(Benjamin: continued from previous post)
I had been living overseas for two years and had just finished what was my first year in Poland when my then-wife and I began discussing the idea of getting a dog. We had returned from a summer vacation that brought us back to Canada for a visit. While it was great to visit after so long away, it was also exciting to return to Poland, a new apartment, and what would become ‘normal’ for another few years.
Our best friend in Poland was a woman named Magda with whom we taught at the Uniwersytet Warszawski, Institute of Applied Linguistics. Magda and her husband had a boxer whom we had grown to love as well. Magda and her love of her dog inspired much in me that was to come.
Magda knew that we were thinking about getting a dog and over the course of a year, we talked about the logistics and the how. I had my heart set on a yellow lab. I still had such fond memories of the black lab-shepherd cross, Kaila, that I had loved as a child. I lost Kaila suddenly and tragically one day when she reared up on a neighborhood friend who was blocking the front door of our house that she was trying to enter. In the process, her claws left his face bleeding … and, shortly after a conversation with the neighbour, Kaila left us for a “farm.”
The idea of another black lab was too close to home, but the notion of a yellow lab, and rescuing a part of my childhood I had lost, appealed … a lot. However, after much discussion, we seemed to settle on the wish of a golden retriever … which somehow seemed “us.”
Like so many people, we were ready to take the plunge into pet ownership but were nonetheless afraid to actually do it. Living in a foreign country, unsure what the future was going to bring, didn’t make the inertia of indecision any easier to overcome. And so we turned the idea around in our heads for a year, waiting for the “right moment” to find the dog we wanted.
The new school year had begun when on one warm fall day in October 1996, Magda came into the university office I shared and said: “I saw the perfect dog for you and Andrea today. He’s a puppy; he is so cute and adorable. He’s wandering around the Central Train Station. I’ve seen him in the same place the last few days – running around and barking at people for food.”
Inquiring for more information, I would learn that this stray was a terrier-cross which, according to Magda, was probably possessed of a bunch of Irish terrier.
As I’ve said before, there is a risk of getting an idea in one’s head too early … where the planted idea takes root and gets in the way of spontaneity and opportunity. My brain was thus fixated on the idea of golden retriever – and here was Magda telling me that she thought some stray mutt that was a terrier (what the hell even was that?) was perfect for me.
I grappled with the notion and resisted. What was wrong with this dog? Why was it on the street? Was it feral? Had someone abandoned it because it has bit someone? Was it diseased and dangerous? Was it sick?
My mind went to all the negative places – all the reasons that this was not the dog for me.
I told Magda I’d think about it and discuss it with Andrea, which I did. I phoned Andrea, told her what Magda had told me, and I explained the “opportunity” … and I quickly dashed it with the same fears I had earlier contemplated. While I certainly felt for the poor stray, I told Andrea “We don’t want this dog. We don’t know what we’d be getting ourselves into.” I said “No.”
When Magda returned shortly thereafter I shared with her “our” decision. Honestly, I don’t even remember what Andrea thought about the decision; it was clearly my decision that I had projected onto “us.” Nevertheless, the decision was done. There would be no stray Irish terrier-cross (huh?) coming home to our apartment. I said that we would in fact make a commitment to find a golden retriever in a few weeks.
I remember the sadness on Magda’s face, but she said she understood.
I told her I felt for the little dog, but quickly re-rationalized the decision. We would find a dog … just not this one.
I finished my day at the university and then headed to my afternoon business-English classes I taught at the national offices of a multinational company: the full-time teaching position that my wife and I shared at the university didn’t even pay our rent. Most university instructors moonlighted and we were no different.
Tired, I returned home, ready for some rest.
I got off the bus, walked to the social-realism that was our apartment building, and ascended the five flights in the rickety wooden elevator that seemed more a closet on a rope than a piece of technology in which I trusted my life a few times a day.
Out, I walked down the concrete hallway and took out the long skeleton-like key and opened the door to tranquility.
I was in the clutches of the moment; moving my feet into a rutted routine that my mind already possessed; I knew the moments that would follow and was already drifting into the next moment. I turned right to take off my coat and my eyes adjusted to the light of the apartment and then I turned left when I picked up the unexpected noise of voices talking … before I could say anything a crazed, wild-eyed dog came out of the bathroom and stood staring at me – and then he started barking uncontrollably.
There were certainly a lot of emotions and thoughts that were going through my head in that instant: shock was clearly one of them; betrayal was another; and fear was probably at the top of the list. And could someone please make this dog stop barking! I certainly didn’t know what was happening … or what had happened … but I did now know what an Irish terrier-cross looked and sounded like.