On, Prancer

Is it a certain capacity for illusion that gets knocked out of the disabled psyche?  Taking off from Phoenix airport, gazing down on the half-filled lagoons of some half-completed and possibly half-abandoned resort development, I shake my head in something between disbelief and sadness.  For at several thousand feet the puny oval of ponds, some filled and some empty, Polynesian palm trees planted at their sides…the whole thing shrinking in pathetic scale as the plane climbs and the brown mineral moonscape of the empty lower Sonoran Desert establishes itself, horizon to horizon…well, anyone can see how silly and desperate this is.  Lakes in the middle of the desert.  Denial.  Or have I got it wrong, the spirit anyway, and this effort at lakes and greenery and golf is actually quixotic and romantic? 

Surely it began that way, all foolishly bright and hopeful.  And now it is all on the brink of falling apart, a century after Arizona became a state, and no one knows.  Except, of course, Werner Herzog, who will not make a film about any of this silliness.  For it’s too obvious, the chain of land grabs and water grabs and suckers looking for some place cheap to live in the sun.  But even Herzog would appreciate the Fitzcarraldo roots of all this.  Someone dreamed.  And then it turned into a venal nightmare of a stage-set city growing out of the sand dunes, water rights bartered away to ensure that there’s not even a future to it all.  The Central Arizona Project, requiring such vast federal largess as it did, sprang from a treaty that ceded millions of acre-feet of water to, you guessed it, Southern California.  What were they thinking?  What were they dreaming?  And so what if the whole thing will in the next decades become a vast desiccated nightmare?

One thing about the disability experience: it is inherently shared.  The dependency is inescapable, and yes, if one is lucky, the interdependency can be most enjoyable…at least at most times.  Nightmares tend to get shared, as do dreams.  And with more than one person involved, fantasies of whatever origin tend to get brought down to earth.  Thing is, there is also a time to soar.  Which is always the wrong time, it turns out.  But never mind.  Soaring is important.

Jane’s dog Bixby remains my avatar.  I would follow his every word, if he had any.  Instead I follow his paws.  He has been to hell and back, this dog, giving him a certain credibility.  I love Bixby, that is the other thing.  Let’s start with the greeting.  The two dogs, Isabella and Bixby, rush into my apartment and fly around in circles, a canine dance of joy.  Then there is the stage of interaction.  They are rescued dogs, after all, and relationships are tricky for them.  Since they do not speak, and we communicate exclusively through projection, what happens next is equal parts predictable and fascinating.  Isabella needs to be petted.  For 24 hours, around the clock, endlessly.  She approaches me like a supplicant, almost fawning, head down, whining for attention.  Bixby goes into orbit, slow orbit, often including a few approaches.  That is to say, he wanders the apartment in circles of various sizes, occasionally stopping by me for a tentative petting of the head.  This progresses into orbiting past me, a form of sidling, at which point I pet him more aggressively.  Stopping Bixby in his tracks.

Hard to say if Bixby is borderline autistic or receiving direct transmissions from Mars.  In any case, during our petting sessions he has a way of looking anywhere but at me.  While panting, of course.  Bixby’s panting seems borne entirely of anxiety, not exertion.  But we are talking petting, not panting, and after a minute or so of stroking, while I patiently repeat Bixby’s name, gently but unmistakably, these days he actually turns his head around and tentatively looks me in the eye.  Contact.  When you’ve got the doggie version of Asperger’s, this is progress.  And it has taken us about two years to get here, Bixby and I, an experience that is heartening.  Actually, heartwarming.  Poignant, also.

It is hard to say who is more buoyed by all this interaction, Bixby or me.  But he has one definite advantage in doggie mobility.  True, Bixby may have inhabited some nutcase’s East Bay house with 25 other dogs…and the sad evidence remains.  He doesn’t know how to, say, fetch a ball, retrieve a stick or any number of normal forms of play.  However, with the healing passage of time, he can get downright exuberant.  Bixby prances.  In moments of excitement, he lifts his inordinately furry paws high as the knees of a drum majorette.  With a doggie baton, he would be complete.  He barks, prancing to no purpose except joy.  In short, he has dreams and has emerged from a nightmare, and he keeps emerging.  As do we all, it seems.  A time to prance.

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