-The Unbound Realm: Vol.1, Chapter 2

Mom hails from Korean immigrants.  Dad is half-Korean, half-Anglo.  (Even though I have mixed-race heritage, most people think I’m pure Korean.)  Mom divorced before I turned eight.  Shortly after my tenth birthday, she re-married to a coder named Gary.  Generic Anglo all the way.

If I sound kinda blah, I apologize.  Life was supposed to be a giant adventure.  And then, slowly but surely, it revealed itself to be a confusing slog, going nowhere and serving no one.  Am I lucky I realized this early on, when I’m only nineteen?  I’m not sure.  A lot of my peers seem genuinely psyched about graduating college and getting a job.

I couldn’t care less.

Still, I suppose I should be grateful for my parents’ help.  They pay for tuition, my one-bed, and food for my dog:  Gribbles.  Mom’s Americanized, but some old-school Korean came to the fore when I told her I wanted an elderly rescue.  She wanted a doodle or a Frenchie—something fashionable.  At the time, I couldn’t have said why I insisted on Gribbles, but looking back on it, I recognize it as the same urge that made me sign the contract.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

Gribbles isn’t fashionable, not by any stretch of the imagination.  His right eye is blind and milky, his left ear is ragged and torn.  I think he’s a ridgeback-daschund mix.  He’s got a ridgeback’s back-ridge, but none of the athleticism.  His body is wide and squat—not as waddly as a pure-bred daschund, but not as graceful as a true ridgeback.

He’s way too old to run or sprint.  He likes to snooze on my lap (sometimes my nose or my mouth, depending on how I’m laying down), and he’s hopelessly addicted to food and toys.  (No surprise there, right?)  When he scarfs down kibble, it sounds like he’s saying gribble gribble gribble, hence his name.

Speak of the devil.  As I open the door to my one-bed palace, Gribbles waddles up, tail wagging.

“Hey buddy.”  I hunker down and scratch his sides.  “Miss me?”

His wagging intensifies—enough to lift his back paws up off the floor.  They thump the ground in alternating time.

“Yeah.”  I scratch his ears, smiling at his enthusiasm.  “Yeah, you did.”

Gribbles is the best thing that ever happened to me.  Sure, I have family and friends, but my dog loves me unconditionally.  He doesn’t care if I petted or scolded him—he loves me regardless.  And to experience unconditional love in a conditional world…well, it gives me hope for something greater.  Something greater than money and likes and Twitter verification badges.

“Want a treat?”  As I walk to the kitchen, he circles in place with manic excitement.  “Easy, nerd.  Same menu, different day.”

I open a jar and grab some Nommie McGobberYoms.  They’re cookies made at my neighborhood pet store:  ZigZag Zoomies.  (if you’re unfamiliar with all things Dog, “zoomies” is slang for Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or when a dog sprints back and forth for no apparent reason).  ZigZag’s products rock every label in the history of food:  free trade, organic, wild caught…I’m a true San Franciscan, and it shows in my groceries.

None of that matters—not to me, anyway.  Back in middle school, I experienced a brief stretch of righteous indignation where I raved and ranted about names and titles.  But as the world turned and the years passed, I cared increasingly less for specific labels, and even less for the tribes they spawned.  Tribes seem to make everything worse—join up with one so you can fight with another.

During the virus, I fostered the hope that people would stop bickering and come together (they did, for a little bit) but people are people—soon enough, we grew back into our collective indifference.

I guess I’m a symptom of it.  I’m totally uninterested in stupid square hats and fancy diplomas.  I don’t get excited about paid time off or a sweet corner office.  Those all seem like cheap facades.  Excuses to rejoice in false validation.  Gribbles is the only one I know who seems truly happy—he honestly enjoys his fur-bound life.

Sometimes I wonder—is he wise or ignorant?  If I could limit my perception to his little doggy brain, would I choose to do so, if it meant being happy?

I sit on the couch and watch him eat.  Once he’s done, he runs back over and paws my knee, brimming with please-gimme-eatos urgency (eatos is dog-speak for food, in my mind).

Back to the kitchen.  This time, I pull out a rawhide.  He whines loudly in anticipation.

“Tell me how you really feel,” I reply.

I hand it over.  He heads for the balcony and pokes through the pet-gate attachment, fitted to the rails of the sliding glass door.  (That’s how I know he really loves his treat—if he goes outside to eat it by himself.)

But just as he slips through the square plastic drape, I freeze in place.

The open pet-gate, instead of displaying foggy San Francisco, flashes with a man’s blindfolded face—thin, tight-lipped, and grim.  Glowing runes shine from his blindfold.

The view pans down and I see a back-curving knife in his black-gloved hand.  It slips out of view, revealing a yawning backdrop:  a dark fortress atop a craggy mesa, surrounded by chasms and storm-torn skies.

And then it’s gone.

———

I run to the pet-gate, my eyes wide with disbelief.  This little square of plastic is a portal into an alien world.  I can’t believe that—

Wait.  I close my eyes, hands out as if to say hold on, calm down. 

It wasn’t real. 

Then:  You’re not well.  See a doctor.

I’m struck by dread as I consider my fate.  Pitying looks.  Prescription meds.  Endless tests.

Judgment.

No.  I clench my jaw, deciding the issue.  I’m not crazy. 

I push the sliding glass door a few inches left, poking my head through to the outside balcony.  Gribbles—splayed on his belly, chewing his rawhide with singular tenacity—growls lightly and meets my gaze:  Leeme ’lone.  Dis bone is MINE.

Relief surges through me.  No chasms, knives, or blindfolded Night Elves.  The world is normal and sane, as it should be.  Gribbles on the balcony, eating his treat.  People down below, doing whatever.

The world is normal and sane.

As it should be.