We have a black dog in our family. It’s hard to say who he belongs to. He flits between people depending on his mood. Sometimes you go for months without seeing him, lured into believing he has gone for good, then, without warning, you sense his presence, lingering somewhere in the background, making you look for him.
The black dog has a hard stare. Often, I won’t even see him, but I can always feel his stare. It makes me sweat, tying knots in my stomach, drying out my mouth. He likes busy, crowded areas, and enclosed spaces, the hardest places to run from him. Then he will appear, I do my best to ignore him, smiling politely at those I speak to, running to the bar for a drink, hoping it might distract me, it doesn’t. Other days he visits me at home, invading my privacy, rendering me incapable of basic tasks, like making a phone call, or turning up to an appointment.
When I was younger, I thought the black dog belonged to my uncle, he would certainly always tail him. Wherever my uncle went, the dog was sure to follow. My uncle hated that dog as much as I do, but the drugs and drink couldn’t make him go away. Eventually the black dog won. Once my uncle died, he needed a new owner.
When he isn’t with me, he likes to visit my brothers. Though it’s hard to know which brother he calls on. One wears the presence openly, his mood sombre, his drinking escalated. It will be hard to entertain him, activities that usually excite him render him uninterested. There are moments he escapes the dog, a burst of enthusiasm, pure joy at life, but the dog finds him again, and he crashes. I know he visits the other brother too, but I won’t always know when, he ignores the dog so well. He can turn his back on him, unlike me, appearing normal, unaffected, in private though, when there are no interruptions, I fear it is harder to ignore the black dog, and then I’m not there to help.
Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps there are more than one. Maybe my uncle’s dog multiplied, and we were each left a descendent. My dog often visits when my brothers are burdened with theirs. I just need to see a hint of theirs to feel the worry my own brings, the panic, the visions of what might be. I would like to see these black dogs rehomed, put somewhere they cannot inflict their stare, but the older I grow the more I learn about them, that it’s not just our family weighed down, that they visit so many others too and the best thing we can do is talk about them, make them real, and let others know that if they have one, they are not alone.