A Dog and Her Boy

When I was young, I never felt quite ready for the world. I was anxious. A bit scared. I lacked confidence. But, with her, I felt accepted. Her name was Ginger. She was a mutt. A little bit of Collie and a little bit of German Shepherd. She was golden brown with a beauty mark on the right hand side of her face.  She was my rock. And, my backyard was my buffer against a reality I did not fully understand.

She listened to my singing. She watched my dancing. She suffered through my antics. She did it all without critique. She knew me as I was and not how the world wanted me to be. And, when the world was harsh, she would hear my concerns. She lifted me up.

We were always together. In the backyard, she would curl up and watch me plant petunias, relocate Roses of Sharon, and transplant maple trees from the woods. I only had to point the garden hose in her direction to set her off running in large circles.  After two or three, she would come a charging and a chomping at the pillar of water I was spraying. She was a good dog.

She slept where I slept. She had accidents in the house. But, I didn’t care. Amid the cursing and cleaning, I would sneak off to my room. Her cave was under my bed.  I would reach way back, wrap my fingers around her paws, and gently drag her out into the light. I would tell her “It’s was all right girl.” She would lay her head on my lap. I would stroke her face calmly. We were in this world together.

As I grew older, I learned to be what I was expected to be. I learned to fit in. I learned how to excel in the world around me. I was making friends. I was playing sports. I was even winning awards. My world was expanding beyond the boundaries of my backyard. I was spending less and less time there. I was spending less and less time with her. And, the time I gave her was on my terms. It was at my convenience. Our relationship was changing. I was learning how to be without her. I was leaving her.

I did leave her. I moved away for college. She stayed behind. Her body grew old and frail. She lost weight. She lost fur. She lost control of her back legs. And, her breath began to smell of the disease that was killing her. However, none of those things could stop her from hustling down the hallway with her front legs shaking and her back legs dragging to welcome me home each and every time. She was a mess. But, she still had light in her eyes.

After graduation, I moved back home. I slept in the same bed. I stared at the same posters, pictures and trophies from high school. It was 1989 again. Ginger and I were together again. And, she grew healthier during my stay. But, my stay was only temporary. Kyra (my wife to be) and I were planning our future together. She was a waitress across town. I cut grass during the day. I was a car valet at night. We were saving up for graduate school. And, less than a year later, we were ready to move to Richmond.

I tried to tell Ginger what was happening. I gave her reasons for my leaving. I did my best to explain. And, when the time came for me to go, I knelt down before her. I ran my hands over her cheeks, through her ears, and down her shoulders. I stared into her eyes. I placed her grey muzzle in my hands, rested my nose on her forehead, and kissed her good-bye.

It would be our last good-bye. My Mom would call soon after to tell me that she was gone. She was seventeen. Her passing haunted me. Why did I not take her with me? How could I have left her (again)? Why did I believe that leaving was the natural course of things? The guilt I felt was overwhelming and unrelenting.

A couple years later, Kyra and I would return home for the holidays. Ginger was buried in the backyard. I spent some time visiting her. And, that night, she visited me in a dream. We were sitting together in a darkened movie theater. A square of white light was showing on the screen. Ginger was sitting in a chair to my right. I turned to look at her. She turned to look at me. Her eyes were clear. Her fur was full. Her grey was gone. She was panting her happy pant. I smiled at her. She smiled at me. And, I woke up. I took a couple breaths and began to cry uncontrollably in Kyra’s lap.

The dream was only for a moment. No words were exchanged. But, she told me to let go of my guilt. She told me that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was growing up. I was building a family of my own. She told me that I was her boy. But, I was not her boy to keep. She set me free.

She also told me that when my time in this body was through that she would be the first to greet me.

She was is a good dog.

Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)

Connect with me on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/blucollarprof?ref=hl

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