everything I could to keep my mom from seeing it. She was already overprotective, overbearing, and enough other “overs” I knew it was in my best interest to keep it from her.
When I got home I went straight to my room and closed the door. This really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; I spent a lot of time in there with my toys and games after school and would play with them until it was time for supper. I had other things in mind that day, however. I decided to put on a long-sleeved shirt instead of the tee I was wearing. Mom would notice I changed, but I could just tell her I was cold. She’d feel my forehead to make sure I wasn’t running a fever and once she figured out I wasn’t, I’d be home free.
My plan was perfect except for one thing: I really was running a temperature.
“You feel warm.”
“I’m just a little chilly, Mom.”
“Let me feel your forehead again.”
“Hold still. Yeah, you’re warm. I’m getting the thermometer.”
“It’s going in my mouth, right?”
Mom burst out laughing, but I didn’t see the humor in it. I was too worried about her seeing my bruise. While she was in the bathroom getting the thermometer, I sneaked into my room and went straight to my dresser for a long-sleeved shirt. I opened it, searching under neat stacks of tees, when I found something that wasn't supposed to be there.
Rolled up inside my Spider Man underoos was the snoopy dog.
I think I must have cried out because Mom came rushing into the room, worriedly asking if I was all right, if I needed to lie down. At that point, all I remember was staring into the open dresser drawer, trying to convince myself what I saw was a hallucination brought on by the fever.
"What's this doing in here?"
"What's what doing?"
"Your father's cologne. Why is it in your drawer?
"I don't know."
"Did you put it there?"
"Are you lying to me?"
"I'm not lying."
"Then how'd it get in there, hmm?"
"Errm. By itself."
I got spanked for that one. And not knowing what I did about the snoopy dog, I really couldn't blame her for it. I was taught to tell the truth, reinforced by an open hand or wooden spoon when I didn't. This was back when it was not only okay to hit your kids when they were bad, but expected.
She made a show of taking it from my drawer and putting it back on top of Dad's dresser and not only made sure I watched, but that Dad was aware I was messing around with his things. He didn't seem too upset by it, more like he was pretending to be to placate Mom. He pretty much never meted out the punishment when I got in trouble, only bore witness to Mom's dirty work.
I wish I could say this was the only time it got out of the bedroom, seemingly without help, and the only time I got blamed for doing it. Later I came to realize that's exactly what it wanted. It seemed to wait just long enough that Mom and Dad would forget about the previous incident. In a way, it was like every time was the first and my punishments reflected that.
If the worst that ever happened is I got spanked or grounded, I wouldn't have such awful memories of the snoopy dog. It seemed to delight in torturing me, and made every attempt to isolate me from those I loved. Until the day it figured out it could use me in ways I hadn't even dreamed.
I found it at the bottom of the dirty clothes basket the day my best friend's mom died.