When I was a teenager, I really wanted my own dog. For years I begged Mom and Dad to let me get one. Their answer was always no, and they always had a good reason for not giving me what I wanted. I wouldn’t clean up the dog poop. I wouldn’t keep it bathed. I wouldn’t take it for its daily walks. I wouldn’t… You fill in the blank. They just didn’t want to have another dog.
I never relented, though. I brought it up at least weekly at the dinner table, or while they were driving me to band concerts, or any time I finished my chores, or any time I felt particularly lonely, sad, or awkward, which… did I mention I was a teenager? Yeah, so that was pretty much a daily thing. I mean, how could it not be when my face was one giant pimple ready to be popped and my idea of showering was wiping my pits with a wet wad of toilet paper every other morning?
That dog would be the answer to all of my problems. I just knew it.
That dog would love me. It would protect me. It would be faithful to me. It wouldn’t care about anything the way all those crazy people always did.
I had dreams of getting a Bulldog, or a Boxer, or something else equally as tough and lovable. I think I have always been able to relate to those bully breeds most. They look mean and huge and ornery on the outside, but inside they’re sweet, and good, and they just want to be loved unconditionally. That was me.
Then, after those years of begging, Christmas came. I had an unusually small stack of presents compared to the other kids, which meant one thing. Inside one of them was something awesome. But, I got to the end of my presents and there wasn’t anything that awesome at all. I think the best thing I got was a Weird Al Yankovic CD.
As I sat trying to hide my disappointment while my brother opened a fancy remote control car and my sister opened her karaoke machine, I got more and more depressed. Then suddenly, at the peak of my dejection, Mom hushed everyone.
“Shhhh,” she demanded. “Did you hear that?”
Everyone went silent. No one heard anything and we began to tell her so. Then she shushed us again and we all listened until we heard a tiny yap somewhere far away in the house.
My heart leapt inside my chest. Was that a… it couldn’t be… what could it… I couldn’t even finish a thought, I was so excited.
Mom stood up and excused herself. She returned not more than a few moments later carrying a small dog kennel wrapped completely in wrapping paper except a few holes and the handle. “I think Dan has one more present.” She said it tauntingly like she thought it was the funniest thing on Earth that she had tricked me into thinking I was going to have a crappy Christmas.
I didn’t care. My blood was racing through my body. My mind was screaming. I was frozen. What would it be? A short squashy-faced puppy ready to turn into my fellow beefcake? My Boxer? My Bulldog? A Mastiff maybe? A Giant Schnauzer? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. It was a dog and it was going to be mine.
I finally swallowed the lump in my throat and smiled at Mom. She walked over to me and set it in front of me. “Merry Christmas!” she chirped.
I just looked at it for the longest moment until I heard tiny padded feet pawing at the floor of the kennel followed by another tiny yap. I reached out and slowly started stripping paper away. I purposefully didn’t look inside, afraid that whatever was in there would disappear if I did.
When the last of the paper was gone, I pulled the kennel onto my lap, pinched the door latch together, swung the front open, and looked inside.
There at the back of the kennel, happy, and energetic, and so excited to see me was a little…