There is a black dog in my family.
Not the sort of family pet that you adopt as a group, choosing it carefully and taking it home as a cherished pet.
The sort of black dog that turns up on your doorstep at night. The sort that nobody can remember the backstory for, its origin lost in time.
All we know is that it keeps turning up and we keep feeding it.
The sort of black dog that every member of your family has been feeding in secret, thinking their time with this dog was unique. They alone fed it. They alone knew its face, its howl and its touch.
Nobody talked about our dog.
That’s just not how we do things in my family.
This black dog of ours has been visiting for years. It has visited every generation. From my great grandparents to my siblings and me… each of us has spent time with this dog.
It is ageless, our dog. It does not tire nor fade. Its coat never shimmering silver, its muzzle never fraying.
My family know how to handle our dog. We sit in silence and smile at each other, our black dog resting firmly on the list of things we don’t discuss. A list filled with politics and sex.
It looks different to all of us, our black dog.
To some it is a creature of fear and anxiety, rendering us paralysed and baring its teeth.
To some it is a creature of loneliness, isolating us and keeping us from the people and places we know and love.
To some it is a creature of sadness, tearing at old wounds and insecurities until we weep, unable to stand in the darkness.
To some, this dog isn’t any of these things. It is just a feeling of emptiness. The lack of connection, the sadness and the fear all fading until you are stood in a stark white room; There you will sit, just you and your dog, alone in it all.
For some of us our dog is tame now. We understand it and know what to expect, welcoming it not as a friend but as an old acquaintance. A dance partner that we know well enough to follow despite no longer enjoying the routines.
For some of us our dog is still wild and unexpected. We fight it and run, turning and twisting to avoid its baleful stare and glistening jaw. Spending energy and time trying to shake it from our lives.
But still it comes back, our dog.
For some of us our dog is small, others see as something that fills the room, blocking the light around them until all they can see is a dog… our dog.
I wish we’d talked about our dog more.
I wish we had discussed this creature that connects with us all in separate ways.
I wish we had warned the youngest of us that one day, our dog might come and call on them. Standing wanting at the back porch, a new, old pet that was built just for them. Their own personalized companion for the darkest of nights.
But nobody talked about our dog.
That’s not how we do things in my family.
So, I will just hold out my palm and let it come to me.
As my mother did before me.
And her mother before her.
And so it continues…
My black dog and me.