Nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time. All the time.
This went as far back as she could remember and she could never find out why or even how it got started. Mostly it involved men, although she could remember a very few times when it had happened with powerful women, women whose attention she craved for some mysterious reason.
In the schoolyard, she was a pariah from the start, as if the other kids could just smell something on her which made them jerk violently away. She knew even then that it happened in the animal kingdom too, causing chickens to be pecked to death, or young eaten. She had seen a YouTube video, a really gross one, of a hamster eating its pink, squirming newborn offspring just as casually as if it had been a rabbit pellet.
In the past, I jumped and jumped after people and panted and bounded like a dog begging for attention, and the other person would totally ignore me, making me leap and bound and wag my ass even more, until finally they would slap my muzzle hard, causing me to yip in pain and slink away to hide under the bed with my tail between my legs. And then it would start all over again. These were called “relationships”.
Well, you have to take what you can get, don’t you? Aren’t you grateful to have people’s attention? What’s the matter with you? But in some ways, this masochistic pattern was beginning to seem to her like a case of “kiss the whip”. The kind of loneliness that was thrust on her in childhood bent and twisted the natural health of her soul into an impossible corkscrew that would never be straightened, like the spine of the Elephant Man or those wretched ancient bones of King Richard III.
It always started out well. It started out with at least a degree of mutual interest, with a frisson of excitement, a bouncing back and forth of energies. Often, years back, it all happened through the mail, scintillating handwritten letters exchanged with other writers, some of them even a little bit famous. There was a tinge of eroticism in these, at first.
Then it began to “turn”. It was at this point that I’d step up my activities.
In some cases the person moved, and moved, and I had to keep scrounging up forwarding addresses, at newspapers or literary mags or wherever. Sometimes it occurred to me that if I didn’t hold up both ends, the whole thing would come crashing down.
How long can you run back and forth on the tennis court, trying to hit the ball from both sides?
Oh, but there was one. A musician, so she was a goner. God, he was beautiful, and he was friends with her, and he encouraged her music, her singing, even describing her voice as “gorgeous”. It was bait, and she snapped at it ravenously.
Then he moved away, and the emails began. Freed from social constraints, they began to flirt madly, skirting around the edges of sexuality. This man was an electronic Lothario without the courage to try anything face-to-face.
Plus he was lonely, teaching music in some northern outpost. Then the messages began to coolly pull away, tripping off that whining, salivating dog syndrome once again.
I wrote all these songs, see. It was idiotic, but that’s what I did. I mean, I wrote the lyrics and he wrote the tunes. I must’ve written 30 lyrics, and I thought some of them were pretty good. In fact, I KNOW they were good. He wrote tunes to a couple of them, some of them very strange. Often he carved up the lyrics, adding his own lines which always seemed nonsensical.
And then: a jazz concert at his school! His band would be performing one of MY songs:
You walked into my life
And left your footprints on my skin
I could never tell if loving you
Was joy, or sin
It seems that if I touch you, I fall right in
And so I stay away. . .
I never should have
Set my heart on you
You’re a dream
That has no hope of coming true
When you smile
The angels smile along with you
I thought you meant it when
You said you’d be with me a while
But staying close to someone
Is not your style
It seems I have a habit of self-denial
And so I stay away. . .
I never should have
Lost my mind for you
You’re a dream
That bathes my heart in shades of blue
When you smile
The angels smile along with you
And when you left without me
All my plans just blew away
I knew that my composure
Wouldn’t last the day
It seems it doesn’t matter if I try to pray
And so, I say:
You never should have
Played games with my soul
I’m a fool
Who has no hope of feeling whole
Now you’re gone
My heart’s an empty, aching hole
You stole my joy
You silly boy
Silly boy . . .
Yes. And he actually worked on this one and set it to a tune so the lead singer in his band could perform it! I couldn’t be there, of course, but he sent me the audio.
The female singer, a picture of whom he also sent me (sooty-eyed, slinky, with shingly black hair and multiple piercings) sang;
“You came into my life
I didn’t know I’d been
Joy or sin or – um - ”
Suddenly the accompaniment roared up louder to cover the fact that she had completely forgotten the words.
Then there was the “igloo". Sometime during her mad puppy-scramble around him, wagging the stump of her little amputated tail, she told him a story about her childhood (half-fabricated): about how Hermie Kneuchdel had a crush on her and surprised her by building an igloo for her in his back yard.
Should she have been surprised when he began to write his own lyrics, one of which said “you built an igloo in my heart/now I know we’ll never be apart,” or some inane thing?
Then he came back for a visit and wanted me to sit in his car. (What??) “You have to hear these new songs I wrote,” he said, and turned on his sound system.
The songs were obviously, obsessively about one “girl” that he was madly infatuated with. Many of the metaphors were snagged out of MY work and casually incorporated. For one wild second, I thought they were about me. How else could he so casually steal all my best stuff?
“What’s all this - ”
“Oh. These are about Alison. She’s – she’s one of my students. Seventeen years old, but she’s a lot more mature than I am! We can’t really be seen together so we have to do a lot of sneaking around.”
That one died a slow death. When was the last email? The last stinging whip on the puppy dog’s quivering nose?
There is this much left. He sends me birthday greetings every year. It's automatic, in his computer. Nice of him.
How many more? Let me count. There was the sour-faced drama critic she corresponded with for years and years, until he suddenly, completely inexplicably, left her this message: “I won’t ‘friend’ you because I hate Facefuck. Get lost.” She had no idea what had caused the connection to turn so poisonous. What had she said? What had she done?
When he suddenly died, she posted an angry diatribe on her blog and was attacked from every angle by people who accused HER of being nasty and mean-spirited. She remembered her psychiatrist saying, “Lonn van Dyke is the meanest, most narcissistic, heartless, self-centred, vindictive. . .” and on and on it went. (She wondered how he knew. Maybe some of his male patients had “talked”.) It was of some help, but not much.
Meantime, she was reamed out, eviscerated by people who refused to see how much truth there was in what she was saying. One blogger found a ridiculous picture of her pulling a weird face, blew it up huge, posted it, and spent 500 words or so stabbing her through the heart, just to be sure everyone knew what a twisted old crackpot she was: "This woman insisted on following him around and harassing, even stalking him. He had probably been trying to scrape her off the bottom of his shoe for years."
Was it really that bad? She looked at her post a couple of hours later and realized it wasn't much better than Lonn's "Facefuck" remark. So she took it down and deleted it. There was not much use in posting a heap of ashes. How much easier it is to feud with someone when you never see them face-to-face!
So what did I think would happen? As with so many of these men, I never met him face-to-face, but I kept pushing at it, inserting little lines in my letters about “meeting for coffee”. Ludicrously, she bought a dress that she never wore, her “Lonn dress”. She joked about it to her girl friend, but she was deadly serious. Sometimes she thought she saw him at concerts and plays, but she was never sure enough to come up to him. She knew he hated people anyway.
She suspected he lived in an emotional cave, had no family and was close to no one. When he died, the accolades from co-workers (all retired now) were almost apologetic, thinly-veiled versions of “well, he should have written for the New Yorker instead of this sad little backwater rag”. Weirdly, the "rag" was the only paper that published anything about his death.
Meantime, what had happened to all the bile he had spewed for people's entertainment? His venom had made him famous all over town (if nowhere else). It was supposedly an honor in the local arts scene to be "van Dyked", though people secretly received much more pleasure from seeing other people attacked. They waved the columns around and made their friends read them, and chuckled and sniggered over his evisceration of their colleagues, reading the choicest sentences out loud. This fanned the flames of vindictive rivalry in the arts community and made Lonn happy, providing him with the only sense of power he ever had.
But even this debacle with its train wreck ending wasn't enough; she had to start all over again.
Oh, don’t count the rest. Don’t tot up the desperation. WHY do I do this, why can’t I just dump it? What might happen? A fuck? I don’t want to fuck these men, and half of them are gay anyway. Do I want fairy-tale magic, do I want to make it “work” just one time, to turn around an immutable fate?
Somebody said to me – sounded pretty lame at the time but maybe it’s true – it has something to do with my father, how he ignored me and emanated a sense I wasn’t welcome, that I never should have “been”. This was between bouts of drunken dining-room buffoonery and table-pounding about the injustices in his life. Incredibly, he once said (and I’m still trying to get my head around this) that everything in his life had been great until I came along. As if I “came along” under my own steam, a virus invading the family, rather than an accident caused by HIS stinking spermatozoa.
He told me, drunk, that it was plain this baby (me) was an accident and completely unwanted (though if I’d been a boy I might have squeaked through). So he told my Mum, “Don’t worry, this one will be smarter than all the other three put together. He’ll be a genius and play the violin like Paganini.” Another time he told me “well, when you’ve lost one baby” (my eldest sister, a crib death) “maybe you have to take on another one.” Something to plug the hole.
It seems to me I was dumped down the chute into a world of impossible expectations. I’ve been trying to buy my way in ever since. Are these men, these men whose sweetness is always tinged with sadism, supposed to be my way in, my key? Why has nothing I’ve ever done been good enough? Why does it magically turn into a slag heap the moment I’ve accomplished it?
And what’s the matter with you, anyway – aren’t you grateful for your life, for all these opportunities to connect with illustrious men? With nasty infantile musicians, with bitter reclusive faggots? What ARE you, a parasite? You hate parasites, don’t you? What would happen to you if you stopped the ridiculous puppy-frisking and walked away from it all? Would you really be left with nothing?
(Blogger's note. Whew. I don't know what happens to me sometimes. I'm not saying there's no truth in this. What happens in fiction is fractal, or should I say fractured, kaleidoscopic pieces scrambled around and reconnected by imagination. If this were the whole truth about my life, I doubt if I'd be around any more. But there are certain issues. They go around and around. I don't know about other people because they don't talk about it. I suspect there are more hidden sinkholes and sore spots than people care to admit.
I found it interesting that I was so viciously attacked for my post on van Dyke, who comes the closest to a "real" person in this story (the others are more like composites). I think it happened because there was an uncomfortable amount of truth in what I was saying. This guy sent me Christmas cards for ten years, for God's sake! What caused him to turn on me so savagely? I've never quite gotten used to being one of these people who gets attacked. The internet is a veritable playground for predators and sadists, because everyone is wearing the same blank mask.
I'm not much of a dog person - I find them uncomfortably loyal and prefer the idiosyncratic aloofness of cats. (More than two cats, however, is an affliction.) Right now I have a bird. What does that say about me, I wonder?
My original title for this story was either Bird Dog or She's a Bird Dog, but I didn't think people would remember that song (which I've always liked: "hey bird dog get away from my quail,/Hey bird dog, you're on the wrong trail". I think Hound Dog has stuck in people's memory because of Elvis, who was also too doggish for my tastes.) (P. S. I changed it again because I seem to have lost my entire readership. Should I dumb these down, I wonder, or put "tits" in every title?)