Emotional Support Bugaboos

The generator drones.  The hotshots are filling their cubies and jugs from our potable water dispenser rack.  They are male, very tall and strong and dirty, and they’re wearing surgical masks, which is an absurd touch.  The heat of the day is not yet upon us, but here at the mobile shower unit, set up on the concrete of a huge school parking lot this time, we’ve got plenty of EZ ups and shady places to shelter.  Yesterday was the Big Day of getting here, getting set up, getting connected to the guy who will bring our potable water (check), the guy who will take away our gray water (awol), unfortunately sidelining bugaboo playtime interminably.  

The little dogs must sit in the A/C of the pickup for some time, at first, anxiously watching us walk around and talk to men in green pants, with handheld radios.  Then they must be hastily walked, when set up allows one of us to have a free moment, and they strive and roil on their little leashes, examining their new world with extra emphasis, wondering if we will live here forever.  They have the presence of mind to remember to pee, finally, and by that time we’ve run the lines to the trailer’s converted office quarters and blown the A/C for long enough that the air inside is pleasant.  

So, the bugaboos are helped up onto the soft, narrow bed, and their leashes attached to the hat hook higher up on the wall, from which they can keep us mostly in view as we struggle with EZ ups, buckets of water in lieu of ground stakes, getting all the 55 gallon trash cans lined with 55 gallon trash bags.  At one point Nick is holding a pull-out sink unit for almost longer than he has the strength to, because we’ve lost the pin that locks one of its legs into place.  At another point I am laying underneath the pull out sink unit and applying some screwdriver energy upwards, rotating the gray water catch 90 for a gravity assist.  

The little dogs watch and watch, a little more appeased now that they’ve been walked and put back into the trailer bed they’re accustomed to, in these situations.  Much later, after the closed sign has been put out and the sixteen shower stalls have been hosed and scrubbed and sanitized, they will be led around to the other side of their shelter-trailer, where now a janky tipi tent attempts to stand — nowhere to pound in the stakes, so we created tension with the barbell equipment, but we don’t really have a plan for what to do when it’s time to work out and we need those weights.  Anyway, the tipi isn’t as big and nice as it was last time, but it’s upright, and everyone’s familiar beds are inside: mine, with the roll out foam mat and the orange and gray sleeping bag; Nick’s, with the double stacked paco pads and the blue and black sleeping bag; Buffy’s little fleecy doughnut bed which is pink; and Milo’s identical one, which is pastel green.

There was a moment yesterday, after crossing the mountain range and exiting the interstate, in our separate vehicles, when I pulled the tractor trailer into the same big parking lot Nick was waiting in, with the little dogs, and once I set the brakes and jumped to the ground, he looked around, made sure no vehicles were coming, and released Buffy (my dog of the two), to run towards me for a cross-lot greeting.  Her ears flap like wings — how do you describe a dog that you love?  It’s literally the hardest thing.  Maybe I should explain, instead, why it seems important.

Dogs accommodate human-ambassador status more easily and successfully than most species of animals, but still, we’ve created a society which makes it nearly impossible to include them meaningfully in our lives, our plans, our day.  Most of us accept this, and I had accepted it, but then I found Buffy on a busy road on a rainy day almost six years ago, and…proceeded to orchestrate the most brilliant dog-inclusion hack lifestyle of all time?   I mean, not to toot my own horn, but I was like: it’s imperative I have this dog with me at all times.  Why?  I don’t know how to explain that.

The most ironic part of getting the Emotional Support Animal certification, the first time, was I felt I was lying in response to a bunch of questions that weren’t, anyway, the right questions.  I’m not, demonstrably, crazy enough or damaged enough that I can’t function in x y z environments without my little dog to shore me up.  So if that’s the criteria — and it is — then I lied.  But the questions themselves are lies, misrepresentations, distortions, and I understand why they have to be that way.  I understand how chaotic it would be if everyone everywhere brought their pets with them…actually I could be into that…but anyway I get it.  So they have to make some rules, based on some conception of normalcy versus disability.  Anyway, back to the irony, I felt that the intent of the questionnaire, despite all its jargon and diagnosis-code babble, was to ask: are you less fucked up, in whatever way, if you have this dog with you?  And that I was able to answer with scintillating honesty: yes!  I am less fucked up if I have this dog with me.  I feel so strongly about that, I would commission a plane to fly that banner across the sky: I AM LESS FUCKED UP IF I HAVE BUFFY WITH ME.  That would make a great business card, even.  Or a handwritten sign — I can just go up to people in parking lots and show it to them, unsolicited, as if I’m deaf and selling jewelry but it turns out it’s just an homage to Buffy.

Real talk, though: while dogs are marvelous by nature and Buffy is a peerless example of the companionship they offer, I think that the circumstances of our lives, in the past six years since I found her, have contributed to her being particularly special, and I’ll explain how this specialness is reproducible.  

First, let me recount a short conversation I had with a friend.  I said, to the friend, something about my memories from early childhood as compared to my memories from later childhood.  My friend said, “That’s amazing you remember so much — I remember almost nothing about my childhood.”  

I said, “Did you grow up in the same town, in the same house, for the most part?”  

He said, “Yes.”  

I said, “Would you like your daughter to remember her own childhood very easily and well?”  He’d just recently had a baby girl.  

He said, “Well, yes!”  

I said, “Easy.  Just move her to a new house in a new town every year or every six months.  Works like a charm.”  All of my memories are anchored by this chronological montage of dwellings.  The converted school bus surrounded by hay bales where it was always windy, and my brother and I would play Spiderman; the underground concrete house where I played in the mosaic patterns cast on the floor from the tapestries my mother hung to mitigate the skylights, and where we lived when my father brought home matching toy rabbits for me, one pink and one brown; or the green house in Oklahoma where I saw the pretty green garden snake when I was walking home from the bus stop; I thought it was dead but it was only sleeping, and looked at me with its measuring eye.  Many many memories, all of them contextualized by our shifting series of homes.  I did not rebel against my parents, or snub my brother’s company, or damage my own possessions — they were my tribe, and my only one at that, amid a sea of otherwise change.  

My friend looked suddenly much less interested in his daughter remembering her childhood and I laughed, shrugging.  “Well —!  I’m serious, it works.”

And this is why Buffy is such a good dog, a fact remarked upon by everyone.  Ranging from smiles to squeals, her reception is always warm, because she’s not *just* a little white dog — she’s calm, interested, obviously intelligent, healthily independent from me but unwilling to lose visual connection with me.  She goes from person to person, amiably saying ‘hi’ and letting them pet her daffodil head, hanging down obsequiously, with her tail curled between her legs almost all the time.  She looks defeated or exhausted.  She’s not — that’s just how she holds herself.  She trots after me reliably, leash or not, and generally has a good reason for barking even if it’s a reason I don’t approve of.  She’s got a good head on her shoulders.  

She’s this way because she’s been everywhere with me.  Just everywhere.  Every imaginable where.  And I’m convinced almost any dog could become the world’s best dog (Buffy-style), if they could simply be brought along and brought along and brought along until there is no other home but You; there is no other state but Together.  

This is obviously quite a hack, if you can manage it, I mean just from a work/life standpoint.  The emotional support animal thing helps, as does a reasonably well behaved dog at the outset.  As far as employers go, I’ve asked forgiveness rather than asking permission, for the most part.  I’ll hold up one hand: “Look, I know what you’re about to say —“ and produce Buffy with the other: “But just look at this.”  She droops, inanimate, from my hand, like that famous painting called “End of the Trail” of the really tired Native American warrior on his really tired horse.  One time, I smuggled her into a diner in my armpit, under my jacket, ate my entire meal with her in my jacket, and then paid my bill with her back up in my armpit.  She never moved.  I mean, I can’t take credit for much; mostly just the fact that there is no normal, in her world, except being with me.      

And for a while I wondered if my philosophy on this was flawed because, perhaps, Buffy was simply an extraordinary dog.  But now we’ve adopted Milo, who was not an extraordinary dog, at the outset in any case, and my theory is bearing out.  Milo was everything I don’t want in a dog, although I agreed with Nick that he should be rescued from his basement existence.  I was like, “Damn — it was good while it lasted.”  Milo was anxious, needy, nervous, beseeching, squealing, barking, demanding, sprinting around, and time-lapse clambering over our sleepy bodies like a velociraptor at night.  Buffy would just open an eye and close it again.  

Well — we kept changing Milo’s location, not as a dog training strategy but as a necessity.  This house; now a long drive in the truck; now this house; another long drive.  Seedy roadside hotel.  Truck.  KOA campground.  Truck.  KOA campground, truck, a different house, then a different truck, then a fire camp, then to another hotel, then back to one of the houses, then another long ride, then a different fire camp.  Every day: walks, chasing the ball, emphasis on peeing outside, emphasis on snuggles, emphasis on sleeping when it’s time to sleep.  New people here, there, everywhere.  Always the same two parents; always the nearly unconscious mentorship of Buffy, demonstrating that none of this was a big deal.  It’s just no big deal, and he learned that a little more with each change.    

For a little while, Buffy worsened, became barky and rash — probably some ingenious impulse on her part to match her vibration to Milo’s and then pull his down into serenity.  Now they’re nearly identical — calm, quiet, trusting, interested but undemanding.  It’s all just okay.  All needs and desires will be met.  Now, just in case I haven’t properly communicated this quiet miracle in context, Milo was in the basement because of these behaviors, and his behaviors worsened in the basement, until it didn’t matter which was the chicken or the egg — it all just added up to one very unmanageable little dog with no manners, who wasn’t potty trained.  But all that evaporated, leaving behind a tiny being so kind and magical it’s difficult to believe he’s even real.      

For Nick and I — and for me, in my years with Buffy previous to this relationship and this recent adoption — it’s so phenomenally worth it.  We’ve talked about it a bit, and arrived at this conclusion: there are aspects of ourselves that we simply wouldn’t get to occupy, inhabit, and express, if it were not for first the one little dog and now the pair.  The way, and ways, I get to be, throughout the day, would not be evoked from me if not for their presence, and that would be a shame because it’s the best, brightest part of me; the part of me I’ll claim even on my deathbed as being a great example of what I *don’t* regret about my life.  That, and blogging 🙂

So, having at least established all that, let me return to the moment when I parked the big tractor trailer in the dirt lot, and Nick released Buffy to run and greet me, after checking for any traffic, and she ambled towards me with her ears flapping like wings, and I knelt down to receive her and instead of crashing into my arms like normal dogs do, she pumped the brakes and collapsed onto the ground in a tight little comma — because that’s what Buffy does — and Milo was close behind, prancing like a tiny fox-pony-bison-lion-exotic bird — it becomes less and less clear every day what species he resembles, if not all of them, because he’s still growing into his energy, fundamentally — and he does jump into my arms, while Buffy hunkers with renewed jealousy — and behind Milo comes gladiator Nick, kneeling down for a big, parking lot family hug. We’re frazzled, we’re fucking tired, we slept in the tractor for not enough time before this, and we have a big set up facing us after this, but first an hour more of driving to the wrong directions because the fire camp decided to move between the time resource orders were sent out and resources like us had a chance to arrive, and that’s all fine. It’s especially all fine for these little bugaboos, who — god knows what their lives would be, otherwise. Buffy in the desert, eaten by coyotes, or run over. Milo, frantic in his basement. It’s so hard, to do the right thing for other humans, and so easy, to do the right thing for animals.

Maybe my parents regretted hauling us around like helpless little dogs, town to town, house to house, and school to school, but my brother and I don’t regret it.  And maybe Buffy would have been rescued by a little old lady who would keep her on a pillow and feed her crumpets.  I mean, I essentially keep her on a pillow and feed her crumpets, despite the other variables.  It’s sheer serendipity I found a small dog, for one thing, because it would be a lot harder to tuck a pit bull up into my armpit and pay my bill at a diner, if so.  And I have the phenomenal, oblivious luxury of not having had to raise children but exerting my opinion all around it regardless, and I don’t think they need stasis.  It probably doesn’t hurt them to grow up in the suburbs and get new school clothes twice a year and have the same friends in 12th grade they had in 1st grade, and to lose their memories in a haze of domestic sameness, but I don’t know — I really like the way the erosion of traditional normalcy exposes, like igneous rock from sandstone, the actual shapes and contours of one’s character and preferences and beliefs.  As someone who’s banged around in the world a lot, but at the same time not nearly enough, I think it’s been one of the biggest and best silver linings of that perpetual dark cloud — how do I make money?  And it was a lonely old ricochet for the most part, until I found my little girl in the desert.  And the desert keeps blooming, gifting me with this partner, Nick, and this new little bugaboo, Milo.  

We are really making it up as we go, in our post-COVID world, which is actually a return to what I consider a far more normal state.  It’s so good to love and be loved by these brilliant little empaths.  Loneliness is an epidemic, and I’ve had my share of it.  

So, yes, ultimately I was honest on the questionnaire.  I am less fucked up if I have Buffy with me.                            

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