I had been rummaging through the hall closet looking for my high-school senior year book, deciding if I should attend the reunion. The last one I went to, I found out my old flame had married Stinky Jimenez. In a way I wanted to go to see if they were still together; if they had split up, I might make a run at her, but then, any woman who would marry Stinky Jimenez would be the epitome of damaged goods. My old checkerboard set fell from a shelf and Rex buzzed in like a scud missile to investigate.
“It’s a checkerboard, Rex. Here let me show you.”
I sat up the board and checkers on the coffee table. “The game, Rex, is to hop over your opponent’s checkers and capture them. First one with no checkers loses.” I put his paw on a red checker and moved it forward.
“See? Now I can capture your checker. My move.” I moved one of mine and captured one of his. Evidently he picked up one the idea, even though he is colorblind and probably could not grasp the abstract idea of Checkers. He moved one of his with his paw.
“Hey! How did you do that? How did you get one of yours into position to take one of mine??? My God, you captured one of mine. Tied, one to one. Your move again, since you just got one of mine.”
Rex wagged his tail at his victory, and moved a checker. I hopped his and took it. He put his paw on one of his and plowed through one of mine, since he does not have opposable thumbs to pick up a checker and hop mine. Secretly, I felt he enjoyed plowing through mine. (I know I would.)
This was embarrassing—playing your dog and losing two checkers. I chalked it up to beginner’s luck.
I moved one of mine; he moved one of his. I hopped his and took it. Rex studied the board and began to wag his tail. I looked down in amazement: he plowed through two more of mine.
“HOW DID YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THAT??? YOU’RE A DOG, FOR CRIPE’S SAKE!!!”
Rex wagged his tail like a Richter scale during a 9.0. I took several moments to regain my composure and study my next move. Perhaps Rex felt I was stalling, because he kept looking at the clock on the wall.
“WILL YOU STOP LOOKING AT THE CLOCK??? YOU CAN’T EVEN TELL TME!!! STOP IT! JUST KNOCK IT OFF!!” After several seconds of tail wagging, he settled down.
After all, it had been a while since I had played checkers. Maybe I was a little rusty. Maybe Rex had seen a Checkers Championship on late-night TV and had been practicing when I was at work. I made my next move . . . oh-oh. Rex plowed a zig-zag through three of mine, and started to whimper in uncontrollable glee.
“FINE!! That’s it. I AM NOT GOING TO GIVE UP ANOTHER CHECKER TO A DOG!!!”
I slammed my arm down on the checker set, sending the board and checkers flying across the room. I got up, stormed through the kitchen and plopped down in the hammock on the back porch. I was going to assume the fetal position, but remembered what my last therapist advised: embrace the emotional pain . . . embrace the emotional pain. I stretched out and put my hands behind my head, as though everything was just fine. My . . . dog . . . just beat me . . . at CHECKERS!!! I quietly seethed.
After a few minutes, I heard the clicking of nails on the kitchen linoleum and the “pop” of his doggy door flap. I closed my eyes. He hopped up on the hammock. I was not going to open my eyes to see him give me a victorious look.
He got up on my chest. I could sense he was just inches from my face. I could feel the faint wisps of his tail as he started to slowly wag. He kept it up. We both knew he was going to keep it up until I looked at him. I grinded my molars, telling myself not to look . . . not to look.
Finally I heard the dog equivalent of “patooie” and something hit me in the face. He jumped off me and ran back into the house. I slowly opened my eyes and saw a checker—one of mine—lying on my chest. I made a mental note to call my therapist and slowly assumed the fetal position. It felt like going home again.