The hair on your arms and legs won’t stop growing. Reedy dark fibers that scream in stark contrast to your pale skin.
You ask your mom, but she says you’re too young to shave. You’re only eight, she says, and everyone has hair on their arms and legs. She holds out her own arms as proof, reassurance.
Besides, she says matter-of-factly, if you shave, the hair will grow back thicker and longer. Do you really want that?
She asks it in such a way that you know there’s only one right answer. Of course you don’t want that.
We’re going to go around the room, your second-grade teacher says, and I want each of you to tell the class what you want to be when you grow up. The teacher has a bright smile. Cheery, bubbly, full of hope for the future.
You’re bored with the answers the other kids give. Firefighter, doctor, nurse, teacher, lawyer. So unimaginative. So unimpressive.
When it’s your turn, you don’t hesitate. When I grow up, you say, I want to be a dog.
The class laughs, and your teacher pauses, uncertain. Settle down, class, she finally says. And when the laughter subsides, she moves seamlessly, silently to the next kid.
You’re a quiet child, not the kind to cause trouble; you hadn’t meant it to be funny. In fact, you’ve already told your mom that you’re going to marry a dog someday, if you get married, a St. Bernard to be exact, and she’ll have grandpuppies. Your mom wasn’t very happy about that.
When the hair on your arms and legs continues to grow, in earnest now, you’re conflicted, alarmed. You feel ugly but also special. You’re only ten. You hadn’t thought it would happen so soon. How could you be grown up already? But then again, you remember, dogs age faster than humans.
Your dad pets and pulls at the thickening hair on your arms and asks if it’s warm.
Your mom shushes him, and assures you that it’s normal, you’re normal, that it’s all a part of growing up. She repeats it like a mantra. You’re just growing up. It’s normal. You’re normal.
You shaved, didn’t you? your best friend Ellee says.
But I didn’t, you say.
Do you use shampoo on it? Ellee says then, her blue eyes full of genuine curiosity.
It’s starting to smell, she says, pinching her nose.
Right before you leave for a week at summer camp, your mom finally says she’ll show you how to shave your legs.
But it’s too late by then. It’s not just your shins, calves, knees, and thighs. Your ankles and feet—the tops of your toes!—have also sprouted a thick dark coat.
Well, your mom says, rubbing her hands together in determination, I’m sure no one at camp will notice.
The hair on your arms develops into a black-and-tan pattern that’s not quite brindle. The fur is coarse like a terrier’s. Thankfully non-shedding, too. Your mom would never keep a dog that shed.
The hair on your head, relatively fine before, has become thicker and fuller and now covers your ears as well. Your eyebrows are no longer just eyebrows but a full-fledged forehead of fur, and you’ve grown a fluffy tail.
Your feet change, too. Little pads appear on the bottoms, and your nails are no longer clear and flat, but narrow and sharp.
You really need to bathe, Ellee says the next time she’s over to play.
You just growl.
Celia! you hear your mom call. You ignore her, but then your dad whistles, a high-pitched sound that causes you to cock your head.
You try to say “dinnertime” to Ellee, but it comes out as a half-bark. Ellee laughs. When you lick her nose, she laughs harder and gently pushes you away. She scratches you behind your ears, says you’re a good girl.
You curl up in a ball, tucking your legs and tail tight so that you become round. You wake when you hear a noise, and you pant excitedly, wagging your tail, when you see that it’s Ellee. The two of you still play like you’ve always played.
It’s just a phase, you hear your mom say on the phone with her cousin, and she laughs with tentative hope. But, she says, it better be over by Christmas, or what will I tell my parents when they visit?
Your mom takes you to the doctor, but your pediatrician tells her you need a specialist.
What kind of specialist? your mom says, her voice stern and flat. It’s her scary voice, the one she uses when you’ve knocked over the trash or chewed a shoe.
A veterinarian, the pediatrician says, meeting your mom’s eyes. They both hold the gaze for a second.
I’m not taking my daughter to a veterinarian, your mom says, loud and firm. And without another word, she lifts you down off the table and clips your leash on. You pull her out of the office, your paws sliding along the cool tile floor. Celia! she says. Stop pulling at your leash!
On the way home, you bark. There are kids playing frisbee at the park, and you want to play, too.
No, your mom says, you have homework to do.
You bark louder.
When you don’t stop barking, your mom says, That’s it. We’re going to the hairdresser.
With that, your bark fades into a questioning whimper. You want to tell her that it’s actually called a groomer, but the groomer is the last place you want to go, so you stop whining and don’t say anything at all.