This is me, in a homemade blue nylon cape, smiling before kindergarten on Halloween morning and petting my grandma’s poodle. My mom didn’t want to pay for the real costume that came in a box at the drugstore, because she’d already bought me Batman jammies that would work just fine, so a family friend had made the cape and my mom had found a workable mask in the 99-cent bin at the supermarket.
We’d stopped by my grandma’s house to show her my outfit before school, but my real motivation was the little poodle. I always told anybody who would listen, including myself, that my grandma’s dog was mine, because I felt free and happy, alive and invincible, when I was with her. My mom wouldn’t let me have a dog yet, so my first and only pet back then was a formerly wild bird named Tweety, which my sister had rescued from the pool behind our house on Park Avenue.
We set up a cage next to the family-room window, where I fed the bird every morning and swapped out the pooped-on newspaper every night. A few days before this photo was taken, I came home from kindergarten to discover that her brownish feathers had transformed to a pure snow white, and her tiny beak had turned orange.
I was in my late twenties before my mom told me that the bird hadn’t magically shade-shifted while I was at school. She’d swapped out the dead bird she’d found on the bottom of the cage with a pet-store replacement, sparing both of us the uncomfortable talk about how everything dies.
And so my grandma’s little poodle was the closest I could get to my own dog. We played hide-and-seek through the cavernous rooms of her house that morning before getting tangled in a boy-and-dog joyful mess on the kitchen linoleum. I laughed and shrieked until my mom pulled me by one arm off the floor and dragged me away, so she wouldn’t be late for work and I wouldn’t be late for the Halloween kindergarten parade.
Maybe my love for dogs started in those moments on the kitchen linoleum floor, just before this photo was taken. Maybe I was never destined to be one of the cool kids, hanging out in their fancy store-bought Batman and princess costumes at the coveted lunch table. Maybe while they were stealing each other’s blow-pops, I was supposed to find a different kind of connection, somewhere else.
That little poodle’s name was Little-Bit.
She’s long gone. So is my grandma.
And while some unfortunate defining moments must be outlived, some beautiful ones should be lived in again.
So this Halloween, instead of bobbing around in a sea of fancy store-bought Batman and slutty nurse costumes, I think I’m going to get tangled in another boy-and-dog joyful mess on the kitchen linoleum.
Minus the cape.