I remember a photograph of myself at four years old. I am sitting on the floor and smiling with my arm around my new puppy. I am wearing a green checked dress. The puppy is a light fawn color with a white nose and white belly. We are roughly the same size. There is a Christmas tree behind me and the legs and feet of adults at the edge of the frame. I have no memory of this event; in my earliest memories we already have a dog. His name is Caboose.
Except it’s not entirely true that in my earliest memories we had a dog, because he isn’t present in most of my memories. I remember the fact that he existed at that time, but he wasn’t there. If each memory were a photograph, he would be, always, outside the frame. We kept him in the backyard, to be eventually joined by first one, and then two, black cats, and an escaped rabbit.
When my parents tell the story, they say, We got you a puppy because he was small, and you were small, but we should have gotten a small dog instead. The puppy was rambunctious. He scared you. It’s a reasonable explanation. I don’t know if it’s true. I only know that I never loved him. None of us did.
I don’t know if I had asked for a dog or if he just happened. With two parents, a brother, and a white stucco ranch house with a fenced-in backyard, perhaps the dog was simply a necessary part of what I would later learn to call our nuclear family. Other necessities included family trips in the summer to the Grand Canyon and day trips to the mountains in the winter. Dutifully, I learned to make snow angels and sled down small hills. My attempts at making snowmen were less successful. Afterwards, we would get back in the van, wet and shivering, and drive back home.