Neil would come home from school and I would be waiting for him. As soon as he saw me, his face lit up. A smile so big and bright it filled the room and also my heart. He said, "There you are! Right where I left you. Were you a good dog?" I always answered him, "No, I terrorized the cat and blamed him for eating all of the treats. I got into the dirt and tracked it all over the carpet. Then, right before you got home, I dug out all of the folded laundry and rolled in it. " Then Neil laughed and laughed. He laughed in that little kid laugh that was instantly infectious. I always told him about my day, just so I could hear it. It was what I lived for.
He told his mamma on me, with the same enthusiasm as his laughter. She would listen in delight, with her eyes sparking, knowing the truth. She knew how important it was to keep me alive...for him. Things had been hard. His mother was diagnosed with liver cancer because of her many years dealing with industrial cleaners in the housekeeping field. She had recovered, but just barely. She and him had to relocate, because his father decided that life with her was just too hard so he decided to have another family. So she struggles. She manages every day to put food on the table working at just above minimum wage. His mom worked very hard every day not to let Neil see the struggle that was behind her smile. The both of them were dealing with the pain of rejection in their own way. So there was no way she could pass me off into nothing.
I loved all of the fun things that we did together. Neil and I would watch Saturday morning cartoons, while he ate cereal. When his mom had saved enough money for a night out, she would take her son to go out to eat and to a movie. I always got to go "as long as I didn't make too much noise", his mom always said. One day, Neil saw this trick leash that made it look like you were walking an invisible dog on TV. Well, that was right up my alley. He begged and begged his mom to get it for him. On his birthday, she surprised him with it. He was absolutely thrilled. We all had to go to the park that very day, of course. The park dwellers got a kick out of it, especially when Neil unfastened the leash to play fetch with me.
Five years have passed, since then. Things are better... At least they are supposed to be. I am starting to feel rather neglected these days; with Neil having all of his friends coming over, his video games, and his cell phone time. He has girls over now. All he wants to do is shove his tongue down their throats and try to cop a feel. With all of that, he barely notices me anymore. I try to talk to him when he gets home from school, my tail wagging frantically. But he only stares at me like a faded memory. I try to sit with him and his friends, only to feel ignored. He is too embarrassed to be seen with his dumb old imaginary friend. He has got to be 'cool' in front of his friends, he tells me silently. So, I go. I become part of his room, a piece of his early existence. I guess I will be there when he needs me. If that ever happens...