The day had been warm, even a little muggy around sunset. But by late night it was chilly out on the porch. M and I shrugged on coats that would have been unbearable when we were away from the porch. We drank a crappy cabernet sauvignon – I had meant to bring quite a good pinot noir but had rushed out of the house without it – and chain smoked her Virginia Slims. We blinked back tears.
We don’t get to pick our families but we do pick our friends. Well, I guess. I don’t think it’s a particularly conscious choice. But we group up with people with similar…something. Attitudes? Priorities? Outlooks? Sometimes, but not always, I just end up hanging out with whoever invites me over.
Animals, though, don’t pick friends and their actual relatives are soon enough taken away. Pets come into a home and adjust as they will. A dog or cat warms up to someone each in its own way – or doesn’t warm up, each in its own way. The pack tendency in canines makes it easy to see their relationships in a household. Outsiders are judged individually for fitness as a part of the extended tribe.
Or at least, that’s how it felt with Ahab. She barked the first couple of times that I came over. But the reactions of M and the others to me convinced her to stand down. After that, when I came over she would run to the gate or the door to see me in. She didn’t jump into anyone’s arms or dance, she was far too dignified for that. Though she made no secret of sniffing hopefully at any grocery bags.
Sometimes I would sit on the lower steps of the stairs to the porch, alone and lost in thought. She would come up to me then, bring her muzzle close to mine and stare into my eyes. It didn’t matter if I was just wandering inside my head, pointless poking at some esoteric idea, or if I was grappling with pain and anxiety, her huge gold-brown eyes would bring me to the present. She waited patiently until my eyes locked on hers, until she knew we were present to the same moment. Then she would lick my face.
At the HP Haus, what I call my forward operating base and my home-away-from-home, Ahab was notorious for a certain regal cuteness that somehow never put at odds her tendency to beg for beer with her typical posture, alert to any threats to her pack. She didn’t want anything to do with my wine, but boy would she give me Pleading Puppy Face for a bite of cheese. One evening, not that long ago, M and I spent the evening over some wine, cheese and blackberries at one of the stone tables in the Haus’s backyard. We sat catty-corner to each other, smoking and chatting. Ahab sat between us, facing M. At every opportunity she gave M The Eyes. When M would turn away would no response the brazen dog would reach a paw up and gently poke her. After the second or third time M addressed Ahab directly telling her in no uncertain terms that she would not be eating human food, Ahab stood up, shifted around and repositioned herself facing me and redirected her begging to me.
The sweetness, the protectiveness, the I got your back-ness, the patience and occasional utter cheek are all attributes I’ll always think of as characteristic to the HP Haus. It’s a locus in my extended tribe.
I lean pretty heavily on M at times, because she invites me to do so, and because I have few other options. It’s a tiny world and each one of us isn’t really that far away from any other one of us. A toast, friendship, the bond of shared stories, a cool evening on a porch; these are worth relishing. It all goes by too fast, otherwise.
I miss you, Ahab. Thank you for letting me into your tribe.