Spring is finally coming.
It’s a beautiful day. It’s warm but not too hot. The sun is breaking through the canopy in individual beams of light. I always hated that tree, but she kept talking about hanging a swing from it for all of our kids, so it still stands. The swing is in the garage. She bought it the day she found out she was pregnant. She was so happy. Paul isn’t big enough for it yet, which is good because I can’t look at it without crying. Maybe I will put it up when he goes into kindergarten. I should have my shit together by then.
Adrian loved our little yard. Our little corner of the world she called it. It sat at about a half an acre, most of it in the back, with that one hated oak right in the middle. It was fenced the whole way around, but we replaced the chain-link with white picket in the front. She always wanted that dream, and it looks less tacky. The week she found out she was pregnant she had me build a small deck off the back of the house. She said we had to have room for BBQ’s now that our family is growing. She wanted a place to sit and watch the kids play in the yard. She wanted a place for the dog to lay and bask in the sunlight.
“Yo Adrian, we ain’t got no dog.” I said in my best Stallone.
She just punched me in the arm and said “every boy needs a dog.” Her aunt told her it would be a boy when she announced the pregnancy to her family. She says she’s always right. The first sonogram proved she was.
Little Paulie’s laughter brought me back to the present. I look up and he is flat on his back under that old oak with Rocky, our chocolate lab, standing on his chest licking his face. Paul is 15 months now and getting around pretty well. He can climb down the 3 steps from the deck by himself, but he needs help coming back up. The pup, Rocky, is about 3 months and follows Paul around like, well, like a puppy.
Adrian hated the “Rocky” movies, as you would expect growing up when we did. She was only five when the fourth one was released, I was 7, but the popularity of the movies followed her all through school. I remember hearing kids yell “Yo Adrian” across the lunchroom in high school. We met in that lunchroom, and I was head over heels from the first “Hello.”
Had she survived the childbirth he would be named after her father, but I just wasn’t ready to give up the “Rocky” jokes. Naming him Paulie was like keeping a piece of her around. Every boy needs a dog she said, and well Paulie would have been nothing without Rocky so choosing his name was easy.
Again laughing brought me back to reality. Rocky was chasing Paulie around the perimeter of the yard now, and Paulie was just cackling away. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched them both careen through the yard in that zig zag pattern of drunks and toddlers. Paulie only slightly steadier than Rocky, his age giving him the advantage over four legs. I shook my head and got back to planting. The sky was getting dark, the promised rain was on its way, and it was getting close to nap time.
Spring is coming.
The cold weather is breaking. It’s a bit brisk but manageable with a light jacket. I am finally hanging up Paulie’s swing. I think he’s ready for it. I think we are ready for it. Seeing it doesn’t hurt quite so much anymore. Besides he turned five a few months ago and starts kindergarten this fall. He is growing up so damn fast. He told me when school starts I’m not allowed to call him Paulie anymore. Paulie is a kid’s name. He wants to just be Paul now. Rocky can still be Rocky though, because Rock is a weird name for a dog.
I can hear them chasing each other around the yard. It’s hard to see them from the ladder, but I don’t really need to. I can picture exactly what’s happening. They have fallen into a bit of a routine. Rocky chases Paul, nipping at his butt, until they have made two complete laps around the yard. After two laps Paulie will suddenly turn around and start chasing Rocky. If Paul manages to actually surprise Rocky, he yelps, turns tail and runs the other way. Then it is two or three laps in the opposite direction, with Paulie as the chaser until he gets distracted and stops chasing. In which case if Rocky is not worn out he will nip at Paul’s butt and start chasing him again, and the game starts anew. If Paul does not surprise Rocky on the turn, then Rocky tackles him and licks his face until Paulie fights his way back to his feet.
I always know what they are doing by how it sounds. They have a million of these little games, almost like the Calvin and Hobbes’ comic strip from when I was a kid. They are completely inseparable. They sleep together. They cuddle up and watch cartoons together. Rocky will not eat unless Paulie is eating too. Adrian was right, every boy needs a dog. We needed Rocky. Our family would not have been the same without him. He didn’t exactly plug the hole that she left, but he did fill it in a little.
Rocky got big fast. The age advantage that Paul had didn’t last for very long. I believe that them being so close has had a huge physical influence on Paulie. Rocky was 60 pounds by the end of his first year, and 80 by the end of his second. Constantly having to dodge a dog twice your size that doesn’t know his own strength will have an effect on you. Fighting for space in your own bed, trying to stand up straight while the dog is leaning up against you, all of the running and chasing, all of these things made my little Paulie a bit of a beast.
He was steadier and faster than all of the other kids his age. My father topped out at 6’6”, and it looked like Paul was going to follow in his footsteps. At only five he was already almost four feet tall, taller than 98% of kids his age. He was only in the 80th percentile for weight, but he was surprisingly muscular for a five year old. Last year someone commented that he was built like a soccer player. I didn’t know what that meant, but I got him a soccer ball for Christmas anyway.
Spring is here.
It’s time to sign up for the summer soccer league. Paul and Rocky are outside practicing. That boy only cares about two things, soccer and his dog. “Every boy needs a dog.” It’s almost impossible to tell which one he loves more. He uses Rocky to practice. They still pretty much play the same chasing around the yard game, with two laps then turn and chase. Only now they play in the front yard because the tree gets in the way, and Paul dribbles a soccer ball the whole time, trying to keep it out of Rocky’s mouth. The punishment for allowing Rocky to get a hold of the ball, is puncture holes, and buying a new ball out of his own allowance. It took him quite a while to train Rocky to bite the ball, and even longer to make him realize it was only ok during certain games. I asked him once why he thought it was necessary, he said in a game if he loses the ball the other team scores. There has to be consequences for not being the best he can be, or he isn’t really learning anything. I thought that was an awfully grown up answer for an 11 year old, maybe I was doing ok.
You never really know do you? If you are doing ok raising your child. I wish I didn’t have to do it alone. She always would have known what to do. It doesn’t matter what the situation was, she would have known. She was kind of wise that way. She always saw big picture. She could put together how a decision would affect you later, down the road. Because of that ability she never acted rashly. Whenever Paul had a problem I tried to look at it the way Adrian would have. I tried to see how any resulting actions from my advice could affect his future. If I had done that sooner, I would not have named the dog Rocky. He could have walked through life perfectly fine named Paul. However, being named Paul with a dog named Rocky, resulted in a few bullying instances. He always managed to handle it like his mother would have though, and I could not have been prouder.
A horrible sound snapped me out of my musings. I didn’t quite know where I was or what was happening. I was sitting on the deck smoking a cigarette, listening to them play out front. Now I hear a woman scream and realize its coming from the road. I don’t remember much after that, everything is hazy and blurred.
Everything has changed. Life is so quiet. Why did this have to happen? Why did any of it happen? If only his mother made it through. If only I had left the chain-link up, it would have stopped the car. If only the roads in our neighborhood had curbs. If only I had taken down that stupid tree. If only I had not bought a dog. If only I had not bought that stupid soccer ball that sits on his bed. I don’t know why he kept the first one, I hate it, but I can’t bear to get rid of it.
Rocky whines. He misses him too. I go over and sit on the edge of the deck next to the dog, and lay my hand on him. All he seems to do is whine. I can’t get him to eat or drink. He just lies on the porch or outside his bedroom door like Paulie is going to come walking out. He was there, he should know. He was licking Paulie’s face while he was under that car. He was trying to wake him up, but my Paulie was already gone. He was never coming back. Rocky really started to whimper a lot. I got down on the ground in front of him, now eye level, and I could see it. I saw it in his eyes. It had been three months and that was too much for him. He crawled forward a little, licked my face, and rested his head on my shoulder. He took a deep stuttering breath, let it out, and then never took another. I felt him go. He couldn’t do it without Paulie. Now I am all alone.
Every dog needs a boy.