Subject: the dog
I want you to know that the dog is not dead and it’s on its way to a full recovery.
When I found it, the dog had been run over by a single Lexus SUV wheel. I was at the trails on Mount Fester (I’ve gotten more into hiking, on the suggestion of my new therapist, since our split), which are usually empty on a weekday morning, and a car happened to be backing up as a woman happened to be walking her dog, and I happened to be exiting the trail. What are the odds of all this commotion at eleven am on a Wednesday?
Seeing this dog, its body covered in a mantle of engine shadow, its brown paw twitching against the gravel, looking so much like Buster’s paw when he slept, brought me tender feelings towards our dog — your dog — Buster.
I remember the first inklings of wanting to leave you. At first it was this crazy idea barely buzzing past my mind like a fruit fly: how if I left you, I wouldn’t have to deal with that damn dog any longer. He ate my face cream, entire bags of organic corn chips. Surely, you remember when he ate all our capsules of CBD oil, and I wondered, laughing, if he’d get high and have the munchies, if he’d want some Cheetos and ice cream. And then I saw you crying silently in that corner chair no one ever sits in, researching on your phone whether CBD was lethal to canines.
It was at that moment, when I reached under the car and felt wet and fur and pulled him into the daylight, that I missed Buster. I missed pushing him off our bed so I could have a place to sleep. I missed his terrible breath, a terrible that became comforting in its familiarity.
Just days before I asked to leave you (do you remember I asked permission? How funny sad things become later. How sad funny things become, too.) I went to Walmart.
I went to Walmart and I filled my cart with concealer, cereal, a scarf. I didn’t know this was what I’d grabbed. I was walking around the store like a woman with some kind of blindness, the image and scene I’d last laid eyes on immediately vanished from my short-term memory. I was on my way to the weapons department. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and I couldn’t imagine leaving this earth with a stomach ache or vomit on my face. I wanted to shoot myself. That’s how it always happened in my mental movies, anyway. I passed through the aisles, among crossbows and ammunition. When I got to the handguns, and my brain focused enough to register the model and price of one, an elderly man asked if I needed any assistance, I jumped — literally jumped. And I said no and scurried to the express checkout where I purchased what I later found out was concealer and cereal and a scarf. I left these things in my trunk for a long time. I eventually ate the cereal. I didn’t want it to go to waste. The concealer didn’t match my skin tone. I gave the scarf to a coworker as a secret Santa gift.
Will you come back to me?
I can remember being a teenager, lying on the busted sofa in our basement with all the lights turned out, holding my hands at different positions (crossed like Dracula, down at my sides, clasped above my crotch), wondering how I’d be positioned in a casket. This is probably where I should have realized there was something wrong with me and not just something wrong with my circumstances.
I have missed Buster more than I would have anticipated. Whenever I’ve run into your sister at the gym (Remember how my old therapist was always trying to get me to the gym?) my first question is always, “How’s Buster?” Not just because I want to avoid asking about you as the first thing I say to your sister upon re-acquaintance, but also because he’s the first thing I think of when I see her. This is probably also in part because she was with us when we adopted him. Which is probably also why I always thought of him as your dog, because of the connection to your family. Is your sister still volunteering at the shelter? I always forget to ask her. And maybe I don’t really care whether she is or not, but maybe I just want to sit here longer in this memory of us in the pet supplies store five springs ago. Remember how there was snow on the ground, and during our first time walking him he turned it yellow, and we laughed about the thought of picking up his little body and contorting it like a sparkler to write our initials in the snow with his piss? But he was (is) a small dog with a limited bladder, and we never tested the theory because by the next time we walked him together the thought was no longer funny.
Do you think we could work, if we tried again with fresh eyes?
It was amazing, in my hesitance around blood, that I was brave enough to reach under the car and pull out the injured dog. (Though maybe, if I’m being honest, the thought of blood hadn’t crossed my mind, and maybe if it had I wouldn’t have been the one to reach under the car. Now that I consider it, I remember thinking, wet, upon touching it rather than blood.) I was probably not the bravest, just the first one to access the ability to act in any productive way. The owner of the dog was crouched in a nearby pile of leaves, weeping and clutching her heart. And the owner of the car was busy rifling in his glove compartment in an apparent state of shock, unable to recognize that he wouldn’t need proof of insurance after vehicular homicide of a small animal. (Not homicide. Is there a word specific to murdering a dog? I’m afraid to look it up.)
Cheryl (I found out later that the dog’s owner was named Cheryl) took Arnie (this dog, a jack russell) to the vet, and before she left, I asked for her phone number so I could get an update on the dog. I was invested now. Back in my own car, I wiped my fingers clean with a moist towelette, then dropped the pink-splotched disposable cloth into a plastic shopping bag on the passenger’s seat. I called her when I got home. I couldn’t wait any longer to make sure he’d made it. On the drive home I convinced myself that if Arnie was okay it meant Buster was okay, but if Arnie was dead it meant something was really wrong with Buster (I kept imagining the phrase “inoperable tumor” in my head). I dug my nails into my palms as the phone rang. As soon as I found out he was okay and could imagine Buster was okay, I started wondering if you were okay. And then I wondered if I was more okay when I was with you. I concluded that yes, I was, and that’s why I turned on my computer and I started to write this to you.
Anyway, I hope you’re well. I hope Buster is getting lots of chips.
Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook Pathetic (Etchings Press). Her writing has appeared in Tin House Online, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, Waxwing, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications. She teaches high school English in Virginia. You can find Shannon on twitter @OcqueocSAM or on her website at www.shannon-mcleod.com.