“She’s driving me binoculars!” I cried out. Our new dog, Magpie, was cute, but never stopped barking. She barked when the truck slowed down to pull into a gas station. She barked when a new person walked into the room. She barked randomly in the middle of the night when nothing was happening at all. It had only been one week, but the sound– a combination of feedback and thunder in my ears– was digging a pit into my patience.
And everyone was watching my depletion.
On our near final trek of the year on I-40 East, we burned up our axle on our camper and found ourselves homeless with our brand new 110 pound dog, borrowing some Western North Carolina friends’ upstairs bedroom. We attended a Christmas party and went to dinners between calling Billy, our repairman in a town two hours back. And we waited. All while our new dog wouldn’t stop barking.
I started with kindness, fancying myself a saintly dog trainer who would cure this minor setback with a few treats and a spirit of goodness. But as we squeezed ourselves smaller, our Christmas Day deadline to make it to our family in Florida looked weaker by the hour. “Billy,” I heard my Someone say into the phone, “what we are hoping for here is a Christmas miracle.” I laughed. Magpie barked. I cried. I yelled at her.
“We’ve made a mistake,” I said.
“It’s only been a week,” my Someone said. We traded this call and response back and forth over the weekend. But by Monday morning, I was despondent. I sat in the kitchen chair of my friends’ home, staring. We were packing it in, going to play the last show of the year three hours east, and hoping by the time we returned, we would have a home again and be moving. We were going to get a hotel. We were going to take some time to breathe. I hadn’t slept a full night in weeks. I couldn’t trudge through the thick well of anxiety that my pit of patience had succumbed to be. I remember my friend entering the room. I remember crying. But I can’t remember a word we said.
Magpie barked. I folded myself into the car and wept. There was no end.
“It’s a Christmas miracle!” Billy said the next morning. We were driving back to our temporary stead. The sun was bright behind us driving West, and it was enough to pull me from the depression. We decided to get coffee to celebrate.
“We’re gonna be okay!” I said.
The car slowed into the parking lot. Magpie barked.
We salvaged our stay with our friends with a big dinner, pouring generously and laughing at our misfortune. I grew calmer, but still on edge. I felt embarrassed of my despondency. I felt judged being so hard on Magpie. I felt tired. We kept talking around our lives, dodging in and out of jokes until we finally called it quits. We were shipping out tomorrow, we hoped.
In the morning we had coffee and tried to fit in a few last words. I was ill at ease. I tried to over explain myself, making amends for my out-of-ordinary behavior, and apologizing for my lack of mental health. I prodded my friend to see if it landed.
“I just can’t be around other people’s anxiety,” my friend said. “I have enough anxiety of my own. Other people’s stuff is just too much.”
It wasn’t pointed, and it wasn’t intentional, but it landed as a blow.
I’m just too much right now.
I looked down at my barks-her-head-off dog.
She looked at me, a little flinching. Ah, there’s the empathy I’d been looking for. She must know exactly how this feels. I pet her big head, wrinkled up in anxiety.
Our home was on our back again, and we were heading south. We tried our new freedom out, turning on the radio and scanning for a celebration. LeAnn Rimes wailed from the speakers–
Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue, oh so lonesome for you–
We joined in, turning it up and singing our guts out. Then behind me, Magpie picked up her head and lifted her chin, making a hound dog oh with her mouth.
Ooowwwww, oooooh, owowowow!
She sang along, with more gusto and less shame than I’d seen her all week. We laughed and kept singing til the end.
Why can’t you be blue over me?
I turned the radio down and looked at my pitiful pooch. She had a couple wrinkles fewer on the top of her head. She sighed. We weren’t so different.
“You aren’t too much,” I told her, “I can take all of you.”
She barked only twice the rest of the drive to Florida.