Ah, there’s a storm brewing. I can tell by the way my dog begins to pace the hall, her toenails tap dancing lightly on the reclaimed floor boards, by the way she grins at me, the whites of her eyes making her look desperate to laugh at a joke that isn’t funny. She sniffs the air, smelling something powerful rolling towards her even as the sky, so far as I can see, remains a thin blue.
When she gets this way, I have about thirty minutes before the sky turns black and the drum beats sound and the army of raindrops hammer down on our old roof. Rat tat tat tat tat, and my dog stands and trembles. Now, she’s 63 pounds and when she trembles, let me tell you, you’re trembling too.
A word about my dog: she’s the same breed that got Osama Bin Laden. She’s the breed they take to Afghanistan to sniff for bombs and to sleep out in the desert with the troops. She’s the preferred dog of the Israeli military. From birth she’s been trained to bite, to jump, to guard, to protect. She’s been taught not to flinch when a gun goes off, to sink her teeth in even harder when you try to shake her off. This ain’t no puppy we’re talking about. Of course, she’s retired now. She’s sleeps most of the time. But don’t tell that to the delivery men who are awful polite when they have to come to the door.
But when it storms, she will follow my husband into the shower, pressed up against him despite how much she hates getting wet. She will wind her long golden furry self under my desk, making herself as small as possible. She makes sure you get a share of her despair.
To solve this problem we have bought a thundershirt. It’s a jersey coat that you wrap around her torso and attach with a bunch of velcro strips. The idea is it applies a kind of constant pressure that comforts her. I have to strap it on very tightly and all her hair tufts out, but while she doesn’t stop panting and she still looks a little insane, she’ll stop pacing and park herself in a corner somewhere. Somehow that little jacket makes the unknowable bearable for her.
Man, wouldn’t we all like a jacket like that! Better yet, wouldn’t it be great to have someone constantly looking out for you and knowing the very minute you need a jacket like that? Someone who is willing to risk your gnashing teeth and vicious bark in order to strap this thing on you and calm you down. Someone who won’t let go, even when all you want to do is run away.
I’m not talking about a calm voice of reason. Or a sympathetic pat on the back. I’m not even sure I mean a genuine case of empathy. I’m talking about tackling you as you stand and bundling you in the force of all their love so that you can feel a little more safe.
When we were children, it was whoever raised us. They protected us and looked out for us. But people are not like dogs; we’re fickle. We start to say, hey I don’t want to wear that thunder jacket, it makes my butt look big. I’m not that scared anyway, I don’t need it. You can’t make me wear it, you have no fashion sense, and besides how else am I gonna get brave if I don’t take the damn thing off and stand naked and trembling as the lightning dances around my feet!
But here’s the thing, my dog is old. She’s pretty wise. She’s learned to withstand gunshots and rain and airplanes, but when it comes to thunderstorms she’s not getting over it. She will not outgrow it. It’s desperation we’re talking about. And despite how brave we all are, aren’t we a little bit the same? Aren’t there doubts and fears we will never outgrow? Aren’t there some things in life so uncertain and tragic that the only solution is bunker down and hope someone holds you fast against that terrible tide?
I was always wary of the bossy friend (full disclosure: I am a bossy friend). The one who tells you what to do, that one. Ah, she can be real pain right? Mind your business, bossy friend. Let me live my life! Where I am from it is often better to be the friend that is everlasting accepting, accepts whatever you want, whatever makes you happy. You want to study basket weaving and sell your kidney? Good for you! You want to eat maggots? Good for you! Are you sure? You are? Okay, good for you! Supportive, right, that’s what we call it?
But I’m not convinced this kind of distance makes the heart grow fonder. It’s a fine line with indifference. Sure if Tommy jumped off a cliff, maybe you’re not supposed to do what he says and follow, but somebody’s got to care enough about you to tell you that, right?
Sure, I know, there has to be balance. Absolutely. And limits too. Sometimes, my dog wants to be outside during a storm running around getting soaked in the rain and there is no way in hell I’m getting a thundershirt on her. We have to know when to let go; let it go. Let them get brave. But on the whole, don’t we owe those we care most about a little bossiness sometimes, a little steadfast loving pressure in times of trouble?
Look, it isn’t easy. Would I want to try and fight with myself and brave my forked tongue to get a thundershirt I don’t think I need on me? Nooo way. And yet to those who do it, who do it with love, one day I promise I’ll be grateful.
These last few difficult weeks, my dog has been my constant companion. The way she’ll press her good weight against me even before I know I need it. So when the storm hits and I brave her fangs, refusing to let her go as we hide under the duvet and she shivers in her thundershirt, I think, this is the least I can do given all she’s done for me: make her feel a little better about our big angry unknowable world.