Everything in its right place

There’s something almost peculiar about a dog’s belongings and how they fit into our world, our world being something different than a hound’s couch-level gaze, we tend to think. We organize things in a specific way—pillows and sheets in the linen closet, spoons in the silverware drawer—but that doesn’t matter much, does it? An object’s proper place is right where it is at any given moment, right where it’s meant to be. Our dog, Forrest, likes to cart his stuffed cheeseburger around the living room and leave it in unexpected spaces, chewing it mindlessly and squeaking monotone melody. He wouldn’t say to his friends, oh, yes, we picked that up on our last trip to Boston, and isn’t it just the funniest thing? A cheeseburger, lodged between the bookshelf and the wall! It’s as natural as anything else.

On Newbury Street, replete with postcard brownstones and niche bourgeois retailers, my fiancée and I walked hand in hand through another gentle rain. It seems like it’s always raining on Newbury Street, but I’ve only been there twice. Bridget and I were in Boston again this summer, caught in the scorching heat wave of July 2019, and we decided to retrace our steps from the last trip together in 2018. She’d lived in this city for three years, almost until the moment we’d met in Cleveland in the summer of 2017; she had memories to plumb here, places we could revisit and turn around in our newly coupled eye. She used to take a barre class over there, she said, and she met her friend at Stephanie’s for drinks. It was all still new to me. We stopped into Stephanie’s for drinks.

She and I arrived on Newbury Street again by directing the driver to The Fish & Bone, a sort of upscale neighborhood pet store. The squeaking cheeseburger that rests on Forrest’s bed or on the living stairs or sometimes beneath our writing desk was originally, in its first form, found in the folds of other toys in the shop: stuffed slices of pizza and plush bottles of beer and great tug-of-war rope threaded in Patriots colors. We passed on the Boston sports stuff and decided to go with something Forrest could appreciate: the neat roundness of what looked like cooked meat. An all-beef patty, lettuce, cheese, tomato in cartoonish brown, green, yellow, red. (Squeak.) For us, it was a story.

The same thing happened on our first trip to Boston together, and this was where we’d drawn the idea to return to the good old Fish & Bone for a souvenir. Before we came here together in 2018, hand in hand, neither of us had visited the small pet store on Newbury Street. Without the dog, without an “us,” we’d just as easily have walked on to the next store or a little coffee shop with chairs in the windows.

I can imagine Bridget walking around her Boston and thinking about the past and the future as she passed The Fish & Bone. Maybe the cheeseburger was already in stock, waiting, expecting. (Was the store even there? Had we willed it into existence?)

By the time we’d fallen in love and adopted the dog and booked a flight to Boston, Newbury Street was a place fixed neatly in her past—the barre classes, drinks at Stephanie’s, the lovely brownstones—and so we took a morning and packed its neighborly charm into our sight-seeing plans. She wanted to share this with me. The pet store was not part of the plan.

We walked into The Fish & Bone and found our dog a colorful collar. We’d only adopted him two months earlier. He needed a new collar, something befitting the good boy and conveying a message of style, panache. The choices at the well-kept pet boutique seemed endless, and we settled on a blue collar ringed with alternating anchors and life preservers and seagulls. A seaworthy collar for a dog who’d sailed into our world, our world being one that occasionally included bracing jaunts along Lake Erie and, certainly, dog toys behind the bookshelves. Uncanny objects, these dog toys, telling us about who we are and where things belong. They seem free of context, but they’re riddled with the stuff.

We’ll be back to Boston—oh, sure. We’ve got other plans on the calendar at the moment—things like other people’s weddings and our own wedding, one we’ve planned with meticulous dog-referencing details—but we’ll make a third trek to Boston before too long. Why not, with all that’s got us this far?

We collect so many things—the sheets, the spoons—but only a precious few have the power to stitch together an explanation of how we got here. And yet if we look closer, each object animates a lifetime.

We wouldn’t have bought this squeaking cheeseburger and crammed it into my carry-on luggage if we hadn’t wandered curiously into The Fish & Bone on a rainy morning in Boston; we wouldn’t have ended up in the pet store if we hadn’t adopted a dog in the first place and spent our waking hours talking about how much fun it is to live with him; we wouldn’t have come to Boston with such intent if Bridget hadn’t written a chapter of her life there and met friends who make the city another home; we wouldn’t have fallen endlessly in love with the brindle-coated beast if we hadn’t pretty much impulsively adopted him in the early days of a bright, romantic relationship in Cleveland, Ohio. And we wouldn’t have done all that if Bridget and I hadn’t met each other. Concentric circles spin madly, all the way down. And it’s not just any old cheeseburger that could tell you as much.

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