I was curled on my side on my bed, the lights off, the covers over my head. It was five in the afternoon on a dismal Friday a couple weeks ago, and I had just gotten home from work. My daughter was downstairs, occasionally calling for me. I was…not home.
I have never had depression. But I’ve had plenty of days of feeling depressed.
A potent trio of professional boredom, relational insecurity and existential angst had met at the diner that morning, laughed about a Letterman bit the night before, and decided to spend the day at my place. I should know not to let those bastards in, they never call first, but the truth is, sometimes I miss seeing them. They’re the friends you know you can’t count on when things fall apart, friends you can’t trust with your real life, but you still hang out with them now and then because they make you feel like a tortured artist. You can never plan for their visits. It would ruin it. And then they show up and get you drunk and you remember why you never call them.
The dark room helped some. So did Morrissey – There is a light that never goes out and sixteen, clumsy and shy, that’s the story of my life and I haven’t had a dream in a long time. I took a few deep breaths, stood up, and walked downstairs. I had decided to cut flowers in the backyard to bring inside, because sometimes that’s just the only thing you can do. The rain was still falling steadily.
It is at this point I should tell you I hate dogs. I’ve liked maybe two, ever. If all the dogs in the world died on the same night, I would celebrate the date annually with tinsel and lights and colored beer. This is important for what happened next.
I stepped out the back door, and saw the old woman.
She was standing in the middle of the garden, barefoot in a tattered bathrobe, rain dripping from her thin, tangled hair. She was shouting at a side of my house I couldn’t see. There are at least a dozen horror movies that start exactly like this, but I still wasn’t prepared for the large, muscular dog that came bounding around the side of my house and ran straight at me. He backed me against my door, barking angrily, baring his teeth. It wasn’t play aggression. It was I will eat your eyes like Skittles and chew your bones aggression. Most dog owners will assure you their animal won’t hurt you, he just likes people, but this old woman called out to me in a quavering, prophetic voice, You should probably get inside. So I did. The dog ran past the woman and into another yard, and she followed him, lamely yelling at him to come here and sit. I could hear them repeat this all down the block.
It took maybe half a minute for all thirteen distinct varieties of pissed off to well up in my soul. What. The fuck. Just happened?! I told Yosi to stay inside, marched out to the shed, grabbed the baseball bat, and walked to the middle of the yard, hoping the dog came back so I could break his jaw, laugh in a perfect imitation of the voice of the last girl dog who broke his heart, and then kill him. My head wasn’t in a pretty place. And then Yosi stepped outside and said Why do you have a bat, Daddy?
So I can beat that dog to death if it comes back while we’re cutting flowers and feeling peace in our hearts. Yes, yes I did.
Why would you kill the dog, Daddy?
Because he was very mean, Yosi, and I don’t want him to hurt us, especially not you. Remember that dog that killed Gandalf last year? Dogs aren’t always nice.
So what are you going to do if he comes back?
I’m…I’m going to protect us with the bat.
Just go inside and get the scissors so we can cut flowers. I don’t think he’s coming back right now.
Are you going to kill the dog, Daddy?
No, I’m not going to kill the dog, Yosi.
She got the scissors, and we cut flowers, and he didn’t come back, though I looked up every few seconds, fully prepared to meet him in single combat if he reappeared. Rain was dripping from my hair, a warm rain, and as I moved aside the leaves to select each stem, my anger slowly ebbed. There are types of peace that will not come if you are waiting for them. They lose their power in the light. They have to sneak up on you or you’ll never let yourself be caught and held. Cutting flowers in the rain is not one of those. I needed it to be healing, and asked for it to be, and it was. For the day, for the dog. For having skin in a world that has teeth.
As I snipped off the purple and white and pink blooms, I let the beauty and the rain wash me. The Smiths played in my head, and that was its own kind of medicine, like a friend who helps just by saying Yeah, I know, it sucks sometimes. My washed out, too long jeans and pissy black t-shirt were soaked through, and I grinned with sardonic affection at myself, still emo at thirty. I guess I never learn.
I stood up after a while and watched my daughter carefully cut her own bouquet. She wants so much to be a grown up, to please me. She doesn’t know yet about the things I can’t save her from with a bat, about the way sad music can make you happy, about how you won’t always get to jump on the laps of the people you like in a room, about the rules and how much the rules suck, and about the people who don’t follow any rules at all and suck even more. She cut her flowers, her brand new glasses as wet as mine, and I marveled at the fates that had made emotional, immature me her defender and teacher. I smiled to myself.
So this is what it is to be the father of a girl: To stand barefoot in the rain, flowers in one hand and a weapon in the other.