22 May 2021

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Somewhere, or maybe nowhere anymore, but at one time there was a picture of my dad, my mom who’s pregnant with me, and our family dog Oso. My mom is wearing a blousey purple top and white cut-off shorts. Her tanned legs end above the knees at the end of the photo, but in my memory of this photo, I picture her whole legs with her scarred and bony knees, her strong calves and tiny ankles. My dad is standing behind her, holding her shirt out as if to say “this is how big she’s going to get!” They’re both laughing, and down at the bottom left of the picture is their dog, an Australian shepherd named Oso, beaming back at us.

If you came across this picture on a mantle somewhere, you’d think wow, that was for sure the 80s. My mom and my dad have almost identical feathered, shoulder-length hair and my dad has his attempt at a Magnum PI mustache. He actually has that mustache again right now, it’s kind of comforting.

But if you didn’t know us, if you didn’t know how this ends you’d think… damn they’re happy. Maybe you’d think that kid is going to be so lucky to have a dog when they get here.

That is the picture I think of when I think of Oso because that is one of the only pictures I had of him. For being such a huge part of my life, I think I only ever had two photographs with him in them.

I don’t know how my parents got Oso, but he was still with them after I was born. He moved from house to house, and couch to couch with us. I don’t know how he was cared for, but based on my own experience with addict parents, it probably wasn’t well. When my mom gave me to my grandparents at 2 years old, Oso was left behind with me. He was my dog and he was my companion when I felt like I had nothing.

Sometime around a year or two later, there was a massive thunderstorm. Rare enough in Los Angeles, but they happen about once a year. Oso hated thunder. I remember crying and begging for my grandparents to let him in. But the dog had pissed my grandfather off earlier in the day and had been thrown outside as punishment.

I wouldn’t eat dinner, sure my dog was suffering alone in the storm. When I couldn’t convince them to let him in, I begged them to let me out to search for him. They said no of course.

He was gone in the morning, and I never saw him again.

Sometimes I think that the dog leaving was worse than my mom leaving. A mom is a capricious thing. Sometimes she’s there and sometimes she’s not. Sometimes she’s awake and she loves you and sometimes she won’t wake up or doesn’t want to wake up, or she can’t stand the sight of you. A dog, though. A dog is supposed to be there for you. A dog is supposed to be a friend for life.

All these years later, even if he did survive the storm, Oso would be long dead. But I always liked to think that he found someone else who took him in and didn’t hit him or throw him out when he was bad. Throughout my childhood, he was like a lifeline. Yes, it hurt to be left behind again, but Oso was proof that one could escape and not come back.

As sad as I was to lose him, I’ve always hoped that somewhere there’s another person telling another story of an Australian Shepard that came into their life in a thunder storm and looked at them like he looks at my mom and dad in that picture of us. And I hope that they loved him the way he should have been loved.