I have this terror that one day while my pup and I are in the back yard, just the two of us at home, I will fall down dead. She and I are always alone in this terror. It is a cold morning (for it is winter as I write this, and the terror lives in the calendar as much as in the dark). The pine trees frame the sky and texture the edges of the frame with their needles, and in this terror I have fallen dead onto my back, my eyes still half-open and still wet. Clouds pass over me as though I am able to breathe.
The terror is not for myself; in this moment I am gone to wherever my essential atoms will go. The terror is for Frida, our beautiful three-year-old pit bull/whippet mix who suffered as a starving stray the first year of her life. The terror is for her confusion that quickly turns to despair, as she knows I am not alive anymore, but she whines anyway, she licks my face and presses her nose against me anyway. The terror is for the way she will lie beside me for hours, missing her Boy and loving her Boy with her rudimentary yet immensely pure way. The terror is for her losing one-third of her pack. I picture her against my side, stretched out to maximize contact, her head on her front paws, until my partner, Frida’s beloved Girl, arrives home, finds me, and the terror starts all over again, through a human lens this time.
I have this terror that I am walking Frida in our neighborhood, and I will fall down dead. The same dark grains play out as they would in the back yard, but quicker, with more danger for her. I hope, inside the terror, that my body pins enough of her leash to the asphalt to keep her safe until I am found by a neighbor or a passing car. The terror is for someone stealing her from her Girl and from her mourning, doubling my partner’s grief. The terror is for Frida’s terror, the fact that she cannot understand, not exactly, why she still feels the longing for the treats she smells inside my pocket, in a moment like this. She sits beside me in the street, soft groans and distressed yawns coming from her mouth. She paws at me, knowing but not knowing it won’t cause me to get up and continue our walk. The terror compels me to put her collar on before our walks, even though we use a harness. The Girl’s phone number must be visible to the person who finds us there in the street.
I have this terror that I will not die right away, that some fading part of me will be aware of Frida’s reactions for a breathless minute, two minutes. I have this terror that in these scenarios and others, too many others, I cannot do what I love best in the world when it is needed the most: make Frida feel safe and loved and warm. I cannot tell her, “It’s okay…it’s okay…” as I press my face into her fur and scratch her ears.
I have a bum knee from an old injury, and just last night Frida pushed off of that leg with her weight in a certain way that caused my knee to flare with a brief spark of pain. My reaction scared her, but just moments later she came back to me and began licking my face, cuddling up to me, putting her head on my shoulder. It was obvious she thought she had hurt me and making me feel better was so nakedly important to her. I have never felt so essential.
I have this terror for those who would be less without me. It is a small and fierce group. I don’t know why this terror manifests itself so powerfully, so cruelly, around my dog. It is likely because her love for me has no filter. There is no outside world to get in the way of its simple depth. It is likely because my love for her, too, is the least complicated force I have ever known. She is my companion. I talk to her and rub her belly when she turns in a way that tells me it’s expected of me. We lie in the sun together. I walk her twice most days, and when it’s nice the walks are longer. She has slept in our bed–the pack’s den–ever since her second night here, and bedtime is her favorite part of the day after breakfast, first dinner, and second dinner.
This terror casts me as the dead, you’ll notice, but it is only to spare me what comes in the interminable moments after. This terror spares me those moments, but it also compels me to imagine them.
She is the best girl and I catch myself mourning her long before I should sometimes. Because I’ll tell you a secret (poorly kept if you’ve read my fiction): I have this terror, and it is the true terror, of losing the people I love. My amazing partner, family, friends, loved ones…and my little bear, Frida. I was filled with dread the moment we met her, on my birthday in 2015. It is such a beautiful dread, though. It is worth every terror.
This terror is such a simple thing, filled with great truths known by nearly everyone. It is nothing special, but I have been needing to write it down. They say to write what you know. Perhaps from now on, when people ask me why I write horror fiction, why I’m drawn to such spooky stuff, I will simply tell them, “I have this terror…”