It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
Daisy is old. My sixty-five pound Labrador retriever is on the same estrogen prescription as my grandmother and when we tried to figure out her age last fall, we couldn't remember how to do it. Which years are seven and there are some which are five and do you really count the first? But we came somewhat near that of the other pill-swallower in the family. I'm the one who forces the blue pill down Daisy's throat as my brothers don't like the gag-cough that occurs immediately afterwards, when her front feet are spread apart as her head lurches forward. The aspirin isn't as bad for it's not as big, but I always have to cajole her to take the pills, trick her into doing her sit-shake-speak routine in order to grab her lower and upper jaws with each hand as I pry them apart to keep her alive. I don't know how much she minds, but she does know there is always a biscuit afterwards, always a kiss on the forehead and a conscious scratch behind her ears. She understands I'm sorry.
Daisy likes to go outside after midnight. I'm not sure if her bladder has the need, or if it's simply a habit now, but she whines next to my ear to rouse me. As always, I've already made myself comfortable in the bought-when-I-was-four bed, where if I don't curl fetal, then my feet hang over the edge. And when I'm in the proper position to fall easily asleep, I know I must throw on red fleece over blue plaid pajamas and find running sneakers hidden under my bed which I bought this summer with visions of fitness, and I know I must go with her. She has come to discover, by her own process of elimination, that I am the one who will take her around the entire block; I am the one who will stop and ask her what is so important in those bushes by the Grotti's house and wait until she has figured it out. My brothers, on the other hand, only stand in their Hanes brand skivvies by the front door (if they get up at all), occasionally opening the screen door to call her name and remind her that they are cold and would like to return to their electric-blanket-fed, heat-induced, winter beds.
I don't mind being with my dog outside tonight, for it gives me a chance to smoke a cigarette or two away from my non-smoking mother's only fascist tendency and tonight is warm for coastal Maine in January. It has rained earlier in the day and the appropriate breathe-a-sight-of-relief snow which had fallen for the neurotic Christmas lover is mostly gone. The dead brown grass has reappeared to remind us New Englanders that spring is far away and the snow which is left is ugly in its now frozen and black-encrusted, piled-at-the-end-of-driveways state. The fog is familiar to those of us who have lived on the coast for all of our lives and I am only conscious of hearing the mile-away-to-the-ocean warning of the foghorn because I have been away at an inland school for four months. As the dog I've missed and I walk the streets of our neighborhood, the sand left over from the snow plows makes the only sound as our feet crunch upon it. The streetlights are on and the fog gives them a dull glow as it muffles their force.
At one in the morning, Daisy, the dog who is roughly my grandmother's age, and I, the young woman who is forced to redefine her life a college graduation, her next rite of passage, is upon her, are walking the streets o the only neighborhood we've ever known. Daisy was my eight birthday present, a dog first known as Maggie who was scared of my brothers because the men who had passed her around to take turns beating their own lack of control into her. She tore my shoes, ripped my sweatshirts, even snacked on the corner of the house, which Mom had to tear off, replace, and repaint. The more I tossed the faded yellow Penn tennis ball for her to catch and the more I laid my head on her turned up belly while she slept on the living room floor and I read, the less she needed to fear.
I grew up in the four street circular neighborhood in Greensport on Sea View Road. I used to have to run home in the free-from-school months when the street lights turned on because Mom wouldn't know where we were and like heck she was going to be hollerin' our names for fifteen minutes straight before we got our dirty summer-hard feet in gear to start on home. The street lights were our clock, our welcome-home reminder. Sometimes we played street hockey and since Betsy and I were the youngest, and girls at that, we were the ones who stood behind either goal, facing away from the action, our backs to the game, and watched for cars. Our older brothers explained to us that our jobs were important. And stressed the word im-port-tant, dragging out each syllable, scratching them on the same sandy surface as the Faked! Shot! SCORED! Looking at each of us, leaning casually on their hockey sticks, owning their hockey sticks, Turn around ladies, you're out to save our lives. But we didn't want to save any lives. We just wanted to play hockey.
And other times Betsy and I would be at my baby-sitter's house, sitting on the maroon-painted fence, swinging our legs while we held on with both hands, watching the older boys shoot the mostly flat ball at the only basketball hoop in the neighborhood. You're not tall enough, you'd never reach the basket. And they'd go on dribbling, and laughing, and passing the ball and barely making any shots themselves. And when we were involved, it was only for an outbreak of their favorite song, Betsy-Wetsy needs Amber-Pamper! Betsy and I discovered that nothing clever rhymed with "Eric" or "Sean" so we resumed our younger sister position on the fence. La la la la la.
Betsy moved away two years later and my parents gave me a dog for my birthday that same year. She was a nine-month old puppy then and now she has rheumatoid arthritis. Her joints swell to cracking and my bed which used to seem so high off the ground for me in size, is now too high off the ground for her in age. The arthritis affects her entire body, inflaming the membrane lining of her joints, and then, in turn, causes damage to her healthy parts by invading the bones and tissues when releasing the feeding enzymes. Doctors haven't figured out the cause of Daisy's arthritis, but they know what happens. They know how her immune system, because of all the harm, doesn't operate as it should; it can't help her in her disease's cyclic nature of search and destroy.
And tonight, before this walk, I had risen from a bed I haven't slept in since nursery school, my mother buying me the white bedroom furniture which I never wanted and have always hated, painting my walls girl-soft pink because she always wanted a white bedroom set and girl-soft pink walls when she was young. Tonight I am old enough to leave the house long after the street lights have turned on, and the smoke from my second cigarette mixes with the fog and I am walking home with a dog named Daisy about my grandmother's age and I fear the foghorn.
Daisy can't walk up the stairs to my bedroom because the arthritis has decided to settle in her knees tonight. I force another aspirin from the bottle in my pocket down her throat in hopes that it will travel quicker to her pain, caused by the circulation that increased because of the walk we went on, which then invited back her arthritis. I carry her up the steps, my nose running clear and easier from the instant change in temperature and with my arms wrapped around her chest and under her legs, the weight of her and the position of my arms make it impossible to wipe my nose, even with my sleeve.