Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Beast Friend

I have a friend named Steve Carpenter. He's a doctor. Cardiology. My late wife, whose surname is Lee, has an uncle named Bum-suk and a cousin named Ki-bum. A veterinarian and an Ivy League graduate respectively, they were mocked unmercifully about their names while studying abroad (my uncle-in-law in Australia, my cousin-in-law in North Carolina). When I was in fourth grade, our class was in near hysterics when we found out that our teacher Mr. King's first name was Richard. We would later discover to much mirth that his wife's name was Virginia. Oh how we laughed.

"Doesn't it drive you nuts?" I asked Steve one evening over drinks at his place, mine a gin and tonic, his a 7 and 7. "You must get the same lame jokes every day."

"Every other day and you'd be about right," he told me. "But why should I care? You learn to live with it. My pager goes off close to fifty times a day if I'm lucky, more like a hundred when I'm not. If I can stop being annoyed every time I hear or feel that vibration, it isn't hard to fake a smile and a laugh whenever a patient asks me not to give him a wooden heart valve."

Perhaps I care about the meanings behind titles and words more than most. It's my job, after all. I edit a very well-known thesaurus -- it rhymes with Jose's -- and I've spent the better part of my life pondering the weight that words bestow upon their manifestations. I've also wondered again and again whether anyone really gives a shit.

That might sound too cynical; it's not meant to be. Because I have hope: a word, manifested.

Evan Justice is the name of the man who killed my wife. Two years ago this spring. My wife, always a hot-headed driver, was driving home on the freeway when a motorcyclist cut her off. According to witnesses, she tailgated the offender and honked our Dodge's car horn for between thirty seconds to two minutes, depending on which police statement is most accurate (and at this point I don't much care, nor did I ever, I think). She then passed the biker and exited the freeway. She was stabbed to death by the motorcyclist in our driveway as she was taking grocery bags out of the car trunk.

Evan Justice. Sentenced to six years for aggravated manslaughter. I wanted to strangle myself with the irony of that name, that sentence.

Instead, I bought a dog. A dachshund. My best friend.

I named him Flash, after my favorite DC Comics superhero. I no longer recall why, but I think it was because I myself wanted to run away as fast as I could. From grief, sorrow, life itself. Described by H.L. Mencken as "a half-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long," it seemed foolish -- and unprofessional, given my job of corralling words close to their herds -- to name such a dog as anything connoting speed, quickness. No puppy with such short, stubby legs could ever grow up to resemble my imagined sobriquet for him, "Flashy Dashy."

There are times in life where I exalt in being wrong. Gifted with abnormally long legs for his breed, he jumps like a dog-sized Lee Majors' Six-Million-Dollar Man. And boy can he run. Every Sunday I take him to the park. I love watching him run away past fields of dew-kissed grass when I throw a tennis ball. I love it even more watching him running back.

"That's my boy," I say as he lays the ball at my feet and I rub him behind an ear. "Never stop running."

Flash. Yes.

Sounds right, sharp.

Like lightning.

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