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It's Nelly's World

Time Travel

alec vanderboom

Love and constancy. So simple, so necessary. So effing impossible to attain. Except if you're a dog. Then they come easy. Like scenting an ancient fish carcass from a quarter mile and applying it to the neck with the abandon of a fifteen-year-old girl at Macy's perfume counter. Love and constancy are as central among doggy attributes as teeth and tails.

What kind of idiot would not want a dog therefore? We're all a bunch of broken toys, wind-up keys askew, lurching from one bang-up to another, hurting and being hurt, sometimes smashing our heads onto sharp corners. The one thing we desire most is the one thing we most frequently sabotage. I'm thinking love is very much like the rear end of my station wagon on the day at the hardware store when I used it to express my innermost state. I put the car into reverse, applied the accelerator with a certain impatience, turned the wheel, and forgot that small detail, looking behind. The truck I hit had its own very long emotional history, so I did not need to go tell the owner that I had added another concavity to the many eloquent stories already recorded there. I did, however, have to pay $700 to remove from our car the marks of my own symbolic act.

At the New England Border Collie Rescue fundraising event ("Dog Dayz") my son and I went to this weekend--a living museum of the canine world's greatest works of art--I wondered about the advisability, or inevitability, of attempting to re-create the past in order to repair some big life dents. With one of these dogs in my life, I would have a shot at bringing Mercy back. And of returning to a time when, I foolishly persist in believing, hope and happiness, love and constancy, prevailed. You already know the end of this story, don't you?

My gambit is a little more circuitous, though. I want to try to help my son to repair the ugly dings he has lately acquired. The paint kit will be black and white, with a plumey tail--or, to put it another way, the dog I want, but now the dog he needs.

The seed was put in my head by our trainer, who noticed how much my son enjoyed playing agility with Nelly at the annual K9Crazy Playskool Christmas party; he still speaks with pride of how he got her to go through the candy-cane weave poles, even though it had quite a lot to do with a certain piece of hot dog. (Well, for me too: as I've written previously, my relationship with Nelly, as well as with my son, or my parents for that matter, is not so much a love-and-constancy thing as it is actually a food-provision-creates-love-and-constancy-mythology thing. But I'm in a nostalgic mood right now.) Wouldn't it help him mend, she said, to work with Nelly in class by himself?

Never give me an idea. Because it gives me an even better one. I saw how I could now have it all: the second dog I wanted, only it would "belong" to him, because he could name it, train it, and feed it. Of course, the responsibility would be mine--no eight-year-old could take it on--but with that last item in the list acting as magic potion, this dog would want to lie at his feet the way Nelly does at mine. In that simple act she gives me something I have never had before, and something I do not wish to live without.

This ridiculous idea was quickly squashed by the pragmatic heel of my dear friend (and dog trainer) Jolanta. She didn't know it, but she also might have saved me from walking into some deep psychic waters. I remained unaware that they would darkly close over my head, even though I had found myself floundering in them just last week.

I was driving away quickly, as if pain were a locale. When I reached Brooklyn, I would finally escape it.

The customary route is now the Battery Tunnel. But it costs money, and suddenly I was seeing before me a new life in which I would sit up late, stacking pennies into red paper rolls. Now it was late Monday night, rain-slicked, and the Brooklyn Bridge was empty. Free, also.

I followed the way off an old map stored in memory. Because this was the route of a thousand trips--after dinners, after parties, after movies; in the back of a cab with my head on someone's shoulder, or in a car I drove carefully, trying to stay in lane after a cocktail or two, so I could get to the place I used to call home. I can't remember. Maybe I heard this in a piece of song that floated by once, at twilight, say, and I'm imagining it was mine.

The front tires hit the upswing, and that's when I knew I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have gone anywhere near our past, which resides at the junction of physical place and embroidered memory. Now my old life was rising up before me, all around me. The lights of Brooklyn were almost singing, sirens of synesthesia in a mind neurologically altered by pain. They drew me toward the rocks, and I thought I was lost, until I looked through the windshield and saw myself, taking the corner at Douglass and Third Avenue, Mercy at the end of the leash. I was hoping she would squat soon, so I could get home, put on my pajamas, maybe watch the 11 o'clock news in bed together. Then I vanished, because I could no longer see through the windows. The rain. Or no. Not the rain.

So dangerous to go back. But I can't say I am sorry even now, when remembering the remembering makes me cry once more. I have a need to feel this way, I think. I know I will come danger's way again. Not now but someday soon, I know I will get another dog, for something to recall in the future, and for my son.