Puppy in my Hoodie
Diane D. Gillette
I’m walking around with the puppy in my hoodie. Her heart and my heart already beat to the same rhythm. I don’t know yet that our hearts will be merged for the next 17 years and she will leave a hole big enough to drown in when she finally leaves me. But right now she is still wee enough to fit in the palm of my pre-teen hand. My mother is humming softly as she washes cereal bowls. I smell the lake, fishy, dank, and hear the crunch of the gravel path as my father and brother haul their poles and tackle boxes down to the dock to catch our dinner. I watch the red bobber attached to the end of my father’s pole bounce up and down mocking me over his shoulder. It reminds me that it has a twin at home, stripped bare from all the practical accessories that make it a fishing pole. Instead, it lives in a corner where it can be grabbed up in a moment of paternal fury to lash at my bare legs or my brother’s for some wrongdoing or another. It whips through the air, wicked fast, reminding us of the cost of disappointing our father. I turn my back on the bobber disappearing down the gravel trail and begin looking for arrowheads with the puppy in my hoodie.
The puppy is in my hoodie because I can’t bear to be parted with her, and I begged my parents to let me bring her camping even though they wanted to leave her at my grandmother’s. But I already know, 48 hours into giving her my heart, that we will never ever be apart for more than the hours that span the school day. I don’t yet know that in approximately seven years, I will pack up my room and drive 500 miles away to attend college, leaving my puppy—by then a middle aged dog still in possession of my heart—home with my parents for four years. It won’t be because I want to leave her or that I don’t have any options closer to home, but instead, my love and need for my puppy cannot compete with the need to escape my father, with the knowledge that if I stay close to home, I will drown in the whiskey tainted dark waters he constantly swims in. I don’t yet know that I will ask my puppy for forgiveness every time I return home, and that she will always give it to me unconditionally, though my father never will.
I’m wandering down the gravel path with the puppy in my hoodie. She has fallen asleep there and her warmth seeps to the core of my soul. I squat at the edge of the lake and watch the minnows dart to and fro. I consider getting a plastic cup from our RV and trying to catch one, just to see if I can. But I am squatting where my brother wants to cast his pole and so he gives me a firm shove and I tumble down into the water. Everything moves in slow motion as I curl my body around the puppy in my hoodie. I cannot spare a thought for my own safety. Everything in me screams to protect her. I twist my body so it is my hip that lands hard on the rocks. It will bruise badly, I can already tell. But I don’t care. The puppy in my hoodie is safe.
The puppy in my hoodie squirms and whines at the rude awakening as my hoodie soaks up lake water. I find my feet and scream at my brother about how he might have hurt my puppy. My arms remain curled around her. My father knocks my brother on the back of the head, hard enough for him to stumble. He calls him an idiot. I stalk away back to the RV and the embrace of my mother. My wet puppy wiggles in my hoodie, and I silently curse my brother. I don’t yet know that my puppy will outlive my brother, whose need to escape takes him on a different, darker path than my own will. I don’t yet know that my puppy, by then a senior dog with arthritis and cloudy eyes (yet still my puppy) will be the one to lick the tears off my face when I get the news. I don’t yet know that we will be alone in a strange city we’ve moved to after I finish college. I won’t have had the time to build a local community, and I won’t yet have the money to fly home for his funeral. I don’t yet know that my puppy and I will have to grieve alone. Right now, I’m just focused on finding a towel my mother deems acceptable for dog use and getting my puppy safe and dry while my brother casts his fishing pole as far from my father as he can get.
But none of that has happened yet. Right now I’m snuggled in a dry sweatshirt and my puppy, still slightly damp, is burrowing underneath. Her heart and my heart beat as one and everything in my world is perfect once again.