Secret Places

Written by Keech Ballard

Nietzsche was a dog. A German Shepherd, barely out of his puppyhood, filled with the high spirits of doggy youth. Nietzsche had a bad habit of nipping at the neighborhood children on occasion. He was really just playing around. He did not know that this was against the law of the land.

We took Nietzsche with us to the zoo one time. He had just as much fun as we did, examining the exotic animals from distant parts of the world on proud display behind thick glass, below sturdy walls, in their artfully recreated, thick plate-glassed living tombs.

That is, until we got to the elephants. These vast gray eminences overwhelmed Nietzsche. They were just too big. Too strange. Too scary, like Halloween monsters come to life. Nietzsche faced away from the elephant display and refused to look again, whining bitterly when we tried to turn his head around.

When the time came for us to move south, driving from the bitter cold north to the more fragrant south in the age-old conveyance loaded down with everything we owned, which wasn’t really all that much, Nietzsche was not invited to participate in the adventure of a lifetime. “He will be so much happier living on a farm,” Mom said. “Wild and free, the country is the proper place for a high-spirited dog like Nietzsche to roam.”

My little sister and I begged and pleaded, but to no avail. When the man came to take him away to the gates of canine paradise, Nietzsche completely disappeared. Without any warning, he was nowhere to be found. We searched the house both high and low several times over. No Nietzsche. We went outside and called his name multiple times in vain. No Nietzsche.

After what seemed like hours of fruitless effort, an idea came to me from out of the clear blue sky. I had a secret place in the back of my mother’s closet, surrounded by the soft smell of my mother’s densely packed clothes, where I hid when I felt sad and lonely.

I opened the door and called Nietzsche’s name. I heard him whimper, but could not see him until I forced my way to the back of the closet. I knelt down and placed my arms around his neck. He looked up at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen. The look said more than words: Why have you, of all the people in the world, forsaken me?

I led Nietzsche out of the closet, or rather dragged him out by his collar. “Here he is!” I shouted out in triumph. I was proud to have been the one to find him. All the while I wondered why Nietzsche was so unwilling to cooperate in celebrating the joyous occasion of his impending freedom from urban bondage and his release into the wilds of the nonurban realm.

Decades later, on her deathbed, my mother finally admitted what I had always feared might prove true. I never expressed this fear in terms of conscious thought, other than never to have or to hold a dog as a pet of my very own again. Never again, not once, not ever.

“The farm was a myth that never happened, and never could have happened,” Mom said.

“But that means—”

“Nietzsche’s trip was a one-way ticket to the dog pound, the animal shelter, the killing fields, where he was put down almost immediately as a menace to human society.”

“He never had a chance.”

“Not with his record, he didn’t.”

“Why couldn’t we take him with us when we headed south?” I continued to plead, long after it was much too late to make any difference in Nietzsche’s fate.

“You don’t seem to understand, child. It never would have worked out. He was just too much, poor beast that he was. He simply had to go, just not with us.”

I tried to understand, but I never really could. The only thing I did understand with any particular clarity was the look in his eyes. The look that Nietzsche gave me when I found him hiding in the secret places of my heart and soul.

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