A Memento

It happened so damn fast. Stupid dog! We were all sitting at the table eating dinner, a modified version of Spaghetti Bolognese and a family favorite. We all were weighing in on my middle school daughter’s most recent social dilemma. Her older brother providing the sage advice of a newly minted high-schooler, “Just wait until you get into high school, it gets worse.” Her father happily recounted his own early teen memories. “So you understand the male perspective.” He added. I’m just listening, but mostly enjoying the family discourse. Noticing, but not noticing the absolute mess our restless five year old is making as he shifts around in his chair, sometimes ducking under the table. Periodically opting to eat strands of spaghetti by hand, I notice he is wearing more sauce on his face than whatever he managed to get in his mouth. Our dog Bandit is under the table. I feel him moving around under there. He is sixty pounds, his weight always betraying his personal belief that he is a lap dog.

Then, it happened… there was blood all over the side of my youngest son’s face. Shit, shit… shit… what just happened? I couldn’t hear anything. My son’s mouth opened… but nothing came out. There was no sound. He was silently crying… or screaming? It was as though all the pieces had to be in place, eyebrows properly arched, lip quivering just so, and then it came… the loud piercing cry of astonishment and pain. Everyone properly jolted into action. The dog was promptly escorted into the garage. My husband and I are inspecting the wound. My oldest cleaning up the mess from the plate that had dropped to the floor. My daughter, whose current ambition was in the nursing field, gathered a towel and hydrogen peroxide. Seeing the peroxide, my youngest son let out a brand new cry, yelling “No… it will hurt!” We are all soothing him. “No, it is just peroxide, it won’t hurt more than it hurts now.” “We need to see the wound.” The five year old’s strength became phenomenal as he fought against the application of peroxide. His father took over cleaning the wound.

Once the wound was cleaned and dressed, the feared discussion came. “It needs stitches.” “Yes, it needs stitches.” “We have to take him to Urgent Care.” “Right at his eyebrow near the temple, and any lower and it would have got his eye!” Oh Lord, are we going to have to tell them it was a dog bite? I felt sick to my stomach. Bandit was an American Staffordshire Terrier, better known as a Pit Bull. We already had had trouble with the neighbors, feeling the pointed judgement of breed discrimination. He’d been with us five years now, a rescue, and part of the family. “Are they required to report this?” “Would they want to put Bandit down?” “We knew that he only tried to lick the boy’s face, and his tooth got in the way. He’s so big and doesn’t know his own strength.” “Are social services involved in cases like this?” We didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. In the end, our son received four stitches. We informed him that the scar will give his face character, and it did.

It has been seven years since this incident. Bandit was never reported, and we never had an incident like that again. Bandit is over twelve years old now. He’s seen our oldest son go off to college, and the youngest is just now starting middle school.

He moans every day now, but more recently stopped eating his regular food. He barely moves from his post on the steps, and can barely do his job as a glorified doorbell. His bark, if he barks, comes out as an airy and baffling noise, an untempered and uneven attempt to let us know that someone has come to the door. He pissed on the floor a few days ago, and my daughter who was there cleaned it up without anyone knowing. She tells me this later. My oldest son, visiting for the holidays and as stoic as his sister, quickly hid his shock and quietly took him out for a walk in the woods. These days, we all tend to Bandit. My husband carries him up and down the stairs. He sleeps in my daughter’s bed every night. Even though his body no longer absorbs any nutrients, we feed him sockeye salmon and anything else that he seems to perk up over. I’ve been having short, but meaningful conversations with my youngest son to prepare him for the inevitable. He hesitantly relays to me that he is not ready for Bandit to go. I feel the same, but note Bandit’s body is no longer operating, and his spirit suffers within this entrapment.

One day, my husband asked, “Do you think we need to take him to the vet?”. I said, “But they will put him down, and our daughter is not here. Should we wait until she returns?” Our daughter was away for the weekend. We didn’t finish the discussion. Later, when there was no questions to ask, my husband simply told us that he would take him the next day.

In some furtive way, so as to not reveal my own grief over the matter, I revisit my thoughts on the manifestation of presence and what it is to live and what it is to die, if that really happens. It is all surreal and impassioned. Everyday, a gift as I greeted our four-legged family member, and when I look at my youngest son’s handsome face I especially notice that characteristic scar. It is much smaller, with just a hint that something happened there, I thought, a little memento of Bandit’s time here with us.