Books and Dogs

I had a migraine for about 36 hours. Probably triggered by 12 hours of intense writing and Zooming, barely moving my eyeballs or body. It’s a fairly predictable scenario. Yet somehow I forgot to pack my souped-up Tylenol and, of course, in quarantine you can’t have Tylenol delivered because it’s a fever reducer and could mask the COVID symptoms for which you are continuously tested. I tried to roll with the pain, drinking water, dragging myself out to the balcony for fresh air, begging the Universe for mercy. As ya do. So yes, Day 8 of quarantine is when things got tough. I thought to myself, “Oh this is why they don’t let you have the alcohol or sharp objects.”

Around 7pm, or maybe it was 2pm, I downloaded an audiobook of Pride and Prejudice from my library back home. Actually two versions: an LA Theater performance with snappy repartee that made me hate everybody within 8 minutes, then a conventional 12-hour full-text reading of the novel. I discovered a slider on the app that lets you slow down the narration from normal speed to 75%, which was about right. I set the phone beside a pillow on my big white hotel bed and imagined I was in a soft, safe, pain-free space.

Drifting in and out of awakeness I felt my dear old dog against my leg. I opened my eyes to see it was a couple of big pillows. Then closed them again to bring back my dog. For years, that was how I slept and how I read. In a big bed with a big dog curved into my legs.

I remember how I would feel changed at the molecular level by that connection, that gentleness. When I was sick or sad my dog would lean into me as if trying to absorb some of what was bad. I’d feel guilty, not wanting to burden him with it, but grateful, comforted. Dogs are substantial. Big or small, they take up lots of space on a bed. I had a miniature schnauzer who grew 6 feet long every night and stole all the covers. But that’s not what I mean, actually. Dogs have gravity. Presence. You know they’re in the room with you.

I miss that.

When my head finally felt better, in that fuzzy phase where you detect the pain is mostly gone but you don’t want to jinx it, I pulled out the paperback novel I bought at the airport and let myself read the last chapter. It suddenly felt sacramental. A tangible narrative. (I always buy airplane books for the way they feel in my hands.) To prolong the experience I brought the book out on the balcony, breathing in the warmth, resting my eyes on the page, feeling that not hurt.

And I found a youtube channel with one of my therapeutic yoga teachers in San Francisco who always lets his dog nap beside him during class. A virtual dog to lure me back to self-care.

At bedtime I’ll start re-reading the airplane book. Something to hold onto.