Life Lessons, Courtesy of Man's Best Friend
And on those occasions when I was exhilarated and ready to head outside, she'd pull her leash down from the hook in the kitchen and circle me with it with her own peculiar and high-energy happy dance, which was a kind of accelerated rocking-horse lilt: dog language for, "It's going to be a great day, isn't it?"
During the night she checked on everyone with the regularity of a night watchman. One early morning when I was sick with the measles, I woke to find her apparently having fallen asleep in the middle of one of her check-ins, sitting next to the bed, her chin on the mattress, snoring.
She was seldom leashed and roamed the neighborhood judiciously. She never fought with other dogs, or took much interest in cats. At least not that we ever heard of. She seemed to handle the unexpected lethality of cars with a kind of casual mastery.
But then, when I was 11 or 12, I was across the street at a friend's house, playing with toy soldiers, or as we called them, army men—why was I playing with army men at the age of 12? Let it go; let it go—and my friend and I had taken 20 minutes to set up a huge number of guys in some kind of Tarawa beachhead and here came Lady, jogging by to see how everyone was doing, and she trundled right through the Japanese defenses, churning up ten minutes' worth of work, and I shouted at her, and gave her butt a shove, and she spooked and accelerated out into the street, and got hit by a car.
I stood over her. My friend did, too, until he got too freaked out and ran into his house. The guy who'd hit her stood over her. He said stuff like it wasn't his fault, that the dog had just run under his wheels. He said he was sorry. Lady was on her side with her mouth open. She had an expression like she had run a mile and was unbelievably hot. Even I could tell she was already dead. The guy said he was sorry again and then pulled her by the paws out of the road and onto the shoulder. I don't remember now whether he went and got the nearest neighbor or the neighbor just came out of the house. I do remember the guy and the car being gone after a while.
The neighbor had his hand on my shoulder. He said I was going to be all right. He said it looked like she hadn't suffered. Finally he gave up and went and got his pickup truck and backed it around next to Lady's body. Then he got out and laid an olive army tarp on the road next to her and pulled her onto it by the skin of her shoulders and butt. I remember feeling piercingly that it was a heartless way to move her. I think he wasn't taking any chances on getting bitten.
He said he was bringing her somewhere, but I didn't register where, or, if I did, I don't register it anymore. He drove off and I stayed there in the street looking down at the spot on the pavement. Then I ran home.
I ran past my mother and into the bathroom and climbed into the tub. I pulled the shower curtain closed behind me. I wasn't ready to see the rest of the human race. I couldn't think of anything in the bathroom that I could use to hurt myself, but I was also too paralyzed to get up and find something in the garage.
My mother located me in there and asked what was wrong. I managed to tell her enough to send her over to the neighbor's. When she returned, she tried to comfort me and to get me out of the tub. She came from a big Italian family, so this kind of histrionic behavior wasn't new to her experience.
I wasn't comforted and I wouldn't get out of the tub. I told her by way of explanation that it was my fault. She worked to refute my position. We settled into a stalemate, and I remember she just sat, sad and helpless, on the toilet, not knowing what else to do.