Another thing about the early-morning bus traffic outside our windows: it has become a source of extreme anxiety for Kiko. The school buses in our neighborhood have a white flashing strobe light on top. I’m not sure if the light is new this fall, or if Kiko’s fear of it is new. Whatever the case, the bright intermittent glare slices through the darkness, looking very much like lightning. Kiko takes it as a sign that a monster storm is coming.
Toward the end of the last school year, he typically snoozed soundly until well after full daylight. It took a while to rouse him for the morning walk. He tended to resist my various entreaties until I rattled my keys and told him, “OK. You stay. I’ll go on without you.” It was only the threat of being left behind that prompted him to relinquish the warmth of his bed, stretch and amble slowly toward the stairs.
So it surprised me, this September, to see my little dog wide awake in the pre-dawn darkness, alarmed and panting, in extreme go-time mode. He’d pace rapidly on my bed, leap off to circle the room, stand on his back legs to peer between the curtains at the window. Then he’d hop back atop my bed and attempt to settle in among the pillows. During a storm, real or imagined, his usual place toward the foot of the bed offers no comfort; he has to be up near the headboard. But even this offers no comfort, and he starts the entire process again. Once I realized that he was seeing the lightning that presaged a powerful storm, I understood.
At the start of the school year, Kiko’s trepidation began with the approach of the first bus and its flashes of light. He’s come to anticipate the threat well in advance. By 5:45 at the latest, he’s up and on the move, much the way he begins to fear a thunderstorm on a vaguely cloudy afternoon. On weekends, when no buses are running, he’s making his anxious rounds well before 6 AM.
It’s notable that Kiko has no fear at all of the school buses themselves. On the contrary, he seeks them out. For many years, our morning and afternoon walks began with time spent at the bus stop with my daughter, neighbors, and their dogs. Still today, if given the opportunity, he settles in for a period of rest and observation near her old stop. He seems to enjoy watching the bus doors open and the kids exit. Many of the neighborhood children have come to expect to find Kiko waiting to be acknowledged and adored. He’d sit directly in the path of the bus if I’d let him. He has no dread of the thing that can actually harm him.
I find it sad that my twelve-year old dog is discovering new causes for anxiety. Shouldn’t he be growing wiser with age and experience? As I considered this question, I found myself contemplating various scenarios in my life and that of my family: what if this happens? Or that? Or, more ominously yet realistically, what will I do when this or that happens?
And just like that, I knew the feeling. My dog has outgrown the false invincibility of youth. He’s grown into the vulnerability of age. And so, I realized, have I. A wave of pessimism swept over me. Kiko is lucky, at least, I thought, in his faith that if he keeps searching, he can find a place of absolute safety. He need never face the stark truth that there’s no hiding from many of life’s storms.
In the last week or so, though, it seems Kiko has been a bit less worried in the mornings. He continues to leave his spot near the foot of my bed well before daylight, whether it’s a school day or not. But the pacing and jumping have lessened. This morning, I awoke to feel his warm little form nestled in the curve behind my knees. From my perspective, he was an image of perfect, cozy tranquility, curled up like a fox. Maybe his fear has vanished, I hoped. Then suddenly, as the first bus of the day rounded the corner, the room was suffused with white flashes. Kiko sprang to his feet, bounded off the bed and galloped from the room.
But he didn’t rush back in. When I got up a while later, he was lying at the top of the stairs. He didn’t appear to be alarmed. He ran past me back into my room, where he found an overlooked mini-treat from the night before. He gobbled it up, then looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Got any more?” He ran back to the top of the stairs in the way he does when he’s happy and frisky, anticipating the upcoming walk.
At least today, my silent little dog, the four-legged reflection of my hopes, dreams and fears, is not gripped by terror of an unknown Apocalypse. He’s just excited about the promise of a new day. Suddenly, I felt the same way. And from the window, I glimpsed a beautiful sunrise.