Sunday, May 29, 2011

Too much like an open wound

I left the dog at City Pets yesterday for a hair trim.
‘Can you clip his nails, too, please,’ I asked the man.
‘Sure,’ he said. ‘It’s all part of the deal.’

The house without the dog was peaceful, no more yaps and whines. It gave me space to wash the fleas from the blankets, the fleas I could not see but only imagine, and to sweep out autumn leaves.

But I felt heavy in my heart. Heavy for my hatred of this dog.
No, not hatred. Hatred is too strong a word.

I shall offer instead a safe word: ambivalent.

I am ambivalent about the dog.

He is like an unplanned child, one I never wanted, and like any unplanned child, I must take care of him, but it goes against the grain and any care I offer him I give without love or affection.

Why is this so? you might ask.
What is wrong with you that you are unable to love and show affection to a dumb beast, an innocent beast such as this thin, brown eyed dog who looks upon you each morning with the hope that today you will be kind to him and show some interest.

I service the dog. I do not take an interest, I say, because I do not have the space, but perhaps it is more than that.

This dog – unplanned, unwanted child – burdens me with the unspeakable agony of my own vulnerability.

He is too unguarded by half. He is too innocent by half. Too much like an open wound.

He waits for attention and I cannot offer any without having to feel my own wounds and my own are now wide open, so I cover them with a thick bandage of intellect and reason and I leave them alone under layers of cynicism, dark, deep and filled with despair.

They fester there.

The dog can carry my pain for me.


Friko said...

A dog's love is unconditional.
He will carry your pain without knowing that he does.

Could he teach you to love yourself, unconditionally?

Put all the reasons why you are in pain aside, like the dog does, be aware of what is left and accept it.

It's a start.

Niamh B said...

The poor mutt!!
Great writing though. I heard a nice line of dialogue in a play the other day about how dogs, no matter how badly treated, will always turn towards kindness - I think you capture that beautifully here

steven said...

when i was a little boy i lived in a house that had a border collie. he didn't like to live in the house. he slept in the coal shed. on the coal. he preferred to be cold, or wet. we often didn't have enough food for us so there was next to nothing for him. but he loved us and was so patient. one day he followed me to school. that was the first time i thought that animals were more than themselves. steven

Kath Lockett said...

I think that the innocence and unguarded nature of the dog is why we need and love them so much. They rely on us for everything and expect so pitifully little in return.

I won't be seeing mine for another six and a half weeks and am praying that we'll have found, furnished and settled into a home for her by then.

Brilliant writing as always, Elisabeth.

Kath Lockett said...

Blogger and/or this hotel's rather patchy wireless service ate up my comment.

It was along the lines of that I think that the innocence and open hearted nature of the dog is why we love them. They give us their all - patience, loyalty and love - and expect so pitifully little in return.

I won't be seeing my dog for another five-and-a-half weeks and by the time she gets her crate wheeled off the plane I'm hoping that we'll have found, furnished and settled into our new home.

Every dog I see here in the street (and there are lots of them but none resemble Milly) makes my heart hurt. Our fourth family member needs to be here too.

jabblog said...

Friko is right and her advice is sound.

ellen abbott said...

if you can find it in your heart to give the dog a little affection, he will return it many times over. soothe him and he will soothe you.

Ms. Moon said...

Yes ma'am. I get this one. For sure.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m glad dogs don’t fly. If dogs flew then maybe my wife would have rescued a dog from our window ledge and not a cockatiel. I have nothing against dogs and I would have cared for the dog just as I care for the bird (my sense of duty has been discussed before) but I’m not sure how I would have felt about the creature. I’m ambivalent about the fish. I don’t want it to suffer in my care (odd expression, because I don’t really care) but I won’t cry when it dies. A part of me is irritated that it has insisted on surviving so long. It was supposed to be a wee goldfish in a bowl in my office but the bugger insisted on growing and we had to buy a proper tank which now sits in the living room. It’s a nice tank and he’s a beautiful fish a good 6" long from nose to tail but when he dies I’m getting a heater and some tropical fish like I used to have. I could kill him – I’ve killed fish before – but I would feel bad about that. So he’ll live out his life in relative comfort along with “the Sluggies”, the four snails that share his tank. Hell, I even fret about the Sluggies. There’s one who’s learned that if he crawls up to the front corner about teatime I’ll make sure he gets a food pellet all to himself – the others haven’t wised-up to that yet – that is if Fishy doesn’t try and steal it from him.

A part of me resents the bird through. The fish I could leave for a week. I could stick a food block in and bugger off. But the bird has made us his flock. We are a part of his routine and routine is important to him. I know what happens when birds aren’t looked after, plucking out feathers and the like, and Birdy has never displayed that kind of behaviour. You see, it’s not enough to cater for an animal’s basic needs. Which is why I can tell you here and now that I will never take another holiday as long as we have the bird. I think he’s about eight just now. That means another four years minimum and some birds have been known to live until they’re thirty and I’m not sure I’ll be that worried about holidaying by the time I’m seventy-four. Hell, I might even be dead by then; my dad was. Yes, I could get my daughter to take care of him but I know it would be traumatic for him, for my daughter (the Blonde Bird’s not fond of thinks that flutter), for my wife and so for me. It’s fortunate that I’m not much interested in holidays, isn’t it?

We’ve not have to worry about fleas yet. I suppose birds get fleas like all other creatures but so far he hasn’t. He is a messy bird though and a destructive wee critter. Luckily he’s territorial and so poos in the same ol’ places but poo he does and he’s not beyond pooing on you especially if he gets startled (a reflex action) but I’ve learned to live with it. His propensity for gnawing on things does bother me – he’s ruined a lot of the picture frames in the house – but luckily we’re not house-proud either.

But he was unplanned. That he most certainly was. It’s my nature to make do and so I’ve made do but a part of me wishes I’d never had to. That said I think it’s good that we have something to care for other than ourselves. I have to be up by 9:30 in the morning because that’s when Birdy gets up; he needs his water changed, food topped up and cardboard-box-castle built. There is no reasoning with him. He’s hardwired and it takes a lot of work to break his hardwiring. I’ve trained him but he’s also trained me. I actually think he brings out the best in me as much as I resent his presence at times and his determination to perfect his impression of a car alarm before he dies. When I pass his cage and he catches my eye I dutifully go over and ask if he wants scritches and when he lowers his head I know he does and so do my duty; there is nothing worse than an itch you can’t get to yourself.

Because in the end I do care. Even about the fish.

Jane Lancaster said...

thanks for this. It fits right in with memories coming about my sister Pam the last of three and unwanted really by my mum so left to me to be her mother really. or so i think. much to ponder on here E... I quite understand but also feel like i don't want to go there where you speak of..

Claire Beynon said...

Ah, dear Elizabeth - - - the unexpected shapes our teachers take? A hug to you in your vulnerability, and a pat on your canine teacher's head. Love, patience and compassion to you both, Claire xo

Elizabeth said...

Wow. I admire your honesty. I'm not much for dogs and feel somewhat the same way about ours sometimes, but I also like Friko's comment.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

A tremendous and sincere insight dear Elisabeth, I understand you perfectly. If you put the thoughts I have just read into poetry the lines would carry of strong echo echo of Sylvia Plath. Which could echo also, and much more, my present condition.

Although I wish you some cheerfulness and love to you and your dog.
Mine is a nice She, her name Ginger for the colour of her fur. She is my only companion now and, not kidding, I look to her almost as a Goddess.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Oh by the way, thinking of "clouds" of your previous post, the poem I enclose here for you appeared in the British magazine Turbulence, I hope you'll enjoyed it.


First white stripes, then swelling fists
out of the top of the highest mountain
with its hat, as they called it, soon
becoming huge, growing in layers,
like the souls of flowers, all over us,
crowding the blue and, around, the mountains’ choir
which, like knuckled bones, almost rang,
stung by the sun.
We were sitting on deckchairs in the hotel garden,
head tilted on high,
breath riveted on the slow seconds’ glow,
you by me in the fearful unknown
of your illness, silent
under the silent bustle of the skylight.
And they, up there, passing,
hands transiting over everything,
delivering the frowning of shadows,
spawning and spreading the puzzle.

Layers mirroring what moves
inside brain and body, but lighter
looking aloof like the coiled
or distended gods’ sleep,
being shred and reshaped and looking like
everything it’s possible to look like,
recalling, reminding, reporting too maybe,

I was looking into them
searching relief,
but I sensed their power
of just being far out,
beautiful like distant flowers,
unquestionable essences for us
in the earth’s claws.

Robert the Skeptic said...

We loved our little cat Angelina, but I must confess that we felt no guilt when she died and we were able to uncover our couch and my asthma cleared up.

My wife recalls seeing a bumper-sticker she found amusing, it read: "The kids have moved out, now we're just waiting for the pets to die."

Windsmoke. said...

Like Friko said a dog's love is unconditional and i reckon it should be cherished at all times on the other hand you would miss him should he run away or have to be put down :-).

River said...

this is very sad Elisabeth, you've made me cry. If you could allow yourself to love this dog, even just to scratch behing his ears once or twice, maybe a quick pat...he will love without reason and help you heal your own wounds.
Yes, he's innocent, as you once were, but to treat him badly or indifferently as you once were is unforgiveable. Your pain is not his fault.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Friko. Sound advice. I don't really hold the dog responsible for my pain though.

I use a bit of poetic license here, but I'm aware it will inflame the hearts of those who love dogs. Oh that I could be like them, too.

Elisabeth said...

The 'mutt' is not too unhappy Niamh, just not adored, at least not as adored as he might otherwise be in another family.

The kids love him, but they are fly by nights. The poor dog is stuck most of the time with me as I imagined he might when he first arrived. Ours is a mutual discovery of trying to help one another, perhaps.

Thanks, Niamh.

Elisabeth said...

I loved my childhood dg too, Steven, much as you loved yours. I agree that animals are much more than mere beasts of burden - human burden - but I was trying to find a way of exploring my 'ambivalence' towards our dog and this came out. Please don't take it too literally.

Thanks, Steven.

Elisabeth said...

I write disparagingly here about our dog, Kath, but like you, I feel strangely identified with him.

The day he ran into the traffic as a puppy is a scene that keeps replaying itself in my mind. I'm so relieved he did not get hit that day.

Ambivalence is about mixed feelings, which apply to most relationships, and it's often easier to write about our love than our mixed feelings.

You are perhaps experiencing some of these now with this monumental change in your life.

I hope your dog copes well with the disturbance along with the rest of your family. I admire your courage.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Janice. I know your love for dogs is profound. My feelings here must seem like anathema to you.

Elisabeth said...

I try to soothe the dog from time to time, Ellen and he manages to give me comfort too, from time to time.

This piece of writing is perhaps far more grim than I had intended but it seems to be the the way of my writing. Anyhow, these days authorial intention does not count.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you get it, Ms Moon. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

It's the business of having something to care for that has become an issue for me, Jim. I love my children and grandchildren. I generally love the people in my life and with whom I work, but the animals in my life have stretched my goodwill too far.

If I count back during my adult life I can remember at least six mice, most of whom died quickly. We could never get the temperature or something right.

Then there were two birds, African love birds - a gift from friends -who escaped from their cage one day when we tried to clean it. They flew into the pin oak in the back yard and were never seen again.

We've had countless numbers of fish, some large some small. The largest ones which we kept in the back yard pond have all been eaten either by one of our cats who likes to go fishing or by a visiting ibis.

Then there were the rabbits who over a twelve year period numbered around twelve. The oldest, prosaically called Peter, lived for most of those twelve years.

We looked after a couple of Guinea pigs for friends who went overseas . They lasted less than a year. I don't know why.

there wee the three green tree frogs, one of whom, Picasso, I have written about elsewhere in this blog

The cats have been the most stable presence in our household. I am fond of cats. We have three at the moment but over the years have had another four as well, all of whom have died, two of natural causes after many years and two under cars.

And finally and most recently, there is the dog. Now perhaps you can see why I am burned out. There's only so much love a person can give to all those animals year after year, other peoples babies as it were.

Thanks for your amusing comment, Jim.

You share some of my distance from the animals but I'm not sure I'd let an animal stop me from holidaying these days. I'd take it with me - if I could, that is.

Elisabeth said...

I understand your reluctance to go through to consider your own ambivalence Jane, especially when it comes to unplanned siblings. It's hard enough to think about our pets.

Thanks, Jane.

Elisabeth said...

Patience and compassion, Claire, I need them both and if my dog can teach me to find more of these deep down inside then it's all to the good.

Thanks, Claire.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. It seems a dangerous thing to admit to within the blogosphere.

There are so many here who adore their dogs, but I think mine is a valid position and it's not all black and white.

Even folks who love their dogs can sometimes find them difficult and wearing.

Thanks again, Elizabeth.

Elisabeth said...

I understand Davide, if Ginger is your only companion now that she must be a well loved dog.

Thanks for visiting here and letting me know this.

Elisabeth said...

'In earth's claws', Davide. The words reverberate. Your poem on clouds is exquisite. Thanks for posting it here.

I have been so busy of late working on my thesis that I have had very little time to visit my usual fellow bloggers, but I will get back soon.

Thanks, Davide.

Elisabeth said...

Such wonderful black humour here, Robert: "The kids have moved out, now we're just waiting for the pets to die."

It is hard to deal with all that cat/dog fur especially for those who are allergic to it.

Thanks, Robert.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Windsmoke, I probably would miss our dog were he too leave us now.

As the old song goes, 'I've grown accustomed to [his]... face...'

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

I don't hold the dog responsible for any pain I might suffer, River. Though I can understand how you might read my words in this way.

I had intended them more as more of a symbolic statement about the difficulties of integrating our loving feelings with our hateful ones.

Thanks, River.

Zuzana said...

Dear Elisabeth,
as usually, such a very candid writing.
May I ask why this dog was unwanted? And why you got him anyway - perhaps therein lies more of the answers to your lack of affection.
As for your own vulnerability and pain, maybe it can be lessen by love. We are all - at all times - in the line of fire. Almost everything we do has consequences. But I have realized that what we give away usually comes back in return. Thus love is never wasted.;) Not even on an unwanted dog.

Jim Murdoch said...

This long, long list does put it into perspective. My mother, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, had cats but cats are not very clingy creatures. Yes, they want fed and let out and let back in again and they want the warmest spot in the room even if it happens to be your lap but other than that I’ve always found cats quite self-sufficient. The bird, on the other hand, is like your dog. He is needy. It’s in his nature – he should be part of a flock – and he’s hardwired so there’s no point in getting annoyed at him because he’s not being bad. Even when he screams the place down all morning it’s usually because it’s sunny, the birds outside the flat are noisy and he has too many mirrors that point blank refuse to answer him back or, depending on the time of year, have sex with him or preen him. Actually it turns out he’s fourteen so he could croak any day now but I’m not holding my breath.

christopher said...

A neighborhood cat has worked his way into my home and finally after months into my heart but I have to be careful. While he likes intimacy he also has a feral streak which turns him dangerous at no notice but in reasonably predictable forms. He also carries a memory of unhappiness longer than most cats.

I knew your work made its own way, that you danced with it more than with the strict truth. You had a point and made it well at the expense perhaps of your precise relationship with the dog, but I am talking shades of color, not whole different colors.

It is just that you paint yourself less kind in your revelation than I already know you are from so many other posts. I agree with you that you have exercised your license as a writer, that however close this work is to your heart, your outer aspect is much gentler.

Manzanita said...

Dogs send love with their eyes. Have you ever noticed how their head can be on the floor but their eyes follow you. It's almost spooky but they want to know where you are every minute. You'll never find love or trust like that in a human :)

Elisabeth said...

The story of the dog goes back a long way. There are certain members of this household for whom the dog is very wanted, including at least two of my children- the ones responsible for the dig's arrival in the first place- and to a lesser extent my husband, but as so often happens the one left home in charge of daily dog care is me. I do not feel as badly about the dog as this post seems to suggest. We have our ups and downs.

Thanks, Zuzana

Elisabeth said...

I find it extraordinary, Jim, that a bird can be so needy. At the risk of anthropomorphising, I'd have thought of birds as the most independent of creatures, up there with cats.

But imprisonment perhaps distorts any animal's sense of well being. Can you domesticate birds? I wonder. Certainly people are able it seems to teach parrots to speak.

Thanks, Jim .

Elisabeth said...

As you suggest, Christopher, my outer aspect is much gentler than this post seems to suggest to most of my readers here.

I'm glad you could see through the layers. Perhaps it's because I use the word 'hate'. A funny word, a throw away word when spoken often enough and yet it packs a punch in written form.

Thanks, Christopher.

Elisabeth said...

I have noticed the way dogs follow you with their eyes, Manzanita, even when they are resting, much like babies I imagine.

It's a particular type of trust we find in dogs, not quite the same as human trust which I suspect is more complex.

Thanks, Manzanita.

susan t. landry said...

late to read this, elisabeth...but: i love some dogs, have no interest in others. that's just the way it is. same as with people. i appreciate your ability to observe and articulate, and the immediacy and veracity your writing conveys about these observations. it's your voice.
thank you.


Jim Murdoch said...

Cockatiels run on instinct, Lis. Although they can adapt they still view the world in terms they can understand. So if there’s a dog barking outside and his plume goes up (indicating attentiveness) and his body grows thin (indicating wariness) I’ll usually tell him it’s just a doggy-bird and to stop fussing because we’re all birds as far as he’s concerned which is why my daughter is blonde-bird. Cockatiels don’t need to be entertained like some animals, played with, but they do need to be allowed to behave as naturally as possible which is why we place food in various locations in and around his cage to enable him to forage before going to sleep because that is what he would do in the wild. The ‘castle’ provides him with a nest and stuff to gnaw at which I wish we realised he needed at the start before he ruined our picture frames but we really were very ignorant in the bginning. He is perfectly capable of mimicking sounds we make but because he’s small often it’s hard to work out what exactly he’s saying. It’s in his programming to learn all the ‘songs’ that he hears around him so he’s adopted some of the songs of the local songbirds, and car alarms, telephones and whistles. He and I often exchange a chorus of wolf whistles before he starts improvising and loses me; there’s definitively a bit of a jazz musician about him.

Routine is important to him. If I’ve not lifted his cover by 9:30 he’ll chirrup and remind me (his sense of timing is remarkable) and if I ignore him he’ll start rattling the cage. He’s like a big kid at night though and doesn’t want to go to sleep but he knows when I sing his ‘night-night song’ that’s what’s happening and he’ll scurry over to the front of the cage and usually do ‘wings’ which is the birdy equivalent of giving me the finger. It confuses the hell out of him when I go, “Oh, pretty wings, very pretty wings,” but he’s started to realise that it’s not going to buy him much time although I’ve seen him do five sets just to drag things out. He’s got the intelligence and curiosity of a small child and if he’s making noise then it usually means he’s telling us something – like there’s a new food supply – or there’s danger and when there’s danger he’ll fly around the room to alert us. He’s not much interested in our food but if we sit down to eat he’ll have a snack too. He’s not beyond having a nibble at a digestive or a piece of toast though.

If I’m doing the dishes he comes through to ‘supervise’ and if Carrie goes for an afternoon nap he joins her. Like I said before, we are his flock. He doesn’t like being left along for lengthy periods and if we both go out of the room after a bit he’ll usually call us. Occasionally he’ll fly though to find us in fact for a while he used to regularly fly between my office and the living room to keep me company. Mostly these days the only place he flies from is the bathroom when he doesn’t want his shower. For most of the day though he’s quite content to occupy himself in and around his cage; he can get hours of amusement out of a piece of thread so he is less of a burden than you might imagine. His ability to communicate is quite remarkable. He’ll usually indicate to me if he wants a drink or a scritch and I’ll spend a couple of minutes with him. It’s taken years to establish this routine which is why, like I said, I don’t see me taking another holiday until the bird croaks.

Kirk said...

I have to admit I found this difficult to read. Unless they're actively trying to make me their supper, I have a hard time not loving a dog or cat or any other pet I may own, even if it's a goldgish that might not even be aware of my existence. That's not to say I necessarily WANT a pet in my life. Back when I was living with other people, I often resisted the idea of getting a pet, not because I thought I'd hate the pet, but the opposite. To love something is to fret over it. God knows how I'd ever be with children.

However difficult it may be for me to read this, I salute you for writing something that for a lot of people goes so against the grain.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Susan, we love some and dislike others, dogs that is, same as with people.

Thanks for your kind thoughts here. Lord knows I need them.

Elisabeth said...

It's wonderful to hear about your cockatiel, Jim. I had no idea that birds could be so pet-like, so dog like if it comes to that.

There's a lot of talk here in Australia at the moment about cruelty to animals in regard to live exports of cattle overseas.

It's brutal the way these animals are treated. As cruel as I might sound to some who visit this blog I am not in favour of actual brutality to anyone, person or animal.

Thanks, Jim

Elisabeth said...

There's something in writing against the grain, Kirk that is both discomforting and challenging. But at least I'm not like the Pakistani journalist who was found dead in a river with torture marks on his body presumably because he had dared to write things that upset certain people.

Writing is a dangerous pursuit at times, however well intentioned or otherwise we may be.

Thanks, Kirk.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I would say Elizabeth that if you can't love the dog then find it a new loving home. I cannot imagine life without my dog - I love her dearly and she is an integral part of my life. If I found her a burden and an intrusion then I would do my best to find her a kind and loving home.

Elisabeth said...

The dog is well loved by some in this household, Weaver, but just not by me, or at least not at the point that I wrote this post, though my feelings are up and down.

I'm not sure I'd want to say goodbye to the dog either. He belongs here now and as I said earlier he is well loved by some. The difficulty is that as so often happens in city households, the children leave home and the parents are left to fend for the pets.

Thanks, Pat.