When I was very young, my family gave me a black dog.

He has never made a sound and he has always been very loyal to me. He is as tall as my hip and very well trained and today, I decided to name him Shuck.

When I was a little girl, Shuck told me that it was important to be kind. He showed me how, among my peers, there were some who were naturally at a disadvantage. Shuck said, those are the ones who need a bit more, the ones who are easy to make fun of and ride over. The dog explained, gently, not unkindly, that I was mean, sometimes. So, I decided not to be. A little girl decided to make a conscious effort to be generous with kindness and give a bit more to the ones who need it more. Good boy, Shuck.

Today, Shuck told me that other human beings will always choose to do what they want over treating me well. Especially the people I love the most. He whispered it into my ear while he was laying across my throat, his tongue around my head and his teeth resting on my eyeballs. I could taste hell in the fog of his breath and he explained, you see, it’s because I am not worthy of anyone’s consideration, let alone the people I love, who have already sacrificed enough to tolerate my presence in their lives. I listened and I felt it and I wept, I tried it on and let it pass and decided to kick him off of me. Bad dog, Shuck.

When I was a teenager, Shuck showed me how to damage myself into peace. He would suck up all the red, and then gently lick the tears off my face while I finally fell asleep. In my late twenties Shuck helped me leave an unhappy life, an unhappy marriage and take two bags and two cats to a different continent, to make a life on my own, isolated. He also showed me how I could go for a week at a time without eating, drinking only beer and vodka and talking only through typing.

It was a dream about my dead grandmother, screaming at me through my bedroom window in the middle of winter that saved me.

At this exact moment, Shuck is outside, he’s in garden of shadows in another place or time. The older I get, the longer I keep him there. But after a while, I miss him and I call him back. I miss his reliable presence and I miss him because I know he loves me so much. No being has ever loved me the way Shuck loves me. He was trained by my parents and their parents before them, back as far as I can see. And he screens and assesses everyone I accept into my life.

Shuck is so much more than a pet or a mental illness or a chemical imbalance. Those terms suggest that something bad could be removed and I would still be whole. He is me. He is my family, he is my ancestral lineage. I dance with him and I have compassion for him because he does exactly what he’s been trained to do, and because there’s a lot I have done that I couldn’t have done without him. That’s not to say I should have done it all…..but I’ve done brave, crazy things that I’m grateful for. I still do. But Shuck damages a lot as well. He damages me, and other people, and I have to step in and pull him away. He frightens me sometimes, his teeth are ragged and fetid. But, in spite of that, I love wholly and openly and bravely. I love my parents, I love my partner, I love people, and I love Black Shuck.