touch the pain

My body has been very angry with me. It’s given me an itchy and burning fungal infection and today, Sunday, the hardest day of the week, has kept me sneezing all day long. Allergies. To everything.

This afternoon, after managing to calm down enough to sleep, I dreamed of an ancient grief so deep, my dream forced me awake like forceps clamped tight on the sides of my skull. I don’t remember, now, the single neon-bright image/thought that commanded that I regain consciousness (I remembered it for several minutes but now I only remember its lurid brightness), but I know the dream was about my mother, my sister, exclusion, infinite exclusion, being cast away, being unwanted, being forever, unappealably banished from the village yet having to live in the village, invisible, unwanted, raging, dying, going crazy, trying to keep sane, every day, every night. Years.

I felt very little.

The feeling of grief was so pure, so tremendous I didn’t know how to endure it. And then it occurred to me that, in the past two-three years, I have dealt with it by transforming it into terror, and felt happy that this was not happening now. Nothing is worse than the terror. I held on to the grief because the grief is less unendurable than the terror, and because I could.

And now I have to say that, in this last difficult week, I have lost my dog. On Tuesday she was very unruly and I could not help taking it personally, as in: the dog is revolting against me. (This has been a week in which everyone revolted against me). But today, after my nap, flooded by grief, I moved toward the dog who lay next to me and started whimpering and sobbing. It was such a naked act. I felt so ashamed and vulnerable while asking my dog for love. It’s hard to explain if you are not me. I was the child cast out of the village asking a villager to take her back. The child knows only rejection. Asking the dog for acceptance was very, very brave of the child.

The dog, who was facing away from me, turned around, stared into my eyes with her big gentle brown eyes, and started licking my face. The dog and I don’t have much of a licking relationship so it was nice. I whimpered and cried and the dog kept her eyes on my eyes and licked my face. I thought, “She’s licking the salt.” Then I thought, “She’s kissing me.” The dog and I lay face to face for a long time, and when the whimpering surged the dog would lick my face. She licked my nose, my mouth, my cheeks, and my eyes. Her tongue was dry and there was no sliminess. There was no smell. It was warm and nice. She looked into my eyes the whole time. This is my dog.

I thought, could anyone else, right now, bring me the consolation this dog is bringing? I ran through people in my mind — this person, that person — and the answer was, “No, not really.” And I don’t know why.

But I feel tremendously, tremendously grateful to and for the dog.

(Artwork by Derek Bowhammer)