It was two years ago today that I enjoyed going to summer camp for the last time. Apparently I was learning to “survive in the wilderness,” whatever the hell that meant. The way I saw it, knowing how to build a replica house out of Popsicle sticks wouldn’t do shit against a bear attack. I’d been doing this same mundane routine for as long as I could remember, and as a twelve year old that wasn’t very long. Going away for a while wasn’t so bad though. It let me escape from that run-down house I’d had the displeasure of growing up in, and that annoying neighbor boy who always seemed to get what he wanted, even if he already owned 372 of them. That spoiled brat was the bane of my existence, I swear.
As for me? I lived a simple life. My mornings consisted of getting yelled at by my step-mom, which was shortly followed by a slurred rage from Dad, who had woken from his slumber thanks to the witch’s screeching. After that it was a simple game of hide-and-go seek, where I would lock the door to my room and try to find myself (yes, I mean that in the spiritual sense). When I wasn’t looking for internal answers, I busied myself with such fascinating things as: staring at the wall, drawing unflattering pictures of my step-mother, and imagining I lived anywhere else. Some days were easier to cope with than others. When I was lucky, Dad was too hung-over to wake up until after noon, but just recently I was lucky enough he didn’t wake up at all. He’s probably with mom again right now.
Anyways, back to summer camp. So every other year I was happy to go and belittle the counselors, questioning all their lame-ass sayings while the lemmings around me just soaked in everything they heard. They’d tried to make me co-operate, but I wasn’t interested in being brainwashed and turned into a boy scout. I had bigger plans than that, if I could ever figure out where the hell my life was headed. This year I was torn though; about a week after my twelfth birthday, my aunt dropped by unexpectedly and had “something” for me. This ought to be good. She set a small box down on the ground and a black ball of fuzz waddled out, yipped once, and triumphantly fell on its butt. It looked around dopily, finally fixating its gaze on the blank wall. Uninterested, I turned and went to my room. As expected, my step-mother tossed the black stain in right behind me; it’s where she puts everything she doesn’t want to look at.
Sitting on my bed, I stared at him for a minute. He sure looked like a winner. Then again, who was I to judge? How nice it must be to lie around all day, chasing my own tail, and figuring out how to control my bladder. Seemed too good to be true. Within the next hour I was cleaning up messes I can’t even bring myself to describe. Appealing right? I swore under my breath as I looked at the little shit, his face split open into a goofy grin. Maybe it’s the whole preconceived notion of “man’s best friend,” or those innocent eyes that see past all the corruption in the world, but I couldn’t hate this thing (believe me, I tried).
I named him Pest. Not a very good dog name, I know, but after being called one myself for so many years it only seemed fitting. He followed me everywhere I went, like an ugly, baby duckling. I didn’t have a need or purpose for him, but his presence wasn’t always a nuisance (which is more than I could say for most things in my life). Like it or not I wasn’t alone anymore, and he slowly started to grow on me the more he growled at my step-mother. We were like a twisted version of Calvin and Hobbes, always running off on an “adventure.” These usually consisted of throwing acorns at the neighbor brat, or simply avoiding the witch’s clutches.
For years I’d wondered about the bond dogs and humans share together, but I don’t think it can be explained with any justice. The way I understand it, some things can’t be understood. Knowing there was someone listening to my mindless ramblings kept me sane. Now when my door was locked it wasn’t to keep the bad things out, it was to keep one of the few good things locked in with me. Feeling Pest’s body weight at the foot of my bed every night let me drift off with one less worry on my mind. That was, of course, until I remembered what summer had waiting for me.
The wretched woman had my bags packed before I had the chance to rub the sleep out of my eyes. My door was kicked open, (purely for effect I’m sure), as I snuck a peek at my room’s intruder. There was just enough light to see her silhouette standing there, one hand on her hip in that angry way she always did. I closed my eyes again. I’d seen more than enough of her in this lifetime. Pest spoke up, a feeble growl that just pissed Mother off even further. Atta boy. And so began the tantrum she always had when I would refuse to wake up (I’ll just give you the highlights):
“…you should have been up hours ago…,” she said. The door closed behind her as my eyes shut. I seized the opportunity and dozed off again.
“You aren’t ready yet? So help me I’ll…” Walk out mid-sentence apparently. Dumb broad. Let the sleeping resume…
With that, my covers were thrown off of me, launching my fearless guard dog careening into the wall. With a sigh, I begrudgingly waved the white flag, sacrificing my warm bed to be up in this damp house. Seeing her flustered was more than worth the trouble it caused me.
I ended up locked in the car that day instead of my room, being led to another summer of “fun for all ages.” My forehead was turning red from banging it against the window as our car pulled away from home. I looked back for a sign of my little ball of fluff. He was probably still unconscious from that wall. Not having him at my side already hurt, a persistent tug at my senses knowing he wasn’t there. This was going to be a long summer…
After a month of torture I arrived back at the gates of hell. I expected Pest to attack me upon arrival, throwing himself at my legs in happiness. I’d casually brush him off as an insignificance, a faint smile on my face as he resumed following me around the house. The moment I walked in the door, however, I could tell something was wrong. You see, dogs have this distinct odor. It isn’t exactly unpleasant; it’s just something that comes with the territory. It’s kind of like that Subway smell. And my house didn’t smell like that anymore. I called his name. Silence….followed by an encore. I’d heard the lame ass “they went to summer camp” excuse when my pets have died before and I feared for the worst. I felt a weight growing in my chest, and turned to see my step-mom standing behind me.
“I gave him away,” she said, answering the unspoken question hanging in the air.
“Legally I have to put up with your crap, but nothing says I need to pick up his. Simply do as you’re told and deal with it, then things like this might not happen.” With that she turned and walked away, leaving me with my teeth and fists clenched.
I stormed off to my room, slamming the door shut behind me. This was bullshit and she knew it. I’d barely been gone for a month and she’d gotten rid of the one reminder she had of me. I’d put up with her shit for so long, this wasn’t right. Oh, I know! Why don’t I just tie my bed sheets together and sneak out the window? Oh, now I remember; those bars she had installed after last year’s escape attempt really make that difficult. I walked over and started shaking them, my knuckles turning white. I remember thinking about punching the wall when my eyes focused on something outside the window; it was Pest.
A little bit bigger and shaggier than a month ago, but clearly the same dog. I took in the sight of him, life slowly falling back into place. He still had that dimwitted look to him that’d he never outgrow, and the burs and leaves tangled in his fur showed he’d been exploring the woods out back quite a bit lately. His tail was a blur as someone approached, and time seemed to stop for me as Pest jumped into the neighbor boy’s arms.
No way. That son of a bitch was not holding my dog right now. Pest licked the boy’s face and wriggled around until he was free, waiting for that little brat to throw him the stick. I fell to my knees, yearning to tear my eyes away from the scene unfolding before me, but not wanting to lose sight of my dog ever again. I forced my eyes shut only to find the image outside my window replaying over and over again on the inside of my eyelids. I despised him and the witch, now more than ever. I slowly slid to the floor, tremors shaking my body as the tears I’d been holding back for years fought their way to the surface, breaking down the tough exterior I’d spent all that time building up. I curled up right there, and for the first time my step-mother had won; I was broken.
The rest of that night had been a blur of pain that I’d rather not get into. Bad thoughts had crossed my mind, and I realized that my only source of happiness had been stripped away from me, just like that. Once I finally pulled myself to my feet, the show outside my window had moved to a different venue, and hopefully it wouldn’t be returning for an encore anytime soon. Crawling beneath my sheets I begged for sleep, and I finally got something I wanted.
I had always enjoyed this room and the fact that I had a decent view, but now it would be the death of me, forcing me to be a spectator of the life of a dog that was rightfully my own. Watching Pest’s growth-in-progress was a self-inflicted pain that I needed to deal with head on though. It probably wasn’t healthy to spend every waking moment staring at him between my window’s bars, but I didn’t care. This was something I needed to do if I ever wanted to recover. My plan was to see him so often that his presence in the arms of the brat wouldn’t hurt me anymore (wishful thinking, I know). I had always put on an act that I didn’t feel anything, but now I honestly couldn’t. I took my Mother’s verbal and physical beatings in stride, never letting it bring me down. How could I get any lower?
As the months went on I saw Pest more frequently through my window, and it was obvious they weren’t taking very good care of him. His fur had become a tangled mess, getting mangier and shaggier with time. At first he was just tied to the tree at night, but now he seemed to stay out there all the time. He’d curl into a ball and wait, hoping someone would show up and give him attention. That’s all a dog really wants, that simple satisfaction of recognition from another. Hell, it’s all anyone wants.
Pest playfully bit the boy one day, and I couldn’t help but smile. As it turned out, the brat wasn’t nearly as amused. He laid his hands on my dog, swatting Pest on the head and then running inside, bawling to his parents. The visits from the boy became fewer and fewer after that, and when he was around it didn’t end well. I saw him kick Pest in the ribs and I rushed the window, wishing my transformation into the Hulk would happen soon so I could rip these bars off and jump through the window, clobbering the brat upside the head, and then bending him like a pretzel. While Pest was still struggling to get to his feet the boy kicked him again and I lost it.
Rage flowed through my body, as I tore through the house and busted through the front door (it seemed luck was on my side tonight, Mother had left it unlocked). I skidded to a halt ten feet shy of my target. Pest whimpered on the ground beside me, and the fire in my eyes burned even brighter. If my laser vision had kicked in that instant, the brat would have been reduced to dust by now. His eyes met mine and he sneered, seeming to enjoy the look I was sending his way.
“Oh I’m sorry, was this mutt yours? I’ve got three pure-breds now, might as well just throw this trash out. Would you care to help?” With that he spat on Pest’s face.
My fist was driven into his stomach before he could look back up. With a squeal, he doubled over in pain, putting his face into dangerous territory. I pulled his head down into a collision course with my knee and heard a snap. I watched blood gush from his nose, adding a little color to the fall leaves. The ground welcomed him as he began writhing in pain, making quite the scene. The boy wasn’t acting so tough anymore; as he used his hands to try and stop the bleeding, his wailing persistently grew louder.
I knelt beside Pest, holding his head gently and caressing his matted fur. His whimpers subsided and his tail wagged weakly. I wrapped my arms around him and felt trickles start rushing down my face into his fur, but I didn’t care. We needed to get out of there, and fast.
The boy, still shaking out of shock or fear, (one of the two), struggled to his feet and began scrambling for the house. Oh crap. I helped urge Pest to his feet, and he managed to stand up, tail swaying in a slow and content tempo. A leash still tethered him to the tree, so I unwound the knot from around the trunk and grabbed hold of it, slowly walking forward. The first few steps were tentative, seeing just how intense the pain would be on his ribs. A slight whimpering came out of him, but he kept walking right beside me, never falling behind.
None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for that old hag. Pest would have been at home, safe with me, instead of being underfed and abused. I couldn’t just take him back to our house again; my step-mom would have him gone before I could state my case. And Pest needed to be examined right now, I was worried about him. He was beginning to pant harder as he paced beside me, his breath becoming more of a chore the farther we went. No, we couldn’t go back, I had made my mind up. My hand rubbed along Pest’s back, as we headed towards the woods just past my backyard. Occasionally I’d glance back to check for the brat’s parents, but just like him they didn’t seem to care. One defective kid wasn’t an issue, they always had more.
Just through the woods was the nearest town, and I’d rather take my chances in the unknown with Pest than go back to that broken home and face an angry queen. It was time for a fresh start anyways. As we plunged into the cover of the trees, I really hoped those summer camp skills I’d found ridiculous would be put to good use. Despite the urgency of the trip, I couldn’t suppress the smile fighting its way onto my face. A boy and his dog, setting off into the woods to escape an evil witch. What a story it would make. Reaching down, I scratched him behind his ear (I know he loved that).
“Come on boy, let the adventure begin.”