Monday, November 15, 2010

Hair of the Dog

Every November, an event called NaNoWriMo takes place. It's where people challenge themselves to write a novel in exactly one month. I tried to do it last year (unsuccessfully), and though I'm not taking part this time around, (much as I would have liked to), I've been thinking a lot lately about a situation that occurred recently with an old friend of mine who stopped talking to me a few months ago.

I wanted to find some way of dealing with the situation, to sort through all of the emotions I've been feeling, so I decided to write about a particular memory I have of her. I have no idea if this is any good, but now I know I can write 850-ish words in an hour (that's how long it took me to write this), so I feel much more motivated to work on my book.

This piece is called Hair of the Dog.


"Come on, Charley!"

Her voice is sing-song, playful as she waves her hand. He pants happily, eyes bright and shining, chest heaving with eager breath, and trots over. I watch as she clips the green leash to his collar, readying him.

"Wanna go for a walk?"

He barks in the affirmative, tail wagging nonstop. The noise rings in my ears, but I stay calm, focused on the task at hand. I pull on my coat, following her copper ponytail out into the cool, autumn night.

Down the road, Charley does his business, and she lets him off the leash soon after. "So he can run around a little," she says, and I nod.

The lights from the baseball field behind her street cast a faint glow; beams of light slipping in between the thick trees. It's only steps to the high school from there, beige and black walls and doors that close with a thunderous click.

Charley's vibrating form appears under the streetlight then, thick, white curls turned to an unnatural orange. A rustling in the bushes catches his attention, and he's off, chasing the unlucky--and no doubt unhappy--neighborhood cat.

We shake our heads in disbelief, our collective laughter echoing down the street.


She calls him back soon after, and we head inside, clomping up the creaking steps and through the two doors into the foyer. The smell of dog hits me in the face almost immediately, and I wrinkle my nose in disgust.

I'm not a dog person.

It's always the barking, the piercing volume that vibrates inside my skull and leaves me trembling, overwhelmed. The yappy dogs are the worst, with their high-pitched yelps and jumping as if they have springs attached to their paws. The combination of the two is enough to send me running from the room.

She told me how dumb Charley was when I first met him. That he'd never hurt a fly. I remember the almost permanent grin he had on his face, teeth exposed, pink tongue hanging down as he stared at us. His fur reminds me of my mother's sweater--coarse and smooth, bristling underneath and between my fingers.

He's helped me be not afraid.

I walk behind her to the TV room, listening to the scritch-scratch of his feet on the hardwood floor. It had been the usual back-and-forth at the video store that night, trying to decide what to rent. We never agree on anything, until the very last moment, when some movie we'd missed catches both our attention.

"Are you okay with this one?"

"I am if you are."

"I'm good."

I watch the tape slide into the VCR, the television flickering as the FBI warning appeared on screen. She grabs the remote then--one of several on the ruddy wooden chest in front of us--and fast-forwards. Her legs are tucked under her, a bowl of popcorn curled in one hand and pressed against her sweatshirt-covered torso. My purchase from the store was a box of gummi bears, and I've already taken them out of the package and sorted them by color, discarding the oranges and yellows.

She's washed her makeup off, revealing the truth behind the facade. Erect, reddened pimples dot the landscape of her face, all connecting to form a picture of what is inside. I've watched her hide, standing in front of the mirror, concealing, pressing the brush with fevered strokes, again and again. I don't understand it.

To me, she is beautiful. She is my best friend, and she is beautiful. If I can see it, why can't she?

The movie begins to play, but I'm regarding her silently now, honored by this moment. She has let me know who she really is. I do the same thing, but all the time, because I don't know how to hide. Sitting here beside her, eating painstakingly arranged gummi bears, I can finally breathe. I am at peace.

She's a part of me. A string for this kite that is always flying, flying, nearly flying away forever. She makes the earth real. And when I'm with her, I'm real.

Charley is lying next to her on the couch now, head bowed and resting on her leg. His doggy derrière is perilously close to my person, and so I hurriedly scoot over, one eye fixed warily on his posterior. She seems even calmer when he is around, and I gaze at the two of them, grateful for the comfort they have both given me.

The movie has finished, a final swell of music crescendoing as the credits start to roll. This is the part I dread, the knowing it's begun to end. I would like to live in a universe of infinite Saturday nights, spent exactly like this. There would never be any Sundays. Sunday is the falling day, the day of knowing what's coming, and being able to do nothing about it, except wait.

But I am safe here, in the night. Behind these walls, in this room, on this couch. With her sitting next to me. I'm sixteen, and she's my best friend, and she always will be.

...Won't she?