(Yesterday. I tried to make friends with them. Apparently I speak the wrong language.)
People tell me what to do. Get a job in administration. Don’t try to get a job; you won’t get one anyway. Get a new dog immediately. Don’t get a new dog immediately; it is important to wait before making a decision.
The worst advice of all, which luckily I haven’t heard in a while: ask yourself what you want. Really, asking me? That’s the worst person in the world to ask. I have no opinion. If I had one, I know it would be useless. I haven’t got a meaningful identity. I’ve got an inner ogre that’s better kept hidden under a masquerade costume. It can’t be released in the world.
Getting and following advice by people who are undoubtedly wiser than I am is problematic, though – or rather becomes so because it is contradictory. I can’t both get a dog immediately and wait a long time. To say nothing of the practicalities involved; maybe I can’t get a dog at all. I can’t both get a job and not get a job. I can’t both travel and stay at home. I can’t both grieve and not grieve. And so on.
I’m always left with (at least) two contrary opinions (and often several more) about what to do with my life. I know they’re both better than anything I could come up with – I with my inner void, I with my ogre. I with my black dog following me; kept in place by mr Dog, now speeding up, its fangs touching my neck, drooling down my shirt.
But who’s going to decide, then? Before I decided to have mr Dog, I followed orders – I went to unversity, when people let me know it was my unavoidable destiny (it was a complete fuck-up, despite my degree); I tried to imitate other people, because I never figured out any other way to be a part of humanity (it didn’t succeed); I never stood up for myself because I figured humiliation was the narrow path to belonging (it wasn’t).
Then I had mr Dog. I don’t think anybody thought it was a good idea. One person said to me: you will never manage, you’re too dumb. Other people said: you won’t really want to take care of a dog, when it comes down to it. (It’s true, to an extent. I like the friendship part, not the taking care of part. But I do what I have to.) Others again thought it a strange choice in general – and why a terrier, rather than a nice shih-tzu?
Somehow I knew I needed a dog, and I got a dog, and it turned out to be the best dog and the best friend in the entire universe. And here I am, alone again, as always before, twelve years later. Scolding myself, because self-hatred is the only competitive sport I practice; I am a master, because I can meta-hate: I scold myself, and then I scold myself for scolding myself, because scolding myself proves I’m a self-obsessed person, which I have no right to be.
Could I have done something differently? Surely. I knew he was more tired than he should have been. But I didn’t listen to my own intuition; I listened to my knowledge of facts and the knowledge of others: he’s an old dog, you can’t expect as much of him now as you did before, he’s been ill, and so on. Strangely, he had energy, but less stamina, which was confusing. Strangely, too, he was his old maniac self in the forest. But I sensed it: something wasn’t quite right. Not that there’s any way to know if taking my intuition seriously would have changed the course of things (probably not; he was an old dog). And what if I had trusted my instinct that the veterinary food was good for the tummy but bad for the whole dog? What if… all those what ifs.
If someone is your best friend, it confers a duty upon you. Oddly – and here’s my intuition at play again – over the last six months with him or so, I felt from within myself an urge to be kinder to him: never be too busy to give him a cuddle, always respond to him, always put him first (which I did to a greater extent than before). In retrospect, it looks like a foreboding; something from the unconscious trying to grab my attention. You should have understood, the universe calls at me now; you should have understood why you felt that way. In the voice of a shy mouse I whisper back: he was an old dog.
What does it matter? He was my friend. I come back all the time to the experience of holding his lifeless body; I come back to the moment when life abandoned him and there was nothing more I could do, except fantasize about time travel. Up until that moment, and though his level of consciousness was declining, kindness mattered; after that moment, nothing mattered.
I got him because I knew I needed a dog; I knew not through reason but through intuition (the ordinary kind, not the anthroposophical, obviously). I think it’s the only time ever that I went with what I sensed was right – against everything, against every sound reason not to do it. In fact, there were millions of reasons not to: I’d be less free to do all the things people in their twenties normally do. Which is all the things I never had any talent for, all those things I failed, and all the things that are everything that counts in the lives of everybody here.
Having mr Dog was both a success and a failure. A success, because I was never again alone for as long as he lived; of course, a dog is a different kind of company than that of humans, but it is a living being sharing your life (and you his) and whom you can give a good-night kiss. A failure, because I continued my failure to adapt to the demands of humankind, and had less time to feel ashamed of it. Among people where I live there’s a strict path to follow: you must dress up and party long into the night on weekends, you must have ambition to become something and be hungry for a respectable career, you must travel abroad every year, you must have a big kitchen which you never use because you always eat out, and you must, eventually, submit to family life, which, in turn, must take certain shapes and meet certain conditions.
If you don’t do this, you can have nothing to do with other humans. This is local culture, and there’s a price to your reluctance to participate. I have nothing in common with people of my age group in the place and context I come from; it’s not a complaint but a matter of fact. I still feel the way I did as a child watching the other children play. If I had beaten myself up more when I was in my early twenties – if I had despised myself more than I did – perhaps I would have been able to force myself to adapt to the lifestyle of my local peers, though I think it would have become apparent eventually that my party skills were a sham. Normal people always identify a failure: be it a failure in Kindergarten or a failure at the night club. They know. And then, what?
As a child, I always tried to imitate other people’s lives, and I failed completely; I wanted to become them, but became a nobody. To try to imitate people around me at this point so that I could gain a place among them – no, it’s too late now. I would fail worse than I did in Kindergarten. The standards where I live are so high; it would be like for an ant to try to jump to the top of an elephant’s head. And so is trying to do what other people tell me to or even to negotiate a compromise between the contradictory things they tell me. On the other hand, if I don’t follow what other people tell me, who should I follow? If I don’t imitate, who should I be?