Sunday, May 5, 2024

Stay, Bubby

There's a funny video going around online about how people's names for their pets change over the years. My dog is Zooey, but sometimes we call her Zo-Zo, or Zo-bee-doh. Which turned into Do-bee. Which somehow became Bubby. 

Zooey responded to all of these names. Just as she responded to Come, Sit, Stay-- a particularly tricky command, where my husband would place a treat on the floor right at her feet, and she would know not to eat it until he said, Release. 

She knows other words too, Walk, being the primary one. Because she would get so ridiculously excited when she heard the word, my husband and I would spell it when she might overhear, but then she learned W-A-L-K, so we would have to say, "We're going to take her for a You Know What," and she figured that one out too. 

I didn't realize how much I talked to Zooey, how much I expected her to hear me--telling her what a good dog she is on our You-know-whats, or giving her a heads up about a car trip, or picking her up from the vet and saying, Wanna go home? and making sure I grabbed the leash tight first before she pulled me off my feet in a mad scramble to get the hell out of that place-- 

until I realized she can't hear anymore. 

I don't know when this happened. It's possible it's been a while and I haven't noticed? I'd come home from work and she was still snoozing upstairs and startled when I walked into the room, but I had chalked that up to: she's older, she needs more rest, she knows I'm home and will come down shortly to greet me. But now I know that she just didn't hear me come in.

She can't hear the particular sound the mailman's truck makes when it rolls down the street, or the squeaky sound of her squeaky toys, or the doorbell ringing, or the opening of her dogfood can, or me, when I croon at her, Where's my Bubby? Where's my Zo-bee-doh? 

And it's changed our relationship in ways that I still don't quite understand. What is my relationship with my dog? What is her relationship to me? I read a book recently called The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. It was a disconcerting experience reading this book. First, I didn't know what it was about until I'd read a good fifteen, twenty pages into it. And then I was like, wait. What? 

(As a back story, I work at a library, and often see the same books come across my desk again and again. This particular book is a small book with a bright, colorful cover, the title and author in big font, and that's it. This is a trend in book cover design right now, particularly with literary fiction, which is nice, but it makes it difficult to know what the book is about. 

I don't know why I decided to check this book out except that it passed through my hands so many times that it finally made me curious. But then I brought it home and forgot about it for months. I would look at it and see the bright colors, the title, the author, and think... nothing.)

Anyway, I finally started reading the book and was immediately intrigued. It's about a woman who is a writer who has lost her very good friend who is also a writer. Ah, I was thinking. This is a book about friends, about death and grief, and possibly, about writing. But then I got to the part where the friend who died left the main character his dog.  

The woman does not like dogs and does not want this one. To further complicate matters the woman's apartment is small and does not allow pets of this size. (The dog is a Great Dane.) But she takes the dog in, despite all of this. 

Here is when it occurred to me that this book is not about the writer friend who died, it's about the dog--HE'S the friend!--and oh my GOD, please don't tell me this dog is going to die! The author, anticipating my fear, writes, Don't worry, reader, the dog is not going to die, and I breathed a sigh of relief, and kept reading.  

She was lying. But I don't hold it against her. The book was a good book and (spoiler) when the dog dies, he dies in the most beautiful way imaginable. I don't know how the author accomplishes this, but she does. And I don't know how she manages to take a fairly predictable story--a person who doesn't like dogs falls in love with one--and turns it into something complex and surprising. 

Once I was that person who didn't want a dog, who reluctantly took one in, and somewhere along the way, she became my friend. I don't talk to her as much anymore. It just seems silly if she can't hear me. Maybe it was always silly. But I have found other ways to communicate. Flicking a light on when I come into a room so as not to scare her. Showing her my sneakers when it's time to take a walk. I am working on how to convey the word, Stay. And in the future, Release.  

Something that truly shocked me about the book was that all of the many times I looked at the cover, I never really saw it. It wasn't only the title and the author. The dog, apparently, had been there all along.  


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