“In case you are itching to foster….” read the text, beneath pictures of several puppies so tiny they collectively could be called a handful.
“Do they need to be fostered together?” I texted back. “If not, I can take two.” Someone else on the group text emphasized my words with a HA HA HA.
A couple of days later, without telling anyone, I drove to pick them up. I arrived home just after my youngest got home from school. I texted her from the driveway. “Come outside. I have a surprise for you.” She probably thought it was more Pop Tarts. That girl can eat some strawberry frosted Pop Tarts. Actually, so can I. I don’t know why I keep buying them.
Neale walked outside and peered in the backseat, and immediately started fanning herself and taking deep breaths like she was witnessing the rapture. The puppies squeaked and pawed at the edges of the crate, trying to get to her.
First puppy task: changing their names. Their shelter names were Kate and William. “That’s so racist,” I told my husband. “Of course, Kate is the black one, and William is the blond one.” He was quiet for a minute.
“Are you thinking of Meghan and Harry?” he asked. Then I was quiet for a minute. “Yes,” I said.
Forgive me for assuming everything and everyone is racist these days. I’ve just read three books confirming that everything and everyone is racist these days. I first read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, a novel that tells the story of a wrongly imprisoned black man and how what happens to him reverberates outward to his family. As I read it, I kept stopping to look up statistics about racial inequities within the criminal justice system. I would read a passage and think, “That can’t possibly be true,” and within minutes on the interwebs I’d find a story about yet another black man who spent decades in prison for murder before being totally and decisively exonerated, and I’d weep a little.
Then I read Roxane Gay’s Hunger, and thought I would die of remorse for every stereotypical thought I’ve ever had about obesity, addiction, and racial disparities. Hunger recounts Gay’s childhood rape, and how it has shaped – and continues to shape – her life as a black woman in America. When I finished the book, I wanted nothing more than to follow her around to her many teaching and workshop gigs around the country and hang on her every word.
I next read Heavy, a memoir by Kiese Laymon. Laymon is the son of an fierce, brilliant, passionate African-American woman who physically abused him even as she educated him. Like Gay, the young adult Laymon was punished for his intellect, his independent thoughts about race and culture quashed by academia and suppressed for far too long.
Now I’m consuming every article or story about race and ethnicity that comes across my news feed. Each one leaves me nearly flattened with sadness as I’m confronted, again and again, by the tragic inequities that exist in this so-called free country of ours. I’m not referring to past inequities – these are people my age, who grew up literally banned from walking through certain doors because they are black or brown. Or citizens of third world countries trying to lead their children away from violence and hunger. Yeah, they’re a little bitter. I’m bitter, and it didn’t even happen to me. But in a completely different and obviously more benign way, it did happen to me, because as much as they were robbed of their rights, I was robbed of their presence. And for every Roxane Gay, I know there are a dozen, a hundred, a thousand dark-skinned children who won’t overcome their circumstances, countless brilliant black men and women whose words will go unheard, millions people in this country alone who won’t be able to share their gifts with the world because of the color of their skin. It’s not fair. Lots of things are not fair – like, teachers don’t get paid enough and Oprah didn’t read my award-winning book. But this is unfair in such a depraved, shameful way that it’s sometimes baffling to me that a revolution isn’t imminent.
So that’s what has been on my mind lately. Racial injustice and puppies. We renamed the puppies Peanut Butter and Jelly, and they have brought more joy and laughter to this little house than a trip to Disney World, which is exactly why I do this. So I don’t have to go to Disney World. Jelly is afraid of her shadow, and runs squealing from any moving object that’s larger than her two-pound body. Peanut Butter is a little more adventurous, and likes to walk along the back of the sofa until he falls off and someone fearfully catches him. We love them so much. Peanut Butter ate something he shouldn’t have and has been sickish for a couple of days. We’re feeding him water from a syringe. The husband looked up how to rehydrate a living thing that only weighs two pounds. Husband is a paramedic, but we pretty much treat him like he’s Doctor of the World. I didn’t even ask him about bringing home the puppies. When I brought them in, he acted like I had just carried in more groceries. Sigh. He gets me.
The burden of caring for these little guys definitely complicates my days. There’s poop to be scooped, pee puddles to be cleaned up, snuggling to be done. But I think of these babies living in rusty cages with their own urine and feces and crouching in the corner to hide from the raucous cacophony of other terrified dogs, and it makes me weep because there are children living the exact same way, and I can’t do anything about it except rage and screech and take care of puppies, and teach my children that sometimes, the living beings among us need help, and it’s not easy or convenient, but goddamn us all if we don’t fucking try.