The first thing I need to do every morning is to sit and write something, just to find out how I am, to get a feel for how I fit in the world that day. The first thing our dog, Eddie, needs to do every morning is to walk the loop that comprises our community, just to find out how things are in his world, to see who might be up, out, and about that day.
The other morning, during his morning constitutional, Eddie was walking in the mode that compels Anne and me to call him Mr. Pokey. (Anne can sometimes get Eddie to move along by speaking to him in Italian. He’s particularly responsive to, “Andiamo.”) He was taking his time, sniffing just about everything, strategically marking his turf, and checking to see if any of the soft touches were out in the neighborhood to give him treats and water, as they’re wont to do.
Rather than trying to hustle Eddie along, I decided to let him do his thing, at his own pace. I pulled out my phone, checked my LinkedIn app, and found a podcast from my wonderful friend, Diane Wyzga, part of her weekly Wednesday series, Stories From Women Who Walk. The title of the story I listened to as Eddie poked along was, “Story Walking the Labyrinth”. This is part of what I heard:
Decades of story and communication coaching work have taught me that walking is the best way to draw a story out of ourselves or someone else. Where you walk doesn’t matter. All that matters is you walk and listen out the story that wants to be heard.
Since I sensed Eddie might be experiencing a little Sniffer Fatigue, I asked him if he’d like to give his beak a break and tell me a story. He said he would. And he did.
He told me how he was abandoned in Cherokee County, North Carolina. He told me how he’d come to have his tail broken, how he’d spent weeks out in the elements, how he’d foraged for food and hidden what he could find until he could eat it in solitude and safety.
He told me about being rescued by the Cherokee County Humane Society. He told me how he’d been packed into a crate, how his crate had been packed into a truck with dozens of others, how he’d endured the long ride from North Carolina to Connecticut, and how he’d arrived at the Connecticut Humane Society location in Newington, Connecticut, road-weary but undaunted.
He told me that, due to severe malnutrition, the veterinary staff at the Connecticut Human Society had performed a dental procedure on him that cost him eight teeth. He told me about being neutered and getting the little tattoo on his belly that indicates he’d been neutered (as if his missing parts wouldn’t be enough evidence). He told me about being chipped, so he’d never be lost again. He told me that, before Anne and I adopted him, he’d received the best care and the most kindness he’d ever experienced while he was in Newington.
He told me the reason he’d fought so hard to stay awake during his first night with us was that he was afraid if he let himself doze off, we’d be gone when he woke up. He told me he trembled violently when we first started taking him in the car with us because he thought we were going to ditch him again. He told me the reason he used to circle to his left around his food bowl when we fed him, all the time looking over his right shoulder, is that he was afraid he’d get beaten while he was eating. He told me the reason he loves Sammy so much is that he never thought he’d have a big brother, and he doesn’t care if his brother’s a cat.
He apologized for the cookies we find hidden in deep-pile bathmats, behind cushions on the sofa, and in piles of dirty laundry if we happen to put the laundry down before it goes in the washing machine. He apologized for the strip of dried beef he’d left under our son Sean’s pillow after Sean’s recent visit to Connecticut. And he promised he’d always find and eat every one of the treats he hides, as long as we promised to always understand why he hides them.
When he finished his story and I picked him up, he didn’t ask me why I was crying. He doesn’t have time to wonder about such things. He has too many broken tales left to tell.
Thank you for reminding me to listen to him, Diane.
Truly wonderful story Mark. This story can be told about so many pets and people. So often we never know or never bother to learn the back story about their lives. Too often they are labeled as strange or odd or different or weird. What they want, what we all want is to be heard, to be seen and to be told and shown that we matter.
Frank, thank you for your comments. You’re absolutely correct. And what you’ve written here reminds me of something Harry Crews wrote in the introduction to his collection, Classic Crews. Everything that follows was written by Crews:
I hooked up with a carny and worked for a while as a caller for the ten-in-one show. In the world of carnivals, the ten-in-one is the freak show. I was especially fond of the Fat Lady and her friends there under the tent. I think I know why, and I know I know when, I started loving freaks. I had been able to rent a place to sleep from a freak man and his freak wife and I woke up one morning looking at both of them where they stood at the other end of their trailer in the kitchen. They stood perfectly still in the dim, yellow light, their backs to each other. I could not see their faces, but I was close enough to hear them clearly when they spoke.
“What’s for supper, darling?” he said.
“Franks and beans, with a nice little salad,” she said.
And then they turned to each other under the yellow light. The lady had a beard not quite as thick as my own but about three inches long and very black. The man’s face had a harelip. His face was divided so that the top of his nose forked. His eyes were positioned almost on the sides of his head and in the middle was a third eye that was not really an eye at all but a kind of false lid over a round indentation that saw nothing. It was enough, though, to make me taste bile in my throat and to cause a cold fear to start in my heart.
They kissed. Their lips brushed briefly and I heard them murmur to each other and he was gone through the door. And I, lying at the back of the trailer, was never the same again.
I have never stopped remembering that as wondrous and special as those two people were, they were only talking about and looking forward to and needing precisely what all the rest of us talk about and look forward to and need.
I love when this part of your brain comes out to linguistically play. Eddie, Jr. is a wonderful little guy who I know changed your lives from the moment he was yours.
Thank you for telling this story. His story. I may have known a few of the individual parts but it came together so beautifully. I’m just glad this wasn’t the walking Eddie in a Speedo with socks and sandals story.
JoAnna, your comment reminds me of one of Groucho’s movie lines: “This morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”
Thank you for your thoughtfulness. He did, indeed, change our lives. He continue to change us every day with his happiness and his loyalty.
P.S. You said you’d never mention Speedo/socks/sandals story. 🤫
Mark: From this remarkable piece, I take a certain metric: There are people who won’t mind it when their dog (or other beasty) begins ‘telling tails’, and there are people who would mind it very much. I’m happy to read from one of the former. It sounds like Eddie can speak all he wants.
Thank you, Byron. Given the sweet boy Eddie is, he’d never say a bad word about anyone or anything. We’re just delighted he chose us to be his audience.
Mark, all our rescues are gifts from heaven. They both add to and make my life a better life. I always take them to a garden in our back yard called The Healing garden we all sit there and embrace the quiet and listen to the stories we pass from heart to heart. Thank you for some great storytelling.
Gifts from heaven and embodiments of love and loyalty, Larry. We, too, have a garden in our back yard. Eddie loves the peace there as much as we do.
I’m grateful for your comments, my friend, especially given the writer, storyteller, and animal-lover you are. Thank you.
And now you and Diane have me crying, too, Mark. Give Eddie a hug – from a stranger but not all strangers are dangerous.
Thank you, Charlotte. And not all people are strangers.
One of the many miraculous things about Eddie is that none of his travails broke his spirit. On the Saturday we adopted him, as one of the Human Society attendants walked him down the hall to us on a leash, someone else there said, “Oh, look! That little dog prances!”
At about noon the next day, Sunday, Eddie was lying on the couch. I went and knelt on the floor in front of him and said, “Are we going to be okay, pal?” In response, he rolled over and gave me his belly.
He’s a happy, trusting little boy. And he loves everyone. I’ll tell him the next hug I give him is from you. ❤️