Popcorn in Dog Heaven

I was about fifteen when I got my first dog.

There’s not much about being fifteen that I found very memorable. I remember being pissed off when I failed my permit test twice. I remember joining the marching band and loving every minute of it, even though a lot of times I was convinced they should’ve called it drama. I remember being a freshman hanging out with the juniors and seniors, and finally I didn’t feel like so much of a loser anymore.

I remember coming home from my first Disneyland trip with the band, and that’s when I met Scrappy. As I told my friends, she was a boxer puppy that had “just happened” – in other words, she was still so new, she couldn’t even open her eyes yet. She fit into the palm of my chunky awkward hand, and I could get her to suck on my finger before she even learned to walk. And when she finally figured out how to trot, I would just lie on the floor and let her bounce all over me. The allergies were worth it.

When I was sixteen, I got my first job at Century Park 16. I remember dragging a friend along every weekend to use my free movie benefits and be the cool guy. I remember being so tired after my first night that I drank an entire can of tea thinking it was lemonade. And I remember bringing home bags of popcorn just because I could, and one day I made the mistake of leaving a full bag on my bed before I left for school. I came home to find that bag torn to shreds, but that was all that was left of it. The popcorn had mysteriously vanished. Not a single kernel, butter stain, or grain of salt remained. Scrappy threw up a river of white and yellow later that night, and she happily trotted away.

I might’ve been seventeen when I figured out just how smart (and hungry) that dog really was. My stepbrother walked around the house with a hot slice of Blackjack Pizza on a paper plate, and Scrappy just stared at him with that longing puppy gaze. I remember how smoothly the next move occurred: the boxer rearing up on her hind legs, ramming the guy below the belt, and engulfing the pizza in one swift move. She ran off without a care.

Back when Myspace was still popular, Scrappy got sick, and that’s when I learned that people were good. How many friends did I see at the Burger King car wash when we were trying to raise money to treat her parvo? Too many to count. Family made signs, friends reposted Myspace bulletins, and my band mates showed up to help wash cars. I remember the words of one friend in particular: I’d do anything for that dog. And we did everything. And we saved her.

That was the same year I finally made the regional band… second chair in Southern Arizona. I had auditioned every year, memorizing every scale and practicing every etude thousands upon thousands of times, and crying when I got rejected. But I knew I had never wasted my time practicing because I learned to have fun with it. After all, we had a singer in the house now, and she would accompany me without fail. Boy, could Scrappy really howl…

College came too fast, and with it, the ups and downs of leaving home. Losing and gaining friends, weight, and confidence with every passing day, there was always one place I knew I could go, and that was home, where my family would be waiting and the dog would be there to amuse me when college got too stressful.

Life just kept moving on since then. My sister started high school. My family moved. I moved. I finished college. I moved again, and the next time I came back, Scrappy’s ears were grey. It was one of many changes I began to notice in my hometown, along with the light rail that mysteriously appeared in the city, the Sonoran hot dog shop that stopped making Sonoran hot dogs, the sister who started driving and the friends that I used to know, and the theater that closed its doors forever.

When you have to say goodbye to a dog after ten years, it’s almost like saying goodbye to that last big piece of your childhood… the one that could make you look forward to coming home from Disneyland. The one that you could turn to when you were about to have a heart attack from stressing out about comps. The one you adamantly defended when your friends insisted that cats made better pets.

If there’s any justice in life and death and things that change, they make buttered popcorn in dog heaven, and I just know some poor unassuming dude is walking just a little too close to my dog with a fresh slice of Blackjack Pizza in his hand, loaded with pepperoni…

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