One night many years ago my sister knocked on my bedroom door before letting herself in. She was holding a white rectangular laundry basket with an old, blue, frayed-at-the-edges towel neatly folded at the bottom. On that towel was a puppy; the progeny of my mother's miniature pinscher. But the puppy wasn’t a pure breed. The neighbor’s dachshund crawled under the fence some months before and got himself in a family way. So he ended up with a long body and long legs. And where his mother was mostly black with dark brown spots he was bright gold with a single white clockwise swirl on his chest.
"Can you please just take him for the night?" she asked. "He's whining and I'm trying to study."
"Fine," I said. "Just set it there." I pointed to a spot on the floor next to my bed.
She did, and I shut off the lamp and went back to sleep.
Some hours later I woke to the sound of whimpering and desperation. I flipped on the lamp and there was the pup, no bigger than the palm of my hand, dangling from the edge of the mattress. The little shit had climbed and clawed his way out of the laundry basket and up the side of my bed only to cling for dear life and whelp for attention. I couldn’t help but admire such tenacity. So I scooped him up, turned out the lights and went to sleep.
By the next morning the pup had made an executive decision. I was his human. I belonged to him now. Anywhere I went in the house he was right at my heel or in my lap. And when I had to leave he’d howl bloody murder. At least that’s what I’ve been told. So naturally when I moved out he insisted that I take him with me.
I lived in a townhouse. My bedroom was upstairs right over the front door. We used to play this game where I’d have him sit by the entrance and then I’d walk out of sight from the window and you could hear him tear ass up the stairs and into my room so he could find me. And then I point to the front and he’d haul ass back down again. I would do this repeatedly. It was a good way to get him worn out while I only had to walk about five feet back and forth a dozen times or so.
One summer Saturday I was walking around downtown, the dog at my heel, and a voice from behind be said, “Oh my god he is so cute.” There was an exaggerated emphasis on the “so,” and it came out in this kind of high pitched sound that’s a hallmark of the twenty-something California female. “What’s his name?”
I turned around to find this cute, curly haired brunette with deep dimples whose name escapes me at the moment and isn’t really relevant to the story. “Shithead,” I said.
“That’s his name. Shithead.”
“No!” Again with the elongated “O” sound. “You’re not a shit-head,” she said as she bent down to pet the little celebrity. He knew when the eyes were on him.
“Nah, he’s pretty awesome actually.”
“So what’s his name, really?”
“Bruiser. But he answers to shit-head, or butt-face or just dog.”
“Oh my god you’re terrible. But he is just so cute. Does he do any tricks?”
“He’ll give you a kiss on command.”
She blushed and did that little thing with her hand that girls do when they play coy, and smile and brush their hair over one ear with their index finger. “Oh really?”
“Really. Just ask him.”
She did, and he did. And after I informed her that he learned the trick from me, I did also. But not until the next day. And as much as he liked to play up the ladies when out and about he was never too happy about me bringing them home. He’d do this thing where he’d march from my side of the bed around to the other and back again, his ears pricked up and voicing his protest in a very quiet woof. As if to say “Oh hell no.”
We went everywhere together, unless we absolutely couldn’t. The office, and most restaurants were off limits. But the grocery store? Yup. What do you mean I can’t bring a dog in here? He’s a service animal, sir. No, it doesn’t matter that he’s not wearing a vest, he doesn’t have to. No, you can’t ask me what my disability is. That’s illegal. How dare you. Smirk.
On more than one occasion I’d wear a big puffy jacket two sizes too big so I could sneak him into the movies with me. A kid caught me once when he turned around from the seat in front of me and saw me feeding The Bruise popcorn through the zipper in my hoodie. I politely reminded him that snitches did indeed get stitches, and handed him a pack of peanut M&M’s for his consideration.
I came home from work a week ago, and he was there at the door to greet me as usual. We took a nice little walk around the block. A little bit slower than we used to though. He looked up at me with his cloudy little eyes and started to tug on the leash. That was his way of telling me to step on it. But I’ve gotten fatter as well as older, and my knee bothers me every now and then, so we meandered.
When we got home, I gave him some fresh water that he lapped up vigorously, and some food that he was only semi interested in. I chowed down on leftover beef stew with white rice. After dinner I laid down in bed and put on the television as usual. The dog hopped up and gave me several sweet doggy kisses and one of those head bumps that dogs do that’s as though they’re trying to push their way into you. You know the kind. Then he curled up into his customary little spoon position. We were about ten minutes into the show when he had the seizure. His back arched, his front paws stuck straight out in front of him. And just like that, he was gone.
Goodbye, Bruiser. I love you very much. You're the best dog I never asked for. I'm going to miss you.