Last week marked the very special one year anniversary of me moving into my house. To celebrate this occasion my housemate-who also owns the house- decided to let me in on a potentially bad aspect to the house. We were walking down the street talking about robberies when the topic of our house came up. She started the story the same as any she did before ‘Stop me if I told you this before…’ she paused for a moment, ‘…but did I ever tell you about the time a junkie tried to break into this house?’
I laughed. ‘God this area is crap. Was this a few years ago?’ I asked.
‘No. Not quite’
I stopped laughing quickly.
She fumbled in her bag looking for her missing glove and began walking so slowly we almost came to a stop.
‘Well actually the weekend after you moved in’
‘What? You never told me that!’
‘Yeah. I didn’t want to tell you because I was worried you would move out’.
The area we lived in was not the best area in Dublin. It was populated by more than its fair share of drunks and druggies. Many of the shops in the area besides the huge multinational supermarkets had closed down. The only businesses that were still open where- tellingly- the local pubs and the takeaways. There weren’t many police on the streets. It seemed more like the streets were run by the gangs of children and young adults that roamed the streets. Their gang style was to wear trousers that hung below their underpants and no matter the weather they went around without any tops on. And that’s just the girls. The area also had a job centre situated directly in the middle of the main street. It had been there for years but remained almost untouched by the locals.
‘So what happened with this robbery?’ I asked.
‘He was a bit of a comedy thief to be honest. He never actually make it into the house. I was sitting in the kitchen reading a magazine when I noticed this guy hoping over the wall. He was wearing a ski mask and had a torch in his mouth’
The only thing he was missing was a sack with a dollar sign on it and he would have looked pretty much like the hamburglar. The end of our garden had a tall wall which was topped with broken glass to stop people from climbing over it from the alleyway that was at the rear of the house. This did not stop the burglar.
‘So he hopped the wall but he got stuck’
‘Because of the glass?’ I asked.
‘Partly, it was kinda obvious that he was off his face on something. He got caught and sorta just lay there. On the glass’.
‘I went outside and told him to get down and leave or I’ll call the police. He attempted to get down but he was a real slow mover. He just stopped moving so I got the ladder from the garage and started poking him with it until he started to slide off the wall. But then he just got caught in the glass again and lay dangling from the wall. Thats when he began to cry’.
‘He cried? What did you do?’
‘The only thing I could. I went back inside the house and locked the doors’.
‘How long was he there for?’
‘Oh, while I was walking back into the house I could hear this loud thud so he fell down pretty much straight away. It was followed by his sobbing. Thats when I close the door. The next day, when I was walking to work I found his trousers still dangling from the glass. I feel kinda sorry for him…’
There are two types of people in this world. There are those who watch movies such as Sophie’s Choice or Brokeback Mountain and weep at the end. They are the people who watch a movie where a person has lost the love of their life- either a lover or a close relation- and relate it to their own life. We find their sense of loss echoes the loss we experienced in our own lives. This loss of human life makes our lives seem so fleeting and delicate that all we can do is sob at these movies and spend a few moments thinking about the people in our lives that we would miss if they were to pass away or who would miss us if we were to die. This is the first type. The second type are those who cry at the end of Marley and Me.
There is, of course, a little known third type. These are the people who cry at the end of The Notebook. But these people aren’t human. They are cyborgs sent from outer space to plant themselves among us so when the final invasion happens most of the people we thought we could turn to in a crisis are, in fact, the enemy. Unable to understand human emotion correctly, they analysed The Notebook and thought that this would be a good movie to say they cried to hide the fact that they are unable to feel emotions. So the next time you hear someone say ‘Oh, The Notebook was so sad I cried my eyes out at the end’ you run. Run like it was going out of fashion.
In terms of types of people I was firmly in the first category. However, my sister Amy was most definitely in the second. This was partly due to her adopting a dog named Nero.
Amy named her dog Nero because she felt that the moles on the side of his face resembled those of the famed actor Robert de Niro. It wasn’t until three months later at the vets office did she find out that Nero was actually a she. ‘You think that was embarrassing’ she said when she came back from the vets office ‘you should have been there when he told me that de Niro was spelt with an i not an e. That was the real kick in the face’.
Amy and Nero became fast friends. Wherever Nero went Amy was sure to follow (this was not a typo). At the time, Amy was living alone, which was perfect since the dog was allowed to roam free in her tiny apartment. Beds were shared. Secrets were exchanged. When she told the family about what she and Nero had been up to I always felt like there was a piece missing from the story and that if I paid her a surprise visit I would find them both in bed drinking martinis, talking about boys with rollers in their hair.
Amy began to put much more value on what the dog did than was necessary. Whenever the dog sat up she would say ‘oh it’s as if she knows were having dinner’ or when she scratched her ears ‘she’s trying to tell us that she can hear what we’re saying. Isn’t that funny’ or whenever she stared blackly into space ‘It’s as if she knows that American hegemony can only be challenged by those countries that first establish control over global cultural hegemony’. Every move, every sound was given meaning and importance. Nothing the dog did was just for the heck of it.
Amy visited home rarely but when she did Nero was always close behind. ‘She’s such a good dog. Never any trouble at all’ she would explain when I went walking with them both. Her favourite place to walk the dog was a riverside walkway that was popular with dog walkers and people conducting illicit affairs. ‘Nero!’ she shouted to the dog across the field ‘stop eating that poo. You will make your belly sore’ but the dog ignored her like most times when Amy spoke to her.
‘She’s still eating the poo maybe…’ I was about to suggest being stricter but Amy interrupted.
‘Maybe you should get a dog of your own and stop always going on complaining about mine’
‘I wasn’t complaining. Its just the dog never listens to..’ I stopped speaking when I noticed Amy sharing her ice-cream with the dog and return the cone back to her mouth licking it where Nero almost tipped it over with her tongue. I quickly did an inventory of any foodstuff that myself and Amy had shared since Nero moved in six months previous. Safe, I thought to myself. Three degrees of separation wasn’t quite enough distance when that separation was between my mouth and a knob of pooh.
While on another walk with Amy and the dog we stopped to play on a lorry weigher. The lorry weigher was next to the girls’ school in the centre of our town. In the past it was used for weighing the cargo on lorries but was abandoned years ago. Since then it has been used as form of entertainment for the children of the town. If you stand on the weigher and move your body in such a way the whole weigher will move with you making you sway back and forth. It was similar to what you see Romanian orphans doing on the news. The major difference was that this was your form of entertainment and we could stop at any time. This probably is a good indicator that there was not much to do in our town. Or Romanian orphanages for that matter.
I hopped onto the weigher and managed to make the large metal plates move with some impressive hip movements. The heavy plates banged off the sides as a swayed making a loud crashing noise each time. I was on a roll.
Sensing I was having a lot of fun Nero decided to join me. Walking towards me she got her paw caught down the side of the weigher and the plate snagged her paw. She howled with the pain and fell to her feet. Amy yelled out her name and rushed to her aid. I should probably have stopped what I was doing and pretended to care. I debated going to the dogs aid or not. In the end, I thought about how this story would be retold and figuring heroic brother sounded much better than swaying moron I went to see what the problem was.
I jumped off the weigher and hurried over to Amy.
‘Is everything okay? I asked. I surprised myself with how compassionate I sounded.
‘I think it caught her paw’
‘Can she walk?
‘I don’t know. I think something is broken’.
She looked up at me and with a tinge of crazy in her eyes she said ‘I don’t know what I would do to myself if anything were to ever happen to her’
Amy was wearing a black tracksuit with a thick, heavy sweater and a scarf. There was nothing stylish or fashionable about what she was wearing but when she stared at me like that I had to admit she looked great. Woman on the verge of a mental breakdown really was her colour.
A year after Amy had adopted Nero our Uncle died. The death occurred just after Christmas and came as a shock to all. Around this time Nero had begun to lose weight rapidly. She looked skinny and fragile which worried Amy. I suggested that we take some pictures and send them into a dog-modeling agency but that idea fell on deaf ears. Nero was eating but she vomited up anything she ate. Her attitude changed too. Once happy and playful she was now depressed. The dog didn’t want to play fetch, any more which was unfortunate, as I had nobody to throw the balls but myself.
Amy decided to bring her to the vet but the vet thought it to be some sort of virus and could only offer antibiotics.
‘Im seriously worried about her. Is there anything else we can do?’ Amy asked.
‘Im afraid that it’. The vet was youngish with a thick country accent. The whole time he was speaking to Amy he would glance at his phone and fumble with it in his hands when he wasn’t staring at it.
‘Do you think you could prescribe anything like Xanax?’ I asked.
‘There is no suck thing as dog Xanax even if the dog is depressed’
‘And human Xanax…?’ The Xanax question was never for the dog but this vet was not into subtle. Direct was the way to go here.
‘No, course not’ he replied and stopped fumbling for the first time in the conversation.
The morning after we heard our uncle had passed away Amy decided to bring the dog to another vet for a second opinion. She was becoming even frailer and this is when I decided to sound out my opinion in this situation. ‘Why not put the dog down and get a better one?
This did not go down as planned. In my mind, I thought about how this would be taken. I saw people reacting well to my suggestion and noticing that I champion of dog especially not wanting to see them in pain. ‘You are magnificent the way you care for these animals and don’t care about offending anyone’. They would name some animal welfare award after me and I would profusely reject any notion of a parade. Of course they would organise one in and I would act surprised. I was, however, very surprised when they reacted to my suggestion. Without going into detail the term ‘dead inside’ was thrown around a bit.
The back up vet was much more compassionate and decided to open up Nero to see if there were any problems on the inside. The vet kept her there and we left for the funeral.
News of my inhumane comments had spread like wildfire through the funeral particularly the chief mourners. As Amy and I walked the line of our uncle’s immediate family paying sympathies she was stopped by everyone and asked how the dog was doing and she would relate the news to them. ‘Listening to that is heartbreaking. The poor dog. Now I am seriously upset by that’ my cousin said, leaning her elbow on her father coffin. I, on the other hand, was met with a different welcome. ‘It’s not a surprise your not crying, Kieran. I’m just surprised you haven’t offered to have the rest of us put down too’ my aunt responded to my sympathies.
Cousins, friends, uncles, and strangers all rallied together to help Amy get to her trying time while a human being was laid out dead two rooms away.
It turned out that the problem with Nero was a simple one. She had somehow swallowed a part of a tennis ball and it was lodged in her intestines stopping her form digesting food. ‘I don’t know how she got that in her cause I only use the proper balls for dogs. I’ll never let her near a tennis ball again’ Amy asserted.
I’m still perplexed by the idea of finding an animals life more unsetting to lose than a human beings. They can’t talk so the most basic function of communication is missing. How can you really feel for someone if you can’t understand them? Maybe the answer lies in this inability to communicate effectively. People can make believe whatever they want and have the animal say exactly what is needed to comfort them. I thought about this as I knelt down to pick up the tennis ball. Nero ran over to me so I threw the ball as far as I could watching her bolt across the field, into another field, and disappear from sight for a few moments.