[Disclaimer: This is not a dog training post. And it’s a story of the past – a story of pre-COVID-19 times.]
I don’t know how long she had been walking next to me. I’d been speeding up, inadvertently, as I always do when I sense her behind me. She always catches up though. She politely kept her distance until I was ready for her. Half a meter between us – the distance a stranger will keep from you on a busy pedestrian street. The kind of street I was walking on when I finally noticed her: la Avenida 20 de Noviembre in the historical center of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. It’s a street filled with restaurants, bars, cafés, bakeries and souvenir shops, musicians, street vendors, and benches. And people – so many people! Give people an entire street, and they will take it over, like a river of humans, vibrant, humming in constant conversation. An Ed Sheeran song wafts through the open doors of an Italian restaurant, soon getting indistinguishable from the sounds of life in the street. A Shepherd dog is eating a taco someone dropped on the sidewalk.
She is walking closer to me now – the distance of a good friend. Drifting right, away from her, is no use. Soon, our arms will touch every couple of steps. Accidentally, an unknowing observer might think. Giving me goosebumps. Her arms are suntanned; her skin is warm, warm like her hazel eyes. She’s shorter than me. Her hair is sun bleached and curly and wild. She’s an outdoors kind of person. I breathe in and out.
And out. She’s still here. Inconspicuous, yet inescapable. Another block, and she’ll put her sun-tanned arm around my shoulders. It’s a comforting gesture. I feel her hand on the soft skin above my hip. Her touch is gentle and warm. It’s the touch of someone I’ve known long and well.
She’s never been mean to me. She’s loyal, like Churchill’s dog. “I promised you I’d be back.” Her eyes are soft. “I’ll be back anytime you are ready.”
I didn’t know I’d be ready today. I thought I had time –.
I listen to her – I don’t feel like talking. There’s nothing to say. Our hips are touching every second step now. We’re walking close to each other, falling into lockstep.
I breathe in.
And out. I have to keep walking. I can’t stop when she’s with me. If I stop, I’ll be hers.
“You’re alone,” she says gently. “You’ll always be alone.”
I keep walking in silence.
“The people you meet and connect with …”
“Yes?” She always gets me eventually, leaving an unfinished sentence hanging in the air until I can’t bear it.
“They are temporary, those people. They’re not yours.”
“You go places. You meet people. You make that social shit look easy. And in the end of the day, you go home alone. You fall asleep alone. You wake up alone. Noone will make you tea when you’re sick. You’re fundamentally alone, my friend.”
“Don’t worry. I’m right here. I always am. It’ll be dark, and I’ll hold you. I’ll gently kiss your forehead. I’ll smell of sunshine, sand, and wind-dried sweat. You’ll curl up under your blanket, all alone and so fucking exhausted. I’ll wrap myself around you, and you’ll cry. I’ll gently stroke your hair, and you – you just sleep. Sleep, my friend. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
She’s soft-spoken, as always. We know each other well, and she – she means no harm, she says, and as always, I almost believe her. “I’m holding space for us,” she reassures me. “I’m holding space for you, and then I’ll fill it up until you drown.”