I remember one day in summer nearly ten years ago at my mothers’ place, in the late afternoon it must have been, because the rosebush streaming with wild pink roses, the centerpiece of the visual memory,  was in that nearly purple shade you get there on the dark grass  at the lower corner of the house by grandma’s sun-room and garden. Bert, my ex, was sitting reading a manuscript with the glass of the sun-room between him and the rose bush, and I must have been up in the garden digging because the memory is aerial, visually. With the roses tumbling at his shoulder, he looked up at me, and I met his eyes for a moment leaning on my spade, and I remember him looking at me and  all the yards of our happy gypsy-hood with much love. My mother was standing on the other side of the glass  in a light summer dress, holding the black garden hose, holding the stream of water out for her pup who lunged and bucked for a drink at the gush and flow in glee. It was a happy image, bourgeois, gentle, bucolic, we were still fairly happy though Bert had slowed down considerably. I remember looking down at them and being filled with a sudden dread, so strong the world strobed for me and I felt a kind of core nausea at the base of my spine. I had to turn away to recompose my smile. I used to get that feeling at certain combinations of colour when I was a little boy, but I hadn’t felt it in some time. That’s why I recall it now so clearly, can summon it up to this day well enough not to try again for awhile.

So today we’re shedding a few hot tears tears for a high spirited prodigal dog, always reminding one of the joy of a walk, of the world of wonder and curiosity and all the great bounty of our affections and holdings to be defended. The bravery in clinging, the bravery in letting go. When a simple walk around the block is a danger, when the arthritic hand can’t hold the lead, such things, or wrestle with a doorknob to let him come and go. My family’s not a particularly weepy bunch for all our dramatics, we tend more to rage and sarcasm so there’s a greedy indulgence in quick scalding tears at the death of a mere dog, in  that old  utterance, that bitter sob, “it isn’t fair”, the creator is unfair, the point the book of job made calling that arrogant prick yawa to account and to seek wisdom, to manifest compassion. Jehovah  must have turned off his awareness of anything but his own creative and destructive powers and it was hard to forgive him whether or not he knew what he was doing.

She told me on the phone today about how he went  with his nose in the crook of her arm and I knew how that memory would sting like the needle you’d have to pay for. How that would signify a lot of other letting goes, like dominoes. How dread, as Kierkegaard says is the vertigo of liberty. Of being free of being. And beginnings.

OnFacebook, I sent out a note to the grandchildren. She’d be nervous at night. Be less likely to break her neck in broad daylight though with him like a billy goat on a leash. I noticed a friend was saying wise words to a friend who’d lost a cat. I felt something wolfen in my throat and i wanted to run rooftops and glassy streets, moonlit dust roads, it all goes so fast. I wanted to see him. Three hundred dollars for the ashes of your own damned dog for chrissakes. And likely out of a raked heap. elegant. wuddever.

Last walk I took with gumpy it occurred to me that he and I were both getting gray and cranky, still jaunty but certainly a lot grayer in the chin and lighter than we’d been. He didn’t rise as high as he once did on his hind legs at the end of a lead and for that matter, neither did I.  It was a rather cursory walk I felt, but for him it was the same, the same fascinating ditches, the little run down the rise, A gentleman at the medical center feigned appropriate fear. The big lad would soon be home and the little gray cars wouldn’t seem so meaningless. We’d done a lot of walking and thinking together, thought a lot about being tethered and untethered, of reeling in and letting go. The snow was going and there was roadside crust to crack with a boot heel, the rush of thin ice water. Made me think of summer on the patio at the only cafe, the creek would be high. He tugged as ever all the way, making his point, but he was glad to get home. it was good.

I dropped a borrowed woolen mitt and we had to go all the way back to find it, we both saw it in the distance like a dead black bird on the asphalt where we’d stopped where the chip truck would soon be, and I’m glad of it now and I won’t walk that shortcut for awhile without him. the same ditch just as interesting, just a marvel, he’d look up suddenly in bliss into your eyes, hoping you’d want to run down the side of the gravel pit, sure you agreed the flat world and the two of you striding it together were a miracle. A million times a day. As love will do.

2 thoughts on “The Vertigo of Liberty

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