Dealing With Friendship Anxiety

Often, friendship for someone like you is walking your dog who for half the time strolls along calmly at your bidding, but at heart-stopping intervals, launches himself forward at top speed and sends you headfirst into the mud. He continues tugging and panting, certain that something is up ahead to put you in danger. And it turns out nothing was there.

The first thing you do is get a stronger lead. You’re sure it won’t happen this time, because you’ll have a secure grip on the dog, and you can wrap the lead around your hand multiple times so it doesn’t slip off in rapid circles. But your body is still left vulnerable, and the throw-down onto the ground is even more winding than the first. You get up, brush off the leaves and the dirt, chest heaving, and try something else.

Shoes with a better grip. They cost more money, but you’re willing to make sacrifices so these accidents stop happening. They don’t, as your arm still aches from the pull on the lead, and you just wish that you were a stronger person. Maybe you should start lifting weights?

You hardly ever get very far on your walk. You just go home with a jittery animal, rubbing your aching arm and shoulder.

It’s time to investigate.

You go out on your own, along the same route you (attempt) to take the dog along every day. It’s freeing this time, your arms swinging loosely by your sides and your legs possessing the new ability to easily stride over rocks and mud pools. You get to the end of the path that was always shaded by trees: it’s a bright field in front of you, the grass not cut for years.

The breeze tickles your neck and the tweeting of birds leads it to crane upwards. You squint at the bright white sky. There’s nothing here apart from overgrown grass and the smell of wet leaves.

The next day you return to the field, and decide it could do with some pruning. You haven’t got a lawnmower just yet, but a hedge trimmer will suffice. It surprisingly doesn’t take you very long to make your way round the field, and when you’re done you already feel like you can now lie on your back in the middle of it, no longer shrouded by the blades.

The day after, you plant some flowers. Daisies to start with, common but sweet, and you soon move onto daffodils and tulips. After a few days the whole place is blooming, the bumblebees already soaring over the treetops to investigate this new source of pollen. You’ve learned to embrace the sweat on your face and the tingling the plant life conjures in your nose. You realise it was never a case of fixing yourself.

Although you no longer feel in the dark, you’re always nervous to return home, because the dog doesn’t seem to trust you anymore. His eyes droop when he sees you, and he turns away, tail heavy behind him and paws trudging across the carpet. You wish he knew about what you do every day.

On one of the many days you spend after this, watering and smelling the garden you have created, you decide to pick a flower for him. You ignore the sadness you feel when you think of the gap left in the grass, and the work it took to plant it. You come home and he’s there again, waiting for you but only to give you the droopy eyes, then turn away. Now he sniffs out the flower behind your back and walks towards you tentatively, sniffing closer.

“This is only a hint of what I need to show you,” you say, holding out the lead. It’s still not the excitement you used to see when you took him on walks before, but it’s progress from his recent moods, and his eyes are now curious, alert.

When he gets to the field he pauses, damp black nose taking in the sweet perfumes, and then he dives right in. You’ve taken off the lead because you’ve learned to trust each other now; neither of you want to venture outside of this sacred garden.

You still need to go home after this, to face new battles. There are many more gardens to plant: even bigger ones, requiring different flowers and a hundred more hours of work. But this is a victory that must be remembered.

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