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It's Nelly's World

It Is Now Winter

alec vanderboom


To everything, there is a season. You've heard that somewhere before? I really like the song, and the sentiment, sad though it ultimately is, reminding us there is an end to all things. Nostalgia (the longing to return home, etymologically speaking) is called up. This is not a dirty word to me, as it is to some: it is merely the most appropriate response sometimes, and if you don't feel it, then there's something a little wrong. Don't you feel nostalgia for seasons past? Literally--those hot summers in childhood at the beach, your feet burning on the boardwalk, the thick air stung with the sharp smell of some unnamed shrub in flower. Figuratively--the age when you had endless time to give to the pursuit of something that felt good to you, as opposed to someone else. (Yes, I am thinking of motorcycling, all right?) Now it is, and apparently must remain--life is finite, after all--in the province of nostalgia, where you can merely visit from time to time.

The current season, in all senses, is winter, something that so many people hate, although that is like saying you hate life. Don't the Buddhists say life is now? It is the time for waking one morning to find the gray world transformed with cleanliness and glitter, white and still, persuading you too to become white and still. Then there is the simple joy of feeling warmth after cold (provided you do not live in a refrigerator box under a bridge overpass). Contrast, which is how we experience everything.

The season of youth is a time to test the limits of one's narcissism, when you are the master of your own ship as it sails alone through the wide sea of your days. Mine was given up to-- Oh, my own nostalgia here bores even me at this point. When I first got a dog, I started to see the pleasures of not serving myself alone. Since the day was finite, and there had to be a certain amount of work in it, what was the rest to be devoted to? Me, and my need to change the oil? The insistent request by the machine that I finally figure out how to calibrate the carburetion? My dog was a puppy when I found the compulsion to ride to the end of the road suddenly not terribly compelling anymore. The roads became shorter. I found myself whispering my private pet names for her aloud, repetitively, behind my helmet, a song of her that was calling me back. The season was turning, and I wanted to be with her. She, too, wanted me to be with her.

The calories I used to burn off battling an October headwind or, not a nostalgia-clogged memory, pushing my 450-pound nonresponsive vehicle along the shoulder, I now disposed of on long walks with her. Uphill was best for this. She needed the walks, and soon I came to too.

The bike was sold. I assume the new owner couldn't find tires that fit the rims, either.

In my life now I have three things, and this is their season: my child, my work, and my dog. All my hours go to them. I wish I could tell you the last time I read a book "for pleasure," not for work; I wish I could tell you the last time I went to a movie. Last Sunday's Times sits still unread as this Sunday is about to dawn; I literally cannot find thirty minutes anywhere to give to it. The idea of spending one hour, much less a day, on myself in the form of that old motorcycle-related madness seems now, well, like madness. This is not to say that all I do is selflessly give. No, I selfishly give as well.

The walks I give to Nelly are not for her alone. They are a significant portion of my social life, without which I would become as dried up as a piece of white bread tossed on the hard February ground. (Strange simile, you say? Yes, it is. But I've seen it, old bread curved like a warped board, stiff, become the antithesis of itself: cannot be eaten; repellent.) On these dog walks, I multitask. I give Nelly the exercise and socializing she needs--actually, she socializes for one to two minutes, screaming all the while, as she gleefully greets her packmates, then shoots for the hills to search for some game either currently dead, or alive and soon to be dead. I'm lucky if I catch sight of her once or twice during the hour, darting through the distant bracken. But I get the exercise and socializing I need, too. Isn't it nice when life provides perfect solutions like this? I just don't know which came first, my belief that there is no sadder creature on the planet than the dog who lives his life attached by rope to a lumbering human, or my discovery that there's nothing like walking through the woods with a couple of dear, kind, funny, and smart friends who are willing to hash out problems while we cheerfully march on, oblivious of and helpless to prevent the mayhem our dogs are causing. Still, we're all having fun.

The centrality to my life now of my dog's needs and the fulfillment of her biological urges may be the cause of my over-identification with her. When she gets ill, I suffer hypochondria on her behalf. It feels just like my own.

Last Saturday, I noticed her drinking water. A lot of water. Far, far more than normal. I let her out at 10 p.m., and when she returned, she went straight to her bowl and lapped and lapped. This meant that she had to go out again at 11:30, whereupon she drank more and more. And so at 1 a.m., and 3. I fell back into a willed and fitful sleep, as is my wont anyway these days, but twenty minutes later I was suddenly awake again, a dreadful realization on me. I felt hot as it washed over me in a wave: kidney failure. That's what was happening, and I had done it. I had killed my dog, through my negligence in not having given her the antibiotics against anaplasmosis that the vet had prescribed a month earlier. I won't give all the excuses now that I gave myself for not doing so. I just never gave her the pills, is all. Now I was lying there in a sweat, the vet's words coming back to me: " . . . can result, if untreated, in kidney failure." Now it was happening, and as always with terrible events, it was the middle of the night on a Saturday. Sort of like the furnace breaking only on the Friday of a holiday weekend with record-breaking lows predicted.

I got up to look for the two pet health books I had, which both confirmed that excessive thirst and urination signaled kidney trouble. Then I got the phone book and dialed the emergency hospital. I guess not many other dogs were in crisis at this particular moment, though there was the sound of miserable whining and crying in the background at the other end, because a vet tech spent twenty minutes talking me down from the heights. We had to ascertain whether it was really Nelly or me dying, since a minimum charge of $300 not to mention a full night of lost sleep hung in the balance.

Freud's concept of hysteria was a gender-related displacement mechanism. I just want you to be aware of this.

By forcible suppression, I decided I would not rush to the hospital, but I would watch Nelly carefully through the next day. By Sunday evening, she was back to normal again. And then I remembered how on Saturday we had laughed, Bonnie and the fellow who joined us on the walk in Woodstock with his exuberant rubber ball of a Rhodesian ridgeback puppy, at how consummately Nelly had vanished almost immediately, to stay gone but barking audibly to us her "I found something and if I bark at it long enough, maybe it will jump into my mouth" alarm call. She was gone for at least twenty minutes, quite long enough to consume something either fetid or salty or both.

My vet was quietly chastising and ordered us in for a blood test on Monday. Ninety dollars was the price I paid for the merging of my mortality worries with the health of my dog. Still too much.

Nelly's on the antibiotics now.

Someday a new season will come. Perhaps I will one day become engrossed in the knitting circle at the library or something, and give it all the time I once gave to the hedonistic pursuit of two wheels and alluring maps of twisty two-lanes. But for now, I like what I have. The winter suits me. Oh, and to be truthful, I do go to yoga once a week, and take neither my child nor my dog. Work either, come to think of it.

And well, yeah, we went skiing yesterday. But I'll try not to let it happen again.