-The Unbound Realm: Vol.1, Chapter 2

Mom hails from Korean immigrants.  Dad comes from generic Anglo.  Even though I’ve got mixed-race heritage, most people mistake me for pure Korean.

Mom divorced dad before I was eight.  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 kind blah about everything, I guess.  I suppose I should be grateful for my parents’ help.  They don’t mind paying 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.  His right eye is blind and milky, his left ear is ragged and torn.  I’m pretty sure 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), 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.  I open the door to my one-bed palace and Gribbles waddles up, tail wagging.

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

His wagging intensifies—enough to lift his back feet off the floor, thumping 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 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…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 righteous indignation where I ranted and raved 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 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 couldn’t care less about stupid square hats or fancy diplomas.  I don’t get psyched about paid time off or a corner office.  Gribbles is the only soul I know who seems genuinely happy—he truly 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 in exchange for 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.

After I give it to him, 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 as he slips through the square 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, 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 sick in the head.  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 tenacity.  He growls lightly and meets my gaze:  Leeme ’lone.  Dis bone is MINE.

Relief surges through me.  No chasms or knives, no 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.