How the hell did he get out? The door couldn’t have been open for longer than a minute, and he was lying on his bed all the way in the living room. If anything, he should’ve followed me into the kitchen, like he always does, waiting for me to drop something out of the grocery bags. Instead, he must have snuck out the way I came in before the door could shut behind me.
It’s the first day since Grant moved out three months ago that I’ve even felt up to cooking, and Truman decides today is the day to run off. I’ve been out in the street yelling his name since the moment I called for him and wasn’t greeted with his goofy grin and wagging tail. Surely to God he hasn’t gone far.
We typically stick to the same streets when we go on walks, so I follow our usual route assuming he’s on the same path. It wouldn’t be out of character for a two-year old Shepherd to be too eager to wait for his owner and decide to walk himself. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, so I don’t think about him getting hit by a car or running full speed in a different direction. I haven’t been able to catch him since he was a puppy, and he outpaced Grant shortly after that. If he really wanted to run away, there’s no way I could catch him. But that’s the thing? Why would he want to run away?
Grant moving out hasn’t been easy on Truman, or me for that matter, but we’ve made the best of it. I’ve taken him to the dog park every other day and not missed one of his three daily walks. He’s had takeout shrimp and salmon, and despite not cooking for myself, I’ve continued making his boiled chicken to ensure he doesn’t go without his favorite snack. As hard as it’s been for me to care for myself, I haven’t skipped a beat when it comes to Truman.
Walking with Truman’s leash folded in my hand feels even more disorienting than walking him without Grant by our side. You don’t realize how barren a lot of the neighborhood streets are when you’re walking with your fiancé and dog, but you sure as hell notice how lonely it is when you have neither. Or at least I do. I doubt Truman cares. He’s probably too busy pissing on some other dog’s piss or wandering into someone’s backyard.
After Truman and I were jumped by a couple stray Pit Bulls that luckily were more inclined for rough play than actual violence, Grant attached a small bottle of maximum strength pepper spray gel to the handle of Truman’s leash in case something else happened when he wasn’t with us, as if he could actually fight off two aggressive Pitt Bulls. I don’t think I’ve ever laid a hand on the spray bottle until now because I never felt this vulnerable.
The spray was primarily meant to protect Truman, but I always felt like he was there to protect me. After all, that’s why Grant bought him for me, so I’d have someone with me while Grant was away on his work trips. Since Truman’s not here, I start wondering how long the guy a few yards back has been walking behind me. Clutching the spray with my thumb on the trigger, I ascend the front steps of the nearest home and pretend it’s mine to see if the man will pass.
When he doesn’t and stops at the bottom of the steps, I hold my breath and begin to draw my spray and fire just as he says, “Sorry, this is me,” and walks past me toward the front door, turning only to ask, “Visiting Tracy upstairs?”
I lie and say that I am but that I forgot something in my car. Considering I continued along my previous path instead of turning back to my “car,” I don’t think I was too believable. He didn’t seem to care and went inside.
I remind myself that it’s a Sunday afternoon, so I should probably calm down a bit, that protector or no protector, I am perfectly capable of walking my neighborhood in broad daylight. I finally reach the intersection where we usually go to the park but occasionally go down Broadway without any sign of Truman. If he came this way, he didn’t even bother pissing on his favorite light post because it’s bone dry. Hoping familiarity wins out over novelty occasionally, I head towards the park. Maybe one of the two men in my life isn’t obsessed with finding something new.
Our friends kept giving me weird looks when I didn’t bat an eye that Grant was always taking business trips alone despite everyone else in his department taking their wives and girlfriends along, but I believed him when he said it was different for him because he was management. He always told me, “I don’t have the free time those guys have. You’d just be cooped up in the room or checking out the sights alone all day.” I don’t know if I completely believed him, but I wanted to believe him. Besides, I didn’t have any reason to think he was lying until he forgot his laptop at home, and his date in Denver messaged to see when he was going to pick her up.
She sent a photo, too. They all sent photos, and none of them were very creative. There must be a guide out there for sending nudes because most of them either turned their ass to a mirror and twisted their waist just enough to see a hint of a nipple or pressed their upper arms against the sides of their tits to push them together. No matter what, they always made sure Grant at least got a peek at their tits, which wasn’t surprising. He always acted like he couldn’t get enough of mine. Apparently, mine weren’t as special as he made them out to be because he had to keep shopping for different pairs.
Before he got back from Denver, I managed to box up everything he owned, which wasn’t much since he isn’t a reader and only likes to golf and screw strangers, and had it all moved into a storage container. I left the address to his new “home” on the envelope I taped to our front door, so he’d see it when he realized his house key wouldn’t work. I was nice enough to put the code to the storage container on the letter in the envelope, even if I may have scrambled the last few numbers.
The first couple weeks Grant was gone, I wouldn’t answer the door when he rang the bell or my cell when he called or texted. The former was a little juvenile considering he knew I was home when he rang the doorbell because Truman could see him through the front door window and would run to the kitchen, where I was hiding just out of sight, to try to alert me to the fact that his daddy was home. When I finally caved and opened the door, we fought, had tearful sex, then I told him I never wanted to see him again. I wasn’t thinking about Truman when I said the last part.
Truman may have been bought for me, but he was always our dog. One time, he got so excited when Grant came home from a weeklong trip to California that he jumped around so much that he smashed through our glass coffee table. After the initial shock wore off, he went right back to jumping. I don’t know if Grant was trying to use Truman as a bridge to get back to me, but he insisted from the outset of our breakup that he at least get to keep Truman every other week.
Knowing a couple friends who got burned by that “possession is nine-tenths of the law” bullshit, I got my brother-in-law, who is too prestigious of an attorney for such petty squabbles, to humble himself by drawing up an agreement saying that I own Truman because he was a gift but allowing Grant to keep him on weekends that he isn’t out of town. Grant signed the agreement without a fuss and has been picking Truman up every Friday evening and bringing him back every Sunday afternoon, like clockwork. I don’t interact with Grant during these handoffs. Instead, I just let Truman out on the front porch when I see Grant walking up the steps to pick him up because I’m afraid I’ll relapse and let Grant back in.
Like some divorced dad who doesn’t want to take their kid away from their friends or too far from school, Grant moved into a duplex a couple blocks away, so he’d be close to—of course! That’s where Truman is. He’s at Grant’s.
Within minutes, I’m outside Grant’s new place. I don’t even have to bother looking, but I must know for sure that Truman’s okay. I wish I just went with my gut because I can see through the window that Truman’s lounging on the couch with his head in Grant’s lap, but they’re not alone. I hear some woman’s voice asking Grant if he was able to get ahold of me, but she only refers to me as “her.” I pat the back pocket of my jeans to find that in my rush to chase after Truman, I didn’t grab my phone. I’m about to knock on the door, but something is holding me back.
If I knock, I’m either going to have to face this woman, the new me for all I know, or act like she’s not there. I considered acting like I didn’t find Grants messages and photos for hours when I was originally spiraling, but I couldn’t bear to live a lie any longer than I already had. It was, and still is, tough, but at least I felt it in all its agonizing ferocity. When I think about it, it still feels like the moment it first hit me, and I fear it always will. I feel it as I stand here listening to Grant and this woman talk, as he pets Truman’s back and massages his front paws. I slowly back away from the door, walk down the steps, and begin sprinting back home with tears steaming past my temples and into my ears and hair.
When I’m finally inside, I crumple into a ball in the entryway and sob harder than I did the night I found out, which I didn’t think was possible. Gasping for air, I look up the differences between a panic attack and a heart attack and decide I’ll be all right if only I can catch my breath. When I finally do, my tears are all cried out.
I pick up the phone to text Grant and tell him to bring Truman back, but I can’t hit send. If I text Grant, and he returns Truman, this is going to keep happening over and over. Truman is just as much ours as he is mine, and as long I have him, Grant’s going to be in my life and on my mind. It’s not just Truman either. It’s this house and life we built together. As long as I keep clinging to this, I’ll never move on. I’ll always lose myself when I think back to that day. It’s then that I know what I must do, and the tears return.
I don’t answer Grant when he calls. I don’t answer Grant’s texts telling me where Truman is and offering to bring him back to me. I don’t even answer the door days later when Grant brings Truman by and knocks. As I hold my ears, failing to block out the sounds of Truman barking to be let in, I have another panic attack that lasts long after Grant and Truman are gone. Grant finally quits texting, presumably because he sees the for-sale sign in the front yard. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, but I know I cannot stay.
Deron Eckert is a writer and attorney who lives in Lexington, Kentucky. His poetry has appeared in Rattle Magazine, and his fiction has appeared in Sky Island Journal. He is currently seeking publication for his Southern Gothic, coming-of-age novel, which explores how personal experiences change our preconceived notions of right and wrong.