Bitten

uprooted from last year
*****************************************************************************

He came home in a cardboard rocket on a bed of shredded paper. For the first few months all he did was sleep, even when I collected him in my arms. He watched other dogs to learn how to pee while lifting his leg. Often he would lose balance, or his leg would windmill over and land in a puddle of golden dog rain. We tried to potty train him: we put him on the newspaper in our bathroom. I remember the uneven grout under my feet from my constant trips to check on him. I remember weeks later he peed on the homework I left on the floor, and he was proud because he peed on paper.

My sister named him Capri. I argued that it was too prissy for a male dog, even if he happened to be a cream-colored bundle of fur. A pretty name suited for a pretty dog, she argued. I relented.

I resented that he would bite only me. My sister says it’s because I dropped him too much when I was little. I say I couldn’t help it—I was just six. I don’t understand why or how I could’ve dropped him either. He was like a stuffed animal—he wouldn’t squirm, and he was just two pounds. I could still outrun and outwrestle the boys, but I couldn’t keep a two-pound fuzzball contained in my hands?

My other dog is also a Pomeranian. He’s a vibrant orange and like a lion, except for his tongue too long for his mouth and a tail curled too thick. We practically adopted him—his parents were restaurant owners who left him in a kennel for three years and named him Bank for good fortune. Because of their accented English we thought they had named him Ben. I thought it was an ugly name for a dog, so my sister and I renamed him Benito. On our first outing, we discovered that he masturbates in public. He bites everyone but me. And like me, he’s a little rough around the edges.

My mother used to hit them with wire hangers. I implored her not to, my blue cotton dress scrunched as I curled into a ball, enveloping my dogs in my puny body. She knew I only really cared if she went for the dogs, so that’s what she did. Her mane of black hair framing her face, overcast with passion and fury, I tried to match her roar with my childish screams. My dogs quivered by me, extracting every ounce of protection a bereft child could offer. When she would finally leave, I would shut the door with only the whisper of air sweeping under, light from the hallway slinking away as I lay on the bed wondering what was wrong with me. At times like these, Capri wouldn’t bite me and would let me hold him close. My mind tired from the hours of delirium, it succumbed to the sickening drops of a near-shut water spigot.

I would come home to a mother tired of it all—the whole child thing, her cheating husband, life. With her hair freshly permed and a few swipes of red on mechanical lips, she would walk around chanting, “I’m not your mother.”

I resented that he would bite only me. Maybe I used to hit him to let out the pent up frustration because I refused to let anyone know that I was having a hell of a time trying to sort things out. And I once cracked and told her, “You don’t understand mom, you told me not to tell anyone so I didn’t,” thinking I would get some kind of empathy. But I was right, she didn’t understand.

When she started going after me, not the dogs, I would find Capri by my side, shaking but trying to comfort me in the chaos that was my household. We would take strolls to the Plaza, following the concrete strip surrounded by fenced grass. Vaguely disconsolate, I watched the scenes of parents toting away their children with their calls of, “dinner!” “come home” “look it’s mommy!” in the waning hours of sunshine. Capri and I would stay for hours—hours past the first shadows that glanced the trees, hours past their total envelopment in darkness. He put up with it as my glazed eyes attempted to uncurtain the night and find reality. When we would finally leave, the echoes of children still rang in my ears.

A few years ago I finally had the guts to counter all her illogical arguments and her comparisons of me to other children—I can cook my own food, do my own dishes, do my own laundry. She shut up. She tried to slump against the couch but her body failed to—her spine was rigid against the stitched leather. Eyes reeling because Vivian never snaps.

And it felt so damn good. I could not allow myself to become prisoner to this petrified void of life, meaningless and hardened. Solidarity shaped me, but I no longer let it define me. Like Benito’s tail gradually uncurled, I relaxed. And even if I don’t know why Capri bites me—even if he doesn’t remember why—I’m grateful that he’s still here. Even if his biting me is irrational, because we are all imperfect.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the way things are. The strip of concrete leading to the Plaza is still framed by grass, but the rusty wire fences are gone. And Benito is home with his parents for that one week of the year. Today, Capri and I went for a walk, and he chased the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who he thought was his friend Dakota, but who in reality is Cody—a replacement for the deceased. And I suppose it’s okay that my dog doesn’t understand, because there’s a comfort in knowing that this is our neighborhood, whether it’s a strip of rubber or simply paws padding the gray pavement. It’s comforting to know people, even if you only know their dog’s name. And I’m fine with not being able to go back to fix things or figure out why my dog bites only me—I am happy that he grew up and I can still watch him hop through the streets, and all the memories I have with him aren’t worth giving up—the holding him tight in my puny arms, his fur tickling my face.

Weaving through the dark fibers of the night, I’m no longer tipping to one side with no wall next to me. I have a simply comforting handful of dog.

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