I joined a writers group. I am not entirely certain about this. It is a difficult thing figuring out the good, next step after Patmos — 10 days on a Greek Island basking under the tutelage of Cheryl Strayed and colleagues, me with 60 other buoyant individuals and a shared focus on craft and voice. I loved it but, like any good love affair, it ruined me for what comes next.
I joined the writers group when I returned from Greece and then I put my big girl panties on and joined a critique pod, a small group of folks who meet regularly to read and critique each others’ work. “Come on Monday”, they said, so I did. It’s a small group and they have been together a good, long time. There is a shared familiarity in their rhythm and references and the way they follow the string of each others’ recollections. I think I smiled a lot, that half-smile thing one does when wanting to belong, but having little sense of how. Bantering between themselves, side explanations to me about how they work and then, a question in my direction:
What kind of writing do you do?
I tried. I tried to explain my desire to write through the lens of life with animals, how being in deep kinship with animals is mystical and spiritual and life-saving to me and that I wanted to give voice to that place, those relationships. They listened, heads cocked like puppies. Not quite in the context of their memoir writing theme, I imagined. And then their self-revelations — about reading James Herriot and I had a dog once — and then the thing that startled an edge into me:
All I want in my life is a iron dog, the kind that sits by the fire and doesn’t bark or require effort.
Clearly, I am in the wrong group.
Except, maybe I am in exactly the right group.
I don’t want a word fest with my own belly button. I want to give voice and put Out There these things that matter so much to me. This is a captive audience. Allowing my membership means they are forced to read my writings. Ha! So, go ahead, be skeptical, but read my stuff. Maybe, if I’m any good at this, it will take you just a little bit down the road in my direction. Well then, mission accomplished. And so we talked some about that and I heard other things and the Iron Dog reference gained new and richer meaning for me.
I want an iron dog because I just cannot go through losing another one.
Well, shit, I get that.
And that energy has been working me the whole rest of the week.
It was National Dog Day yesterday which is entirely stupid because dogs are worth recognizing every day. But I ponied up a post, just to be counted. The thing is, I did not post about the six beauties that share space with us now. I posted about Gus; three letters to his name and I am in tears by the letter “s”. Gus. There, I just stabbed a knife in my heart by saying it again.
I miss him so dang much, my blood feels like it is flowing out of its channels and making a river of sorrow outside my body. Surely you can see it. The loss of my dad, of Jubilee, of Gus — my three gushing rivers of sorrow.
I will never have another dad and there will never be another horse like Jubilee nor a dog like Gus. Iconic. But this is what I know. The sorrow is not as big as the fullness of the life I had with them; never will be. This is also what I know.
Because of Jubilee, there is Filou and Beamer and Loosa and Legs and the singular Andante and there is Boo and Belle and even the donkeys, BJ, Annie and Elliot.
Because of Gus, there was Evelyn and still is Grace and also Marco and Sophie and Giada and the epic Miss Monroe and now, dear, dear Molly.
Each and every one of them is here because Jubilee and Gus created inside of us a full-on faith and addiction for how it could be.
Because of Gus, Molly. I see this so clearly. I see him in her. I want him to know how happy it makes me to take care of her in her old age, the way I did and would have done forever with Gus. I willingly carry her outside and put medicine in her ears and eyes and tell her that she’s beautiful, because she is, and when she leaves us, as she will, I want her to feel like the most loved dog in the Universe. That’s the truth of it.
So, no, I don’t want to be that person, the one with an iron dog. It might ward off future sorrow, but it would also deprive me of the rich, rich experience of what it means to have a life, this life, made full with animals.
Because of Gus.