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It's Nelly's World

Sleeping Dogs

alec vanderboom

To be self-contained is a goal and a satisfaction. You have everything you need because it comes with you at all times. Everything else, then, is fillips upon the solid foundation of self-hood.

Not that I've achieved it. Though I have produced a fair quantity of sweat in that direction. But my dog is already there. I was thinking this last night, as I lay in a different bed at a friend's house. Because I was there, Nelly accepted this new place with no questions, hopping up onto the tall bed as soon as she saw me get into it, then turning around once, forming that almost perfect oval into which everything is tucked. She let go with a sigh--a sound that to me is ineffably sad, as if she'd said "Oh, well" to a lifetime of slights. But I know it doesn't carry emotion like that, although it may well be expressing satisfaction at being self-contained.

I myself have been suddenly thrust into a crash course on getting to my goal, because my world has just been detonated. The structure I had built, stone by stone, not consciously but merely by existing in the same space as another person, for seventeen years has just been announced a falsehood. Or something, since I may not have fully understood the explanation given me by someone who for the first time I have known him looked at me through eyes filled with cold hate. They scared me, those eyes. They were just like the hard, blank eyes of a dog who is about to leap, his mouth full of death.

And so everything I have known, and have wanted, is about to vanish. Life will be rebuilt from the ground up, absent the person I had pledged to do it with. And we had done it officially, the ancient way (something now bitterly regretted, I am given to understand), till death do us part. Actually, we were true to that part: the death that has occurred is of a life of shared hopes. They hit the earth with a dull clang.

And death is also appropriate to recall, because the immense pain--where a thin, sharp blade keeps going in, over and over into the same infected wound--is matched in memory only with one other. When my dog died, it had the effect of altering reality. The clouds seemed to stand still and stare. The blue and green outdoors vibrated, until I thought something was the matter with my eyes. I would see the wind lift the leaves of a bush and the sight gripped me. It was May, and the mourning doves came to torment only me: whoo-WHOO, whoo-WHOO with the volume knob stuck all the way high, so it echoed and echoed and echoed inside my brain and I wanted to shout Stop! Don't you know that I can't stand it? That I can't stand your reminding me every second that I live of what I lost? I can't stand it.

I feel this way now. It is impossible that this could be happening, this death of a life together. But now, as then, I have to accept that it is. Otherwise I will get lost in the hall of mirrors that is the recurrent waking dream: I am going to look out to the end of the drive, and I will see Mercy standing there, and she will be coming home from a long journey away.

But death is final. There is no heaven. When Nelly sleeps next to me, I touch her in the night. I am somewhat comforted.

["Nelly's World" is going on hiatus for a week or so. Please check back then!]