Sunday, September 25, 2005Strays
Having lunch with Shaw a few days ago in celebration of his new job, he mentioned something that had come up before, but which hadn't quite penetrated my mind until now: Shaw described us -- by which he meant me and him and our circle of friends from old college days -- as a pack of strays. Many of us came from unconventional backgrounds, many of us had difficult or complicated home lives growing up, and most of us went on after leaving college to continue leading unusual and complex lives. A lot of us -- me included -- have very little close family; many of us are nomads and have shallow roots at best. We don't really belong to anyone, we don't really feel completely at home anywhere, and some of us are mangy and half-starved.
And it occurs to me that a lot of the other people I know -- not just the ones from Vermont, but people from London, people from Memphis, people from everywhere else -- have the same problem. The community I mostly run around in is made up of kids (and former kids) who are disconnected from their homes and families for various reasons -- sexual orientation and gender identification being a common one. But even some of the less-transient-seeming people I know still have that "stray" look on their faces... they aren't now, but they were once, and I guess it never completely goes away.
This isn't some "City of Lost Children" head-trip -- I expect everyone feels like a stray at some point in their lives. But I can't help but think that there are more and more people feeling that way for longer and longer periods of their lives. Is it an age-related thing? I look at the kids I'm currently surrounded by, and I don't see many signs of strayness in them -- they're little hippies, but they're mostly well-adjusted, well-scrubbed middle class kids from stable homes. Maybe it's just the company I keep? I have trouble relating to people from stable homes -- how do you explain to someone whose home has always been intact the little sneer of derision your inner teenager always gives them when they talk about their families? How do you make sense for them of the strange sense of superiority you feel for having survived the fights and the ugly incidents and the dysfunction and the terrified nights you spent growing up? Can you ever share with them the tiny flicker of resentment you have for their lack of toughness, which is always accompanied by a wistful kind of envy? Not that a broken home is the only way to establish your cred, but it's one of the more common ways; we all know it when we see it. (Or maybe it's just me who feels that way?)
Then last night I had a dream about a stray dog. She was medium-sized, rather delicately built (much like another dog from my past, who was often described as resembling a deer), black with some white bits on her chest and muzzle, shy and flinchy, with her ribs sticking out and a tag on the collar around her neck. The tag was enscribed with her name -- which I can't remember exactly, but it was something ludicrous like "Starshadow" (in my dream I actually looked at her and said, "Starshadow?! Yeugh!") -- and a phone number. Some unnamed person called the number for me, and reported back that the owners no longer wanted her -- they had turned her out.
So I took her in, promised to give her a good name once I knew her better, and took her to the pet store to pick out dog food.
It could mean anything.
I often dream of animals during periods of inner-tension, and dogs are the animals with which I most closely identify. I've been thinking a lot about whether it's time for me to try and establish a less tenuous lifestyle for myself -- I'm still not completely convinced, but the fact that I'm considering it as deeply as I have been obviously means it has some appeal. And part of that consideration -- call it a consolation prize for giving up my nomadic ideals for a while -- has been the idea that maybe finally I could get a dog, which I've wanted for years and years. Without question if I did that I'd be looking for a mongrel, a stray, some unwanted would-be pet that needed taking in -- just like in my dream.
But the point is, this is all connected -- I've never gotten a dog because I've always been too rootless to provide a happy home for one. The notion and act of taking in a stray is directly related to having a home myself... this isn't about one stray finding a home, but two. I'm not sure which figure in that dream is supposed to be me -- "me" or the dog, or both.
PS: The season is really starting to turn here now... the leaves are still mostly green, but they're getting lighter, and the first ones are starting to turn. Half the effect of the Vermont foliage season is that it isn't just the colors -- although that's fucking impressive to say the lease -- but the way in which the depths and patterns of the forest come into relief when the trees aren't all a uniform green. The weather was like London this afternoon -- it was overcast and cool, with a damp breeze blowing constantly. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the wind and tried to remember the view from Westminster Bridge. For a few seconds I was almost back.
I also got a startling email a few days ago... it was from "Debbie" and the subject line was my father's name. My technically-step-mother's name is Debbie -- or Deby or Debi or Deborah, depending on her mood and the phase of the moon -- and my instantaneous reaction was "oh fuck, not again." It was a false alarm, though... see, not only is my current technically-step-mother's name Debbie, my previous technically-step-mother -- the woman my father was briefly married to before his current not-exactly-a-marriage -- was also named Debbie. (I have some issues surrounding that name.) She and I had both received a peculiar form-email from my father not long after his recent coronary crisis, then not heard anything else. I, of course, could give a shit. She, however, was curious, and was asking the other half-dozen people on the address line if they'd heard anything since. I wrote back cursorily that I hadn't, but figured that if anything was amiss the other Debbie would've said something. She wrote back that she was pleased to hear from me, was curious about what I'd been doing, blah blah blah... I didn't respond. I was cool with her for a while -- I knew her in Anchorage, and went to the high school where she taught, and spent more of my time there with her than with my father (who dumped me off at her house, then picked me up just in time to lock me in his own house and piss off to the newspaper for the night.) But then I discovered that everything I'd ever said to her in conversation was dutifully reported to my father, and at least twice I got in trouble because she'd ratted me out. To this day I haven't forgotten how betrayed I felt... so she can get stuffed. |