There was only one dog, but there are two stories. At least two. Probably more.
The first story goes like this:
My dad started circling ads in the For Sale section of the Dallas Morning News featuring puppies for sale in small towns like Granbury and Red Oak. As the doubting child, I thought it was as likely that we’d end up with a pet unicorn as some AKC pure bred. Then one afternoon there it was: an adorable cocker spaniel with impossibly long ears and a dopey expression that was endearing and unchanging.
We had a puppy. Overnight, we’d become a puppy family, an idea that infused my every fantasy with promise. I was a person in a family that has a puppy!
We named him Buckwheat because we loved The Little Rascals. I was surprised at how much he shat and pissed in the house. In the kitchen. It smelled really bad. I was indifferent when my mom moved his quarters to the garage, whereupon he chewed through the garage door, which allowed him ingress and egress to the backyard whenever he wanted.
Mom spent the most time with Buckwheat. I have a faint memory of her throwing him a slobbery tennis ball and scratching his head before she served him his food. When our next door neighbors, two aging “sisters” who anointed themselves the neighborhood pet police, berated my mom over the fence for how she was taking care of Buckwheat, the whole having a dog experience soured for Mom. I came home from mass a few Sundays later, and my dad announced that he’d given Buckwheat away to the air conditioner repairman.
That night, as the cool air chilled my room, I stuffed my feet under the sheets and sobbed as if someone had given my dog away. Because someone had. When my dad heard me, he sat on my bed and rubbed my head. I have no memory of what he said to me, but my guess it was entirely appropriate under the circumstances. By then, he had almost a decade of fathering a complete drama queen to draw upon.
Later, I would tell the story of how “my parents gave my dog away while I was at church” when it suited me. It suited me when I wanted someone to feel sorry for me or understand why I was the way I was. Buckwheat was my narrative symbol of how adults betray children while they are at mass. It was a story that implicated my parents, the Catholic Church, and central A/C– like The DaVinci Code, but with more heart.
It was a good story.
But there’s this other story. Same dog, same drama queen, same nasty neighbors who actually were sisters, not lovers. That story is about how my parents offered us an experience that I didn’t embrace for dozens of reasons, including the fact that I didn’t particularly like dogs and couldn’t deal with the realities of a real dog that had excretory needs and hair that shed like snow. In that story, I admit that I never once went out of my way to play with Buckwheat. I don’t remember talking about him at school, drawing a picture of him with a Husky pencil or pining for him when I went to visit my Grandma.
I liked the idea of being part of a family that had a dog because it seemed wholesome and picturesque and functional, all of which were my deep, inarticulable longings.
But I didn’t like dogs.
And the A/C guy was gaga over Buckwheat. He lived on a couple of acres outside of Fort Worth with a son who had been begging for a second dog, having already proven his canine devotion with a middle-aged golden retriever.