When we pulled up to the house, the dog was yapping loudly, a sentinel stationed on the back of the couch where she could see out the window. Her bark was familiar, the same anticipatory ‘oh my gosh I’m so excited my family is home they are home hooray’ bark as she jumped down the couch to the floor and back up repeatedly, pumped full of adrenaline.
“Sammy’s sure happy to see you!” Sheri, my little sister, nudged me from the back seat, and I grinned.
Mom turned off the car. “Welcome home, son.”
Two years. Two years I had been gone. I was still in my Mormon missionary clothes, and technically still a missionary, until I got a Priesthood release the following day. I’d just flown back into the Idaho Falls Airport and seen my family and friends for the first time. Now the adrenaline was wearing off again.
My house, it was the same. The same butterfly decorations were perched on the wall, the same flowerpots lined the driveway, the mailbox was dented in the same place. The pine tree we had planted was a bit bigger now. The yard was covered in snow, and the air was crisp. I got my suitcase out of the trunk and made my way to the front door.
Inside, it was the same too. It smelled like… home. Like the place I grew up. i didn’t know how to describe the smell except it was the smell of my home, my family, my adolescence. Two years had gone by, and suddenly I was assaulted by the smell of my home, and tears immediately brimmed in my eyes. The same photos hung on the walls, pictures of my siblings, one of my grandparents, one of the Mormon temple, all in the same order. My mom’s doll collection was on the back of the piano, the wallpaper remained half-finished in her bedroom, the same ceramic fish swimming toward a ceramic outhouse was on the wall in the bathroom. It was all the same. I felt a rock in my stomach. I was home.
Sammy barked violently when she realized a stranger was entering the house. Her bark shifted from an excited yapping to her guttural protective warning growl. I set my suitcase down at the bottom of the stairs and reached my hand up toward her so she could smell me. She growled, sniffed my hand.
“Hey, Sammy girl, it’s me, it’s Chad, I’m home.”
And then she remembered me.
I watched her shift from defensiveness to excitement. She jumped from the top stairs into my arms, knowing I would catch her. She scrambled in my arms, smelling my neck, licking my face, wiggling all over the place. I walked upstairs with her barely able to contain her, and then sat down. She whined and yipped, jumping out of my arms then back into them, on the floor, then up on my lap. She was bouncing and squirming everywhere, unable to stop moving. She licked and nipped and whined and barked and bounced and moved and squirmed. Over the next several minutes, tears leaked down my cheeks, and she licked them off, whining continually before finally settling down into my lap. She kept whining, a homesick pathetic sound, as she settled there, refusing to leave my lap for the next few hours. It’s like she was afraid that if she turned her head, I might be gone again.
Sammy was only six pounds. She was officially called a Lhasa Poo, a mix between a Lhasa Apso and a toy poodle. She’d always been a needy dog, so clingy and whiny and attached. She’d follow you around the house, needing constant attention. If you were sitting, she was in your lap, and if you were walking, she was at your feet. If I was in the basement and she was hungry, she’d run all the way up to the kitchen and retrieve a single piece of food from her dish, then run back into the basement and eat the morsel in front of me before running back upstairs to get another piece. She cried inconsolably when left alone, and was always thrilled when you came back. When i was in high school, she would bed hope across the family in the order of our waking up, staying in bed with mom until she woke up, then snuggling with me until I did, then with Sheri, then finally with Kent, our step-father. She was loved, a full-fledged member of the family.
I sat on her couch in my home and rubbed her little head, thinking of how Kent had brought her home as a surprise years before. My mom hated dogs and didn’t want one, but he’d seen her as a puppy in a box at the grocery store and had picked her up on a whim. Mom had grown fond of her over time, but never liked having a dog. Kent had wanted to name her Tammy, but Mom had hated that, and we’d settled on Sammy, short for Samantha.
I moved my hand to her back, her tiny spine. She was only six pounds, a small pathetic little thing. I could still feel the place where Kent broke her ribs, the jagged edges along her back where the bones had healed improperly. She’d had major back problems ever since then, struggling on stars or with jumps on to the furniture, the injuries aging her much faster thanks he would have aged naturally. She had bad arthritis and joint stiffness now, and getting up on the tall furniture was becoming more difficult with age.
I rubbed her tummy, and remembered how Kent would try and starve her to punish us. He’d put her in the garage on freezing cold nights and told us anyone who took her food or water or who comforted her would be punished, told us that if we had been better then the dog wouldn’t have to suffer. My bedroom door was near the garage and I would hear her crying into the night. Some nights, I snuck her a blanket or food, and Kent would always catch me. Other nights, I just had to go to sleep crying.
Sammy was a loyal thing, a tiny creature who had been through as much or more than any of us in the family had before Kent left for good. My mom had sent me notes from Sammy on my mission, saying things like “Dear Chad, arf arf arf yap yap bark bark bark. Love Sammy”. Sheri’s letters would give me updates on Sammy’s tricks and interactions, and I had several photos of her in my family picture album.
I continued petting her and she melted into me, content and happy. I was home, I was here, in my house with my dog. She’d remembered me.