A year ago this month, Jes and I got a puppy. We drove out to a Mennonite farm in northern Indiana, a five-hour trip off the grid, and returned with a dog in our laps—a black-and-white wriggly thing that blinked its solemn, brown eyes at us the whole way back. At the time, she was so small I could hold her in one hand. So small, in fact, that the possibility of her ever misbehaving seemed to us remote and utterly absurd. We called her Toph.
A year ago this month, I wrote about this experience for the post calvin. In particular, I wrote about how, not long after Toph’s arrival (and for reasons anyone who’s tried their hand at puppy-rearing can easily imagine), we were forced, despite ourselves, to rechristen her. And while, sure, back then, Beelzepup didn’t care what she was called, or even realize that she was called anything, Jes and I felt the renaming a necessary measure. As we chased our floofy little nightmare from one misadventure to the next, Toph’s new designation became a gesture of solidarity, meant, if nothing else, to communicate to our furniture, our carpeting, and our poor, sleep-deprived bodies our abiding appreciation for their years of loyal service.
I wrote that post a year ago, this month. And I ended it by saying I was eager to see how Toph would change, and how we would change alongside her. But now a year has gone, and it’s 2019, and these days Toph really isn’t much of a Beelzepup. More a minor demon, really—a layabout Wormwood in some Luciferian bureaucracy. And so now I’ll confess: I’m not actually sure when that change happened. When did Toph learn manners? When did she turn into a “good dog”?
Similarly, somewhere along the line, Jes and I transformed into the sort of people who judge other dog-parents for their lackluster parenting—for letting their dogs bark to go out, or for taking their dogs on too-short walks. Hell, we’ve apparently become the sort of people who use the word “dog-parent” unironically. But when did that happen? And how did I miss it?
Short of keeping a daily log, I’m not sure I would have noticed these changes. After all, writing that you’re eager to witness change is the sort of thing that looks good in an essay but that isn’t entirely honest. In truth, I think it takes a person of remarkable integrity, a person closely attuned to the sacrality of each moment and the givenness of things—which I am not, nor ever have been—to attend so closely to the minutia of one’s life. Day tends to give way to day, in my experience, and night to night. And one walk, or feeding, or long session of fetch tends to blur into the next.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, as Macbeth puts it.
So here I now find myself, a year later, not with a record of instances—some long calendar of thresholds met and surpassed by Jes and me and Toph—but with the accretion of slow change. Of change that’s hard to narrate. For example, mornings these days observe a rhythm that began I’m not sure when, but that would have been quite foreign to me in our early days with Toph. Our mornings begin around 6 o’clock when, before anything else, Jes has to lower herself to the floor and cuddle with our still-yawning floof while I stagger out of bed to get myself ready. Afterward, it’s Jes’s turn to get ready, and I go out to facilitate Toph’s morning walk-and-sniff, walk-and-mostly-sniff, so that when we get back, Toph’s voided her tiny bowels and is ready for her breakfast.
Or, instead of daily rhythms, take the knowledge we’ve gained in a year’s span. I’m not sure when Toph learned to be scared of plastic bags, or when Jes and I realized that Toph was scared of plastic bags, but scared of plastic bags Toph is. Likewise, we now know that Toph likes staring; and that licking lulls her into a zen-like trance; and that if you were to, say, approach Toph while snapping your fingers like castanets and maintaining steady, unblinking eye contact, she would go absolutely ballistic. But for the life of me I could not tell you when we learned these things to be true. They just are.
Time, as it so often does, happened.
And where was I?
As I’m typing this post, a patch of sunlight has fallen across Toph, who’s snoring softly behind me. I imagine she’ll get up soon to relocate; she’s been migrating ahead of the sun most of this morning, and I doubt she’ll let it catch her now. All of that black fur gets hot, I guess. Still, it’s just as well. I’ll need to take her out soon anyway. Grab the leash. Another walk around the block.
Strange. She’s over forty pounds now, the vet said. But only yesterday, it seems, I could cradle her in one hand.
Ben DeVries (’15) graduated with degrees in literature and writing. He and his wife Jes, a fellow Calvin grad, live in Champaign, Illinois, where Ben is looking to add some letters behind his name. On the academic off-seasons, he reads fantasy and works as a glorified “go-fer” at the Champaign Park District. He’s been known to make a mean deep-dish pizza.