It was one of those idealistic days that birthdays are made of. Out of the clamor of city traffic and past the towering peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge, the ruca and I were off to meet our friend Corrie for her birthday celebration. First we chucked oysters at Tomales Bay and swallowed them down whole, soaked in lemon and stinging of chipotle. Then we explored the notorious “pond” that Corrie has forever been bragging about: a magnificent mouth of water under a canopy of trees that reflects on its scintillating surface. Later we stopped for more wine to catch the sunset on the beach, although darkness seemed to be devouring away day’s light faster than we could move.
While Corrie and I waited outside the liquor store for our friends, a tall lumbering homeless man, as big and solid as a redwood tree, walked decidedly up to us. Half of his face was filled with a cotton fluff of beard, and a rather large belly fit snug against his red plaid coat. (If I were a kid I might’ve screeched out, “Santa Clause!”) “Whatchu got there?” he asked Corrie, whose tiny black Chihuahua was poking out of her jacket.
“It’s my dog,” Corrie answered, hardly intimidated by the man’s titanic size. She unzipped her jacket, and out popped Ceelie: a tiny black Napoleon-minded dog who not only has mind control over Corrie’s pit-bull, but likes to cuddle with cats.
“Aww,” the man marveled.
Corrie and I exchanged glances, registering that the man, albeit all size, was harmless—a gentle giant. Corrie held the dog in the air, its legs dangling beneath her like swings. “Would you like to hold her, Sir?”
His face lighting up, he handled Ceelie delicately, as if she might break in his massive hands. Excited at the new guest, Ceelie wagged her tail and licked his nose. The man tickled with laughter as she nuzzled her tiny black snout into his chest. “She’s so soft,” he gushed, and I couldn’t help but think of Lennie from Of Mice and Men; “It’s so soft, George.” Imitating Corrie, he zipped up his coat, and Ceelie stuck her head out from the top; warm, content. “She likes me,” he croaked. The words could’ve come from a child.
We stood very still in the moment’s harmony, enjoying the unlikely bond between the two. Our friends came racing out behind us suddenly, carrying with them a rush of anxiety as the last of the sun’s light began to spill away. “Let’s go!” they called out, and the man’s face crushed, his zen shattered like glass.
“We’re going to catch the sunset,” Corrie explained softly.
The man moved slowly, delicately handing Ceelie back from hand to hand. That’s when he blurted out: “I want a dog like that! Where could I…get a dog like that?”
Our friends, noticing that we were lagging behind, rejoined us. “You want a dog like that?” one of our friends jumped in. “They always have notices on that bulletin for dog adoptions.”
The man blinked hard but the emotion would not escape his eyes. Who would let a homeless person adopt a dog?
We missed the sunset by minutes but it didn’t matter. The city lights twinkled in the distance, under a sky ablaze with fiery streaks like a messy watercolor. Stars popped out in the sky as the sunset hues burned to the dark ash of night. We pitched a fire, opened the wine, shared stories and laughed until our bellies ached. In the company of friends and lovers, my ruca and I wrapped our arms around each other as one. I couldn’t get the man out of my head though, I kept hearing his voice: “I want a dog like that.” What he meant to say was that he wanted a companion: a tiny creature who would snuggle beside his chest when he slept; the non-judgmental and unconventional love that a pet brings to their master. After all, isn’t companionship one of life’s richest treasures that everyone wants in some way or form?