Graham Trail
The Dogs of Our Youth

    The rumors are not true. No one soaked the dogs in gasoline and set them alight to run burning through the village. No one distributed poisoned food to kill them silently. No, what happened was a local man had had enough, and out of malice or out of pity, killed the dogs with his shotgun, loaded the bodies into his truck, and then threw them, one by one, into the sea.

    I want to tell you about the dogs we had growing up. Keep in mind, we had these dogs the way the dogs themselves had fleas— they jumped between us and bit our flesh, and there were always too many of them, until they were gone. We learned early on that to keep the dogs away you didn't actually have to throw anything at them— if you stooped down and pretended to pick up a rock they'd back away. They were scabrous animals, continuously lapping at the oozing pustules that covered their bodies, often joined at the crotch into awkward two-thirds Cerberuses, heads snapping at each other, legs pulling opposite directions, tails in a tangle.

    See us there, the boys of the village, growing up in American Samoa, 1991. See us there, the boys of the village, learning about sex and splattered in mud and splashed with body paint, proudly adorned with fake tattoos bought at the convenience store down the street, the store owned by the man who drove Santa through the village every Christmas in the back of his pickup truck. Like the dogs, we moved in a pack, we organized ourselves around mercurial alliances and rivalries, and we snarled and played through the village as if it were ours.

    And when the dogs were gone, we lost some part of ourselves. Without the example of the pack roaming through town, or perhaps without the threat of running into a group of strays down some side-street, we drifted apart. Rivalries cemented and affections held. Names became clear: Taio'o, Johnny-boy, Graham. We each learned about and each began to proudly polish the singular first person: I, me, mine: my body and my blue skies, my memories, and my home.