I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning until I had already missed the first bell. And after that, I told myself, there wasn’t much sense in getting up, so what’s five more minutes. And when I ran downstairs, grabbing a granola bar, all Mom said was, “Don’t be too late.” And my heart sank, because it was no longer a question of if I would be late, but how late I would be.

As I walked down the sidewalk, time ticked through my head: a second for every two steps I took, a minute for every hundred and twenty. The day was being eaten away, and I cursed myself for my delayed sense of urgency. If only you had gotten to sleep earlier. If only you hadn’t hit snooze so many times. It’s been three months since he died, get over it. Even as I said it, I knew I didn’t mean it, however much everyone else had already moved on. The first week after he died, my grandma came into my room, sitting gingerly down on the edge of my bed, bringing her hands together on top of her thighs. I watched her from beneath a halo of matted hair, eyes crusted with red, and cheeks sallow with grief.

Lily Boyd

Lily Boyd is a Junior at Grant High School in Portland Oregon. She has had a passion for writing since she was young, and has attended weekly writing classes since the fourth grade. Her work has been recognized by publications such as Voicecatcher, Teen Ink, and Scholastic. When she is not writing she runs cross country, works as a lifeguard, and hangs out with friends. She is an animal enthusiast, and one day hopes to be a veterinarian.

Patrick Ryan on “Toby”

When I was four years old, our dog died. Four is a very resilient age. What can make us wail one minute can be gone from our heads the next. I cried and cried—and then we got a new dog. A puppy we named Missy. She was a small, raggedy mutt who dug through the Easter baskets while we were at church, suffered my brother’s rock band rehearsals, survived a tornado that tore up our house, and evacuated with us when Hurricane David was heading our way.

The summer after I graduated from high school, Missy was fourteen and was starting to show her age. I moved away to college, came home for Thanksgiving three months later, and she was wheezy and lethargic. My parents told me they were taking her to the vet the following Monday for a checkup. I knew I was going to be home again in just a month (for Christmas), but I had a feeling Missy might be on shaky ground. So, right before I caught my ride back to college I got down on the floor next to her, curled around her, and talked to her. I told her a lot of nice things, but mostly I told her that she’d been a really good dog. Then I left. She died the next afternoon.

All of this came flooding back to me as I read “Toby.” If you’ve ever loved and lost a pet, this story will no doubt have the same effect on you. It’s a laser-sharp and emotionally raw piece of writing, both fresh and familiar, and it’s all the more impressive because it was written by a teen. Lily Boyd is one of the winners of One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re happy to be introducing you to her, and to “Toby.”

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
LB: This story was actually based in truth, and was about my old dog, who was euthanized last winter. It was one of those stories you felt like you had more of a need to write than a want just because of the injustice of the situation as well as the grief I personally had surrounding his death. The circumstances in the story are worse than the ones I experienced, and that almost lessened the pain I was feeling because I could say, “At least this isn’t happening.”
PR: The big event that sets things in motion in this story is that Toby, the narrator’s dog, bites an old man. But that has already happened when the story opens. In fact, Toby has already been put down by the first sentence. Why did you decide to start the story when you did?
LB: I guess I wanted to first show the repercussions of what had happened because, though having a pet die is obviously painful, it’s also somewhat common. By first showing Greta’s grief, it universalized the situation as something almost everyone has gone through.
PR: Another thing I noticed is that the old man who gets bitten and then insists on Toby’s being put down doesn’t actually appear in the story. He’s referred to a lot, but he doesn’t have any actual “screen time.” Was that a conscious choice on your part?
LB: Yes, it was actually really important for me to not give him any voice because I didn’t want to give him a platform to explain his actions. I also believe that if I were in Greta’s position I wouldn’t want him to be able to defend himself after what he did. No matter what his side of the story was, it wouldn’t matter because there would never be redemption for him.
PR: Someone reading “Toby” for the first time might think, at first, that the narrator is talking about a person who’s died, rather than a dog. Was that deliberate? If so, what led you to beginning that way?
LB: Again, yes, I wanted it to feel as if it was a death of a family member because really, it was. Greta’s relationship with Toby is more of a friendship than owner and pet, so I wanted to represent this by blurring those lines at the beginning. I feel like Greta was so bonded with Toby that his death to her was really no different than if any other member of her family had died. You also get to see her family’s indifference to his death and if at the beginning I just said, “her dog died” I think people would be more forgiving of her family, but when you give Toby these human characteristics it’s harder to just dismiss him as a dog and dismiss the family’s actions.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
LB: I would say injustice, because there is obviously the injustice surrounding Toby’s death, and then the injustice Greta feels her family has committed with their disinterest in protecting and defending Toby, and disregard to honoring him after he died. The whole story is one thing after another that just doesn’t feel right, and sort of leaves you wondering how this could even happen.
PR: What are you working on now?
LB: I’m actually working on a set of letters telling the correspondence between two brothers who are foster children. Throughout the correspondence it documents them moving farther and farther apart physically and in their interests as they grow up in completely different settings.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
LB: Right after my dog died, one of my mentors, Sharee Chapman, advised me to “Write what makes you afraid.” That’s actually what compelled me to write this; it was the one thing I really didn’t want to write in that moment, but the thing I needed to write the most. The thing that you don’t want to write is often touchy subject matter for a reason, and must be explored; it’s often the thing that will evoke the most reaction from you, and spark something within yourself.