It’s been a while since I’ve published an actual story on here. Digging around some old files on my computer, I found this one. It’s a true story, not my usual fare, and one I haven’t told many people. It was never meant to be published and as such has a number of technical problems, but I don’t want to do a major edit right now. Besides, sometimes it’s nice to just let something stand on its own, even when it’s weak. Sometimes, it’s nice to let something be imperfect. Sometimes, it’s good to remember that stories, like people, can be worthwhile even through their faults.
Bootsie, My Dog
“Turn around! Go home!”
Although I loved our family’s cute little poodle-chihuahua mutt dearly, I hated when she followed me to school. I was on my way to afternoon kindergarten, and had just left home when I noticed her trailing behind me. I yelled and ranted at her, but to no avail. She couldn’t understand me, and I shouldn’t have expected her to. Of course, my five-year-old brain didn’t know that. I saw her run the other way, and thought that was the end of it. “Go home!” I shouted, and pedaled onward without a backward glance.
Now 5000 South, the street I lived on, was just a quiet, backwater, boondocks, middle of nowhere road. My siblings and I often played our games of football, frisbee, super heroes, soccer, and everything else right on the street and never once did we hear a, “Get out of the road!” or “You’re going to get yourselves killed!” Not parent nor neighbor nor well-meaning stranger ever scolded our blatant disregard for the dangers of the asphalt. Simply put, there were no dangers. Not for us. Not in our barely traveled, barely settled part of town.
Half a mile from my house down 5000 South was 2500 East. 2500 East was the main thoroughfare of our neighborhood. Although not heavily traveled by anyone’s standards, 2500 East was dangerous. Long stretches of road sat on a hill with steep ditches on either side. There were no bike lanes. No sidewalks. Kids walked or rode their bikes on the side of the road, but that offered little protection. In addition to these extreme circumstances, the road ran along a series of gently rolling hills, and while this may seem idyllic it also gave motorists a distinct disadvantage regarding their line of sight. It was not uncommon to only be able to see up to a tenth of a mile in front of you, and if you managed to come over a hill and run into a gaggle of safety blind pre-adolescents, a screeching of brakes and honking of horns was quick to ensue.
I was just over the crest of one such hill when I happened to look behind me, I forget why, and there she was. Happy, loving, smiling over her whole face as she pranced along after me. I stopped my bike and waited for her to approach me, still smiling, happy to have been allowed to come along for the ride. I scolded as well as a five-year-old is able, but we were too far from home to send her back. As much as it bothered me, the only solution was to continue on to school, then call my mother to come pick her up.
We enjoyed a pleasant ride the rest of our trip. I did enjoy her company, though it bothered me to be put upon in such a way without my consent, and I found myself happy to spend this time together. We arrived at the school, and I placed my bicycle on the rack. I didn’t lock it, not in those days and that neighborhood. My friends often locked theirs and wore helmets, two occurrences which I found incredibly senseless and endlessly hilarious. I placed my bicycle on the rack, free for any would-be brigand and headed into the school.
“Stay! Stay right here,” I told her in my sternest voice. I didn’t want her running off and getting lost or mangled. I had faith that Mrs. Walker would let me use the telephone, my mother would come retrieve her and all would be well. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I knew my phone number and address even before starting kindergarten. 3000 East 5000 South. 789-8553. I was always good with numbers, and I have to admit mine weren’t the most difficult for anyone to remember. I was confident, with a surety that only children and the mentally ill possess, that all would be put to right.
The first thing I noticed when I entered my classroom was the lady behind the desk. Most notably, she wasn’t Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker was my teacher, and she had taught a number of my older siblings. She was kind and approachable. I knew I could trust her. This stranger wasn’t any of those things. To be fair, she probably possessed many of the same qualities as Mrs. Walker, but to me and my five-year-old, agitated, shy brain she was the worst possible situation. All the same, I couldn’t leave Bootsie outside in a strange place not even tied up.
I approached the impostor with trepidation. I was a shy child, and I was very respectful of authority. Yet while it is no lie to say I was respectful, it was a respect born out of fear. I intensely feared being reprimanded and, more than that, branded a bad child. All this led me to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do was stand by the teacher’s desk until I was noticed. The stranger was busy doing something. In my mind she was scribbling away in a notebook, but whatever the truth of it she was busily looking down at the desk. When she finally raised her head, her gaze swung up straight past me and to the clock on the wall.
“Everybody take your seats. It’s time for class to start.”
Being the dutiful boy I was, I now felt completely torn. I was afraid for the well-being of my dog, but didn’t see I had any recourse except to be silent and obey teacher’s orders. I grudgingly marched to my seat, where I spent the next few hours worrying over Bootsie. As soon as I was dismissed (by the teacher not the bell!), I ran to where I had told her to ‘Stay!’ I am sad to say, she was not there. Sometimes, when she got lost, she found her own way home. Sometimes a kind neighbor brought her back. This time she was simply gone.
For a short time I held out hope she would turn up. I felt, in the way only a child can feel, that I was directly responsible for her demise. I never spoke up when my mother or a brother or sister wondered what could have happened to Bootsie. I didn’t want to face it myself. My wife tells me, “But you were only little. There’s no way you could have known. Besides, you were scared and just trying to be a good kid.” Although this is all true, none of it really helps. I still feel that childish guilt and responsibility. I still want to tell Bootsie I’m sorry, and that if I could go back I’d stand up to the stranger. I want to tell my five-year-old self it’s okay to speak up, and it’s even okay to get in trouble, especially to help a friend. But I can’t do any such thing, so I tell the five-year-old still inside me it’s okay to feel bad, that next time we’ll do the right thing, and damned be the consequences.