On a recent walk to work I encountered a scene like many others in front of supermarkets and parks across the country. Behind a folding table stood a girl in uniform, peddling boxes of seasonal cookies. I handed over my $4, but not without a slight sting of resentment.
Girl Scouts were a contributing factor in the disappearance of my childhood dog.
I don’t know why I signed up for Girl Scouts. I refused to wear my uniform for group photos, I never wanted to go to scout meetings, and I was too shy to sell cookies door to door.
While I might not have embraced Girl Scouts, I loved my dog, Annie. My parents adopted her from the shelter when I was born, completing their new, young, happy family.
“Mom, what kind of dog is Annie?” I’d ask.
“She’s a mutt. We don’t know,” my mom would say.
I’d continue, “I think she’s part coyote. And part wolf. And part fox.”
“Maybe. Anything is possible,” my mom would reply.
Annie unlocked my imagination. Sitting in the backseat of the car, I’d watch the shrubby Southern California scenery flash by and pretend I saw Annie running along. When kids picked on me for being chubby or for being a girl or for being the only one with dark skin, I’d retreat into my imagination where Annie kept me safe.
“Mom, why is Annie called Annie?”
“Because she was an orphan, like Little Orphan Annie.”
“But we’re her family now, right?”
“Yes we are.”
Our family grew. At first it was me, my mom, my dad, and Annie. Then along came my sister. Then another sister. Then my brother. My parents were busy wrangling four young kids. Sometimes Annie slipped through the cracks.
Annie developed a bad habit of darting out of the house whenever she got a chance. She had poor recall. We’d climb in the car and drive around calling her name, our voices echoing along the wide streets of our suburban neighborhood. We’d give up, and when we got home we’d find Annie sitting by the front door, waiting for us. Annie always came back.
Until the time she didn’t.
I don’t know why I joined the Girl Scouts. I didn’t want to bead necklaces, earn my cooking badge, or sing songs about friendship. I did it because everyone else was doing it. I don’t think I sold any cookies.
But my troop sold cookies. It sold lots of cookies. My mom was a troop leader. When it came time to fulfill cookie orders, my mom received them all at our house. Boxes and boxes and boxes of Girl Scout cookies invaded our garage.
The moment I last saw Annie is seared into my memory. My sister and I were in the garage. There was a door that opened to the yard. The garage door motor hummed and churned to life as my dad came home from work. Just as the door yawned open, revealing my dad in the driveway, my sister held the yard door open, and out raced Annie like a comet. The universe tilted, and Annie tumbled out into its stars.
I remember running into the street, calling after her. My dad swung his jacket over his shoulder, leaning down into the weight of his briefcase as if it were stuffed with bricks. He sighed and told me to come back inside. He told me she would come back.
“Mom! Mom! Annie got out!”
“I can’t go after her. I have to wait here for everyone to pick up their cookie orders, and your father won’t do it.”
“Don’t worry, baby, you know she always comes back.”
I sat by the front door all night, watching as girls and their mothers streamed into and out of the house, collecting boxes of cookies, carrying them off in bags, the stacks in our garage dwindling. The sky fell outside. Annie did not materialize from its darkness. I cried.
After that night, we put up reward posters, called the local shelters, spent an hour every day after school driving around the neighborhood, my small voice full of desperation as I cried, “Annie! Annie! Please come home!”
I was inconsolable at school. My out-loud response to a reading comprehension question, my voice trembling as I burst into tears, was: “I like this poem because it reminds me of Annie, the dog I love so much.” At night I listened to the coyotes chatter in the hills beyond our house and imagine Annie among them.
“Mom, maybe because Annie is part coyote she just went to go be with her pack again and she couldn’t tell me because she didn’t want to make me sad.”
“I think that’s a beautiful story. I think you should write it down.”
I locked myself in my bedroom and hammered away at the keyboard. I called Annie’s story The Call Home, spinning a novel-length fantasy about a girl and her dog and the world that ultimately divides them but fails to destroy their love. I wrote because the pain was too much for a little girl to vocalize. I wrote because it was a place where I could control everything. I wrote because in my stories I was with Annie for forever and ever.
I sometimes wonder whether the spirit of Annie is still with me. My move to San Francisco was fraught with heartache, but I persevered because of my dog-walking job. Now I work for Dogster, where I get to write about dogs every day.
I never found Annie, but in my grief, I found my voice. And now I get to share that voice.
Photo by Drmies