“I’ll sell you off, you dumb bitch, what I say,” He growled. And he hung a sign on me suggesting that I was something other than I am—something taller and more elegant than I am. The sign was designed, no doubt, to attract his imaginary buyers. Had I been as the sign suggested, it might have fit me. As I am somewhat short of leg, however, the sign was too long, and it made it difficult for me to move. I didn’t mind, though. I had nowhere to go.
I know better than anyone that you don’t always have a choice about where you’ll go or who you’ll go with. You can’t control your fate, you can’t decide where you’ll end up. My memories are wild, blurred. I dream them and I race after them, with all of my strength and speed, all of my muscles working together, getting me nowhere. And now I have these dreams of my whole life, a life I could not change or control. I dream them even in this strange, cold place I would never have come to given a choice.
My earliest memories are of warmth and companionship. My brothers and sisters and I all in one bed, tumbled on top of each other. We’d fall asleep mid-tussle and wake playing. I remember the first time I left the house. We were set on the lawn, and I was frantic with the beauty of it all. The dry leaves skittering along the ground, so impossible to catch. The smell of rain and grass and earth. The smells of everyone that had ever walked here, as secret and unreadable as their clinging dreams. The smell of the birds, the birds that sang to you from the shifting leaves, that could fly where they wanted, where you could never catch them, no matter how you jumped.
That first time I was torn from my family I was taken by another family so different from mine that I was frightened, and I behaved badly because I didn’t understand the new rules. And even once I understood, I was too scared to control myself, to control my body according to the new rules. But I learned, and I found myself in a place that I was loved and petted, in a place that I was expected to love and rewarded for loving, and in the end that is all we can ask of this life.
I have a glowing memory of lying pressed against a little warm body, and of a small soft hand holding my ear. I loved that body. I loved that hand so much that I wanted to swallow it up. I remember the feeling of the bones hard beneath the softness of the flesh. I remember the salty taste of tears; they tasted like love.
I was taken from that place in a bad time. I will never know why. It was beyond my control or comprehension, as most things are. I felt it as a punishment. I felt as if my heart would break. I couldn’t bear to be separated from them for an evening, and now I would never see them again. It was a very great, aching pain. I felt it as unfair, and tragic, but I have learned since that it is just life. You take a warm place when you can find it. You stretch and sigh.
After that I went from home to home. I spent some time in shelters and learned the long loneliness of a night spent in a small cage, and how that loneliness doesn’t lessen day after day after day, how you rise and sink through waves of it, trying to keep your whiskers above the cold water. I spent some time on the streets. I learned that people could be kind, or indifferent or cruel, sometimes all three at once. I learned not to show my love, because it annoys people. They don’t like to be plagued by foolish exuberance. I have been alone, I have been afraid. I have had few moments of love and warmth, but I have poured myself into them completely. There is no wise love.
And that brings me where I am now. I met this one when I was on the streets, and he was too. He fed me. People have said that all I care about is food, but you must not underestimate the pain of hunger. You must not underestimate the love that is given with the sharing of the food, particularly when food is scarce. You must not underestimate the hungry ache that the affection fills.
He is hard and dirty, with skin like cracked leather and a strong, sour smell. He is quick to kick me with his torn shoes. There is nothing soft in our lives, it is all dark stones and ragged sticks and garbage. I know that he didn’t choose to be here any more than I did, and his impotence makes him angry.
Even the birds here are desperate and dirty and cold. But they can fly away. I watch them sometimes. I stand here, wearing this sign, and I watch the birds. They can fly away, but they don’t. I know, if I was a bird dog, as the sign says, if I was a dog that could fly like a bird, I wouldn’t leave either. I would think about the time that he removes the sign. The time that he finds the warmest softest place in this cold world, and finds something tattered to cover me. That he presses his large, stinking body against mine. That he gives me his warmth and I give him mine. That he holds my ear for dear life. That I know he loves me, and he knows I love him, and we know we will be always together.