It was too warm to be christmas, but then again this was the south and when do they follow any rules? I was back for a quick visit. I was back in the land of strong coffee, sticky children's fingers and embracing arms all too eager to welcome you back home. Our visit was meant to be quick, we had a few short days to see everyone, love on all the kids, and get our fill of Common Ground before making the long trek back into the cold wasteland of the midwest. Our days had been filled with tutoring and holding hands. Playing basketball, sorting clothes, and tromping across fields and under overpasses to meet new Outdoor friends.
As I sat on the steps of the White House, I watched how the kids had grown, how big they had gotten in just the six months since I had last been down. As I sat a little shivery black puppy came cautiously up to where I was sitting. She looked eager and yet restrained. She was maybe six months old, a little skinny, and covered with all sorts of bugs. She worked up the courage to take another step closer and I held out my hand. In an instant she was in my lap and licking my face. I laughed which caused about ten kids to come investigate, and before long we were surrounded by little hand after little hand petting, touching, and loving. The dog was in heaven.
As dinner started I got the story of the dog from a friend. Someone had dumped her on the street as a puppy. No collar, no tags, no one looking for her. The neighbor had started putting food out on his porch, but this was the same neighbor that was probably selling drugs out of his house and was known for his winningest fighting dogs. He was the neighbor that the minute he stepped out of the house, all the kids came running inside. Rumor was this little black lovable one was either going to be trained to fight, or end up one day as practice.
My heart fell. Then my brain started. We were going home in two days. We could take her with us.
Dinner ended and the night wrapped up. On the drive to where we were staying I told Krysten my plan. She laughed and didn't think i was serious, but the image of that little puppy licking the kids kept popping up into my mind.
The next day, Krysten in all her glory, summoned up every little bit of courage and knocked on the neighbors dilapidated door. In seconds she was back, scooped up the dog and shoved her in my car.
We had done it. The next two days we spent washing, loving, and trying to contain the dog in the fence while we were gone. But every night we came back she was there waiting for us, as if she had known she would always end up where she belonged.
We traveled north for 14 hours in the car. First to Kansas City and then to Wichita. We lost her favorite ball at a rest stop. She didn't bark, didn't whine, just sat content. Ready to go home. As we drove through downtown Kansas City, Eric Clapton's Layla came on and she gave a reassuring bark. Probably more for herself than anyone, but the name stuck. Layla.
When we arrived on the steps of my parent's home Layla sat patiently, pushing into my leg, nervous of what was to come. My mom knew the two of us were coming, my dad didn't and wasn't too pleased. But she eventually won him over.
She loved chasing geese. Felt responsible to keep the neighborhood clear of squirrels and cats. Ate tampons, Kleenex, and Q-tips. She would play ball as long as anyone would throw. She was a pro with kids, kept the house protected from the mailman and the neighbor who worked at the zoo with the gorillas. She loved giving kisses, and standing on her back legs so she could look you in the eye and kiss you one the mouth.
She made you feel like you were home. She grounded our family, pulled us together. Gave each of us a companion when we needed one most.
Layla broke her back yesterday. She was playing in the park that she loved. Outside, free, next to the small zoo where she always visited the bobcat.
It's hard to think about going home without her there. I may have saved her from Louisiana but I think she really saved me.
I'm really going to miss her puppy kisses.
And I don't think I'm going to be able to face all the squirrels and geese without her.
Let's make the best of the situation, Before I finally go insane. Please don't say we'll never find a way, And tell me all my love's in vain.
Layla, you've got me on my knees. Layla, I'm begging, darling please. Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.