When I was eighteen years old, my wisdom teeth were pulled.
It was a fairly painless procedure in and of itself, as I was unconscious at the time of its occurrence. The maxillofacial surgeon’s assistant sat me in a chair and put a mask over my face. She told me that the gas worked fast and that I should try to breathe normally, then she left the room. Immediately, I began pulling the deepest and fastest breaths I could muster. I had never gone under anesthesia before, and I wanted to suck the biggest narcotic high off this rare opportunity that I possibly could. After a few deep pulls, the assistant poked her head around the door frame and said, “Um, I haven’t actually turned the gas on yet. Just relax.” My cheeks flushed briefly.
When the gas was finally turned on, the doctor began prepping my arm for an intravenous line and told me to begin counting down from one hundred. I remember him clearly saying the words, “You’re going to feel a bit like you’re on the planet Mars,” because that’s the visual which carried me off to the land of Nod before my count managed to descend past eighty-three (the year of my birth).
I came awake inside my mind while the procedure was coming to its conclusion. I could hear the tink tink of metal instruments tapping the enamel of my teeth, no doubt the final tooth being ripped clear from its bed of pink, fleshy gum. I was unable to physically move, even to open my eyes, which was in retrospect a blessing. I don’t know how I would have reacted to seeing the dripping, bloody fang held aloft in the shining steel jaws of a surgical tool. I was placed on a gurney and my father drove me home soon after, where I was put to bed.
The rest of that day was a haze. I would come to long enough to poke my face and note the feeling which was, little by little, returning to my jaw, poke the new plastic stitches at the rear of my mouth with my tongue, spit some blood into a piece of tissue, check the time and if the clock told me to do so pop another pair of Tylenol 3s or a penicillin tablet or both, and then pass out again.
The next day I was home alone, my parents off at work and my sister off at classes. At the house with me was our dog, Cody, who was going on four years old. We also had a cat, Figaro. “Figgy” was a tough old barn cat, and had seen two dogs come and go in his time. We didn’t have much luck in keeping a dog past seven years (a heart condition claimed Daisy, a big Newfie, and cancer got our yellow lab named Honey), but Figgy made it past the age of eighteen. Unfortunately, even tough barn cats have to cash in their chips eventually, and that winter we had the old man put down.
We lived out in the country and we didn’t have fences around our house, so Cody took to wandering more as he grew up. He would start by sniffing tentatively at the far edges of the yard, hesitating at the slightest whiff of a strange neighbour-dog, or of the myriad of deer, porcupines, rabbits, bears and assorted wildlife that would stalk and forage through the trails beyond the treeline. But as he grew older and bolder, he would venture deeper into the forest, curiously seeking out these strange scents and their elusive owners.
In the last year, it was getting to the point where Cody would disappear for over an hour, and you would have to call his name from the back porch which overlooked the lawn and the vegetable garden. Myself or my sister or my parents would call and call and eventually hear the rustling of bushes, the crackling of brittle dead-fall deep in the woods, coming closer, until the little, black, four-legged torpedo would shoot out from a thicket of verge and bolt across the grass to stand panting at our side. He would often be covered in all kinds of burrs, twigs and other bits of undergrowth.
Once or twice he came back with the smell of a skunk on him, and twice he came home with porcupine quills in his nose. Honey got it once too. She only needed the one occurrence to learn better. Everyone who owns a dog and lives in the country no doubt knows what a joy it is having to remove those awful things from your poor dog’s face. It was usually my mom who had the pleasure, and me and my sister would sit on either side of the dog, holding him still and petting his shoulders and trying to keep him calm as he whimpered and cried at the pain of the little, barbed horrors being yanked out with much protest, a testament to their fierce efficacy.
The day after my teeth were pulled, I was in much better shape. My face had regained all feeling, the stitches were admittedly a bit sore, but the doctor had given me plenty of T3s and I was under orders to take two every four hours to help with that. I also had penicillin caps which I was supposed to take every eight hours. So needless to say, the entire first part of the day was spent drifting in and out of consciousness, feeling drowsy from the pills and taking naps while watching movies on the small television set at the foot of my bed.
In this haze, I can’t be absolutely sure at what time I let Cody out of the house so he could get some air and do his bathroom business, though I later reckoned it to be around eleven a.m. I recall coming to from my latest nap and hearing my parents return home from work. I dragged myself out of the room dressed in pajamas and rubbing my eyes. They asked me how I was feeling, and then asked me where Cody was.
It hit me then that I had not even thought about Cody all afternoon. Looking at the clock, I quickly calculated how many hours it was since I let him out, and immediately felt a rush of cold panic. Mental fog be damned, I threw on my winter coat and boots, and still clad in PJs I went outside to call out his name. I walked around the house and called his name into the darkening sky, as my parents unloaded groceries and looked on, concerned.
My mother joined me in my efforts once the car was unloaded. She walked along the edge of our long driveway to the road, calling over and over again. I went in the other direction, up past my father’s work shed. I went past the shelter which kept our wood pile dry through the long, cold winter. I trudged through the deepening snow through the rows of young red pines my parents planted when the house was under construction and I was still a baby.
I was trying to follow tracks in the snow. Cody’s prints were easy to identify, and there was no fresh snow to cover them. However, as I went deeper into the forest the tracks began to cross paths with others, and I began to lose the direction in which they headed. Moreover, the sun was now almost completely gone, and though my eyes were adjusting well with the darkness it was becoming difficult to keep my orientation.
I can’t say how long I was out in the woods, or when exactly I stopped being able to hear my mother’s voice calling from the driveway. I don’t know when exactly I lost Cody’s trail completely, or when I finally realized that I was lost. I only remember feeling despair. I felt anger at myself for being negligent and careless, for allowing this to happen. I cursed myself and cursed the cold an cursed the dog’s name for putting me through this. I thought about Cody having looped around and already being back at the house, having taken some strange roundabout path along the riverbank. I saw my mother scolding him upon his return and putting him inside, and I saw Cody tucking his tail and skulking about, knowing he’d done the thing he wasn’t supposed to. I thought about how angry and delighted I would be to get back to the house and see him safe and sound, and I swore that I would never let something like this ever happen again.
Not knowing where exactly I was, I focused on the sound of running water. A stream or a river was not far away, and I sought it out. I knew enough about the rivers which carved their way through the forest in our area to know that at some point roads and rivers met, and considering I had ventured in a general northern direction away from the house, if I found a river and followed it downstream, eventually it would lead me to a road.
My theory, in due time, came to fruition. I found the river and followed its course, and within a while I came to a bridge, and signs identifying Mitchell Road. I didn’t exactly know where Mitchell was in relation to my road, but again using the river I made an educated guess at which direction I should walk.
A short while walking down Mitchell, I saw the headlights of my father’s truck. He set out from the house to patrol the back roads when I didn’t come back, and the look of relief on his face when he saw me unharmed was heart-warming in retrospect. I say in retrospect, because at the time I was still too lost in despair and desperate to feel any sense of comfort or reassurance. I would not feel at ease with the world until I was back home with my dog.
My father told me that Cody hadn’t come back to the house, but maybe he would be there by the time we returned. He wasn’t.
I ate my dinner in silence. They told me it would be at least a couple of days before I was able to eat solid foods, but my gums were healing nicely and no infection had taken hold, so I tucked into pork chops and mashed potatoes with the rest of my family, who suggested that tomorrow we print up signs to put around the neighbourhood.
“We’ll call around to the neighbours tomorrow,” my dad said.
“Everyone around here knows what Cody looks like, and he’s wearing his collar,” my mom said.
“He always comes back,” my sister said.
I asked to borrow the car, but my mom said it wasn’t safe for me to drive while I was doped up on T3s, so I asked her to drive me into town to the coffee shop.
My friends and I always met up and hung out at the Robin’s Donuts at the bottom of the hill at the very north end of the city, which was the neighbourhood in which most of us had grown up and gone to school. I was dropped off at Robin’s and saw a gaggle of familiar faces sitting around the usual table. I bought a small coffee and sat down beside my friend, Kaj.
Kaj asked how I was doing. He said that I looked pretty awful.
I asked him for a cigarette. The maxillofacial surgeon told me that smoking after getting teeth pulled was a bad idea because it raised the risk of infection, and the development of what he called “deep pockets”. I didn’t really care about pockets or infections, I needed a smoke.
I told my friends that Cody had run away, and they gave me their support as best they could. They reassured me that he would come home, or at least have fun living with a pack of wolves somewhere. I don’t remember crying. I only recall feeling numb.
Cody never came back. We put up posters on telephone poles and road signs. We called neighbours and went door to door. Three or four times we would receive a call from someone up the road who said they saw our dog wandering on the edge of their property, and we would pile into the car to go investigate, but nobody in the family ever saw Cody in the flesh again.
A psychic called one afternoon. I answered, and the woman on the other end of the line introduced herself as Madame Lauren and said she saw my poster and wanted to help me find my dog. She told me Cody was alive. She told me she saw a trapper in the area. My father was a fur-trapper, but I decided not to share this information with the Madame. She told me there was a cougar in the area, but she prefaced this announcement by encouraging me not to be alarmed. She told me there was wolf – no, perhaps a fox. This went on for a while until I told Madame Lauren that she was upsetting me and to never call my number again.
Cody was my dog. The cat would always sleep in my sister’s room, but me and Cody were tight like brothers. I felt an immense loss when he disappeared, and I will always feel responsible for it. I wonder about what became of him, and hope that he in one fashion or another lived a long and full life.
They say “if you love someone, let them go”. I have a hard time reconciling such a philosophy, because sometimes they don’t come back.