Sunday, August 2, 2009
House Pets – Part I
Sad to say, our family didn’t have a good history with house pets. Dad brought home an Airedale puppy one summer when I was about 3 or 4. The first evening, Mom took me out to the back yard to meet our new pup. It didn’t have a name yet. This was right before my bedtime when the sun was setting through the oak and pine trees.
The whole family was in the yard to meet our pet—my two older sisters, Mom and Dad. My younger brother wasn’t born yet. I had on my summer pajamas—cotton shorts and matching blouse with metal snaps for buttons. The new puppy had a long, rectangular face. He looked big!
Someone said, “You can pat him.”
I wanted to touch him but I felt scared and started running. In that same instant, the pup chased after me. Squealing with fright and delight, I ran in tighter and tighter circles. What if he caught me? Would he nip my bare legs and feet? I turned around to look and slipped on the grass, falling on my back.
Standing over me, panting in my face, the pup was all smiles and full of accomplishment. He’d won me over. I'd made a new friend.
“Okay. Time to say goodnight, now,” Mom said. She was strict about bedtime.
Upstairs in my bedroom, Mom read to me as she always did, then kissed me goodnight. I listened for the puppy outside and though I couldn’t hear anything, happiness squiggled through my limbs. I couldn't believe my good fortune: I had a pet.
Not long after, the light dimming outside, Mom came back up.
“Honey,” she said, sitting on my bed. She spoke quietly and looked sad. “I have something to tell you.”
Apparently, on the way to get something in the garage, Dad had tied the puppy’s leash to the back stair railing. During those brief, shattering moments —my father was gone for just a minute—the puppy in his exuberance slipped through the rails and dangled from his leash. The metal training collar functioned like a slip noose, tightening around his throat, choking him to death.
After my mother left again, I lay for a long time unable to sleep, going round and round, reliving the puppy’s chase and his short life with me. I wanted to cry but I was angry with my father and upset, my heart turned upside down.
How many times had Dad told us he wanted a dog? and now this unthinkable had happened. If I had been in charge, could I have saved our puppy’s life?
“I was gone for a minute, not even a minute,” my father kept saying the next day, and the next, and for days after that.
I was angry, but I also felt sorry for my father. I could see that he was torn and ashamed.—“Not even a minute. Less than a minute. Seconds.” He shook his head, beating himself for his mistake.
That marked the beginning of my divided self. One part of me surfaced like a shark circling toward the smell of darkness that I sensed lay ahead. Another part of me knew, even then, that to escape that darkness, I would need to learn how to forgive.
Posted by Jessica Keener at 12:31 PM