Decline of the Uninvited Friend
(First written a few years ago on a melancholy evening, I’m posting here for Chuck Wendig’s Flash (Non) Fiction Challenge at TerribleMinds.com.)
I’ve known Clyde almost exactly as long as I’ve known my wife. Our seemingly divergent life paths nevertheless brought us together through a convergence of events that neither one of us could have foreseen or would have changed if given the chance. When we met, I didn’t want a friend and neither did he. Despite our best efforts, though, we found lifelong friends in each other.
Clyde spent his early years in an abusive home, and by the time I met him, both of us fully adults, I didn’t much care for the effects that his past had wrought. He was nervous and cranky, always, and often downright belligerent. He took an instant disliking to me, and the sentiment was more than reciprocated. Often, when I’d do no more than walk into a room, he would lay into me, scolding me harshly for what? For breathing I suppose. For living.
As our circumstances conspired to keep Clyde and me in arm-length proximity on a more or less daily basis, we had no choice but to adapt, each left to deal with the unbearable presence of the other. We soon settled into a routine of I’ll-pretend-you’re-not-here-if-you’ll-pretend-I’m-not-here coping, and survived. And then, through our common experiences, we found ourselves communicating and, yes, commiserating, even when we didn’t really need to do so. Before I knew it, I no longer dreaded seeing Clyde, and then, the unthinkable happened.
My girlfriend (now wife) and I went on a trip for about a week, during which time I had absolutely zero contact with Clyde. On the plane ride home, I realized that I was a bit homesick, but wasn’t really sure why. Falling into conversation, and then into slumber, the malaise passed, and we returned home without incident. The next day, though, I saw Clyde for the first time in several days, and the lens of distance instantly brought into focus the truth of our situation: we had become, truly, friends. Not because we were forced to spend time with each other, but because we had built a real, mutual like and respect. I had missed my friend.
In the coming weeks and months, I grew to appreciate Clyde more and more. I realized that what I had mistaken for judgment of and disdain for me was really just a cautious regard for his own privacy, his own territory, and his own history with those who had disappointed him. Once I got to know him, Clyde’s tough exterior crumbled, and his beautiful, sunny life force was on full display whenever we could hang out, just the two of us. It’s hard, in a world where few people keep their words and fewer still want anything but personal gain from their interactions with you, to let your guard down and form new bonds, but we managed over time. I could see a lot of myself in Clyde. More appropriately, I could see a lot of Clyde in me.
Through the years that have followed, Clyde and I have both grown older, of course. I’m married now and in the throes of raising a family. Both of us have moved several times, and we don’t get to see each other as often as we used to, and our days in the sun together are few and far between. Clyde hasn’t always been thrilled about his new living arrangements, but he HAS always been happy to see me. I think about him often these days, even when I can’t spend much time with him.
In fact, those fickle twists of fate, the same ones that brought Clyde and me together in the first place, have me thinking about my friend tonight. Clyde is actually getting on in years and seems to be aging faster than I. It’s a wicked trick of time that folks like him often whither while their contemporaries still bask in the sun. Cruelly, the early spring weather we’ve been enjoying this year and, yes, the sun, have seemingly lured Clydeout and caused him some trouble. He was taking a little stroll in the warm weather today, misjudged his footing, and collapsed in a mud slick near his home. He seems to be injured and is quite feeble this evening. Everyone is hopeful that he can recover, but we just don’t know.
In case you haven’t read between my lines, Clyde is our family dog. My wife introduced him to me 13 years ago, when he was (at least) four years old. Despite our rocky start and the backseat that he’s taken as human endeavors take precedence over frisbee tosses, Clyde is, and always will be, one of those seminal *people* in our lives, inextricably weaving his soulful eyes and flying catches into the fabric of our world. We know that 17 is really old for a dog, but he’s a good boy, and we love him. Grouchy old thing continues to want his space: even as my wife tries to help him convalesce tonight, he’s playing musical dog houses with her. I still see a lot of Clyde in myself. Sometimes I think I’d be better off if I could be even more like him.
Clyde lived another few months after I wrote the piece above. He has been gone for a few years now, but everyone in the family still speaks of him frequently. He is the standard by which every other pet we will ever know will be measured.