To my knowledge, no one from her family had ever come looking for her, and I never traced the lines of her ancestry. She was alone, too. We were so lonely together, her and I.
Next, they needed to take care of the weakest link: me. A unanimous decision was reached to never speak about Mickey again. Surely, they thought, surely there are enough adults in the house to distort a 12-year-old’s sense of reality? The reality distortion field would be strong enough to protect me from any psychological scars. How can you be sad about an animal who never was? It was, to them, the perfect plan.
I lingered on the steps of the house for a long time, staring into the abyss. For some odd reason, the human limbic system takes 10 times as long to process shame as other emotions. Mickey sat facing me, one of her chubby paws on my knee, holding the world together. She saved me on the days I arrived home bruised and humiliated. She kept me optimistic with her natural wit and wisdom, as if to say, this is how.
I was initially resigned, then I became shrewd. I decided to squander my integrity for the truth. When the adults were out of the house, I cornered the twins and threatened to call the police and report four illegal immigrants lest they tell me what happened. They confessed. First, a couple leaks, then, a deluge of details:
My parents, when confronted, lost themselves in a wasteland of justifications and recrimination. What were we supposed to do, Angela? Did you forget what we sacrificed for you to be educated here? The sweat and tears we shed? The family and friends we left behind? We don’t even have health insurance ourselves, how could we have paid for a “dog doctor”?
If I learned anything from years of dealing with bullies, it is this: Nothing is more humiliating than the knowledge that your mother just found out you’re a loser at school. So I did the only sensible thing — I laughed. A deep, hearty laugh that everyone in the neighborhood could hear. And then, in the ditziest, perkiest voice I could muster, I whined, “haha. haha. Stop it, guys! Ha. Ha.” This seemed to confuse the mobsters but did not slacken their resolve for more degradation. They would not let go.
Her wooly fur and chubby paws. The puzzling things she did to pique our curiosity. The way her mouth curved into a little smile when I scratched her ears. Every morsel of food she ate, every ounce of beauty she brought, every fragment of her undaunted spirit. I didn’t know what to do with the love I made for her.
Family One, gorgons who never missed a chance to brag about their knowledge of American virtues, warned Family Two that if anyone were to discover that their dad was responsible for breaking a dog’s leg, they would be arrested and/or deported. Family One kindly reminded them that they were still illegals and that in this country, animal lives were sometimes more valuable than human lives.
I closed my eyes and waited for a hole to open up in the ground so I could jump in and die in it, but all I heard were pitter-patters of tiny feet on asphalt. Mickey had come flying out the back door, hackles raised, eyes wild. She let out a low, guttural growl. Her entire body was a growl. Then she began barking loudly and didn’t stop, even when the mobsters desisted. “Forget her,” the leader rolled her eyes and walked off. I quickly patted my knotted hair and shot my mother a playful grin. In the perky voice, I explained, “This is how American kids play, they are crazy!” Must protect mother at all costs.
Later I would open my backpack and find a rancid piece of cotton with an odd fibrous tail covered in blood. Mobsters love leaving souvenirs. Luckily for me, Chinese women did not use tampons for fear of breaking their hymen before marriage, so I’d never heard of nor seen one. I figured someone with an abnormally large nostril had a nosebleed and threw the thing away.
I ran around the neighborhood screaming her name, but I knew it was futile. In the city I grew up in, people didn’t die or get divorced, they simply “went on a business trip” and never came back again. After they left on these business trips, adults would avoid their names around us like the plague. Like their government, the adulthood apparatus ran on the premise that the children must be protected, taken care of, controlled, but never trusted. It is for this reason that most kids growing up in China are either shrewd or resigned, it’s one or the other.
The twins’ assured me, repeatedly, that she is still alive. This is America, they said, remember? And Americans value the lives of animals, sometimes even more than human lives! Someone must’ve taken her home!
Inside the house, the other families were uncharacteristically mum, avoiding eye contact and changing the subject skillfully whenever her name came up. I understood what this meant: We were not friends. Their warmth was mercurial. They tried on voluble for size but it didn’t fit, not as well as the cold, pragmatic mentality they’d perfected. They were back in the Red Guards, watching me like a traitor who couldn’t be entrusted with a secret they hadn’t even shared.
But I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about a piece of the twins’ story that broke me open: When their father returned to the construction site to resume his job, Mickey was waiting at the exact spot where he dropped her off, limping and wagging her tail. There she stayed — with unwavering faith for her humans — for a whole week before she disappeared.
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