Betrayal in My Youth
by Shaun Terry
When I was very young — maybe just four or five — our dog —my dog, actually — had a litter of puppies. The puppies were adorable and they gave me a lot of joy. Maybe I felt some responsibility for protecting them. I was the oldest of seven kids (well, at this point, just four) and my parents were young and stupid. I probably would’ve benefitted from having gotten more attention than I got, or at least maybe Freud or Jung or Lacan would’ve said so; frankly, I’d agree with any such assessment. I was a sensitive child and I could be pretty passive and hesitant. Maybe all kids are this way.
It must’ve been spring or summer and it was nearing dusk, so we’d been playing outside. Of course, I was obsessed with the puppies, so I was spending a lot of time playing with them. They had a cardboard box in the middle of the garage and they were a few weeks old. They could bounce around: little fuzzy globs of meat with too much skin, but they were uncoordinated and unaware.
We kept the garage door open so that we could run in and out, grabbing a basketball or taking a break to play with the pups or running inside the house to pee. But it was starting to get dark, so my parents decided that it was time for us to get inside for the evening. My sister stood by the inside and pressed the button on the wall to close the big garage door.
The garage door hung parallel to the ceiling in four wide wooden panels, each hinged to the other. I had put the puppies in the box for the night, and the first wood panel started to slowly descend from the ceiling, with the accompanying loud, low-pitched grind drowning other noise in the atmosphere.
The puppy was bounding toward me in short hops. I was more-or-less in the middle of the driveway, and I yelled to my sister, who was still standing by the button to the garage door: “Hey! Press the button again!”
“What?!” she said, so I repeated myself.
“What?!” She looked confused. Was she confused because she couldn’t make out what I was saying or because she couldn’t figure out why she should re-open the garage door? My sister could be obedient and deferential to my parents, and often treated me as a rival. I was getting frustrated, as I quickly made my way toward the garage. By this point, a couple panels were perpendicular to the ceiling, steadily descending.
“OPEN THE DOOR! THE PUPPY’S RUNNING OUT! HURRY! PRESS THE BUTTON!”
She just stood there, slack-jawed. I was running in fear, and the puppy was obliviously bounding toward the inch-and-a-half thick piece of wood that was sure to obliterate him. I was terrified, and I’d lost sight of my sister, so I couldn’t depend on her. My father was further afield, and I sensed that he’d come from the street or the yard, having recognized some trouble. He was a big, athletic man, but there was no way that he was going to make it the distance to save the day.
I got to the door as it was closing. Times before, I’d managed to prop up the door and keep it from closing, at which point the door would stutter and return to the ceiling. Was I too late? I quickly jammed my leg as far under the door as I could. It wasn’t enough.
My foot got halfway under the door, but didn’t supply sufficient resistance. The puppy was half on one side of the door, half on the other: convulsing, smushed. Moments before, my sister had finally pressed the damn button, but there was lag between the depression of the button and the response of the door, so now the door raised up to reveal the mess that the puppy left behind, wiggling in its last moments.
I was bawling. My father reacted quickly. My sister stood, stunned. I’ve never considered how she must’ve felt, but I was more traumatized by the puppy’s fate than I was angry at her. I’d never dealt with death before, but my father assured me that I wouldn’t have to. He was a salesman and a fast talker; he was good at making people feel good, even if his efforts could be dishonest. The puppy was going to be okay. Daddy was going to take him to the vet, and the vet would take care of the puppy. He was my dad; maybe he could make this happen. Was there life in this puppy? I was in shock, my ruddy cheeks covered in saline.
At the end of our street was a small wooded area. A few days later, my mother told me that dad had buried the dead puppy there. The bastard.