Dog Story

I dreamed about my dog Prudence last night. We lost her when I was 14-years-old. I’ll never get over her. When I was 10, Uncle Jimmy found her at a flea market, “chewing on a frozen banana peel”. He brought her over our house and insisted we keep her. Dad was hesitant at first, but she was so cute and tiny, just a few weeks old… We all fell in love. I wanted to name her Matilda, after my favorite book. I persisted as names flew back and forth between the five of us, but Dad settled on “Prudence” after the Beatles song “Dear Prudence”. I declared her full name was “Prudence Matilda Grady”, no one argued. Nicknames abounded from the archaic namesake: “Prudie”, “Pru-Pru”, “Prudie Pie”, etc. I can’t listen to the song without the tingles of grief arising from the depths of my heart.

DNA testing for dogs had not become a thing yet, so we had no idea what she was, other than cute. Part beagle, part shepherd, some kind of lab, we had no idea. Mostly white, fully-grown about medium-sized, with light brown spots and toasted ears, it was her personality that sparkled. Mom worked 12-hour overnight shifts as a labor and delivery nurse, so she was usually asleep when I got home from school. Prudence was there, scratching deep gouges in the windowsill by the backdoor, always excited to see me when I got off the bus. Rebellious, mischievous, and smart as hell, she was the family dog, but Prudence was a reflection of me. I taught her all five of her tricks “sit”, “left paw”, “right paw”, “lie down”, “rollover” in one day using goldfish crackers as an incentive. She was my soul dog.

Mom had a substance abuse problem, like a third of healthcare professionals, which Dad insisted was the cause of him leaving (even though he had the same problem). Thus their vituperative divorce process began with us caught in the middle. Mom couldn’t handle being alone, so she hooked up with Jeff, a guy she met at an AA meeting, who convinced her to cash out her retirement fund and buy a farm out in the middle of nowhere, Virginia. The farm had a trailer and nothing else. I would find dime-sized ticks on Prudence and tweeze them off, feeling a primate-like grooming satisfaction.

One day, Mom had provided nothing to eat besides hot dogs and bread. When the bread ran out, I couldn’t take it anymore and walked to the nearest neighbor’s house in the dark. I asked to use their phone to call Dad to pick us up. The neighbors gave me a can of Coke and I started to feel better. I still prefer Coke over Pepsi to this day. Dad eventually picked up my younger sister and me, but refused to take Prudence, as his new apartment “didn’t allow dogs”. He said Mom would take care of her. I couldn’t imagine Mom tweezing the ticks off of my dog in her un-rehabilitated state.

I never saw Prudence again. Mom went to rehab in Northern Virginia and said Jeff’s family took care of Prudence. I don’t know if that’s true and I’ll never know. A permanent dog-shaped hole in my heart rings the echos of my Dear Prudence’s puppy language “Uh-ruh-ruh”, which I translated to “I love you”. Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write. George Carlin said, “Life is just a series of dogs”. There was only one Prudence Matilda Grady.

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