Sometimes my life doesn’t seem real. It happens at random moments, different times. I’ll be walking my favorite dog client, Tubs, around Tompkins Square Park. We’ll stop at the dog park outskirts for a little redirective rehabilitation. It is bright and sunny and 72 degrees on this hazy blue day, and it occurs to me that there is a very large possibility that I’m not really here. That the last time was really the last time, that I am lying in a hospital bed somewhere in my hometown in a white washed hospital room in a coma from which I will never wake up. It is easier sometimes to think that than to think that this life I have now, writer, dog walker, extraordinaire, in New York City is really mine.
I blink, and I am brought back to where Tubs sits on the edge of the enclosure that is full of her greatest fear—other dogs—her tail wagging as she waits for her chicken jerky treats. Tubs does not speak dog. I think that’s why we get along so well; she doesn’t understand her species, and I don’t feel like I understand mine. As we’ve gone through months of working together, Tubs is learning to confront her demons by associating them with good things rather than bad. As we’ve gone through months of working together, I am also learning to confront mine. I am more than rape; I am more than abuse; I am more than any bad word ever applied to me, because I am my own construction. I am my own person.
Tubs is not afraid because I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.
I give Tubs her treat and release her from the sit, and we walk all around the perimeter of the dog park, a feat we could not have accomplished without issue six months ago. I know that it is possible to learn to be okay because I see Tubs being okay, and I believe that Tubs is okay because she sees me being okay. Our relationship goes two ways, and even though she is just a dog, I am certain that she understands this.
When I take Tubs back to her house, she doesn’t want me to leave and flops in front of the door to try and stop me. I give her a scratch behind the ears and promise her I will see her the next day, and the next, and the next. I am a natural at dog training because I let myself understand her feelings, and I know that Tubs loves me. By reciprocating that love, I have gained Tubs’ trust—it’s just like relationships with people work.
I picture that other woman as I walk to the bus stop, the one I thought I might be, lying somewhere in a quiet room, alone, and I vow to say goodbye to her because when I let myself get stuck there, it holds me back. I am not sleeping; I am wide awake; I am in this life and not the other, I think, for the very first time.
To be a survivor, to be more than what happened to me in the past, means being awake.
Tubs is awake.
I am too.