We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, then said judiciously:
"I think I shall praise it."
—Robert Hass, from Praise
Every once in awhile he would experience a disorienting moment –these instances were almost like seizures– in which he would find himself wondering just what the hell he thought he was doing. He couldn’t spend much time with that question or he’d be paralyzed. He knew this.
He’d allowed himself to get pinned down a few times, and things would start swirling in his skull and he’d feel like he’d been turned inside out and salted. It was an ugly business.
He recognized that at this point he didn’t have any good answers. It had already gone too far to be justified or explained. Once, though, he had not been this man, and wouldn’t even have been able to imagine the man he had apparently become, or any man like him.
He didn’t know quite what he was doing, but he had a vague notion for why he was doing it. If anyone were to ask him, if he were caught (and this seemed increasingly inevitable), he would be able to offer up only the shortest and most pathetic of explanations: he was lonely. If pushed he was prepared to elaborate. He had lost everything, everything he’d ever had that he wanted, along with every hope and dream and brief, confused vision of what his life might one day be.
Yet he was alive, which was remarkable in and of itself. He’d spent years –most of the last two decades– trying to imagine and will himself dead. He’d made plans, done research, presumably gone as far as a man could go without actually succeeding in killing himself. At a certain point it had occurred to him that he might well be one of the world’s foremost experts on suicide. He had read dozens of books on the subject, and literally thousands of articles in newspapers, magazines, and journals. He had scrapbooks in which he’d compiled almost two thousand different examples of successful suicides. By his last count, these people had utilized upwards of two hundred different methods in taking their own lives.
He had started to think of this business, which had taken up the latter half of his forties and much of his fifties, as perhaps the one great undertaking of his life.
Then, a week before his fifty-sixth birthday, he started stealing dogs.