*This story contains themes of death and animal abuse, reader discretion advised*
“Jerry? Did I lose you?”
I snap out of my daze and look up at my therapist. She’s wearing an unintentionally smug expression and tapping her pen, waiting for my reply. Her patience is almost as short and unprofessional as her pencil skirt.
“Jerry I know this is hard but I need to you to try. Shelly would want you to try.” She coerces. That was the last straw. I threw myself out of the ugly velour arm chair.
“And how the hell would YOU know what Shelly would want? Do think that’s going to get me to talk? Do you ACTUALLY think using my dead girlfriend’s name is going to help me come out of my shell? Screw you! We’re done here.” I bark. Her eyes glaze over as if she’s seen this type of struck nerve before. As if she almost expected it. Provoked it.
“Jerry you have to come to terms with her death sooner or later. It’s been 8 months and this behavior isn’t healthy. Isolating yourself from everyone and everything as if they’re all threats isn’t going to help you heal. I know you mentioned Shelly was a big volunteer at the animal rescue, is that something you might consider? Taking in a rescue pet?”
This woman is finding nerves I didn’t even know I had.
“Why would some dumb, smelly, pain in the ass, animal even be remotely beneficial to me right now? I’m swamped with work, with grief, and just trying to hold myself together. I don’t need something totally dependent on me for survival, following me around so I can kill that too.” I scoff. She thinks she’s some kind of master detective. She wouldn’t know a clue if it bit her in the ass.
“Jerry come on now, I thought we were past that. Shelly’s death was NOT your fault. Car accidents happen all the time. You did everything you could to avoid that truck and honestly…”
I cut her off “If you say I’m lucky I didn’t lose my life too, I’m stopping my checks immediately.”
She paused a moment. “I only mean you shouldn’t be blaming yourself. It looks like our time is just about up for this week. Work on that for me, okay? And consider what I said about a companion.”
Her words were echoing my entire walk home. Yeah. Right. The only animal I ever attached to, even when Shelly had fosters and brought me to the shelter, was Roscoe. He was a blue nosed pitbull they took out of a fight ring that the police raided. He was a tiny thing, barely 30 pounds, clumsy as all hell, all roughed up, and covered in scratches and scabs. He was their bait dog. Roscoe wouldn’t trust anyone. He nipped at everyone in the shelter, he wouldn’t eat…until the day Shelly brought me in. He hobbled over to me and licked my hand, and the whole staff just stared at me like I was some sort of pitbull whisperer.
I had to admit, he was cute. And I fell in love with him after a few short hours. When he got his vet exam, they said one of his ribs was broken and had punctured an organ, it would most likely take him within the week. I was absolutely devastated. Shell and I took him home and made him comfortable. Fed him cheese burgers and cuddled him gently on the floor. That pup’s eyes lit up like Christmas when he saw me. Like nothing bad had ever happened to him and he would have a long and happy life. He was gone after 3 days. I was never an animal person to begin with, but I swore I’d never love another animal again. And I haven’t.
As I fumbled with the keys to my apartment, a massive crash came from next door. I glance over to find my neighbor’s trash cans completely toppled over. Mr.Robatussin is old school, and still keeps those big, metal cans in the alley alongside his house. Shelly and I always tried to talk him into ones with a locking lid, so he didn’t have to clean up when the animals got into his trash, but he refused to listen. He insisted center city Manhattan wouldn’t have critters to worry about. He was wrong. I guess I should do the kind thing and help the old man out. Even if he is rude beyond belief. But as I went to pick the can up, something inside growled from the movement.
“If this is another damn raccoon I swear I’m buying the locking ones myself and the old fart is just going to have to adjust.” I thought. But a wide, dark, muzzle poked out when I set the can down. The creature’s low growl turned into a soft whimper. Gaining his footing after my jostling, a scrawny, scuffed up, little dog emerged from the trash. I left out an audible gasp and it stared in my direction, thrown into defense mode again. This dog looked just like Roscoe. A tiny blue nosed pit in rough shape, with deep amber eyes and a patch of white on his chest. I paused for a minute in disbelief, before shaking my head disapprovingly at my own thoughts.
This was NOT Roscoe. Nothing would ever be Roscoe again. Nothing would ever be Shelly again. A dumb dog will not fill the void in my life that she left. Never again. Nope. Not happening.
“Not today, junk dog. Now get!” I yelled, giving the can a whack to scare him off. He snatched up a soggy pizza crust, and ran.
Throughout the entire day following, I found it impossible to do my work. I couldn’t stop thinking about that stupid dog. Why did I even care? Rescue was Shelly’s thing. Not mine. Animals were Shelly’s thing. Not mine. And she was gone. I had no desire to have an animal. I was clear about that, and I could think of a thousand reasons it wouldn’t work anyways. What if that dog had something wrong with it too? What if that dog died in my arms just like Roscoe did? I don’t think I’m capable of taking another loss. So why can’t I get this damn dog out of my head?
“Because all animals are deserving of love and a good home, no matter how much time they have when we find them.”
Shelly’s voice echoed through my head. I shook it violently for a second or two in my cubicle, letting out a silent scream. At least, I thought it was silent. Until my boss popped up over the side, and asked if I was alright.
“Fine, sir. Just didn’t sleep well. Getting out that excess tiredness is all.” I chuckle nervously, hoping he buys it. He does. And then he gives me that sad, sympathetic look I have so grown to loathe. People got that look when they were about to talk about Shelly.
“You know my boy, sometimes all we can do is distract ourselves in times of trouble. You need a hobby. Something to clear your mind of all that hullaballoo. Have you tried running? My wife runs with our Great Dane every morning, you know. Keeps her in fantastic shape, and wears them both out! Give it a try!”
I think he could see the unamused expression hiding behind my gritted teeth, because he pulled back ever so slightly.
“Yes. Well. In the meantime, maybe take the rest of the day. We’re got things handled here. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow though, yes? Big meeting tomorrow, I’m expecting great things from you!”
I reluctantly agreed, and headed for home an hour early. But peace and quiet do not seem to be in my cards today. Mr.Robatussin was standing on the stoop to my apartment, waiting for me. He caught my eye and flew off the handle.
“Jerrico! Boy you listen to me! I thought I told you and your little girlfriend to keep the mutts contained in that place of yours! I caught one of em’ in my garbage can AGAIN this afternoon while you were out on the town!” He scoffed at me, as if he seemed satisfied he may have caught me doing something wrong. I let out a heavy sigh. The old man was bat shit. I rubbed my temples and closed my eyes before responding.
“Mr. Robatussin…for the tenth time…Shelly is dead. The dogs went to new fosters months ago. I don’t have any dogs. We live in center city Manhattan. There are bound to be strays. It was a stray that got in your trash. Now please…”
“Ain’t no stray!” He interrupts. “You can’t fool me boy. You and that girl brought this one home a few weeks ago, I seen it! And I’m going to catch the son of a bitch this time too! Just you wait!”
“Okay Mr.Robatussin. Got it.” No sense in arguing with the delusional…”Just you wait” I hear him mumbling as he starts back toward his house. I few minutes later, I see him out my window, poking around the trash cans. Upon closer inspection, I spot the box of rat poison in his hand.
“Ah man, you don’t have to go THAT far, he’s just trying to find food…” I thought to myself. Still, it isn’t my business. It’s his property and his trash, and it’s not my place to go picking a fight with my elderly neighbor over a stupid junk dog. Besides, I think between me and Mr.Robatussin, he’s been scared off from those cans by now. I turn on the TV, and veg out to the sound while I pop a frozen lasagna in the microwave. I sigh at the label. “Serving for one.”
I jerk awake on the sofa to a loud crash outside. Oh no…Please don’t tell me. I peek out the window, hoping it isn’t what I feared. But it is. Junk dog found the poison and is lying motionless on the sidewalk. Ugh I don’t like the thing but I don’t want to see it die! Throwing on an old t-shirt and a crusty pair of sweat pants, I race down the steps to get to him before Mr.Robatussin does.
He’s in rough shape, foam spilling from his mouth, he’s gone completely dead weight as I lift him and put him in the passenger seat of my teal 97’ Ford Aspire. I spot the light flick on above Mr. Robatussin’s porch. “That’s what I thought.” He scoffs at me as I secure the pup.
“Shut up you awful, horrible, disgusting excuse for a human being. Who does crap like that??” I shout at him as I get into the car, leaving the old man shocked in my dust.
“Emergency vet…Emergency vet…THINK Jerry…Okay. There’s one Shelly used to go to over on Pine. 5 minutes.” I reach over and put my free hand on the dog’s belly. Hang in there little guy. Oh I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. If I would have said something sooner, if I would have cursed out that asshole next door, if I would have sucked up my pride and took you in when you were digging for nasty old pizza crust…this never would have happened. The damn therapist was right. I am lonely. I am alone. Shelly was right…every animal deserves love and compassion. Damn it, junk dog, I’m sorry.
“Listen buddy. If you make it through this…I am going to give you the best life. We’ll go on walks and we’ll play and we’ll snuggle on the couch. Please just don’t die on me. Please be okay.” He blinked his little amber eyes at me. Almost like he understood. Like he was hanging on.
I whipped the car into the parking lot of the animal hospital, taking out the ficus in an attempt to park. At almost 2 am, everything around me was silent and I could hear the screaming of my breath and the pounding of my heart, thumping out of my chest. Junk dog felt it too as I scooped him up against my chest, running for the door.
I barely waited for the automatic doors to acknowledge me in the stillness.
“Help! Please help! This dog, it’s been poisoned! He needs help!” I shout into the empty hallway. A triage of medical staff come pouring out and a male orderly takes the dog from my arms.
“Sir, it’s going to be okay. Do you know what he was poisoned with?” The woman with the kind eyes asked.
“Rat poison. My neighbor…He poisoned the dog…he..” I suddenly realize I am completely out of breath and panicked. She pats me gently on the shoulder.
“Okay sir, we’ll take it from here. You go ahead and get checked in and give the receptionist all the details once you’ve calmed down. Don’t worry, we’re going to take excellent care of your dog.” She nods and follows the orderly into a back room.
I’m lost in a tornado of thoughts when I hear a voice from behind me call “Excuse me, sir? Are you alright? We’ll have to get you checked in.” It’s the receptionist.
“Right. Sorry m’am. I’m alright. My name is Jerrico Thomas. Jerry is fine.”
She chuckles. “Excellent Jerry, but I need details about the animal you brought in. Is this your pet, or a stray you found? If this is a Good Samaritan act, we’ll release the dog to the SPCA if he makes it and you’re free to go.”
“I…He…” I paused for a minute. Then I knew. “The dog’s name is Jun... JD. He’s mine. This is my dog.”