Do you ever talk to yourself when you’re alone?
I live alone, and I talk to myself all the time.
If you also make a habit of conversing with yourself, let me urge you to be very careful about what you say and to never assume that no one is listening.
Like most older Americans, I treasure predictability in my life. I run along on silvery tracks of routine, beginning in the morning with my slippers always in the same place, ready to welcome my feet.
Walking slowly into the kitchen, I click the coffeemaker to life and then visit the bathroom. Next, I turn on the TV and walk into my office to wake my computer and turn on the light above the desk. Then, I leave the office to check on Nancy’s food and water.
Nancy walks on all fours, and she has been my closest companion for going on five years.
She and I met at the Anti Cruelty Society in September 2014. I had been in my condo for a month and decided to make a life leap and acquire a roommate.
With some reservations, I chose a 4-month-old creature described as a Catahoula Leopard Hound mix. She was one of around two dozen dogs pictured and described on the society’s website.
In other words, I had chosen to welcome a furry little infant into my life.
No regrets at all, despite the initial chewing of table legs and wooden knobs on my dresser. As a puppy, she also barked when I departed, and that created some problems with a few neighbors.
My morning routine includes bringing her bed from my bedroom to a spot beneath the living-room windows. Inevitably, she will climb onto the bed and begin the first of a series of naps she will take that day. In an hour or so, we will go outside for a walk.
One morning a few weeks ago, as I brought a mug of coffee from the kitchen, I noticed her sitting erect in the middle of the living room, her eyes looking into mine.
“You better put on a robe,” she said in a gentle contralto.
I stood perfectly still, looking down at her, my brain out of gear and the feeling of blood rushing to my face. I was lightheaded, and there seemed to be a breeze in the room.
“Wha … what?”
How, I wondered, could I possibly be talking to my dog?
“It’s cold in here,” she continued.
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Why, uh … how are you talking?”
“Search me. We woke up a little while ago, and I could talk. By the way, I like that new Rachel Ray food you bought—nice change of pace. Real chicken and veggies, it says. Thanks.”
“Anytime,” I mumbled, the smell of coffee reminding me that this was happening in real time.
I had heard once that you can’t smell things in a dream.
Nancy went on.
“The food, the water, the Milk Bones, you really are my source of all good things, the little pieces of cheese, now and then. And, I love those frozen peas, pieces of boiled potatoes and even a little cold pasta once in a great while.”
“God bless Dr. Walsh.”
“Yeah. God bless her.”
“I really appreciate it when you leave one of the front windows open a couple of inches—the smells, you know, and the other dogs in the courtyard. You’ve got the WGN morning news, and I have the window. All good, Jimmy.”
Accepting the impossible, I spoke to her.
“You still like to bark. What’s that all about?”
“I’m a pack animal, and you’re the other member of my pack. Simple as that. I have to protect you, right? And with all of the good things that come my way, who wouldn’t want to bark now and then?”
“I wouldn’t,” I thought to myself.
“Right.” I muttered, nodding.
At that point, I was prepared to agree with anything she said.
“Do you remember when I was four months old and Anti-Cruelty said I was a Catahoula Leopard Hound, and you Googled that breed and kind of freaked out? Yeah, like I’m gonna retrieve waterfowl in the bayous of south Cook County and bark with a Louisiana accent? You were so relieved when the lady at Beverly Hills Animal Hospital told you that I’m a Dingo.”
Nancy laid down on her favorite edge of the rug, looking up at me.
“The best times are the trips to Mt. Greenwood Cemetery, where I can run and run. Thanks for those little trips.
“But, I must say that I do get a little worried about how seriously you seem to take all the political stuff. You talk back to the television, you know, and it never seems to help your disposition.
“What does that little sign above your computer say?”
“Lighten up,” I answered.
I knew what she was getting at.
“I really wish you could take me to church some time because it really seems to work for you, at least for a few hours or a couple of days.
“What I really enjoy is how our neighbors greet us when we’re outside. It’s always ‘Hi, Nancy. Hi, Jim.’ Does that ever bother you?”
“No,” I answered; although sometimes, it does.
“And the way you clean up after me with the little blue bags. I remember hearing Jerry Seinfeld say that if Martians were watching people walk dogs, they would conclude that dogs are in charge and you are our servants.”
Then I had to ask.
“How long is this going to last?”
“What? You mean me talking? I really don’t know. Maybe until I run out of things to say. I’m probably not the right one to ask.”
She got up and walked toward her bed, looking over her shoulder before she lay down.
“Just once I would love to catch a squirrel. Think about that, will you?”
I turned and walked to the kitchen to replace cold coffee with hot. When I returned, she was asleep.