1. Admit life has become unmanageable. Do you even own a dog? You’re not sure, but there is definitely one in your house. He looks down at you with sad eyes when you wake up on the floor. It’s not clear whether it was him or you who wet the bed.
2. Come to believe that this is, indeed, your dog. He smells like an ashtray. Everyone at the bar knows his name. His favorite meal is a bowl of pinot noir. Grapes are supposed to be toxic for dogs, but yours has developed a tolerance.
3. Decide your dog deserves better. What might he enjoy? Take him to the dog park and chain smoke while he shakes under a picnic table. Watch a Great Dane come up to take a sniff. Intervene when your dog bites him in the face.
4. Give your dog a thorough scrub down. Work your fingers through layers on layers of grime. Discover he’s white with spots of silver. Comb out the knots in his fur while he whimpers. Wrap him in a clean towel.
5. Try being radically honest at the vet’s office. Confess your dog “may have gotten into some wine.” Admit later this was not radically honest. Hold your dog’s paw while he gets his blood drawn. Cry with relief when his liver function is normal.
6. Ask your dog to forgive you. He looks at you blankly. He already has.
7. Do the opposite of everything you used to do. Walk your dog in the daytime. Explain to the scared teenager that he doesn’t like skateboards. Buy the more expensive brand of dog food. Exchange it for the old kind plus some fabric cleaner when your dog vomits on the couch.
8. Make a list of all the people you have harmed. The only person on your list is your dog.
9. Acknowledge the list should include a few more people. Call your mother and listen to her talk. Agree to do this regularly. Send your brother a letter. Stay calm when all you get is junk mail and vet bills.
10. Recognize your part in things. Sometimes your dog still has accidents. At least you know it’s not you. Learn he can hold it for up to eight hours. This might not seem like very long, but it wasn’t your dog who decided to get a dog.
11. See glimpses of your dog in other people. Observe that aggression is usually fear. See glimpses of your dog in yourself. Learn to name the feelings: hungry, tired, lonely. Learn to satisfy them: eat, sleep, give.
12. Sit quietly with your dog. Find he has a favorite spot of sun. Watch his paws move as he dreams. Get to know his sighs. Hold your hand to his chest and feel his small heart beating faster than yours.
Notes from Guest Reader E.A. Aymar
Clark balances humor and grief the way a skilled bartender mixes a drink; she makes the complex look easy. ’12 Steps’ is funny without being trivial, sad but not overwhelmingly so, intelligent but not pretentious. casually pretty (a tough trick to pull off). Her story could easily fall into despair, but the hope is too strong. The writing is too strong.