Fear. 2

There have been a few times in my life when I was paralyzed with fear. [stderr] Usually, the paralysis is short, followed by an extended high-speed run.

In 2012 I had a rough year. The year before I had put down my dogs – the best friends I have ever had – and I was still sad and upset about the big not-smelly hole they left in my life. I live on a farm in the middle of noplace and managed to raise them so they were confident that, no matter where I roamed, I’d come back to them. I had a neighbor who’d feed them if I was out of town for work and I asked her, once, how they boys did when I was away. She said that they just lounged around on the porch and in the yard, ate and drank normally (they were raised without food stress so there was no food obssession) (besides they could always find a woodchuck, rabbit or a deer to eat) – they just powered down into a wait mode. But every time they heard the gravel at the end of the driveway crunch, about half a mile away, they’d stand up and take up positions on the bluff where they could see the whole driveway, to check if it was my car.

They were great big wolfy-things. Farm dogs. Dirty and maybe a bit scary looking. But they were Shiloh Shepherds, bred to be companion/rescue dogs, and they were serious but not threatening. Gentle but businesslike. They seldom barked, except I remember Jake once said “whufff” to a bear that walked up on us, then they both sat down and looked at eachother, nodded, and everyone went about their business. In their prime, they weighed about 150lbs and stood elbow-tall on me. Miles could run a pace alongside a kid on a dirt bike, grinning a wolf-grin as the kid left streaks of terror-shit in the air. Jake never bothered: he was a strategist, he’d just step out from behind a tree and watch the mayhem.

P&C’s Miles Vorkosigan makes sure the driveway is acceptable

I’m not going to exaggerate – I took their deaths hard, especially because of the manner and abruptness of it. I have a few friends who tried to cheer me up and it mostly failed. In 2013 one of the photographers I used to hang out with, up in Allentown, invited me to a Halloween get-together that he was having at his studio, so I figured “what the hell” and put on a pirate shirt and breeches, big belt, flintlock or two, rapier, bucket top boots, a baldrick, black eyeshadow, hopped in the truck and left my empty, dark, lonely house.

P&C’s Everything’s Just Jake, AKA “Jake” supervisory special dog

I got to the party and, of course, I was the only person there in costume; I hadn’t gotten the memo. I really didn’t care, but I did get tired of people asking me if the sword was real, so I skewered an apple with it – that kind of thing. I’m antisocial, which is odd because my career consisted of going to conferences and talking to people, or consulting and talking to people, etc. But I hated all of that; I was just pretending because I had a job to do. It was odd; after 16+ years of that, I started to feel like I was a split personality: the real me, and the corporate cosplay, or the social flutterer. I fluttered around until about 9:00pm and said some goodbyes, then hit the road for the 3 hour trip back.

As I got close to home, I was appreciating the full moon’s silver light on the trees and roads; it was so bright I could have turned the truck’s lights off and driven in the dark except I didn’t want to hit any deer or a cop or whatever. I was listening, I clearly remember, to the Bill Cosby skit about the old “Lights Out” show and how he could scare himself half to death. I turned into my driveway and remember thinking, “now, if there’s a time to be scared, this is it: it’s Halloween and it’s just about midnight” Heh. Good thing I’m a skeptic.

I thought of my dogs and felt sad; this would also be the kind of night where they’d be guarding the ridge-line and when they recognized my car they’d saunter down, tails waving majestically, to greet me with gracious but sincere courtesy. They had dignity. Except they were dead and I had buried them, myself. Then, I shut the truck down, got out and started walking to the house.

But, if there were ghosts, Miles and Jake would claw their way out of 6 feet of dirt and some big rocks to greet me on this night. That would be exactly the kind of thing they would do. I got my house keys out of my pocket, turned my back to the yard to unlock the door, and that was when I heard a snuffling breath, and the sound of feet – about 6 feet behind me. I was not imagining it. Something I had not mentioned: Miles and Jake are buried in their favorite place, right at the end of the porch. Where the sound had come from.

You’ve probably heard the expression “knees turned to water” well, there I was, arch skeptic – stone cold terrified. It felt like someone had put a hose up my butt and turned on a flow of ice water. I was pretty sure that if I turned around the boys would be standing there, tottering a bit, bones still covered in patches of fur, with their tails waving majestically. I KNEW that was what was behind me.

Then, I thought, I shouldn’t be rude. So I slowly turned around and there was a fucking stupid deer blinking at me.

I stalked into the house and slammed the door.

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Full moon tonight, too. It’s 10:00pm and if someone knocks on my door at midnight I’m answering it with a katana in my hand.


  1. John Morales says

    I feel for you.

    When you do retire, get yourself some canine companionship.

    You deserve each other.

  2. says

    John Morales@#1:
    When you do retire, get yourself some canine companionship.

    I am retired. I keep thinking of getting a dog who can hang out in the shop, but then I worry that the angle grinders and such will hurt its ears. Splitting my process may work – I can have a place where dogs are safe with a nice warm propane fire, and another where the power tools are loud and make toxic dust. I’m not sure.
    Honestly, I’m not ready yet. Maybe in a couple more years.

  3. klatu says

    I’m antisocial, which is odd […]

    I don’t think so. You have a blog. You keep sharing your thoughts freely with the world, you engage your commenters earnestly, you’ve held public talks confidently (talks I personally quite admire) and I’ve never seen you display antisocial behavior with anyone. Your own estimation of yourself is, of course, worth more than mine. But I think you, like me and like a shit-ton of other people, are simply introverted. Congrats, you’re pretty normal (What an achievement!).

    It’s not that introverts are somehow smarter or better than anyone else, but current societal trends keeps reinforcing the idea that only exraverts exist and are valid. Visit YouTube, get yelled at by five million “popular” assoles, quickly retreat and feel alone. So if you’re not excited to meet new people, you must be “anti-social”. It’s an easy conclusion to draw, but it’s wrong. Online spaces just simply don’t benefit financially from low/non-participation, so only the loud assholes survive that particular Darwinian struggle. But it’s not a reflection on you.

    the best friends I have ever had

    Yep. Dogs are just awesome like that. They don’t care that you’re imperfect. They will love you anyway, no matter what. And I think they taught me something invaluable, growing up: It’s far more important to be kind than it is to be smart. Or maybe the trick is to be both, I guess.

  4. polishsalami says

    I’m not a big fan of dogs, there’s a kind of savagery simmering under the surface with them that I don’t like.

    Often it’s animals rather than humans that bring out the best of us. I want to see this, it seems fascinating.

  5. says

    The boys look wonderful. Exactly the kind of dog I would monopolise (if they allowed) on a visit, only occasionally remembering that I’d originally come to see their human. Though, I am very good at being allowed to monopolise dogs. I think there’s a specific “dog person” smell and I have it.
    I can imagine how such a situation leads to people seeing all kinds of things and I can easily imagine people who don’t get to see a stupid deer believing that there were ghosts.

  6. voyager says

    Dogs are filled with magic. They have the power to make humans feel loved and happy. There is no better friend.
    My first dog Lucy used to bump her head against my knees, trying to crawl between my legs. She was very physically affectionate ( Jack isn’t) and for months after she died I had moments when I swear I could feel her pushing against me. Even now, 3 years later, I still occasionally get that feeling and it still stops me in my tracks. It’s probably a combination of muscle memory and brain coding, but it makes this old skeptic wonder about ghosts, too.
    Miles and Jake are beautiful beasties and that was a fabulous ghost story. Don’t wait too long to get another dog – the magic is perfect for retired introverts. I know ‘cause I am one.

  7. dangerousbeans says

    Pets have such a huge impact on our lives <3

    You might be able to train a dog to hang out away from the grinding area and wear hearing protection?

  8. says

    You might be able to train a dog to hang out away from the grinding area and wear hearing protection?

    I don’t know of any dogs that wear hearing protection. That’d be a very un-dog thing.

    I think that my planned approach, of having a dog-safe shop and a non dog-safe shop, ought to work. I just gotta get it all together. Come to think of it, it’d make a palatial dog house for a good dog.

  9. John Morales says

    Just remember puppies love to play. And to chew.

    Re the ghostly doggy thingy, that’s something with which I’d be comfortable.

    I did right by every single pooch I’ve had the pleasure to have, and if in death as in life, then they’d do right by me, too. Pet Sematary-demon creatures excepted.

  10. cjheery says

    I’m sorry, still, for your great loss, mjr. I know how much you loved them.

    klatu: “It’s far more important to be kind than it is to be smart. Or maybe the trick is to be both, I guess.” Succinctly put. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’d rather be remembered as a kind person than a smart person, though that used to not be the case. But both is preferable.

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