It's the phone call that everyone who has moved away from their parents dreads getting. It's the phone call that everyone who has moved away from their parents gets.
So there you are, sitting in your tiny apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts (or some other artistic Valhalla where the rent is cheap, but the coffee always overpriced). And you are feeling so safely removed from your childhood, when the phone rings; and it's your mother. Or it's your father. No. It's your mother and it's your father; they're ganging up on you.
And together they say those 4 dreaded words: "NO MORE FREE STORAGE! We're cleaning up the attic this weekend, so get over here and haul away all your old junk."
"Uh, oh," I thought, when it happened to me. "Did I perchance leave a box or two behind when I moved out?"
Perchance I had.
So there I was, in my parent's attic. Three flights up and a thousand years back (it seemed), digging and sorting through the many layered remnants of my own past. And feeling like Shirley Maclaine in her next life, having a past life experience.
"Where did all this junk come from?" I thought. "Where was all this junk going to go?"
Then I became very existential and thought, "What if my sole purpose in life was being a transition point for junk?"
I was feeling particularly discouraged when I came across a box of large, glossy envelopes promising (in bold, urgent letters) that dreams could be found inside them.
"Oh, no!" I thought. "Has it come to this. Have I even saved the junk mail?"
Then I took a closer look at one of the envelopes and realized that it wasn't addressed to me. This wasn't my box of mail. These were the letters to Lila, my old friend.
Lila Husky. She was a 60 pound Siberian Husky with one brown eye, one blue eye, and fur the color of fading smoke. And she used to get a lot of junk mail.
This was because whenever I subscribed to a magazine, or entered a contest, I would use her name. This was because I was trying to figure out how all the junk mail of the world kept finding its way to me.
So whenever I filled out an entry form to win a trip to Hawaii, instead of using my name I would write in, "Lila Husky," or "Ms. Lila Husky." Or, in order to keep track of where it was all coming from, alternative names like, "Lila Q. Huskymoto Esquire."
And, sure enough, Lila started getting more mail than me.
She got a letter from Ed McMahon congratulating her because, "You may have won a million dollars," and, "Imagine how happy you and all the little Huskys will be, driving around in your brand new Cadillac!"
She got an offer from Mastercard Gold because, and I quote, "You, Ms. Lila Delila Huskito Bandito, have been personally selected for your business excellence."
My dog had a better credit rating than I did. But I forgave her. Because she was my best friend. That's right, a dog. My only friend.
My family got a little concerned about me spending all my time hanging out with a dog instead of with other human beings. From their point of view I was a loner.
But the way I figured it, if one human year counted as 7 dog years, than one dog friend counted as 7 human friends. So I was actually very popular.
Now Huskies and Dolphins have a lot in common. They both have this built in clownish grin, so that it looks like they're always smiling. Or at least that's how Lila looked to me as I watched her leaping in and out of the snow like a dolphin on the waves.
Snow called to Lila Husky. And then Lila Husky would call to me.
Whenever it snowed in the night, Lila would walk over to my bed and stare at me until I woke up. What eyes she had for staring! Well, her brown eye was a regular dog's eye; mellow and warm. But her blue eye was her Wolf Eye. It caught the light and held it. And that eye always woke me up.
They say that dog's eyes have limited vision, but I know Lila could see plenty with that Wolf Eye of hers. I mean, I don't think she could actually see dreams with it, but if I was in the next room, and I was thinking about pizza, she knew, she knew. And then I would hear that accusing howl: "AWEH, AWUH, AWOOOOOOOOO."
Now this was something that Lila would say to me everyday when I got home. And my family started thinking that she was saying, "A-WHERE A-WERE A-YOOOOUUUUUU?"
Now I'll admit that, phonetically speaking, there were some similarities. But I knew better. "AWEH, AWUH, AWOOOO" meant, "HAND OVER THE FRENCH FRIES!" Or the donuts. Or the chocolate chip cookies. Because Lila Husky loved food. My food. Her philosophy was, if it was good enough for me, it was better for her. (The only type of food she didn't like was dog food. She was afraid it would spoil her appetite. For my dinner.)
Well, one time only I decided that I must train this dog. So I got a book on dog obedience out of the library and studied it. The book said, "Dog is man's best friend. So if you want your dog to follow orders, you must shower it with love and affection...as long as it obeys you."
Well this didn't seem right to me. I mean if somebody was your best friend, shouldn't you shower them with love and affection because they were your best friend? Not because you were trying to control them.
I couldn't go through with it. So I decided to shower Lila with something else, American Cheese. I mean, what's a slice or two between buddies?
So I went over to the fridge and I took out a slice, and before I had even shut the door Lila Husky was there...her brown eye accusing me of dog starvation...while her blue eye drew a bead on the cheese.
"A-WEH, A-WUH, AWOOOOOO," she said.
"Now wait a minute, Lila," I said. "Before I give you this cheese, I'm gonna teach you a trick. Yes I, the human, will now teach you, the dog, to 'Gimme 5,' as imparted to me by this book."
For a moment Lila's blue eye left the cheese to join her brown eye in gazing at the book, which I had propped open on the floor. Then both eyes rolled towards the heavens in disdain. Lila had a very low opinion of books. Whenever she saw me reading one she would look at me as if to say, "You can stare at that thing all you want, you poor deluded Human, but it's still not gonna turn into food."
But, undeterred, I held out my hand and said, "Now, Lila, when I go, 'Yo, Lila Husky, gimme 5.' you (and I grabbed her paw) go, whap (and I whapped her paw on the palm of my hand. And then I shoved the cheese in her mouth to emphasize the concept). Cool, Huh?"
Well her brown eye widened in surprise. And then her blue eye narrowed in understanding. And she knew, she knew!
And from that day on, whenever she wanted me to go get her a slice of a cheese, she'd walk over to me and whap me with her paw.
"Training your dog is oh, so important," continued the book. "They need to know who's boss."
"What for," I said, throwing away the book. "She already knows she's the boss."
But I forgave her. Because she was my friend. And, in many ways, my inspiration.
The thing I admired most about Lila Husky was this: she had the ability to just walk up to total strangers...and talk to them. Well this was something I could barely dare dream of. Human Beings made me kind of nervous. Actually, they kind of terrified me. (I could never tell what they were feeling because their ears stayed still.) And talking to them was almost impossible for me. Back then I tended to think in images, not words. I had a brain that just rained beautiful pictures inside my head all day long. And so that's where I could be found, all day long, inside my head.
Oh, my beautiful home inside my head. It was a hard place to leave. And it was an impossible place to explain. Because whenever I tried to talk, all those pictures would come tumbling and jumbling forward together, and get all tangled and changed, until whatever came crashing out of my mouth never seemed to have anything to do with what I was really trying to say. Or so I thought at the time.
Well, Lila Husky had no such problem. She spoke as if she had been appointed to be one of the world's communicators. As if being born a dog did not really matter if you were born with important messages in your heart.
And so it would happen while we were out walking. Sometimes not for a month, and sometimes several times a month. Lila would suddenly dart over to a stranger who had been hurrying by, and she would plant herself directly in their path and start singing to them, in that eerie Wolf Voice of hers, her brown eye filled with a dog-like concern, while her blue eye flashed with urgency.
She did not speak in words, but in expressive sounds. She would take a deep breath and send her voice soaring up to the top of the scale, and then let it fall back down again, gently bending notes along the way. And then, just when her voice was getting so low that it almost sounded comical, she would turn it around and force it back up the scale again with that last little bit of breath. So that her voice sounded like the wind, just dying out.
Well people would stop in their tracks and say, "Hey, listen to this! This dog almost sounds like it's talking!"
And then they would shut up. And listen. Because Lila Husky was a captivating speaker, sometimes even standing on her hind legs to better make eye contact, or softly placing her paw on someone's knee to emphasize a point.
Of course, no one she spoke to ever understood a single word she said.
But everyone she spoke to was deeply affected. Including me. And years later, when I began to feel the touch of important messages in my heart, I stopped worrying about whether people could understand my tumbled jumbled words, and just gave my visions their wings; to fly or to fall, in whichever direction the truth lay.
And who knows, maybe someday I'll even be as good a storyteller as Lila Husky.
A-WEH, A-WUH, A-WOOOOOOOOOO!