I take Harry to the Sunday dog gathering in the nearby park. I’d take Aussie, too, but she growls at Joan, Ziggi, and the other small dogs who race around and yap a racket. They don’t acknowledge her seniority, they don’t give her any respect, so after tolerating them for a few minutes she starts snapping, then growling, and it’s time to leave the party. So, Aussie goes on a separate walk with Tim while I take Harry to the canine morning soiree.
But Harry doesn’t mix well, either. The big stars are Australian or Border Terriers like Ziggi and Joan, who jump up at every big dog to get its attention, run run run, and then collapse and roll onto their backs, small paws up in the air, emitting delighted squeals as everybody sniffs them. They remind me of certain popular girls at parties who had little to say for themselves but talked a lot of self-regarding nonsense, and everyone thought they were cute.
There’s also Midge and Walker, Harry’s size, happy to play but not requiring all the attention. More often than not, they’re Labs, They’re like the regular girls, the ones who didn’t wear the shortest skirts but always had someone to dance with.
Finally, there are older dogs like Smoky and Poppy, who confidently go their own way, at times joining the others, at times not. There were always some at parties who’d stay out to smoke a cigarette, come in to see the action inside, but basically never worried about what anybody thought of them.
And then there’s Harry, the classic wallflower. He comes in, tail wagging, chases the dogs, gets chased back, then pauses because they’re back with Ziggi and Joan again: Where is everybody? He joins the circle running around Ziggi, then stops: I don’t get why this is such fun. Harry isn’t sure who he is, wants to join the others but doesn’t know how, wants to be like the others but doesn’t know how.
“Go play,” I tell him as he comes over to me, “that’s why we’re here. Don’t be so existential, do something!”
And he tries, poor fella, he wants to mix, he want to be like everybody else, but he’s not. It’s not his fault he’s a born wallflower, just like me.
When we get home Aussie sniffs him carefully. “Thanks for leaving me home. Did you at least have fun?”
“No,” says he.
“It’s a waste of time taking him there,” she tells me.
And still I take him on Sundays, trying to see if he could put his nature aside and have fun. Only he can’t.
I want to be different, too. I want my life to speed up a little, I want to go to restaurants, I want to go see a movie, I want to talk with someone who knows me deeply. I want to join the party everybody else is having, but I can’t.
I did some bookkeeping work recently and got into a credit card account that was still in Bernie’s name. I had the username and password, went into his profile, and saw the identifying questions they’d asked him to answer as a second layer of security. One question was: “What’s the birthday month of your best friend?”
His answer was: “December.”
I shut my eyes, then wiped them with a tissue.
He never called me his best friend. He never said anything about our friendship or even our closeness, about the preciousness of daily companionship, two people in the front seat of a car talking or just being silent, passing each other in the house—“Bernie, can you reach up and get that for me?”—”Can you open up this jar? I can’t because of my wrists [he was referring to his arthritis]—”What are we eating for dinner?”—”Do you have an errand for me to do so that I could take Stanley for a ride [he meant: Stanley and his cigar]?—that thing of mystery called a couple.
You can have the love of your life and never know it. It’s not about what the movies show, it’s not about a glorious ring (both of ours cost $25.) or a passionate sunset. In our case it was a million little things, our families, and Zen Peacemakers. While we consumed newspapers, we never discussed politics, the only exception being the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, about which Bernie was passionate (How can Jews do that!). What we talked about was the Zen mishpucha, the Zen Peacemakers, and what we could do. Always what we could do. Nobody felt the slightest interest to talk about politics. Donald Trump was barely mentioned in our home.
“What’s the birthday month of your best friend?”
And he, who would often forget my birthday, knew the answer.
I went to a small party in someone’s back yard the other night, everyone keeping distance. Two children were splashing in a pool and the adults drank wine and laughed with relief at going out.
When I got home, Aussie sniffed me up and down “Did you have a lot of fun?” she asked.
“Not a lot,” I said.
Two days later a friend wrote me this: “Make space for the falling stars.”