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It's Nelly's World

Nearer, My Dog, to Thee

alec vanderboom

When did I realize that I love Nelly so much? That I have the kind of dog others call "so sweet" and then I get a bit oozy inside?

It happened slowly, that's why I can't afix a date. Real love grows at about the same rate as a rubber tree. Try watching one to see. But new leaves do appear. The trunk gets slowly bigger. Or, to switch metaphors, since one is not enough to cover this topic, you build up to 60 mph, you don't start there. I wish I knew the mechanism by which this occurs. It has something to do with time, and important experiences shared. In the case of Nelly and me, or indeed anyone else I've ever loved, "important" experiences are designated by the amount of danger they contain. This can be physical, or it can be emotional; danger is danger, and sets your heart to racing all the same. And oh lordy, we've been through some times together! I had initially thought I'd be writing here primarily about Nelly's close calls, maybe rating them on a scale of, say, one to five mortar shells. By now, mysteriously, I am suffused with love for her, especially when I look at her from some distance, which gives the ideal view. Then I see her.

Those cumulative hours I have waited in the cold, the dark, the wet slowly seeping into my boots, the briers scratching my face as I try for a shot at getting her tail at least; those minutes ticking by, piling up, are the blocks that build love. Finally they accrete into a mountain, and you are there, standing elevated above the world, risen to a breathtaking view, by love.

There is the thing we call "love at first sight," and believe me, I am not immune to its especial charge. Gunpowder, it's packed with. The eyes start the spark, then boom. Anyone who would like to deny we are merely a vessel for the wash of chemicals released by various glands, triggered by currents in the brain, has never caught the eye of someone at a party or on the subway and felt things running through the body that are among the most extraordinary feelings we can feel. I don't have words for them, sorry. They are way beyond words. Somehow, "chemistry at first sight" doesn't do it. But you know the zinging, the pinging, the dear hope, the rocketing possibilities, that all spring into being in this shattered second.

The particular breed bias I have--I've got border collies on the brain, you have your "type," be it goldens or pugs--is a form of this. It works with human breeds, too. To my final day, I will feel a jolt when I spy a curly-haired Jewish poet-philosopher type, because he will remind me of someone long ago: a love at first sight that grew into the real thing. They don't get better than that.

Maybe breed bias is a sort of manufactured love at first sight. I see a BC, and am brought back to the memory, physically imprinted on my being, of the love I bore for Mercy-the-mostly-border-collie. By the time she was ten years old, it encompassed the world. I have a friend who lost her son at sixteen. I don't have words for this, either. But she described the love of a mother for her child as a great engine, which stirs into life on the day of birth. Each subsequent day, it gathers power. The pistons are fired faster and faster; the steam builds. Hotter, faster, hotter, faster. Every day, that love chugs and chugs and chugs. Finally the clatter, the great breathing muscle of power, is going so hard you wonder the machine doesn't explode. That's love.

Nelly has become a piece of me. I need her, want her, to be near. I don't sleep as well if she is not pressing her small warm weight against my body. Without her, something is missing, and I feel it even if I don't name it. She still goes on heartstoppingly extended walkabout--she's a canid, after all, and has some 100-proof brain chemicals (the ones that say "rabbit in vicinity!") even stronger than those that make hearts grow fonder. But she too, increasingly, wants to be with me. She eventually, eventually, comes back. And when we are together the earth starts its revolutions again. I don't know if I would die without the love of a dog. I only know I don't want to live without it.