I wonder if Johnny remembers when we started to grow. Playtime was so important. My favorite was the ball in the field. Toss, catch or miss, back and forth, back and forth. It was how we talked. How we bonded. Didn't matter how angry or sad we were, the moment the ball was flying we were happy again.
One day Johnny told me he was going to school. I already knew that. He went to school almost every day (although some days he called it 'work'), but this school was different. He didn't bring friends home at night. Actually, he didn't come home for lots of nights at a time. Mom let me sleep with her at first, but soon said I was too big and had to stay in our room. It was lonely though, so I got in his bed when she went to sleep, and then back to mine before she woke up. I was careful, and she didn't say anything, but somehow I think she knew.
Johnny talked on the phone. Mom would play them for me when I was very sad. It made me happy to know he was happy. I understood some of the things he said. Exams were school. Parties were friends (always fun, though my ear is still bent funny from the chair that fell on me). Work and school were the same place (although I always thought they were anyway). Then he talked about ball. Made the team, he said. He was going to be the catcher now. I wonder if I could have made the team too, but I'm always happy he made the team.
He came home when it got cold out, and everything was like it was before, but soon he went back to school. He still called, but not as often. It was getting warm again when he came home with Jane. She was new. Not as fun, but nice. She talked to me the way nice girls do, and that made Johnny happy, so I was happy. Mom started calling Jane family before the weather got hot again.
It got cool, cold, warm, and hot again two more times before he finally came home for good. Well, he didn't come home home, but I got to see him every day, even if we didn't go out to play. I wish I could have gone to see his other home, because it sounded so strange and exciting.
One day he said he had to go again. This time was different. He told me be strong and look after Mom. Said I love you to me almost as much as he said it to Mom and Jane. Everybody was scared, and that made me scared. I don't know why we were all scared, but it seems if we were all scared, then going away had to be a bad thing. Mom said so too, but he said he had to, and so he did.
We didn't see him for a very long time. When he talked on Mom's screen he was happy and promised we'd play ball again, but Mom and Jane cried when Johnny wasn't on the screen. It got worse when the big screen started saying words that scared Mom. She said them a lot on the phone. Words like bomb and truck and critical. Johnny stopped talking on the screen and on the phone. People came and went. Some I knew. Some I didn't. Some said I'm sorry. Some said Be strong. They talked a lot about him.
I miss Johnny.
Mom and I went to a new place one day. There were a lot of people there who didn't seem right. Very sad. Very scared. I don't know why. It was a nice place. Bright and full of fields and a pond, and some even had their families there too. It would have been a very nice place if everybody wasn't sad and scared.
Mom was talking to one of the not-scared people when I heard a whistle. When I looked, Johnny was standing in the grass calling me. I got so excited I think I might have had an accident, but we were on grass and nobody seemed to mind. I ran to him and kissed him over and over so he knew how much I loved and missed him, and he hugged me and said Hi and I missed you over and over. And then I cried. He was sad and scared like the others, but he hurt too. He said over and over that he loved me and promised he was going to come home, and he did. I don't know where Jane went, but Johnny came home, so that made everything alright.
Alright didn't last, though. Johnny yelled and cried a lot in his sleep. Sometimes he got mean. Sometimes he got very sad. People came and went, but he didn't really talk like he used to. I would have liked all the time he spent with me, but I think he did for very bad reasons. For whatever reasons made Mom scared of bomb and truck and critical. For whatever reasons made him walk funny.
Johnny doesn't like to do things with others any more. He doesn't cry as much, but he doesn't talk unless he thinks it will make Mom and the others happy. He tries to be alone, but they always follow, so he talks for them until they leave. He doesn't seem to mind me, though, so I stay close to look after him.
I drop the ball in his lap and look up at him. Maybe we can talk again like we used to. It rolls off, so I pick it up and sit it on his lap again. When it starts to roll I lay my head on his lap and look up at him. I cry a little, because I don't know how to help him stop crying. Ball always worked before. Why won't it work now?
He sniffs. Shakes like he does when he cries.
And then he talks.
I don't understand a lot of it. They're dead, and, Peace-keeping, and, It should have been me. I think these are the words he wants-doesn't-want to tell Mom, or somebody. I think they're words he can't tell any of them because they might hurt them as much as they hurt him. So I listen. I don't understand it all. I don't understand why those words hurt so bad. I understand he needs to talk, though. It's not how we talk, but that's okay.
After a while Johnny just holds me and cries. I nuzzle him now and then so he knows I still love him and want him to be happy. Sometimes he cries harder, and sometimes not so much. Eventually he grows quiet.
Sniff. Let's play.
I shiver, happy for good words. He holds the ball as he stands and walks that funny walk of his, like one leg is too long. I follow him out to the field, and then run when I see the ball pass overhead. I get ahead just in time, leap, and catch it.
I shiver again, and then run back to him with the ball. I sit and while I wait for him to take it my tail beats back and forth against the cool ground. He throws the ball, and I run, miss it, but bring it back anyway. Throw, catch or miss, back and forth, back and forth. Back and forth until it gets dark. This is how we talk. He tells me he's not alright. He wants to be, he'll try to be, but he's not. I tell him it's okay. I want to help him any way I can.
And maybe, just maybe, one day it'll be like when we started to grow.