[Content warning: hints at depression/mental illness.]
from what she could remember,
she had never had a full year without troubles:
that Dog always followed her.
Six years old.
“what a cute kid!”
wait ‘til you hear what’s going on inside her head.
what is the point of this meaningless socialization?
the plastic playground, the play kitchen,
she didn’t see the appeal.
the other parents started to point out to their children,
“do this and that so you won’t become that kid!”
at the time, she didn’t know being herself was an insult to them.
Eight years old.
all her friends were raving about the stuff.
the stuff that couldn’t matter less,
even if they poured every ounce of love from themselves into those
meaningless pieces of plastic.
birthdays, holidays, whatever.
Tamagotchis, Polly Pockets, Disney, dogs.
the cute little furry ones that their moms bring when it’s time for pickup.
the ones that melt your heart like butter because they’re so beautiful and funny and kind and wholesome and--
she begged and pleaded for her mom and dad to get her one too,
she didn’t know at the time that there was a price to fit in.
that was the first day her Dog approached her side.
it wasn’t real, like the rest of theirs.
it was different. per usual.
she later learned that you don’t need to see something for it to be real.
ignorance isn’t bliss.
Nine years old.
her Dog grew every day.
she started wishing for it to go away, maybe even leave her alone.
wishful thinking sometimes never hurts.
it started to haunt her everywhere,
she’s tried to stop it but it feasts, and feasts--
no, not on those cute kibble pellets,
oh no, its appetite is for something far more special,
and it Engulfs and Consumes over and over
until there is nothing left for her to give.
so she sits.
and stays “that kid."
Ten years old.
here’s where she figured it out.
they told her to start counting when her Dog was hungry.
because they said that would make her Dog go away.
her “best friends” copy her test. one, two, three, four.
the teacher drones about everything she’s known for years. five, six, seven, eight.
the kitten in her family has been learning from the tigers and
sinks its claws into her Dog to form everlasting scars that too would never heal.
nine, ten, eleven, twelve.
little did she know, then,
every second she counted, her Dog grew.
Twelve years old.
no one remembered, but then again, why should they?
the only present she got
was a mask. not a pretty mask,
it was just a smile.
naturally, her Dog gave it to her.
she decided to try it once, and then one more time.
“maybe just once more” turned into part of her morning routine.
from the tiring use of it, she thought it would break.
but her Dog gave her better and more convincing reasons
to make it stronger than she was.
Thirteen years old.
her Dog looms over her.
her mask is the skinny rod holding her Dog’s cage shut, and
it doesn’t bother her anymore that her parents don’t know
that the other parents’ eyes widen and break into a sweat when their child asks
to hang out with “that kid”.
“it has to be contagious." “maybe it’s genetic." “perhaps it’s a birth defect?”
slowly, the apples realize to not fall far from the trees and the children stay away from “that kid."
and suddenly the only way that she can satisfy the human feeling of loneliness
is her Dog.
Fourteen years old.
everyone’s talking about their Dogs.
not furry, cute ones,
but Dogs like hers.
not in the pitiful glances they throw her when they think she’s not looking
but in a caring way.
but her Dog’s scars don’t allow her to believe it.
it doesn’t want to.
so it won’t let her.
as it was bigger than she could handle so it barked, and barked,
and frightened them all away.
it’s true a Dog’s loyalty is unlike anything you could ever experience.