emily, on her way to tsfat. winter 2007.
i picked emily because she was the only dog at the shelter in harlem who was not barking and jumping up and down when we walked through the room of cages. she was the only dog who looked pathetic, as if nobody would ever pick her, as if she didn't expect anyone would even want her. it was almost like she'd given up hope of being chosen. that was what made me decide i had to have her--even after adam offered to go to another shelter or to come back another day.
"no--this is the one," i said. the shelter worker took her out of the cage on a leash and we brought her to the yard out back. adam walked her around but i was a bit nervous. i'd never had a dog before.
now, i knew what it was like to be picked last for teams in gym class. i knew what it was like to have the other kids not think that you were a loser per se, but to be aware that just because you might make the literature gymnastics team because you could balance shakespeare and milton, while bouncing chaucer around, didn't mean that you could do the same with a dodge ball. and the truth is, i couldn't.
at some point in high school, probably in eleventh or twelfth grade when i had finally realized that i was part of a really great group of friends and i could settle in to being me, i chose volleyball for my gym class instead of modern dance (which was probably a relief to anyone who had to bear witness to my eternally ungraceful self attempting to do plies and back attitudes and random leaps across the floor in time to mr. goring's tribal drumbeats.) it was possibly in my second or third cycle of volleyball that i was chosen as a team captain. finally, i felt, i had the power to make some sort of a difference. i didn't choose the jocks for my team. i chose the people i trusted, the people i knew would make good teammates, the people i knew i could count on. i chose my friends, all of whom were pubbies (we spent our free time in the publications' office, putting together the various newspapers and magazines that circulated within our school,) and all whom i could depend on. the jocks just sort of stood on the sidelines, waiting to be picked, loudly sucking their teeth when they finally knew what it felt like to be picked last.
i wore the bruises and welts on my arms with pride. i spent our class tournaments smiling as we lost game after game. the sense of pride in our sportsmanship, the sense of joy in our lack of accomplishment, the sense of overwhelming love i felt for my teammates--my friends--was just unreal. my lack of competitiveness was probably just as unreal. playing well was important, but having fun was more important. and even more important than that, was knowing that the people on my team were picked first because to me, they should have been first all along.
when i picked emily, i knew she had to be mine. she was the real underdog. she wasn't the floppy-eared cocker spaniel who some doe-eyed family would adopt based on the cute factor. she was the dog i was meant to have, the dog who gave me the chance once again to not leave her standing alone at the side of the gym while the popular kids got picked first.
for twelve years, emily gave me that gift of remembering what is important in choosing friends. i look back fondly over my sweet puppy's full life, and i thank her for all of the memories, the love, and for allowing me to choose her for my team.