Pup Finds Hope

(My Life As A Dog)

When word got out that I "liked" Hope McClary, my friends joked that I had 'no hope' of her ever 'liking' me back. I knew it was true. She was a popular and talented kid who lived in a nice house on the more affluent hilltop section of town.

I came from a 'troubled' family and I lived in one of the seeder parts of town by the canal. 'Power Street' was an outdated cut through with eight run down old houses that had seen better days. There had been rumors for years that the state was going to take the street by eminent domain, level the dumpy houses, and turn the area into a walking parkway adjacent to the bike path.

"We'll be homeless," was the running joke among my friends who lived on the street.

I wasn't a bad kid (despite perceptions) but I wasn't the kind of kid someone as smart and pretty as Hope McClary would be interested in. I didn't play sports. I didn't participate in any clubs or other school activities. I didn't fit into any real clique so I was among the 'Walking UnNoticed' as Jipper Henderson put it. We went to school, attended classes, and then left without imparting much of an impression on anybody except for the shadow that preceded our stereotyped reputations.

I accepted my lot in life. Sometimes I wondered if I was meant to be born. I came seven years after my older brother – my parents were already in their forties. My sickly mother was dead before I was ten and my distant father lost himself in his work and at Holden's Bar. My older brothers were out of the house before I was a teenager and I became the housekeeper/cook but it was nearly impossible to keep up with the almost hoarder interior of the house. My brothers took little with them when they left so there were years of clutter throughout the house. My brother's junk '68 Dodge sat rusting on the side of the derelict garage. The yard was more weeds and sand than lawn. The front sagging front porch looked like it was about to fall off. The paint on the house was so faded it was difficult to determine what the color had been.

I landed a part time job as a dishwasher at Johnny C's Diner when I was fourteen. Sometimes Hope McClary came in with her friends but she never looked my way. She was one of those girls easy to notice – long brown hair, an oval face with deep eyes, and a lovely smile (although she never seemed to smile when she noticed me).

I attempted to interact with her – in classroom settings, in the school hallway or cafeteria – but she made it clear that she wasn't interested in establishing any sort of rapport or even a meaningful conversation. I wormed my way into a couple of class group discussions with her in my cluster but she showed little interest in my interest when I tried to engage her in a discussion.

She started dating Cameron Walker earlier this junior year which bummed me out but it really didn't matter much because I knew Hope McClary was so far out of my orbit that I'd need a telescope to capture her shine.

It was easy to feel sorry for myself but I truly did try to keep a positive and 'hopeful' attitude. I had seen my father and brothers go the way of the drink to sooth their miseries and disappointments and I didn't want to walk that path. My boss Birdy Braft and others at Johnny C's were good role models and mentors who tried to keep me forward thinking and motivated and the guys I hung around with – Jipper, Dunkin, Hanky and Mort – weren't bad guys even if they came with their own baggage, struggles and disappointments. We razzed each other and played it cool but deep down we cared about each other even if nobody else seemed to.

Living on Power Street was a challenge to my image and how I was perceived but the circumstances were made ten times worse because of our neighbors – The Gilmores. Their house was just as run down as ours and although who was I to criticize or judge anybody else, the fact of the matter was that The Gilmores were crazy. The father had mental health issues and was on disability. He spent most of the day standing on his front sidewalk staring in a daze toward the canal. His wife was a shrill woman, loud and obnoxious, constantly screaming at their two kids and despairing her husband.

There was a Hillsboro Police cruiser or two in front of their house almost once a week answering some domestic disturbance or conflict. The father went off to the mental health unit or Respite once a month. And, the worse part for me, the family had two yip yip dogs who were just as crazy and dysfunctional as the rest of the family. They barked incessantly, they crapped in our yard, they nipped at my pants leg when I was taking the rubbish out, and they lacked any grace or cuteness that might otherwise make them appealing pets.

Those two dogs served as my one nemesis and they were the lightning rod for all my frustrations, disappointments, challenges and hurts. I held my emotions, feelings, thoughts and moods inside myself as best I could, except when it came to those two stupid mutts who had the knack of pissing me off and agitating me whenever I saw (or heard) them.

I think it was a father/son pair – the son was kind of old looking and the father was really old. They were both mangy and unkempt, some sort of spaniels that hadn't had their fur cut since the day they were born. They basically looked like giant Tribbles with legs. The older one was white (dirty white) - the younger one gray.

I had been dealing with these nuisances for years – shooing them out of the yard, yelling at them to shut up from the window, and shaking them off my pants leg when they got to close. I was not having a particularly great day on this day. School had gotten out for the summer a few days earlier which meant I was left with no structure or distraction unless I was working. I got a few more hours at the diner but not enough to fill my days. I missed seeing Hope McClary every day and I could only cling to the hope that I might see her around town or the diner from time to time (even if it was with that stuck up Cameron Walker).

It was unusually hot for mid-June and the Gilmores were gone which meant the stupid dogs were yelping non-stop. Sometimes they left them in the cellar to bark endlessly but on a hot day like today the Gilmores left them outside in the shade of the garage.

I had already told the pests to shut up about 4,373 times. They had become so loud and disturbing that I went outside to make sure one of them wasn't hurt or injured. That proved to be a mistake because both of them came charging into the yard barking, snipping and showing teeth. I wasn't in the mood for their stupid shenanigans and I'm not proud of what happened next – but you have to understand and believe me when I tell you it was an accident and not intentional.

I swung my foot to shoo the dogs away but the older one was slow moving and half blind and he never saw my foot coming. I basically drop kick field-goaled him, sending him head over heels in a triple flip that would have been great if he was an ice skater or gymnast but tragic for an old dog. As much as I despised those annoying pains-in-the-asses, I felt horrible and for a moment I thought I killed him, but after a moment of lying flat on the ground, the old guy slowly got up and limped back to his yard in a daze.

I let out a sigh of relief but my heart was in my throat. I hoped nobody had seen my assault but when I turned toward the street there was a strange woman standing at the foot of my driveway staring at me with shocked indignation. I had no defense or excuse, of course. What could I possibly say that would rationalize or justify my unforgivable behavior, accident or not?

"Young man," the woman said, her tone critical. "May I have a word with you?"

I walked down the driveway like I was walking a gangplank and I stopped a few feet in front of her. Ironically, she was holding some sort of white fur-balled yip yip dog in her arms. She looked to be in her early sixties, some sort of ex-hippie flower power type wearing a maxi dress and a large straw sun hat on her head. Her hair was either bleached white blond or gray white (it was hard to tell which). She had a huge leather bag hanging from her shoulder.

"I'm Kate," the woman announced, giving me a precarious eye.

I didn't want to tell her my name, of course. Being a criminal of anonymity was a preferred status but she was clearly waiting for me to introduce myself.

"My name is Paul Lipton," I finally said reluctantly.

"Nice to meet you, Paul," Kate replied politely, extending her hand which I awkwardly accepted. "This is Henry," she said, kissing the little dog on its head.

"I didn't mean to kick that dog," I said. "It was an accident."

"Yes, if you say so," Kate replied, giving me a serious look.

I sighed, knowing I was busted and that I was at her peril. "Are you going to call the cops? Animal Control?"

"No," she said. "But I am upset with you."

"I'm sorry you saw that."

"I'm sorry you did that."

"I am too," I mumbled.

"Animal abuse and cruelty is a very serious issue and problem, young man," Kate told me.

"I understand," I said. "I am not a cruel person."

"What kind of person are you?" She wanted to know.

I was embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed. I wish she'd say what she wanted to say and move on to leave me in my misery. She was staring at me, waiting for a response.

"I'm just a loser," I admitted with defeat.

"Oh, I doubt that, Paul," she said with some compassion in her voice. "But you don't strike me as particularly happy."

I didn't say anything.

"Did you ever wonder what it might be like to live your life as a dog?" She asked.

"No," I admitted.

"Maybe you should," she said sternly. "Then you'd understand more."

"I promise I won't be mean to those dogs," I vowed.

"Yes, I should hope so."

She pulled a piece of fur from her Dog Henry before setting him on the ground and sliding her bag off her shoulder. She fished inside the bag for a moment before pulling out a small vile of some sort of liquid. She opened the cap and dipped the dog hair into it and then placed the fur on the palm of her hand which she held up to her mouth.

"Decide what kind of dog you want to be, Paul," she said before blowing the piece of fur in my face.

I was confused by that remark. "What kind of dog I want to be?" But then I started coughing because the piece of dog hair had gone down my throat.

"I'll be back to check on you in a few days," she said before putting the bag back on her shoulder, picking up Henry and continuing her way along Power Street.

I watched her go with a huge frown on my face. Then I realized I was starting to feel funny. I walked up the driveway and I was about to go into the house when everything went blank.


(A/N: Kate also appears in A Boy Named Sue, Wishing Well, and Dreamscape)