When Amy left, she also left Max, her dog. Why she couldn't take him with her is still a mystery to me. She only went to her mother's house, and her family's had dogs before. She never explained that, even during the nights of long talks about that and everything else in the world. God, those talks went on and on; it's still a blur. Now that I think of it, what's also a mystery is why she left me. 'Because you don't love me,' she'd say. 'Of course I do!' I'd explain as plainly and simply as I could. Then she'd go on about how I don't know what love is because I don't say it out loud, and how I don't show it in some other bullshit ways that I still don't understand. She was hung up on love. My friends would laugh at me saying it was a girl thing and I didn't have the capacity to understand. Right. I mean, how hard can it be?
Anyway, Amy got Max from the Humane Society a few years ago because she claimed it would help bring more love into the house. Most people agree he's got Australian Shepherd and Spaniel breeds in him, but who really knows. He's got a thick white coat with a few light brown patches and a big pink nose that she used as the basis for a nick-name, "Mr. Erasernose." I felt that was a little juvenile, but no big deal. I would tell people, "I've had him de-brained so he won't ruin the couch," and people knew I was joking. At least the others from the lab thought so. But, engineers seem to have a more sophisticated sense of humor. Amy just thought I was trying to explain away his stupidity. If you ask me, she felt sorry for him. He needed her, and she apparently thrived on that. Oh sure, if she loved him so much, why'd she leave him? Where is she now? Gone. Where's the dog now? With me. Point made.
Fortunately for Max, he has no idea what happened. He's just a dog. He still jumps all over the place when I come home from work, exactly as he did when Amy was here. She'd take a week-long trip and he'd act the same way, as far as I could tell, whether she was gone or not. Of course, he'd go berserk when she returned, but who can explain that. This past week, he's acted as if my presence was the most important thing in the world. The thing is, he has no clue she isn't coming back.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't mean to imply I don't like Max. I do like him. You could say I'm bitter about the situation, but I'm certainly not angry with Max. I have fun with him now and then, and although I've never thought of myself as a "dog person," I think we're doing pretty well. I take care of him, and he seems to have become part of the furniture. Today's no different: I'm just sitting here, tapping a pencil on the table as I work out one of the bigger problems with the theories one of the technicians has about a molecular breakdown of some enzymes, but Max's excitement distracts me. The pencil tapping is an obvious giveaway that we're going out to play. See? Dumb dog. He speeds up the tail-wagging and begins to whine a little from overload. Of course, I'm resigned to the fact that he needs his exercise and some moments of undivided attention. That's Ok. I even enjoy the chance to take a break myself and get outside now and then.
I go to the utility cupboard and get the Frisbee. With that, he jumps, spins and enthusiastically darts outside as the door opens. Out we go into the old grassy field behind the house as he runs in circles around me, jumping up and down, trying to snag the Frisbee from my hand. Max is having the time of his life. Go figure. That's Ok, I'm entertained by his oblivion to life. One thing, though, is that is reminds me of when we used to do this with Amy here.
We approach the grassy hill and stand at a small, ten foot peak with a 360 degree view of the surrounding field. I toss the Frisbee around a few times and he chases it, but I continue to focus on other things: work, the new equipment we just got in and how half of it doesn't work, Bosnia, the Middle East, and, of course, Amy. I try to avoid the subject of her by scanning my memory for images from the TV news, the newspaper, and the net, reviewing the state of the world, but to no avail. I just can't figure her out, and it's already been over a week. Max is oblivious to all this - he's just having a good old time chasing the Frisbee. He seems to go on forever, but I can't last that long.
After enough of this, I pack it up and encourage him to join me back in the house by flailing my arms about, motioning towards me and the house as an attention-grabber. He follows, although reluctantly, because he'd rather stay outside. I've done my duty for the day. Now, I have to take care of other things.
The night passes, as does most of Monday. I get home around seven, the usual time for a Monday night, ready for a good run. Since I don't run on the weekends, I'm pretty anxious to go by this time. As soon as I walk in the house, the dog is ecstatic, as if he were thinking, "My God! You're back! I can't believe it! You're really back!" Maybe I should consider having his brain re-installed. His tail is wagging so hard I'm worried he'll poke a hole in the plaster walls. He puts so much effort into it that his entire body seems like it's being wagged by the tail. I greet him in the normal way, attempting to be conversational. "How was your day? Have you been watching the house? Did anyone try to sneak in? Or were you just investing all my money in mutual funds?" He just keeps lapping at me and jumping up to get more attention. Admittedly, his attention is nice, and the notion of unrequited love has its value.
"Ok, Pooch, I have to get into my running clothes now," I say, as I dart upstairs, knowing that any quick movements excite him into thinking something big is about to happen and he better not miss it. I change as fast as I can and return downstairs to find Max looking at me, knowing what's coming. My clothes always give it away. He goes into the utility closet where the door had been left open, grabs the leash and brings it to me. "Wow! That was pretty impressive! Maybe you can think after all," I state unenthusiastically. He wags even harder, ignorant of the fact that I was just kidding. I just roll my eyes.
I should point out that running with Max has always been a good thing. We did it, just the two of us, even when Amy was here. Our routine was pretty regular, but today was only going to be different because road construction begins on our main street and we'll have to take a detour. Also, I have to use the leash. Normally, I'd rather he run free because it's annoying to drag him along, as he tends to break my stride. But with the confusion of the construction, the leash makes it easier to manage him. Max doesn't seem to mind it, though. We start off with a trot along side the big trucks and machinery, but when we get to the end of the dirt road, we turn right and head up into Farmer Ed's old property to get away from the traffic.
Out here, Max goes off on his diversions, but he usually keeps up once it appears I might get out of sight. And when that happens, he runs like the wind, tongue flopping out the edge of his mouth, happy as a lark, not a care in the world. The trail goes into the woods and out again, but I don't pay attention to how far we've gone. The endorphin rush kicks in, and both of us are on the runner's high. This is one of my favorite parts of running because I just let go of everything else and I'm in the best possible frame of mind.
After a while, we stop to rest by pacing in circles. Looking around, I notice an old tin shed with a rusty lock on the door. Max had already started sniffing around it as if he knows something of interest is inside. He can't seem to locate the precise spot. I walk around looking for a sign of something, but nothing seems out of the ordinary. There's a lock on the front door, but a gentle nudge on it easily breaks it and the door swings in, inviting me inside. A cloud of dust completes the mystique of the scene as the faintness of the late summer sun beams rays into the room.
Both of us wait patiently for the dust to clear so we can make out the details of the interior. A few moments later, a steam-like sound pierces the tenseness in the air. I move forward slowly and cautiously, Max paralleling my movements. And as we cross the threshold, light emits from the center of the shed. A small oil lamp sits in the middle. I think to myself, 'How silly. A genie's probably inside.' Suddenly, a voice.
"You have released me!" It exclaims in a loud, booming voice.
Startled, both Max and I look at the dimly lit lamp. In disbelief, I move closer to the object, intent of finding something that might explain the sound. I pick up the lamp and examine it. It's identical to Aladdin's lamp.
"I am the genie of thought." The thunderous voice pauses for a while. The sounds of birds and other animals are heard scattering outside.
"So do I get three wishes?", I say sarcastically, like a standup comedian, looking at Max since he is my only audience member.
"Not wishes. I will grant you a thought, which you can exchange with someone else."
I change to a more cynical tone. "I don't quite understand. Exchanging a thought is hardly interesting. That's not much of a prize for releasing you from a lamp."
The voice resumes: "You under estimate the power of thought, my friend. Knowing what someone else knows, what they think, how they feel. These are the tools by which anyone can achieve great wishes."
"Now, that's a new one. A thought genie. Who's idea was that?" I say, continuing to look around for audience members.
"Those who created me died off many years ago. They were an entirely cerebral species, with no physical form in their final years. They communicated entirely through thought, similar to what I can do for you. Millions of years ago, they did have bodies, and they suffered from the same turmoil you do: hate, distrust, wars, and simple lack of awareness of ideas outside their individual selves. Evolution worked in their favor, however, and their minds continued to evolve as their need for physical form diminished. They eventually evolved beyond their bodies, as their spirits and intellect grew and multiplied in ways beyond your understanding. They had acquired and refined a technique by which they could directly share exact and precise thoughts, feelings, intentions, motivations or any other emotion to others with similar comprehension. Those with whom they shared the strongest emotional bonding were able to combine their ideas and spirits to create an "offspring" with its own mind, but from the seeds of its parents. Knowing their physical selves were to eventually become obsolete, their last physical act was to create an artifact, their legacy to life forms that have thoughts, feelings and ideas but are confined to a physical world. That artifact is me, and my purpose is to allow you to share some of the mental capacities they have developed. This will benefit you, but will also memorialize their existence by understanding how they lived as a species. They, like all beings that think, ultimately wish to be understood and remembered."
"Experience someone else's thoughts? We can already do that by talking to each other."
"You attempt to communicate ideas, but are not assured understanding. The ability to completely and totally understand someone or something cannot be done though mere vocal or visual communication. For example, emotions are complex thoughts that are not always effectively communicated to others. I have the ability to extract complex thoughts and consolidate them into someone else's mind, so they can understand them exactly the same way you do. They will understand not only what you are thinking, but will experience the emotions behind it, the history that lead to it, the entire concept of your thought. They still have their own mind and thoughts, and may or may not be persuaded by yours. That's a decision each individual must make on his own. However, such decisions are usually better handled because the considerations are more accurate."
This is quite a bit for me to handle. I begin to imagine all sorts of interesting ways I or other people could communicate like this. Wouldn't it be interesting to see warring factions in the Middle East suddenly know the experiences and motivations of the other side? Or how one might examine the mind of a criminal? Justice could be served! Or would it? Frequently, thoughts or decisions aren't entirely clear or understood, even by the person having the original ideas. Oh, and here's an interesting application: the thoughts shared between lovers? Suddenly, Amy comes to mind, and a flood of odd thoughts sparks in my mind all having to do with the communication of how we felt about one another. She said I didn't have the capacity for love, I felt hers was superfluous and arbitrary, and then there were all those talks where we didn't connect. What would have happened had we been able to know what each other was thinking?
"You are considering exchanging thoughts with Amy "
"No way," I instinctively reacted. No need to dig up that old mess again. Nothing's to be gained, and only everything to lose. I don't need therapy. I know myself and my understanding of Amy. We didn't see eye to eye, and knowing the grim details of our inner-most thoughts aren't necessary. I am a man of science and linear thought. I analyze and study, considering all options on a decision, and the Amy situation is over.
Then I started thinking more broadly. What kind of social structure would form in a society that always knew - or had the potential to know - what the others in the society were thinking? The possibilities are endless and immensely fascinating! Now, here's an idea: thoughts between life forms. I look down at Max, who's looking at me, but totally unaware of anything going on. The voice speaks again.
"You are considering exchanging thoughts with Max "
Startled, I interject, "No, not really. I just looked at him to see if " And then I pause and think for a moment. I suppose the thought did cross my mind. I continue, "My dog? He doesn't understand any of this. How can he know to express things for me to understand? And how could he possibly understand complex thoughts or concepts I have. It's hard enough for me to explain to him that I'll be right back when I leave him in the car at a store. He doesn't even have language, which is the result of complex thoughts."
"Language doesn't contain emotions, even though words can express emotions. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually feel what someone else is feeling? If they are feeling pain, love, hunger or death, imagine what it'd be like if you can experience those feelings exactly as they are feeling them. I have the ability to communicate those thoughts in the purest way possible to another thinking being. There will be no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of intent, style or feeling that vocal intonations or editorializing can cause."
I thought about it for a moment, but yielded to the fascination of communicating with Max, simply because he's another species. But, there's one more question. "Does the exchange go one way, or does the other party communicate thoughts back to me too?"
"The other side will be able to respond to your thoughts."
That's it. I made up my mind. Looking down at Max, I said, "You and I are going to have a pretty interesting conversation, little guy. I'm terribly interested to know what you could possibly think." My speaking directly to him gets his attention and his ears perk forward. "And then after talking to you, it's off to Washington." I laugh to myself at the thought.
The voice continued. "When you are ready, I will communicate those thoughts you have focused onto Max, exactly as you are thinking them. Prepare yourself and return to me when you are ready."
At that moment, the light from the lamp fades to black. The shed is still and crickets outside are heard, reminding me it's late. I turn and look at Max, who was looking at me, waiting for a hint about what we're going to do next. Amazed and shocked at what happened, regardless of whether it was real, I leash up the pooch and we head for home. As we run back, I get into a good pace again and start really thinking about this. I look at Max, wondering what he's been thinking, not just now, but at any given time.
Darkness had set in by the time we arrive home. I take a shower, but find myself just standing under the shower-head daydreaming as the steady water stream lulls me into fantasy land. What would it be like if two people could exchange ideas so completely and thoroughly? Would they be more convincing of their ideas, or would it further separate people? Would it have a strong impact, or would it mean little more than as if the thought were expressed in words? Would it make people more empathetic, or would it further distance them from one another in irreparable ways? I have never thought about this kind of stuff before. Thinking, I mean. And not just science, but beyond that. Introspection consumed me. How is it that I think? I get out of the shower and dry off, slowly get dressed, and then go downstairs to eat. The TV blares the daily news on CNN, but I'm too engaged in thought about the race of aliens. I can see how this must have been an evolutionary process; a culture must adapt to this ability gradually, or its existing social infrastructure could never support it. My mind is just racing with questions, hypotheses, and even humorous suppositions.
As interesting as that is, I also wonder what kind of thoughts I would want to communicate to a dog. "Don't do anything on the rug again, even if you're sick." Or, how about, "When I say come, I really mean it, Ok? And when I say stay, that means don't go running around the grocery store looking for me." I break my thought and look at Max, "Well, you little person, do you have any thoughts or ideas you want to share with me? What could you possibly be thinking?" Max just sits there, attentively listening to me. Yet, for the first time, I actually believe he might be aware. This is just too weird.
I finish eating, go upstairs, brush my teeth and turn on the news again to take my mind off the situation for a while. But it does me no good. The hours pass as I lie awake, restless in bed. I go to the top of the stairs with Max, talking to him as if I were filling his head with ideas that I will have to come back and later explain once I enter his mind. And what about him? Maybe it's more interesting to see what he thinks about me, or about anything at all. I daydream more, as I stroke him from head to tail, talking to him as if he were listening. And I actually notice that I'm becoming more aware of my feelings towards him. Amy dumped him on me, and I always thought of him as temporary - that he'd go away sometime soon - but now, he definitely seems like my permanent partner. I hadn't realized it, but I really like this guy! I personify or humanize him far more than I should, but I'm so unaware of it. After all, people even talk to their own babies as if they understand, knowing full well they don't. My emotional history with him makes me blind to the real relationship we probably share. Gee, that's a depressing thought, isn't it? Is he really that thoughtful of me, or would he be the way he is towards anyone who fed him and played Frisbee with him? Is dog psychology real? Maybe I should ask Max just a simple question, "How do you feel?" I slowly fade to sleep somewhere in the middle of this, but my dreams merely pick up where I left off. Those dreams, as they tend to be, are far more intense than the reality behind them.
The morning comes and I find myself at the top of the stairs with Max right next to me, never having moved all night. I get up and call work to tell them I'm taking the day off. I go to the kitchen for breakfast, but I can't concentrate on food. Only on what our short "conversation" is going to be like. I have now considered all possible options for discussion, but I am still so undecided about what I will say. My new-found "fondness" for Max piques my attention, but I'm still unsure about what it might imply, if anything. I decide to go out to the field to play Frisbee, perhaps for inspiration. This time, it's not just a few lousy Frisbee tosses, it's real game.
We go outside, and running to the top of the hill, Max drools with excitement. He senses my enthusiasm, which provokes him even more. The game begins. I imagine myself a pitcher, with the fans cheering everywhere. I take my position in preparation for the pitch. Max, the outfielder, prepares for the response, front legs spread and stooping low, back legs ready to move in any direction. Tail wagging. I wait a moment, letting the tension build. And then zip! I put the ball over the plate and the batter hits it way off into the air. Max speeds forward, chasing after it as fast as he can, his body formed like a white fur-ball rocket with the big pink nose in the lead. I see the ball flying over third base into left field. He stays with it till it descends, and just when it's low enough, he leaps up, snags it out of the air, and whipsaws his body around as he lands. Whap! The ball lands in the glove, and I yell, "He's out!" Max continues running full speed as he returns to me, and drops the disk at my feet. What a team! This is far more fun than it was Sunday, that's for sure! Yes, this day is definitely different. A new world, with a new friend. My best friend.
After a few innings, I'm deliriously happy. And tired. I lie down on the ground with Max next to me. I look at the sky and point out to all the little animals shaped by the clouds and explain to him what each one is. "That one's a bear, and that one's a mailbox, and look! A Pooch! Just like you!" Max looks at me with his head cocked at an angle. He doesn't see them. He doesn't even look up. He just looks straight at me, wondering what I must be talking about. That's Ok, he has no brain anymore. It's been removed. But, today, he's getting it back. Just like the straw man. And there we stay, the hours pass.
It's getting late. We better go back to the genie now. I think how thoughtless I was not to bring the lamp back home with me; I could have avoided this trip. I put the leash on Max, and we start the run repeated from yesterday. Out onto the dirt road, we run at a pretty good clip, both of us in pretty good form. It's a weekday and the traffic is a little heavier now, so we stay closer in towards the wood fence. The "runner's high" has kicked in again, both from the exercise and the fact that I'm so anxious to experience what is about to come.
We get to the shed, and approach it slowly, making sure that the lamp is still there and that the grounds are unchanged from before, just in case this really was a setup. (It was always in the back of my mind that none of this was real.) Max is doing his usual thing, sniffing the ground and peeing on the bushes and trees. I peer inside the shed and it appears that all is normal. The lamp, still lying where I left it, remains dark and quiet. I pick it up and examine it closely. There are small scratches on it, which appear to be regular and intentional. Perhaps they are symbols. It also has a warmth to it, as if a life were inside it. Suddenly, a small spark-like white light emits from one of the scratches and travels down its path to the base of the lamp, like a fiber optic cable with light traveling through it. Another scratch on the lamp lights up the same way, only this time in blue. Another followed by yet another, each in different colors. The lamp is not light like it was the last time. The only light coming from it now is being emitted though the etchings. I hold it closer to my body so see if it would affect it, and in doing so, the light from inside glows. This time, the scratches are more clearly illuminated by the larger light, a much different effect than the randomly colored light show I just received. I set down the lamp. It then speaks.
"Are you ready for the thought exchange?"
I mutter, "I'm ready," almost as though I didn't believe anything was going to happen.
"Your minds are different, so the thoughts will exchange at different rates. Max will receive your thoughts first, followed by his thoughts to you. His may take a while longer to coalesce in your mind. Whatever the strongest thoughts you both have will be understood fully and completely by the other. You will feel nothing, but you may experience a dream-like state of mind. Once I begin the process, he will have a very clear and definite understanding about what is going on in terms he can understand. He will also know that he is going to think about something intended solely for you. Whatever it is he is thinking, you will know it. However, unlike you, he will not philosophize about it and consider his message carefully. He will just send the most simple and direct thought he has that is intended for you."
I pause for a second and look over at Max. He looks at me, but quickly glances towards the lamp as if it had called him. It seems to have his complete attention. He inches closer to the lamp with intentional movements. He then sits next to it and closes his eyes.
I look at the lamp, which is shining quite brightly not only from within, but from the etchings as well. Colored lights race around its paths and crevices. I feel a very calming effect and images of old dreams emerge in my mind. A mountain with snow covered trees and roads where I once dreamed about a ski trip. An oil painting I dreamed about when I was a child. A dream from my trip in Europe last year.
The voice speaks again. "Focus your mind on your thoughts for Max. The feelings behind the thoughts, the questions, the statements, the images, the concepts. Direct them all into a single place in your mind where you can express them with one thought."
The dream images fade as I think about what I want to express to Max. The voice is loud, but soothing, and it is actually helping me concentrate on the task at hand. I am now thinking about the experiences we have shared together - the Frisbee events, the running, the walking in town, even things I now appreciate and long for once again, but had no appreciation for before: the time I came home from work, delighted about my raise, and Max was there to share it with me. And then where was the time I was on the phone with Amy when she moved to her mother's. Max got very upset when I yelled on the phone. He thought I was upset with him, not understanding that talking into a phone meant that I was talking to someone else. That day was pretty special - I had almost cried to him because of how I made him feel. I didn't realize how it made me feel!
I now know exactly what I want to express to Max: he is my best friend in the world, and I truly loved him. Ironic that for someone who can't express love verbally, I was going to do it more intensely than by the spoken word. I draw together all the memories I just had and packaged them up into a single thought of love. Max will certainly understand this, and there's nothing else that could ever be said - or that needed to be said. It doesn't need to be put in the form of a question. The statement in and of itself would exude a response from any life form.
Minutes pass. The lamp dims, and the sound of crickets becomes noticeable again. I feel like I came out of a deep sleep, almost as though the whole thing was a dream. In fact, so much so that I now doubt whether the whole thing happened. The lamp is now dark, and the voice is silent. I don't think or feel anything differently, other than the strong emotions initiated by my own mind thinking about Max. I drummed it all up and fed it to him Hey! That's right! He must now know what I said and felt! I turn to Max, who is still sitting with his eyes closed. Maybe he's still thinking about it, absorbing, understanding. I gently speak. "Max?" There is no immediate response. A moment passes and Max's eyes open and he looks straight ahead. He then turns towards me and, just like I've seen him do before, he approaches me and licks my hands and the sweat from my face. He doesn't appear to be any different than before. He's just doing what he's always done. Did anything get to him? Does he know or understand anything differently now? Hey! Did this even work?
I pick up the lamp. The scratches appear to be just normal etchings - no sign that light could have emitted from them. I open the top and look in, and it appears to be a normal oil lamp. Nothing special. I shake it a little and speak to it. "Hey! Are you in there? What's going on?" The lamp is silent and it doesn't appear that anything else will happen. I get up and start to walk around the shed to see if there's anything else inside that might give a clue as to what might have happened, but there is nothing noteworthy. "Shit," I say loudly enough to get Max's attention. I'm so disappointed that there was this great opportunity and it was just lost. Maybe I didn't think the right thing, or feel strongly enough, or the concept may have been too complex for him. And I certainly don't feel anything from Max. Of course, the voice said it may take a while, but it's been almost 10 minutes. Aww, never mind, let's get out of here.
I throw the lamp down and dart out of the shed, heading down the path to return home. I'm engrossed in thought about what it might have been like. What a neat thing this could have been, but no. If it's a prank, I feel so gullible. If it was real, I feel like I screwed up. If it was a dream, well no, it couldn't have been a dream.
We get to the end of the path and turn left on the road back towards home. We almost arrive by the time I notice that the traffic had gotten really heavy now. I must not have been paying attention. I instinctively pull the leash more tightly to make sure Max is close by, but there is no resistance. Suddenly I snap out of my daydreaming and realize Max isn't tied to the leash. I turn quickly to see where he is and yell out his name as I grind to a halt. "MAX!" The sudden stop and yell must have alarmed him, because even though he was right next to me the whole time without the benefit of the leash, he didn't expect my quick movement. Attempting to avoid running into me, he swerves out into the road, right into traffic.
The next few moments pass as though time was moving in slow motion, as if it were on film. I feel the events move from one frame to the next, and there is nothing I can do about it. I quickly look the other way onto oncoming traffic, just as a truck barrels down the road. The driver lays into his horn, which startles both me and Max, who runs back towards me to avoid the oncoming vehicle. The frames are impressed into my mind, one by one, each an independent snapshot used to create this tragic film. The characters in the script cannot do anything but play out their roles. The script has been written.
Max lay on the side of the road, panting rapidly. His brown eyes looking right at me, almost the same way he does when he's done with Frisbee and he's taking his rest. There's no blood anywhere and nothing appeared to be broken, but the thud from the impact left no doubt that he had suffered serious injury. The driver gets out of the truck and looked down at us. He had the good nature not to yell at us for being irresponsible about being in the road. He just calmly waits while I knelt down next to Max. He then asks if there was anything he could do to help, but he didn't sound confident that anything could be done. I put my hands under Max to pick him up, then I move him close to me. I look at the driver, and with a tone of desperation, decline his help and that I would take the dog from here. The house is less than a hundred yards away, so I could more easily (and probably more quickly) take him to the vet if they didn't come directly to my house. My eyes begin to well up as a tear trickles its way down my cheek. The driver looks genuinely concerned and gives me a nod. I couldn't help but notice the sun setting behind him and what a beautiful scene it was, despite the circumstances that had just taken place. Perhaps the peaceful tone of the scene had relaxed me a little, but only for the moment. I almost feel as though I had accepted the situation for what it was, despite how bad it is. Perhaps that's the one positive thing I learned from Amy's having left me. Nothing is permanent. Snapping out of it, I turn and race towards the house.
Once inside, I set Max down on the blanket where he normally sits and watches the passers-by on the path behind the house. I get the phone and call the emergency number on the back of the vet's business card, which was taped up on the refrigerator door next to the phone.
"Max has been hit! Yes! On old Highway 70! You gotta come out here and help him! Or, should I bring him in? He's not bleeding and nothing appears to be Well, he's breathing really hard and he keeps looking at me. yes, right at me. Fine. I'll be right here. Where the hell am I going to go? Ok, but please hurry!"
I kneel down next to Max, too scared to touch him fearing I'll make something worse. He continues looking straight into my eyes, breathing harder as his little heart pumps through his white coat of hair. I reach forward to pet him on the nose where it seems safe.
"It's Ok, Mr. Pooch. You're going to be fine, Ok? They're coming now, so hang in there. Don't do anything foolish, like "
I can't bring myself to say it. The thought of it startles me even though I was about to. I can't imagine Max dying - it just wouldn't be fair. No, more than that. It wouldn't be right. I stroke his nose, waiting for the vet to arrive. We just sit there, looking at each other more intently than I have ever looked at him, or anyone for that matter.
A few minutes pass, when I begin to feel very strange, as though I am not in control of my thoughts. It's not like a dream - at least, it doesn't feel like my dream. I cannot control the thoughts or the images. We continue looking at one another, but while I still see him, other images start popping into my mind superimposed onto my real eyesight. It's almost as though it were double vision. Max and I are in an empty white room. I am standing straight up and Max is sitting; we are facing one another. The image pops away as suddenly as it came. Max's eyes are fixed on me still, but I seem to regain control of my senses again, but only for a moment. Then, again, another image appears: We're standing in the big grassy field and he's holding the Frisbee in his mouth, sitting at my feet. I kneel down and take it from him, throw it, and he darts after it. I yell out to him, "Good Pooch!" The image disappears again.
Max continues looking straight at me as a new image pops in my mind, only now the intensity grows. Max is sitting at the top of the stairs alone, watching the windows and the doors. I don't see me, but it's understood that I am in my room, asleep. This time, along with the image is the first sense of feeling. It's a generalized sensation that I would describe as "protection." Max is feeling responsible for my protection. I feel his need to protect the premises, and the feeling is genuine. There is no immediate threat, but one can never be sure when one is the guard dog on duty. The feeling to protect me, our house, our lives. The image pops out, as does the emotion. Our eyes are still locked together.
These events and images pass through my mind and it's obvious that the effects of Max's communications have finally kicked in. I move closer to him and notice that his heart is beating even more rapidly. His tongue is hanging out of the side of his mouth, which remains open to take in air quickly enough. The next image appears: Max is eating out of his bowl and I can feel the intense emotion of being fed. It's almost primitive. I can sense how it feels to be consuming all-important life sustenance. The emotion overwhelms me - it becomes all I can think about. I can feel the food in my stomach and the comfort of having had a good, solid meal. I, as the image of Max, look up and see me, the person, standing there, watching with a huge smile. The image of me is saying, "Mr. Pooch! Good puppy!" The feeling of gratitude is overwhelming. I can't do enough for this person, I think. That must be Max's feeling towards me for giving him food, I think to myself. I feel his emotion of not only needing me, but that I am the sole person important to his life. The image fades again, but Max's eyes are still deeply focused onto mine.
When I regain control of my own senses, I feel exhausted. I had experienced the most intense feeling ever. Does Max always feel so intensely and strongly about everything? But the intensity is coupled with a primitive edge to it. It was as though he was not capable of thinking more than one thing at a time, that whatever he was thinking was all he could be thinking.
The desperation of the Max's condition rises to a new level. There's too much going on for me to just sit here and experience it. I'm on overload now, and I can't keep it all in. Where is that damn veterinarian? I get up and pace the room, glancing now and then back at Max, frustrated that there doesn't seem to be anything I can do. At one particular glance, our eyes meet again and I am consumed in emotion. The thought transfer is now in full force.
I move closer again, careful not to touch anything that might be broken. The closer I get, the more intense the images become: I am sitting at the kitchen table, tapping the pencil as I usually do. Max is under the table, looking at me, wagging his tail. Only this time, it's my tail that's wagging. I am once again Max in this image, but it's getting more difficult to experience these images as an objective viewer. I am Max. The feeling for the need for attention overwhelms me as the image of Max licks the hands of his master, which is me, but that's a personification I no longer associate with. A strong feeling of closeness consumes me as this image and emotion grows. I can feel the contact with my body as if I had four legs and paws and hair everywhere. I can actually feel what it must feel like to be a dog! I feel so safe and alive and content. It doesn't get any better than this! The feeling of completeness in all ways possible. The world is perfect, nothing is wrong anywhere. Such a total and complete feeling, with no worries or concerns about anything else. I, as a human, have never been able to feel that way. Indeed what a gift this is. The genie was right. The tears were rolling down my face now, and I could tell they had been all along, but I was too engrossed in Max's thoughts that I hadn't noticed.
The doorbell rings, knocking me out of my hypnosis. This was the first time Max's eyes left mine. He looks towards the door and his tail quickly jerks. He's so used to going to the door whenever someone arrived, wagging his tail, that he continues to respond in the same manner as much as he possibly can. I can't help but belt out a little laugh through the tears. I sense his desire for normalcy, even though he's hanging on a thin thread. What a sad, but funny state to be in.
I jump up to open the door and let the vet in. He asks how he's doing, we exchange a couple of words, but nothing particularly important. He examines Max for a moment and discovers the same thing I already knew. "We can't do anything for him here," he says. "We'll have to take him into the hospital."
He maneuvers to pick him up, but Max's eyes focus on mine again and, while no image appears, a sense of fright consumes me. I actually feel very afraid from the doctor's action! I regain a little bit of myself again, enough to move closer to Max. Our eyes never parting, I stroke him on the head and over the neck, just as he likes it, and I whisper, "It's Ok, little guy. It's Ok. Good Pooch." I give the doctor a nod to continue. I stay close with him as we go out into the van. An assistant is already there, waiting with the open door. We get in, and Max is set on a table, much like in a real ambulance. Our eyes still fixed on one another, the engine starts up and the vehicle starts to move.
As we pick up speed, a new image appears in my mind: Max and I are standing in the same empty white room again, only this time, Max is virtually speaking to me, but there is no voice, no sound at all. I sense the concept of love. But it wasn't just an "I love you" concept - it seems to be expressed as reciprocation: I love you, too. There is no image, other than the two of us. The concept is just flowing into my head, directly from Max. That is what he is feeling. There is no question. He is intentionally communicating to me the basic thoughts associated with love. He understands how I feel and he's doing the same for me. The emotions of mutual love and dedication overwhelm me, both of my own accord and of his. It's just a basic, fundamental understanding. There is no mistake. There is no misperception. We are a single spirit.
The image fades, but the emotion remains, hung in my mind as the van rolls through town. Max's eyes begin to droop a little. We arrive at the hospital and the van's doors immediately swing open. Max is taken out and put on a stretcher and wheeled into the building with me in tow. In the hall, the doctor talks to someone and a small crowd gathers. I am shoved aside by someone in a surgical robe, which breaks the bond between me and Max. A team of people appear and push the Max's cart down the hall. I feel nothing from Max anymore, but I am personally overwhelmed by my own emotions.
I follow into the operating room to witness the procedures that had already begun. They hook up devices to him as the beeping of medical units fills the room while the doctors are all busy doing their thing. I focus again on Max to resume our communication, but his eyes are almost entirely shut now. I must know more, I must see more, I must tell him more! Don't let him die now! But there is nothing. He is only dimly aware now, I can tell. The doctors have been fiddling with him here and there, but nothing is changing about Max. I get right next to his face and say, "Mr. Erasernose, you better come back to me, you hear!? YOU BETTER COME BACK!" But still, there is no response. I start bawling like a child as the doctor and the other woman finally leave the room. No response from Max.
The time between the beeps grows noticeably longer, and many people in the room leave, since there is nothing more they can do for him. Only two remain, the doctor and a woman, also in a surgical outfit. I look up at them and they nod to me with a gentle closing of their eyes, as if to give me a brief moment to myself. I look back at Max and get closer to him. A few minutes pass as I rest my hand on Max's body. There is no heart beat, no breathing. I can only stand there, leaning over the table. The other two finally leave the room.
Then, like a gush of cool wind, I get an emotional gush so strong, it seemed to stand me up on its own, causing me to lean back to keep my balance. With my arms outstretched and my head tilted as far back as it could go, I see a new, extremely vivid image of Max, larger than life, hanging right over me. His hair is perfectly groomed, better than I had ever seen it! His nose wet and pink, more than ever before. His big brown eyes staring straight at me, and his tail wagging slowly, gracefully. A light breeze tosses his hair gently to one side. The emotions hit me: calmness, restfulness, completeness. The image of Max leans towards me and licks me on the face, just as he does when he wakes up in the morning. I sense the thought, "It's Ok. I'm fine now."
I couldn't be sure, but I swear I see a tear coming from his eye. He feels for me, and I know it. His image turns and trots the other way, as if there is nothing to worry about. Not a care in the world. He turns to the right and goes up the tall grassy hill where we normally play Frisbee. He sits and turns to me and thinks a thought directly at me. I can only translate it to be, "This is where I'll be. I'll just wait here for you."
The image is gone. The room is empty. There is no sensation of Max anywhere at all. I sigh deeply and look around the room to reorient myself. When I leave, the vet approaches me and says, "I'm sorry." He pauses for a moment, then resumes, "He went peacefully because you were here. He'll be fine where he is now."
I look up at him and feel an odd sense of ease. I
sniff once and wipe my eyes. I pause for a moment and respond,
"Yes. I know."
After a marathon sleep of ten uninterrupted hours, today doesn't feel much better. Emotionally, I'm distressed and strained, although more contemplative and accepting in general. I know I learned a lot from this experience, but it's still so new to me. I decide to return to the shed to look for the lamp, but I don't have the energy to run the whole way. Walking the route takes time, but time is meaningless to me now. All my thoughts ruffle the perception of time. When I arrive at the shed, the lamp is gone - it was as if it were never there. I return homeward, but on the way, I stop by the site where the truck hit Max. I feel the need to punish myself by watching it over and over in my head. How could I have let it happen? How could I have been so irresponsible toward someone that I loved so much? As I re-enacted the events, I followed the tracks with my eyes from where the truck hit him, to where I picked him up, and then up to the house, not even a hundred yards from here. But when I look towards the house, I notice a car in the drive. It's Amy's.
I walk slowly, looking around to see where she might be, curious about why she's there. When I arrive at her car, she was standing, looking out towards the back of the house with her back to me. I call out gently, but inquisitively, "What are you doing here?"
Amy turns towards me to reveal she'd been crying. "I heard about Max from the vet." She stops abruptly to hold back the immediate rush of tears her statement caused. She looks to the side, away from me to try to maintain composure. "As the registered owner, they had to call me." She pauses to watch my reaction, which is still that of shock in seeing her again. She continues, "You know, I left Max with you because I hoped you'd learn to love him. If you did, you might have learned to love me, too. It would be then that I'd return. But, I didn't expect this. I'm so sorry. So very, very sorry."
She then cries uncontrollably, and I move towards her to offer comfort. She grabs onto me for support as she had done when her father died, but this time, I hold her close. Closer than ever before, like I never wanted to let go. And I didn't want to.
"Max did teach me to love," I say with hesitation, not because I don't want to say it, but because I don't want to have to explain the genie. "And not just to love him, but that love exists, it's real, and one can love almost unconditionally." I weep with her as my head rests on hers as our arms embrace.
We spend the rest of the day, walking around the countryside, looking at places where Max, Amy and I had been, talking about how the life we had together turned out to be so much more meaningful to me than I had realized. I tell her about the lost alien race that had the ability to share thoughts, including deep, strong emotions. But, I tell her these ideas as if they were a story, a short work of fiction one might read in a magazine. The story engages her, and our discussions get vivid and lively.
"More than just emotions, experiences!" I'd say. And she'd respond, "And isn't life a collection of experiences? What a fascinating race of people that could do this." Amy and I were clicking for the first time at a deeper level than ever before, and we were in agreement philosophically. We think about the meaning of life, and everyone has a different opinion. But, I wonder if those people had a concept about the meaning of life in their culture that was radically different from ours. We bring meaning to our lives through our experiences, and it's the sharing of those experiences with others that give them meaning. Love is the sharing of meaningful experiences.
After the day of walking, we end up at home when
I have an idea. I tell Amy to wait, and I run into the house and
return with Max's Frisbee. "Come with me," I tell her,
and we run out back to the grassy hill and sit. I bury the Frisbee
in the ground and we lay down, looking at the sky. One of the
big, fluffy clouds appears over the horizon as the evening sun
gives it a reddish glow. I raise my arm to point to the cloud
as I say, "Look, Amy. There's Max." Amy tightens her
grip on my arm and we fall asleep as the sun sets. Everything's
going to be Ok. Not a care in the world. Max taught me that, too.