The path to becoming a writer has been — and still is — filled with surprises, twists and turns, and entirely new cities. In 2007, my wife, Heron, and I moved to Detroit for her work, but we picked the city together because I thought it would serve for great writing experiences. Well, I could probably write a whole book about my experience in Detroit — fights in the YMCA, wandering around Detroit and rotting buildings, my downstairs neighbors who were victims of the languishing economy, my search for work and fulfillment during the beginning of The Great Recession — and I’m thankful for those memories. In the end, though, the greatest thing that came out of Detroit was Hendrix.
The story I’m about to tell you is probably not the Hendrix you were envisioning. In fact, the Hendrix I’m talking about isn’t even human. It’s my dog. And he’s traveled the country with my wife and me several times, sticking his head out of the car as we drove through West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and into California. Or the times we drove back and forth from Detroit to Florida — through the hills in West Virginia and the flat lands of Ohio. He’s been with us through rejection and the first couple months of freelancing; he’s been there in the hottest days in Miami when we didn’t have air conditioning; he’s been there during our wedding planning; he’s been there for the last six years, serving as my writing buddy.
When I first met Hendrix, Heron and I were living in the top floor of a house in between Royal Oak and Ferndale in Metro Detroit. We had a little backyard that we shared with the downstairs neighbors. I had just moved to Michigan after traveling in Europe for two months, and I was looking for work. It was tough. So one day to get a break, I drove into Downtown Detroit and stopped at the Michigan Humane Society.
For some reason, I thought getting a cat would make Heron happy. She had grown up with cats, and I could tell she missed home in Florida. I wanted to get her a present to make her feel more at home. So I decided on a cat — even though I was allergic to cats.
So I walked inside the pound, and there were a bunch of people standing around the reception area. There was a woman, and her three-year old boy was standing next to her. On the counter of the reception area, she had placed a pit bull puppy. Man, it was the cutest thing you would ever see in the world, and I knew, then, that a puppy would be the thing that made Heron the happiest. I changed my mind on this quickly.
What I learned was that the woman at the counter was trying to give the puppy up for adoption. But what they were telling her at the desk was that they can’t accept pit bulls. I deduced that the dog would be put down if it was turned into the pound.
“Are you giving the dog away?” I asked.
The woman looked at me and then down at her son. “Trying to. You interested?”
“How does it work here?” I looked down at the young kid, and he looked up at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen. It was worse than the puppy.
“Twenty dollars and he’s all yours.”
“Let me think about it,” I said. “I probably will take him. I will let you know.”
Something about her asking for money weirded me out. So I sat down on the chair and watched the puppy playing with the boy. The boy’s shorts were too big for him, and he seemed to trip over them when we walked.
That’s when the door burst open to the pound, and I saw something that I would never forget. A woman was holding a leash, and on the end of that leash, there was a dog who ran right towards me and jumped in my arms. His tail was wagging; his tongue was hanging out; and he gave me a kiss. He jumped off my lap, and then he rolled over and presented his belly for a rubbing. I rubbed his belly, and when I stopped, he popped up and went to say hello to everyone else in the place.
I talked to the lady with the dog, and she was saying that she had to drop him off for adoption. She said she was moving out of town, and she had to give him away. She felt awful about it.
“You want him?” she asked.
“So you’re just leaving,” I asked, “that’s why you’re getting rid of him?”
“He’s mostly been in the basement. Never had any attention.”
I looked down at the dog — whose name was Ed — and I swear to god he was smiling at me. A freaking smile.
“How much?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “I would have to pay to drop him off here.”
Suddenly I had the dog’s leash in my hands, and I had a dog. I brought him outside, and his tail was wagging like crazy, and I put him inside my Buick LeSabre. And I was about to drive away when I remembered the kid and the pit bull.
They were standing outside with the pit bull puppy. The kid was crying.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the mom. “I can’t take your dog.”
That’s when the strangest thing happened. The little boy reached back his hand, and what seemed to take place in slow motion, he punched me in the leg. A little kid, seriously, punched me in the leg. He was crying.
“I hate you,” he said. “I want puppy. I want puppy.”
I always felt bad about not taking that puppy. I always felt bad for that kid. But there was something else going on there — what type of kid knows how to punch at that age? — and I couldn’t have more than one dog. I wish I could adopt them all and give them all good homes.
I drove away with Hendrix, still called Ed at the time, in my Buick Lesabre. I don’t know if it’s fate; I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence; but sometimes I think the whole reason I was in Detroit, besides learning some hard lessons about life and America, was Hendrix. I never saw it coming.