When I was six years old, my dad asked me as we passed in the hallway of our tiny rambler, “What do you want for Christmas?” And I said, “A puppy.” He snorted and said, “Fat chance.” (Or maybe it was something more gentle, but it recorded itself as “fat chance” in my brain.)
At Christmas, a wiggly box was placed upon my lap and I lifted the green-wrapping papered lid to find a black poodle. I named her “Midnight” and she was the star of many of my crayon drawings.
The following October (1972), my mother gave birth to my sister (at home, with no midwife–now, that is quite a story which has nothing to do with this post). Shortly thereafter, I returned home from second grade to find every trace of my puppy gone. No water bowl. No food bowl. No puppy. My parents thought a sudden disappearance would be best.
Recently, I mentioned Midnight to my mother and she has no recollection of that dog whatsoever. None. I began to wonder if I made up that story in my head, if I created some kind of personal myth that became more real the more times I told it.
I know a picture exists of me and that puppy. I know it.
The other day, I passed a television showing coverage of Hurricane Ophelia. The caption said, “Nag’s Head,” and I remembered the time I slept through a hurricane in Nag’s Head, North Carolina in 1986.
Then I started to wonder if this were another legend I made up in my head. So, I stayed up way too late, googling around, searching for evidence that Nag’s Head, North Carolina, was, indeed, hit by a hurricane in 1986.
And it was. Hurricane Charley hit in August 1986, but the winds of 90 miles per hour did little damage.
It’s true, then. I slept through that hurricane. Evacuations were not mandatory, so our drama troupe of college kids hunkered down at the church where we were staying. It was shaped like an ark, that church. I crawled into a bed and collapsed and later discovered I was sharing it with a curly-haired bass-player who was suffering from jock-itch. His name was Dana. Probably still is.
I slept while the storm raged because I had an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis. When the storm passed, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) drove me to a clinic where a doctor asked me to remove my shirt so he could diagnose my sore throat. I still remember the nurse’s raised eyebrows, but I was too sick to object.
When my dad married my stepmother in 1977, she brought into our family her own cache of personal legends. I heard over and over about her handsome, tall, English boyfriend named John and about her job working at Orcas Island during the summers. She’d talk about college and her degree in political science and about orchestras and symphonies and marching bands and how she lost twenty pounds in college by shunning potatoes and bread.
And eventually, all the stories started to repeat, as if they were on a loop. I suppose that happens to all of us. At some point, we run out of stories and pretty soon, we start to accessorieze the stories we tell. How much is truth and how much is embellishment? Will people we love stop us if we tell the same story too many times? Or will they politely listen, much as I listen to the stories my mother and my stepmother tell?
And can I find a picture of the black puppy I am sure I had when I was 6? If I do (when I do), you’ll be the first to know.