by Mary Jo Martin
Scars defined my life. Visible and invisible. I remember being in a home where I was loved and cuddled, but, as time went on, and I grew bigger and more independent, things changed. New ridiculous rules were thrown at me randomly that I didn’t understand. The snuggling and loving I came to enjoy declined, replaced by smacks and shouts of “NO.”
One crisp autumn day my dad took me on a trip to the woods. I couldn’t wait to be with him and share this special time. Dad told me, “We’ll have lots of fun, and you can explore and find new things. You can even help me if you behave.” He looked deep into my eyes and warned, “You must be careful. If I tell you to run, you run. If I tell you to stop, stop. If you don’t listen, things could turn out badly.”
He carried a big, long stick with him. I’d seen lots of sticks before, but never one that looked like this. Suddenly he stopped and held that stick up to his shoulder. I couldn’t understand what he was doing. I never saw him do that before. I was having a great time, running along and exploring new things. I didn’t realize I’d wandered away, when I heard a horrible, loud BOOM and felt a searing pain in the side of my head near my right eye.
My dad yelled, “I told you to stop. Now look what you’ve gone and done!” I couldn’t understand why he was being so mean and angry. I was scared and hurt. It made me cry, and that made the pain even worse. He held my head, “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I didn’t want to yell at you, but you scared me. You’re OK; it’s only a little graze. It’ll heal and give your face character.”
I didn’t know what character was, but his hands made me feel better. We went home so dad could fix up my head. I enjoyed the attention, but not the sticky, smelly stuff on the bandage that pulled at my hair.
After that, I craved more and more attention. Dad didn’t like that. He’d push me away, “Leave me alone, I’m busy.” I didn’t understand how watching TV could be busy. Busy was running or playing ball, not sitting around. Things got worse. Dad became more demanding and spent less time with me, while I got sadder and needier.
Eventually, I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left. I wandered the streets for what seemed like forever, sleeping any place I could to stay away from people. I learned to find warm spots, where I’d stay out of the rain and the wind. I unearthed food wherever I could. Sometimes people in the park would feed me. The backdoors of restaurants were particularly good spots. There was one place where a nice girl worked. She snuck food out to me sometimes. To live on the streets, you have to be fast to avoid trouble, and not get caught. I tried to befriend others who were living out there, but many of them were mean and didn’t want company. I longed for my dad, but couldn’t go back. His rejection terrified me more than the pain I felt in the woods.
One stormy night as I was trying to hide, a tall man with a big smile and a soothing voice found me. I was too tired and hungry to try to get away. He scooped me up and took me to a busy shelter where there were others like me. It was pretty nice. I didn’t have to scrounge for food constantly, and it was warm and comfortable. There were people who were kind and paid attention to me. Occasionally, visitors came. They walked around and talked to all of us there. They were nice too, and had warm eyes and big smiles that told me they’d make great parents.
One day, an older couple came to visit. The man looked friendly, and I could see that the woman was big-hearted and really seemed to like me. She told the man, “Look at those eyes. So beautiful.” We got to know one another, and had time to play together. I was so happy, my whole body quivered. I remember hoping hard, and saying a prayer that they would take me home with them. The woman looked at the man, and said, “He is so handsome. We can’t just leave him here. I want him to come home and live with us.”
Grumbling, the man replied, “Do what you have to do. He’ll be your problem.” I was ecstatic. I gained a new family, and immediately loved that woman, with her soft touch. They took me shopping and I got a new bed and some toys. I never had toys in my old house, so I didn’t know what to do with them.
As time went on, my new dad turned out to be kind and tender, and as soft-hearted as my new mom. He showered me with a lot of affection, and spoiled me with treats. Their house was nice and tidy, and best of all, it was quiet. No parties like my old dad had, with loud music that hurt my ears. We went to the park every day, and I got to play with others who were friendlier than those I met on the streets. We ran and chased one another till we were panting and exhausted. My new mom and dad were always there with cool, refreshing water to help me catch my breath before I started on a new round of play. I never dreamed I could be so happy.
During the spring, our neighborhood had a bad thunderstorm. It started in the middle of the night; it was dark and scary. There were bright flashes of light that hurt my eyes, and before I knew what was happening, there was a huge BOOM! All I could think of was that boom when my first dad took me to the woods. I didn’t want to be hurt again. I lowered my head and ran into my new parents’ bedroom, crying. They woke up and reassured me that I didn’t need to be afraid. My mom said, “You’re fine, safe, warm, and dry inside with us. The thunder and lightning is outside and can’t hurt you. The storm will be over soon.”
She was right. It ended pretty quickly, and I went back to my bed, thinking how lucky I was to have such great parents and be able to live in our wonderful home.
Several months later, in July, there was something called Independence Day. Everyone had cookouts, and there were hot dogs and hamburgers. I love hot dogs and hamburgers, so I thought this was a great day. Then it got dark, and before I knew it, there were loud BOOMS and flashes of light in the sky. I knew this wasn’t a thunderstorm. It wasn’t raining, and the lights and the BOOMS weren’t quite the same, but still scared me. Covering my head, I waited for the pain that I thought would come. But it didn’t. Instead my dad held me, “Don’t be scared. It’s fireworks. Sort of like thunderstorms, but prettier.” I knew they wouldn’t hurt me, but they startled me. I felt better, but I didn’t like them and couldn’t wait for them to be over.
Some years later, my parents moved to a new house. It was bigger than our old one, but different. It took me a while to get used to it, but once I did, I loved it as much as they did. I missed our park though, and my friends that I used to play with every day. My parents made up for it with neighborhood walks, and that was fine by me. I couldn’t run as fast as I used to, but at least I could see new things and new people. Those new people would tell my parents what an adorable boy I was. So, I decided it was okay.
One day I woke up and my right eye hurt so much I moaned and couldn’t see right. I was scared it might be from that hurt I got when I was with my first dad. My parents took me to the doctor, and he gave me medicine that helped, but, eventually, I couldn’t see out of either of my eyes. It took some time, but I got used to making my way. I know it was because of that old scar. It may sound ridiculous, but every time I heard a loud noise, that scar hurt.
My life was defined by scars – visible and invisible, but now it’s good. I have a nice home, good food, and treats. My new parents call me Riley, and even though I’m a dog, I have The Life of Riley.