"Daddy, did you shoot my dog?"
There are certain pivotal events in every person's life that shape & define an individual. Whether it be negative or positive, we carry these things with us throughout our entire lives. This is one of mine, one that I sometimes find myself drifting back to from time to time.
His name was Bear, he was the epitome of a chow dog. Jet black fur, muscular build with that iconic purple tongue.
Bear was just a puppy when he wandered into our yard for the first time & found Jacob right away. From then on, the two were inseparable. Just Iike in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & his dog Jake, it was quite the sight to see, one that people noticed often.
Bear was never an ill tempered dog. He never received anything but kindness from Jacob and in turn he reciprocated that kindness to everyone as he walked our rural neighborhood for several years.
One day, some new neighbors moved in & they insisted on instigating conflict almost daily.
Immediately the trouble began over their fear of my baby brother's puppy. The sheriff's department was called regularly, almost daily. Since there wasn't such a thing as a lease law, there was little outside of a verbal warning that ever happened. Besides in my neighborhood, the cops were weren't welcome, they're rarely helped & always left you feeling violated in some way.
I remember the deputy once asked my father, "Why not just buy a chain & chain him up? " I can't remember my father's response over my inner voice screaming "We have no money, not for a dog chain, not for food, not for running water or gas!!"
One day, we finally caught a break. There was a kid on the front road, across the creek that promised me $10 if I'd go handle his neighborhood's local bully. I took a short walk across the creek, using the big rocks we had managed to fashion into a makeshift bridge. When I finally found my target I made short work of this rich boy from up north. I collected my bounty and made my way home as quick as I can, Cooper's Hardware closed around 4 p.m. I'd have to run at least half the two miles to get there on time, but I'd make it, I'd come through.
I think that Jacob was so excited that his dog would be tied up and out of everyone's way, that peace would be restored, he just couldn't help but tell everyone the great news.
My father met me in the doorway, " I heard y'all made a little cash today, I need some cigarettes, I'll take care of the chain for Bear on the 3rd. The man standing in front of me now was not the yankee boy I'd met earlier by any means, so naturally, like always, I gave him what he wanted. Always what he wanted.
The next morning I woke up to total chaos. Old lady Mae was in hysterics standing by her car, screaming as the huge black monster sat stationary,10 feet away wagging his tail and bouncing on his back legs menacingly, surely about to pounce at any moment.
My father was forced to stir from his SOMA coma (for those that don't know a soma is a potent narcotic muscle relaxer) I guess that he had had enough of this aggravation. He handled the situation by taking the dog by his collar, leading him straight down to the back of the house, he open the wooden basement door, tossing Bear inside, he latched the latch & made his way back to the couch & returned to sleep.
The unfinished basement of our house was at its highest height around three and a half feet. The floor was dirt, no windows & no light. I'm not sure how long Jacob's beloved Bear was forced to stay down there in the dark with no food & no water.
What I can say for sure is that the dog that emerged from that basement was not the same dog that went in. There was a vacancy in his eyes, they seemed to be glossed over, filled with tears and manically moving from to side to side, frantically searching for an exit.
The dog didn't interact with us anymore. Although he never strayed far from Jacob especially when my father was around. Always positioning himself in between the two of them.
It couldn't have been more than a couple days later when the good Christian woman needed saving once again.
We were all asleep….. I can't tell you what happened before the shotgun blast but afterwards, I'll never forget what my little brother asked my father. I swear it sounded like a moan, hauntingly.
"Daddy, did you shoot my dog?'
He didn't answer, he didn't have to, or maybe he did, I couldn't hear anything overy own ears ringing. Afterwards he grabbed the lifeless body of Jacob's beloved best friend and simply tossed it over the bluff in our back yard, his mangled & bloody body half in & half out of the creek. There the dog laid until it decomposed fully. Looking back, I can't tell you why I was afraid to give him a proper burial.
I can't tell you now why this man I called my father could paralyze me with debilitating fear. I can tell you that I can't remember feeling afraid since.
The night of Bear's death, I took a large kitchen knife & shredded every tire on every car that our neighbors had. I watched them as they tried to leave for church only to discover my futile attempt at revenge. They saw me staring and I'm sure that they knew, as I sat there glaring with an intensity that was new to me, my only real thought was how I'd love to do to my father what he did to my baby brother, I wanted to crush him, to make him feel hopeless.
Several years later, at the age of 18, I did manage to provide a home for my brother. For a while we were happy, just the two of us in that tiny dilapidated apartment in the middle of Lake City. Truth is I just couldn't maintain all of it, work, school, parental duties. Eventually, It all fell apart, but I did attempt several more times to give Jacob the life I thought he deserved.
At the last apartment that I had for us, I heard him talking in his sleep one night, "Daddy, did you shoot my dog"
He never spoke about it all directly, nor did I, I wanted to but it seemed like I just couldn't muster up the words, my throat would suddenly transform into a dry desert & the words would just never come.
I was at the back end of a lengthy prison sentence, two weeks before my release Jacob took his own life, suicide by hanging, such a violent way to die. It was the culmination of a violent life filled with violent encounters all the way through. A life filled with ugliness, sadness & ignorance.
I have spent many nights wondering if I could have changed it all. One night I was up late reading the book Anthem by Ayn Rand, on my way to the bathroom I discovered my father asphyxiating in his own vomit, I sometimes
wonder how different things could have been if I had only let him be, left him to his fate, instead of rolling him over & clearing his air ways.....
I sometimes have this dream. My brother Jacob is standing there at the edge of the couch that my father is sitting on, with a blood splattered white t-shirt still on and my grandfather's old 12 gauge shotgun across his lap, the same shotgun that was used as a tool of The Ku Klux Klan back in it's heydey. That cursed hunk of wood & metal responsible, once again making its mark.
Jacob is still wearing those same blue one piece pajamas with the feet he loved so much, he's looking at my father. Jacob is still asking the same question that he always asks him in my dream, "Daddy, did you shoot my dog?"
In my dream, my father still hasn't answered his question.
"Rest easy now brother, may flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest."