-The Unbound Realm: Vol.1, Chapter 2

Mom hails from Korean immigrants, Dad comes from generic Anglo.  A couple generations ago, mixed-race heritage would have made me exotic, but in modern-day San Francisco, no one bats an eye.

Shortly after my tenth birthday, Mom re-married to a coder named Gary.  Gary, like my biological dad, is generic Anglo.

If I sound kinda blah, I apologize.  I’m kinda blah about everything, I guess.  I’m actually grateful for both my parents—they’re well-off, and don’t mind helping me out with the bills.  They pay for my one-bed, give me a stipend, and buy 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 Frenchie, something people would consider fashionable.  At the time, I couldn’t have said why I insisted on Gribbles, but looking back, I recognize it as the same urge that made me sign the contract.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

Gribbles isn’t fashionable, not by any stretch.  His right eye is blind and milky, his left ear is ragged and torn.  If I had to guess, I’d say 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 daschund, but not as graceful as a true ridgeback.

He’s way too old to run or sprint, but whenever I take him out for a walk, his face lights up with a stupid-happy grin.  He likes to snooze on my lap (sometimes my nose or my mouth), and he’s hopelessly addicted to food and toys.  (No surprise there, right?)  When he scarfs his 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—hard enough to lift his feet off the floor.  His paws thump the ground in alternating time.

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

This may sound weird, but 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.

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

I open a jar and grab some Nommie McGobberYoms.  They’re cookies made by 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, etc. etc.  I’m a true San Franciscan, and it shows in my groceries.

None of that matters—not to me, anyway.  In eighth grade, I experienced a brief stretch of social indignation where I raved and ranted about labels and titles.  But as the world turned and the years passed, I cared increasingly less about siding with tribes.  Tribes seem to make things worse.

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 couldn’t care less about stupid square hats or fancy diplomas.  I don’t get psyched about paid time off, a corner office, or slaving away for a faceless corporation.  Gribbles is the only thing on Earth that makes any sense—he seems to truly enjoy his fur-bound life.

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

I sit on the couch, watching him eat.  Once he’s done, he runs over and paws my knee, eyes 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.”

After I give it to him, he trots away and heads for the balcony.  He pokes through a 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 as he slips through the plastic drape, my jaw drops in utter astonishment.  The open pet-gate, instead of showing me foggy San Francisco, flashes with a man’s blindfolded face—thin, tight-lipped, grim.  Glowing runes shine from his blindfold.

The view pans down and I see a back-curving knife in a leather-gloved hand.  It slips out of view and I see beyond into the yawning backdrop.  There’s a black 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 has given me a glimpse 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:  Maybe you’re sick.  Go 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 slide the door a little to the left, poking my head through to the outside balcony.  Gribbles is splayed on his poochy belly, chewing his rawhide with single minded determination.  He 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.