I swear, I tried to breathe out the hopeless exasperation that takes over me every time Nala entertains her high-pitch, endlessly repetitive barking-frenzy. I shrug in desolation for my mental sanity and professional ambitions when she decides to dispute territory with any foreign sound that presents itself outside of my apartment.
*Neighbor 1 leaves home*
I wake up with a speeding heart thinking I’d rather be awaken by the annoying standard Apple alarm noise then this unjustified hysteria. I cover my face with my hands, trying not to blame my mother for Nala’s lack of training. How could she have let it come to this point?
Nala arrived in our house the day after my father left my mother. She was taken out of a dog-shelter and into our dismantling home.
My mother has a tendency of taking excessive measures in attempting to make amends for her life’s issues. Food, useless goods and suffocating love are her go-to coping mechanisms. This time, it was a dog. It was also her way of getting a twisted message across to my father. He would always say that if a dog walked in our front door, he would be walking out the back one. Well, it ended up happening the other way around.
Still, she was the cutest thing I had ever seen. My mom said she chose the tiniest one from the cannel because our house was small and she looked like she wouldn’t grow too much.
I was ecstatic to see her do the simplest of things- from trying to escalate the couch to bumping her head on every single doorway. She looked like something out of a cartoon with her huge black head and miniscule white body.
My afternoons were consumed by Nala’s presence and I was happy to give her all my time. I was devastated when we almost lost her on her second week with us. I gave her deworming medicine but she had a hard time surviving the worms’ reactions to the drugs. As long as she was lying down contorted in pain, I was lying besides her praying that little life would make it through alive.
“SHUT UP”, I yell trying to compete with her barking.
I named her Nala for obvious reasons: Lion King- I blame Disney for polluting me with childlike fantasies. However, I only saw it twice, once when I was 4 and a second time when I was 15. Both times I left the room afraid I wouldn’t survive Mustafa’s death.
I remember this one time, I believe it was a year after my parents’ divorce, my father came to get something he had left in our apartment and Nala almost attacked him. She starred furiously at him, more so than she does to any tourist body that enters our house.
He didn’t say anything but he looked surprised we had a dog.
My father has a habit of not speaking much. It never ceases to surprise me when he talks for more than four minutes straight. He always chooses his prose carefully, as if calculating the promises he makes whilst speaking. When living with us, he was an imperceptible existence- neither bothered nor liked to be bothered.
One of the many things I never understood about my father was his aversion to pet animals. What would be that horrific about having a dog that made him threaten us with leaving?
*Neighbor 2 cleans the hallway*
I shrink with Nala’s shrieks. After I’ve tried all my usual responses to her barking- yelling, threatening to punish, turning the volume of my earphones until their bursting- I stare blankly in front of me. I can’t seem to recall when it started. When had I lost interesting in her shiny new presence?
It’s difficult to accept that she grew up to be a paranoid and frightened dog. Why couldn’t she just be normal - if said category even exists? I’m helpless when I listen to other pet owners describing their joyous adventurous pals that run beside them at the beach and arrive home exhausted after a day of fun. I enter a state of quasi-hallucination picturing Nala in those situations.
When she was a baby, I projected my personal frustrations onto her. We all did. I expected her to be a skateboarding dog, my brother wished she’d go hiking with him, my mother wanted her to never leave her side. I was as unconscious of the harm this could do as I was about the consequences of my father’s departure.
As cute and adorable as she was when we first got her, Nala was a stand-in. She was a desperate attempt to fill-in the void neither of us could face- the empty seat at the dinner table, the overwhelming silence, the unfulfilled longing for a happy family.
It took me years to accept that I would never go skateboarding with her. That she wasn’t going to make the whole in my chest go away.
*Incoming call: Dad*
I should pick it up.
The thing with me is that I have a tendency of looking the other way when things get difficult. As far as I am concerned, I could still be the child who closes her eyes every time Mustafa dies. The young girl who thinks not looking has the power to prevent bad things from happening, even if it makes them worse.
‘Did I give up or have I never even tried?’, I mull over.
I try to think of how it must have been for Nala. What must she have thought? That I vanished from beside her once I saw she could stand on her own. I had turned away when she needed love disguised as patience- the type that would be able to gently talk her through aging without fear. It seems this condition of not being able to give others what we haven’t cultivated within ourselves is a fatality after all.
Each time Nala screams, I’m forced to face all I have been avoiding for the past 5 years. However, this time I cannot take my life out of the house for days on end. Reality insists on approaching in unsatisfying ways. It's as if when she barks, she tells me I have inflicted upon her a familiar feeling of negligence.
The imposition of a cloistered life has gradually but firmly shown me that my overlooked resentment will keep waking me up in the morning with an accelerated heart. It will keep distracting and bothering me because it desperately seeks my attention.
Certainly, the road for reparation is long and there is no easy fix. Be that as it may, I’ll start from where I’m standing- taking the blindfolds off, picking up the phone and figuring out how to educate an adult dog.