When my dog was killed I saw the school bus coming back up the long dirt road. I saw it coming as I stood over the broken body of my sheltie Astra, who had been running around alive just five minutes earlier. I guess the bus driver never knew he killed her, because he waved at me. And too late I thought to seize a rock and smash his goddamned windshield. Oh the fury I felt in that five seconds. Maybe broken glass in the driver’s face would help him understand what he had done to me. I looked but there were only bits of gravel on the ground, and a moment later the bus was bouncing away and gone. I couldn’t even bring to mind a fitting swear word to shriek after it (all that practice I had at summer camp for nothing.) I seethed and vibrated for a moment, then my stomach dropped away. I couldn’t look at Astra. I walked to the house and went to bed. I later learned that my step-father, Jon Fineman, buried her in the forest.
Astra was the family dog, but I always felt she loved me best. Everyone knew she belonged to me.
I had never experienced grief before. It was a completely new sensation, like getting drunk would be, a few years later, or making love, a few years after that. But unlike those things it went on and on. I suppose I could compare it with a very high fever that puts you into delirium, but at that time I hadn’t ever been sick like that. So, it was really new for me.
My body and mind were shutting down, as if a bank of fuses had all gone out at once. I went to bed and everyone knew to stay away. Except Jon.
He came in, sat down, and said some things. I don’t recall exactly what he said. I could tell he was trying to comfort me. It wasn’t working. I didn’t want to hear from him, or anyone. I wanted everyone gone. I wanted time to turn back or the world to explode. Neither was going to happen so leave me alone Jon. Leave. Go. Go. Get out of here.
He did go after a little while.
What he said meant nothing to me, and I was embarrassed for him. What could words do for me? Words are nothing. What the hell was he trying to do?
Well, thirty years later…
I’m thinking about Astra, for some reason. Can’t remember what brought her to mind, but she drifts in now and again. Good old dog.
I remember the day she died. I had been playing with her after school: chase, fetch, and all that. We were running near the long dirt road that crossed by the front of our rural Vermont homestead. Then I got tired and went indoors. I should have taken Astra inside, too. It was my responsibility. When you play with Astra outside you don’t leave her. Because she chased cars. She especially loved to chase the high school bus that would be bringing my sister home any moment. I didn’t bring the dog in. I was careless. Then the bus came, she charged into it, and went under the wheels.
The family knew I left her out. Jon knew, and he was big on the philosophy of consequences. But when he came to speak to me later that night– when I ignored him and despised him– he said nothing of that. He chose not to add his voice to the chorus in my mind screaming at me, that I had killed our happy dog. Then this man, Jon Fineman, who loved Astra too, told me how he also had a dog once that died. He offered his friendship, and he forgave me.
When you speak to your child, and you feel that he is not listening, maybe he isn’t. When you speak to him and you suspect he’s silently ridiculing you, maybe he is. When the gift of your advice or sympathy fails in every way to touch him, and you believe yourself a failure, maybe you are. For now.
Bide your time.
Just imagine the man he will be, someday. His now subtle and caring mind clambering back through his life, looking for support in the events that shaped him– just imagine how he’ll come upon your words. The gift you tried to give. Faded on the outside, yet vital still inside, it will open like a blossom. Even thirty years later.
When you speak to your children today, you are also speaking to every day of their future selves. Parenting is outside of time. Take care and take heart in that.