The following is a work of fiction…
You see it every day. You see it in every town. You see it so much you don’t even know or realize that you’ve seen it before. You see it so much that it gets muddled. You don’t remember if you saw it earlier today, or yesterday, or last week, or maybe you saw it twice this week. You catch my drift. It’s just something that’s so there, something that just blends and fades into the background of your life.
It’s just a boy and his dog. It’s just a boy and his dog who are always walking around town together. And you know, you never think about them, because you see them all the time. You don’t know their story. You only know that they’re two best friends doing the best they can to get by, because it’s not a boy who is wearing an American Eagle shirt that his mom bought for him last weekend. It’s a boy who’s wearing an American Eagle shirt that’s too big for him, and that another mom bought for another boy a couple of years ago. His pants are rolled up and hanging off his way too skinny waist, and his shoes have seen better days as well. Those pants and those shoes didn’t start off being his pants and his shoes, but they’re his now. They’re probably the only shoes he has, and he probably has one more pair of pants somewhere, and a couple of other shirts as well.
You never see his parents, but in my part of the world, that’s not so uncommon, unfortunately. If I were to take a guess, I would venture to say that this particular boy probably comes from a single parent home, where the single parent has to work many hours a day to feed this boy, and this dog, and the other children and other pets who probably live in a home that’s probably too small for all of them. But you know, they’re surviving. They’re doing the best they can, just like all of us, only in completely different circumstances.
Sometimes I see the boy and his dog interacting with other people on the street, and that always grabs my attention for a few seconds before I turn away and continue with my own daily existence. Sometimes I see the dog, who is incredibly friendly, and who is never on a leash, be petted by other people, or be shooed away by other people, or be given scraps of food by other people. I’ve seen the boy take whatever food he has and lovingly feed it to his friend, who patiently awaits, with his ears perked up, his eyes full of love, staring right at his master who is about to give him some nourishment, perhaps the only nourishment they’ll both enjoy today.
And you never give them a second thought, really. You know that there are other boys with other dogs who are roaming and navigating the streets, getting by as best they can. And you put it out of your mind because of your own reality and your own navigation, and because if you start to think about those boys and those dogs, you’ll go crazy knowing that even if you save one boy and one dog, you’ll never be able to save them all, and maybe that’s too heavy for you, because you’re carrying around other heavy stuff, and maybe you decide that perhaps next time instead of giving scraps to the dog, you might give the boy a meal, or maybe one of your old American Eagle shirts, or maybe those shoes that have been in your closet that you haven’t worn in years.
Like I said before, the dog is a good dog. He’s not a purebred by any means. He isn’t a French Bulldog, or a Labrador Retriever, or a French Poodle. He’s just a dog. He’s just a good, friendly, dog. He’s too skinny though. Even though his human feeds him whatever he can, and he scavenges and finds things to eat here and there, his ribs are way too prominent. He’s a good dog, and he’s happy, because he has a good human, and because they are best friends. If he could only catch that damn cat that always seems to be following them, he could be even happier. Other than that though, he doesn’t mind that he will go to sleep hungry a lot of the time. He doesn’t mind because even though he might go to sleep hungry, he never goes to sleep cold, because he sleeps next to the person he loves most in this world, and because love is always warm, and love is always warm to a good dog like himself.
A few weeks ago, or maybe more, or maybe less (that really doesn’t matter here), I found myself sitting on a bench outside my local coffee shop, drinking a cup of coffee, enjoying an unseasonably cool day. I was all by myself, as I am a lot of the time, and was just observing the world pass by, taking a break from my own issues and stepping outside, both literally and mentally. I would drift away, daydreaming about better days to come, making grandiose plans in my head, ignoring the voice of reality, just floating and being there and not being there at the same time.
As I was sitting there, I glanced up and saw that little boy with his dog walking on the sidewalk heading my way. I kept looking at them with wonder at how comfortable they seemed with each other, the good dog with a big, goofy, panting grin, trotting next to his human, the one human he would die for, the one human he would kill for, the one human in this world that he trusted with his life every single day. The boy seemed just as content, occasionally slapping the good dog on the rump, or ruffling his head, admonishing his best friend if he got too close to the street. And all this while, I could still see the boy’s too-big shirt and the dog’s too-prominent ribs, and decided that today, I would do something about it. When they got close enough, I said hello to the boy and scratched the good dog’s ears, and asked the boy if they were hungry, even though I knew they were, as they probably are a lot of the time. I told the boy to wait for me on that bench, because I was going to buy them some lunch. And the good dog wasn’t going to get scraps this time, nope, not today.
I walk into the coffee shop, and it’s one of those places that are always full, and that they ask you for your name and write it on the cup of coffee you buy. One of those places that sells you a card and if you go there enough, you get the golden version, with your name printed on it, just to prove how much more special you are than everybody else. I have that card, of course. As I’m waiting for the woman in front of me to finish making her order (she’s one of those that always has a million questions and always orders a cup of regular coffee anyway), I can’t help but smile. Because outside, patiently sitting on a bench, are a good boy and a good dog, and they’re best friends, and they love each other, and really, isn’t that the best thing?
I order lunch for the boy and his dog, and as I am waiting for it, I look outside the window and see that another boy has stopped and is talking to the good boy and the good dog, and I can tell that this other boy is the type of boy who can go into an American Eagle store and walk away with a few shirts that are just his size, and his parents won’t bat an eye. Well, this other boy seems nice enough, and to further that point, he gives what looks like a tennis ball to the good boy and the good dog, which only widens my smile, because what good is a boy and his dog if the boy doesn’t have a ball to throw and the dog doesn’t have a ball to catch?
Lunch seems to be taking an unusually long time, and I have no choice but to wait. The boy looks in the window of the coffee shop and I tell him that I’ll be right there, and he sheepishly smiles and goes back to the bench, and back to his best friend. He starts tossing the all in the air, immediately getting the good dog’s attention, of course, because a good dog will always perk up when there’s a tennis ball being tossed around. The boy is a bit awkward with the ball, and doesn’t always catch it cleanly. He even drops it a few times, but the good dog is right there to give it right back. What a good dog he is! By this point, the lady from the coffee shop has apologized for the order taking so long, but I don’t mind. I’m watching a pair of best friends just being best friends, loving each other and enjoying each other as only best friends can.
And then it all changes.
This time, the boy fails to catch the ball cleanly, and instead of the ball rolling towards the dog, it starts to roll towards the street. The boy, as boys do, jumps into action and starts chasing after the ball, a look of concern on his face, because he doesn’t want to lose their new toy, because he wants to continue playing with the good dog, who is also his best friend. The good dog, after years of being admonished by the boy not to go into the street, stays where he is, because he knows that’s what the boy wants him to do. The boy never saw the car coming straight at the ball, and at him, and the man driving the car never sees the boy, because at that precise moment he is plugging in his phone to his car charger because his battery is running out. But the good dog sees it all, and the good dog does what comes most natural to him. The good dog leaps into action and leaps at the boy with all his strength, because he loves the boy, and he pushes the boy out of the way, just in the nick of time. He only has a split second to bark happily that he saved the boy’s life, before the sickening crunch of the car slamming into his back and severing his spine silences his bark for good.
The boy, shaken up, but otherwise unharmed, with his new tennis ball clutched in his hand, turns around, and sees his best friend lying motionless on the street. He seems confused at first, and calls for his friend, to no avail. He screams for his best friend, but his best friend has been silenced. He has been silenced because he so loved the boy that he gave his life for him. He is still alive when the boy gets to him, and when the boy cradles the dog’s head in his lap, he will leave this world staring adoringly at his human, just as he did every day of his life, just as he did every night before they fell asleep, just as he did even in his dreams. The good dog dies with his head on the good boy’s lap, the same way he fell asleep many times during his life, the same way he woke up many times during his life, only this time he isn’t going to wake up. Love is warm, especially for a good boy and his good dog, and he will leave us with that warm feeling, ignoring the pain in his back and the blood trickling from his nose and mouth, and he will die just as he lived, with his heart full of love.
I will never forget that wail for as long as I live. It is the most awful, haunting sound I have ever heard in my life. It is the sound of a person shattering into a million pieces, of a heart tearing itself apart. It is the sound of pain, pure and simple. Pain like no other. Pain that is real, and pain that will never die. It is the sound of a child losing the one thing in this world that made sense to him. It is the sound of a good boy losing his best friend, the best friend he will ever have, the best friend he could ever hope for.
Everything after that is a blur. I raced outside to the boy, and tried to console him and hold him as best I could, but he was lost. He was lost to everything else but his pain, and his best friend laying lifeless on his lap. I took control and helped him lay his best friend to rest, and helped him get home, where he fell wailing into the arms of his mother, perhaps the one being on this planet he loved more than his good dog. Or perhaps not.
I haven’t seen the boy since. I’ve gone to his home a few times but he’s never there, or he doesn’t want to see me. Maybe he blames me for what happened, because if I hadn’t told them to wait for me while I bought them lunch, that wouldn’t have happened. I blame myself sometimes, too. I think about finding him and getting him another dog, but I know that it will never be the same for him.
I keep going back to the coffee shop and sitting on the same bench, hoping beyond hope that I’ll see him again, maybe walking down the sidewalk with another good dog, going about his day, navigating this crazy world, doing the best he can to survive just like the rest of us.
He’s a good boy, and he was a good dog.
You see it every day.