a walk on the north side

Sunday evening.

I’m walking with my wife and our dog, Spindle. Six days away from twelve years of marriage. Burning a few calories. Coming down from a busy week. Seeking stress relief. Her from me. Me from all that moves around inside that I don’t know how to explain. And we get into a groove. Talking about our good fortune—smart, happy kids, supportive family, good jobs—despite the crazy world that surrounds us—poor leadership, a virus, the global reset that nobody appears to see coming—and just as I’m feeling good, lighter, free from all that twists and binds, a fat Pitbull ambles down the steps of a house we’re passing by.

Every other time, I have held firm. Picked up the pace and walked away quickly or picked up the dog.

Why?

Because dogs are like people. Loyal. Loving. Unpredictable.

I was twelve years old, mowing the lawn, while my dog, Ranger, lounged in the summer sun. He was thirteen. Had seen better days. Was deaf, half blind, had cancerous sores, but was happy in the heat because I was only twenty feet away. Every time I passed with the old Briggs & Stratton, he wagged his tail.  I was wearing my Walkman, onto track five of Play Deep by The Outfield when the neighbor’s Black Lab appeared.

By the time I let go of the mower and tossed my music aside, Ranger and the Lab were locked into battle. I would have never guessed that he still had it in him, but he did. He fought with anger and fear, trapped in darkness and silence.  

I forced my way between them, punched the Lab in the back of the head. Over and over and over again until it let go and ran back toward home. Ranger, still in the fight, bit my leg. His teeth popped through my skin and sunk into the meat of my calf. His mouth all hot and slobbery. Somehow, I was now the enemy.

I was young, but strong. The punter and linebacker for our Pee-Wee football team. I kicked Ranger so hard that he ran off to the woodshed. Laid there for days.

I spent his last eight hours with him. His head in my lap. Stroking his bumpy, oily fur. When the breath went out of him, it pulled everything out of me.

That’s what I thought of tonight. Walking with my wife and my dog. And I didn’t react in time. The Pitbull had Spindle pinned to the sidewalk and all I could do was watch as my wife—with legs that have won cross country races, chased kids, and walked miles upon miles with me—kicked that Pitbull into submission.

~ KJ


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