“Gut Wrenching Wonder”
Like a fast forgotten dog bone hidden in a corner of a yard, I was quick to bury my feelings of guilt and shame.
At the age of ten, I was one confused and befuddled boy after asking my dad if we could “pretty please get a puppy”.
He all but said beat it.
“I’m allergic to dogs. End of story.” He lied.
It broke my heart to hear him say that.
A year later, I learned the real meaning of heartbreak.
My mom sat me down in the kitchen.
“Have a seat. Let’s talk.”
I was certain she was going to tell me that my hard work in school had paid off and that we were going to get a doggie to call our own.
Already excited after a banner sixth-grade school day, I had sprinted all the way home.
Something good was about to happen.
I could feel it.
“You know no one can 100% predict the future, right?” She began.
“Well honey, I caught a glimpse of the future today when I went to the doctor.”
I was sure she was going to tell me that the doctor’s dog was about to have a litter of puppies.
I figured wrong.
“The doctor told me I don’t have long to live, buddy.”
“Six months to a year, they figure. Perhaps a bit more.”
I don’t even remember pressing myself into her.
I drenched her shoulder as she held me close to whisper.
“Listen up here. The way I see it, God is giving us a gift. It’s rare that He gives anyone time to prepare for their death, but it seems He is giving that gift to me. So let’s make the most of the time we have left together. Shall we?”
When my tears were spent, she planted a kiss on my head, then suggested I go outside and throw a ball around.
“I’ll call you when its time for dinner, buddy.”
Outside, the world spun around me.
I couldn’t even grip a baseball.
Days turned into weeks.
All the while, she took care to comfort my two brothers and my sister and me.
“At least you will always have your dad, long after I’m gone.” She promised.
Obsessing, I couldn’t help but wonder.
What good is it to have a dad if he won’t even let you have a dog?
Then it hit me.
Maybe God would make him change his mind now that our mom was dying?
Maybe that’s God’s plan.
“His will be done.” I prayed.
Despite my father’s stubborn indifference to my request that our family get a doggie to call our own, I dropped to my knees every bedtime to try to strike a solemn bargain, praying harder than I had ever prayed in my life.
Night in and night out, I told God that I would endure anything – if only He could figure out a way to allow us to have a dog. Amen. Woof-woof. Bow-wow.
Meanwhile, our mom stayed true.
Knowing each morning could be her last, she took one day at a time to prepare us all for life on our own without her.
Months later in the first week of October, still battling her illness, her focus heightened when our dad dropped dead.
The Christmas that followed brought another surprise.
Our mom could not contain her excitement.
“Look, you guys. Look what Santa brought us!”
Finally, we had our puppy!
Dear Lord in Heaven.
Were those my prayers God answered?
What in the world have I done?
On this miraculous Christmas morning, it made me ache to wonder.
* * * *
Six short months later, birds were flying low beneath a darkening midday sky when I learned the sorry truth about what it means for a boy to man a shovel. And I thought math was hard.
Even my blisters wept that day.
“Hip dysplasia is not at all uncommon with large, popular purebreds from puppy mills.” The vet told us.
Had it not been for my mom standing nearby, I would never have managed.
Resting her wrists on my shoulders, she looked me in the eye. “Come on, Mikee. You dig. I’ll pray. I’m not going anywhere.”
She made me do it with those exact words.
In time, her insistence that day would prove to be a godsend; for had she been any less resolute, I would no doubt have remained forever unmindful of a much bigger truth that no one in the world could know.
My puppy isn’t all I buried on that tear-filled eighth-grade afternoon in June when I said good-bye to my beautiful Old English sheepdog, Duchess.
“Not bad for a first-timer with a shovel,” my mom offered, with a smile just right and a hug for good measure. “Hold onto your dear mother here, mister.”
Two simple graveside prayers later, she leaned into my shoulder to give my arm a loving squeeze.
“It’s ok to be sad, buddy,” she whispered, just as my tears came flooding.
Intended or not, with that lesson in closure behind me, I could feel my confidence grow.
And by the time my blisters callused, I had become all but certain I could handle just about anything life threw at me.
My dad is dead. My puppy has been put down and buried. And now, my mom is lying lifeless on a heavy steel gurney in a dark lonely recess of the basement below.
I tried to settle by rolling onto my side to pull the covers tight.
It must be a dream.
Meet Joe Black visits The Wonder Years in the true story of DOG WATER FREE, a coming-of-age memoir about an improbable journey to find emotional truth that lands a dumbstruck orphan from the unlikely side of Detroit front and center before England’s Queen, America’s Maestro, and the first non-Italian Pontiff in more than 400 years.
Publisher: BookBaby Fall 2012.
Michael Jay’s Bio: Michael Jay grew up in Detroit where he attended Catholic Central High School with help from an anonymous benefactor. A graduate of Harvard College, he earned his MBA at Northeastern University in 1983. His coming-of-age memoir, DOG WATER FREE, is dedicated to his college roommate, Tom Wales, who plays a pivotal role in the story, and who many believe to be the only Federal Prosecutor in U.S. history to have been killed in the line of duty. Michael lives in Idaho. To read an excerpt from the true story of DOG WATER FREE please visit
An improbable true story about hope and faith and a young mother’s love that fosters a coming-of-age journey to find emotional truth. Now available at Amazon Kindle, Apple iTunes Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, WH Smith (UK)
and Kobo (worldwide). Also Available at www.Lovereading.co.uk
Sonia Marsh Says: Michael, what an incredible heartbreaking story. You mentioned, “I was quick to bury my feelings of guilt and shame,” and I can imagine what a unique, coming-of-age memoir you have to share with the world.
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