Gracie was my first and only baby. I still remember the first time that I held her. I worried about not bonding, but the agency told me that many adoptive parents have that fear, and it usually goes well. It was a bit scary because I would be a single dad, with a busy work life. All I have ever wanted to be was a dad, so I flew to Russia and adopted my baby girl.
She was crying and lying in a giant crib. The second that I picked my baby girl up, I knew that I had made the right decision. She stopped crying, looked up at me with those big blue eyes, and I knew that she was my daughter at that moment.
Gracie was a perfect angel until we got on the plane to fly home to New York. We hit a pocket of turbulence, and the poor little thing began screaming at the top of her lungs and crying. I reached into the carry-on and pulled out a stuffed doggy my mother had bought for her. She snuggled the fluffy puppy, which seemed to have magic powers; she was at ease immediately. After we arrived home, I put her in her crib, and she cried until I placed the toy beside her.
Gracie and her puppy quickly became inseparable. The dog would suffer rips and tears as we went on adventures together. We even took the stuffed animal to Coney Island. The only way that I could get my little one on any rides was if I allowed her to bring her puppy. I was disappointed to learn that having the toy with us would limit our ride choices. Despite the disappointment, I did get her on the Ferris wheel, and we enjoyed a few carnival games. I cringed when my baby pretended to feed her doggy a bit of fairy floss. I let my anger get the better of me. I yelled at Gracie when she licked a napkin and wiped the dog’s muzzle. I would later spend my Saturday evening cutting pink and purple bits of sugar out of the stuffed animal’s yellow fur.
When Gracie learned to use a spoon, she would feed her stuffed “doggy”, letting SpaghettiO’s fall on the floor and coating the pooch in red sauce. When I told her that puppies didn’t eat with spoons, Gracie insisted on getting her dog a set of small pet bowls.
I know that many parents would think I went overboard indulging in her fantasies; however, I know how crucial her stuffed animal was to her; it had been with her since the beginning.
Gracie picked out two blue puppy bowls, with little black paw prints on the sides. She insisted I get a tiny leash and collar in a complementary shade of blue. It wasn’t until we went to the machine that makes the little dog tags, that I realized we may have taken this stuffed animal thing too far. Something about attempting to name this tiny ball of stuffing wrapped in polyester made me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I told her how to spell “Fred” and that is what she wrote on the tag. Before we knew it, we brought Fred home with full puppy supplies, as if he were a real dog.
That night, I sat on the loveseat, and my mind was overwhelmed with guilt. I adopted this girl to give her a great life. She’d spent the first eighteen months of her life in a crib with very little attention. I was ignoring her emotional needs by working long hours. Rent in the city is expensive, even though we lived in a tiny apartment. Gracie’s only four years old, maybe getting a real pet would be best, as it was clear she had a lot of love to give. It must be lonely to be here with a sitter all day. She hadn’t started school yet, and she was an only child. With the coronavirus state of emergency, attending physical classes may not be possible. As Gracie gets older she may be very lonely.
I made myself a pot of coffee and started reading up on caring for exotic pets. It hit me. I would get Gracie a guinea pig. It would happily live in a cage and would be easy to care for.
I was excited to surprise my baby with a new friend. The next morning I woke Gracie. Her hoodie and jeans were laid out on the bed and ready to go. I let her dress herself, unless I have an early morning meeting and we have to go to the sitter’s early. I was wearing my favorite suit and the tie that Gracie chose for me for Fathers’ Day.
My little one grumbled and grabbed her puppy by its tail. I was able to coax her out of bed by promising to get her a chocolate eclair on the way to the sitter’s. When I dropped her off at the sitter’s, she watched TV holding Fred in her arms. She still had bits of the donut on her face.
I found the perfect guinea pig; it was white with black spots and a cute little pink nose. I was sure that Gracie would love her new pet. I chatted with the cashier for a while to try to kill some time to make it seem like I was meeting with the president of the London branch. After about an hour had passed, I hopped in the car to surprise my girl. I took a long way to the sitter’s and enjoyed my favorite rap station.
When I arrived, I found Gracie, holding Fred. He was covered in red paint splotches. I jumped a bit when I saw that. I worried she was hurt. She simply giggled and handed me a piece of torn notebook paper with a big red heart drawn on it. When we got in the car, Gracie saw the cute little creature in the cage. I was hoping to hear her infectious happy giggle, but to my dismay, I listened to my baby girl growling; I looked back and saw Fred jammed up against the cage.
Hoping that she would warm up to the new pet, I carried the cage up the five flights of stairs and set it on a stand in the TV room. I went to the fridge and got some baby carrots in hopes that I could teach Gracie to feed her new friend. I handed her a carrot, went over to the cage, and slid a carrot through the cage’s bars. She just shook her head when I pressed her to try.
Gracie and I sat down to steamed carrots and grilled chicken for supper. At the end of the meal, my baby fed a cooked veggie to her new pet. I was over the moon to see her trying to bond with our new pet. Before I could stop her, she started writing on the side of the cage. When I looked up, she asked me how to spell “snacks,” I spelled it out. We had a new guinea pig, named “Snacks.” I honestly didn’t think much of the unusual name choice. After all, the guinea pig liked his snacks.
At bedtime, my baby took the cage into her room and placed it gently on her dresser. I was thrilled to see that my plan was working. As my little one fell asleep, I slid the dog out of her arms and closed the door. I decided to tell her that her doggy ran away. I would place him in my storage unit, and when she got older, she could have him as a keepsake. I put this puppy in a lockbox under the bed and went to sleep. I couldn’t let her get to school age with this puppy obsession.
I woke up late the next morning and found my little girl. She was eating cereal straight out of the box. She was holding her dog. I was stunned.
“Maybe it’s time that Fred went to a farm, and then, when you’re big, your kids can play with him,” I suggested, but she shook her head violently.
“Puppies can’t go to school. Maybe you should allow him to go somewhere more fun, so he’s not lonely when you’re gone.”
Gracie started to cry and I let her. The day passed uneventfully after that.
The next day came, and I heard Gracie feeding carrots to the guinea pig. Fred was nowhere to be found. Gracie told me that she liked watching the guinea pig eat because his cheeks were cute. I was pleased, in fact, we spent the whole day playing with a guinea pig while watching Christmas movies. The stuffed dog was nowhere to be found. I tucked her into bed that night and, at her request, I checked to see if the guinea pig’s cage was locked. It was.
I woke up early for a meeting. My boss asked for a zoom call, so I threw on some sweatpants and a button-down shirt, and made some coffee. It wasn’t until the meeting wrapped up at ten o’clock that I checked on Gracie. What I saw, I will never forget.
I went into my girl’s tiny bedroom and it was covered in blood! I yelled at my baby, but she never woke up. There were bites all over her sweet face. The animal cage was empty and there were bits of bloody fur and brain matter outside the cage.
I picked up a pink plastic car, not the best weapon, but maybe I could whack a wild animal over the head with it if I had to. I knelt down next to my daughter to check her pulse, but as soon as I placed my fingers on her neck, that stuffed puppy bit me with razor-sharp fangs. After enduring many bites, I managed to rip the possessed toy’s head off. I was shocked my hands were covered in blood and bits of cotton.
I must call an ambulance now, but how will I explain that a toy dog tried to eat my baby?