“Where’s Amigo?” I asked Mom.
“Isn’t he in the backyard?” she replied.
“No. Someone left the gate open.”
“Oh, don’t worry, honey. He’ll come back, he always does.” True, he always did.
I walked through my neighborhood calling, “A-meee-go, A-meee-go.” I asked neighbors if they’d seen my little terrier.
“Don’t worry, honey,” Mom said. “He always comes back.”
The next day, I called the police and animal warden. I rode my bicycle around town for hours and looked in ditches. Maybe he was hit by a car. Maybe someone picked him up. I made signs and stapled them to telephone poles. But my white terrier mutt with wiry hair and a few brown spots was gone. No dog to sleep by my bed and snuggle next to me as I did my homework near the heating grate. No Amigo. No Friend.
In 1960, a year after Dad died, Mom and I had moved to this brick two-bedroom corner house in Dearborn Michigan with a fenced back yard. My brother was away at college. We saw him at Christmas and in the summer. Dad was rarely mentioned. No rituals, no remembrances, not one visit to the cemetery. Dad vanished after one last alarming look at a waxy body in a coffin. We did not cry.
My mother dealt with the death of the man she loved for half her life and nursed for twelve years by shutting down the past and moving on. She focused on her teaching career, night school classes, her investment club, and the John Robert Powers School of Modeling where she learned about make-up, navy suits, and the right spike pumps. She was 45 and gorgeous. I hardly knew her.
I ate TV dinners and chicken pot pies by myself many nights, although Mom came home by the time I went to bed. Our relationship was friendly and loving in a new distant way. She let me do what I wanted and, as a 16 year old, I loved freedom. After finishing homework, I spent evenings with my girlfriend Regi cruising for boys at White Castle Burgers and A&W Rootbeer. We were a hit in Regi’s red Mustang.
Amigo was my link to my old life. Dad brought home a mutt puppy when I was five. Mom was anxious because Dad was sick. She didn’t want a dog, but relented. My brother and I spoon fed Amigo when he was a pup and let him lick the dog food cans clean. He was my constant through loss, moves, and changes in schools and friends. When I opened the door, Amigo wagged, snuffled, and danced. I counted on him.
When it was clear Amigo would not return, anguish broke down my defensive walls. I wept and sobbed.
“It’s OK, honey. He’s only a dog,” Mom reassured me on her way out the door.
But Amigo was my friend, the one who leaned into me when I was lonely, the one I could hug without being turned away, the one who waited for me. He was my connection to Dad who loved Amigo, too. My grief for Amigo and Dad pooled into a flood I could not dam.
“I don’t understand why you’re so upset, honey,” Mom said with a worried look, “but I’m sure you’ll be all right.”
No, she couldn’t understand. I had surrendered to grief and she could not. She saw tears as my weakness. I now know they were my strength.