Dusk, Summer 1994
My friend and I were in some bushes near the edge of the yard where the “Olympic-sized” swimming pool was. Really, it was just an in-ground pool that everyone called Olympic-sized because any pool seemed lavish, never mind one with a diving board and everything. The two of us were one of several pairs of kids hiding around the neighborhood, and if we were found by the group who was searching for everyone, we’d get our asses kicked for a few minutes because I guess that’s the kind of game you play when you’re ten. A puppy we knew – a black chow chow mix – ran from across the street to join us. He belonged to two brothers, and I didn’t know where they were hiding, so me and the kid I was with decided to bail on our spot because there was no way we were staying hidden with a puppy doing puppy things right next to us. We settled on running across the street toward a patch of woods that separated our neighborhood from the main road – the kind of woods that are fun for city kids to play in, but where there are empty 40s here and there and broken pallets and stuff like that, so somebody’s getting a nail through their foot at some point.
I wasn’t ready for the rubber squeal and thud behind me as we reached the opposite side of the street, or the quick, cut off yelp – a noise that somehow happened in the moment between the puppy being hit by a truck and realizing he was too hurt to be making noises. My friend and I stopped and swung around and stared at the animal and then at the truck. It was one of those small, functional pickups that a lot of people drove back then. We walked over and kneeled on the pavement next to the puppy and watched its mouth slowly open. Blood poured out and down the incline of the street, pooling at a bend in the road that the truck had just come around. The driver got out and started saying he wasn’t going too fast, and that he just came around the corner and bam the dog was there, and that he didn’t do anything wrong, and some other things that didn’t make sense or seem important because we were kids and our friends’ puppy was bleeding in the road.
The two brothers whose puppy it was, now out of their hiding spot, ran toward us from down the street, their gaits growing more frantic and uncoordinated as they got closer and realized what they were running toward. When they stopped, I don’t know how they didn’t completely break down, but they were tough kids, and it was fucked up, but most boys weren’t really supposed to show too much emotion by the time they were our age without being ridiculed – or worse – by a parent or another kid, so they stood and quietly watched their puppy as the unavoidable tears silently started rolling down their faces. After a moment, the younger brother crouched down and touched the animal tentatively, like he was afraid of somehow making things worse.
When the brothers’ dad appeared a minute or so later, he was angry, so I thought he might fight the driver – and I kind of wanted him to – but instead his demeanor softened and he started consoling his boys, and then consoling the puppy, his calloused hand resting gently on its blood-matted fur. A couple more adults filtered out into the street, and somebody got a blanket and put it over the puppy so just his head was poking out. By then all the kids who had been playing had gathered, too.
The driver finally apologized and offered to drive the puppy to the emergency vet, but the father said that it wouldn’t matter, and he was right. The puppy’s breathing was starting to slow down, and the blood had soaked through the blanket. At the end, there were almost 20 of us – kids, parents, random neighbors, the driver – and we just stood there and watched the puppy die.
The father slowly wrapped the puppy in the blanket, picked him up, and then gave the group a firm, steady nod and carried it away with his sons. The other adults exchanged sympathetic looks with each other while the kids stood blank-faced, unable to find the right emotions for what had happened. Then everyone went home.
When I got inside, I turned on the TV to distract myself, but after a few minutes I heard noises outside and went to the window. The father was digging a hole in his yard. Sweat and dirt flew as he angrily plunged the shovel into the ground and ripped it back out. Beams from the setting sun sparkled off specks of quartz in the dirt as he threw it. The sky turned from orange to pink to purple and finally to smoky gray as the night moved in. The sound of metal splitting the ground continued as the dirt began to disappear into darkness.