Dog Park

A friend and I try to meet with our pups once or twice a week at a local dog park. This morning, before the skies opened and threatened a smearing of muddy pawprints on our car seats, we hurried over with coffee cups and poop bags to let our dogs burn off their energy. We look on with limp leashes in hand as they race each other around the perimeter, bark and howl, pant and wag. Some of them try to screw each other. They seem like they’re smiling.

The dogs don’t really listen to their owners when we call them. We yell Louie! and Guinness! and Bentley! and Dexter! embarrassed by their impulsive jumps and intrusive sniffs. They’re smart. They ignore us. Instead, they race and run, answering ancient calls. Then — as if possessed — they suddenly slow up to sniff a tuft of grass near the fence. They stop to squat or raise a back leg, and saunter off, thinking nothing more of it. This is what dogs do. It’s the natural state of things.

My friend and I stand together, motionless, as the fur flies past. We talk about why we’re so tired, why our knees and wrists and shoulders hurt, why everything just hurts. We list possible reasons — words and proper names stated as a set in a series, and which need no further explanation. We don’t even talk about Paris this morning. We can’t anymore.

Still, the dogs circle us — running, running, running — until they’re spent. Then, more sniffing.

My friend wonders aloud about the source of her stresses. Why these pains? Why these aches? She hasn’t even worked out this week. She shouldn’t feel this way. I empathize, and share my own tales of shoulder knots and muscle tension alleviated by acupuncture. It’s like a guitar string strumming inside you, I say, when that needle releases the tension. It vibrates inside me for a few minutes. But I have to keep going back, I say, because it keeps seizing up. I don’t say that I wonder where the energy goes, how it dissipates, and why my learned response seems to dismiss something beautiful and powerful within me.

The dogs crash into each other. If they could laugh like drunk frat boys, they would. Perhaps they do. There’s a surge of barks. Like dogs back-slapping each other.

I tell my friend that I want to throat-punch the people who complain about having to go back to the supermarket to buy that one onion for the side dish that they’re bringing to their sister’s for Thanksgiving — the sister who hosts every year, and who always makes three turkeys and seventeen side dishes for everyone. Then, I talk about the Thanksgiving meal I’m planning. I don’t say that I’ll be making Christmas dinner three weeks later, twice in fact, because my divorced parents still refuse to sit at the same table together. I don’t say that. I can’t anymore.

The dogs circle a new arrival who hesitates at the fence. They crowd him, and howl, and encourage him to run with them, enticing his instincts with another surge of racing. The dog joins in. Tongues wag. More screwing.

Then I tell my friend that I had a conversation with my mother last night about cranberry sauce. I say that it’s never really about the cranberry sauce. It’s about 1974 and what my father didn’t do and about her mother-in-law, who she despised in life and now finds solidarity with after her death, in things like the whole-berry recipe she always made in her Brooklyn kitchen, with precisely half the amount of sugar than is usually called for. She asks if I’ll make it that way this year. I’m making cranberry sauce for the dead, I think to myself.

The rain starts up. The dogs don’t care. We whistle and call for them, but they don’t respond right away. Then, I call Louie! one more time, and the damn dog races toward me, ready and eager for whatever comes next.

The dog falls asleep in the back seat on the drive home. I rub my right shoulder with the fingertips on my left hand, until I feel some sort of release.

 

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