"For a pure sense of being tumultuously alive, you can't beat the nasty side of existence. I may not have been a matinee idol, but say what you will about me, it's been a real human life!" Mickey Sabbath, in Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My own favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and Muddling through Life after Life.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gracie - Invisible Fences

Invisible Fences

I hated Tony’s parents even more than I had before when I heard about the “invisible
fence” for Gracie.
They were altogether too strict, overly vigilant, intrusive in their son’s, my friend’s, life,
            and so unjustifiedly.
He and I were the shy ones, the bookish, artistic, sensitive ones—really both of us were
            conscientious to a fault.
What we needed was encouragement, always some sort of bolstering, but what Tony got
            was questioned and stifled.

And here was Gracie, a German shorthair, damn good dog, spirited, set to be broken by
            similarly unjustified treatment.
As dumb kids we of course had to sample the “mild shock” Gracie would receive should
            she venture too near the property line.
It seemed not so mild to me, a teenager, with big dreams, held back, I felt, by myriad
unnecessary qualities of myself—
qualities I must master, vanquish—and yet here were Tony’s parents, putting up still
            more arbitrary boundaries.

I could barely stand to hear about Gracie’s march of shameful submission, conditioning
            to a high-pitched warning.
She started whimpering and shaking, and looking up with plangent eyes at her merciless
or misguided master—
this by the second lap along the border of the yard, so she’d learn never to get shocked—
it was all “for her own good.”
The line infuriated me more than any lie I’d ever heard, as there was no question whose
convenience was really being served.

That first day after Gracie had been trained as directed, Tony and I were walking away
            from his house,
and I looked back, stopping, to see her longingly looking, desperately watching us leave
her, leaving me sighing.
I shook my head, frowned, subtly slumped, which maybe she saw, because just then a
change came over her.
She fell silent, her ears fell flat to her brown, bullet-shaped head, her body tensed as she
lifted herself from her haunches.

And then she shot forth her willowy, maculated body in long, determined strides, but
keeping low all the while,
as if somehow intuiting that the impending pain was simply a manifestation of her
master’s hand to be ducked under.
My mouth fell open in thrilled astonishment, and as she neared the buried line, I shouted,
            “Yeah Gracie! Come on!”
Tony likewise thrilled to the feat his old friend was about to perform, shouting alongside
me, “Come on girl! You can make it!”
 
About the time Gracie would have been heedlessly hearing the warning beep, my
excitement turned darker.
Simultaneous with the shock I barked, “Go Gracie! Fuck ‘em!” with a maniacal,
demoniacal, spitting abandon.
Without the slightest whimper Gracie broke through the boundary, ducked under the
blow, defying her master’s dictates.
“Yeah! Fuck ‘em!” I enjoined again, my head jolting, thrashing out the words, erupting
            with all the force of self-loathing.
 
If Tony had any apprehensions about hearing his parents so cursed he never voiced them
—was I really cursing them?
Gracie approached atremble, all frenzy from her jolting accomplishment and now met
by our wild acclaim and eager praise,
or not praise so much as gratitude, as she anxiously darted between and around us as if
disoriented, reeling, overwhelmed.
But Tony and I knew exactly what we had just witnessed, the toppling of guilt’s tyranny,
            a spirit’s willful, gasping escape.

Our deliverance lasted hours, while we idly ambled about and between neighborhoods,
casting spiteful glances
along the endless demarcations of land, owned, separated, displayed, individual
kingdoms, badges of well-lived,
well-governed lives—I wanted to tromp through all those manicured front lawns, my
            every step spreading pestilence
to the too-green grass we weren’t supposed to walk on lest it wear a trail, ruining the
pristine quality of ownership.

Our march of euphoric defiance inspired by Gracie’s coup de grace could only go on for
            so long, though—
we were newly free, but free to do what?—before we’d have to return home for a meal,
            shelter, electronic entertainment.
As the sun sank, I began to have the sense of squandered opportunity, dreading the end
            of my reprieve from invisible impediments.
Back toward Tony’s house we hesitantly made our way, but all the while I kept the image
            of Gracie’s escape fresh in mind.

My friend and I took up conversing as we neared the stretch of road by his house, ranging
            widely and irreverently—
our discourses having served as our sole escape up to then—in the tone and spirit of
seeing right through everything.
We were both halfway up Tony’s driveway before we noticed that Gracie was no longer
            keeping pace with us.
…She was turning tight circles in the street, whimpering, anxious, and seeing her, Tony
and I exchanged a look I’ll never forget.
Even after removing the device from Gracie’s neck, we still had to lift her, squirming
desperately, over the line to get her home.

5 comments:

Leigh said...

I hardly know what to say. This really hit me...love your writing.

Dennis said...

Ahh... makes it so much more fun to write when you know at least one person will get something out of it.

Anonymous said...

You left out the paragraph where the dog (with his limited dog mind) runs into the street and gets tagged by a car in his great moment of defiance .

Dennis said...

That was a different dog. That one never had a shock collar.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of "Blades" by Williams.

A lovely piece that resonates. Have you submitted this for publication?