Do you remember Conan, the Adventurer that cartoon in the 80s? There were a number of different characters, but I will always remember “Needle”, the little phoenix, most. Throughout much of the series, he is a rather young phoenix, still learning his powers. It was from that television show that I was first introduced to the concept of the phoenix, an mythological who is born from ashes, lives fiery and bright, strives for justice, and dies only to return from the ashes.
Before for many years I didn’t want to have children, I would name my journals. They had first and middle names, so I would collect names that I love for them and for characters in the rare pieces of fiction I would write. Phoenix has always been one of my favorites because it speaks to the eternal, a liberatory transformation, and a never ending cycle of rejuvenation through fire.
So, when Matteo and I got our dog is what natural to call her, fénix, or phoenix in Spanish. We had found her at the Berkeley Humane Society last August. In coming into our home, she would have also transform from dog who called the street her home to a dog with a garden, a house, and people. From ashes to light. Because we specifically looked for and found a black dog – they are less likely to be adopted – we gave her the name as if to mark the very beginning of her journey. She was the bird who had not shaken off the ashes as yet.
These last few weeks have been filled with lessons for all three of us. For her: puppy training of “sit”, “come”, “heel”, “go to your room” (yes, she has a little “room” in converted hallway closet), etc. and how to communicate us her needs. She has her daily routine of scratch, outside, lay down, scratch again, play, breakfast, nap, take down the curtains, walk, play, outside, play, nap, outside, sleep. Each moment of that list has a time and a rhythm that we have all had to learn. For us: how much food to give her, how much attention to give her (5 seconds of cuddles and then she’s done with all that affection), when to walk, what food to buy, what toys she likes, how smart she is, etc. Our life shifted, though not easily, to focusing on her.
A few weeks ago, our dog walker in her third day of walking fénix lost the dog. She had left the front gate open, the front door open, and opened the doggy gate we have in the entry way before she ever put the leash on, and our little dog bolted out and into the neighborhood. The walker ran after her and left all of the doors open as well. She called my partner while looking for the dog and then he called me. We both left work immediately to go look for our dog, who receives all of our nurturing attention. I called my sister, who arrived to a house wide open, a lost dog, and a dog walker no where in sight. In addition to losing my dog, my home could have been robbed.
While traveling to house, I prayed to Saint Anthony, Saint of Los Things, that should my dog be found healthy and unharmed, that I would name her in some way after him. I talked to my mother and father. There were many people called in that 45 minutes it took me to get home. Many prayers said.
When I arrived, it was just 5 minutes after Matteo; Vanessa had just found fénix; and the dog walker had been fired and was pulling off in her ride home.
I was an emotional wreck and spent the next 10 minutes angrily talking to my sister about the lack of responsibility and ethical care of the dog walker and how reprehensible to walk away with no apology.
In the end, I was happy for the return of my little dog safely. I later learned through posts of Nextdoor that she had gone more than a mile in two directions, crossing a busy street twice, before my sister found her around the corner from our house. Our street dog had remembered how to survive; she had also made her way home. Perhaps the phoenix never really shakes off the ashes and that is a healing knowledge.
In telling this story to other writers at this retreat (partnership between SMC and Hedgebrook), one writer said that this was an essay. I had to agree, especially when I thought of another part of the story.
In late 2014, my partner and I bought our house. A few weeks into owning it, mid-renovation (because heat and updated electricity was necessary to live there), I saw a sign perched above the door to the backyard: Phoenix from ashes. It was written on what seemed to be old wood, painted red. It had been there a while and had gathered dust and dirt over the years, neglected as the house had been for a while. It was a good house, though, with great bones, built well and sturdy in 1940. Our home, too, had called to us from its dust – it was a short sale – and said, me, I am the house for you. And it has been that and has grown and changed with us. We were dating then, weren’t yet engaged, and now we are married, with a dog, trying to grow our family.
It seems right then when you consider our home, the literal sign within it, and the dog that I knew was ours from the first walk. It seems right that it took my sister to find her again and that, even though the house was wide open, it was kept safe.
Phoenix from the ashes. fénix de las cenizas.
I renamed her: fénix chewbacca antonia monchiero león. Matteo said that I shouldn’t have to keep my promise to the Saint; my response was that you don’t mess with Saints. You also don’t mess with phoenixes (or Chewbacca).
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