My childhood best friend lived next door to us. She was three years older than me, three years more creative and more fun. Playing with her was much more fun than playing by myself and those were usually my only options. We were inseparable, especially during the summer. She would come over and make up impossibly sophisticated stories for us to act out with my dolls.
During middle school, she started to tire of having a younger shadow. She and some other girls her age would gang up to play tricks on me and laugh at my confusion. I would blink back tears and go home, only to go back for more at the first invitation. Over time, she stopped being my friend altogether. The next summer extended before me like an eternity of empty time.
The couple who rented her family’s upstairs apartment got a puppy. I discovered the puppy once when I headed out to sit in the backyard to pretend I had something to do and I was overjoyed. I realized I was considerably more excited about this puppy than his owners were because they left him out there alone a lot. I think I learned his name from the yelling his owners’ provided from the back door.
Bear was adorable and sweet and very aptly named. He looked like a little teddy bear and he was desperate for attention. I started engaging him through the chain link fence that separated our backyard from his. I felt sorry for him and I fell in love with him. One day he started digging under the fence. Though I sensed there would be trouble, I encouraged this behavior. I wanted to hold him and pet him and love him without that stupid fence in the way. When he finally squeezed over to my side, being with him was as wonderful as I had imagined. I picked him up and brought him to my face and talked to him and felt his warm puppy tongue on my cheek. I plopped him down on my lap and stroked his soft puppy fur and felt such joy and love.
I wanted to keep him.
The neighbors were paying more attention than I thought and it wasn’t long before I started hearing them calling for Bear. I hid behind out house for awhile in a futile attempt to keep him longer. The longer the search went on when Bear was right next door, the more trouble for me. Eventually I decided to go sit with Bear on our front porch and let his owners find us.
I held Bear on my lap and tried to make peace with giving him back. I watched with dread as Bear’s owners turned the corner and finally noticed us sitting together.
“Didn’t you hear us calling him?” They looked pissed.
I ended up saying I’d found him, that he must’ve dug under the fence and gotten free. I could tell they didn’t believe me. But there was no harm done, so they just took him back from me without another word.
When I went to the backyard after that, Bear would run over and immediately go to the hole he had dug. The owners tried to fill the hole with soil, but that was no match for Bear, so they eventually secured that area of the fence with plywood. I couldn’t go out there anymore because he would still try to dig and it was heartbreaking and I was afraid he’d hurt himself. I also didn’t want to have to see the day that he stopped trying.