Once, a Tibetan monk and I were watching a dog rub his back on a rug. Its legs were up in the air like a dead bug, his head rolled back with abandon, and he had surrendered the weight of his tongue to gravity. He looked pretty goofy. The monk nodded and observed, “He has exited the cycle of samsara.” This dog was in state of complete bliss — enlightened.
I am a college senior, months away from graduation, and I’m one of the rare few who knows exactly what I want to do after graduation: I’m going to be a dog.
I’m friendly. I’m loyal. And, I’m a good cuddler.
I would be one of those dogs that has just the right amount of personality. I would be excitable and happy, but I wouldn’t get too excited and leak a little bit of urine like some dogs do. I would be pretty easy to train but not so easy that the other dogs would call me a brown-noser. I wouldn’t be the most athletic of dogs, but I would always be excited for a hike or a good game of fetch. If you felt like sitting on the couch and reading, I would quietly put my head on your lap and not even drool. And I would be such a grateful dog! My tail — no, my whole body — would wag in gratitude just for your care and attention.
My plans haven’t always to been a dog; I once aspired to somewhat loftier goals. In fifth grade, I made a lot of decisions. I proclaimed Fall Out Boy was the best band ever; I wore a lot of checkered Vans — and that was also the year I decided I would be a doctor. I ultimately abandoned the softcore emo vibe, but my high school trajectory was still aiming toward a college pre-med career: AP Chemistry, AP Bio, practicing my best doctor signature, hours and hours of volunteering at a hospital. I didn’t know where I would go to college, but I took solace in the fact that I knew what I wanted to do once there.
And then came my first day of college. It ended up being very sweaty. I walked more than a mile from my dorm to Pimentel Hall. I squeezed through the narrow rows hitting classmates with my too-large backpack: “Oh I’m so sorry. Ohh. My bad. My bad.” Loud music was playing (presumably to trick students into being excited), the stage was rotating and I was nervous: There were more people in one lecture hall than my entire high school.
This was Chemistry 1A. I would be sweaty in this class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. as I struggled to comprehend the material that I should have known from two years of high school chemistry. I would sweat extra hard on the days where I would wander into class, talk to a classmate and find out we had a midterm that night. This would happen twice that semester.
In fifth grade, I made a lot of decisions. I proclaimed Fall Out Boy was the best band ever; I wore a lot of checkered Vans — and that was also the year I decided I would be a doctor.
I continued to sweat during my second semester when I walked in with the same too-large backpack, faced with different students in the 481 seats, to take Chem 1A for the second time. During the second semester, I didn’t forget any midterms, but the class had the same content I was unable to grasp and elicited the same feelings of self-doubt and misery.
Halfway through second semester I left Doe Library after a six-hour studying binge. Laying on Memorial Glade I pretended for a minute that I didn’t care about midterms. I saw a dog running around, lips flying back in the wind, possessing no fucking idea about the elements that were discovered in a building just a few hundred feet away or how these elements would react with carbon. This dog was completely ignorant to the struggle of the students in the libraries flanking all sides of this patch of grass. That was all I wanted. I wanted that blissful ignorance; I wanted that ball. Looking at the carefree creature, I thought, “What a bastard.”
I decided in that moment that I was tired of sweating. I was going to give up the charade of being a science person and pursue a humanities major.
To abandon this plan on the Glade was to burn the scaffolding to which I had clung and under which I sheltered myself for as long as I could remember. College looked different without this blueprint of goals and the world — unplanned — loomed larger and darker. If I wasn’t going to be pre-med, I needed to figure out what I was going to do, what my Direction was. I thought about what I did in high school (other than study and volunteer,) and I came to the conclusion that my past 18years had best prepped me to be not a doctor but a dog — and a damned good one at that.
This dog was completely ignorant to the struggle of the students in the libraries flanking all sides of this patch of grass. That was all I wanted. I wanted that blissful ignorance; I wanted that ball. Looking at the carefree creature, I thought, “What a bastard.”
My family has always been a dog family. Dino and Miko were around before my brother and I were. Once Miko grew infirm, she was fed leftovers and canned dog food on our family’s finest china. When Miko and Dino passed away, our family mourned. Then in fourth grade, Magic arrived, a blue heeler-lab mix. He was a terror of a puppy with too much energy and a jet black coat. Louie came a year after, when my mom decided Magic needed a friend. After my brother left for college during my sophomore year of high school, my mom carried home five-month-old Charlotte, a beagle mix, abandoned at a post office. Charlotte’s brain was addled by the dog virus Parvo and is unbelievably spoiled to compensate for her “rough puppyhood.”
Many days in high school were spent going on hikes with my dogs and hanging out with them. I would cajole Magic to lay on the couch with me so I could use him as a pillow while I watched Netflix. He would groan but not protest. It seemed like the hours my three dogs and I — 14 legs combined — had spent on trails and on the couch had groomed me, if you will, to be the perfect dog.
It’s almost been three years since I decided to give up my dream of healing people and instead accepted a life of licking them and chasing tennis balls. Imagining my life as a dog as college nears its end is not that far from imaging my life as a doctor when high school was ending. Are they both not pipe dreams? My doctor fantasy was a vision distanced by eight years of reality; to be a dog is clearly equally fantastical. Though the distance is not the reality of difficult coursework but instead species-related, it is a delusion nonetheless. My imagined life as a doctor existed in the fictional realm as much as being a dog does.
I’ve flirted with alternate jobs. But I am the type of person who will watch a documentary about Patagonia and decide I am destined a nomad in South America. I read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and I decided that I need to be less apathetic and need to make my mark on history, join a greater cause. My eyes are wide and greedy, and in my uncertainty and maybe fear, I’m impressionable. I am always desperately seeking that next idea that will make more sense to me, give me Direction, but they each quickly fade. That being said, I’ve always come back, like a faithful lab, to this idea of being a dog.
My eyes are wide and greedy, and in my uncertainty and maybe fear, I’m impressionable. I am always desperately seeking that next idea that will make more sense to me, give me Direction, but they each quickly fade.
Doctors have a lot of things to worry about — people’s lives, for instance. Dogs really don’t. Dogs simply don’t worry about needles or weird sneezes. Dogs don’t have to worry about grad school or if they are going to make their parents happy if they move to Vietnam and work on a farm. Dogs don’t even sweat! Sure, if I were a dog I might have panted my way through Chemistry, but I wouldn’t have a need for chemistry. If I were to succeed in being a dog post-graduation, I wouldn’t have to face the abyss so obliviously, wouldn’t care about the unknown. I would live in each moment and be happy and run and be blissful and wag my tail. Dogs don’t experience self-doubt the way humans do. And I’m jealous — after college, even during college, I want to have the confidence to not care about where I am going.
I know what life as a dog would hold for me, and I think that life suits me perfectly fine.
Elizabeth Kurata is a writer for the Weekender. Contact her at [email protected]