It is a lonely expanse of space; created by metal fencing in the midst of Anderson Park in Carrboro, NC. It is a place where the soil is always moist and the smell of dog urine drifts of up lightly through the pines surrounding the perimeter. The dog park is a place where unleashed dogs can run and interact with their species. The dog park is like a self help book suggestion for dogs trying to socialize. Here dogs run, chase, nip, pee, hump, roll and dump.
Tonight it is Christmas Eve. December 24, 2013. Daisy (an 82 pound Black Lab and Rhodesian Ridge Back Hound blend) and I come to mix it up. She with her brethren and I with mine. We both look out the car windows as we drive up. It is going on five pm and the place is empty. There is another car parked, but no one to be seen. Not unusual. There is the walk around the Anderson Park Pond or the children’s playground. Just being in the open air will be good for us and Daisy might run after a ball or two. I open the car door and she runs to the dog park gate. I pull on my coat, hat and gloves and trundle after her in my winter boots. Opening the gates of the park, Daisy bolts into the open space to quickly take a pee. I follow and sit on one of the many open benches as Daisy grazes through the smells, marking her way. It is quiet except for the lone call of a Canadian Goose. It is twilight. A brownish twilight. I look to Daisy and she looks out to the pond. I hear the sound of a voice. I sense from the sound a native, rural North Carolinian man and the sound of children.
“Seth, Seth come back over here. It’s time to be a’goin’ home. Come on boy.” Seth is the name of my mother’s father, whom I never met. In family pictures he is darkly handsome like Valentino. In my mother’s stories he is a violent drunk. Like I say, I never met him. He died of tuberculosis in his forties somewhere in Michigan. “Seth!” I look up to see Seth running across the empty parking lot from the pond. Dressed in a dark blue snowsuit he moves swiftly yet stiffly in his toddler body. Seth has seen Daisy. Seth has pinpointed some fun. His daddy is dressed in camouflage from head to toe, like he is ready to hunt deer. I hate camouflage. There is a slur to his voice that says alcohol, but thank God his tone says nice. He is followed by a ten year old who is underdressed in a pair of pants and cotton long sleeves. Seth makes it to the gate of the dog park. His daddy and brother follow. “You wanna go in there and see that doggy? Alright boy,” he signals to the ten year old, “open up the gate.”
The boy does as he is told and little Seth comes tumbling through the moist dog earth ground. Seth gets himself up, I can hear his excited, asthmatic like breathe, and he runs halfway to the bench where I sit. Daisy is pressed against my legs. She is uneasy, protective. I get a better look at the head to toe camouflage and a better look at the eyes of Daddy. My inner alarm rings partially of prejudice and partially of recognizing the eyes of a drunk. My years as a Judicial Magistrate have tuned me into those eyes, that look. Seth keeps leading the charge.
“Your dog friendly?” Seth is almost to us. “Well, she is over eighty pounds and if she gets excited she jumps.” I have a hold on Daisy’s harness. Seth picks up a ball on the way. I can feel Daisy’s urge to leap. The ten year old cries out, “Hey Seth come on back over here! Best watch out for that big dog.” Seth stops, four feet away and is beckoned back to his brother. The man keeps striding forward till he is near me by some three feet. “Well my boys are used to dogs. I used to raise Rotweillers. You know, the real German kind. They ain’t afraid of dogs.” The man is thin. His cheek bones flush out in his face. “Made a real good living out of that for awhile, but then…well just had to stop that.” I am thinking, “puppy mill” and “animal cruelty,” but I respond. “Yea I can see your little one has no fear, but have him come up slowly and he needs to drop the ball. I don’t want my dog to jump him.” I keep a hold on Daisy. “OK Seth you heard the lady, go say hi to the dog.” Seth drops the ball and runs to Daisy, arms out stretched. Daddy is right, no fear. Seth’s small hand comes to Daisy’s nose. Daisy licks Seth and he squeals with a delight. Seth and Daisy see eye to eye. I still hold tight to her harness.
“Yeah we love dogs, don’t we boy?” The ten year old nods, but does not come close to Daisy. His Dad keeps his distance too. Seth is now running around collecting balls, whispering under his breath, “Doggy, Doggy!” Seth has a lot of mucus. Can’t talk real loud. “Yeah we took care of a dog one time for a guy who was a computer technician. My wife saw the ad on Craig’s list. What kind of dog was that boy?” The ten year old bites his lip trying to remember. “It was a tiny thing,” he says. “Jumped around a lot.” “Jack Russell?” offers the boy. “Yeah, yeah that was the dog boy! Name was Ruby. Real sweet dog. But what was she boy?” “Jack Russell Terrier!”, the boy offers again. By now Seth has found every abandoned ball in the park and dropped them at Daisy’s feet. Daisy struggles with me to get free and all I can see is “Toddler trampled by 85 lb. dog at Anderson Park on Christmas Eve.” The man is oblivious. The ten year old tells Seth to not bother the dog. “Yeah, what the hell was that dog?” the man is scratching under is camouflage hat, he has dark greasy hair. “JACK RUSSEL TERRIER, that is right boy! Jack Russell Terrier. Tiny thing, but I grew real attached. Didn’t I boy?” The boy nods as he watches Seth start throwing his stash of balls for Daisy. She jumps at my hold. Seth is breathing thickly. He is thrilled.
“Yeah she was a sweet dog. And I got to know the know the guy real good too. You know he would call every week about Ruby. We kept the dog for over a year. The man and me would talk together every week. He was a real nice man. He paid us real good for keep’n his dog.” The man looks off into the pines. He pulls down his cap. I have let go of Daisy. She has seen a dog walking outside the fence of the park; barking and jumping. Seth has moved back into the arms of his brother. And Daddy seems lost in thought; captured.
He finally stops his moment of silence and takes a look at me. “Yeah, well he came and picked up his dog. Said he would be back for Christmas, but we haven’t heard a thing. He ain’t go’n to come back. Hasn’t called. You know what is strange? How I come so close to that dog and that man. Now they are both gone. You know….” “Yeah,” I reply, “people can just sometimes leave your life.” “Yes, lady you are right. A person can just go. But I miss him and I miss that dog.” He kicks at the moist dirt. The sole of one shoe is flapping open. “I’m sorry,” I say, “Sorry you lost a friend.”
There is an open moment. Daisy is now chasing balls thrown by Seth. “Yeah,” he says, “makes me sad. Well boys time to go!” Seth’s hand is grabbed by his brother. “C’mon Seth.” Daddy starts walking away. Seth is waving good-bye. I call out, “Merry Christmas!” “Oh yeah,” the man says. His back is turned to me. “Merry Christmas” He stops at the gate, turns and yells, “Thanks for the listen.” I am back to holding onto Daisy. They exit the dog park and slowly make their way to a what looks like a nice car in the near dark parking lot. I wonder if the mama is the bread winner. A nurse? I let go of Daisy and she runs towards the gate to smell their exit.
Well I figured him wrong. Yes lady I did. Merry Christmas.