“I feel guilty,” I said. We laid in her bed on those soft gray jersey-knit sheets, and I nestled my chin against my chest as I ran my right pinky through her straight dark-brown hair. It rested on her face, so soft and silky that it fell back in her face even when she habitually pulled it behind her ear. My finger brushed against her cheek, soft and glowing even in the artificial twilight of her room. “We got him together, but we leave him at my apartment all day. I’m here, and he’s locked in my room. You know Justin and Gabe aren’t letting him out.”
Her voice held a note of concern that didn’t match the gravity in my chest: “What do you want me to do? I’m allergic to him.” Her hand rested on her pillow. Christina looked at me, but I didn’t meet her eyes. Instead I watched my hand retrace the dark strands.
I lifted my chin so I could meet her gaze before replying, “Let me bring him over from time to time. Let him play in the back yard. That would help a lot.”
She sighed, having heard this request before. “I can’t do that. My roommates don’t want him in the house—”
“Just from one door to the other.”
“—and I don’t want his fur in my home. I itch and I can’t breathe.” Her eyes rolled away from mine.
I deflated. “If only Justin and Gabe would help me out like they promised they would before I agreed to take him.” I let out a frustrated breath, anger at the whole situation filling me up, tying knots in my back. “I’m trying to balance his discomfort and yours. You asked me to get him, remember?”
“That’s because they were going to take him to the shelter!” Her exclamation came out soft but firm; I could almost hear a groan behind it. “I didn’t know that I was allergic to him, and I still don’t want him put to sleep.” Her hand moved from the pillow to my unshaven cheek, warm and light against the week-growth of down.
“Well, I can’t keep him like this. I can’t keep him locked in my room while I spend my time here. He’d be better off at a shelter than locked in my cell of a bedroom.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?” she asked quickly. “They’d kill him!”
I closed my eyes, inhaled, and exhaled, confused about how to proceed. Brody, my five-month old German Shepherd, had come from Christina’s upstairs neighbors when his owner, some sorority girl, had graduated in December and decided she didn’t want to take him home. I had Brody for a month before we found out that he triggered Christina’s allergies, and I left him alone in my bedroom when I went to class or to her place. In his boredom, he had started to chew up my book collection. Since I was a liberal arts student, I treasured my books more than for their usefulness in class and resented that he saw them as toys.
These thoughts went through my head when I considered giving him up: fully grown and energetic, it seemed unlikely that he would get adopted, but I was ignorant of Waco’s demographic for dog adoption and could only picture some young family seeing him and thinking that he wasn’t right to have around children. I feared that nobody would take him, that he would die there. Also, I enjoyed his company when we were together; he would curl up next to me with his head on one of my thighs and sleep peacefully or jump his upper body into my lap to show me his puppy smile. Brody’s playful personality inspired me to leave the house when I would’ve otherwise played computer games or read for leisure, and I wanted to work out a way to spend more time with him rather than sacrifice his love for Christina’s.
“Well, I need to go to him now,” I sighed. “He’s been alone almost fourteen hours today. I’m tired of leaving him alone all the time; it makes me like a dick.”
“Alright, but I’ll miss you,” she answered. Christina reached out and took my hand, pressing it softly against the soft cotton between her breasts.
“Stay with me just a little longer, won’t you?”
A small smile bent my lips. I rolled my eyes. I agreed.
Four hours later, near three in the morning, I stumbled into my loft apartment. I had fallen asleep in Christina’s arms and had to drag myself out of her warmth, her soft bed, to come home to Brody. He’s lucky that necessity trumps preference in my book: I would’ve preferred to stay.
I thought I knew the layout of my apartment by heart even in the dark, but I knocked my right leg into the loveseat on my way to my room. The couch scraped across the polished concrete, making a racket that seemed ungodly loud in the early morning silence. As I cursed under my breath, I heard Brody put his front paws against the wood door of my bedroom, waiting for me.
After I opened the door, he pranced for my attention. Brody jumped on the bed and turned in circles, smiling. A white bookshelf that held my uncared for books stood behind him against the brick wall, inlaid with one square glass window; Brody’s reflection danced there.
A carcass of a book lay on my floor. Purple paper like skin tossed aside littered the floor, marking the carrion feast at the foot of the dark wood bookshelf that held my personal favorites. Brody had learned how to get under the sliding glass shelf doors.
Get him over here, I told myself. Smack him once so that he knows not to do it, but don’t make it a big deal. He’s chewed books before.
I put a stern expression on my face and snapped my right middle finger and thumb, pointing at the book afterwards. Brody stopped prancing. His ears dropped, his butt hit the bed. He looked away from me ashamed.
I snapped my fingers again, waiting for him to obey. He moved away from me on the bed, curling up in a far corner. He knew that what he had done would anger me and he had done it anyway. My shoulders tensed, and I felt an angry heat on my cheeks.
Get him over here, I thought, and smack him once. Don’t draw this out.
I sighed, closing my eyes and turning my head to the right, forcibly relaxing my shoulder. I could still feel tension in them as I looked over a Brody and grudgingly made my way over to him.
He cowered, sinking his head down as if he were a turtle and my pillow his shell. I grabbed his collar with my index and middle fingers on my right hand. I made to pull, and he bolted.
The collar twisted on my fingers, and the joints at their base popped. I instinctively yanked my hand back, which pulled him by his throat off the bed. Urine, in a shifting arc, left him and landed on my bed, on my pillow and comforter.
Surprised, I yanked him by his collar off the bed, and he fell on the concrete with a yelp as one of his legs slid out from under him. He tried to run, but he didn’t have his footing; he only managed to pop my fingers again as the collar twisted.
I drug him across the bedroom floor to the ruined book, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. I smacked Brody once on his right hind quarter. I expected that to be the end of it.
I yanked my hand back as if to strike him again. I tightened my body, knowing I didn’t want to. I turned to my bed and saw the small yellow pool sinking into the bedsheets. I thought of how frustrated I was with my roommates. I pictured Christina at her apartment, in her bed without me. With these supports knocked away, the weight of school and ownership collapsed.
My hand fell hard on Brody’s pelvis, and he howled. More urine escaped him, hitting the floor and scattering, smattering my khakis. I lifted my arm again and hit him solidly in the ribs. He yelped. He kicked against the ground, but his feet slipped in the puddle of urine and he fell to his stomach, pulling my left arm down with his collar. I struck his pelvis again. And again, and again. Brody didn’t howl anymore; he cried.
I heard Justin on the stairs, clunking heavily, metallic echoes. He opened the door to my room and grabbed my arm midthrust. How long had I been hitting Brody? Two minutes? Five, maybe, before Justin woke up and stopped me, screaming at me that I’d kill him, and a question, what the fuck I was doing.
“I can’t do this!” I shouted at him through tears as he forced me away from Brody. “I need help! You promised you would help!”
In a flat tone that showed him truly unimpressed, he said simply, “It’s your dog,” and walked out of the room.
I collected myself and wiped my face of tears. I threw a towel on the floor, changed my pants, and leashed Brody. In my shaken mind, I still wanted to take him outside, even if the purpose was no longer clear.
On the way out I grabbed my backpack, thinking maybe I would drive to Dallas. I radiated heat, even more than usual, and my mind fumed. Rather than to my car, I walked Brody to the apartment pool.
When I sat down on some steps outside the pool gate, Brody seemed genuinely unfazed by the incident. He nuzzled against my hand with his nose and sat down in the grass next to me. Maybe he could tell the crazy had left me. Maybe the isolation had driven him as crazy as me.
I wrote about betrayal. I wrote about how I had beaten Brody for things that were mostly my fault. I wrote about how I had never lost control of my emotions like that.
I wrote about expectations, about black and white morality how it applies to dogs: good, bad, no gray. He shouldn’t touch my books; he shouldn’t dig through the trash; he shouldn’t piss when I beat him. That is the amoral judgment.
I wrote about how I did it to him, how I had locked him in my bedroom without toys. I wrote about how Justin had been right. I wrote about betrayal through broken promises on his part, on our other roommates part. I wrote about responsibility, about our broken promises, mine and theirs.
I wrote, “As I see it, I have two choices: give him up (not preferred) or work out a deal with the roomies. I will talk with them before I surrender the dog. I am coming to love him.”
A few days later, I cried after handing him over to the SPCA. I lied to them, told them I had found him on the streets less than a week ago so that I could get out of owning him without having to pay a fee.
I remember feeling like a bastard. I remember the guilt.
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Author: Greg Freed
This is a conversation I had with @wattsnan_poetry about the piece via Twitter. I hope it’s easy enough to follow!
wattsnan_poetry OMG how horrible you were to that dog. I hope it wasn’t true. 😦
greg_freed it was true. i totally lost control. but its a story we need to reckon w/; to me this piece is connected to Garden and Controlling Passion.
wattsnan_poetry What kind of responses do you think you will get?
greg_freed i want people to talk about how much control they have over their emotions, pet ownership frustrations, etc.
wattsnan_poetry not with a dog 😦 actually, never…I think it’s the mom in me
wattsnan_poetry I have a dog..Joey/boarder collie-spitz. He chewed a $2000 Natuzi Chair when he was a puppy…
greg_freed the post may be dark but i still expect that it’s universal. it’s relies on whether readers will want to admit that they’ve been there, too.
wattsnan_poetry Mom’s may think it…but we also understand that children, and pets are reactive to the situations we put them in…
greg_freed one of the best stories i’ve heard at a public reading was from a mom talking about almost but not hitting her kid, similar to this post.
wattsnan_poetry I get the loosing your temper…I remember sleep deprivation when the kids were babies…
greg_freed i tried to imply that he had chewed books before but not bothered me, that it was a collision of factors, not just the book, that snapped me
wattsnan_poetry I don’t think you get that you treated the dog badly from the beginning…Couped up in your room for 18 hours?
wattsnan_poetry I can’t believe he didn’t pee all over the place…
greg_freed i opened the piece arguing with christina about treating him poorly, and i argued with myself about how to discipline him ‘cuz i knew
wattsnan_poetry you shouldn’t have disciplined him…you should have disciplined yourself…that’s what you don’t get…
wattsnan_poetry As long as you know the poor dog did nothing wrong at any point…Don’t have kids any time soon
greg_freed i get it. that’s why a statement of guilt opens and closes the piece. in the moment i got it, too, but i was confused. guess it didn’t work.