By Trent Rentsch
Pardon the cliché, but it really was a dark and stormy night. Rain had already fallen like cats and dogs earlier in the evening, and the air was as heavy and damp as my gym shorts after a workout. Lightning streaked across the sky like Freshmen during homecoming week, yet the dog had found a spark of bravery hidden somewhere deep in his full little bladder and was making it known that either we took a walk in the gathering gloom, or our carpet was doomed.
Kirby is not my dog, really. Not that he hasn’t accepted me into the family. He’s been more than willing to allow me the privilege of filling his food dish, giving him his daily chunk of hot dog laced with doggie Prozac, and petting him longer in one sitting than entire breeds of dogs have enjoyed since the domestication of humans by the canine race. Still, he’s really my wife’s dog and I am only his Daddy by marriage, so while he feels close enough to me that he’ll lick my wet feet as I step from the shower, more bonding events like moving his rawhide bone or kissing my wife in his presence can result in anything from bared teeth to missing body parts.
Then came that dark and stormy night, when darkness had fallen early in Kirby’s mind as he watched Lori and the boys leave the house with suitcases in hand. When I came home from work he was slouched in his favorite spot on the steps feeling sorry for himself, but Droopy Dog started doing the happy Kirby dance the moment he saw me. It was obvious that he was very glad that at least one member of his pack hadn’t deserted him, and between being his only pet in the house and the thunder outside, he became my shadow for the evening. Little did I know just how close we were going to get.
The walk began innocently enough, with our usual sprint to the end of the block, followed by a leg lifting at the nearest light pole (dog) and a lot of panting (out of shape human). The ritual continued with a trot to the Doo Drop-zone, and a lot of sniffing around and pretending not to notice the impending act (the dog was the one… well, you get the picture). There seemed to be more “activity” than usual, but then every dog, especially one with plumbing that’s 87 dog-years-old, is going to have his day.
Things happen under cover of the night. Horrible, evil things, glimpsed only briefly in ominous flashes of lightening. It takes the warm glow of home to illuminate the terrible truth, and my mind raced as I tried to find some way to save myself from what was to come. It was probably his raid of the kitchen garbage that had done it, that, and the wet grass, and the fact that dogs REALLY DON’T CARE WHAT THEY STEP IN! I rubbed my eyes until they burned, but re-assessing the damage, there was no doubt. The dog had fatally crapped himself. We were both in big doo doo.
Kirby’s one true love is his Mommy, but even a hint of a trip to the tub brings out the Norman Bates in him. Yet there I was, about to play out a shower scene with him myself. With shaking hands I gingerly picked him up, noticing the scar on my right hand from the last time I tried to carry him into another room when the evil Mailman knocked on our door. Repeating,” Good Boy,” over and over in a soothing (if trembling) voice, onto the bathroom we went. I gently lowered him into the tub and turned on the water, and just as I turned the water spray on his fouled fur, he suddenly… did nothing. I broke out the shampoo and squeezed it on his back, and he just stood there. I scrubbed his fur with a wash cloth, rinsed and scrubbed again, and still nothing. No low growl, no flashing of teeth, not even so much as a yip. Out of the tub he came, a brisk towel down, and he took it all… no shaking, no biting, nothing. As I watched him begin his traditional post-bath race around the house, I realized that it wasn’t bad at all, that I was afraid for nothing.
Funny how even familiar things can cause so much fear and anxiety. The act of pushing past the boundaries of our comfort zone, trying new things and accepting new challenges can scare the hell out of us…. even in a place that’s been home, with characters who have been a part of our lives for a long time. For a Creative, trying new things should be a way of life, but there’s still that inbred human fear of the unknown that can get in the way. “What if this comes back to bite me?” “What if I screw up?” “What if I look stupid?” “What if I lose any shred of credibility I’ve ever had?” You know what? “What ifs” are just stop signs our minds put up that keep us from trying to get better. Yes, we all make mistakes and some attempts beyond one’s comfort zone will be horrible, but even those attempts are a learning and growing experience.
Whether you want to be a better writer/voice talent/producer/Creative, you have to risk the fear of failure and accept that you might take one step back to make three leaps forward. The dog nipping at your heels may turn out to be your best friend, herding you towards the success you really want. So take a chance, but keep some doggie treats handy, just in case.