Waffle House. A year ago. I saw a dog trot through the parking lot. He looked confused. Call it my curiosity, but I went outside after him.
My father’s voice played in my head. He said: “Never chase a dog, he’ll only run from you.”
So, I squatted low and pretended I didn’t care if he came or not. No here-boys, no hey-puppy-puppy-puppies. And I waited.
The folks in Waffle House must’ve thought I’d lost my mind.
He finally came. I could hardly believe it. Black hair, no collar. He wore a look that said he was on his own.
He ate it my front seat. We talked. I only knew him for one day, but I discovered he liked to wrestle.
I dropped him at a no-kill shelter, the workers talked to him in high-pitched voices and performed various acts of belly rubbing. I’ve thought about him ever since.
Dogs are part of my life. A big part. Always have been.
When I was a child, I found a lopsided plastic bag, floating in the creek. It was December.
I waded into the knee-deep water to retrieve it. I expected the worst.
Puppies. Ten of them, looking like newborn hamsters. They were alive. I named them after books of the Bible like any self-respecting Sunday-school student.
After a few weeks, my father and I placed cardboard signs by the road which read: “Free Puppies.”
Three hours; every puppy had an owner. From Genesis to Obadiah.
Later in life, I had a dog named Joe. He was a rescue. I adopted him from a mom-and-pop shelter.
Joe was a strange animal. He slept in the bathtub, buried TV remotes in the backyard, was terrified of sprinklers, and enjoyed the taste of aged cat litter.
Odd dog. But he was mine.
One year, I had the chemically-unbalanced idea I was going to get into shape. I jogged three miles. I nearly died of fatigue on a desolate road.
Joe ran beside me, every step. No leash.
I kept yelling, “Go back home, Joe!”
Joe never fell an inch behind me. He slept for two days thereafter. So did I.
Once, I had a dog who liked to wrestle after meals. She was a good girl. After her last bite, she’d become a canine tornado. She’d bark hard, crouch low, tail wagging.
I’d tackle her. Laughing. Howling. Running. Jumping. God I loved her. We’d knock furniture over, then watch Wheel of Fortune together.
Eventually, she got too old to roughhouse. So, I played with on her dog bed. The old girl would make threatening noises, but that’s all she could do.
She found a permanent resting place in my backyard.
I didn’t eat for a week.
Anyway, yesterday, I received a text on my cellphone while in traffic. I didn’t recognize the number. The photo showed a boy with his arms around a dog. A dog I once found outside a Waffle House.
They were roughhousing.
“Merry Christmas,” the rescue worker’s text read. “Found this in my phone, and forgot to send it to you.”
As it happens, I am having a nice Christmas so far. And I hope it’s a good one for that little boy, too.
But then, I know it is.
Because good wrestling partners are hard to find.