My childhood ended when the dog arrived.
* * *
It was late August. The stream of freedom inspired by the beginning of summer had mellowed to a trickle, and we stuck our tongues out in hopes to catch a drop. My younger sisters and I would wallow in the shallow end of our pool, and when we were sure that the grown ups were busy inside and couldn’t use our proceeding actions as a story to entertain guests at the dinner table, we took off our camp tie-dyed tank tops, wound them tightly around our legs, and floundered around pretending to be mermaids. When our parents used to barbecue, we sat at a different table from them. It was two feet shorter and came with red, rounded plastic chairs that had no sharp edges. The three of us used to argue who got to sit at the head of the table. My mother laughed every time.
“It’s square,” she said.
But when it was humid and the days overstayed their welcome into night, you could argue about anything. And then we got the dog.
* * *
The first thing it attacked was my dolls. I came up to my room and found that Veterinarian Barbie was missing her hair, Pilot Barbie was missing her legs, Fashion Model Barbie was missing her head, and babysitter Barbie was just missing. I stood examining the vet’s bald scalp, muddy crocs seeping stains onto the pink carpet, when I glanced up to see the culprit lurking in the corner. It had a German Shepherd snout, with teeth so long they didn’t all fit in its mouth, and a Newfoundland body, big and buff with curled fur matted down by the darkness in its eyes. It breathed like my mother’s yoga teacher told her to, like it was trying to fill the room with its presence. It raised a claw towards me. I dropped my collection of decapitated dolls and raced screaming down the hallway.
Later, when I had a new lock installed on my door, I sat and packaged all the Barbies into a cardboard box that I put onto the second-highest shelf on my closet. I had to stand on my blue chair to do it. My mother said not to stand on chairs, but I’d stopped listening to her all the time. I told myself that I could play with them if I wanted to. It was just that they were slobbery and gross now, and no longer as fun.
Sometimes, in the following days, I’d feel the urge to play again, but then I remembered the chewing marks on plastic limbs and I wondered if kids would laugh if they knew I entertained myself with broken toys.
I never touched that box again.
* * *
I was the only one the dog hated. It ignored my sisters and was at peace with my parents. But yesterday, it ate my shoes, the ones that had fairies on the sides. When my mom took me to the shoe store, I picked out sandals, tiny gold ones with rhinestones decorating the part of the shoe that goes between your big toe and pointer toe. It hurt a little to have something wedged in there, but I liked the way it made my foot look like it was a flower with petals of jewels. My mother didn’t want to buy them. She said they looked too old, what about the flip-flops instead? I said I wanted these.
* * *
I couldn’t go into the backyard anymore because that is where the dog is. I couldn’t go to our pool anymore because the pool is in the backyard. Instead, I went to the park. There were a bunch of kids my age there. The girls wore their hair in high ponytails, and when they talked to me, they look at their painted nails instead off into my eyes. They said I could hang out with them, if I wanted. There were boys there, too. Generally, girls and boys were like salt and pepper, kept in different containers. Now, we were sprinkled together. The boys didn’t talk much, just sat with their hats put on backwards. My mother didn’t like that. I wondered if my new friends liked me.
* * *
We had the Johnsons over for dinner. When Mom set up the kids table, I saw that the dog had plopped itself right at the head, great big tongue sticking out like the horror it is. I told mother I’d sit at the grownup table, if I had to. Except, I didn’t call it the grownup table, because that word wasn’t very sophisticated. I called it, “the other table,” as if it were perfectly accessible to me, as if its chairs with sharp right edges with no round to be found were meant for me to sit in. My younger sisters looked up at me, their eyes dipping at the edges.
My mother said, in a voice soft enough to lure the mermaids that we used to be, “Why?” But couldn’t she see that the dog was right there? I was too big to squeeze into the little table, and too small for my mother to understand. Even though it was almost fall, the days cooler and cooler, I felt like I was wearing six overcoats on the beach, sweaty and bulky, out of place. I stood in between the two tables, suspended, staring the dog straight in the eye, until my mother sighed and made room for me at the adult’s table.
* * *
There was never any dog.