When Hayley made her list of improg words to send me, she typed them in different colors and fancy fonts, unlike me, who scrawled them by hand (although I did send them in a handmade envelope). Today I reached into her envelope and first found another little friendship note disguised as a word slip (Hayley, how do you manage to make me pull those out on the days I need them most? You’re kind of scary). Then I pulled out a word written in a very curvy font: bop.
With much loud sighing, I started to think about bop. Let’s see—I take belly dancing lessons, but while belly dancing is curvy and swervy, like the font this word was written in, it’s not really boppy. I recently started taking a salsa fitness class. I bet I could get something bop-related out of that.
As I stared at the word, I realized that the b had a very curvy top, even for a font like this. I turned the slip over and discovered that my word for the week is not bop. It’s dog. And I am a twit.
I’ve already told one of my best dog stories, so I’ll write about Sam, my childhood dog. We got Sam when I was 7 or 8 years old (I flunked kindergarten, so my ages and grades didn't line up for a few years. I know we got Sam when I was either 7 or in second grade (which is the same year for most people but wasn't for me)). My brother and I had been begging our dad for a dog for months. He kept saying that he’d trade me in for a dog and a dollar if he found a place that would take me.
One day he drove past the pound and saw Sam in the window. I don’t know what made him stop and go in, but he did. They told him that Sam was slated to be put to sleep if no one adopted him that day (whether or not this is true or was just a desperate sales pitch, I don’t know). Apparently without a second thought (and according to my mother, without consulting her), my dad bought Sam for the whopping sum of $8.00.
I usually came home from school to an empty house because my mom worked. But Sam came into our lives during the one short period when she wasn’t working, so my dad brought him straight home. I came home from school that day to be greeted by 17 pounds of black curls, a pink tongue, and a wagging tail. My second thought (my first was a joyful “Doooggg!”) was a stomach sinker. My dad had traded me in.
According to him, the pound was willing to trade the dog for me but wasn’t willing to give him the dollar too, so Sam and I both got to stay. Thank goodness, because that dog was the best part of my childhood. He was a joy and my rock during some very hard times. I don’t think I let go of him at all on the day my dad moved out. When my brother moved to my dad’s two years later, I locked myself in the bathroom, unable to say goodbye, and Sam became even more important to me. When, less than a year after that, my mom sold our house and Sam had to move to my dad’s, I packed him a little suitcase and again locked myself in the bathroom, unable to say goodbye.
For the next two years I saw Sam every second weekend when I went to my dad’s and once in a while when my brother brought him to my mom’s apartment for a visit. Then my mom decided to move to Vancouver and I had to go with her. In the previous five years I had gone from a 9 year old living with two parents, a brother, and a dog in a house in the suburbs to a 14 year old living with just her mom in a tiny apartment in a different country, 1000 miles away from her dad, her brother, her family and friends, and her dog. Saying goodbye to my friends and the only town I remembered living in was hard. Saying goodbye to my family was harder. But saying goodbye to Sam was the hardest of all. I was so scared that he would forget me.
But I didn’t need to worry. I lived at my dad’s for two months during the summers and visited every second Christmas break, and each time we pulled into the driveway from the airport, Sam raced out of the house, crashing into me full force, knowing just who I was. And when I’d gone back home, he tore apart my bed, looking for me.
Sam—that little bundle of energy whom we supposedly rescued from imminent death—lived a good long life. I was 24 when my dad called to tell me that he’d died and I sobbed like the little girl I was when we got him. Here I sit, 36 years after I first set eyes on him, living now in a house full of cats, and the thought of losing him still makes me cry.
But I don’t want to think of him with sadness, so instead I’ll remember his snore (which rivaled my dad’s) as he slept on my bed, the way he could pull me down the street even though he weighed only 17 pounds, how funny he looked when we gave him a bath, how he would steal my underwear out of the dryer and bury it in the backyard, how he would hide under the bed when he got an embarrassing haircut. I might dig out his old license tags, which my dad sent to me every year. And I’ll thank whatever it was that made my dad go into the pound that day.
This picture is tacked above my desk in my office. I know I have better ones of Sam, but finding one would involve looking in the Photo Cupboard of Doom and would take all day, so this one will have to do.