Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nearer, My Dog, to Thee

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.


Paul Kowacki said...

Melissa, Thanks for that.

I often think about (appreciate) My relationships with our four sweet goldens. Lucky for me that Chris is not jealous that my favorite place, after a long day, is in a pile on the floor, falling asleep with all four goldens laying against me, or with a leg or head resting on me, as if they each need some certain contact. All five of us falling into the most blissful sleep.

And what of the love they have for us? When I'm home, Sugar follows me around, no matter where in the house I go, sitting up so pretty and attentive a few feet away, just watching, apparently just happy to be there with me. Sebastian loves to sit and look out over the forest with me as I drink my coffee in the morning. In Sista Daisy's first week with us she gave me 19 lacerations; now she is the sweetest kisser, and lays her head on my feet. In the truck, Sam's place to ride is sitting next to me, his head on my shoulder, his muzzle below my chin. Gotta be love.

And of the love they have for each other? I notice the gentle nose touch/nudge of greeting they give each other when returning from some separation, kind of like a peck on the cheek. And the way they include each other in play. Sugar is so ferocious and pounding when playing combat with Sebastian and Sista Daisy, but when (elderly) Sam joins in the puppy play, she gives him the same game, but more gentle, still genuine play, but obviously sensitive to his slower, stiffer, condition.

Like a reflex, I smile, and feel a warmth and peace, when I think of these special friends.

Thank you, Melissa, for putting it so effectively into words, that we may become more fully aware how fortunate we, as friends of dogs, are.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Paul, I think of it as a great circle: we give, we receive; they give, they receive. And finally we no longer know where we begin and end. I know, we're still different species; I know how guilty of projection I can be. Maybe Nelly just loves the food I give her. But I DO know she loves her beau Willy: the look of joy on her face as she puts her whole head inside his great jaws is simply the ecstasy of love.