I run with the strays.  I seem to pick up stray dogs.  I feel sorry for them, and responsible for them, and do not want them to be miserable.  They bother me and I find that I do not want to leave them alone.  I am in two minds about how they feel about me.  Most of them are not very good at letting me know whether they value me or not.  Sometimes I think I am picking up small subtle signs.  At other times, I feel that I should just let them be, that I must not try t rescue them, that they need to get so hungry that they come looking for food by themselves, instead of getting occasional feasts from well-meaning rescuers.  I round them up every three months or so.

But I know I am a stray too, and I see my strayness in them, and that my sorrow for them is sorrow for myself as I feel sometimes.  In helping them I am, strangely, saying that I am worth helping myself, that my strayness can be mitigated by the warmth of friendship, that we do not have to be alone.

It is as if I am a stray dog standing outside the glass window of a busy bar.  Lots of happy people are sitting around the bar, chatting to one another.  They look warm and comfortable with each other and are hermetically sealed off from me on the outside.  I am on the outside, the odd one out.

I’ve felt like this quite a lot of my life.  First in my family where nobody understood this girl who wanted to be a girl and wear pretty clothes and make-up and to dance around.  Then, later, at school where I was too young for my class.  Then when I was a student, and I was not from the right background, and I was still too young.  Then I began to find other strays to hang out with, and things got better, and stayed better for quite a long time.  Then I married a man and we began to move in circles a long way outside my experience, and I was the odd one out again.  I don’t feel so odd any more, not so as you would notice.

I run with another pack of strays, of outsiders, but I like this pack a lot, and when I am out with them I don’t think about those happy people round the bar.  I am too busy having fun.  This pack is full of odd breeds of dog, dogs that you don’t often see, but they are all highly intelligent dogs that look out for each other.  I think others quake when they come into the neighbourhood.  I feel part of this pack, and being in it relives the aloneness of the strayness, even though all of us look very different from most pack dogs.  There is a sameness in our strayness which drives the loneliness away.

It is the solitary strays bother me.  They do not really run with any pack.  I think I used to be like that, when I was much younger, until I was in my mid-twenties.  I see in them the loneliness that I felt, the being on the outside looking in, and I constantly invite them in.  Even if they refuse several times, I will go back to them again and again, asking in different ways.  Usually they do come in, but even when they are inside, I think they still feel like outsiders, so perhaps they are happier being left alone outside.

I’m hoping for the Billy Elliot happy ending, where the family finally recognises that “different” does not mean “less good”, and I am accepted into the fold.  It is never going to happen in relation to my mother because she is dead.  My sister is unlikely to have a full epiphany, though she has her own stray in her midst, her elder daughter.  The feminine surrounded by the masculine asserting itself.

People tell me that they do not see me as a stray.  On the contrary, a lot of them feel like strays themselves, looking into my salon, where they see lots of happy people chatting comfortably.

I wonder if we are not, by the time we reach our age, all strays.  Some of us are quiet, biddable strays who wander around with our tails between our legs.  Others are cross-bred Staffordshire bull terriers, angry accessories for unhappiness, and aggressive to other dogs.

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