On a drizzly, gray Saturday morning, my parents herded their three children into the family minivan and headed to Dunkin’ Donuts. The donuts were a bribe. They were priming us for the good reception of bad news—we were not getting a puppy. I was ten and had three consuming desires in life: a yellow bedroom, an American Girl doll, and a dog. So I was devastated, but prepared to bargain. Between bites of custard-filled long john I persuaded my reluctant parents to visit PetSmart’s weekend adoption fair one more time—this time, in search of a pet that was already housebroken.
By noon, we were introducing an eager two-year-old black lab mix named Kayla to the smells and sounds of our kitchen. She was adorable. I was triumphant. My sister took down the perpetual calendar in our bathroom, the one neatly labeled with family birthdays, and labeled March 21st the “anevursury of the Van Zanens getting a dog.”
That was more than twelve years ago. She’s old now, and every time I leave town my mom reminds me to “say goodbye, just in case.” Her muzzle and paws are gray; she’s lumpy and lazy and sometimes doesn’t hear my whistle. But she still has those mournful puppy eyes, and she sleeps in the house now because she whines so pitifully if we put her out on the porch. This weekend, I was home from Boston for a wedding, and I slept in the basement on a spare bed. She jingled down the stairs and clicked across the floor to flop down next to me. She landed on my glasses, so I shoved her aside to spare them. She nosed my fingers. She’s been needy, my mom says, ever since my dad flew out.
My parents are moving, and Kayla doesn’t like boxes. She knows that it means something. So far, it means that her favorite person ever doesn’t live here anymore. As of yesterday, it means my mom’s gone too. One of my favorite professors just moved back to suburban Grand Rapids after a two-year stint in the mountains, and he says their mutt is moping—“Of course, I might be projecting on the dog.” I think every member of my family is doing the same thing with our sweet, lumpy lab mix. Everything’s changing, and maybe if we tell each other that she’s sad and tired, we won’t have to admit that we are too.
“I’m tripping over this dog. She keeps following me around. It’s like she knows I’m leaving.”
“I think she misses Dad. She’s been so clingy.”
“She likes to curl up in that corner. She’s napping a lot—getting old, I guess.”
When I was ten years old and less than ninety pounds, Kayla could drag me down the warm cement of our drive way, down the street and up the hill by the elementary school and back. Now, I’m twenty-three, and my parents are moving, and my dog gets out of breath from a trot around the block. I don’t eat donuts very often anymore, and almost never with my brother and sister and mom and dad on drizzly Saturday mornings in Grand Rapids.
Yesterday, when I got up at five thirty to catch my flight out of town, I woke Kayla up for a belly rub. And I hugged my mom, and we said, “Maybe I’ll see you at Christmas.” But there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on every street corner in my new hometown, so maybe in March, I’ll pick a rainy weekend morning and treat myself to a custard-filled long john in honor of my old dog, and my family, and growing up a long way from home.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.