The canine breed we call the Afghan hound is doggish enough in its appearance and mannerisms that a parent would not correct a toddler who sees, points, and says “Dog”. When adults begin a philosophical conversation, the issue is not as certain. An Afghan hound is less an item of science and more a thought experiment: to see an Afghan hound is, if its particular haircut invites, to experience with immediacy an imagination of what terrible larger animal’s ghost it is.
If you search for “Afghan hound” on the internet, you will find many pictures. Humans who see fit to purchase possession of such an animal wield their freedom of life-ownership with creative expression. They cut and style the animal’s hair, or pay someone else to. You might see an Afghan hound with its fine soft hair in perfect straight shiny curtains which curl at the floor. You might see a poky twig of hair atop its head, with a pink ribbon bow blessing or cursing the animal with a gender identity. You might see the animal with short summer hair. This is where you know that the animal’s hair is not a single horse-mane which runs along its spine, waterfalling over either side: if you look at the animal’s legs, you will see its hairs poking out, dense like a raccoon’s tail fur. The animal’s hair is tight to its skin. The hair is tenacious. The hair appears as the animal’s clothes.
Dog connoisseurs will call pit bulls “pits”. They call dachshunds “wiener dogs”. In conversations about Afghan hounds, we often call them “creatures”. Mention an Afghan hound to, for example, an owner of a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and this person will maybe say, “Oh yes: those are wonderful creatures.” The Afghan hound transcends its species.
If you look at a live and breathing Afghan hound’s face, you are looking at the ancient earth. You are looking at evolution. This animal has as much in common with a pug or an English bulldog as it does with a sloth, a ferret, a zebra, and an elk. An Afghan hound has as much in common with a chihuahua as it does with a unicorn.
Witness a summer-clothes Afghan hound galloping across a field: here is the history of horses and humans. Witness a shiny formal-dress Afghan hound trotting at a dog show: here is an animal alone in an ocean of itself.
In my personal experience, I see all life in an Afghan hound’s eyes and skull. Here I disclaim that I am a vegetarian for a not-ethical reason (I dislike the taste of meat) and a pacifist for a less-not-ethical reason.
Afghan hounds have always scared me. They scare me more than tigers or lions or rhinoceroses or hippopotamuses. This might be because I spent seven years of my life possessive of a memory of having seen one, without knowing what it had been. I saw it in the flesh; I did not see it in a book. It was real. It was not imagination.
I first saw an Afghan hound existing inside the human world when I was three years old. I saw it from a distance. It mystified me. It remained in my memory (it remains even now) and I often reflected on what it might have been. Here: I’m looking at a folder of memories from a year in which occasional pocket remembrances saw me wonder what that thing had been. Two years later, I saw an anteater in a picture book. I wondered if that was what the animal had been. I thought about it. I looked at the shape of the creature in my memory. It had not been an anteater. The creature had been something else. Five years passed. I was in a pediatrician’s waiting room. I was looking at a picture book of dog breeds. The Afghan hound was on page one. (This book also proposed to teach me the alphabet.) I knew that that had been it.
I was ten years old. Our teacher asked us to do a report on our favorite breed of dog. We had to draw a picture of the dog. I wanted to write about the Afghan hound. I wanted to draw the Afghan hound. I wrote about a Siberian husky. I drew a Siberian husky. It was my brother who told me that I should write about a Siberian Husky and draw a Siberian Husky. In his words, all other dogs were gay.
“Except German shepherds.”
My brother liked dogs. He read Jack London’s novels. He talked about Buck and The Call of the Wild. He wrote small novels of his own. He wrote them on paper with no lines. He stapled the spines of his tiny novels. They folded like comic books or magazines. He drew covers with colored pencils. His books were like Jack London’s. His books were about dogs. He drew the faces of wolves. His wolves had red eyes. His books’ covers made me think about snow. He talked to me about dogs. I listened to him talk about dogs. He said the Siberian husky was the best breed of dog, except for the situations in which a German shepherd was the best breed of dog. In all situations, he indicated, if one was open to the idea of a wolf as a type of dog, wolves were the obvious best breed of dog. We were living in Fort Meade, Maryland at this time. I was eleven years old. A kid befriended me. He befriended my big brother. They talked about dogs. The kid’s name was Jacob. Jacob told my brother that he had a pet wolf cub. My brother did not react with joy.
“Your friend Jacob is a liar,” my brother told me. This was a little while before I became a mute. “He says he has a wolf. He’s lying.”
My brother had a friend named Brandon. My brother told Brandon that my friend Jacob had indicated he had a pet wolf.
“That kid totally sounds like a liar.”
Jacob came over to our house one weekend day. Jacob didn’t mention his wolf. We played videogames. We were playing my brother’s friend Brandon’s copy of Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Brandon was loaning it to me in hopes that I would trade him two of my other games for it. Brandon came over to hang out with my big brother. My big brother and I shared a bedroom. My little brother had his own room: he was a baby. My big brother, his friend, me, and my friend all hung out in this room together. Jacob didn’t mention his pet wolf for a number of hours. My big brother’s friend Brandon asked Jacob, “Are you the kid who has a pet wolf?”
“Yeah,” Jacob said.
Brandon replied with immediacy: “You don’t have a wolf. You’re a liar. And you’re also a homo.”
Jacob was quiet. My brother and I were quiet. We went on playing videogames.
“How big is your wolf?” Brandon asked Jacob.
“He’s almost not a puppy anymore,” Jacob said.
I only saw Jacob three more times after this. Between the second and the third of the last two times I saw Jacob, our neighbors moved. The neighbors had two identical twin toddler sons with identical angry faces and identical blonde crewcuts. Their black-haired father received a promotion from lieutenant colonel to colonel. They moved across the post to a bigger house. Their replacements were a younger couple with two children. The oldest of the children was in fourth grade. His name was Carl. He’d heard of Final Fantasy. We became friends. It was easy to be friends with Carl: he lived a hundred feet away. He was at our house until after dark every night. Meanwhile I saw Jacob every day at school. Sometimes he mentioned his wolf. School ended. Jacob called one weekday night. He asked if he could come over that Friday afternoon. He ended up staying all night. Me, him, and Carl played Final Fantasy until late. It wasn’t until I saw Carl in the same room that I realized Jacob was shorter than me despite being my age; Carl was as tall as me despite being younger.
The next morning, me and Jacob woke up early to go over to Carl’s house to summon Carl over to play Final Fantasy. We played for a couple of hours. Carl’s mom was talking to my mom in our back yard. Our back yard looked out on the edge of a dark forest. We played in that forest often. A bright yellow sun shone on the grass on the fringe of the forest that day. The tree shook with wind. A pleasant tiny white thunderclap of leaf-noise reverberated. Carl’s mom started screaming. It was a horrible scream. It was a terrifying scream. Jacob and Carl jumped up. They sprinted into the air away from the television and toward the window. I joined them at the window. Carl’s mom’s fingertips were digging into her upper cheeks. My mom’s hands were fists. Carl’s mom’s screams gained in loudness. My dad was mowing the lawn in the front yard. Carl’s dad was mowing the lawn in his front yard. Carl’s dad came running into our back yard. He was shirtless. He was glistening with sweat. He had a crewcut and a tiny thin mustache. He was big and strong with little muscle definition. He stormed into the back yard. He maneuvered around the kiddy pool. He took one look at his wife. My mom pointed at the small tree in our backyard. Carl and Jacob had been staring at the screaming woman. I was more than aware of the forearm-thick indigo glass snake reared up and lashing out at the hummingbirds swarming around the hummingbird feeder I’d put up. I liked hummingbirds. They were such visibly impossible artifacts of life and design. They freaked me out. I liked freaking out about hummingbirds.
Carl’s dad snatched the snake by the skull-proximal part of its bodiless neck an anatomist would declare its neck. His wife screamed. She sounded aflame. My mom stood in silence. Now Jacob and Carl watched Carl’s dad. He squeezed that snake. Its head flopped to the right and to the left. Its mouth cracked open and snapped shut and cracked open and yawned shut. Carl’s dad whipped the snake down into the grass. The snake bounced on the grass. Carl’s dad raised his boot. Carl’s mom shrieked. My mom looked away. Jacob had opened the back door. He was standing in the doorway. “Get back in the house!” she yelled at Jacob. The snake didn’t move. Carl’s dad didn’t stomp on the snake. The snake was dead. Jacob never came over again.
Thinking about that dead snake in the grass, just tonight, I remember the day I first saw an Afghan hound. It might, in fact, be because today I remembered the first time I saw an Afghan hound that, tonight, I remembered Carl’s dad killing that snake. You see, tonight I saw an Afghan hound. I can count the number of Afghan hounds I’ve seen in the real world on one hand. Let’s count them. Let’s start with the first one.
My mother was driving my brother to school. It was his first day of kindergarten. I was three years old. My brother was five years old. My little brother was negative-five years old. I was sitting in the front seat of my mom’s black 1979 Ford Thunderbird. My mom wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Neither my brother nor I were wearing a seatbelt. A year later, on Groundhog Day, 1983, my dad drove that car over black ice. It slid off a bridge. It fell ten feet into a ditch. My brother was home sick. My mom was home tending to my brother’s illness. I was in the front seat. My dad wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. My dad didn’t receive a scratch. I remember the gray of the snow. I remember the shine of the black puddles in the snow. I remember the sunlessness of the white sky. I remember the blackness of the pool of blood on my lap and the floor. We had been on our way to church. Thirty-one years later, I would still have to pay $800 extra for my right eyeglass lens.
On a fall morning of 1982, one year before the car accident, my mom was driving the car. The sunlight was orange. My mom was going to drop my big brother off at school, and then she was going to take me to get a Dietz and Watson hot dog at the supermarket lunch counter. My big brother screamed like someone had slapped him. My mom spun around. She saw my brother fully intact and not blood-wet.
“What is a-wrong with you back there, boy?”
My brother ignored our mom’s question. “Timmy!” my brother said. “Look at the playground!”
He was pointing out the window. I looked where his finger was pointing. I saw a great big cylindrical cage of bars. It was blue. Its paint was shiny. Several tall staircases stepped up to the platform the cage was on. A yellow plastic spiral tube slide taller than any I had ever seen began at the great height of the cage. This park was in the middle of a brown lot with trees on its corners in the middle of Wilmington, Delaware. Kids were swinging on swings. Kids were sliding down multiple short slides.
My brother was yelling. “Look at the tube slide! Look at it! Look at it!”
I wasn’t looking at it.
“Sue!” my brother said. He and I called our mom “Sue” until we were older. “Sue, you have to take us there. You have to take us there.”
My mom didn’t look at the playground. We never saw it again.
We were stopped at a red light.
My brother commanded me: “Look at the tube slide!”
I wasn’t looking at it. I was looking at an animal. It was the biggest animal I’d ever seen. If I had been to a zoo at that point, I’d be saying today that it was the largest animal I’d ever seen outside of a zoo.
It was an Afghan hound. It was white-haired and taller than its old-lady owner’s hip. It stood statue-still. When its head moved, I felt a nausea. I lacked the tools to articulate this then: I saw all of life in the creature. I was terrified of it. The way it moved terrified me. It was outside a car window. It was far away. Its mouth opened. It made no sound I could hear. A wind I could not hear moved its soft hair. Given the depth of a three-year-old’s memory, I feel safe now to say I had been looking at a ghost.
That is the story of the first time I saw an Afghan hound.
I did not see another Afghan hound in its real substance until twenty years after my first encounter.
I moved to Japan after graduating college. I moved to Japan because I saw an advertisement inviting college graduates to teach English in Japan. The salary was decent, and I’d get a free three-year visa. My plan had been to see some bands I’d liked while paying rent by teaching English, then quitting and leaving when I got bored. I made friends. We made music together. I quit my job. I didn’t leave the country. One of my friends had been a former student of my school. She was sixteen years old. Her name was Murasaki. She was a good friend. She was such a good friend that I could neither perceive nor decipher the depth of her suicidal depression. We made music together. It was the most rewarding creative relationship I’d ever experienced. She killed herself one afternoon. Before she killed herself, she put a personal advertisement in a free paper for foreigners. She included my email address in the personal advertisement. I’ll never know what it said, though I did meet many of the women who replied. I wrote three entire books about my meetings and conversations with the women I met because of Murasaki’s personal ad. It was a strange prank which I now, at age thirty-five, no longer wish to pretend I believe was something she did from “beyond the grave”. She was not beyond any grave. She was alive when she wrote that ad. Her imagination was alive. Her imagination is still alive, because I wrote three books (more precisely, three versions of the same book) about what happened because of that ad she wrote. Her imagination will live as long as I live, and as long as that book survives on a cloud or a hard drive somewhere.
Every version of that book includes a mention of an Afghan hound. This Afghan hound appears at the peak of a story about the first time I met a particular woman who called herself “Sally”. The Afghan hound walks into the story at a dark moment and then walks out. When the Afghan hound leaves the story, the story obtains a sense of humor in an instant. I’m not giving myself credit as a writer: I’m giving the universe credit as a gifter.
The first time I typed the story of the day I met Sally for the first time, I was too close to it. I was in terrible pain. I’d lost my best friend. I was scared of the future. My job prospects disappeared from the front of my psyche for what I now possess self-qualification to declare The Rest Of My Life: I gripped Normal Lifestyle’s hand as it stared me in the eyes as it dangled off a cliff. Normal Lifestyle closed its eyes, nodded, let go, and fell to a crashing death before my eyes. In all the quickness, I’d lacked presence to slam my eyes shut to the horror.
Murasaki’s brutal prank introduced me to the weirdest, most broken, saddest, most beautiful people I had yet met in my life. When the nature of Murasaki’s prank occurred to me, I greeted it with courage: here were ten strange, long, sad emails from ten sad women. I knew with immediacy that I would respond to all of them. I would let them change my life. I would never be finished and I would never be free.
I met a girl named Sachiko, and her best friend Jun-chan. They inspired me. I met a dozen other beautiful women who lived in hatred of the status quo. I did not allow my internal monologue to vocalize that these meetings would keep an iron grip on what I now realize is The Rest Of My Life. I let the world happen.
Somewhere in the middle of my adjustment period to the feeling of living in a world without Murasaki, I met Sally and spent a whole day with her. When the day was done, I returned to the nearest computer. I gave her a whole chapter in my book. I was writing a book about something that was still happening. When I look back, I see this as a red flag. I gushed words. I bled that story. I was too close. I can’t blame myself.
By living for a decade and a year beyond this, I have obtained a decade and a half of distance from the story. I sit here, in the dark, with a beautiful brand-new computer and a cacophonous loud keyboard, aware that the story made me, and not the other way around. Murasaki didn’t change my life: the world did.
I realize in the cold of these memories that Murasaki had never meant to die. She had never meant this prank to come from beyond a grave. Her death, in my modern imagination, was as accidental in the frame of her life as any of our lives are in the frame of her universe. She is still my very best friend.
Every facet of the day I met Sally felt like the most powerful metaphor. My soul was hungry for metaphors. I loved Sally for many hours. Murasaki had made me love Sally. Anyone can make us love anyone. This is impossible for me to prove. I am only as much a mathematician as I am an artist as I am a philosopher. Murasaki gave me an opportunity to love many people. Murasaki gave me an opportunity to love myself. I look at this bundle of memories now: the great yarn knot of consideration of methods to separate the questions of what I love and those of if I love myself (enough) occupies seconds of all my hours. I will not die with an answer.
For the first time in my life, I’ll talk about Sally with distance. First, let me tell you that Sally was beautiful. She was beautiful both because everyone is beautiful and because I needed beauty on that day.
Sally was wearing her mother’s coat. The coat was too big. Sally’s mother had died some time before we met. Sally had a nametag on her coat. The nametag said “Sally”. Sally spoke fluent English. Sally had spent half her formative years in Chicago. Sally lived with her dad. Sally was almost thirty years old. Sally had lost her job the day before she responded to “my” ad. Sally had been a secretary at a company. Sally had worn a little office lady suit every day for a year. Sally bought a pack of condoms on the walk to work one day. She opened a condom and laid it across her keyboard when she went to the bathroom. The boss asked her about it. Sally claimed to not know where it had come from. Sally squirted some liquid soap into the condom and left it on her keyboard again. They fired Sally that day.
Sally found the ad Murasaki had placed on my behalf. Sally had been reading an English-language free paper on the train. Sally emailed me. She asked for my phone number. I told her the phone number of the pink payphone in the communal room of the share house where I had been squatting. She asked me about the ad. I told her I didn’t know what was in it. She asked how I couldn’t know what was in my own ad. I told her my friend had written it on my behalf. She asked me why my friend would do that. I said my friend had committed suicide. “That’s creative,” Sally said. I didn’t ask her to clarify if she thought Murasaki was creative or if I was creative for making up the story. She asked if I wanted to know what was in the ad. I said I didn’t.
“I don’t know if that’s proof that you did write the ad or proof that you didn’t,” Sally said.
Sally met me in Asakusa. Asakusa was close to where I lived. Sally lied to me about the sights. I didn’t know when she was lying. I found out later. She told me that the incense pit at the Sensoji temple had been burning continuously since the fifteenth century. She also told me that the Sensoji temple was “basically Disneyland”, because the city had rebuilt it following the firebombings of World War II. It turned out that second part wasn’t a lie.
Sally told me about the guys she’d dated. She said one of them once bought two venti ice coffees at Starbucks because he wanted to drink a lot of coffee. Then he complained that they were too cold.
“He didn’t even offer me any,” she said.
She described a “black hole” in the pit of her stomach, as she wandered a cosmopolitan part of Tokyo with this attractive guy who was carrying a massive ice coffee in each hand.
“I wanted — I just wanted lightning to strike me down, right there.”
I think about Sally often. If I could have become her boyfriend, maybe she and I would still be together. I am serious about this. I don’t think this about any other person I’ve ever met. She was the most significant other I’d ever met.
Sally and I went to a tempura shop. She looked through a classified ad paper. She was looking for work she could do from home.
“That’s the life for me: working from home.”
“Do you like your home that much?” I asked.
“I live with my dad,” she said. “How about this one?” She had found an ad.
The company wanted a haiku in English to put on a can of tea. They offered 20,000 yen to the winning poem. We wrote a couple haikus. They got worse. We wrote them on napkins.
I wrote one. I remember it today:
A man will drink tea
When he is tired and sad
Tea rich in color
“This one’s good,” I said. I slid the napkin across the table over to her. Sally and I were sitting side-by-side in a booth, with our backs against the wall. Sally took the napkin. She read the haiku in silence.
“Fuck you,” Sally said.
Sally balled up the napkin. She put it into her mouth. She put it between her molars. She bit down. She chewed.
“Ugh,” she said. “Ink.” She spit the napkin onto the table. We both looked at it. It was saliva-shiny.
We were silent for a few minutes. I finished my cheap tempura. I sipped some green tea. Sally banged the back of her head three times against the wall behind her. A man at a nearby table shot a glance at us.
“I wish I had a dog,” Sally said. “That way I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore.”
We were silent for maybe ten seconds.
“A — a dog?” I said.
Sally sat upright.
“A job,” Sally said. “I said job.”
“Oh,” I said. I was comfortable that I hadn’t misheard her.
This was close to Valentine’s Day. Murasaki had died on January 26th. Her ad had gone to print the following week. I met Sally the week after that.
Baskin-Robbins was selling a chocolate ice cream with red candy hearts in it. We got a double-scoop bowl. We sat on a bench outside. We took turns with a single little pink spoon. The sun was going down. Sally complained about the lack of hearts.
“They’re really stingy with the hearts. I’ve seen like two so far. You figure for a ‘heartfull’ ice cream variety, they’d have more heart.”
I ate some of the ice cream. It wasn’t bad. My life was terrible at this point. I felt feverish everywhere. My hair was too long. I felt gross and dirty. I felt homeless. I was only sort of homeless. The ice cream did something to my blood sugar. I was swimming in myself. I felt hot and weird. Sally and I were silent.
Sally put a big gulp of ice cream in her mouth. She held it in there. She sucked her cheeks together. She touched her cheeks. The ice cream was maybe too cold for her teeth.
A dandy man walked by with an Afghan hound. The dog was the size of a teenage lion. (I’ve used that expression in every retelling of this story: “the size of a teenage lion”.) Its hair was long, fancy, straight, and shiny. The length of the hair lent its face a terrific pointiness. The dog mortified me. This was the second time in my life I had ever seen an Afghan hound. The last time, it had been hundreds of feet away. Now I was seeing the thing much closer. Its movements were beastly and fantastical. It goose-stepped its legs out and tip-toed its feet onto the sidewalk. Its body moved too much. It rumbled like ocean waves. Its hair stirred and quaked with its sharp movements. I felt a great terror about my human body and the human bodies of others. I felt sympathy for the dog, and also sympathy for meteorites and asteroids.
In the real world outside my mind, I opened my mouth and spoke.
“Check that out,” I said. Sally looked at the Afghan hound. “That dog’s a walking ATM.”
Sally was silent for a moment. The joke sunk in with sniper-bullet velocity. Her body shook with laughter. Her mouth popped open. The mouthful of ice cream jumped out. The ice cream landed on the sidewalk. A little red heart jumped up and touched my eyeball.
Sally and I had sex a few weeks later. The day leading up to that sex had been the worst day of my life. That day had been the worst day of my life the way that a glass of tap water can be the best beverage you’ve ever tasted. Sally and I met two more times. We almost had sex the second time. She stopped the sex. We laid in the dark. This was in her childhood bedroom. She’d closed the typhoon shutter. He dad was downstairs washing dishes. Sally talked about how she wanted to kill herself. She cried. I hugged her. I never saw her again.
That’s the story of the second time I ever saw an Afghan hound.
I saw an Afghan hound standing with its owner outside the west exit of Shinjuku Station. It was on a leash. The man holding the leash was staring at his phone. He held a cigarette between the index and forefingers of the hand he was using to hold the leash. The dog stood at attention. I saw it from maybe twenty feet away. I was in a hurry. I barely noticed the Afghan hound until it was almost a moment too late. I was rushing to the station to meet my ex-girlfriend’s schizophrenic little sister. Somehow my ex-girlfriend had set me up on a date with her sister. That date was one of the worst days of my life. I did not know, as I dashed past that Afghan hound, that I was about to feel guilty and horrible for ten hours. I did not know that the day would be one of the worst days of my life, the way (yes) a glass of tap water can be one of the best beverages you’ve ever tasted. All I knew was that my ex-girlfriend’s sister had gotten on an earlier train than she’d expected to get on. She also exited the West Exit, when we’d agreed on the East Exit. She had texted a dozen times. She’d said, “I’m having a panic attack.” Her big sister — my ex-girlfriend — called me twice. “Hurry up and get over there,” she said. “She can’t be too long in public around people she doesn’t know.”
This was on Valentine’s Day, 2007.
I rushed past the Afghan hound. It yawned. I imagined the yawn contained a sound of sub-audible frequency. I can still hear-feel that yawn today.
That is the story of the third time I ever saw an Afghan hound.
In June of 2009, I saw the fourth Afghan hound I’ve ever seen in my life. This was the most important Afghan hound I’ve ever seen. It is, in fact, the central Afghan hound behind my talking about Afghan hounds today.
I’ll talk about it after I mention the fifth and sixth Afghan hounds (and how they were the same Afghan hound).
I was walking from my car to the entrance of the Target store in Emeryville, California. I like to park far away. I am thirty-five years old. Parking far away is the way I protest toward my guilt at owning a car when the rest of the world is such a wasteland of inconvenience.
From the distance of half a parking lot, I saw a woman in a pink sweatsuit walking an Afghan hound out of and away from the exit of the Target store. I stopped in place. I watched the animal undulate and over-animate. It was such a big, weird creature. It still amazed me.
That’s the story of the fifth Afghan hound I ever saw in my life.
I was at Target again. I had again parked far away. It was almost closing time. The sky was a dark black-blue.
From the distance of an entire parking lot, I saw a woman in a pink sweatsuit walking out of and away from the exit of the Target store. She was walking an Afghan hound. My throat seized. I felt a tiny choke.
For the first time in my life, I’d seen the same Afghan hound twice.
Every once in a while, something comes into your life with no intention of leaving. This is love; this is history. I know I will see this Afghan hound again. I’m not going to freak out about it or scream when that happens. I’m ready enough for when that happens.
That was the story of the sixth time I ever saw an Afghan hound, and the first time I saw a particular specific Afghan hound for the more-than-first time.
Now I will tell you about the Afghan hound of 2009.
First, however, I have to tell you about two people. You might believe these two are the same person. I can’t tell you if they are the same person. I can’t put my finger on anything resembling a mathematical proof, though I’m sure if I made a comment in either direction about whether or not these two people were the same person, you’d read my final story the wrong way.
One of them was afraid of birds. One of them was afraid of dogs.
One of my longest and best friends was afraid of dogs. She knew her fear was irrational.
I found out about her fear the third time I met her. The first two times, we’d met in a cafe and then in a diner. The third time, we took a long walk.
We both lived in the same area of Tokyo.
A woman with a little tiny Pomeranian dog in her Louis-Vuitton purse crossed by us on the sidewalk.
“Hey, that’s a cool little baby dog there,” I said, in English.
“Where?” my friend asked. She looked quickly around.
I pointed over my shoulder.
“That lady who just passed us,” I said.
My friend looked over her shoulder. I looked over my shoulder alongside her. The dog was looking back at us. It let out a little yip.
My friend pressed her fingertips to her sternum. She stopped in place. She touched the fingertips of her left hand to her face. She breathed into the palm of her hand.
“That — that little bastard!”
She was out of breath.
“What — what’s wrong?”
“I — I don’t like dogs.”
“You don’t like dogs.”
“I’m — I’m scared of them, okay?” She threw her hands in the air. She spoke loud Japanese: “I’m terrified of dogs — even tiny ones!”
“Okay,” I said.
“If someone has a problem with that, go ahead and arrest me!”
Years later, we crossed paths with a Scottish terrier. She gasped a throaty, whistling gasp. She jumped to the side. Her back flopped against the wall of a noodle shop.
A year later, a friend was explaining to me that his parents had to put the family dog to sleep.
“Aw,” my friend said. “Were you close to the dog?”
“Not particularly. It was just some dumb mutt,” my friend said. “Still, my family loved him. It’s a shame.”
My friend let out a little chuckle. “Dumb mutt, huh? Well, dogs are overrated, I always say!”
My friend and I were walking in Shibuya of a smoky-cloudy sunrise. We passed some eagle-sized crows tearing apart garbage bags in the street. Shibuya doesn’t have alleys for dumpsters. My friend grabbed my arm. She squeezed my arm.
“What’s the deal?”
“Those things — those things have so many diseases.”
Later, a similar occurrence happened regarding some seagulls.
“Do you know how many diseases those things have in them?” my friend asked.
“Probably a lot,” I said.
“More like probably a million!” she said.
“Maybe a million,” I said.
“Did you know a seagull stole my lunch one day?”
“Oh. Oh, really?”
“I was eating lunch at a picnic,” she said. “I was sitting on a blanket.”
“How old were you?”
“What? What does it matter?”
“I don’t know if it matters. I just want to know how old you were.”
“Let your imagination of me be as old or as young as you would like.”
“I don’t think my imagination works that way.”
“Well, listen to me: a seagull took my sandwich.”
“Oh wow. Really!”
“It did! It swooped down. It grabbed my sandwich with its beak.”
She stopped in place. She stood in front of me. She held her hands up beside her face. She pursed up her lips. She beat her hands like wings.
“It hovered right in front of me!” she said, using the Japanese-English loan word “Harrier”.
“It harriered in front of me with my sandwich in its mouth. Then it rotated in the air and flew off!”
“Did you cry?”
“I’m not going to tell you if I cried.”
She told the story again on another day, much later. I wondered if the harrier part was true. Today, I think her imagination created the harrier part. I’ve heard the story so many times that I’m sure she was in the middle of high school when this happened.
Today, I’ve no doubt in my mind that the seagull was real. Those first two times I heard her tell the story — first to me alone, and then to some of my friends — I was not sure if it was true.
One other day, later, she told me about her fear of birds.
“Have you ever looked at their skeletons?”
“I took a zoology class in high school,” I said.
“I mean, have you ever really looked at their skeletons or their wings up-close?”
“Like, how do you mean?”
“Like, have you ever walked past a bird dead on the sidewalk with its wing splayed out, and looked at the way its feathers connect to its wing?”
“I can’t say I have.”
“It’s like a machine,” she said. “It’s sick. It’s unnatural. It’s disgusting. It terrifies me.”
I gave her a little hug.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “I’m afraid of birds. I always have been.”
“Is this because of the seagull that stole your sandwich?”
“Are you Sigmund Freud, all of a sudden?”
“I mean, it’s an easy connection.”
“It isn’t any kind of connection,” she said.
We were walking again.
“It isn’t any kind of connection,” she repeated. “If I have to guess, I’d say I was afraid of birds before the seagull stole my sandwich. It was the existing fear that deepened the terror of the seagull stealing my sandwich!”
To this day, her use of “If I have to guess” haunts me. Through this I know with acuity that by living our lives we build jungles of our minds.
I was friends with a fifty-year-old virgin. She is beautiful the way that a glass of tap water can be the most delicious beverage you’ve ever tasted. She is always clean. She dresses well. She dresses like a lesbian. She wears T-shirts and jeans. She has a skinny, solid body. She has biceps. For many years, I often thought about her muscles. I’d never touched them. I wanted to touch them. You can see many veins on the backs of her hands. She has a boyish face and short hair.
She runs a business. She has a lot of money. She is tough and loud. She laughs a lot. She has a mannish laugh. I met her in Tokyo. We got together and ate dinner every couple months. We weren’t best friends. We texted and emailed a lot. Since I moved back to the United States, I’ve emailed her once every few weeks. She’s not on Facebook.
For many years, I had no inkling that she was a virgin. I’ll admit that I always wanted to have sex with her. She had a face that made me want to touch her body. She had an attitude and an intelligence that made me stare at her face when she talked. The skin on her face and neck looked so soft that I sometimes on accident conversed with myself, in her presence, about the skin of her thighs. We met so infrequently, and she drank so much wine every time we met, that I was sure she was trying to use me to cheat on her hidden husband or boyfriend, and that every time she and I met, she drank so much wine that she grew impatient with my indecision and distance. Then, months later, I imagined, she accumulated the frustration to try again.
We’d known each other for many years when she mentioned that she was a virgin. She gripped a wineglass stem with her index and middle fingers and thumb. She twirled the wineglass. She’d asked me how my life was going. I mentioned that my project at work was stalling because of miscommunication ping-pong between my company and the foreign investors.
“Working there is like being constipated,” I said.
“Well, knowing you, at least you’re probably still getting laid a lot,” she said.
“Nah, I gave that up years ago,” I said.
“Hah,” she said. “Me, too.”
She drank her glass of wine.
“You know,” she said, “I’ll be fifty in two weeks.”
“Wow,” I said. “Wow — you know. I never knew how old you were until just now.” I avoided saying that I never knew her birthday, either.
“Weren’t you curious?”
I shrugged. “I wasn’t curious enough to ask.”
“How old did you think I was?”
“You know, to be honest, I never felt like you were any age at all.”
“That’s nice and cute,” she said. “Though really, if you had to guess, how old would you say I am right now?”
“Hmm,” I said. “I’d say, maybe forty-nine?”
“Oh, come on,” she said. “Give me a serious answer.”
“You look over thirty,” I said.
“I’d say you look thirty-one.”
“Well, thanks,” she said. “Thirty-one. Like the ice cream shop.”
They call Baskin-Robbins “Thirty-One Ice Cream” in Japan.
“Do you know how old I am?” I said.
“Twenty-four,” she said. The waiter came by. She asked for another glass of wine.
“I’ll be thirty in two weeks,” I said.
“Oh, heck, get out of here. Wow. We’re each on the precipice of a new decade.”
“That’s cool,” I said.
Here we let a silence pass. During this silence, I didn’t point out that she was a nearing-fifty woman who was frequently drinking much wine in fancy places in the presence of a man she thought was less than half her age.
“When is your birthday?”
“June seventh,” she said.
“Hey, neat,” I said. “Mine is June seventh, too.”
“What a great coincidence!” she said.
It occurred to me, again, that I wanted to have sex with her. This recollection sauntered into every conversation I ever had with her at some weird moment.
“Yeah, now that we know we share a birthday, I guess we have to have sex,” I said.
The waiter brought her glass of wine.
“We should have a party,” she said. “Let’s have a little dinner party to celebrate our new decades.”
“Sure,” I said. “Hey, this would be the first time in my recollection that we meet twice in the span of less than three months.”
“Wow,” she said. “It’ll almost be like we’re dating.”
I pretended to be shocked: “What! You mean we haven’t been dating all this time?”
“Well, you never know, with me,” she said. She took a sip of her wine. I watched her fingers on the glass.
I stared at her fingers as she talked.
“You know, I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
“Oh yeah? You mean, like, ‘Never’ never? Like, literally never?”
“Literally never,” she said.
“Wow. What’s the deal with that? Were you just always busy with work, or . . . or what?”
“Something like that,” she said. She sipped her wine.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve never had sex. I’ve never had sex even once. Like, literally never.”
“Wow,” I said. “Wow. Like, literally never?”
“Yep,” she said. “I’ve literally never had sex.”
“Oh, wow. Is there — is there . . .” I lowered my voice. “Is there a particular reason you’ve never had sex?”
She shrugged. “There’s something wrong with every man I meet. They’re all so flaky, or stupid, or weird, or gross, or old.”
I looked her in the eye.
I wanted to say, “Well, if you ever feel like having sex with me, let me know: I’ll try not to be gross about it.” Then I realized that saying that would be gross by my own definition. It was a lose-lose.
Then I realized that I no longer wanted to have sex with her. My desire had evaporated.
She dragged my horniness back into the room when she said, “You know, all these years, I figured you’re the kind of guy I’d have sex with. You’re not exactly not flaky, or not weird, or not gross, though hey! Everyone is a little flaky, or weird, or gross. I always thought, hey, that guy is a guy I could use for one night, if I ever wanted to. I know you’d be up for it.”
I blushed. She had me figured out all along.
“Well, yeah, hey, that’s me. You got me.”
“Do you only hang out with me because you want to have sex with me?”
“What? What — I don’t know. It’s hard to say why I’m hanging out with you.”
“The hope for sex is definitely part of it, though, right? You find me sexy. You’re always looking at me. I’m not stupid.”
“Yeah, I’m always looking at you. Yes, you’re sexy. You’re so sexy I’m actually scared of you. You have great skin.”
“Well, thanks,” she said.
She finished her wine.
“What do you like about my skin?”
“It looks soft,” I said. “I want to touch your face. Uh — uh, so do you, like, not ever feel the urge to have sex?”
She leaned across the table. She spoke in a husky whisper.
“I get horny like anybody else,” she said. “I masturbate all the time. I own multiple vibrators. I watch pornography.”
“You just have no interest in, like, the bureaucracy of sex, then?”
She sat back. She lifted her wineglass.
“I have no time for it.” She looked at her wine. “Plus, I mean, who cares?”
“It’s fun once you start doing it,” I said. “Not that I’m trying to convince you.”
“You’ve convinced me plenty by not saying anything,” she said. “Wow. I don’t know why: I feel like I can talk to you about this stuff! I feel like you’ve been around. You make me feel safe. What a cliche, huh? I feel like, the only way you could hurt me is a way I am already ready to not be hurt. I don’t even know what I’m saying.”
“Let’s go to a hotel right now,” I said.
“It’s my period,” she said. “Give me a week, at least.”
We chuckled again. I didn’t realize she was serious.
Two weeks later, on our birthdays, she couldn’t make our date. We met a week later at an Indian curry shop behind Ikebukuro Station. She was wearing a big turtleneck sweater and a pair of straight-legged jeans.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m fifty years old, now.”
“Hi; I’m thirty.”
“Sorry I missed our birthday party,” she said.
“Well, we can always have it today,” I said.
She showed me an impish smile.
We ate. We walked after we ate.
“So, are we going to a hotel or not?” she asked.
We went to a hotel. She noticed condoms on the nightstand.
“Ah, I didn’t know they had condoms here. I brought some from home.”
She opened her chubby Gucci purse. She pulled out two boxes of condoms. One was Japanese. The other was imported American Trojan Magnums.
“Whoa — you brought the heavy artillery.”
“I bought them from separate shops,” she said. “I figured, otherwise, it’d look like I was on my way to an orgy.”
“Why didn’t you want to look like you were on your way to an orgy?”
She shrugged. “I figure I’m not that kind of lady. I got a really classic look from the old guy who rang me up at the Don Quijote where I bought those big ones.”
“I can only imagine.”
“I suppose the stereotype is that any girl buying those sorts of condoms is boning a foreigner.”
“Yeah — it looks like you bought into that stereotype as well.”
“Yeah. Wow, I guess I did. I mean, I haven’t seen your penis, so what do I know?”
She took her jeans off. She was wearing tights under the jeans.
“Isn’t it hot in all that?” I asked.
“It slims my legs,” she said. “I’m getting old. I’m twice the age my mother was when I was born.”
“Ah,” I said. I felt sad. I remembered that she lived with her mom. Her dad had been twice her mom’s age. Her dad was dead of stomach cancer.
I noticed my hands were on my hips. My arms were akimbo. I let my arms fall to my side.
“Now, hey,” she said. “Don’t touch me just yet. Don’t touch me yet, okay?”
I felt my face turn red.
“Okay,” I said. I folded my arms. I turned halfway around.
I looked back at her. She had her elbows on her knees. She was resting her chin in her palms. She was deep in thought.
“Just let me collect my thoughts here.”
She slid her tights off. Her smooth, white thighs popped to life. I needed to touch them. I remained patient. She sat on the edge of the bed in her red panties and black turtleneck and bobbed hair.
She looked up. Her eyes stabbed mine.
“My boobs aren’t very big,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
“I mean, you’ve probably looked at them a lot by now. I’m just letting you know that I wear a big puffy bra.” She cupped her hands in front of her turtleneck.
“I won’t mind,” I said.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said.
She took a shower. I sat on the bed.
She came out of the shower. Her hair wasn’t wet. She was wearing the turtleneck and her panties, again. I entertained the notion of her showering with her turtleneck on.
She sat next to me. She folded her hands. She put her hands atop her knee.
“Wow,” she said. “I really don’t know how to do this.”
“How to do what?”
“I figured you were just going to come after me. I thought I’d come out of the shower and you’d be sitting here naked.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“That would be presumptuous.”
“We’re in a hotel, after all,” she said. She was right.
She blew air out of her lips.
I put my hand on her thigh. It was beautiful to the touch. I can’t employ enough hyperbole. Her skin was finer than silk.
Without meaning anything by it, I had been rubbing my hand up and down a small section of her thigh.
“I drink a lot of water and green tea, and I moisturize,” she said. “I’m proud of my skin. I can tell if any of my body chemistry is off just by touching right here.” She laid her index fingertip atop the skin under her right eye.
“I’m in good shape right now,” she said.
I put my arm around her shoulders.
I put my forehead on her shoulder. Her turtleneck was fine cashmere.
She sighed. “This is weird,” she said.
I spoke into her cashmere: “What’s weird?”
“This whole thing. I’m so horny. I am so fucking horny. And you’re here, and we’re going to have sex. It’s just weird.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Usually I’d be asleep by now,” she muttered.
She was quiet. I was quiet. She blew air out of her little thin lips.
“God, I’m so old,” she said.
“Me, too,” I said.
“You’re not as old as me,” she said.
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m a lot older.”
“Maybe you’re too old for me,” she said.
I sighed. I felt a sadness.
“Just — just fuck me however you want, okay? I can take whatever. I’ve — I’ve, like, broken myself in plenty.”
I sighed. I felt a sadness.
I let my left hand down to her waist. I pulled the turtleneck up and off. She wasn’t wearing her bra underneath. She had a flat chest, visible pectoral muscles, and big black nipples. I pressed my right hand into the middle of her upper back. I laid my left hand on her hip. I pushed her down onto her back. I kissed her on the lips. Her lips didn’t move. I kissed her on the neck.
“A man groped me on the train a couple months ago,” she said.
“A man groped me on the train a couple months ago,” she said. “Also, a man groped me on the train when I was in middle school.”
I kissed her on the mouth. She put her tongue in my mouth. I did everything to her that I wanted to do. I knew she wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do. She submitted to my whims. She smiled many times. I gave her an orgasm.
I was opening a condom.
“Just put it in,” she said. “Don’t use a condom. Just put it in.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Just put it in.”
We had sex without a condom. It lasted a long time. She smiled a lot. I smiled at her. It was a lovely period of time. She used her fingers to give herself another orgasm.
“Are you going to finish soon?” she asked.
“I — I’ll finish whenever you want me to.”
“Finish whenever you want to,” she said.
I lost track of time. I pulled out and went down on her. She orgasmed again.
“Okay, okay, okay,” she said, as the orgasm came and went.
She looked me in the eye. Her eyes were wide.
“Just come inside me,” she said. “Put it in and do it. Just put it in and come inside me. Just put it in and do it. Put it in. Do it. Just put it in. Just do it. Yeah. Do it. You’re doing it. Come on. I want you to do it. I want it.”
I did as she asked.
We slept a few hours. She woke me up. The room was dark. The lights were off. A black light behind the headboard was on. Fluorescent yellow stars glowed on the ceiling. We had sex again. I was so tired. She was so tired. We were slow. We sweated all over each other. The air-conditioner in the windowless hotel room had turned off while we were asleep. The room was a sauna with our stinking sweat. We had slow, hours-long sex. We screamed into each other’s mouths. I could tell she loved what was happening. I promised myself I wouldn’t stop doing what she loved that I was doing.
I was sweating and breathing buckets of water and air all over her. We were slipping all over one another’s bodies. She moaned like a broken animal. She orgasmed with a minutes-long slowness.
“Finish me,” I said. “Get on top of me. I need you to do it,” I said. “I can’t do it myself. I’m all out of energy. I need you to do it.”
She got on top of me. She grinded and jumped and screamed. She smiled at me and smoothed my sweat-wet hair away from my forehead as I ejaculated.
She laid next to me. She put her hand around my head. She pulled my head down to her chest.
“That was beautiful,” she said. “You’re beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful,” I said. I meant it.
We were asleep side-by-side later.
I woke up. I saw she was awake. She was lying on her back. She was looking at the stars on the ceiling. She had a bed sheet tucked under her armpits, covering her chest. We were silent.
“That was nice,” she said. “Just, that whole thing was very nice. Thank you.”
“Hey, uh — hey, you’re welcome.”
“It was really nice,” she said. “That was a really good time. That was a great time. I’m glad we did that.”
“Yeah,” I said. I kissed her on the lips. “I’m glad we did it, too.”
I laid on my back. I looked over at her. She was grinning. She rolled over onto her side. She propped her elbow on the mattress. She put her hand against her face. She reached her other arm out. She pushed hair away from my eyes.
“You’re pretty,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
She kissed me on the forehead.
She tapped me on the shoulder. I woke up. She was dressed in a pantsuit. She had a shopping bag in her hand.
“Look,” she said. “I have a work engagement early this morning. This was great — this was really great. I bet you have work too. Uh, I just wanted to say, I have to get out of here. The checkout time is nine in the morning, so if you want to stick around a bit, you should set an alarm for maybe eight-thirty.”
“What time is it now?” I took my phone from the nightstand. It was five in the morning.
“I’ve got to go. Okay? I’ve got to go. I’ll call you.”
She called me three months later. We met again. We ate dinner. We never had sex again. We’re still friends.
“I’ll see you,” I said.
She leaned over. She kissed my forehead. She pushed the hair away from my eyes.
“You’re so pretty,” she said. She smiled. “Wow, you’re so pretty. I’m so lucky.”
I set an alarm for eight-thirty. I fell asleep. I dreamt I was deaf and blind and attempting suicide. In my dream, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what I was. I realize today that in that dream I was an Afghan hound. I felt my borders expand. I ran against wall after wall in darkness. I was weak. I didn’t have the energy to sprint at a high enough speed to break myself.
I felt my borders expand. I was as big as the universe. I could hear or see nothing. I sensed Jacob shouting into the woods. “Come back!” he shouted. “Come back!”
I sensed Murasaki.
I woke up at eight-twenty. I showered. When I got out of the shower, my alarm was ringing. I turned it off. I threw my phone into my soccer bag. I saw the two boxes of condoms on the nightstand. I threw them both into my soccer bag. I grabbed the key. I went downstairs. I slid the key under the secure slot in the opaque front desk window. I stepped out into the warmth of a Tokyo summer morning. It was humid like a fever. All the world that morning was an alley without dumpsters.
Someone had parked a red Ferrari sideways in the middle of the sidewalk-wide backstreet. The Ferrari was parked in front of a dirty little hotel. A cinder block was holding the hotel’s front door wide open. A gentle carpet of water flowed down out of the dark entrance of the hotel. Someone was spray-washing the floors inside. Two crows were tearing apart a garbage bag between the hotel entrance and the Ferrari. A tiny garbage truck turned around the nearby corner. An orange light spun on its roof. It beeped as it turned. The Ferrari was blocking the garbage truck’s passage. The crows continued to snap at the garbage bag. The garbage truck stopped. It went into reverse. It backed up a few feet. It began clunking back and forth between forward and reverse in a clumsy multi-point turn. The street was so narrow. The truck driver’s palpable frustration was peeling paint off my brain.
An Afghan hound emerged from the opened front door of the small dirty hotel. It took dainty exaggerated goosey steps along the wet ground. It had short, brushy hair on its legs, and a pointed beak of a face. It dragged a red leash behind it as it pranced toward the crows. The crows sprinted away from the garbage bags. The Afghan hound stopped next to the Ferrari. It looked at me. It looked around. It turned in place. I imagine its eyes were on the other end of its leash. It walked toward the other end of its leash. It stopped in the doorway of the hotel. It looked back over its shoulder at me. It looked back around, its shoulders and back and feet all moving separately. It impressed me that all of biology is a weird marionette. The Afghan hound stepped into the shadow of the door. It turned again. It looked toward something I could not see. It walked beyond darkness toward something I could not see. It was gone. The end of the red leash remained. The end of the leash zipped into the darkness. I was alone in my own darkness. A feeling slid through me like a train through a station. I felt: love, you were following me (all this time). Beauty, you were following me (all this time). History, you were following me (all this time). Nature, you surprised me (again).
Today, I think — I know — that at some point before that moment, I had left my life somewhere only nature can touch it.
As happens often upon these situations, I let decades catch up with each other. I re-weighed the significances of my catalog of coincidences. I decided again to exist. I took a breath. I began the sequence of sequences of new minutes and years that continues to continue today.