It was a blissful day in the dog park, until another dog owner decided to strike up a conversation. ‘How old is your dog?’ he asked. Twelve, I said. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Twelve! An old guy! How long do those types of dogs live?’
I looked at his big friendly pie face, and pictured myself ramming a steel rod through his eye. My imaginary vision of his big cranium crashing onto the frozen earth with a piece of metal sticking out of it was so much more satisfying than any conversation I could ever have. But I couldn’t even talk. I couldn’t have this conversation.
Of course I think about how old my dog is. I think about it a million times a day. The thought is small dark cloud that is constantly seeking access to my brain, but I immediately make it disappear. Gratitude is a much stronger force than fear, and I use it to nudge the cloud away. Why think about the unknown when you have this day?
Somewhere in the last five years, and due to spending much time in the hospital, my thought process has changed. There is a long story (which boring to everyone but me), but the short one is that I am much more able to live in the present, and much less likely to get swept up in the anticipatory anxiety of the unknown. It’s working quite well as long as I stay in my own head, but I haven’t evolved to the point of incorporating it into stupid conversation.
My throat was closed and my mind was racing. Now I was picturing the same guy sitting on a park bench with his granny. He with his round jolly head, and she, a little apple face doll in a pink hat that slightly resembled a tea cozy. They are in a ‘Granny Park’ and someone walks up to him and says, ‘She’s a cutie. How long do you think she’ll live?’
|Now, about your Granny.....|
Now it’s back to real life. He’s still looking at me, waiting for an answer and his smile had started to fade. I’d been staring at him for at least ten second without blinking. ‘I’m sorry’, I said, ‘Did you say something?’
‘Um,’ he said, with a lot less jocularity, ‘Your dog. The basset hound. How long do they usually live?’
I summoned all the little tricks I’ve learned over the last few years. Clearing my mind. Filling my heart with a smile. Acceptance. Understanding. And arranging my face into a pleasant expression until it starts to feel real. Sometimes this works, but sometimes people are still assholes that you want to jab in the head with a stick. So I answered his question.
‘Forever’, I said. And walked away.