We Go Through It
by Shayne Terry
“Be free.” I release the leash from Sadie’s collar. “Go. Run.”
Sadie stands and sniffs the air. She is uninterested in freedom.
Sadie plays a game we call shadow. I walk, she walks. I stop, she stops.
She was recently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. It was at the vet’s recommendation that I hired a dog therapist, and it is now at the dog therapist’s recommendation that we begin daily expeditions to the dog park.
“She is an animal,” the dog therapist tells me. “She needs to run.”
People greet one another like this: “Friendly?”
What they mean is: “May we get close? Are we safe? Will we be hurt?”
I talk to the dog park people in ways that feel appropriate. If another dog approaches Sadie, I shrug my shoulders at the dog’s person and say, “She doesn’t really play.” They shrug back and divert their dogs by throwing a stick or a tennis ball.
The dog park is a party where everyone has a convenient reason to walk away.
The weekends are packed, but the weekdays are quiet. There are regulars. A couple and their sleepy-eyed spaniel. A curly-haired man who wears spandex shorts and throws a Frisbee for his mutt. A woman who wears galoshes even when it’s not raining and shrieks at her Labrador at consistent intervals, “Lola! Lola! Lola, no!”
There is a pair I call the art teachers. He has wild hair and tiny lines around his eyes. She wears flowy dresses made of hemp or linen and necklaces with big wooden beads.
One or the other accompanies a standard poodle: he on the weekdays, she on the weekends. They are never together. Maybe they have some sort of joint custody arrangement.
The poodle’s name is Aristotle. I learn the names of all the dogs, but the people rarely introduce themselves.
I encourage Sadie to run. The point of the park is total exhaustion. “Anxiety is just excess energy,” says the dog therapist. “If she is tired, she won’t have the energy to be anxious.”
A man in a tweed jacket crosses the field, trailed by an ancient St. Bernard with a limp.
The man leans forward as if putting his weight on a cane, but there is no cane. The two of them plod through the park.
“Hips,” says the man to me as he passes.
I realize I am giving his dog the same look people give mine, the one that asks, “What went wrong?”
Sadie’s early symptoms: panting, pacing, habitual lip licking. I thought she was dehydrated. I added chicken broth to her water.
Then came the trembling. Tiny quakes through her little body. She became incapable of stillness. I swaddled her in blankets like a baby. I shushed her, though she made no sound.
Five or six large dogs bark and snarl and jump at one another. “They’re just playing,” someone says, but then things escalate. Intervention is required. A woman restrains her Rottweiler as the other people scatter.
Despite our new ritual, Sadie’s symptoms worsen. She begins to gnaw on her own legs and paws. She always looked scraggly, but now her wiry grey hair falls out in patches, revealing red, raw skin. She bleeds on the carpet and on the couch.
I say I have an ailing relative and need to work from home.
The vet prescribes Fluoxetine. “Prozac for dogs,” she tells me. Sadie will eat the pills if I smother them in peanut butter. I watch for signs of lethargy, that she has lost herself. I worry about her inner life. She keeps chewing on her paws.
“It’s strange it came on at such an advanced age,” says the vet. “Did something happen?”
My ex-girlfriend’s dog died in June. She rescued him after me. He was only a puppy, but he had some sort of congenital kidney disease. She told me over email. We don’t text.
The details of the dog’s demise put me in a fog for a day or two. He wasn’t our dog, but he could have been so easily, right here in our apartment, which was now my apartment. I still had our dog, who was now my dog. But this other dog was my dead dog in a parallel universe.
“Could it be that Sadie is picking up on your anxiety?” the dog therapist asks at our next session.
I see the man in the tweed jacket with the St. Bernard again. He approaches us and stops. The St. Bernard lies down heavily to rest.
“Yours?” The man inclines his head toward Sadie sheltering between my feet.
I look down at her. Her eyes are ringed with pink. She flinches, as if I were raising my hand to strike her, although I have never given her a reason to believe I would do such a thing. She has the involuntary twitches of a body going through withdrawal. “Mine.”
“Try classical music,” the man says. “It soothes them.”
Once, at a flea market, I saw a man hit his dog. The dog ran in a circle around the man and tangled the man’s legs in its leash. The man almost fell, but he caught himself. It was one of those moments in which the crowd feels a collective sense of relief. Then, the man turned and whaled on the dog so hard it whimpered and cowered.
“I just had knee surgery,” the man said to no one. “He knows better.”
A few people looked at me, the other person at the market with a dog. I did what Sadie does when she is unsettled: I looked away.
I find it difficult to concentrate on my work with Sadie panting under the desk. I miss a few deadlines. I receive a handful of emails that begin or end with, “Just checking in.”
I consider emailing my ex about Sadie, telling her how I haven’t slept through the night in weeks because Sadie keeps waking up with the shakes, how I understand what it’s like to be left alone. My ex told me once that I could be unfair and unkind.
The fair and kind thing to do would be to let her grieve her new, dead dog. Maybe she has a new girlfriend to grieve with her. I don’t know. We don’t email about those things.
“The meds are not working,” I tell the vet. “She’s chewing herself raw. I can’t leave the apartment. I’m afraid to leave her alone.”
I mean to say I want to wean her off, but the vet says, “We may need to double her dosage.”
Hard rain. Sadie gives me sad eyes as it soaks her, but she walks. According to the dog therapist, consistency is key.
Her skinny body shivers. She looks like a baby rat in a science lab, bald and pink.
The park is all puddles and mud. Across the rolling hills, a yellow raincoat waves as if to say, “Just us foul-weather friends.”
A fog hangs over the field, so dense it seems as if we are the only ones here. We go through it, staying close so as not to lose one another.
The man is still wearing his tweed jacket, but the St. Bernard with the bad hips has been gone for weeks. I wonder how long he has been coming here, and how long it will take him to give up the routine. When Sadie is gone, how long will it take me?
The man crosses the field alone and is about to pass us when he stops and looks at Sadie. “Have you tried the classical music?”
I shake my head. I feel like I’m standing before the teacher and haven’t done the homework.
“In the city,” he says, “their worlds are full of unnatural noise. It is up to us to counter that.” With some effort, he bends and touches Sadie’s head. He looks into her watery eyes, and then he moves on.
I get one of those sound systems that promise to fill every room, even though we just have the one. I put on Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. The sound fills the space between the wardrobe and the wall, fills the sink and snakes the drain, falls down over the bed like a clean blanket.
I say, “I’ll be back soon,” like the dog therapist taught us.
I go into the hall and wait five minutes. If all goes well, then tomorrow we try ten.
We go early on a Saturday to see if we can beat the crowds. Some of the other weekday regulars are here. The cyclist with the Frisbee, the art teacher in her bangles, Lola No.
People say to one another that this is the last nice day.
I leave Sadie for a full hour. I walk to the bank, not the closest one but the next closest one, and check my balance. I pay a man with a cart four quarters for a hot tea and hold it with two hands. I find myself taking the path to the park out of habit and diverge. Walking the neighborhood without Sadie is strange. Without a leash to hold onto, these streets feel more like my ex’s than mine.
When Sadie was our dog, we never took her to the park. It did not occur to us to walk her that long. Three times a day for so many years, we circled our own block.
On the way home, I stop at a fruit stand. I linger over the mangoes and imagine her without me. I listen to a sidewalk salesman’s pitch for a gym and take a coupon for a seven-day free trial.
When I return, she is curled up in her bed. A piano tremolo softly shimmers. There is no blood. I am so relieved, I cry.
I read somewhere that dogs have learned to smile by watching people. They do it to appease us and because we reward them for it.
Sadie doesn’t smile, but she pulls less at the leash now that she understands where we are going. We are dog park people. Dog and person.
Published November 25th, 2018
Shayne Terry's fiction has appeared in American Chordata, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Wigleaf, Okay Donkey, and elsewhere and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Born and raised in Illinois, she has an MA in Literature from University College Dublin and lives in Brooklyn. Read more at shayneterry.com.
Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook achieved international prominence with an earlier project, Conversations with Death on Life’s First Street (2005), a series of videos in which the artist addresses rooms filled with corpses on the experience and meaning of death. In The Treachery of the Moon (2012), this twinning of opposite but related moments is emblematized as the visual intersection of two different worlds, the fictional realm of television drama and the reality of political clashes in 21st-century Thailand.
Accompanying the swirl of images that overwhelm the central figures of the artist and her dogs are songs from a more tranquil past, which evoke a nostalgia for simpler and more ethical times. With its evocative title, The Treachery of the Moon articulates Rasdjarmrearnsook’s interest in the possibility of exposing consciousness and memory as dreamlike illusions. The introduction of the figure of the common dog into the artist’s works begins with Afterwards, regret rises in our memory even for bygone hardships (2009), and In reinterpreting old landscape we may have to endure repetitions of the same old karma (2009). In an empathetic commentary on karma, both works feature a domesticated creature whose well-being depends on human kindness.