Most of my days are spent trying to strangle a story into submission by a certain deadline.
Any leftover time is spent wandering around and collecting scraps of information and pieces of conversations, hoping that one day, one of them might bloom into a story.
The other day, a chance remark from years ago popped up out of nowhere. The memory was so vivid I wondered why it hadn’t resurfaced earlier.
It was over a decade ago, midmorning, and I was ready for a break. I wandered down the street to a city park sprinkled with memorials honoring local veterans.
With the exception of an old man, I had the place to myself. The old fella looked around a while, then sat on one of the nice park benches. I decided to wander by, offer a “hello” and see if he’d bite.
He didn’t speak but he quit mumbling, so I asked if I could sit on the bench with him for a while. He didn’t say “No,” so I did.
After a long stretch of silence, I finally asked how he was doing.
The old man didn’t look at me. He just continued to stare straight ahead. Then he said, “My dog is broke.”
He didn’t say his dog was injured or sick.
His dog was broke.
He started talking. He told me about his dog, said it was over fifteen years old and he’d picked it up as a stray puppy. In minutes I knew the dog’s name, what it looked like and where he found it.
He said he raised it “as good as I could,” and told me how that stray puppy became his best friend. He talked about a few people he’d known that didn’t treat him as well as that dog did.
The dog and the man grew older together, and time took its toll on both.
The man wasn’t without resources. He said he was collecting Social Security and a small military pension. When the dog got sick, the man took it to a vet, who diagnosed advanced cancer and offered treatment options that would only delay a bad outcome.
The man decided to take the dog home and nurse it and love it as well as he could.
When he said, “It ain’t gettin’ better,” I knew the dog's final breath was near.
It was a very personal situation and one I didn’t want to share with readers yet, so after a few more minutes I wished the man well and walked away.
I hadn’t thought about that old man again until a day or so ago when the words “My dog is broke” popped into my mind.
I figured if the phrase had my attention, it deserved some of my time, too, and I thought that whole situation over again.
I finally realized that the old man decided to talk to me because he had no one else to share his feelings with.
And I realized that when he said, “My dog is broke,” he was really saying “My heart is broken.”
I was too dumb or hurried to offer a few words of comfort. Instead, I walked away.
After replaying that memory I grabbed a sticky note, wrote “Broke Dog” on it, and stuck it to my computer monitor.
I hope it will remind me that we all have a “broke” piece in us that can only be eased for a moment or two by someone else.
Maybe even a total stranger.
Alex McRae is a writer and ghostwriter and author of There Ain’t No Gentle Cycle on the Washing Machine of Love. He can be reached at: email@example.com .