By Amy Palumbo LeClaire
It wasn’t Lincoln’s first time at the college though, all things considered, it just might be his last. The two of us, Dog and Dog Mom, got a jump on Providence College “holiday break” traffic, heading south on Route 146 on a Monday afternoon, rather than battle the more hectic Thanksgiving Eve drivers. One of my son’s classes was cancelled, allowing us to capitalize on road cheer.
The first half of the drive is flawless. Lincoln, unaware of the destination, sits politely in the backseat, admiring a window view that affirms a genius decision. My gas tank is full, road rage null, and deadlines have been met. Visions of holiday projects dance through my head while I sail forward and pass cars with an assured smile.
We approach the Admiral Street exit. My gaze settles on the State Offices sign to confirm the easiest route to Huxley Gate. One wrong turn will leave us navigating city side roads with the aid of the British lady, a derail which sends Lincoln off of his dog rocker. He doesn’t appreciate being lost anymore than I do.
I turn the music down to concentrate. Lincoln notes the change. He looks at me, then out the window, and inspects the scene with the careful eyes of a state trooper. He stares down the pedestrians, storefronts, apartment porches, and traffic lights. I activate the back window to heighten his experience and allow him to sniff the city air with his head out. A parallel driver chuckles at him. She’s laughing with you not at you, I let him know (Lincoln is sensitive).
We arrive peacefully at Huxley Gate. The security guard, as one might expect, recognizes us. She gives me a wink and gestures that I make the right turn onto campus while Lincoln, now fully aware, paces from window to window. The buildings! The backpacks! The Friars!
In one svelte moment, it all registers in his dog mind.
We park in the circular area in front of McDermott Hall. The college vibe is mellow on this particular Monday. Only a few students pass us by, heads down, while en route to class. The air is bleak, coated with the raw scent of a New England November. A scatter of leaves fall over a dirty patch of snow, messing with an otherwise stately landscape. Ben is still at class.
I look at Lincoln, he at me, and a split decision is made, one I now question.
I hop out of the driver’s side, grab his leash, and let the dog loose for a few timed minutes. Nose to ground; he romps happily along the wet ground flanking the building. For fear that he will lose the generous privileges given him, Lincoln always comes when I call him. Deep in his subconscious, he must sense that he’s got it too good to stray.
There’s always a first.
He snaps to my command and sits at my feet. I could leave him in the car to wait and wonder (and whimper) but his compliant behavior coaxes me, instead, to reward the pedigree.
“We’re going in to see brother,” I say, and he smiles up at me with an actor’s grin. Great idea! We’ll wait patiently outside of his dorm room for him to return from class! A student exits the dormitory building, offers Lincoln a rub behind the ears, and holds the door open for us, as though to endorse the decision. The rest is a blur.
A sudden (nearly eight-year-old) greyhound, he dashes up the first flight of stairs at record speed. A penny for his thoughts spells one word.
There are four flights of stairs leading to the dorm’s peak. Ben’s room is located on the third floor. Lincoln—because he’s a dog—is oblivious to the math involved. Furthermore, five days of rigorous cardio training are no match for my largest male of the litter. I can’t catch up with him. I climb and pant and palm my student-parent heart. The faint holler of his name escapes my chest. Lincoln. Would I be the flaky mother who lost her dog at McDermott Hall and had to pay a fine? The stakes were high. Lincoln could be racing along the hallways of floor two, three, or four by now. He could be anywhere. I wipe a thin layer of sweat from my brow—and think. Lincoln knows he has it too good to leave your side. Wait at the foyer between floors one and two. He’ll come back to you when he realizes you’re gone.
Knowledge of my dog’s personality is power. Lincoln!! He appears suddenly, his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth to conclude a clever trick. Together we make our way to the third floor hallway. His unexpected arrival woos young college men. They play soft soccer with him. They wrestle. They dribble. Then one player invites him to his dorm room! Oh, I’m not sure. I hesitate. But Lincoln, now a college-bro, has attached himself to the young man’s hip and moved in. I follow the boys with trepidation.
Let me say this. Amongst a mass of cans, snack packages, dirty laundry, books, bottles and posters, one more item - be it a living thing - fails to compromise the integrity of this young scholar’s room. Lincoln, now holding a dirty sock in his mouth like a dead fish, fits right in. He collapses on the lap of his new roomie and looks up at me as though to say, “We’re hanging out.”
My phone flashes.
“Hey, just finished class. Are you here?”
“Actually, I made good time… um, one more thing, Lincoln is with me. We’re up on your floor.”
The potential disasters of Lincoln (along with the actual ones) settle cruelly in the pause between us.
“You brought Lincoln up??”
“You know him. He needed to socialize.”
There was nothing more to say.