Dog Days

March 2, 2017
By , Austin, TX

I take a deep breath. Everything hinges on this moment. Adrenaline courses through my veins, burning hot and icy cold at the same time. My muscles are tight, curled in anticipation. How did I get here? Well I guess I need to give you some background...
1 month earlier
“Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” Kelly crouches down to meet me at eye level, repeating her question. It’s me. It’s me! I’m a good boy! How do I know that? Because we go over it every night! All this I say as firmly as possible, but alas, it only comes out as an encouraging bark.
“That’s right you are!” Kelly holds me close and shakes me back and forward. I think this is supposed to be a move of affection, frequently demonstrated in sappy commercials and movies. However, in reality it just feels like I’ve been dumped in a washing machine.
I am a dog. A golden retreiver to be specific. I go by the name of Joe. I was born in Dallas, but thanks to the powers of Facebook, Kelly found and adopted me. Since then I’ve lived the same routine everyday. I start out my mornings with a bowl of bitter prison grub. (Dog food manufacturers need to seriously step up their game.) And just like in prison, I get my supervised outdoor time where I take care of certain needs. Then Kelly goes to work but only after lots of pettings and belly rubs. The whole time I’m telling her to get out and let me be, but of course the language barrier and media stereotypes make her think that I’m begging her to stay. Once she’s left I pass my mornings by reading the newspaper and watching some television. I can stretch this routine out until noon whereupon I force myself to eat more grub, and I go back to the TV again. Once in awhile, I’ll pick up a book or magazine lying around to keep myself informed about the world. By two o’clock, though, I’m a wreck. My energy is like an avalanche, picking up speed and power uncontrollably as I pace back and forth frantically. Combined with my naturally anxious predisposition, I’m ready to pounce at the slightest sound (Don’t even get me started on what happens when it rains, and the thunder tries to kill me.) By five o’clock when Kelly gets home, I’m leaping, twirling, jumping and barking, only fueling her self-indulgent notion that I can’t contain my excitement for her homecoming. Following her return, I’ll eat more grub, go for another walk, and finish the day like it began: watching TV. The next morning, I wake up at the crack of dawn and the excruciatingly boring cycle starts again. I don’t mean to complain, rather to clarify. So many people have told me that they wish they could have my life, sleeping and eating and relaxing all day without a care in the world. And yes, it is true I do all of those things. However, as my friend Marley (yes from Marley and Me...I know people) said, “Be careful what you wish for.” The next time you idolize the lazy and luxurious life of a dog, or go on and on about their steadfast loyalty, just recognize that you don’t know what they’re barking.
It’s night. The cool air burrows beneath my fur as I walk along the sidewalk. I long to run and leap and prance around, but a collar keeps me in place. To be or not to be? To run or to not be strangled? Even at a normal pace, the leash digs into my windpipe. My stomach rumbles. I’m starving. Every time I get used to a brand of food it runs out, and Kelly gets a new type. A more organic, healthy type. In other words, a more disgusting type. The leaves are turning from red to gold. It’s my favorite time of the year which isn’t saying much, but still, I should be a little bit happy. This isn’t the case, though; I’ve been even more miserable than usual. Ever since Kelly read some magazine article about how dogs should only be eating seaweed and bran, my diet has been more restricted than a Miss America contestant. I think I’m depressed. Am I depressed? A TV commercial asked me that this morning and it got me to thinking. They showed lots of shots of people sitting on the edges of their beds, rubbing their joints with pained expressions. While I don’t do that, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been happy. My whole life seems to be a state of constantly longing. Longing for more running, for more fresh air, for better food.
“And then I said, well you know what that’s your opinion so stop trying to make it mine.”
I’m jolted back to my sad reality by the sound of Kelly ranting into her phone. Her nasally voice recounts a tale of b-level comebacks. She’s so selfish and arrogant, always acting like she’s my savior, and I’m just an ever grateful rescue dog. If she were as nice as she pretends to be then I wouldn’t live cooped up in a tiny house twenty-three hours a day with few friends (I haven’t been the same since Old Yeller’s death) and little entertainment. I wish there was something I could do to change my situation.
November 17th, 8:00 A.M.
The morning light cracks through the window, hugging me warmly. I hold my breath (this technique helps you taste less) and start to scarf through Kimmy Kibbles, the latest, most gmo free brand for Kelly to buy. Kelly left early. She had a meeting for whatever job she does (Advertising? Accounting I think? Something kind of basic.) And of course that meant I had to get up early. The TV plays softly in the background. A marathon of Law and Order:SVU soothes my tired bones and unsatisfied stomach.
“Warm turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, oh my!” My ears inadvertently perk up and I quickly plod over to the television. On the screen, a commercial plays, a buffet of incredible food gliding by slowly. Golden butter melts softly into creamy mashed potatoes. Someone cuts a thick slice of gooey pecan pie. A huge turkey floats nearby in gravy juices. I feel a trail of drool slide from my mouth as the suburban mom cuts into the crispy skin, revealing tender white meat. Her children and husband peer around with dramatic expressions. Suddenly the camera backs up to a golden retriever  jumping up in an effort to get a bite of the turkey. The whole blonde family laughs slightly maniacally and the screen goes blank except for a pre-packaged food logo. Law and Order comes back on. Olivia Benson is knocking furiously at an apartment door with that determined yet worried look. She reaches for her gun, but I don’t pay attention. All I can think about is that commercial. Not just the food they showed, but the dog playfully dancing in the corner. So close to sinking its teeth into the turkey. I know the situation was contrived, but that’s my point. The actors knew to turn and push the dog off the table. What if they hadn’t been in the room? What if they hadn’t expected their sweet dog to jump up and start eating? I’m not religious but for the first time in my life, I feel something from above giving me a purpose. I know what I need to do. I need to eat some of Thanksgiving dinner.
  The commercial and changing weather aren’t my only clues that Thanksgiving is approaching. Kelly is  more stressed than usual, forgetting to feed me sometimes and take me on my morning walks. Normally her scatter brained attitude would annoy me, but each time I hear her moan to a friend about the trials of hosting Thanksgiving for the whole family, I jump for joy a bit. I also see more recipes on her computer screen for sweet potatoes and green bean casserole and stuffing. The best part though is that she has a countdown app on her phone, and every morning a robotic voice informs her how many days left until Thanksgiving. Siri tells her that there are ten, nine, eight days left, and she lets out a little cry of pain while I let out one for excitement. My first clue, though, that eating a turkey won’t be as easy as in the commercial is during a conversation with her friend, Alice. I’ve tuned them out when Alice says, “So what are you going to do about Joe?” I jolt back to reality, perplexed.
“Oh, I don’t know, should I put him in a kennel? The house is already going to be so crowded, I don’t know if I can deal with the barking,” she trails off and shoots me a sympathetic look like I’m the annoying one. Panic rises in my chest. My dream is about to end before it can even begin. I need to act fast. Every cheesy pet movie comes back to me, and almost involuntarily I droop down, casting her a pouty, pitiful expression. It works.
“Oh look at that sweet face! How do you expect me to leave such a sweet face?” She’s switched to her annoying baby voice, but I don’t care. Dropping any last shreds of dignity, I mosey over to her legs and weave through them. Eyes on the prize, Joe. Just a few left days, now.
Thursday, November 27th, 7:45 a.m.
I wake up early. How can I be expected to sleep? Today is the day I've been pinning my hopes and dreams on for the past month. The house is quiet save for the snores of Katie’s parents who just got in yesterday with lots of hugs and passive aggressive comments. I stare out the window as the sun starts to rise, milky blue light cutting across the room. Slowly people start to scuffle out of bed. Kelly puts on a pot of coffee and begins to go over her to-do list. I burrow down outside the kitchen. I can’t give her any excuse to shut me out today. The morning progresses, smells wafting through the house. Kelly takes out the turkey. It’s a whitish pink. She rubs spices over it and saturates it in citrus juices like Ina Garten. At ten-thirty it goes in the oven for a “slow roast.” Drool dribbles down my chin. She puts out a bowl of food for me, but I turn up my nose and walk away. In just a few hours, I’ll eat enough to make up for a lifetime of culinary mistreatment.
Thursday, November 27th, 3:00 p.m.
Okay, now it’s really, really time. My senses are hyper aware. The turkey just came out of the oven. Places are being set at the table. For a brief moment, I wonder how Kelly will react. This won’t be pretty. But no revolution ever has been. I push her out of my mind and take off running down the hall before I can second guess myself. My tail flies from side to side, taking no prisoners. I hear a vase shatter and maybe a picture, too. Feet take off running, but they’re no match for me. I round a curve and hurdle back into the kitchen where the turkey sits peacefully on the counter, blissfully unaware of the commotion it's causing. I take off with a running jump. For one brief, beautiful second my teeth sink into the meat, and it’s everything I ever imagined. The crispy skin is buttery and spicy while the meat is soft and sweet with a lemon flavored tang. I close my eyes because I want to savor this moment. But alas, all good things must end. No sooner have I tasted the sweet meat of victory when three different pairs of arms pull me off. Ow, ow! Watch the ribcage! I hear a variety of shouts along with some words that I can’t repeat because I’m not an animal (figuratively).
Thursday, November 27th, 5:00 p.m.
Kelly put me out pretty fast. To be honest, I’d never seen her that mad. She’s usually so sweet with me even when I accidentally use the bathroom in the hall. I feel a twinge at the bottom of my stomach. I did it! I ate the turkey! But somehow it’s just not as satisfying as I expected. I’m pacing back and forward on the porch, trying to hear or see what’s going on inside. The door swings open. Kelly stands there. For the first time in my life, I’m genuinely happy to see her. I give a little bark and hurry up, excited to get out of the  cold, but she shifts her weight, blocking me.
“What a terrible dog. I worked so hard on that dinner. It meant so much to me, but now you ruined it, Joe.” She doesn’t even look me in the eye. Instead she fixes her sight on the gloomy skyline. My heart sinks to my hungry stomach. Kelly turns around and goes back inside with a shake of her head. I feel sick. Guilt wraps around me like a straight jacket as I think of the way she always pets me at night and brags about me to her friends. Why did I do that? Why am I so selfish? If only I could go back and change it! Sometimes, we spend so much time longing for something, that when we finally get it, it can never live up to our lofty expectations. Hindsight is everything.
  About an hour later, the door opens again. Kelly’s parents shuffle out with smiles and well wishes for her and disparaging looks for me. I bury my head and listen for the door slamming, but to my surprise nothing happens. I peek up. Kelly is standing in the doorframe, holding it open with a tired expression. I run in before she can change her mind. She ignores me, slumping over to the couch where she turns on a show. I come over and curl up next to her. She pets me gently. All of a sudden, my stomach growls, and I’m reminded of the late time. I plod over to my bowl, swallowing both my pride and food. It’s still gritty and a bit bland, and it doesn’t have the perfect spicy yet sweet flavor of the turkey, but for some reason it doesn’t taste as bad as usual. In fact, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think I could enjoy this if I tried. I go back over to the couch and curl up again. Kelly rustles my ears gently. Maybe, I’m not as cool and rebellious as I thought I was. But maybe it’s better this way. For the first time in my life, I feel my heart swell a little bit and not like that time I accidentally ate chocolate. I think this is what they call love. And I love it even more than Thanksgiving dinner.

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