by Ron Hayes
It’s late. The house is dark and still. Down the hall from my office, where I sit with only a dim lamp and the harsh glow of my MacBook for light, my wife and son are shut behind their respective bedroom doors, fast asleep. I’ve been clicking away at these keys for nearly an hour and I can finally start to feel that bubbling percolation from deep down inside. I’m getting there. It’s close. I’m done with the drudgery of habitual writing, I can feel it. Inspired writing is coming. I am THIS close to being in the zone. Yes! Here it comes… God, I can’t wait! It’ll go so much faster, it’ll work so much more smoothly. Just another sentence or two. I can feel it working now. It’s coming. This silence is such a blessing! The darkness, the stillness… my God, yes! The focus is near perfect now, I am so about to be IN THE ZONE…!
Click click click click click…
No. NO! Not now!
CLICK CLICK CLICK…
My dear, sweet, ancient Ella, our twelve-year old Chocolate Lab with preternaturally long toenails and still the most gorgeous, shiny, chocolate-brown coat comes clicking down the long hardwood floor to my office where she finds the only human awake in the house. She has to pee.
Ella is magnificent, easily one of the best—if not THE best dog—I have ever loved. She doesn’t bark, she has never once chewed or eaten anything she wasn’t supposed to, never escaped the house for an impromptu saunter about the neighborhood, and, when she sleeps, it must be that she sometimes dreams about being a puppy because she makes these incredibly endearing (and alternately annoying) suckling sounds, as though she’s still nursing from her long departed mother. She is the perfect embodiment of a “chocolate” because if she were to get any sweeter it would be cloyingly nauseating.
And she’s a mother herself. Seven years ago we paired her up with a fellow violin family’s dog, and in the summer of 2008 she delivered seven adorable, perfect little furballs. It was one of those things we decided to try to see if we liked and might want to get into, that we thought would be good for the kids to experience and all that. We’d sell six, keep one, and go from there. Except…we are really bad at selling things and really bad at letting go, I guess. Ella has long been “mommy’s dog” and continues to be to this day. They just share some kind of sweet, intangible bond that I attribute in part to the shared bond of motherhood.
As the puppies grew old enough and started to get adopted, it grew increasingly clear that each of us boys had our own particular favorite puppy. Narrowing it down to which of the three puppies we would keep became easier as time passed and no one was answering our ads. Ultimately, we never had to make that decision. We kept a male and two females: Jasper, Ursa, and Hecate. Hecate was and is MY dog.
Tragically, we lost Ursa first when all three puppies escaped the backyard fence and tried to cross the busiest street close to us. Each of the girls was hit by the same car and Ursa’s back was irreparably broken. Our boys learned a hard lesson about life and death that night. Hecate broke her right shoulder and the doctor said it was 50-50 as to whether she would ever regain use of her right front foot (she did, thankfully). Jasper escaped unscathed, only to die of liver cancer three years later.
It’s strange. Where at one point in our lives we had a dog for each human in this house, we now only have one human for each dog. My sons are 21 and 18 now, the younger one off to his freshman year of college in two months. That leaves Dawn and I with Ella and Hecate. As I write this, Ella has taken Dawn on her daily walk and Hecate is sprawled out on the couch, utterly indifferent to whether or not I will be taking her at some point. She is content beyond measure.
This month at 5Writers we celebrate the pets we have in our lives and look at how they contribute to our work as writers. I won’t lie—this was a tough one for me. I don’t necessarily think about Ella or Hecate or Jasper or Ursa while I’m writing and I know I haven’t really ever plumbed the depths of my emotions toward them to write a poem or a scene or an essay. I didn’t know how to approach this month’s topic. But last night, as I heard the click-click-click of Ella’s nails coming to fetch me and drag me to the back door, and this morning, as I watched Hecate wake from her nap, roll around like a horse in clover, snorting and sneezing and staring at me upside down from her spot on the couch, I realized what each of these old girls gives me. I think about the moments when I’m stuck and sitting, thinking and pondering the direction of a narrative or whether to kill an entire stanza, and Hecate quietly slides her head under my hand as if to say, “I’m here to help, dad. Take a break and come back to it. It’ll work out. But for now, pet me.” And then I do and she’s right. It does work out. I think of the day not far off when Ella will leave us and Dawn will be an absolute wreck and I know that, for the first time, I will write something deep and meaningful that was generated not by just “a pet,” but by love. By an indefinable connection. A relationship deeper and healthier and more satisfying than ones we have with most people. Ella and Hecate, Jasper and Ursa don’t have a direct influence on what I write. But through their devotion and unconditional love they have affected how I write, for without their place in my life I know I would be that much less patient, that much less empathetic, that much less understanding, and probably just a little more obtuse. And finally, most importantly, as a writer without pets I would probably…
Damn. Excuse me. Now Hecate has to pee.