Once when I was young our dog Chumley ran away. Most dogs know how to stay in the yard, but not this one. That dog was a wire haired fox terrier, and they aren’t really mentally intact. They are a bit high strung and wild. They really aren’t the best to have around small children. They are a bit excitable all the time and kind of lose their minds.
Chumley was an inside dog in the biggest possible way. If we let him out without a leash he’d just run and run and run. Even with a leash it was hard. He was always straining at the leash, pulling me along, nearly choking himself to get to the next place. He made a hoarse, desperate sound all the time as he pulled ahead. The walk was a real workout for my shoulder muscles and not really very fun. I suspect it wasn’t very fun for him either.
One time, before Christmas, he got out. He slipped out of the front door and went running. He kept running. Before we even realized it he was gone gone gone. Days went by.
It was getting colder. It wasn’t too cold, because it was Chattanooga, and white Christmases are really rare. Brown with mud and bare trees was more like it. But it was a little cold, and this dog wasn’t an outside dog, and how was he eating and getting water? What was happening to him? Was he OK? Was he dead? There was no way he could have defended himself against another dog. He was like the clown of the circus.
Maybe we looked for him. Maybe we didn’t. I don’t remember. I hope we did. I could tell you that we told all our neighbors to look out for him and stapled “Lost Dog” flyers on telephone poles, but I’d be lying. I don’t know if we even got in the car and drove around, calling out his name. Maybe we just thought he wanted out on his own.
Just about the time that we thought he must be dead (at worst) or adopted by another family (at best), he came back. But he didn’t come back alone. There was this other dog with him. There was this smallish mutt beside him, some dog that we’d never seen. I played all over that neighborhood, and I knew every dog within a three mile radius of my house. I didn’t know this dog. Somehow, this dog, this strange dog, had found Chumley and brought him back home.
I have no idea how he knew where Chumley’s home was. All I know was that it was three days later and Chumley was dirty and tired and his feet were bloody from all that running outside, but he was home.
I understand some of it now. Sometimes I’m Chumley, and sometimes I’m the mutt. Sometimes my husband is Chumley, and sometimes he is the mutt. Sometimes we have to take turns walking each other home.
Sometimes we don’t feel at home when we are home, but we stay there anyway. Sometimes “home” is more about the places in our heads and our hearts, rather than where we sleep and keep our stuff. Sometimes all we want to do is run away as far as possible.
Sometimes I don’t feel at home in my self, my being, my “me”. Sometimes all I want to do is run away. Sometimes when I feel like that I go up to the patio at the top of the hill in the back yard. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I take a hot bath. Sometimes it is so bad that I have to do all three. Sometimes I’m so upset and angry that I’m on fire and I don’t even realize it. Sometimes the person I want to run away from is my husband. Sometimes it is myself.
Sometimes I want him to fix this fire burning in me, to put it out, to stomp on it and then call for a fire truck. Sometimes I want him to know what to do, what to say, how to stand just right so that this fire will die down to a pretty little candle, contained in a glass dish. Something simple. Something safe. Something easy.
Sometimes I’m embarrassed at the bonfire of my emotions and feelings and I’m on fire and all I want to do is light up everything around me and leave it all a charred, smoking hulk of rubble for the forensics team to walk through and try to figure out what happened two days later when it cools down enough to be safe to pick through the pieces. And then it turns. It changes.
I’ll have been gone in my head for three days, or three minutes, or three hours. No matter how long, I’ve been right here, but I’ve been gone in my hurt and anger and loss and pain. And somehow he finds me, and brings me back home, in part because he’s stayed there along with me during the whole thing.