Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Perfect Companion

(Podcast) For most people, it’s an animal.  That’s because they’ve already given up on people. Or, if they do include people as their predilect companion, it’s generally a temporary one.  A few hours snatched here or there, or a brief vacation, and then both are secretly glad to go back to work, back to a place where they don’t have to constantly perform for scraps of approval or fear they are always judged and on the verge of rejection.

Ay chihuahua, my little best friend!
After the Chihuahua races, Cinco de Mayo, Tulsa, OK

A dog, cat, or even iguana is infinitely preferable. Your dog is always happy to see you. It’s an open-hearted, boundless love, and if you need it to be all about you and no one else, you can condition your dog to dislike and even menace everyone except you. You can even justify the neurosis you’ve instilled into your companion animal by saying that he’s “protective.” Maybe he is. But, if you like the fact that your dog loves you, and you alone, there’s something else going on. But, don’t worry too much about it. You’re not alone. If your pet is an “emotional support animal,” it is very likely that the exclusivity is something that gives you emotional support.

I’ve had students and coworkers who have brought their emotional support animal (dog) with them to the classroom and to the office.  I suspect the dog went with them everywhere else, too.  Would they want their spouse, sibling, parent, or friend with them at all times?  I suspect not.

Many Victorian novels feature a “paid companion” – a kind of personal assistant considered higher than a servant, but mixed with the clerical and step-and-fetch-it duties were requirements to go to shopping and to cultural events (museums, openings, readings).  I always wondered while reading why a woman who was independently wealthy would saddle herself with a companion. Why not just go to the places alone? But, I suspect that it might not have been safe. It might have been considered somewhat disreputable. So, the paid companion was also a bodyguard and chaperone.

Lucha Libre at Elote, Tulsa, OK  Cinco de Mayo celebration
Perhaps the Victorians were more realistic than we are about psychological needs. Sometimes we live far from our families; sometimes our families are like driftwood on the beach, constantly swept out to sea, then brought back, redeposited in new configurations. It’s all very transitory and confusing. In fact, if I think about it too much, tears well up, and I think of all the beautiful moments that time and circumstances swept out to sea.

All the loss and change in the world is hard to face. Talking to a human companion often simply compounds the issue. Even if you’re not feeling on the verge of being judged and found wanting, the conversations often veer into the bleak abyss of uncertainty and the lack of control we have over our lives and the seething, unstable environment.

My son had a lemon beagle named Sammy. For a while, Sammy was a kind of companion animal and emotional support animal for me when my son joined the Marines. But, I, too, abandoned Sammy when I moved to upstate New York. I’ll have to do a lot of rounds in purgatory for that, I believe.

I had to conclude that while Sammy could have been a good companion animal for me, I was a wretched one for him. Dogs make great emotional support animals. Humans, in contrast, are horrible emotional support animals for dogs. At least I was for Sammy. I’m probably equally terrible for another human.

No wonder I feel a bit lonely sometimes.

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Then what, or who, is the perfect companion?

Who knows.

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