Monday, February 16th, 2015 at 5:26 pm | Sandrahutcheson | Leave a Comment | Animals Children Looks great
This column ran in the February 1, 2015, edition of The St. Augustine Record:
It started almost five years ago, in the summer of 2010. I was moving to St. Augustine, fleeing what had been the scene of an ugly divorce. My daughters were in college. My son, who was 15 at the time, decided to stay in Atlanta with his dad.
While I understood that decision, I had a hard time coping with my prematurely empty nest. I sobbed while driving south on I-75. It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do, worse, indeed, than telling my children our family was splitting up. It was the kind of heartbreak you wouldn’t wish upon your second-grade bully or even Genghis Khan.
My son’s dog, the three-legged Australian shepherd named Pancho, came with me. He rode in quiet sympathy, occasionally nuzzling me from the back seat as if to say, “Don’t worry. He might be able to last a little while without you, but he’ll never be able to stand being away from his dog.”
And that’s how it started. Pancho became our translator.
I began texting pictures of Pancho to my son with the caption “I miss you” or “Wish you were here!” It was a way of safely telling my kid how I felt, for there was no way he would ever rebuff a message from Pancho. We went on like that for almost 18 months, using the dog to say how we felt.
My son came to live with me at the beginning of his junior year of high school, and he’s now a sophomore at Flagler College. I got a second shot at mothering — three bonus years — and for that I will always be grateful.
The funny thing is that we never stopped communicating through the dog. Let’s say my kid was going out for the evening. “Where ya goin’?” I’d ask in my Pancho voice, which was slightly deeper than my own and mimicked the cadence of Scooby Doo’s speech patterns. When I came in late from teaching, I’d ask Pancho, “Did he feed you?”
It was a stupid thing to ask, as if I trusted a dog who would look me in the eye and lie himself silly. He’d practically pretend to collapse from hunger.
The conversation went both ways. When I was out of town, my kid would text me a picture of Pancho. “When are you coming home?” was the standard caption. Once the line “Mr. Pouty cuz Mom left” accompanied a picture of the pup wearing a melancholy expression, his chin resting on crossed paws.
I even built a pool in our backyard because Pancho said he wanted one.
My son moved out of the house over the holidays. He’s now sharing an apartment with a friend from Flagler. Pancho watched as the boy’s bedroom furniture was being moved. He kept running into the empty bedroom as if he were trying to figure out what was happening. He slept with one of the kid’s old socks.
Pancho felt better when our boy promised that he would visit every day. Still, I’m not sure how to tell the dog that he has permanently moved out. I’m worried that Pancho won’t handle this well. He might mope around the house, perhaps even howl a bit.
I’m afraid Pancho is really going to miss this kid.
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