Now, before I start my story, I want to let you know that at some point while you're reading this, the judgy part of your brain is probably going to think, "How on Earth could an intelligent human being fall for something like this?" so I'll go ahead and let you know that when this took place I was just a wee, neurotic 7-year-old who couldn't even sleep with the Rajah side of my Aladdin comforter face up for fear of impending death by Tiger. Also, in 11 years time, I would go on to be awarded “Most Gullible” of my graduating class, which I'm pretty sure was meant to be a recognition of my unyielding optimism and faith in humanity but was also super accurate as given. Regardless, right now I need you to go ahead and tell your judgy voice to be quiet because this is a safe space and we need to get on with the story.
So it's April 1, 1997, and I'm 7 and my brother, Zack, is 9 and it's business as usual: getting ready for school in Zack's room while watching Scooby and the gang get stoned, kick ass, and surprise no one by revealing it was the groundskeeper whodunnit. We always got ready for school in Zack's room because his room had a TV and was directly connected to the kitchen, which was the next stop of the day. Zack's room also gained mad points because it had been a "game room" before we bought the house, which simply means it housed a pinball machine when the previous owners lived there. The pinball machine was long gone by the time we moved in but, in our kid logic, the room was still cooler for having housed it at some point.
Zack's room also had a door that led to the backyard which meant he could let our dog, Snicker, in the house without anyone noticing until it was too late. I say "until it was too late" because once you let Snicker in, it was impossible to get him back out of the house. He would lay down and make himself so unbelievably heavy that it was almost like he was suction-cupped to the floor, and nothing short of a depressingly 90s-era trail of cold hot dog weenies and Kraft American Cheese slices would get him back out of the house. A few months after the April Fools catastrophe I'm taking such an amazingly long time telling you about took place, Snicker would tragically die less than 24-hours after being given away without Zack's and my knowledge or permission. 1998 was a rough year for the Neel kids. To this day, Snicker is the only standard-sized schnauzer I have ever met and also the worst dog to have ever walked the earth. God bless.
So we are in Zack's room and "Scooby Doo" has ended and we turn off the TV because "Gargoyles" comes on next and we aren't allowed to watch it anymore due to the evils of "dark magic" that present themselves in the form of friendly, crime-solving statues (thank you, parents of our private school friends), and my mom walks in and tells us we need to come to the kitchen table because she has some really big news she needs to tell us. So we follow her into the kitchen and sit down at the kitchen table in front of the big window facing the backyard where Snicker is romping around, blissfully ignorant of the tragic end he will soon meet, and I know. I know what the big news is going to be. I always knew the big news on April Fools' because it was always the same thing. We were getting kittens. Now, this is not to say I wasn't going to believe my mom when she said it. Our mom always told Zack and me we were getting kittens on April Fools, and we believed her 100% of the time. In retrospect, I feel like my mom had to have been conducting some weird social experiment-y rite of passage for Zack and me, and had we ever said, "Mom, the jig is up. We know we aren't getting kittens," confetti would have fallen from the ceiling and we would have had the Southern Baptist equivalent of an April Fools' Bar Mitzvah right then and there. But if that was the case, we'll never know because Zack and I failed every single year. I'd like to believe 1998 would have been the year we called ol' Sharla's bluff, but no one will ever know. Because 1998 was the year that my mom dropped the April Fools' equivalent of an atomic bomb on the two little souls she loved most in this world.
Before you read on, I feel it's important for you to know that my mom is an incredible human and also has a track record of ruining people's lives short-term on April Fools’. For 364 days of the year, she is the most generous and compassionate human you could ever hope to cross paths with: a school-teaching, church-going angel in Chico's clothing. But come April Fools’, you better take cover, because Sharla is out for blood. One April Fools’, before I was born, my Aunt Darla (Yes, my mom is Sharla and my aunt is Darla – there is also a Marla and a Karla – more on this at a later time, I promise.) was bringing my brother home from daycare when they came across a stray dog. Darla loaded up the dog, dropped my brother off at home, and took the dog to the vet. My mom saw my aunt's goodwill as an opportunity for knavery and called her, posing as the vet's office to report that the dog had tested positive for rabies and if it had come into contact with any children it was imperative that they were tested immediately, as they were probably already dying of rabies too. My aunt called my mom in hysterics explaining the situation and confessing that she thought Zack might have eaten a French fry the dog licked. And my mom, having fully transformed into April-Fools’-monster mode, allowed her own flesh and blood believe she had indirectly cut my brother's life short. What I'm trying to say here is 9-year-old Zack and little Miss Most Gullible never had a chance.
So we are at the kitchen table and my mom lays out her big news. She's recently met a man who lives in Alaska through the classifieds and they are getting married. Furthermore, we will be moving to Alaska and acquiring an entire sled team’s worth of snow dogs. While snow dogs might seem completely out of left field to you, you must understand that this was during Zack's and my (too) long-lived phase of watching “Iron Will” on repeat. If you aren't familiar with “Iron Will,” it is a Disney movie released in 1994 that I remember absolutely nothing about other than the fact that there are snow dogs EVERYWHERE and they are awesome. So Zack and I completely ignore the small details of our mother marrying a stranger who is, let's face it, probably a serial killer and moving us away from everyone and everything we've ever known, and immediately hone in on the fact that we are getting snow dogs. We promptly lose our shit, give Snicker's sorry ass the double middle finger, and start planning our new lives filled with mushing and snow dog fur and kisses from dogs whose breath does not reek of artificial cheese product.
In retrospect, I see that our mom probably thought this was going to go quite a bit differently. Because one would think that, even as a child, the natural human response would be to question such poor judgment at least a little bit. But she really underestimated how much we fucking loved snow dogs. Once she realized how stupid Zack and I were, the Queen of April Fools' stony heart turned to flesh and she started trying to be the voice of reason, pointing out that we would have to leave our friends, not see our dad as much, and live in a house that had never been graced with a pinball machine. I appreciate the effort she put in, gently trying to make us understand that this would be the worst decision ever made by a single parent on her own. But it was too late. Snow dogs had been put on the table and for Zack and me, life was just beginning. We'd already begun mentally packing our suitcases and saying our goodbyes. Luckily, Mom didn't let us suffer long. After trying and failing multiple times to have us come to the realization on our own that moving in with an Alaskan man from the classifieds was murder-y as hell, she broke the news to us. There was no man, there was no moving to Alaska.
Our response? "Okay. But the dogs are real, right?"
I bet telling us there were no snow dogs was almost as hard as explaining why Snicker no longer lived in the backyard.