Lefty [Essay]

This is an essay by Terry Barr.

I can still hear her slamming into the back screen door when I wouldn’t let her inside the house. Lefty. She was used to having the run of my friends’ place, of coming inside whenever she wanted and jumping all over whomever got in her pathway.

It’s funny that I have no problem today with Max’s jumping. It drives my wife nuts, but I think Max is priming us for being grandparents one day, you know, the kind who let their grandchildren get by with all the things they would have never let their own children do.

Like the time I caught my mother giving our girls cookies before supper.

So while I’m nonchalant, laissez-faire, with Maxie, back in the 80’s when I house sat for my friends, I disciplined Lefty to the point that when my friends returned, they said,

“Wow. She’s not the same dog.”

But she was. She was always Lefty, still smiling, still exuberant, still willing to run laps around the back yard.

Lefty was only part Spitz. Her tail curled up, and she was about Max’s height, maybe two-and-a-half feet. Actually, she looked a bit like the dog you’ll find in old Neil Young photos from his Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere days. Just a friendly white dog who lived to love her people.

Her people were my friends Kirsten and David. The first time I met David, he sported a Mao button. This was my grad school era, and many people I knew adorned themselves with chic communist emblems. I had an “El Salvador Libre” t-shirt, and proudly wore it to a high-toned wedding in the more elite estates of Lookout Mountain. I wanted to piss people off back then, but I couldn’t have told you the difference between the Maoists, the FMLN of El Salvador’s underground, the Trotskyites, or the Leninists.

I wonder if I could now.

I went to meetings of CISPES, FRIENDS OF PALESTINE, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL. I bought copies of The Daily WorkerThe Guardian, In These Times. I wanted to be of the Left. I even felt angry for the IRA. I applied for a Fulbright to study in Belfast, and fortunately, the Fulbright committee saw me coming and acted in my best interests.

So because I couldn’t go to Belfast, I got to house sit for Lefty. I can’t remember if David named her for all leftist causes, for Lefty Gomez, a former Yankee great (David also wore his Yankee cap to our faculty-staff softball games), or for the title character in Clifford Odets’ play. 

In the end, it really didn’t matter. I loved Lefty, and despite my discipline — I wouldn’t let her sleep in the bed with me either (boy have things changed) — she was my constant and loving companion for that summer.

A month or so after David and Kirsten retuned from their holiday, they had me over, and when I walked in the door, there stood Lefty, as if I had never left. I squatted down, and she came to me, whimpering in that happier way that some dogs have. I hugged her so hard, as if I had missed her or something. As if I had loved her or something.

As if she were mine, and I was hers.

She licked me, and I believe if I hadn’t gotten up, she’d be hugging me still.

Of course, that’s impossible. David and Kirsten divorced a few years later, and I guess David got custody of Lefty, who was his to begin with. I don’t know how long Lefty lived after that. It was so long ago. But after that night of our reunion, I’m pretty sure I never saw her again.

Obviously, I think of her, and more often than I ever thought or knew I would. I have forgotten so many people who have caromed through my life, but that’s to be expected. 

I’m a college professor, have been for over thirty years. That plus all the other chance encounters have placed so many people in my direct path. Most have come and gone so quickly and forever.

Dogs, of course, are less bountiful in our lives. But what I’m realizing is what I think I’ve always known inside. The dogs in our life, the ones who find their way deep within us, stay with us forever. We never quit hugging them. We never forget them.

They are our heart, they very soul of us.

And I loved Lefty with all of mine.

Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in storySouth, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Call Me [Brackets], Deep South Magazine, Under the Sun, and Hippocampus. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

This essay was previously published under his blog on Medium.com.

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