Killer Diller and My First Fistfight
A couple of Sundays ago, our dog Killer got sick. He seemed fine in the morning going through his usual routine, but as the day went on, it was obvious there was something wrong with him. He wanted to do nothing except sleep. He didn’t want to be petted anywhere but his head and even then he’d jerk it to the side when you raised your hand. He had trouble sitting or standing up. When it was time for his food, I had to carry him into the kitchen and stand him by his bowl; his jaw movements as he ate were awkward and uncoordinated.
I wanted to call the vet immediately but couldn’t. There is only one vet with emergency hours in our area and that’s in Indianapolis, well over an hour away. Instead, I kept watch until first thing Monday morning when a friend gave me a ride into town. We were at the vet’s office exactly as 7 am. I dropped our pug off and waited anxiously through my day.
He ended up being fine and is fine now, currently sleeping behind me in my office chair. All the tests the vet ran came back negative. Her best guess was that he either ate something weird outside that made him sick (Killer is a pug so often his first thought is, "Can I eat it?") or he hurt his bad knee and the pain was intense and confusing. She gave him some doggie anti-inflammatories and said if it happens again, bring him back immediately.
It was very upsetting. He’s approaching the twelve year mark. While he still probably has years ahead of him, his coat has greyed and he’s slowed down quite a bit. Seeing him in such bad shape was a reminder that he, like everything else that lives and breathes, is going to die someday. Confronted with such a grim memento mori, it was a struggle to stay mindful, to be present. When your mind is not present, your thoughts rage out of control and you open the door to further suffering.
I wasn’t entirely successful. What ifs and countless fears rioted through my brain, tearing open the doors of the past and unleashing memories I had forgotten...
Summer in southern Kentucky, just north of the Tennessee line. We were visiting my dad’s parents. It was a cool afternoon and I walked uphill through the woods, then down the road to play with my cousin Joe. We did boy stuff: running around the yard, playing war, hitting things with sticks, and climbing trees. I remember it being fun until the thing with his dog.
I was sensitive kid who spent a lot of time reading books and living in my head. Back home in Indiana, we lived out in the middle of nowhere without any kids for me to play with. My brothers were both long gone, Nathan killed in a car accident and Kevin serving one of many prison sentences. So I spent most of my time alone.
Boys, young ones just shy of being a teenager especially, get caught up in pecking order. When Joe started playing rough with his hound dog and it visibly made me uncomfortable, his monkey brain took over. Rough house wrasslin’ gave way to the broom. Jab. Jab. Jab. Shake. Shake. Shake.
Hey, man, let’s go climb that tree again! What about TV? You wanna watch TV?
Don’t be a baby. He likes to play rough. Jab. Jab. Jab. Is the baby gonna cry?
I didn’t cry (not right then). I knew if I did, even if it was just me and Joe, I was fucked and would be saddled with a nickname like Bawl Baby--at ten you’re convinced something like that will follow you around forever and you’ll never get a girl, even though at ten you’re not sure maybe why you’d want one but are pretty certain that someday you might so don’t fuck it up, son.
Then Joe got out his pocketknife and told me he was gonna cut his dog’s wiener off. (That’s what he said, “wiener.”)
Looking back at it now, do I think Joe would have really cut his dog’s wiener off? No, not on purpose. But it doesn’t matter and it didn’t matter then.
I hit him.
I don’t think he expected it. They weren’t pretty punches. But two of them hit. One on his jaw and one just under his right eye.
I took his knife, threw it in the woods, and did the little kid upset quick walk down the round and back down the hill.
Then I cried and I think I even cried when Joe got a wuppin’.
I hadn’t remembered that incident in years. It came to me again, full blown and as a clear as day, when Killer slept fitfully on my lap and I waited for the vet to open.
We’re always fighting something, aren’t we? Even if it’s just our thoughts.