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Sometimes, the realizations that you make and the conclusions that you arrive at aren’t always bright and cheery. They don’t always make your life easier, or help you along to whatever goal you are aiming for. Some things happen that drive a wedge between yourself and your happiness.
We woke up at 6;30 that morning, a dark figure in both our doorways with a tone that was not be disobeyed. I was puffy and sore from the day before. I pulled clothes on and stumbled down the rickety stairs, feeling my way down in the breezy twilight of that Christmas eve morning.
I sat down next to my brother on the sofa. The living room was decorated with Christmas finery – lights and garlands, an old nativity scene arranged carefully on the mantle. There was a small tree decorated with poinsettias and sparkly snowflakes. Elves and wreaths sat on all available spaces. That room was the only Christmasy room in the house, but was so full of everything that the rest of the house was fine without it.
The day was rising outside our windows. The snow that had lain for so long was brown and spotty, finally washing away after a week of constant white with the rain that crept in with the holiday eve. A steady drizzle dripped from the roof and onto the dirt yard outside, brown grass and mud swirling with remnants of snow.
My mother sat down opposite from us. None of us spoke for a moment. I kept my eyes averted. I don’t remember what I stared at. The miniature snowman on the side table gazed back at me, a painted smile on his porcelain face.
The words built upon themselves. A one sided conversation leaves no room for thought, and less for immediate comprehension. My face was puffy and my contacts were blurred with the residue of tears from the night before.
I heard it all before she started. I was a selfish child. I was not home often enough, I never helped my family. She was a bad mother because she hadn’t taught me or my older brother the value of family. It was my fault and my brothers that the dog had gotten hit. How dare we ruin this holiday for her, how dare we shatter all her plans that were finally working out. Christmas was cancelled. We were to take down all the bright and shiny decorations, the garlands that wound their way about the corners, the lights that snaked through the green tree. Since we had killed the dog, she was going to make damn sure that she killed Christmas for us. Our presents were to be taken upstairs and opened where she couldn’t see us. We both had to get another dog for our little brother as soon as possible. As people, we were despicable. Her voice kept breaking down, and I leaned forward and covered my face.
For the life of me, I couldn’t cry. I was too numb from lack of sleep and intense emotion. I let her hurt wash over me and into me, and I couldn’t even protest, I couldn’t defend myself. She didn’t want to hear a word from either of us.
Mothers are like that. They are always right, and the child is always wrong. Since the mother is older in body and spirit, she is wiser and stronger. The child must obey, and always admit wrong doing. Sometimes, though, sometimes… mothers go crazy.
The night before, everything had gone crazy. I had gotten home late and missed a holiday dinner. Apparently my mother was in tears, thinking I had been abducted by bad men in strange hats. Her friend urged her to call the cops. I knew I was late. The circumstances were wrong, the timing was off. I admit I was in the wrong. I should have been home at three. I got home at seven.
When I finally did make it back, the welcoming committee sent chills down my spine. Huge accusing faces, fingers raised and waved in my eyes. Righteous voices of experienced mothers. I was the wayward child. I had ruined the day. I was sent to wash dishes and see what I had missed. Banished to my room.
I had come back ready to apologize. I knew she would be mad – I knew things would be pretty bad for a little bit. As soon as I closed the door, anything I had to say was unimportant. My issues were pushed aside, nothing compared to what the ADULTS had gone through. After all, I am a child, an irresponsible, selfish seventeen year old. So I endured her rage, felt bad inside, but couldn’t control my resentment. I grabbed the dishes and washed them, seething as the bubbles foamed over the side of the sink. I knew I was wrong, but what made her so right?
Things calmed a bit. My friends were here. I felt better. I changed into pajamas. They embarked down the hill, a friend was coming, they said. To the church, down the road. The dogs wanted to go – any adventure with a old family member, especially in the mysterious night, was an adventure worth embarking upon. So off they flew down the driveway.
Around here, the roads are narrow and winding. Streetlights are limited to main roads and the towns. Up here in the woods, there is only the light that you bring with you – a flashlight, your headlights. In this case, there was the bike reflectors, and the happiness shining off my brother and the pups that ran along him as he pedaled down on the bike.
Around here, people like their big cars. I guess everyone does now a days. Except, when you live in the Catskills, you feel justified in your huge truck, your sport utility vehicle. Cause sometimes driveways are snowed in, and the plow might not come for a day or two. The environment is still so pure. There are mountains without houses, more trees than people. That’s pretty rare in this day and age. The streams still taste like they are drinkable, the sunlight actually reaches the ground. There’s no smog, and there are quiet hills that the neighborhood kids go sledding on.
We actually moved our house to the back of the woods. We own quite a bit of woods up here, and when we saw that the intersection was getting dangerous, it was time to relocate. So the 200 year old house was picked up and put down on a new foundation, and now our road is further back, away from town. Rush hour here is at 7 in the morning, when ten cars will drive past. After that, there is nothing.
Since there are so few cars, there are no cops. Since there are no cops, there is less of a chance of getting caught for , say, speeding. I remember years ago, playing in the road for hours with maybe two cars passing slowly on by. So many more vehicles now traverse that same strip of concrete. With triple the speed.
So we moved up here, and now our driveway connects to this backroad that no one ever goes on, except for the people who live on it. Except at nine at night, which is when the hicks come out with their huge trucks and barrel up skinny slippery roads at 50 or more, impervious to deer, or dogs, or any dangers that leap in their way. Trucks can take it. Trucks will crush anything.
Including the family dog. My brother biked down. The night was pitch black. A huge 350 dualie. Just one guy, gunning it in his monster of a vehicle. I can’t say that he should have expected a dog to come running out at nine at night, but then, we weren’t expecting some speeding bastard racing up a backroad either.
Maybe my brother should have held his collar. Maybe I should have gotten home earlier, and affected events in some unforeseeable way. Maybe I shouldn’t have been sitting there watching tv with my little brother and a visiting friend when Jesse flew down that driveway. I don’t know what I could have done.
My mother came up the stairs not ten minutes later, and pulled my little brother up by his arm. I remained sitting there with the visitor.
“It sounds like something tragic,” she said.
“No… it’s nothing.” I wasn’t so sure myself. When my mom had come up and gone away again, the thought flashed through my mind that one of the dogs had gotten hit – it had happened before, a few years back, in the exact same manner. My little brother had found out first. I was upstairs, doing something on the computer. He came crying to me, telling me that Shadow, our shepherd, had gotten hit. I hadn’t believed him. Of course, when I saw the dog lying there in the road, I believed him… but…. It couldn’t be happening again. Not again – our house was moved. We were in the woods. None of the dogs would have left the house for the road. Not while we were here.
A few minutes passed. I heard my dad cursing, yelling not at anyone but just as he moved through the house. I held still, waiting for something more.
I heard footsteps on the stairs, and hiccuping cries. I ran to the top of the stairs. My little brother was red faced and sobbing.
“Jesse took the dogs down to the road, and Cu got hit. Cu is dead.”
My mother was crying. “You better go say your good byes. He’s in the cabin.”
I inhaled deeply, a shuddering breath of disbelief. My throat was tight as tears came to the corner of my eyes. It couldn’t be – he was just here, just a few minutes ago. He was just a baby, not more than seven months old. He couldn’t be hurt – he had to be ok.
I ran over to the cabin. The cold sent shivers through my bare feet. It had been a warm day, and the night had turned the melted snow back to cold ice water again. I pulled open the door to the cabin.
There he was, right on the rug, laying on his side. I broke down into great gasping sobs as I sat down next to him. He was cold to the touch, his mouth slightly open, his little new pink tongue hanging out just a bit. His brown eyes were closed tight. The baby was dead. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t. It wasn’t fair, it just wasn’t – the friendliest, smartest, softest, sweetest little dog that I had ever known was gone, just like that. Why hadn’t he jumped out of the way? Why was he down there? I hurt so bad… my insides were a tight ball of misery, tears pouring out and soaking the rug that I curled up on. It was as if my baby had been murdered, just when he was learning to walk.
Someone ran in, and laid a small hand on my shoulder. It felt like a boulder, and I was crying so hard that I couldn’t even turn and acknowledge that presence. The dog, in death, was too powerful for me to turn away from. He was so beautiful. And he was gone, just like that. The baby, the beautiful wonderful sweet boy wasn’t ever going to jump up on me again. Oh, my baby.
I stumbled back into the house and into my room. I didn’t even close my door… my hiccuping sobs were turning into scary breaths, and my previous congestion was clogging me up. My eyes were buzzing and there was a pounding in the back of my head.
I took two sleeping pills. I curled up in a mess of blankets, and cried myself to sleep.
That next day was the worst I’ve ever had. Nothing like telling someone they are the reason Christmas is cancelled to get them down. I hooked up the computer downstairs, and wrapped up glass bells and folded Christmas blankets. Packed up all the boxes and bags, brought my presents up to my room and threw them in the corner. The living room was bleak and dark by midday, and I called up my boyfriend and poured out the story in shuddering sobs and mangled words. He couldn’t do anything… but I just needed someone to talk to. I hurt so much. It was worse because my mother acted as if she was the only one who hurt as bad as I felt.
At around two, me and my older brother went out in the unsteady rain to dig the grave. We dug a deep hole next to my little brothers treehouse. The only problem was that that is also the site of a mountain spring, so as the hole dug it just filled up with water. The rain wasn’t helping either. The dirt was a muddy mess of rocks and slime and roots, and I sobbed out my desperation to my brother as we dug.
I wanted to leave. I wanted to take a year off from college. I wanted to move to Boston, I resented this punishment. I didn’t understand how it was my fault that the dog had died. I didn’t see the point in taking the decorations away. It wasn’t as if that was going to help anyone feel any better. The hole that we dug was nothing compared to the hole that I felt I had been trapped in.
Later on, I went back outside and picked up rocks around the yard. We had to make sure that nothing would try and dig up our dog – the woods are overrun with coyotes and other animals that have no qualms or respect for graves. Their ambitions are food and shelter. Dead bodies are meant to be eaten. I was making sure Cu would lay undisturbed.
Cu did like rocks. He used to pick up any rock that he could, prance back and forth with it, bring rocks into the house and hope that someone would play fetch with him. I know I picked up atleast a few of his favorite rocks. None of them were too big – his jaw wasn’t strong enough to pick up anything really heavy. I went through two plastic bags. They were muddy shreds of blue plastic each time. I filled each up with loads that were just slightly too heavy, and rips destroyed them almost as soon as I dumped the rocks out again. It was bad, trudging back and forth through that mud, stepping over and through rivulets of water that wound through the trees. The run off from the rain made it all worse.
Now its one in the morning on Christmas day. There will be no visits from Santa tonight. I have to get up at six and go to work. I used to anticipate Christmas, and go to bed early to make it come faster. I realize now that it’s just another day. There are no miracles. People are born, and people die. The only difference this year is that it’s on a Thursday. Last year, it was on a Wednesday. Merry Christmas.