When I was very young, like so young I’m not sure how much of what I am about to tell you reflects reality, and what’s been crafted by my mind over the years, but the basic fact remains the same: I killed my dog. Accidentally.
We were playing fetch in the yard and I threw the ball across the county highway we lived on, or maybe it rolled there, or maybe there was no ball at all. But one moment we were playing, the next she was nowhere to be seen, and my ears were ringing with the sound of a semi-truck screeching to a halt.
A lanky woman climbed out of her giant rig, peered under the truck, smothered her cigarette with the toe of her boot as she stood up, sighing. I can still hear the click of her steps as she walked around the truck, toward me, her high-pitched yet husky voice and the smokers cough that followed her three worded question:
That yer dog?
I probably owe her a thank you for being the sole reason I never took up smoking.
I stared under the trailer, heart pounding, not blinking, not understanding, not really. And then my dad was there, in front of me, blocking my view, telling me to go inside and find my sister and stay with her until he came in. Don’t let her outside. I ran inside, grabbed my sister and pulled her to the upstairs window, where we watched our dad scoop our dog from the hot pavement with a shovel and carry her slowly to one of the massive trees in the front yard. We watched as he dug her grave and carefully placed her lifeless body in the ground. I silently said goodbye to my friend through the second floor window pane. Tessa had no idea what was going on, and not fully grasping the situation, I couldn’t find the words to tell her, but we cried together anyway. I’m guessing this was not what my dad had in mind when he asked me to go inside.
Insert a lot of speculation why I am the way I am; it’s impossible to say what role this traumatic event played in shaping all that is me. What I do know is I’ve thought about this day almost every day since. I wrote my college entrance essay on it. I’ve written about it in every writing class I’ve ever taken, in poem form, in short story form, in first person, third person, omniscient narrator, from all the points of view. In the beginning, I mostly thought about death and dying, but as I grew older, that morphed into thinking about what it meant to be alive. Every time I found the need express sadness or regret or remorse and just wasn’t feeling it, I thought about Sweet Pea, which meant the tears were real, I just wasn’t crying over what you thought I was crying about. I’ve cried twice just writing this. And every time the tears served me well, I silently high-fived Sweet Pea; still my partner in crime after all these years.
Sweet Pea was a quirky little Australian Cattle Dog and the first living thing I can remember feeling unconditional love for. Expressing feeling was hard for my family, we didn’t really do it, but Sweet Pea didn’t know that, so she just did her thing. Life, love oozed from her body, and I soaked it all up. I remember happily laying on her belly next to Tessa, hot sun on our faces, none of us with any desire to move, ever. I remember hanging on her neck like little kids hug doggie necks, like I see little kids hug my dog now. I remember her warm wet kisses and the way she pawed at you in affection. I remember loving and feeling loved. In a house where everyone was still working on their own definition of love (don’t worry, we got there), that’s not nothing. That’s everything.
Fast forward 30+ years. It was late, I was flipping through rescue dogs like dudes on Tinder, except the exact opposite, because basically every dog was a yes and I was like, HOW DO YOU CHOOSE, as opposed to, whelp, this is disappointing.
And then I saw him.
And I knew he was my dog. I tried to move on, to give the other dogs a chance, but my attempts were half-assed. I couldn’t focus. I wasn’t really seeing anymore, I was just clicking, going through the motions. My search was over. There was no choice to make. I told myself if I didn’t get this dog, I would wait. If it didn’t work out, it was a sign to slow my roll, that maybe the this wasn’t the right time. There was something about this pupper in particular that I was drawn to, something oozing from the photos. Something about his face, his energy, his presence. Whatever it was, Sweet Pea had had it too.
I sent my application in at 10pm December 27 and before the New Year I learned Freddie Mercury was mine, just like I knew he already was. But now it was official.
I sent a photo to my dad.
He saw it too.
Sweet Pea, (I sometimes call him that by accident, sometimes out of affection, I hope you don’t mind) I think you’d like Freddie Mercury, and I know he’d love you, because he loves everything I love, like an extension of me on his own time. I watch as he meets the people in my life, the ones he’s immediately drawn to and the ones that will take a few meetings, because frankly, people have layers and we’re just trying to smell them all out, figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie pop, where the understanding lives.
In his short year on earth (give or take a few months, no one really knows), Freddie has learned, like I have learned, not everyone can be trusted. Some people will leave you, some people will love you, some people will do both. Not everyone has the same intentions when they pat your head or give you treats.
But together, we’re gonna take on the world.
(Or at least the neighborhood. We’ll start with that.)