Monday, January 4, 2010
Farewell to the park?
It’s been hard to write a blog entry lately because things have been in such a state of flux. A cold flattened me over Christmas, striking me down as a I struggled to finish editing a stubborn report (I always seem to get colds when I have big editing jobs to finish).
The cold was a convenient excuse for not worrying about not having enough social events to go to over Christmas. But it also presented an existential dilemma: I surveyed the coming year, and the perceived failures of the previous one, through a prism of exhaustion, which in turn made me feel helpless. Even present wrapping was tiring.
The cold took two weeks to work its way through my nasal passages, leaving me worrying about the state of my immune system. Thank God for the internet and Google – I’ve decided that the reason I get two colds a year is not because of lowered immunity but simply my plethora of nieces and nephews and our frequent family birthday celebrations (an excuse for seeing less of my family in 2010?).
A particular situation that’s been in my face for the last couple of weeks is still very much unresolved. For the moment I’m no longer walking Jordan, a mainly cocker spaniel who belongs to my elder sister, Andrea, and her husband Richard. I’ve been doing this three times a week for the past two years and it’s come to a temporary halt, with the final outcome still unknown.
Richard and I were bound to clash sooner or later. We’re both equally bloody minded. I in my pursuit of animal (Jordan’s) welfare, and he in his determination to look after Jordan in his own way.
Never would I let Richard and Andrea forget that I thought they weren’t treating Jordan properly. Apart from the occasional walk down the street to the shops, or taking the kids to school (normally a drive) they’d virtually stopped taking him for walks, relying entirely on my thrice-weekly trips to the park.
He badly needed a clip and a bath, and had knots of hair on his bum that needed shaving. I’d even offered at one point to come around and bath him – I didn’t get to do that, but my home clipping job was certainly not the best. (Although you’d never know it, Richard is extremely wealthy and could easily afford professional grooming for Jordan, even if only, say, twice a year.)
The thing that I wouldn’t let up on – that I continued to nag them about – was that they wouldn’t bring Jordan to family gatherings at mum and dad’s. If I am perfectly honest about this, my normally kind dad is inexplicably hostile to dogs. A former secondary teacher, he seems to view them as juvenile delinquents so evil they’re beyond saving.
In contrast, my mum, despite her disabling osteoporosis and concern for the domestic environment, is okay with having Jordan around. And my sister Therese and her husband Tony sometimes bring their ridgeback-cross Sarah (also a neglected dog, but in a different way to Jordan) to family gatherings. But Andrea and Richard can’t be bothered taking him in the car with them, even at those times he’d have a playmate in Sarah to keep him out of mischief.
So every time I’d turn up at mum and dad’s to find Richard and Andrea in the kitchen and Sarah in the backyard slobbering contentedly, knowing that Jordan was stuck behind his wooden fence half a kilometre away, I’d call them on it. ‘Where’s Jordan?’ I’d ask. Each time, they dug their heels in even further. Recently, Richard had been fixing me with a rather malevolent stare he’s perfected and saying in a crisp tone: ‘I’ll look after Jordan. He’s ours. He’s not your problem’.
I’ve clashed with Richard a lot in recent years. It took me many years to realise he wasn’t the brother-in-law from heaven I’d originally thought he was. He’s a charming man with a sly, subtle sense of humour and excellent social skills, and the extended family think he’s great. But he can also be a bully – he’s been dominating Andrea for years – and I heard a story recently about him that shocked me.
On the day of the recent byelection in our electorate, Andrea was working and hadn’t voted in advance, so risked getting a $20 fine. Apparently Richard and Andrea asked one of my younger sisters, Therese, to fraudulently vote on Andrea’s behalf. Therese refused, and Richard tried to make her feel guilty. ‘We’d do the same for you if you asked’, he said. Therese was furious at him for trying to manipulate her into breaking the law, but she didn’t give in.
On Christmas Day, the predictable happened and Jordan wasn’t brought to the celebrations. I made my usual protests and Richard got predictably annoyed. But the next day when I rang to arrange the usual Monday walk, he answered the phone, and said in the same annoyed tone that he’d look after Jordan while he was on holidays.
At that point I think I realised what I was up against, and I stopped fighting. My arrangement with Jordan’s family has been based on the false assumption that I and they share enough common beliefs to maintain the regular contact that is inevitable when you walk someone else’s dog. But we don’t, and my differences with my family don't start with Richard -- they’re as old as the hills, and the basis of the majority of my problems. How did I think I could skate over them so easily?
I considered at that point that perhaps it was time to give up walking Jordan. Truth to tell, I needed some kind of break. In the last two years, seeing the reality of Jordan’s life up close and feeling helpless to improve it had led to periodic depressions characterised by a deep sense of sadness.
And my whole park venture seemed to be coming to a close anyway. Jordan was a skinny, shivery, smell-crazy puppy when I decided to start walking him regularly. This arrangement would be partly for Jordan’s benefit and partly for mine, to help me deal with my social anxiety.
It seemed to be working okay, despite the occasional social disaster. But increasingly there were periods when I’d be convinced that a quiet park meant people were staying away because of me. I know this is distorted thinking – a friend of mine, who has a lot of knowledge about anxious and depressed thought patterns, shouted down the idea and called it totally whacky. But I think my paranoia was based on a deeper truth – that I didn’t really fit in with the wealthy milieu of many of those who frequented the park, despite the fact that they were ‘dog people’, and mostly friendly.
Also, a couple of people who were my anchors and as addicted to the park as I was had had their elderly, statesman-like dogs die in the last year, and although I still saw them sometimes, their visits to the park were much less frequent.
At the moment, the future of my relationship with Jordan is still an open question. Perhaps I’ll be able to come to some arrangement with Andrea and Richard, and perhaps I won’t – time will tell. If I don’t, then it will probably be better if I don’t see Jordan at all, because I won’t want to be reminded of my abandonment of him.