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The dog, Winnie, is a meer representation of my dog a couple years ago. My dog served as my only companion in a world where I felt so small.
He sat leaning against the side of the grocery store building, begging for food. With a scrappy piece of an old pizza box that he dug out of the trash, and an opaque marker that he borrowed from the consignment store, he wrote the words “I have nothing. Even a smile will help.” Despite his plea for help and request for a friendly smile, hours went by where he was not given anything. Some people who passed Carson mumbled words under their breathe, while others were not afraid to make their presence known.
His first encounter was with a middle aged man, roughly around the age of 40, who wore a freshly pressed suit and carried a briefcase.
“You don’t belong here,” he said as he kicked Carson’s shin, leaving the first bruise of many.
He walked away with no remorse in his soul. Carson remained on the ground, feeling belittled and smaller than ever.
As the day went on, more and more people passed him looking as if they were trying to remain oblivious to his situation, and he couldn’t help but feel trivial in the world. A part of him began to miss the overprotective mannerisms of his parents the he left for a life on the streets. He began to think of when he left on a dewy Sunday morning… before his parents awoke for mid morning mass… before the clouded sun reached the top of the pine trees… before he had a chance to second guess the only decision he made without the influence of his parents. He thought of how he walked past the job application forms that his parents had filled out in his place and then posted on the fridge, and his weekly homework on the counter that they had completed for him. He remembered his plea for more independence the night before, where he begged his parents to loosen their grip since he had recently turned eighteen. The only way that he thought possible for gaining this desired independence and life outside of his over protective parents was to leave the only place he ever called home, and tell his parents he wasn’t coming back. The only thing that he left with was the sudden feeling of freedom, whilst leaving behind everything he had, including the lengthy To-Do list that his mom wrote out for him. He had no place to go and no one to turn to.
After a month of sitting on the streets, he still felt alone. He became conscious of the perceptions that people had of him and his situation and recognized the extent to which he was judging them in return. He judged the way that individuals sped up as they walked past him, the way that they flaunted their belongings, knowing that he had nothing, the way that they held up their phones to talk to business partners while continually ignoring the world around them, and the way that families stood in clumps to feel a sense of security. He knew that people saw him as a danger…as an outcast…as unimportant.
He was enraptured with boredom and discomfort every minute. He began watching birds circle around the somewhat empty trash cans in hopes of finding food.
“Look over here,” he imagined the small animals saying to one another.
He knew well enough from looking in the dirty piles of garbage himself for the last month, that there was nothing available to take. He searched every morning at the rising of the sun to start off his day.
“Aha, finally,” he mumbles one morning with a small grin on his face when he finds a half eaten cheeseburger resting on top of the pile.
Finding anything more than a chewed apart sandwich was a rare occurrence that left him satisfied for the rest of the day.
After devouring his one meal for the day, he wanted to find a new “home” where he could once again sit and beg for money. With well worn clothes and a torn pant pocket, he stood up from his cement bed and walked away from the judgmental looks of the people around him. He had no destination in mind except a place which would provide him a subtle distraction from his everyday embarrassment. He walked along the dirt paved path, farther and farther away from his previous environment. He walked for what seemed to be five miles, looking for a place to somewhat settle down.
His clothes were saturated in the sweat and filth of the burning sun.
“You smell…take a shower,” his somewhat friendly bystanders said as he walked past them.
He knew in his mind that he couldn’t bathe himself more than what the lake did. He pretended to ignore these harsh comments and continued on walking down the dirt path, out of the city, and into a field filled with weeds and tall yellow grass.
“Ow,” he said as the brittle sticks continually brushed his side.
His hands were scraped and bled from the thorns that pierced into his thin skin. His blood dripped to leave a small trail in his footsteps, but his wounds were quickly sealed from the wind. He stopped walking, and turned around to see nothing but field encompass him.
“At least I’m alone,” he reassured himself.
He took in the quiet atmosphere, and closed his eyes to embrace being alone where no one could make him feel worse about himself. He felt the breeze blow through his knotted hair. He heard the plants swaying and the pitchy whistles that they made when the wind scavenged through them. He tasted the dryness in his mouth from a lack of water.
He began to imagine his home in Birmingham, Alabama. He pictured himself laying in his bed only for his mom to place a soft blanket onto his leg as a part of his nightly routine, but he knew that this wasn’t his life anymore.
The imagined fuzzy blanket began to feel coarse, like sandpaper rubbing on his leg. This disrupted his quiet state and peace of mind. He opened his eyes to feel his bruised shin being licked through the torn holes in his pants.
“Ahhh,” he screamed as he jumped back.
He looked down near his feet to see a small dog, or what resembled a dog, looking cowardly into his eyes. It’s dark brown fur outstretched in every direction, and it’s paws laid slightly too big for it’s perfectly round face. It’s head was slanted downward almost as if it were being punished. It’s paws began inching backwards as Carson stretched out his hand. The dog whimpered, and hid in it’s own shadow. It was scared.
“It’s okay,” Carson said as he bent down to the dog’s level. “Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you.”
Carson let his hand fall in between his legs and remained crouched.
“Come here little guy,” he said.
The dog’s ears slightly raised and it’s head tilted upwards as it began sniffing the air. It’s scent trail stopped at Carson as it’s eyes pierced through his soul, almost as if they were saying “Help me.”
“You got a name buddy?” Carson asked while stretching his hand out once again.
This time, the dog seemed to be more keen with Carson as he slowly stepped forward to touch it’s parched snout to Carson’s peeling fingertips.
“That’s right, it’ll be okay.”
This is the first time he had spoken since leaving home. Something about this dog made him feel safe, almost as if it would save him from isolation.
As the dog drew nearer to Carson, Carson gently began stroking the right side of the dog’s back. Making sure not to move too quickly and scare it, Carson slowly reached for it’s neck to look for a collar. Nothing but shaggy fur and dirt were nestled in every nook and cranny.
“Where did you come from,” he asked as he sat on the ground in front of the dog, “Do you have a home?”
The dog stepped onto Carson’s crossed legs and plopped into his lap. It rested it’s head on Carson’s left knee and remained there almost as if it too felt safe. Carson let it lay there and rest. He knew what it felt like to be tired from a long day’s journey.
A couple hours later, Carson opened his eyes to the dark sky and bright stars. He had fallen asleep. He used his hands to hoist himself back upwards into a seated position and looked down to see the dog still resting on his lap. This dog lifted his head and turned it slightly to look Carson in the eyes once again.
“We must’ve fallen asleep boy,” Carson said. “You are a boy right?”
The dog licked Carson’s knee as a sign of agreement.
“Do you have a name? No? Can I call you Winnie boy? Do you like that name?”
The dog jumped up and put his front paws near Carson’s shoulders knocking him straight to the ground. He saturated Carson’s face with slobber while his tail wagged back and forth like a propeller.
“You must really like me,” Carson said pushing him back to arms reach.
Winnie jumped off of Carson and ran circles around him. A smile stretched across Carson’s face as he watched Winnie’s excitement. He felt appreciated. He felt important. He was happy.
Winnie and Carson grew hungrier and hungrier by the time that morning rolled around. They decided to make their way back into the town to search through the trash outside the grocery store. The dirt paths on their way out of the field were lit by the moon, and once they reached the street, tall skinny lights hung over them. Carson reached into the trash and pulled out a heap of filth. He threw it on the street for Winnie to then sniff through for food.
“Nothing,” Carson said. “What should we do buddy?”
Winnie looked at Carson with his beady puppy dog eyes. This dog was hungry. The outline of his ribs were visible through his thick fur, and his nose cracked from a lack of water. Carson looked back at Winnie and noticed his tail had dropped lower than before. He felt like a failure. Carson sympathized seeing Winnie’s fragile and frail body sniffing through the trash. He felt his longing for food slowly weaken as he thought more and more about providing for Winnie. He walked to the side of the consignment store building, to the same cement wall that he leaned on before. He sat down on a pile of cardboard, put his head in his knees, wrapped his arms around his legs, and wept. Winnie laid next to Carson with his head and tail resting on the cold cement.
“I’m so sorry Winnie,” Carson sobbed. “I don’t have anything. I don’t have any money to buy you food. I’m so sorry. You can leave. You can go find a new person, I won’t mind.”
Carson and Winnie sat there until the crack of dawn (which had only been a few hours), when Carson felt a small tap on his head. He opened his eyes to the ground near his feet and saw two rose colored sandals.
“Are you all right sir,” the soft Southern voice said.
Carson and Winnie looked up to see a young woman with short brown hair that hung to her shoulders. She stood with a hand resting on Carson’s shoulder and another around the strap of her brown bag. Her eyes met Carson’s with a look of concern. Her lips pushed together to form a gentle smile.
“Here,” she said. “Take this,” she said as she handed him a $10 bill.
Carson hesitated to take what seemed to be such a large sum of money.
“Please. Buy something to eat for you and that poor dog,” she said as she reached down to pet Winnie. “He looks like such a good boy. It’s the least I could do sugar.”
Carson reached for the bill and slowly pinched it in between his fingers.
“Thank you,” he sighed with relief.
“Y’all have a good day now alright,” she said walking away.
Carson looked at this bill and held it in both hands. He glanced over to Winnie who seemed to be just as confused with the situation as he was.
“Did you hear that boy,” Carson said. “We can get you some food now.”
Winnie jumped upon hearing the mention of food. His tail lifted and began wagging to create a subtle stream of air.
“Let’s go boy,” Carson said standing up.
He walked up to the grocery store door and pushed it open.
“What are ya doing in her sonny boy,” a deep voice shouted from across the room. “You know very well you belong on the streets. Scram!”
Winnie hid behind Carson’s calves.
“I just wanna buy some food for my dog here,” Carson said.
“You gotta dog boy? Where’d you get him huh? Did you steal ‘em,” the man added. “Bring him over here.”
Carson scooped his arms underneath Winnie and lifted him. Winnie seemed to relax when he felt Carson’s limbs surround him. Carson walked over to the counter where the man was standing tall.
“I see,” the man said. “Well ain’t that a hungry dog if I er’ did see one.”
The man reached to pet Winnie’s head. He glided his hand in between his ears in a delicate pattern.
“Here,” he said reaching under the counter. “Take this.”
He handed Carson a small bag of chips and a link of cooked sausage.
“Now don’t go eaten’ all this. It’s on the house, only if you promise to feed this poor pup,” the man said.
Carson once again hesitated to take what was being given to him.
“Get outta here, and come back if that dog gets more hungry.”
Carson turned to leave the store with Winnie wrapped in one arm and the packages of food in the other. He looked down at Winnie and once again met his eyes.
“You’re almost like my good luck charm Winnie,” Carson said in shock. “You better stick with me.”
Carson carried Winnie over to the cement bed and set him down gently.
“You ready to eat boy,” he said unwrapping the tight plastic on the sausage.
They each took a bite of the sausage, and remained eating for a minute and a half, up until the sausage had disappeared. Carson looked down to Winnie sitting in satisfaction.
“Thanks for sticking with me,” Carson said to Winnie as he patted his head.
His words trailed into his head as he realized that he was content…with just Winnie.