My Dog, My Muse, No Voltage


Inspiration is fleeting. 


It comes in tufts and whiffs and sights before the eyes, when we’re still enough to notice it,  when our senses aren’t anesthetized. I’ve been that way lately. 


My brother is dying. Today --or the next day, or the next hour, or minute. I traveled to New Mexico last week to cry at his bedside, to kiss his face, to feed him jello, to say goodbye, until the dictates of my reality -- unpaid bills, unmet deadlines, too little leave,   and too many details brought me back to St. Louis to wait for his passing, so I can return to Albuquerque to mourn. It’s parceled out this way. A sad fact of life, or death, for the working class. 


For now, I stand and stare a lot. At nothing. In my kitchen, in my office, out in the yard, staring, at nothing in particular. I tend to park my puffy gaze on some random spot, not enough energy or heart to even move my eyes, seeing nothing really, so lost in thought. This morning, I sat and stared, from my sun drenched porch, drinking coffee from my mother’s gold rimmed coffee cup, with a saucer. I do this every weekend, refusing to drink from that damn old ugly, Monday through Friday slave driver commuter mug I suck on during the week. Like piss ants marching off to war, that’s how my sister-in- law Beverly describes this herd behavior,  whether we want to or not, ritualized out of conscription rather than desire. But cup and saucer Saturday mornings, is a gift I give myself, genteel, civilized, the luxury of good coffee from bone china and the time to savor the taste, watching the steam curl from the shiny black surface spotlighted by the  morning sun. I was thinking about the phrase, “sun bathing” reasoning that I needed to absorb of much of this nourishment as I possibly could, to fortify me for the dark days ahead, when, all of a sudden, Libby the Replacement Dog, went ballistic.  It broke the spell.   


The neighbors had just left for church, where I was thinking I should be, if not for my swollen eyes from crying all night and being on the front porch in my nightgown with my cup and saucer,  and their cat was out. Kitty, appropriately named, a mammoth black and white calico was balled up under the box wood bushes near their front door.  Libby was losing her shit.


She hates that cat.  Pete, the King of Dogs, God rest his soul, HATED that cat too, which proves to me that it must be a devil cat, or a dog fighter in a prior life. My normally docile, yellow Lab mix, who, if she could, would help burglars carry stuff out of my house, rather than try to stop them, had a razor running down her back, so erect were her hackles. She was barking like a rabid dog, not seven feet away from the feline Oreo, but, trained as she is to the invisible fence which surrounds our yard, Libby did not cross the line to munch the cat.  


But what she doesn’t know is, the battery in her shock collar has been dead for weeks.  She barked and writhed and ran up and down the driveway, almost carving a trough in the concrete. She barked, and stomped, her head down, her butt up, then ran up and down a few more times, but she never went close to the buried wire which she believed would shock her into submission. So thoroughly trained is she, that she won’t dare cross the line, won’t dare come close, even though the thing she wants more than trash from the garbage can is a mere six feet away. Six feet away, a black and white sandwich, curled up in a ball, probably too old and too fat to outrun her, and yet, she does not risk the jolt. With nary an electrical current in place, this a false barricade if ever there was one. 



The comparison was just too rich. The metaphor jumped out at me like a billboard for an  XXX Adult Book Store on a rural highway, shaking me from my stupefied stare, to a riveted realization. 


My shock collar has dead batteries. I could break free if I really wanted to. 


My brother is dying. 


When he was first diagnosed, I vowed I would figure out a way to spend more time with him, to somehow get funding for my writing so that I could write, observe, listen, record, breathe, write, live, remember, write. 


That was eleven months ago. I have gone to New Mexico four times during these months and I am grateful for our time together. But always with so many other things on my mind, so many work details and deadlines left unattended, so many texts and emails and conference calls and 50 hour work weeks writing other people’s stuff. 


I had so very much wanted to finish my memoir before he passed. Wanted to get started on a new book, about our crazy mother, (crazy in a good way, four days out of seven...) I wanted to take him to California to revisit the neighborhoods of our youth. He’s the only one who’d know where to find them, with my mama and my other older brother gone. San Francisco, Placerville, Folsom, he’d be able to help me find the places that lived in legend from my mother’s stories. And he might be able to help me find my father’s son, the father with whom my mother had a fling, then a baby girl, then cut out to go back to the man she was still married to. The father whom I’ve never set eyes on but have an idle curiosity about the half-brother from another mother. Who knows? I could have land-o-plenty in Northern California. Or a half-brother who lives in a van, down by the river. Don would be able to help me find him, he knew him as a child. 


But now, I”m losing Don. The real big brother. The one who helped raise me. The steady one, the best one, the one man I could trust every single day of my life. He’s slipping away with every minute I breathe and I am righteously pissed. The days are gone. We didn’t go. The road trip got stuck in traffic. Like piss ants marching off to war, I drove to work, I came back home, I set the timer on the coffee pot. 


I lovingly load Libby the Replacement Dog into the car to drive past her barricade. So trained is she on the invisible fence, she won’t leave the yard, even when I take off her collar and put her on a leash.  I have to load her in the car and drive her past the perimeter.  We park two doors down, where she leaps from the back seat, happy as a clam to trot down the sidewalk, directly in front of our house. That’s our drill. 


But who’s gonna carry me past mine?  Oh collar, where is thy voltage? 




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  • Deborah Batterman

    I guess we can at least be thankful for meetings in Cyberspace ;-). . . Speaking of which, I hope you received my friend request here on She Writes . . . I just sent one on Facebook as well.

  • Jean Ellen Whatley

    Hi Deborah,

    Sorry I'm just now catching up.  I wish we'd had more time to chat last week in NYC.  Thank you for your comment and I will not only keep you posted on Off the Leash: Road Stories With My Dog but I will follow your blog as well.  Best regards, Jean  

  • Serendipity -- meeting you very briefly last night in a dark, downtown NYC bar -- brought me to this post. I can only say I wish I had read it (and commented) when you wrote, but it's better late than never -- right? I love the unbridled power of it, and the underlying metaphors. And I look forward to more of your posts, not to mention that memoir.