Grace Yannotta

If I Can’t Have You

I sit with my back against the metal bars, my legs fully grown but still retaining some of that adolescent thickness. They, suffice to say, require some kind of cramping, as I do not want to disturb Finn. I am fifteen years old. Finn looks at me with sunken eyes from under that massive white cone.

I give him his space.

I’m not a self-centered individual but I am prone to bouts of tunnel-vision. This summer has been plagued with a ridiculous amount of introspective angst — I’m drowning myself in my own writing, losing myself in novels, to try to muster the feeling that comes with being fifteen and friendless as opposed to really…doing anything about it.

Standard fifteen-year-old behavior from a standard fifteen-year-old. Finn doesn’t really know that, though, nor does he care.

(In planning this narrative, I was hoping to not have to describe Finn in any sort of physical way. I want you to picture your dog. Whoever’s special to your heart. But it is worth noting, he has these massive, wide-spaced eyes. Alien dog. Sweet dog. Scared dog. ASPCA would eat him up.)

Here’s what I know. Finn is our foster dog. Finn was born a year ago, maybe less, on some coastal farm. He has a mass of brothers and sisters, that might be his uncles or his parents or his cousins. We met when he was crusted and dirty and shaking, fresh off some rusty rescue truck. I held his collar as we struggled on the concrete of my back patio, my mother trying to use the hose and the flea shampoo to clean him up. He craned his neck into his bony shoulders and tried to shrink his way out of it. I held on tight.

Finn did not know how to enter a doorway. Finn did not know how to climb steps. Finn had never been to a vet before. I do not know much either — empathy, maybe. Consideration, a lot. We’ll stop it there.

Summer has turned into me accompanying Finn to every appointment, every foster outing, being the assigned body to hold him during his inevitable panic at being surrounded by strangers. Since he sat in our back seat and pushed his shy little nose forward, he’s had a soft spot for me of all people. Not my easy, patient mother. Me. Which is an interesting — if debatable — choice of action.

Hence the situation. Spending a week of my summertime, ever important, in a playpen with Finn himself, drugged up and lolling, mourning the loss of his testicles as well as his freedom, robbed of the latter by a white cone. He obsesses, obsesses, obsesses over nibbling anything he can, which includes his own stitches. I’m stuck. My phone blares, in that distinctive-smartphone-speaker-manner, Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You.

Finn blinks at me, eyes drooping. I smile. He drops his sleepy cone head onto my ankle and falls asleep. I pick up my book again. I feel something, a little blossom, in my chest. A lesson. I’m learning.

So, hours later, when my mother prepares to sleep on the couch to watch him in his little pen despite having work the next morning, I volunteer. I bring down my pillow and a couple of books. I fold myself under a blanket and watch him.

Finn whines. Finn watches me too.

And I swear to God, he sees me, that next morning, as the sun rises through the sheer curtains of our living room. He looks at me and he sees me. Something I could be. Something worth it. I peel myself off the couch as he yelps and jumps in his pen. I sit down in there too. He rests his head on my leg, the way he likes to, and I put Yvonne Elliman on my phone yet again, and somehow I elect to devote myself to this emotionally-challenged, socially-stunted, alien-looking mess. I see him too.

(Five months later, he’ll get sick. Really sick. We’ll realize he’s the victim of a whacked-out sensitive stomach and I’ll wake myself up every two hours to insert water into his mouth with a children’s medicine injector. Six months later, he’ll be decently-social enough to welcome potential adopters. Seven months later, there’ll be a couple interested, and despite Finn curled around my side the entire time the visit goes swimmingly. I will pretend I am happy about it. I am, deep down, because I love him more than I love myself. Somewhat difficult for my tunnel-visioned self to admit. Two weeks after that, my family will surrender and realize we — I — cannot see him with anyone else. I had woken up with him tucked next to me for too many months to let him go now. And still, a year and a half after this vignette, I will construct it into words as Finn’s head lays on my knee, where it has always been and will continue to be. I will play Yvonne Elliman through the tinny speakers on my phone, and Finn will snore. I will smile.)


Grace Yannotta will start her freshman year at UNC this fall, double majoring in English and Political Science. She has work published or forthcoming in Pider Mag, Night Music Journal, Entropy, Rabid Oak, and Rise Up Review, among others. You can find her on Twitter @lgyanno.