Flashback

It’s especially cold and windy today; I’m kind of dragging along on this run.  I wear about half my weight again in clothes.  Sports bra, base layer, thermal layer, fleece.  Wind-resistant, fleece lined vest, Ragg wool mittens, long polar fleece scarf, fleece headband.  Thick SmartWool crew socks, Nike Free sneakers, and the super-warm winter running tights.  My sunglasses keep fogging up when I pull the scarf around my face to melt my cheeks.  Numb lips, yet somehow there is sweat trickling down my back.  I know I have to keep going, otherwise the sweat will get cold and I’ll never make it home before I freeze to death out here.  My legs feel like lead; I recently read somewhere in running literature, perhaps Runner’s World Magazine, that during winter training, every mile is like two.  Today, every mile feels like ten.

I pass a lady who is speed-walking.  She wears only a heavy sweatshirt, capri pants, and sneakers.  Not even a hat!  Aren’t you cold? I ask.  Not yet, she chirps, and I shiver just looking at her.  I dread Eden Road today, knowing there will be wind and some ice puddles, but decide to run down it anyway.  There are few days left of this season to take pleasure in the spectacular view of the Twin Lights and the wild waves crashing on the dark granite ledge below the edge of the road; I will eschew this route when the ice truly takes over.  I make the turn, wiping my eyes beneath my glasses before the wind-tears freeze on my cheeks.

The dog comes out of nowhere, barking, growling, advancing on me like a nightmare I cannot rouse myself from.  It’s the same one, the brown dog with black markings, the one whose owner rescued me the last time when I stood, frozen in place, only able to scream, the reflex like a hiccup that couldn’t be stopped.  There are two other dogs, smaller, maybe spaniels, who look like they might have been friendly had their companion not been so riled up.

There is no scream today, but I stop instantly and my hand goes right to my pocket, fishing for the pepper spray.  Even with the fat wool mitten on my hand, I am able to pull the small white can out.  I tear off the mitten and drop my voice low.

“Stay.”

I put my hand out in a crossing guard stop position.

“Stay.”

The dog growls deeply in his mean dog throat and advances slowly.  His teeth are bared, and the two smaller dogs dance around him, growling in angry concert.  I hold the pepper spray out in front of me, pointing it at them, trembling, not moving away, but holding my ground.

“Go home!”

It the split second before I aim the trigger at the dog’s face and squeeze, I remember what my sister said about pepper spray.  When she was training to be a corrections officer for a maximum security prison, part of the training program was that each cadet had to experience what it was like to be sprayed with pepper spray.  She said it was one of the most horrible things she had ever felt.  Her eyes burned all day long and when she returned home from that day’s session, she stood in the shower, letting the warm water run on her face.  She stood, and cried and cried.  I do not really want to do this to this dog.  I know it is his owner’s fault, not his.  But I will.

I spray.  The wind takes the spray far from the dog’s face, but he immediately stops moving toward me.  He bends his head to the street, sniffing what had landed to the side of him.  He looks back up and me, meet my eyes, and stands still.

“Go home.”

He stays where he is, the other two dogs lose interest and return to their yard, and I slowly begin to walk away.  I keep my face to the dog, taking one small step at a time, still aiming the can at him.  He remains in the road, watching every step I take.  I edge around the bend, crane my neck to see if he is following me, then take off.

In the past, whenever I have had an incident with a dog, the adrenaline rush has taken me beyond my distance expectations for the run.  This time, I can hardly move.  I force myself along, pushing, pushing, but an old, unwanted feeling from my childhood rears up inside me and I cannot let it go.  I feel bullied by the dog, and that is a familiar feeling that I usually keep shoved way down in the deepest pocket of my self.  Old memories of being teased and taunted throughout most of my childhood come rushing back, and suddenly I am not wiping away wind-tears, but real ones.

Being bullied was what marked my youth like an angry broad stroke of a black, wide-tipped felt pen.  It colored my sense of who I am today, and made me fiercely protective of each of my children’s sense of self.  I spent most of my growing up years wondering what was wrong with me, wondering what kept me from being good enough to have a friend, or at the very least, to be left alone.  I wondered what I did or how I was that made other kids make fun of me—my clothes, my hair, my shoes, my walk. Things I didn’t know about but apparently should have,  like making out, the scoop on sex, all those words I never heard at home and no one at school would tell me what they meant.  And I did everything wrong— a weak-armed lefty throwing a softball short of the pitcher, doing too well on tests and thinking it was good to be smart, being nice to my teachers when I should have been tilting back in my chair and passing notes.   I couldn’t figure out how to be regular.   I reinvented myself a million times just to hide that little girl whose heart had to curl up in a corner and cower to protect herself from what turned out to be just ordinary, mean kids, who grew up to be ordinary, mean adults.

I think and think about fourth grade, my worst year, and struggle home.  I stagger in the front door, rip off my scarf and vest and grab the phone book.  The dog officer returns my call by the time my face has melted and I can actually talk again.  I catch my breath and stand up from my corner when she reminds me it’s normal to be afraid of an advancing, growling, loose dog.  We have a leash law! she says.  She promises to contact the dog’s owner and tell him to keep his dog restrained.

I stomp the old bullies back down into their pocket and log my miles for the day: 5.2— or 10.4, or 52, depending on how seriously I want to take the writers of Runner’s World Magazine and my own interpretation of winter training.

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5 Comments on “Flashback”

  1. Julie Says:

    Damn those owners who don’t look after their dogs!!!

    See you tomorrow at 7:30am.

  2. susie Says:

    Elizabeth,
    I obviously got the dog wrong. It isn’t the Hawkins’ dog is it? They have three dogs, two black and white cockers and a mixed breed that is brown with markings. One of the cockers is blind and the other is deaf so I think they are kind of clueless as to what is going on around them. Marley is younger and if you just stamp your foot in an advancing motion he runs away. He’s not very big, actually he is smaller than the cockers so I am a little confused.Those dogs stay right by their yard and are protecting it and their humans.
    If any of my dogs bother you, you would come to me directly wouldn’t you?


    • Hi Susie,
      I don’t know the name of the people who own the dogs, but I think you have the right ones. I could not make the brown dog stop from advancing— I was not even on their side of the street, but he came right out and over to me. I did actually yell help a couple of times, but had no way of getting in touch with the people. No one was around outside. I know the dog is not very big, but he is bigger than the cocker spaniels, who, as I said, probably would have not joined in his barking and growling had he not been so riled up.
      Your dogs never bother me. They are gentle with me each time I see them and I’m not afraid of them. The bottom line for me is that I feel like I should be able to run and not be afraid of being attacked by an unleashed or unrestrained dog. If I feared that your dogs were going to bite me, I would certainly let you know! No run today— inside workout. Intense! Miss seeing you out there, but my schedule changes a lot lately.

  3. lise Says:

    You took control of a situation that was making you feel out of control……good 4 u !!

  4. susie Says:

    I understand your fear of dogs. Why not try a citronella spray instead of pepper spray. The effects of the pepper spray usually require a trip to the vet for the dog because the pepper spray actually causes burns on the eyes. Plus the owner has to administer a topical ointment for a few days. I have read that the citronella repels the animals just as effectively.
    I was worried that it was Stella because the dog was described as “large” and the actual dogs are small (well from my perspective). I have attached a link, hope It works.

    http://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?PGGUID=30e07263-7b6a-11d5-a192-00b0d0204ae5


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