The contagion of dogs, siblings, and a mind that wanders

My daughter bought a dog pram online.  Akin to a baby’s pram, but it’s far more lightweight with minimal suspension but good enough for our dog.

The dog can still walk but long trips are problematic, so we put him in the pram, wheel him around for the best part of the journey, and then let him out once we reach the leash-free park for several minutes’ freedom before returning him to the pram and the homeward journey. 

The first time I took him out I felt a fool. A crazy dog person. It’s amazing the novelty value of a dog in a pram. People in cars slow down and stare. People walking past stop and comment. 

It feels strangely decadent, like the wealthy folk taking their dog’s needs to extremes.

The dog has a problem with his cruciate ligament that is temporarily aided by regular three monthly injections and some other concoction for his arthritis but when the medication wears off he begins to limp and in time refuses to put any weight on his left hind leg. It’s grown thin and wasted through lack of use.

I do not want to write about dogs per se, but dogs are a conduit to other feelings and thoughts. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons people admire them so. Dogs offer access to ourselves, to raw emotions we might prefer to ignore.

Dogs also cop our projections. 

When people use the term, ‘a dog’s life’, it carries two connotations.

One a life of leisure, always being cared for, never having to fend for themselves except maybe in the park in the presence of other dogs in play, but otherwise a life of bliss. 

The other connotation is that of servitude. A life treated as a lesser being, made to do whatever your owner requires of you. A life dripping with other people’s needs, expectations and desires. 

In two week’s time, I will risk a weekend plane trip to Newcastle to stay overnight with at least six of my siblings on what we now call our annual family reunion. The ordinary risks of flying are exacerbated by the presence of the coronavirus in our community and beyond if I am to believe all the hype in the newspapers.

It’s not the virus that stirs me so much as the thought of time spent with my siblings. Such time recreates something of the sensation of my childhood, something of the helplessness I felt when I was small surrounded by so many bigger brothers and a sister, and at the head of the three youngest.

I grew up in both worlds, a big person, as the oldest of the last four, and a little one, the youngest of five. 

I learned how to live in the company of these people, my siblings, many of them strangers to me now beyond our annual get together. We rarely speak and the idea of each one as we once were years ago as children, gets stuck in my mind, as I imagine I do in theirs. 

I have a photograph on my desktop of the nine of us taken the last time we were all together, on that very first family reunion ten years ago in Griffith New South Wales.

We try to meet in places between Melbourne and Queensland to make it equally difficult for everyone to get there so that no one is favoured by the ease of travel.

Rather like people meeting in cafes rather than on each other’s home turf to minimise the possibility of power imbalances. Or that’s my take on it. 

Newcastle. A long way to travel for dinner. But still. We do these things in honour of connection.

I had so looked forward to this morning knowing that there would be no one else in the house and only one dog left behind. My children took the younger dog away overnight and my husband is out walking with a friend. 

It’s quiet and I’m free to write as I please. But my mind’s a jumble of disparate thoughts and every road I travel down leads to cul de sacs of inconsequence, so I start again.

A friend pinned the picture of a dignitary from the military on the inside door of the toilet in their shared house in Fermanagh Road where my husband once lived. In the days before I met him. 

They reckoned it was a dead ringer for him. I could see the resemblance too when I first used the toilet, the steady eyes but by the time I first met him, my husband had shaved off his moustache. I prefer my men clean haven. Not that he took it off for me. 

It’s another image I keep on my desk, a reminder of days gone by when my husband had ambitions to become a senior public servant, a title that to him spelled dignity and promise.

My mind fell on the word ‘servant’ and I could think of nothing worse. But my husband was a man of action, a man who liked order and certainty. The public service in those days suited him, but that was before the politics of the day and the politics of personality crammed in and he changed his course in a commercial direction that left him less prey to politics but still subject to the demands of capitalism and greed, which took its toll in a large corporate law office that gave him a heart attack in his fifty-fifth year.

I find myself skimming over surfaces, reducing events to grand gestures, into writing that leaves me wondering why I am writing any of it. 

My heart is not in these words. I’m trying to find a spark of interest but my head is too full of present concerns. And as well, the deodorant I put on yesterday, the one that advertised itself as free from aluminium, has worn off. 

Until I have a shower I can smell myself in a way that leaves me unsettled, as if I am a wet dog in need of a bath. 

2 thoughts on “The contagion of dogs, siblings, and a mind that wanders”

  1. Never been a dog person. I mean I’d see no harm done to one, to any creature bar the bugs foolhardy enough brave our kitchen floor (I am my mother’s son), but I far prefer cats. Never really got the whole dogs vs cats thing. I mean you don’t talk about someone being a fish or a bird person but there obviously are and weird snake and iguana people. Not sure what I’d think about you and your dog pram if I saw you out walking. We Brits take perverse pride in our local eccentrics although I do suspect the English hold their crackpots in higher esteem than we Scots who think tolerance is the way to go when avoidance is not an option.

    News of the coronavirus is constant. Drip, drip, drip all day long. It really is hard to know how worried to be. It’s not like I leave the house any more than I absolutely have to at the moment. I’m not due to meet my daughter for lunch until the end of April and I think we’ll all be better placed by then to decide if that’s wise. Carrie and I are both in the high risk category and so as long as we can get groceries delivered I think we’ll sit it out for as long as it drags on. I know some people would go stir crazy stuck indoors for weeks on end but we’re perfectly happy. Outside’s a chore.

    As far as facial hair grows I’ve had a moustache since I was seventeen and, apart from a couple of short breaks, a beard since I was nineteen. My father hated it with a vengeance but I don’t recall my mother ever being that bothered and no one else in my life has ever had much to say on the subject. Carrie’s never seen me without one. I really couldn’t tell you why I first grew it. Curiosity I suppose. Now it’s a part of my identity and I think it give me character.

  2. Covid-19 is the one thing everyone is talking about now, Jim. And everything pales into insignificance alongside. Maintain your social distancing I say, stay safe and help keep others safe. Thanks, Jim.

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