By Juan Haines
Ever since I’ve known Tommy Winfrey, he’s been an inspiring and honest teller of tales. His storytelling abilities were acknowledged when he won first prize in the Memoir Category of the 2016 PEN prison writing contest.
Stray is a classic story about the love a boy has for his dog.
Buggsy was there in the morning just looking at me when I woke up. He had made his bed next to me. His little body lay there stretched out and fragile. He looked me in the eyes as I opened mine, scooted closer to me, and licked my face. There was something comforting about that. From that moment on, we became inseparable.
Winfrey enrolled in a college class last summer and his instructor, Andrew Maynard, had the opportunity to workshop the story.
“The heart of Stray exists in the surprising yet heartbreaking moments when Tommy begins to realize that he will never be fit to take care of his friend until he learns to care for himself,” Maynard said. “This moment never comes, but the care and craft exposed in this essay reveals a writer who, in retrospect, has learned to take care of his readers with a story refreshingly raw and realized.”
Stray is more than just a classic tale when it reflects deeply upon Winfrey’s inner struggles with drug addiction, driving him away from his true self and into someone able to commit the most heinous of crimes, murder.
Buggsy could no longer stand the smell of meth, and anytime someone besides me had meth on them he would growl at them. Whenever I would smoke the stuff he would just look at me, and I imagined it bothered him, but he never let me see that judgment.
After Winfrey commits the murder for which he is currently incarcerated, the dog’s response is profound.
What I liked most about this story is how Winfrey was able to describe his disconnect from his family and the rest of the world and how that played into his relationship with and love for Buggsy, the one being he felt close to.
Winfrey’s storytelling has always captured me, beginning with The Things I Peed On. This funny story about Winfrey’s bonding with his father also is a thoughtful story about relationships.
Both stories are available upon request. Your comments would be greatly appreciated.