“Don’t come closer! Don’t come ANY closer!” I yelled at the strange man in the dark. Yet I barely recognised that voice as my own. It was almost like it wasn’t me doing the talk. Why did it feel so foreign, so weird? Jarvis’ snarling got lourder, more aggressive. Within nano-seconds, everything had changed.
Writing about Jarvis has become a fun exercise.
Observing my dog is highly entertaining. This may come from someone who is very bored of Netflix at this point, but believe me when I say he is the canine version of Mariah Carey. He performs as soon as I point my phone at him. He is a snappy, vocal little creature. At times he is quite high-maintenance. Near dinner time, he turns especially demanding. To this day, it still stuns me how he lets me know he knows his dinner time approaches. Is he hiding a watch under his blankets?
He is aware of what buttons to push to get my attention, and by “buttons” I mean, my bladder — somehow he knows it’s full— , my left boob, the right one. My body is a fun gameboard for his pushy paws, no matter how much I groan in pain. It gets the job done, according to his high canine standards.
And that’s where my dog and I are so different. He knows what he wants every moment of the day, each day of the week. It can be a toy, attention, a walk, quite possibly treats. And while he may not always get what he wants— I know, shocker — it won’t deter him from asking at another time.
Moi? You probably won’t believe me when I tell you that for years, I didn’t even know what I wanted. And when you are someone like that, you don’t speak up when you feel you may want something. Worse, others get so used to you being quiet, than when you actually ask for something, not only don’t you get it, you become problematic.
Which is why on that scary night a few weeks ago, I didn’t recognise the voice that came out from my own throat.
Jarvis and I headed out for our last walk of the day.
It was dark, and Jarvis was in his usual late-night mood. If he could talk, he’d say “been-fed-want-bed-goodnight-y’all”. It had been tricky getting him out of his cave, as he eyed the treat in my hand, while, in his furry little head, he questioned whether it was worth the effort.
Alas, he had been convinced, and we were exiting the front door of our buiding when I spotted him: a tallish man, possibly in his fifties? It was too dark to really make-out anything other than what he was wearing, a coat, brown troursers, a beanie… Something inside of me stirred within two seconds of closing the door behind me. He looked at me, smiling, but something wasn’t right. I felt unsafe.
Then, in an instant, Jarvis did something I’d never seen him do before at anyone in the street. He started growling at the man. We were three or four meters away from the stranger, but Jarvis didn’t want him to come any closer. Still, the stranger insisted, with a demenaour that showed he intended to befriend my small dog. Jarvis had other ideas, so he snarled and barked even louder.
And that’s when it hit me.
At this point in the story I must include a small segway.
I always assume the best in other human beings. I always give others a chance, even strangers. Even those who have wronged me will trigger my over-empathic nature, and I’ll let them come close again. At any reunion, I smile politely. If I don’t trust someone around me, my usual behaviour is to act ever more nicely. Don’t poke the bear Jess, don’t make anyone angry. I now know I’ve been doing this all of my life, seeking a twisted version of safety.
If I don’t speak up, people will like me more. If I change to suit their needs, they will love me. If I am obedient, and “normal”, they won’t leave me.
Turns out that’s the wrong way to live. People that seek to hurt you will do so when allowed closer, repeatedly, unless someone prevents them from doing so. Those who don’t appreciate your true self, the unfiltered, unpolished version of who you are, sans forced niceties, will leave you anyway.
So, back to Jarvis channelling Godzilla.
We are at this stand-off, my dog is not having that man coming any closer, and I feel something rising from my throat. Whenever I am in a challenging situation, I become extremely nauseaous. I’m pretty sure the day I meet Madonna, I will probably puke on her shoes. Yet, on this occasion, facing a stranger in the dark, there is no vomit rising from my insides, but more a need to speak.
“Don’t come any closer!” I say this very loudly. I feel, shockingly, very confident with this statement, so I say it again. I feel my legs shaking. The stranger retreats, just a little. I want to exit this situation immediately, and feel safe. So I drag my dog, his teeth bared, his hackles raised, back into the building.
But I am shaking so much, I struggle with the key to my flat. Through the glass on the front door, I can see the stranger’s shilouette. He has walked up the steps, and is standing right outside. I manage to get into our flat.
After locking the door behind me, I drop Jarvis’ leash. I fall on my knees. My whole body is shaking. I wipe tears off my face — when did I start crying?
I try to slow my breathing. Jarvis is planted facing our closed door, still growling, still mad at that stranger.
The tragic part of this story is that, if Jarvis hadn’t reacted, I would have probably allowed that stranger to get close.
I would have cancelled my own gut feelings telling myself “don’t be hysterical, Jess, don’t cause a scene”.
Yet, Jarvis follows his gut feelings, whilst still, managing to remain quite likeable. He is loved by those he has chosen for this team — make no mistake, he chooses you. He has no fake relationships, and no time for anyone who will not make him feel good. His safety comes from pushing back, from saying no, with his body and, occassionally his voice. If he feels uncomfortable, he asks for space, hiding behind a piece of furniture. If he doesn’t feel like doing something, it will take a lot of effort, and food, to make him change his mind. Sometimes this gives me all sorts of headaches, especially when I want to walk to the park on an early Sunday morning, yet he’d rather visit his favourite people, and I’m out of treats.
Having Jarvis react so loudly, gave me permission to tell a stranger to back off.
But I shouldn’t get permission. My thoughts, my opinions, my wants, my needs for space, are good enough. Just because I’ve allowed them to be dormant to please others doesn’t mean they are not valid. Just because so called friends — “no one wants a partner who is that emotional, Jess” — relatives — “why can’t you get a regular job?”, even professionals — “you need to do it for them” — , managed to drill their own opinions into the brain of someone who was never told to value her own thoughts, it doesn’t mean they are right.
I’m still far from being like my furry shadow. But I now puff my chest daily, just like he does. I catch myself watching Jarvis’ body language, during everyone of our walks. Just last week I bought myself my first pair of hotpants, just because he flaunts his rear unashamedly, so why shouldn’t I do the same with mine? Okay, that may be a stretch, but… they were vintage, and high-waisted…. you get where I’m going, right?
Day by day, I am becoming more like Jarvis. So, word of warning: if I say don’t come closer, I mean it… unless you intend to hand me a puppy. Then you can come as close as you want, hand over the pup, and slowly back off.