Some years ago, after both of my parents realized their marriage was destined for ruin but before they chose to call it quits, my father bought my mother a pure-bred Shih Tzu. The floppy little dog was white with black spots, weighed about as much as a half-eaten sandwich, and had enough personality for ten animals twice his size. Someone in my family, I suppose my mom, chose to name him Thor—long before the Marvel adaptation would make the name start to feel cheesy.
Eventually, things got rough for my family. My dad got into some legal trouble, lost his job and our house and my mom saw the out she’d been waiting for. She told us she was taking a job in Connecticut and that the family needed the money, but I was already old enough to see through the charade. Weeks passed before she finally came back for a weekend visit. She spent most of the trip with my younger brother who was still in middle school, and when I got up on Monday morning he was gone too, and so was Thor. Just like that, it was just my father and I—two strong-willed guys that had never gotten along.
My dad had his demons, many of which were arguably born in the service. He was a combat medic in Vietnam, and although he maintained a passion for his country and for helping fellow veterans, he never forgave the Army for whatever it was he saw while he was over there. Maybe he’d always had a thing for drugs and alcohol, or maybe those struggles were born in the conflict he refused to discuss, but back before a stroke took much of what made him himself away, he was a man of emotional extremes. As a kid, I saw only anger and the repercussions of that anger. As an adult, I mostly remember the sadness.
My father, a prominent figure in our small community for employing many of the town’s residents, became a pariah, and as his son I became one through relation. My long-term girlfriend, a motivated young woman from a wealthy family, decided to break things off soon after my mom left. The Hollings family was poison, and although my father was ultimately acquitted of the white-collar crimes he was accused of, by then it didn’t matter. Maybe that’s why my dad took it so hard when he found out my mom had given away the dog. Thor was one of the last relics of a better time gone by.