Aloud to no one in particular, my mother said, “I wonder if she’ll cry that much when I die.”
At dusk a neighbor had come to the backdoor, telling her she had seen our new puppy dead in the street. Momentarily stunned, Mama said, “But I just let him out.”
I erupted in tears as if there were no tomorrow. Gone forever was something that would love me without any strings attached. Finally, my parents removed the death’s sting and gave me hope when they promised I could choose and name the next dog.
Months later my brothers and I ran out the front door heading for a schoolmate’s house. She had free puppies. As we bounded off the porch, my father called behind us, “Make sure it’s a boy.”
Daddy was waiting at the door when we returned empty-handed. “What happened?”
My heavy heart answered, “Only girls are left.” When he then told me a girl would be okay, I ran all the way back by myself for the white one and named her Snowball.
I grieved for Snowball when my father took her to Virginia for the three-dollar operation. Not because she was “fixed” so that she could never have puppies but because of what happened to her two days later.
Her relentless barking and straining for freedom from the chain anchored in my grandparents’ farmyard caused the inevitable. Snowball burst her stitches. I could only watch and listen to Snowball’s piercing yelps as my father and grandfather held her while my grandmother closed the incision with her needle and thread.
Unfortunately, that was the first and only time Snowball was tied to anything except my heart. She loved all of us, but she showed me I was her favorite when we moved to the row house with my own bedroom. Every school day when I came home, she was waiting for me on the backdoor stoop.
Rarely did I pet her. I didn’t like the strong odor it left on my hands. That guilt chased me when I’d walk over Snowball, careful not to step on her thumping tail.
Her routine presence on the steel stoop gave me some stability in my teeter-totter world. Walking to my house from the school bus stop, I never knew if that would be a day I’d hear my father’s drunken rants bombarding my mother. The times I heard them I wouldn’t look to the right or to the left lest I’d see a neighbor’s face. My eyes focused straight ahead on the backdoor. There I could escape inside the house and disassociate myself from public shame.
When we had moved into our new house, the neighborhood did not know my father was an alcoholic. If the family kept the secret, no one would ever know. Of course, Daddy let it out.
One afternoon Snowball was not on the stoop. She was not there the next afternoon or the next. She was never there again.
As her absence continued, I expressed my puzzlement to Mama. “Sometimes dogs go away,” she said. But her glib answer did not sit right with me.
My heart believed Snowball loved me too much to just up and leave. And I didn’t fear she had been hit by a car. She was not a puppy.
Snowball surfaced four decades later from my father’s lips. “You remember that dog Snowball? She always ran after the mailman. He said he would not deliver the mail to our house anymore if she didn’t stop. We called the SPCA. We had to.”
Twenty years after my father revealed Snowball had been euthanized, I had a dream that I was in a serene place. Alone. That is, I didn’t see anyone, but I did feel I was not alone.
I was squatting as I do when greeting a grandchild face to face. Suddenly, a white dog appeared, running to me as fast as a speeding bullet. “Who is this?” my mind asked. An unseen voice replied, “This is Snowball.”