Read Autumn — Chapter 2
Our lives were extremely busy. Dan had his job and was waiting to attend school until he had lived in the state for a year so he could pay in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee in Johnson City. Dan worked the day shift, which began at 6 a.m. His workplace was about 45 minutes from our apartment. He car pooled for most of that distance, but we had to drive to meet his car pool at a location twenty minutes from where we lived. We owned only one car, so Dan’s work hours meant that I had to get up and drive him to meet his ride.
Every morning in the pre-dawn, before it was even light, Dan would rouse me from bed when he had to leave. Without changing out of my pajamas, I would pick up Autumn and carry her to the car where I would fall immediately asleep. Once we arrived at the vacant, eerie parking lot in the middle of nowhere – and it really was in the middle of nowhere, a parking lot plopped in the middle of some farmer’s field – Dan would kiss us goodbye and leave us to get into the car of one of his coworkers.
I would clamber into the driver’s seat, Autumn on my lap, her head across my arm as I held the stick shift. When we returned home, I would climb into bed and Autumn would nestle under my arm, burrowing under the warm covers. It was the only time she wanted to sleep in the bed, preferring the floor under the couch for the main part of her sleep. Autumn began what became a lifelong habit when she snuggled together with me in the bed. She would lie with her head across my neck. Her fur was so soft, it was like wearing a warm fur stole. Two hours after returning from dropping Dan at his ride, I would rise for classes and Autumn would stay in bed until we were ready to leave.
I loved life at this time. I was so naive and confident. I thought I had everything all figured out. I spent my twenties believing I knew it all; that I was invincible. Oh, I knew there were facts of which I was not aware, other countries and places to discover. But I thought I was pretty on top of things when it came to fearlessness, strength, and inner knowledge. How little I knew, how much pain I had to experience to figure out just how clueless I really was, but that was years away.
In spite of my sophomoric confidence, I did know that I would love my child when I had one, but this did not stop me from loving Autumn with every bit as much devotion. Watching her and experiencing her was pure glee. My heart would fill up, and I would feel my chest tighten loving her. When I had my human child, I truly experienced parental selflessness when, days after her birth, I realized my ego had to go and she had to become my center. Until I had Milla though, Autumn was my child. Everything she did brought me delight. I adored her.
Every couple of days Autumn would go out to run and play in the creek down the hill, regardless of the weather. This meant that she was often muddy or wet when she came into the house. If only her paws were wet, she would stand at the door and wait while we wiped her feet.
“Towel,” I would say to her, picking it up when she arrived at the door, begging to be let in. She would stand and lift each paw until all four were dried and wiped of mud.
If she was a real mess, I would carry her in the towel to the bathroom for a bath. Autumn loved baths, and would jump in, waiting for the warm water. Sometimes she even snuck past the shower curtain and jumped in while we were showering.
When she was done with her bath, she would shake off in the tub with the curtain closed, then jump out onto the mat to wait for her toweling off. As I rubbed her fur all over, scrubbing her face and behind her ears, she would wiggle, hopping her back end up and down and side to side, shoving her butt into the towel for a good scratching. After she dried, the hairs on her rear became fluffy, white pantaloons.
I had been taking French and Political Science from a wonderful professor from Rome named Dr. Riviello. He had a lilting and appealing accent, and taught with brilliant clarity and depth.
Dr. Riviello loved Autumn. He too had a dog he considered his child, a Dachshund named Baci. The two of us would talk endlessly about our wonderful dogs. He was the only professor who allowed Autumn free roam of his classroom. She would lie quietly under my desk as I worked. Together we commiserated over our love for our dogs.
During first semester, Dr. Riviello invited me to apply to an honor’s program in political science. There would be an intensive history course studying the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, beginning with Hitler’s birth. The course would culminate with a study during May term in spring at the University of Munich. We would attend seminars in english three times a week with leaders in various aspects of political science. Our lectures would be in the late afternoon, allowing us to explore the city and surrounding areas during the day. We were also to take day trips into various places such as Berchtesgaden in the Alps, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a Bavarian village where Christmas is experienced all year round.
I applied to the program and was accepted. I was exhilarated at the thought of returning to Germany. I had lived in Hamburg for a short time in 1990. This time I would be staying in Munich. While I was excited to be going, I did not want to leave my little dog. I knew she would not understand. The two of us spent every waking minute together. When she wasn’t with me, she was with Dan. While I was in Europe, Autumn would have to stay alone while he worked. My stomach turned at the thought of her anxiety and fear at being left alone for long periods for the first time in her life.
To help acclimate Autumn to the change that would be coming, I started leaving her at home periodically. At first, she was a wreck. She chewed up several of my shoes and stuffed animals. I scolded her, but the scolds were half-hearted.
After several weeks, Autumn seemed to adjust to staying by herself. Our neighbors never complained about barking or whining, so we assumed she was okay.
In the days leading up to my departure, I left piles of clothing and traveling items around, organized according to my own system. Autumn would root through the clothes, then roll on them. I would chase her off, scolding. Moments later, she would be back in another pile, knocking it aside and mashing the carefully folded clothes.
Like a mother leaving her children, I filled my wallet with photos of Autumn before departure. I wanted to bring her image to mind at a moment’s notice. I also thought that at eight months of age, she would likely change dramatically in the time that I was gone. I was right about that. When I left she still looked like a puppy. When I arrived home she looked like a lanky pre-teen dog.
The day finally arrived for me to leave to go to Germany. We took Autumn to the airport with us. I held her the entire way, trying not to cry. I was excited to be going, but I was going to miss my baby. At the airport I kissed her goodbye and flew across the ocean.
Upon landing, I immediately called to check in and to let Dan know we had arrived safely. He told me Autumn had been sniffing all over the apartment, and that he was sure she was looking for me. She only finally settled down when he went to bed.
I asked him to put the phone to Autumn’s ear so I could say hello to her.
“Hello, Autumn,” I spoke into the phone. “Brown, Brown? How are you puppy? Are you okay? Mommy loves you.”
Dan came back on the phone. He said Autumn had cocked her head to the side, looked quizzically at the phone, then jumped down and started sniffing at the back door. Apparently the sound of my voice was confusing to her, so we decided that I would not talk to her like that again.
Professor Riviello also missed his dog Baci. I took Autumn’s photo everywhere I went and showed it to anyone who would look. My professor would show his as well, and the conversation among many of the other students would turn again and again to our perceived bizarre behavior. Some of the students on the trip had never been outside of the small town where the college was located. It seemed to me that they had a pretty narrow perception of acceptable behavior. They certainly considered our dog nostalgia as completely eccentric. They just did not understand. We both thought leaving our dogs was worse than leaving our partners; yet our partners could speak to us on the phone and knew where we were. Our dogs did not.
The weeks passed quickly. The lectures were fascinating, and I was having an amazing time. Too soon, however, the term was over and we were headed back home. Dan knew when I would be arriving. I told him to be sure and bring Autumn.
“Of course,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t leave her home for this!” I knew it, but I just missed my dog so much, I did not want to wait one second longer than necessary to see her.
Even though these were the days before major airport security when loved ones could meet their travelers at the gate, Dan had to wait outside because of Autumn. I raced through the airport, through customs and baggage before heading out into the warm spring afternoon.
Dan was parked at the curb, waiting with a lanky puppy on a leash. She had grown since I had seen her last. She looked like a teenage dog, and less like a little puppy.
I kneeled and called out, “Autumn!” She turned and looked at me, then squatted on the sidewalk and urinated. Oh, my little baby. We knew in that moment that my leaving had most definitely had had an impact on her. She must have thought I would never return, yet here I was.
She ran to me and jumped on my lap as I knelt next to her. She licked my face and arms and chest, her entire body writhing with her tail. Her mommy was home!
Read Autumn — Chapter 4