Dogs, some humans and me.
[This is a continuation of a post I started yesterday, and which can be found here. I’d run out of pixels, you see!]
I sit down at the table; we begin to eat. I wonder if the interview portion of the evening is over. Dinner is good. Salad; tofu; brown rice; stir-fired vegetables. About what you’d expect. This is a “semi-veg” house; relatively vegetarian during the 5 meals shared together per week; anything goes on the weekends. There are now five of us at the table. I’m about to serve myself some salad when two people emerge from the master suite of the house. One sits next to me, and plunks a box of tissues on the table. “I have allergies” he says. His partner, a tall, sweet-faced woman rolls her eyes and asks him if he has to do THAT at the table.
This is the second male/female couple in the house. Am I going to fit in here? The man with the tissues clearly feels in charge. He’s one of the two whose “name is on the lease”. That gives him a modicum of power over the others. He asks me more conventional questions than the first fellow did; more like a job interview. (He wanted to be sure I had one, for instance.) He seemed to assess my place in the pecking order, as well. Apparently deciding I was no threat to the established order, he seemed to approve of me, with some reservations. I learned later that, because I was tongue-tied in this unfamiliar situation and didn’t say much, he thought the force of their collective personalities would overwhelm me. My friend told me he’d assured them I was not like that, although I did notice a worried look on his face at the time.
“You must meet the dogs” they said, when dinner was over. No fool, I—I knew my last vetting would be from them. I was shown downstairs to the basement apartment where the dogs lived, and where they allowed two humans to live with them. They examined me as dogs will; sniffing at my private parts, and after registering their initial approval, proceeded to ignore me until I did something interesting. The German Shepherd and a large white puffy dog of a breed I couldn’t identify lived downstairs, were let out in the back garden, and taken for walks. They did not come upstairs. Although I liked them, this was OK with me. I was to get to know the Shepherd very well; we would be good friends. The puffy dog remained an enigma.
Somehow, I knew I would cast my lot with these people. I had another week to go in my housesitting job, then took my meager possessions: books, music system, a futon, a table…that’s about it…and put them in my new, small room with the night-blooming jasmine bush right outside the window. I was the odd-one-out it many ways. All the roommates either had a partner in the house, or were dating someone outside it (including my turncoat friend who’d invited me in the first place! He swears he wasn’t already planning to move, but I’m still not sure!) 🙂
During the next year, I worked, attended classes at a small college, went hiking with and without some of the roommates, tagged along at weekend yard sales with them, went out to dinner at the weekends, and observed their spiritual practices. The main one was “Universal Worship” where they honored and read a passage from various religious writings of different faiths. They did not subscribe to one of these faiths above all others. Some of them were studying traditional Indian music, and I learned to appreciate Raga. They took me spiritual dancing with them, a sort of free-form movement meant to connect with all-ness. I never became one of them, but I was a friend, an associate. It occurs to me that I am often that way with communities; on the outside looking in.
It seemed the best of both worlds to me during the time I was there: I had my own room; my own space, yet, if I walked out the door there were people to share with. I’m not that fond of pursuing friendships at the “maintenance level”—you know: phoning to arrange a meeting, calling to say hello—so having people just “there” was a boon to me.
I moved out. A year after that, I moved back in again. I’ll spare you the details of why. The second time around, there were people I knew, but half of them were newbies. The new ones asked: “Why do you want to live here?” The ones there before said “Don’t worry about it, Muse is OK.”
It turned out that I was there with Frank, the German Shepherd, on his last day of life. There were now three cats as well as the two dogs in the house; a gerbil, two birds, and a newt. But Frank was my favorite. I looked into his brown eyes, that last time, and found understanding and compassion; qualities I’ve learned to value since.