You know that ratty old black and white chair by the window near the TV? The one you pulled out of the Dumpster by the hotel the week after you graduated from college because you were living in a studio apartment and after paying rent had no money for furniture? That chair is magic. If I sit on it, you come back. Always.
Every time it’s the same. You say goodbye to me at the back door, play with my floppy ears, and say, “Roma, you stay. Stay. Be a good dog, and I’ll see you soon.” I love that. By the time you’re pedaling that old white mountain bike up the dirt driveway, I’m already at the other end of the house, perched in the chair and watching you ride away. You look back and wave. I know I look sad. But I’m a hound dog. I always look sad. Sad and hot. Harried too. But I have it pretty good here. I sleep in the chair. And that old guy comes at lunch and lets me out and throws a stick for me, and he usually slips me some jerky. Sometimes he sits in the house and talks to Martha, even though there’s nobody else here. Sometimes he falls asleep in the other chair. I think he used to live here.
I used to think the type of bag you took with you dictated when you’d be back. When you have that leather bag with the brass buckle, you come back in time to feed me dinner and take me on a walk in the woods behind the house, down near the fern bed where you found me a few years ago. When you have that little green bag, you come back in an hour or two, and you’re wet and smell like chlorine and are too tired to do much of anything but sit on the porch and flip a ball out into the yard for me. My favorite is the blue backpack because that means we’re hitting the trail behind the house and might walk through the woods and gorges all day long, although sometimes that makes my paws hurt and means I won’t leave the magic chair for a long time. My least favorite is the giant red and black bag you dump all that camping and climbing equipment in. That means you’re going to be gone for a long time, and sometimes it seems like no matter how long I sit in the chair, you’ll never come back.
But here’s the thing: You always do. You come back, and I bark and run in circles and jump up on you. And you get down on the rug and roll around with me, and I lick your face, and you don’t mind, and you tell me to sit, which I kind of hate but never told you, and you give me a Milk-Bone, which I love and you definitely know. Dogs can’t smile, but humans can. And you smile when you see me. And the dark things in the middle of your eyes get big. Know what? You love me.
But not as much as I love you. And not just because you gave me a warm place to sleep and yummy food and because when you reach out a hand, it’s to stroke my head, not to hit me the way the people who dumped me by the fern bed did, but because you let me love you, and you love me back.
And when you say you’ll come back, you always do.
Roma died on Christmas, 1999. Steve Madden had no dog until Fenway the beagle moved in this year.