BUDDY WAS MY person in the world when I was a young girl. Actually, he was a dog, A Samoyed from a long line of family Samoyeds named Buddy. Oh, do you know what it feels like to finally have the dog you wish for? Jeffie helped me through my first grade crush: Sparkle was a good friend: Pal was the first dog that was mine alone, a Doberman Pinscher that Dad brought home from work. But I still wanted a Sammy, and one Christmas Buddy came. I adored him.
WHENEVER A SUPERVISING eye was occupied elsewhere, Buddy and I roamed the countryside near home. Anything and everything held my interest. Blue-bellied lizards, tadpoles in the irrigation ditches, birds on the telephone poles. One spring day, after spending hours counting bird eggs in the grapevines, we wandered farther– so many beautiful sights to see, Buddy happy to tag along. When I grew tired I looked around for a good place to nap and found a tree in a neighbor's orchard. The branches hung low and swayed with the breeze. I sat leaning against the trunk with Buddy's head on my legs, and I fell asleep. When I woke it was darker, later, way too much later to have been gone. Oh no, I am in trouble now.
I RAN HOME and found Mom and Dad pacing the kitchen. Dad, angry, grabs my shoulders. Where have you been? he says loudly. Exploring, I answered. Exploring?! Yes, I fell asleep under a tree. Under a tree? he says. Do you know how dangerous that is? Do you? Anything could have happened; anyone could have taken you! Taken me where? I asked. You're too young to understand, he said. There are bad people in the world. Never, ever, fall asleep under a tree again.
I NEVER DID.
THE NEXT TIME I went roaming, I avoided comfortable trees and headed toward Spruce road, turning left to town. After a mile or two, we came alongside a canal; I walked along the top of the embankment, Buddy weaving back and forth in front of me. Suddenly a bird flew low in front of us and Buddy chased it, getting way too close to the edge, lost his footing and slid right into the canal. I screamed Buddy! Buddy!, running along to keep up with him as the flowing water swept him along. I'm frantic, screaming for help. I search for a ladder on the side of the canal but nothing, and not a person in sight.
AND THEN THERE he is– a man on a motorcycle, youngish, scraggly beard, tattoos covering his arms and neck, sporting an earring. For one split second the thought occurred to me that he might be one of those dangerous people my parents warned me about. He pulls to a stop and asks if I need help. I'm desperate: I jump on the bike and point ahead at Buddy, who looks tired, but still paddling: the stranger nods.
I HAVE A plan. I can't hold this tall skinny man, but he can hold me. He looks strong. We pass Buddy, and then we jump off the bike while I tell him I will go head-first down the side of the canal while he holds me by my feet. His face freezes with eyes wide, he rubs his chin stubble, hesitates briefly, then yells Go! It's now or never! He grabs my legs while I crawl down the cement wall, reaching into the water. Lower! I yell. I can see Buddy getting close; I grasp his neck fur with both hands, while he kicks frantically, scratching up my arms and face. Pull! I scream; I feel my legs stretch. I am pulled up and back, and then all three of us fall in a pile on the concrete bank.
OH OH OH, we are safe. Buddy shakes his abundant coat, throwing water in every direction. He whimpers and licks my face. I have never been so happy. We catch our collective breaths, we laugh a bit. I say Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We do not know each other's names. We do not ask.
THEN TATTOO MAN, my hero, looks at me very seriously, but with a smile in his eyes. Promise me one thing, he says. Never, ever, tell your parents what you just did.
I NEVER DID.