I wonder if it’s a function of PTSD that it’s impossible have a good thought without also having an intrusive horrible thought or if some of us just have a gift for warping special moments.
Once, I was in the car with my future in-laws, chatting. I’ll paraphrase since I can’t remember the quote. I said something like “Yeah, I always worry (and visualize) that my daughter is dead or hurt or whatever when she’s away from me. Not so much that I need to talk to her all the time or that I can’t be away from her but you know. I thought everyone had that.” and the woman who is now my mother-in-law said “No. everyone doesn’t have that. What a terrible way to live!” And I think up till then (and I was TWENTY-EIGHT) I really did not know that everyone didn’t just have those thoughts and dismiss them or white knuckle though them. There is a whole world where people simply don’t feel this way.
The dog probably didn’t look anything like my Lucy. But often I look at Lucy and I see the little dog careening in its death dance toward the painted concrete curb in Asheville.
So. Here is a story about one beautiful Autumn day in Asheville 13 years ago.
There was the yellow school bus, idling in front of my car, puffing toxins into the air. I imagined sticking my face into the clouds of exhaust and finding to my surprise cigar smoke. How intoxicating! I was daydreaming about cigars when movement caught my eye. You know how that happens, a flash in the corner of your eye and you think for a second “am I experiencing a flashback the kids talk about?”
I thought that huge cheerful bus full of children would run over the dog right in front of my six-year old daughter. The little dog was barely as tall as the first set of lug nuts on the school bus tires. I thought selfishly, “I am not ready to have this discussion again.” My daughter, though not a maudlin child by nature, had already written and illustrated an award-winning (true story) book about the death of our tiny dog the year prior. Molly (the dog) haunted her dreams. I didn’t think we’d ever have another dog. Me, I couldn’t even look at dogs. Here I was, looking at one. A little dog, in crisis. My favorite kind.
We usually walked to school. This day, we were driving even though we lived only a few blocks from the school. Were we driving because I was late? The weather was chilly or maybe it was raining. That sounds right. I think I remember a sheen on the black top where the dog was trying-failing-to make it up onto the curb, short legs unable to bend. Or was it the hips? I couldn’t figure it out. The sight of it unnerved me. The school bus almost ran over the dog and my daughter screamed. I snapped at her-I KNOW, right? and we circled through the drop-off line. It all happened right across the street from the school, a two-story red brick building where nothing bad should ever happen. It’s a building that screams “ONLY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO KIDS IN THIS BUILDING AND WITHIN SEVERAL HUNDRED YARDS OF THIS BUILDING. IT’S THE LAW.”
It would if I were president of Asheville, anyway.
I turned my car around to circle through the drop off line again. At that time I drove a 1986 Cougar 2-door sedan, just so you know and I was very proud of it though I felt self-conscious driving it in Asheville for two reasons: it was a gas hog and looked at little like a perv car. Nevertheless I parked in front of the dog, Cougar grille facing its frothing mouth. The dog was dancing in circles now. This made my mouth water: the companion reaction to the bottom that had dropped out of my stomach. What should not happen at this moment in the story is a woman in faux snake-skin high heels and a fake fur beige coat throwing up on the sidewalk in front of a school.
Its coat was white, or maybe tan and brown. It could have been black and white. I don’t know, I really don’t. What’s interesting about these memories is that the color of the dog doesn’t matter. It was about shoulder-high to the curb and I know this 12 years later because I remember watching the dog’s shoulders bump up against the curb when it would fail to get a leg up onto the sidewalk. I realized it was frantically bumping up against the curb because it was trying to run from me. There were what looked like bones sort of poking out of its abdomen. That’s when it dawned on me that maybe I’d been too late and something had already hit the little dog. I wrapped my arm around the outside of its legs and lifted it up onto the sidewalk.
The dog hobbled into a yard and I followed it and started banging on a wood-framed screen door. The man who answered the door was old, like my grandfather old. He seemed out-of-place on an urban street in downtown Asheville, as if he’d been plucked off a farm. Inwardly I chided myself for being stereotypically judgmental. His skin was weathered though: a farmer’s skin. His hair was thinning and combed over a shiny forehead. He hadn’t yet shaved that day and a grey stubble covered his chin and cheeks. He seemed freshly awoken, and as if he’d just thrown on some jeans and suspenders hung from the waistband. He was holding a shirt in his hand, red flannel. Instead of putting it on, he wrapped the dog in it when he picked her up. (I’ve given the dog a gender because it was small. I don’t know why I do that: make small things into girls. I’m a terrible feminist.) The man sighed. He looked tired and sad. He thanked me, then shut the inside door in my face, leaving me to either slowly let the screen door shut or allow it to THWACK shut like wooden screen doors do. I gently shut it. I made a game out of it; I tried to make it make totally silent like it never existed. If a wood screen door makes no sound at all, does time go backward and the old man’s little dog doesn’t die? I told myself that day and for thirteen years that he shut the door in my face and said “no thank you” when I offered to take him and the dog right then to the emergency vet because he was about to burst into tears and needed the privacy.
I got into my car and drove to my boyfriend’s house after that. My high heels made a clickety-clack sound on the sidewalk which reminded me of the sound the little dogs nails were making and I wanted to throw up again. My boyfriend was a bartender at the bar I managed (you’re shaking your head now? Me too.) so a wake up call at 7:45 consisting of an incoherent story about my 4 minute interaction with a possible small dog hit-and-run outside my daughter’s school might have been pretty weird. Thirteen years later I can forgive his startled and sort of cool reaction. He was a little confused why I was so upset. I was equally confused why he wasn’t. He groggily pulled me into a hug on the couch where I stretched out, still in my coat and heels, and cried for a while. Then I got up and went to work and it was over.
He was a good guy. Lucy’s a good dog. The mind is a cruel and beautiful machine.