I want a dog

Posted 10/28/20

Give me this one fantasy.

I want a dog.

I grew up with a half-Lab, half-Golden Retriever named Lucy. Right out of college, I adopted a black-haired puppy I named after the poet Nikki Giovanni. …

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I want a dog

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Give me this one fantasy.

I want a dog.

I grew up with a half-Lab, half-Golden Retriever named Lucy. Right out of college, I adopted a black-haired puppy I named after the poet Nikki Giovanni. Nikki lived with me across two states as I married and had two sons. Now my wife and I have a third child, a daughter, and our young family is crammed into a 1,700 square-foot home with a backyard I can spit across. And I want a dog.

Our youngest is my accomplice. She wants to take home every canine she encounters in the neighborhood. Her two older brothers are skittish around dogs, which to my mind is another reason to get one. The middle child was bit when he was about his sister’s age. He needs a new, positive experience.

I need a new, positive experience.

More than seven months have passed since the first case of the coronavirus in North Carolina. This past Friday set a record high in new infections. For me, a dog represents a return to normalcy. A simpler time when the flu was the only vaccine I thought about on a regular basis. In her poem “Small Kindnesses,” Danusha Laméris reminds us that saying “bless you” after a sneeze is “a leftover ... from the Bubonic plague.” We had turned a deadly fear into a polite response. Now a sneeze is no longer just a sneeze.

Such is my desire for an idealized, simpler past that I even started a dinner conversation about the perfect name for our fictional dog. Our daughter’s suggestions — Flower and Clover — elicited groans from her brothers. The boys like the names Force and Fire, both of which are non-starters with their parents. Finally, their mother suggested Moon. I envisioned a white-haired puppy, a Husky mix with blue eyes. Perfect.

The very next weekend my daughter and I encountered a black Lab on a neighborhood walk. The dog’s name was Luna. A sign from the heavens!

Though willing to humor me, my wife is quick to point out that we don’t have the space in our home for another life force, much less the time or energy. We are already stretched too thin between pastoring two churches and our eldest’s virtual classroom. In the parlance of our time, we don’t have enough bandwidth. I’m tired of that metaphor, for I’m tired of the computer. Tired of Zoom calls and emails. I’m so tired of being tired that I can’t sleep.

I woke up early to scratch these thoughts on the back of my daughter’s discarded painting. My days run together like her watercolors.

But I remember carefree days with my dog Nikki. When she was a puppy, I’d walk her to the park near my crummy, one-bedroom apartment and she’d try to eat goose poop. Ah, those were good ol’ days! A few years later, my wife and I walked Nikki down the city streets of Richmond. Then came after-dinner walks with one of us holding the leash, the other pushing the stroller.

The holidays are coming. I daydream about our kids running downstairs on Christmas morning and can almost hear squeals of delight over the white-haired puppy in my arms. As our kids fawn over her soft fur and pale blue eyes, Moon gently licks their faces. My wife lovingly catches my eye. I would never say I told you so.

I’m under no illusion that we will magically return to a time when a sneeze is just a sneeze. But give me this one fantasy. I fear it’s going to be a long winter.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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