I’m busy taking an online class where I read Science Fiction and Fantasy with people from all over the world. I’ve now read no less than three forum posts saying “Why can’t a story just be a story?” After all, real life doesn’t have symbolism in it. Things are just things.
For instance, the guy that came into my office and yelled at me because I informed him that he couldn’t park in our reserved spots doesn’t represent the waning of respect in a culture fixated on entitlement. He’s just a douche.
However, some life events do have a symbolic meaning — at least as far as the person experiencing it is concerned. Let me give you an example. Shortly after I graduated high school, my dog died. A couple weeks later, I left for college.
We came home from a day outing to my brother’s place in Idaho to find KD crying under the deck. (Now the dog’s name was probably Katie, but I was a kid and I heard KD so that’s what it was to me.) I assumed that she had gotten tangled up underneath the deck as this happened to her a lot, but she was crying in some pain — with an earnestness not common to her. So I got on my knees and crawled under the deck.
The deck was a wooden platform sitting about 3 feet above the ground. It was a claustrophobic place, with spiders running over your head and mud under your knees. I’ve crawled under there maybe twice in my life, and for some reason I decided to go to that dog. My dad offered to go instead, but I had to do this. I dropped down into the mud and dipped my head under the first beam, catching just a bit of old cobweb as I did. I could see KD’s dark shape against the brick wall of the house.
I crawled quickly, perhaps too quickly as I knocked my head against one of the beams. I reached the crying dog and petted her neck. She was laying on her side. She didn’t bother to look up at me, though she stopped whining when I reached her. Her chain lay straight from the stake in the ground up to her neck without a single bend or kink in it. She wasn’t tangled up. Not a bit. She was just paralyzed. I wrapped my arms around her and crawled back out from the deck holding her to my chest with one arm and supporting my own weight with my other. We took her inside and gave her food and water, but she didn’t eat. She just lay there and whined.
A day later, we took her to the vet to be put down. Two weeks after that I started my first long drive to college. Now this could just be a story about how my dog died. It is a completely true account as I remember it. But it slowly developed a meaning to me and from that meaning I extracted symbolism.
I had had that dog since I was 5 or 6. She is present in some of my first memories. In fact, she is the subject of some of my first memories. I remember picking her up in the back of a pickup somewhere south of Hamilton. I bought a Frisbee that tasted like meat for her when I was about twelve. In high school, I used her cuteness to attract girls. It worked really well, but in the end I never dated a girl that liked me for my dog.
When KD died, my childhood died with her. My childhood wasn’t sitting at home waiting for me to return from college. I could never go back to it. It was just gone. I was an adult now, and I became an adult when I crawled under that deck to do something unpleasant because it needed to be done. Take what you want from the story, but I see just a little bit of symbolism. Just a bit.