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  • T. V. Pinkard

"There's a Little Bit of Hell in Everyone"

Henrik, a 16 year old Norwegian Forest Cat, sitting proudly on the top ridge of a couch.

Feb. 4, 2021

For a year, I have been like so many: trapped in a small place, be that a room in a house or a room in my head. I think I learned very early on how to keep myself busy. I was the child who could sit in her bedroom for hours with nothing but a few stuffed animals and a universe of imagination at her disposal. Being alone is seldom a fright to me, and being lonely seldom an issue. My rooms were my safe zones, without anyone to watch over my shoulder, to judge where I was at. In my room, I could dream up worlds. I could cry. I could unwrap the bandages and look at the vulnerabilities that I had worked so hard to hide everywhere else.

And, as it happened, I was rarely alone. I had a companion who perched on the arm of my couch, at the foot of my bed, all white fluff and serenity. While I was never a witch, except for the days I played make-believe, he was my familiar. So on those nights when I let the chaos out of my head, and it filled up the room, and I felt that I would drown, he offered the simple certainty that there was ground beneath my feet. The comfort of proximity; of togetherness. Through the turbulence of my teenage years, the turbulence of college, and my beginnings as a liberated adult in the world, Henrik saw it all. Sixteen years is a long time to spend with anyone, on two legs or four, and after so many years you begin to understand one another without the need for words.

I haven’t talked much about losing him. Just like our symbiotic bond, some things transcend the sticky technicalities of letters and syntax, and the pain was, the pain is still, too difficult to swallow. Because he was my boy, and he was always there. So as his health failed, so was I. And when he let me know it was time, I stayed with him, I wrapped him in my arms, and I felt the last tug of his paws around me. His sinking weight, gentle as a sigh.

I don’t think I felt the isolation of quarantine until then. I didn’t feel alone until then. My safe rooms had a hole, like a tear in the universe, and all the dark matter poured in. I drove myself into my manuscript to a desperate degree; it was my lifeline and the only escape I had from the constant ache. There were flashes of him everywhere. Then the only safe room left was my mind. Like the depths of space, there is beauty within and endless possibility, but it is unsustainable for life. And I realized I was starting to forget how to live outside my head. Quarantine did nothing to help that.

It is now February. A new year has turned, providing an arbitrary close to what we humans called “2020,” but it was closure nonetheless. I have a great deal more that I have to process and grieve about the last six months, but I am finding a way to break out of my head. Sometimes such things can be done slowly and with nurturing patience. Sometimes you need a hammer.

So I found a hammer.

In the fall of 2020, shortly before we lost Henrik, I had been searching for a Samoyed pup. I chose the breed for a long list of practical reasons and for the plain (and unapologetic) reason that it has been a dream of mine for a decade. But the pandemic made the search for any specific breed incredibly difficult, and Samoyeds are not common when the world isn’t being plagued. Six months of reaching out to breeders, of getting few responses, six months of let downs. I was ready to give up and concede that it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

On Friday I found my girl. I reached out, dubious that she would still be available, but ready to made a connection to the breeder regardless. Friday night I sent in a deposit. Saturday we left Denver and drove to Phoenix, Arizona. It is now Thursday, six days and 1600 miles later, and I am home with a new baby. And I realized (after a few sleepless nights) that I had not touched my manuscript in almost a week.

There are heaps of advice from established writers that the most important thing you can do to better your craft is to write every single day. But like all advice, there is moderation to be had, and I'd lost sight of it. For me to step away from my book for any length of time is unheard of, even on those token days that I "take a break," and spend every moment "not working" obsessing about work. So while road trips and puppyhood is stressful, and I have yet to physically recover from 24 hours of driving, I have taken a hammer to the room in my head and made a door.

It’s going to take time before I learn this new normal and fall into a rhythm with my eyes constantly shifting between a screen and a mischievous baby polar bear, but for the first time in a long time, I am remembering the feeling of sunlight.

Rylan, the 16 week old samoyed puppy, curled up in her bed, asleep.
Baby Rylan

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