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When I was in elementary school, my teacher gave us all an assignment to write an essay. The topic was “My Best Friend”. I had a terrible time with this assignment. I barely had any friends let alone a “best friend”. What was I going to write about? Most of the kids at my school hated me and treated me like crap. I was and still am pretty awkward which makes me an easy target.
I tried to talk to my mom about it. I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t have any friends so I wasn’t able to really talk to her about the problem. She was under the impression that I was a great kid and that everyone liked me. I didn’t want to destroy her illusion so I kept it to myself.
I thought long and hard about this. I couldn’t just turn in a blank paper. I had to write something. As pathetic as it sounded, I wrote about my dog. My dog was my best friend. Having a dog as a best friend doesn’t sound all that bad. Dogs are known as “Man’s Best Friend” but the problem was that at the time, I didn’t have a dog.
My parents got me a puppy. I loved that little guy. He was a black Labrador and I named him “Liquorice”. (My dad called him “Sambo” because he was black. I didn’t realize how racist that was until I got older.) I had that puppy for a total of 2 weeks. I took care of him. I fed him. I played with him. I taught him tricks. I was doing my best to potty train him and considering that he hadn’t made a mess in the house in 2 weeks for a puppy was bordering on a miracle. That was until he pooped on the carpet and my dad saw him doing it. He ran over and kicked him so hard, I thought all of his little bones shattered. The squeal that he made pierced my heart. I cried so hard that day. My little puppy was so afraid. He would run and hide from everyone for the whole night except for me. Eventually, he got over it but my parents didn’t. A couple of days later, I came home from school and I looked all over the house for my dog. He was gone. My parents got rid of him. They didn’t tell me exactly what they did with him but being that they are from a culture that considers animals to be dirty and worthless, I suspect that they took him far away from the house and let him go. And that is the story of my best friend. I don’t think I said a word to either of my parents for a week. This was most heartbreaking thing that I think my parents every did to me. They could have hit me or beat me bloody but that still wouldn’t hurt as much as this.
When I wrote my essay, I wrote it from the perspective of the kind of relationship I would have liked to have had with my dog if my parents allowed me to keep him. If I wrote what really happened, I probably would have got my parents in trouble for animal cruelty. I considered it to be a work of fiction except that I didn’t tell anyone it was fiction. I was actually pretty proud of what I had written. I expected to get a good grade with the quality of fiction that I managed to write.
I was ready to turn in my essay assuming that the only one that would ever read it was going to be my teacher. Little did I know that she was going to have each and everyone of us read our essays out loud to the class. My heart sank. Here I was about to be called up to read out my essay about my dog being my best friend which was all a fantasy to a bunch of kids that already hated me. I was the most unpopular kid in the school and this was going to make it even worse. The humiliation was going to rain down on me.
I was called on by my teacher and begrudgingly walked up to the front of the class making sure not to make eye contact with anyone. I mumbled the beginning of my essay on purpose hoping I could get away with it but my teacher told me to speak up. I read the title of my essay loudly and clearly as instructed, “My Best Friend is My Dog.” and the entire class started laughing. My teacher forced them to quiet down with the threat of getting their name written on the board as if that was some sort of punishment. I finished reading my essay to the class hearing them trying to hold back their laughter all the way through it. I walked back to my seat and laid my head on the desk and tried my best not to cry. I was already the laughing-stock of the class. I didn’t need to add being a cry baby to my list of things to get picked on about. It felt like that day would never end. Eventually, the bell rang and we were dismissed.
In my rush to get as far away from the school and those awful kids as I possible could, I forgot my jacket. I had to go back and get it. When I did, I ran into the “popular kids”. One of them mocked me and said in his best whiny voice, “My best friend is my dog!” as they all laughed at me again. I was so angry that I was ready to fight all of them even though I knew I would take a beating. Instead, I used my words which was a rarity for a kid my age. I said (to best of my recollection), “My dog is a better friend than any of you will ever be or will ever have. You may think that you have real friends but your wrong. You think you have friends now?! They will leave you and forget about you eventually. My dog will love me and never leave my side till the day he dies. He is the most loyal and honest friend I could ever have. None of you could ever come close to being as good a friend to anyone as my dog is to me.” They all went totally silent. I don’t know where those words came from. Even though my dog was with me for only two weeks, it was a great two weeks. I miss him. I walked home with a little extra confidence that day.
I thought about who is my best friend today and that answer is easy. My wife is my best friend. But other than her, who would be my best friend? Most of the people who I would call my friends, I haven’t really seen or spoken to in months, maybe even years. I’ve seen them in passing of course but I haven’t really spent any time with them. I might see them once in a while and say hello and maybe exchange some small talk but nothing meaningful. It’s almost as if what I said in my rant to those kids at school applied to me as well. The friends that I had faded away. I think this is a natural cycle. When I was in college, I spent my time with a certain group of friends and as I got older, that group of friends faded away and I was part of a different group of friends, and so on till now. But now, I don’t really have a circle of friends anymore. It’s just me and my wife.
My wife was visiting her sister in North Carolina last weekend. So my true best friend was away. You would think this would be the time for me to spend my time with my other friends but I can’t think of who I would spend my time with. My friends have all got kids and don’t seem to have time anymore. I ended up spending the whole weekend with my dog and it reminded me of when I was a kid with that puppy. This time there wasn’t anyone to take my puppy away from me. I realized that his friendship with me is exactly what I wrote in my essay all those years ago. Is it weird that my dog is my best friend? Maybe. But when I consider the options, I can’t think of a better choice. I’m in my 40s now and you would think that things like this shouldn’t bother a person my age. I am much too old to be feeling that my only friend (other than my wife) is my dog. But the one thing that I know is that my dog will never leave me. He loves me unconditionally. He will always have time for me. He might be a pain in the butt sometimes but I love him just the same.
I’m as still awkward and weird today as I was all those years ago. I know that most people don’t like me just like they did back then but that’s okay. It used to really bother me but it doesn’t hurt as much now knowing that my wife loves me and my dog loves me too. My friends might not call me or invite me to spend time with them anymore but I know when I get home my dog is going to be there at the door with his tail wagging the bucket full of love for me.
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