Photo of Stephen Kuusisto and his guide dog Nira, a yellow Labrador, in Kuusisto’s office at Syracuse University.
“At Twenty we find our friends for ourselves, but it takes Heaven/To find us one when we are Fifty-seven.”
Heaven-Friend-Dog, you are vexing, for I love you in all seasons and you love me back, and all without irritable reaching and bad memories.
You’re not my therapist. I’m not your master. A guide dog and man are an occurrence. We’re a walking “happening” whether going forward or astray.
You’re vexing because a soiled man-mind needs problems, thinks irritations are consciousness and you, Heaven-Dog, know otherwise.
When we’re Fifty-seven and set “right” by doggish clarity its like being corrected by a child: “No, Daddy, that’s not what you said!”
My dog knows the better “me”—the one who lives outside the shaming culture.
That’s a friend.
Outside the shaming culture.
With Heaven-Friend-Dog I’m one of Victor Turner’s liminal figures—the Laplander who sails clear out of the fire lit circle and vanishes into the unknown. Shaman, vatic runner, knife in the air, twin invisibles riding Pegasus… Whatever we are, we’re not customary able bodied upright American walkers. Which means our motion is transgressive. We’re the very fast, and very wrong thing on the sidewalk.
But outside shaming culture we’re the right thing. And the hypnogogic sidewalk can go fuck itself.
Sidewalk with its ordinary sleep walking 9-5 walking dead. People shlepping along with their backpacks filled with computers and sad lunches…We race by, heading up a mountain of birds. It’s so good to not be you, sidewalk friend. I’m so profoundly glad to not be you.
Outside the shaming culture we don’t care about our physical difference, don’t care about Dickens and his disability sadnesses, don’t give a monkey wrench about the Brooks Brothers’ guy who sees us and thinks we’re the saddest things on earth, a blind guy and dog. It doesn’t dawn on Mr. Gray Flannel that we’ve just passed him on Pine Street in Seattle; that we’re walking three times faster; that we’re laughing.
We’re laughing, because I can laugh for my dog.
That’s a friend.