By: Emilie Harris
I never really pictured my life like this. As it stands right now, I'm living out of my car with no one but my dog, Dallas. He's an old black lab, close to 10 now. There's nothing but open road ahead of us. Then again, looking back on my life I can say this is definitely where I'd rather be. Driving southbound on highway 295, painful memories of my childhood come back to me. In my mind, I can envision broken liquor bottles that litter the kitchen floor, chairs laying on their side, and a pile of unwashed dishes sitting in the sink. This was the state my house was in all the time. My fathers drunken yells resonated throughout the house and you didn't dare breathe a word unless you wanted to get tossed around a little bit. More often than not I was tossed around anyway, it was almost impossible to tell what he'd do. I'd go to school with my arms lined with bruises and I'd try so hard to hide them. My father ruined my childhood and I hate him for it. I try hard not to think about it anymore because I'm gone now, I'm starting a life by myself but it's hard to let go of a past like mine.
I'm driving distraction free, some pop song playing in the background, when Dallas huffs in my face, gives me a sopping wet kiss across my mouth and sticks his head back out the window. Some people don't understand my unconditional love for him, they say he's just a dog. But he's more than that, he's my sidekick, my shotgun rider and my best friend. My mother got me Dallas when I was young as a parting gift. She knew she was dying and didn't want me to be alone. When she died, that's when my dad went off the deep end. He started drinking a lot, smoking cigarettes in the house, and staying out all night. Dallas would lay with me at night, it's as if he knew I was terrified. I was only 8. Dallas has been my savior.
I've been driving for 4 days now. I don't really have anywhere in particular I'm headed, I'm just hoping I'll find somewhere along the way. I started in New Hampshire and I've made it as far as Georgia now. I stop constantly, not just for Dallas but for me. I'm a terrible traveler, I get too antsy too quick when I'm back on the road. We stopped two hours ago and already, I feel like I need to again. So I make up my mind and take the next exit with a sign that says it will bring me to downtown Jameson. All this traveling will do me some good though, I love seeing different towns, it gives me peace of mind. My car makes its way through narrow streets, trying to avoid the massive potholes that are scattered throughout the pavement. Up ahead, I spot what I think is the Main Street and turn onto it. Pulling onto it, I look down the road and I don't think I could've chosen a smaller town because I can see tiny shops and both ends of the road, that's how short it is.
Dallas can tell that we're about to get out and starts shaking the way he does when he gets excited. Glancing at my radio, I see it's 7:27 so I decide we are staying the night. There has to be a motel around here somewhere. It wasn't very hard to find considering the main road was not even a mile long. A sign with the word "VACANCY" flashes at me incessantly so I pull in, it seems to be my only option here. I release Dallas from the passenger side and latch his leash on him right away, I don't know that I'm going to trust anyone that lives in a town like this. The small, wooden door creaks when I open it but the lobby is far nicer than I expected it would be. It's cozy, homey. The walls are shade darker than beige and the seats in the waiting area each have a complimentary pillow. There's a small wooden table covered in PEOPLE magazines so I think maybe this town is up to date with something. I'm still taking in the room when I hear footsteps.
"Hey, there! Thought I heard that door creak open!" A perky, young girl comes bouncing from behind the clerks desk. She has very long blonde hair and bright blue eyes, complete opposite of me with my short, dark hair and brown eyes. She looks about my age and I can't help but wonder why she is working in a motel. "I'm Carly! Can I help you check into a room today?" she asks eagerly. The drawl in her voice is entertaining to listen to but I'm focusing on her face now. She's looking at me like there hasn't been someone here in ages and she's excited that someone has finally has wandered through those creaky doors. Dallas is antsy next to me, excitedly shaking his butt so I give him some leeway, just enough leash to sniff at her feet. She takes a step back, clearly nervous.
"Don't mind him, he's just smelling," I explained, "He does it to everyone."
"Oh, he don't bother me, I love dogs! I have two of them myself," Carly said. "He looks real friendly, I just wasn't sure! Can never be too careful, am I right, hun?" She laughs as is this is a normal conversation for her.
"Never too careful, yeah. Dallas is vehemently friendly though and I'd like a room but only if he's allowed to stay here with me. I know some places don't allow animals but he's all I have and this is the only place I found. This town is just so small." You could hear the desperation in my voice but I tried hard not to show it on my face. I don't think I did a great job because she gave me a smile filled with pity and scratched Dallas behind his ears.
"Course he can stay here with you, we don't normally allow animals but I can make an exception for you, hun," she told me. A smile spread across my face and I breathed a sigh of relief. I wondered just how many people stay at this motel if she's willing to make an exception.
"Thank you so much. I just need an overnight room, I'm only passing through," I told her.
"Not a problem, I'll get you to a single bed right away! Where you headed? You look awfully young to be traveling by yourself," Carly inquired. I was hoping she wouldn't ask because I don't really have an answer.
"I don't know, nowhere, um.. relatives down in Florida," I spit out. I was choking on my words. "Nowhere, just passing through."
"Okay then.." Her discomfort was obvious. "Could I get a name?"
"Kate Thorn. Katalia, actually, is my full first name. K-A-T-A-L-I-A."
"What a pretty name! And this is just a one night stay for you this time?" she asked me politely.
"Yeah, just tonight. Thanks." Now I was nervous, now I looked creepy. 'Why would I do choke like that?' I thought to myself. Now they're gonna watch the door to my room all night, that all came out so wrong. She clicked away at her computer as I sat there cursing myself out for being so weird.
"Alright, so you're going to be in room A120. That's right down the hall here, four or fives doors down and to your right." She pointed down a dimly lit hallway, indicating which room would be mine and then she handed me a room key. I take Dallas and direct him down the hall and to our sanctuary for the night.
Our room is plain as ever. White walls, a single bed with simple grey sheets on it and a bedside table, nothing extraordinary. It would have to do. Dallas jumps on the bed, making himself at home; as if we are here every night. I don't usually allow him on any furniture but I can't bear the thought of sleeping without him tonight so he stays. After a rejuvenating shower and a fresh change of clothes, I sink into the sheets and as soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm out for the night.
Visions of my father terrorize me through the night, all I see is broken bottles on the floor and a younger version of me cowering in fear. It's always the same dream, it starts with my father throwing things, anything, he can find. Then he always turns to me, yelling, taking steps until he's so close I think I can touch him but I always jolt awake before he reaches me.
I awake for the third time that night and decide I am done sleeping. I glance at the alarm clock on the bedside table and it only reads 6:43. Dallas is snoring softly, twitching every once in awhile. I formulate a game plan for the day and at 7:00, peel myself out of the bed taking Dallas with me.
"Ready to go for a walk?" I ask him, "You wanna go out? Yes? Let's go!" Of course I know I sound crazy talking to my dog like he's a person but his silence is refreshing. I latch his leash onto his collar and we head for the front doors. It's early in the morning but the sun is already out and the air is warm. I've always loved the south for this reason, nothing's ever cold. I watch birds fly from tree to tree, I feel the grass brushing in between my toes and for just a moment, I feel pure tranquility.
I continue strolling down the sidewalk, looking into windows and reading signs, just trying to figure out this little town. In the distance I hear sirens. Sirens make me uneasy so I turn around, back towards the motel. Dallas is being uncooperative which frustrates me even more, his leash is too long and I can't reign him back to the sidewalk. He doesn't like the noise they make either. The sirens are steadily growing louder, I can tell they're coming this way and now I'm in a full blown panic.
"Dallas! Come!" I screech at him but all of a sudden, his leash slips from in between my fingers. A black Jetta comes speeding around the bend, a cop car chasing it and I can't get to Dallas in time. Brakes squeal, Dallas yelps in pain, and I let out a blood curdling scream.
"Get off of him! What the hell did you do? Get the fuck off of him!" I scream. I'm hysterically sobbing, frantically trying to get Dallas out from underneath this car. Out steps a young man, can't be any older than 24, shock spread across his face.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-" he begins.
"Get off of him, I swear to god if you killed my dog I'm going to kill you. MOVE!" I can't control myself. A young, female cop lifts me off the ground and I all see is the Jetta backing up and Dallas's body laying there, no longer moving. Tearing myself away from the cop, I throw myself next to him and weep into his fur. When I lay my head on his chest, I head and feel nothing and that's how I know he's gone. I lift my head and lock eyes with the driver of the Jetta. He's crying but that doesn't comfort me. A crowd has gathered around the scene now, I spot Carly's face among the others and she takes a step forward.
"Come here, come here," she ushers me into her arms. I have nothing left except this girl that I don't even know. She strokes my hair and shushes me. It felt like hours I sat there, though it was probably only a few minutes. "Come with me." I could tell this was not an option so I followed, I didn't have any fight left in me to argue with her.
"I need him," I whispered, I couldn't manage anything above that.
"He's coming," Carly assured me. "Papa, this way." I turn around to see an old man cradling Dallas, following us. I was directed into a car, and when we stopped at an unfamiliar house, I was told to get out. It was a big ranch house, white fencing lined the property and inside of it, I spotted horses out in a pasture. There were chickens wandering everywhere and a few dogs snoozing on the front porch.
"Darlin', you think you gon be able to say goodbye just yet or do ya want nuther minute er two?" I looked behind me to see who asked that but it was just the man holding Dallas, Carly's dad. "It's okay if you need a minute darlin'. This is my farm, we gon bury yer good ole pup right over there, under their big ole tree. He'll be real happy there." Without answering, I walked over to Dallas to say my final goodbye.
I stroked his silky fur all the way down his tail and back up to his snout. I gave him a kiss on his nose and removed his collar. I took one more look around and decided Dallas would've liked it here.
"Okay." I nodded and fell back into Carly's arms. Her embrace was soothing and her words were comforting.
"Papa's gon take real good care of him for you, I know you loved that dog. Reckless, insensitive people.. You can stay here with us if you want, we'll get your things from the motel. And no worries hun, no charge for any of it." Carly kept talking but I wasn't listening anymore. It was decided that I'd stay there with them until I felt I could leave. All I could think was, "We were only passing through. I can't leave if he's here." I knew I would be staying for a long time but I didn't want to say that or they might take the offer back. The rest of that day was a blur. It was filled with condolences, updates, and endless tears.
Carly and Papa were more than supportive, true southern hospitality showing through. But a day turned into a week, a week turned into two and that turned into a month. Every morning, I went to see Dallas and every night, I'd go to see him again.
"We ain't ever gon tell you to leave, Kate. Me and Miss Carly love havin you here. We just worried, is all darlin'." This is how Papa started this conversation with me. "You stay as long as you got to. But as long as you're here, girl, you gotta help out. We help you, you help us. And darlin' I really think keepin busy is gon help you." He kissed my forehead and went out to the barn to start morning chores. I knew he was right.
For the next two weeks, I was up before the sun with Papa and Carly learning how to muck stalls, feed horses and do daily farm chores. Staying busy kept the bad thoughts mostly at bay, I was so grateful for these people. I helped Carly with motel things and at night, I'd always offer to help with dinner duties. I became close with Carly, I finally told her about my past and exactly why Dallas had been so important to me. It was nice to finally tell someone.
I awoke one morning to whimpering coming outside my door. I figured it must just be one of the cats but I got up anyway and cracked my door open. Sitting outside my door was not a cat but a small puppy. He couldn't have been older than 12 weeks, he had short yellow fur, probably a golden retriever but I wasn't sure. The second I scooped him up in my arms, my heart swelled over with love for this dog and I couldn't believe Papa and Carly would do something like this for me. I rushed to the kitchen, a smile across my face,and found them eating breakfast.
"Cute pup, where'd you find him?" Carly asked with a smirk across her face. Papa smiled ear to ear when he saw the pup sitting in my arms. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest against this little dog. I couldn't stop smiling at him.
"Can never replace yer pup, Dallas. But he's all yours, darlin'. Pick a name, Kate. He's gon need one," he told me.
"Austin," I said with no hesitation. "It fits him. Thank you so much Papa." I smooched his cheek and fixed myself some breakfast.
"So.." Carly inquired, "Does this mean you're staying?" Carly and Papa opened their home to me, got me through the worst pain of my life and continue to treat me as family. I knew I would not find people like this in another hundred years if I tried. I couldn't not picture myself in another place anymore either. The weeks I have spent on this farm have taught me a lot, this family saved me. I feel much love towards them and the kind things they do for me.
"Yes," I stated. "I'm here to stay."
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