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The Pet Dragon

 

When my nephew was five years old, he had a pet dragon. She followed behind us when we were in the car, and sat on the roof of his house when he was in his bedroom – he could see her sometimes through the skylight. At first, when we were driving home from a restaurant and he was strapped into his car seat and telling me breathlessly about the dragon, I thought she was a he and that he was dangerous. But my nephew made sure to clear that up on our next trip, a state away, where the dragon was still following us – or possibly one of the dragon’s friends, since no self-respecting dragon would take on such a big job alone. Five year olds need a lot of protection. The dragon team, it turned out, when I pressed him for details, traveled by trains specially built for dragon transport. Benjamin, my nephew, was a train freak, so this was not surprising.

Unless you know something I don’t know about a race of dragons visible only to five year olds, we can assume that this was all in his imagination. Even Benjamin believed his story only sometimes. But he was telling me a truth he couldn’t express any other way. He wanted me to know that the world felt like a dangerous place. He wanted me to know that he was lonely, and only an invisible friend the size of a house could possibly relieve his loneliness.

I don’t think I had a pet dragon as a kid, but I did, absolutely, truly, believe that Olivia Newton John could see me from Australia and would come to help me if I needed her.

olivia newton john

Olivia Newton John, always on call.

I used to be afraid that I would create a pet dragon or something like it if I allowed myself to write memoir. I was afraid of remembering things wrong, or being accused of remembering them wrong, and I felt safer in fiction. I’m not as scared anymore, after three and a half years of writing memoir for the blog. I honor the emotion of the moment, no matter how outsized, or how quickly it passes. Just because I don’t feel the same way today, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real and vivid yesterday. I still love the freedom of fiction and the chance to make things make sense in a way they usually fail to do in real life, but I like the subtle joys of memoir too, finding the nuggets of sense in the chaos.

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my little nuggets of goodness.

Cricket doesn’t quite make up stories. She doesn’t mean to exaggerate, she’s just a tad melodramatic. A sound in the hall is really the neighbors coming back from dinner, not evil men intending to blow up the building and steal her chicken treats. But Cricket lives in the world as she believes it is, just like we do. She just has fewer resources for checking out if her view of reality is accurate. She believes what she feels.

IMG_0470

“I know how it is and you can’t tell me different.”

I try not to concentrate too hard when I’m writing, so that whatever unconscious truths are in there have a chance to bubble up. I tell myself that I can write whatever I want, so that I can remember things out of order, or make weird connections, or forget words. I can make things make sense in later drafts, and edit out the nonsense words, without killing all of the pet dragons before they’ve been created.

Benjamin, by the way, ended up getting a lizard a few years later on. Maybe when he looks at that little lizard, he imagines his old friend the dragon has come back to stay, or sent emissaries to watch over him. And it helps.

white lizard

Ben’s lizard.

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

75 responses »

  1. Ben sounds like an imaginative guy. Cool lizard.

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  2. I wish we all could keep the same imagination and creativity of your nephew…or maybe we just don’t see them!

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  3. Are you sure Ben’s lizard isn’t really his dragon come to life?

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  4. I really like your idea of simply honoring the memories we had and the emotions we felt then, rather than worrying too much about the accuracy of our memories. Because in the long run, it’s how we felt about what was going on around us that matters the most, and makes for the most interesting and insightful memories, I think. Thanks, as always, for sharing your insights with us!

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  5. As a painter, I work in dragon-world, which I think of as a state of mind from which I can access the wellspring or whatever it is that allows us to create stuff. When I was a young painter, I had a ritual of sweeping and straightening up my studio before a painting session which I know helped me access the state of mind I needed to work – that place where painting=thinking. These days I don’t need the ritual anymore, but it’s the same place I need to get to, where the dragons live.

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  6. I love it—you have a melodramatic dog.

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  7. Another ‘intimate’snap shot of life.I like the way you tell us this little-big stories. (I tell you the truth,you have one of the few blogs I follow that I read posts from the beginning to the end) take care

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  8. Well what can I say… another good read 😊 and Benn gets chicken treats as well… thanks for sharing

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  9. Michael, my eldest son, at 5 had a pet dog. Chaos was caused one day when Jackie shut his lead in the supermarket door.

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  10. I love it. My now 11 year old niece(almost 12, really), watched Godzilla when she was that age, courtesy of my dad, her grandfather. My dad worried he might have shown it to her too young, but for years after, she insisted that Her Godzillas lived under the house and would protect her, in many a situation. I’m not sure if I was that imaginative, but I did have an active imagination as a child. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing.

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  11. Your little nuggets of goodness are adorable. And Ben’s lizard looks very much like a dragon. Wonderful read! Thank you for sharing your memories, Rachel. Cheers 🙂 Irina

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  12. Interesting because when you said Benjamin had a dragon, I figured you mean he had one of those gigantic ‘pet’ lizard things…and now he does. I would surely guess it is a reminder of his 5 year old pal. I was an only child and would spend endless hours alone as a latch-key kid in NYC talking to myself and all my ‘friends’. In fact, talking to myself is something I still do as an adult–some habits are hard to break! 🙂 At least I listen!

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  13. I love your musing on memory and writing. It is scary to be unsure if the “truth” of what you remember, but I think the way you remember is part of the whole experience.

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  14. Every life should have a dragon or two in it.

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  15. Dragons don’t exist anymore. The leprechauns ate them all.

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  16. I didn’t need supernatural protection at five but would not have rejected a visit from Ann Margaret in my teenage days.

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  17. I thought there were tiny people in the radio. I used to lie down and squint through the cracks to try to see them, especially when there was an orchestra playing and I hoped to see all those men in white tie and tails. Never did, and I suppose I’ve lost my chance now. (Hang on, I’ll just have a look inside the computer and I might see you and Cricket and Butterfly, Rachael).

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  18. We all have a right to write our stories as we see them. It does take bravery, though! Love the pups!!

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  19. Peanut had ‘bed neds’ when she was little. They first started living under the bed (obviously). But then ‘car neds.’ appeared, and even ‘kitchen neds.’ Wherever ‘someone’ needed protecting, a ‘ned’ would appear. I was told they had googles and were kind of like dust bunnies. No reason that creative pups can’t have their own version of ‘neds.’

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  20. No wonder you believed in the power of Olivia Newton-John: “Let me be there in your morning, let me be there in your night. Let me take whatever’s wrong and make it right (and make it right). Let me take you to that wonderland where only two can dwell…let me be there.”

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  21. Yes I think a lizard is a grown up’s dragon! Although this one I assume is real! 🙂

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  22. I always was concerned about forgetting things so I kept (and keep!) a journal. Never had a dragon but my niece had an imaginary mouse friend for a year or so. Never figured that one out, other than its name, Duda. My sister asked, “Dude, why do you think its named Duda?” *sigh* Love Benjamin’s lizard!

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  23. I can understand well the feeling that fiction is better than fact, especially after I’ve battled a few trolls (aka nasty people who appear to take delight in poking holes in people’s memoirs. Making belittling and rude remarks about the veracity of the whole thing (although the writer has never heard of the flamer (another name for this sort of awful person) and doesn’t know them in real life or in Cyberville either. I had some of these come to my blog one time and I almost closed it as a result. Then I thought “why am I allowing those sort of creatures to dictate what I will or will not write?” . I blocked them, tightened up the security and privacy parameters a bit and have never had any issues with such since. Not here. Now on a popular social network? The troll colony lives and thrives. So see? I do understand. It’s merely good sense to protect ourselves from such, but I’m glad you overcame the issue and have shared the on-going adventures of Cricket and Butterfly and friends, because I know my life at least would be diminished if I couldn’t read about them. They brighten my life. I get to laugh at their antics and I get joy from it. What’s not to like? Thank you!! 😀

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  24. For my son it was dinosaurs, they definitely protected him from any evil lurking under the bed. Great post, how lucky he is to have such an understanding Aunt.

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  25. awww a pet lizard!! i had no imaginary friends as a child and didn’t even carry around a stuffed animal or a blankie… i think i would have led a safer adult hood if i wasn’t so determined to ‘face reality’ as a small child…

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  26. My wife and I reside in a tiny “mother-in-law quarters” unit and are not permitted to have pets. However, we do keep imaginary pet rats. We know they’re not real, but don’t tell anyone. How do we know they’re not real? Because we can’t see them. We hear them scrabbling around in the attic and occasionally even hear them squeak. We feed them imaginary rat pellets and pretend to carry them around on our shoulders. Our landlord has finally agreed to set imaginary rat traps out in the laundry room.

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  27. Your little nuggets of goodness are adorable.

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  28. Rachel, I always enjoy reading your blog. I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Here is the link: https://susanrobertswriter.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/sunshine-blogger-award/

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  29. OMD, I nominated you for One Lovely Blog award and forgot to tell you! (It was late and Mom and I were sleepy.) Please just go to my site or copy and paste the following link to get your award and read all about it. 🙂 https://lexitheschnauzer.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/1734/comment-page-1/#comment-1241

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  30. Absolutely gorgeous dogs. And lovely lizard.

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  31. My brother was obsessed with dragons too. I remember helping to paint one on his bedroom wall 🙂

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