Category: animals


Prince – Part Two


Very shortly after we’d moved back to the ‘hood, I was out walking my dog on a leash.  He was a “Cockapoo” – a mixture of Cockerspanial and Poodle.  A black dog with curly silken fur, he weighed about thirty-five pounds.  I know because that’s the amount of weight I was required to lose in order to keep him. It was part of my parent’s requirement to ship him home.  He’d been trained in apartments, was good, though nervous or anxious sometimes.  I’d read a few books on animal psychology, including – and specializing in dogs.  (To this day some in the family call me “the dog whisperer”, and dogs and I tend to get along.)

Anyway, as I am walking along, here comes my old Nemesis.

Prince.

German Sheppard

Prince had been the big dog that had torn me up in my youth.  He’d clawed me from face to navel while the grownups had stood around – feeding us kids to him one-by-one.  They were intending on us making ‘friends’ with him.  Instead he had clawed us all to pieces.  He’d been restrained on a chain around a great big old pine tree – but there was no escaping. If you hung back they’d push you into that circle, swept clean of pinestraw and debrie’ by his constant running . . .

It had hurt.

This time, though, Prince was loose.  He lived with the neighbors across the road – good friends of mine.  Usually he ignored me and I him.  But this time he’d seen my dog.

Prince was a German Sheppard.  He probably weighed upwards of fifty pounds, if not more.  I greatly outweighed him – but he was as long as my body –

I didn’t have time to react as my dog, sensing immediate attack, immediately began to mount me, climbing towards my head.  I could almost read the thoughts in his eyes:  “Master! Save me!” –

and as he’s climbing, Prince, drawing closer, increases his speed.  He knows me.  I’m the puny human he’s dealt with before . . .

But here’s the thing.

I’m older now, by three and a half years.  I’m heavier, too.  And I’ve been trained. During my time “over there” I’d been trained to take on – and/or take out – dogs like him.  Yeah, I’m only thirteen – but he doesn’t scare me now.  Not a bit.

As I help my dog hoist himself over my shoulder, claws scratching as he tries to climb on my head and perch there, Prince launches himself up, full height, his paws going for my shoulders.

As I stood there, I took the weight of him awhile – about a millisecond – and then I stepped into him, throwing him back and down with my forearm in his now surprised mouth. Then I dropped down on him, throwing my own dog aside, embracing his body with my own, wrapping my legs around him, one arm levering his mouth and head back as the other cleared his throat of front paws.

And then I bit him.  And I bit him hard.  Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to let him know who’s boss.  I had him outstretched in my arms, his body under me, his fur in my mouth.  It was thick and dusty.  I clamped down harder, on his larynx now – I had shifted from the jugular, where I had taken my first clamp.  He was whining now, and struggling to be let go.  I bore my weight down even harder, shaking my head and growling, pulling and grinding the double lapped thick skin in my teeth.  He whined, then cried out.  I held him there for several moments – huffing through my cheeks, teeth white gripped in his downy fur and hair – shaking him.  Letting him know who’s boss.

When I got up and let go of him – wow!  He took off out of there, looking behind out over his shoulder as if I was a demon standing there.  My own dog stood shaking and shivering beside me, pressing his body against my calf.  I looked down and smiled.

“Come on buddy,” I said.  “I just saved your ass.”

The End

13


 

 

Notes:
This was written and produced by one of my ‘alters’, #13.  He is rather proud of it.  One of the things he kept wanting stated as a ‘fact’ he learned about dogs (for it is true: I am somewhat of a “dog whisperer” – and a lazy dog trainer, too).  “Dogs,” he sez, “is different.  Some of them got fur; some of them got hair.  The ones with hair hate the ones with fur and viz versa.  Same goes with cats & some kinds of other animals.  So you always gotta be careful when you introduce a dog with fur to one with hair.  Dogs, them gonna hate one another.  Unless you’ve raised one with pup, that’s the way.  Otherwise you might tend to have a little trouble.”
 
And by the way?  That German Sheppard never bothered us again.  In fact, if he saw me on the road, he’d take off for his house, and we’d find him cowering and slinking away out back.  He was scared of me . . . (grin)

 

Frisky


“Kill!  Kill!”  I yelled encouragingly, my bicycle speeding over the concrete pavement.  It was late in the evening, autumn had come, and a leash was strung taut from the handlebars to my dog.

‘Frisky’ was what we called him, and he was mine.  I had gotten him during our second year in Germany from a lady downstairs who raised dogs.  He was a cocker-poo – a blend of cocker spaniel and full grown poodle, with a cropped tail and completely black.  He was mine – mine to live with and raise.

Like any kid I had begged for him after I saw that pile of dogs – squirming little things, black, brown, and fuzzy.  And my parents had surprised me on September eleven – my birthday – with one.

Of course there were all those rules, requirements, and prerequisites for owning a dog – especially one overseas in Army apartments.  I would be responsible for every aspect of his behavior – arising at four-thirty in the morning to walk him, feed him before school – coming home afterwards and cleaning up any mess he made.  House training him, teaching him – with help from my mother . . .

And from her we had gotten – and he had learned – the command “KILL!”.

Kill meant a lot of things to him.  It meant “attack” for one.  It also meant hauling me – towing me, actually – along the streets of the kaserne (an “Army camp” in German).  It meant defending me, or anyone else, or attacking another dog, though he wasn’t real brave.  Foolish, yes; brave, no.

He had curly hair – remarkably curly – which tumbled down in his eyes.  With his bobbed tail he would often join in when my brother and I got to fighting – and my mom would urge him on:  “Kill them!  Kill them!” – to which he would joyously oblige, or at least attempt to.

But he saved me a lot of peddling once he got out of the ‘basket stage’.  That is the stage where you are hauling them around in a basket on your bicycle.  I wrecked only once with him – he didn’t forget it nor forgive it at once.  Once he got up to about thirty pounds roles were switched: he would haul me instead of me hauling him.

He was a good dog – for a dog.

One morning I woke up – woke from an erotic dream.  Sure, I was only thirteen, but by then I’d seen as much sex as many adults had seen.

So I wake up – thrilling dream! – I was back home – to find the dog peeing on my groin.

Funny sometimes how something warm and wet will bring something back, something you haven’t seen for . . . it seemed years, a lifetime ago.  My friends, my old neighborhood, the sex we’d had.

But that dog . . .

When it came time to leave overseas I was a hefty child.  “Husky” they called it back then.  “Fat” is what my parents called it, so did my brother.  I could make my stomach folds grin, I had gotten so fat from German food (so good!) and the earnings I made from my ‘job’.  And while the Army was willing to ship me and my huge folds of fat back home with my parents, it was not so with my dog.

“You’re going to have to loose HIS weight,” my mom said.  Thirty-five pounds it was – and I had only three months to do it.  No matter how I cried or pleaded, they were firm:  I would lose as much as he weighed, or else he would not be coming home with us.  They would find some other family for him to live with.

So I dieted – without having a clue how – living on Carnaton Instant breakfasts and not much else.  The weight came off slowly – so slowly! – and my child’s discipline when it came to treats and eating was not good.  And yet I did it – barely, in the nick of time, with just a few weeks to spare . . .

and so I brought him home – or to our ‘new home’ – back in the USA.  Later on I would defend him, later still abandon him to my parents while I joined the Marine Corps . . .

He was a well traveled dog at that – going from Germany to Georgia, then to Indiana and beyond.  He lived quite a number of years – about 15 – under my momma.  In his old age my mom would joke about how he would go outside and then forget what he’d gone to do, until he got so old when he’d raise his leg to pee he’d fall over in the snow . . .

He lived a varied life – and a good life – for a dog.  He was well behaved and trained.  My mom, who treats her animals much better than her children – or people at all – made sure of that.  He grew old and gray muzzled, forgetful near the end, until they finally had to put him down . . .

And he never forgot to “kill”.

Prince


Prince


“Here! Meet Prince. Make friends with him!”

A hand between my shoulder blades firmly shoved me forward. I dug in my heels, afraid. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to make friends with Prince. I was terrified of him. I could see what he did to kids. Around me the other kids were crying. Some had deep gouges on their chests and shoulders, some were oozing blood.

The hand shoved again. I was trembling inside; there was no way around it. Prince stared eagerly at me, his eyes bright as drool dribbled down his chin.

We had arrived in the ‘hood perhaps a few months before. We were in our neighbor’s backyard – the one across the street. Everyone envied them their house. It was a long brick ‘ranch’ with a big front and even bigger back yard peppered with those large scaly pines that grow in the South. In the back stood the remains of an old well house; its broken block walls staggered like an old man’s teeth. Another shed stood further behind; its walls narrow and high.  That shed was kept lock most of the time, and for some reason that one still scares me – I can see it in mind’s eyes, the planked door all a cant . . .

Prince stood, tongue lolling from his mouth as he rolled his eyes, watching me.  Waiting.  Waiting for me to come.  The hand pushed me forward again.  It was my mom.  I tried backpedaling but it was futile. Her hands clamped my shoulders and shoved me forward.

“Make friends!” Mom commanded. I could hear the disgust and irritation at my cowardice beneath her cheery tone.  I knew she was covering her irritation at me for our neighbor’s benefit.

“He won’t hurt you!” the other mom cheerfully chirped. Behind her stood her children. Several were still crying, heads down, looking at the long red streaks marking their chests, thighs, and stomachs.  They were still sniffling.

I looked at Prince.  He was chained up good I reckon – I could see a big loop banding the pine’s wide base – but he had a six foot lead. There was a wide circle where he stayed, the chain keeping the ground swept clean.  A battered pine straw rim surrounded it, showing the limits of his range like a boxing ring. Deep scars marked the ground, and you could see where his nails had raked the edge along the ring. Soon they would be raking me.

Taking a firm breath and holding it, I forced myself to step forward. Prince was huge compared to me – a mere six year old. Standing up he could put his chin on top of my mom’s head. She hadn’t any big problem with him; just a little. The grownups were big enough to handle him.  I wasn’t.  None of us kids were.  And he was friendly.

The hand shoved me again as I faltered to a stop.  My mom bent and breathed a curse in my ear.  “Go on and step forward, you little bastard!”  She straightened back up again.

“Go on! He’s friendly enough.” Gone was the anger, again the waiting audience heard cheer.  Mom shoved me again. Her neighbor stood, smiling encouragingly and chirping advice. She’d put Prince out just a few days before and she wanted everyone in the neighborhood to get to know him. After all, he was handsome in his own way. But he was too friendly. That was the problem – he was too friendly and unabashed about his greetings.  If you could count on anything, it was that they were wholehearted. I could see it in his eyes: he could hardly wait.  ‘They’, the grownups, were trying to break him by using us children on him – teaching us how to handle him while teaching him not to hurt us – too much. Either way, it didn’t matter. We were getting torn up.  Prince didn’t care.  He was just confused because they’d pull the last child out from under him just as he’d begun to ‘play’ . . .

The children’s mother alternated between cheering us on and scolding her kids. She wanted them to lead by example, including the ‘not crying’ thing. They were still crying because their scratches hurt. This wasn’t the first time they’d been through this ordeal. They had gone through it a few days earlier, when Prince had first arrived to the neighborhood. I had noticed when we first entered the back yard that they kept their distance from that ring, staying just a few feet outside that ring of dusty sand, looking in. Sometimes they would reach towards him, or he would think they had gotten too close and he would lung, mouth gaping and claws snatching. And he had long claws. Yes, he certainly did.

I had watched ever since my mom had brought me over here, into this green backyard with it’s circle of dirt – watched the kids greeting him one by one – the grownups beating him down when it finally got too much for the kid in question to bear – beating him back with a stick or a broom handle – and then another kid would be asked, or forced to go forward. Each one had gotten a mauling; all except for the older kids. They were almost able to handle him. But even given their size, he was quite a bit bigger than them when he would stand, his back arced against the chain that was binding him to the tree so he would go running away and cause some sort of trouble somewhere else like he had done already. I guess that’s why they were keeping him there; later on, after he had learned this lesson, they were going to let him go roaming and rambling through the neighborhood . . .

And I guess that’s why, in a way, they wanted everyone – especially all of us kids – to meet him. Introducing us to him; letting him sniff us over his his own way and fashion. While also teaching him some manners. There again at our own expense.

I stepped forward; I was now almost in the circle-ring. I took another step or perhaps I was shoved again. I kept getting thrust forward despite all the backpedaling I could do. Gritting my teeth –

He lunged forward, his huge claws raking me down my shoulders; cheeks, chest and chin. Slobber dripped down all over me. I was thrown backward, but those hands kept on supporting me, urging me forward again; those claws came down again, a drool covered tongue licked my cheek; hot breath huffing me in the face . . .

Like burning daggers they are, those claws; raking me down the face.  I remember one kid with a dangling eyelid . . . drooping because he’d gotten hurt in that way . . .

Beating him with sticks the grownups drove him down again; by now I was crying, my scratches were hurting, and I stumbled away while the grownups started laughing. Some of the kids were playing by now, wandering off to do their own thing.

Welcome, Prince, to the neighborhood, welcome to the game . . .

He never was quite human.

After all, he was a dog. A large one. A big black and tan German Shepard who’d been chained to a tree. And his ‘mother’, the owner, wanted everyone to get to know him – and break him of this habit he had of jumping on everyone he met – including us children. Which meant ‘feeding’ us children to him one-by-one and then beating him off of us.

It was a hell of a way to learn. Not just for him, but us children.

And I learned something that day. I learned that sometimes you have to step into the fire, knowing you are going to feel some pain. Maybe a lot of pain. And that sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it.

And I resolved not to cry. Ever again. Not that I succeeded. I was always trying to toughen up. Even as a toddler I had resolved not to cry – not when I was beaten, nor threatened with death, nor sitting by the door waiting for the “Bad Men” from the “Bad Boys Home” to come get me and take me away from home. It just strengthened my resolve. I was learning. I was learning to disassociate, put fear from my mind. I was learning to ignore pain; putting it away somewhere in my mind. Every punishment taught me a little more about how not to cry and how to bear more pain. And I had learned – once again – and that there’s no escaping from it. I was going to be hurt. I recognized that walking in. But I had not choice. And that was something I was learning: that sometimes you have no choice – that sometimes Fate (or mothers) will shove you and you’ve got to gather up your courage, or at least your resolve and force yourself to step forward, as if it were a firm and guiding hand.

Brother Bear


The Bear and I

When I was young, just starting school, I loved bears. Part of this was no doubt due to my love of the show “Gentle Ben”, about a black bear, that was often on TV. (I also loved watching “Danial Boone” if you remember that one. Me and bears, bears and I – maybe it was due to my teddy bear, who was often my ‘best friend’ when I was coming up. Boy, I loved that bear – still do – and he resides at my mom’s house, safe and sound with his ‘poppa’, “Grandpa” bear.

But this isn’t a story about stuffed bears and animal toys. Its about a real bear and me.

We took a trip from the sand hill plains around Augusta Georgia on year – it had to be when I was in first or second grade – up to the North Georgia mountains and beyond. Being poor, we did what so many families did back then: we camped somewhere around the Cherokee reservation. I still remember the ‘town’, with it’s (I guess) concrete teepees, trinket stores, and the hot sun filtering through the pines. Here, some forty-three years later, I can still remember the big open air shelter where the Native American Indians put on what I believe was the “Unto These Hills” open air drama . It was quite dramatic, even though I didn’t understand what it was about, but I was awestruck seeing those Indians dance in their regalia and hearing the pounding of the drums. It was high excitement at the time for a boy my age. I remember, too, how we begged and begged every time we would visit (we must have been camping near it) – or at least in every store we visited for one of those fancy Indian headdresses. My parents eventually broke down and bought my brother and I each one – a luxurious expense for a family so poor (but of course us kids had NO idea we were poor – and my dad was back from Vietnam, which meant more money in the household).

Occasionally while we were driving we would see black bears along the road. All the cars would slow to a crawl, and I would get all excited. “Brother Bear!” I’d yell, pointing. I was convinced bears were my friend; that they were “good people”, and I was a brother to them, and they to I. I was absolutely fearless about them.

Then one day we arrive at a big parking lot and pull in. People are standing outside of their cars in a long arc, and I look to see what they are looking at – and oh! Look! Brother Bear! I’m hopping up and down in my seat, anxious to get out and see this great animal – a friend of mine. So we stop, my dad opens the door, and we get out. My mom and dad – well, I don’t know. Maybe they started snapping pictures like all the other tourists.

Brother Bear!, I thought, cutting my through the crowd like a curious chihuahua to the forefront. I didn’t even pause. I was going to say hello to my furry fuzzy friend from Appalachian wilds. I paid no attention to the crowd, just happy to see my friend snuffling along in the parking lot. He was big — but not that big — and he was furry — rich and black — and oh my yes, what big claws, too. He stopped his snuffling and rambling to look up, no doubt wondering what kind of idiot — or tasty snack — this human thing was.

I stopped just an arm’s length from the bear.

Oh my! Brother Bear! What a fine coat of hair you have! And what beady black eyes you have. And what a long pretty snout you have! And how cute your whiskers are!

Brother Bear stuck out his head with interest. I could swear it was grinning, it’s face just inches from mine. The big black eyes regarded me with interest.

My, Brother Bear! What big teeth you have!

Smiling, I did what any six or seven year old boy would do when presented with this situation.

Reaching up, I petted him on the nose.

 

 

That I lived to tell this tale tells you something — but what, I haven’t a clue. The luck of a child? A well-fed park bear? A really fast parent? Or maybe Fate’s fickle finger, or the hand of God reaching down, pausing, and saying, “Hmmm — not this time.” Who knows?

 

All I know is that the next thing I knew, I was getting snatched up like a fumbled football and hustled away from the bear. (Do you know how hard it is to see straight when you’re getting hustled away tucked underneath someone’s arm? At least I was able to wave good-bye. Or at least I think I did.)

I know it must of made for some excitement to the crowd; it would of been a great photo op for someone, and I rather imagine it about gave my mom a heart attack. (My brother, meanwhile, would of been muttering under his breath, “eat ‘im! EAT ‘im!”) And of course nowadays, my mom and dad probably would have been cursed and faulted for not keeping track of their wayward child. And, no doubt, someone would of posted it on Youtube or one of the video sites. Heck, I might have been famous.

As for me — I was just sorely disappointed my meeting with my friend had been so rudely interrupted, and I wasn’t going to be meeting him again.

Because, I swear, the next thing that bear was fixin’ to do was give me a sweet little lick.

Whether to greet me or eat me: I’ll never know.

 

sigh.

 

I reckon it’s just one of those things that got left undone. Which may be for the best.

 

(waving goodbye with a salute to Brother Bears — everywhere!)

 

Animal Friends


My Animal Friends

They were with me from the very beginning, or so I’ve been told. At least most of them were. Most were in place by my second birthday; some had been there for the first. One, I’ve been told, was given to me after I’d been born.

I remember my momma entertaining me with two of them – it must have been at a young age, for it is one of my earliest memories – her using Alley the Alligator and Leo the Lion to play with me as the plane came down.

Then there was Chee-Chee, the wondrous bear. He was my favorite friend of all; his small eyes a warm brown, his body soft and a fuzzy mottled golden brown. There’s a bald spot on his head where my Uncle and I gave him a small trim – much to my consternation then, and a bit of sadness now. I didn’t want to give him a ‘haircut’ but my Uncle did. He was always sort of destructive that way whereas I had to take care of what I was given; it had to last for awhile. A long while. And in some cases I’ve managed to make them last a life.

These were my friends, my stuffed animals. There was “Monkey”, a Steiff monkey, who I lost in the woods. Chee-chee and Grandpa (another, big ol’ bear) – and of course my brother’s bear, Teddy (kind of a plain name, but true). Leo the Lion, Alley the Alligator (and later on Squirrel and Wolf) were the Steiff puppets we had. Leo was mine, Alley my brothers, and Squirrel and Wolf I bought on another trip ‘over there’, when I was ten or eleven.

I’ll never forget losing Monkey – I was about four years old, and I used to take him down to a tree that bordered our yard. I would climb that tree with my monkey (though it probably was more of a bush) and sit there with him, playing little games and letting him climb around in the tree. How he got lost remains a mystery to me; I cherished my little friends. But when my dad came home we went walking through the woods, looking for him. I was sure he’d taken off, so here I am, a little kid – anxiously scanning the tall pines, looking for him, calling his name while my dad walked by my side, holding my hand. He was dressed in his Army uniform, a drab olive green, along with his Army boots polished to a high shine. We looked for what seemed like hours until the light began to go, and then he coaxed me into giving up and we headed home. I never saw that monkey again.

My parents bought me another one some time later – “Monk-monk”, a plain brown American made thing – not quite as cute nor anatomically accurate as the Steiff ones. After all, Steiff is known as a quality toy maker. They should be. They’re German, and they’re highly given to being anatomically accurate (in some models), cute, cuddly, and made from high quality materials to exacting standards. Which is also why they are collectable, expensive, and a treasure to behold if you’ve got one left over from your childhood. Though mine, for the most part, won’t be worth much. Not only are they very old – they are worn with love.

My Steiff bear, Chee-chee, got some new paws (and a heart to go along with it!, courtesy of my Aunt Nelle). He also got some new stuffing and a seam up his back. Most of my animals did; they needed them. And their hearts are psychedelic. I know; I chose the material at that time. Wild rainbow colors; a sixties pattern if I’d ever seen one. I loved the colors as a kid.

And then there is Valentine. I got her when I was about six years old. She was sitting there (or laying there, to put it more accurately) in a bin at Southgate – a K-mart or Woolworth type of store; perhaps even a grocery one. (Whichever one it was, it was facing east, so it must have been on the west side wing.) I saw her among a pile of other snakes, and there was a special going on. Not only this, but she was named “Valentine” because she was my Valentine’s gift from my mom (in a way). I looked and I begged for her; begging over and over again. And it must have been around Valentine’s time, for there was a silky tag sewn onto her collar (her neck) that said “Happy Valentines!”.

At first my mom was extremely reluctant. She was trying to check out and I come up dragging this thing – it looked about nine feet long though it’s nearer to five, and about four inches wide – red, with white puffy cheeks and a white puffy nose. She used to have different eyes; now she has kaleidoscope ones – made out of patches of that same cloth (I insisted) that her heart is.

But I’ll never forget when I got her. The very next day I found a thread hanging off her side. It looked odd and I pulled it – and it just came. It was clear. So I went to my mom and asked her about this thread. And I guess she was regretting her decision, because she told me:

“Fine. Then I’ll just take it back to the store.” And the way she said it – hard and firm; mean, sort of – I knew: she was going to do it. She was going to take my friend.

So I went into my room and cradled my poor snake who would be condemned back into the bin for some other stranger to find – only no stranger would want her, not with a string hanging out of her side – so I cried – jeez, I don’t know. It felt like hours, about a half day.

And then my mom came in – saw I was still upset – and caving in, clipped the loose thread (it was ‘fixed’) – and that was the end of it. I got to keep my new friend.

 

That was the thing of it in a way: these things were alive to me. Everything was in a way; everything had a purpose of some kind. And it hurt me to see something wasted with no purpose, or not for the purpose it was built. I remember crying once when I broke a living room lamp – not over the beating I was about to receive (I had been clumsy, rolling around on the floor and snagging the cord) – but over the fact that this lamp, a living thing to me, could no longer serve the purpose for which it had been used. I had ‘killed’ it, and it was all my fault. So I sat there and cried.

I guess I was kind of a sensitive kid when it came down to it.

 

And I remember those days – sometimes long, lonely days and hours – sitting in my room playing with my animals. “We’d” sit around for hours playing some game, or having a party or two. It was great fun for me. I could imagine these animal’s minds – my friend’s minds – for I knew them so well. Chee-chee was in / a part of me. (He was the good part; he was my friend; he was the best, always loving. Never caring what you did to him; he loved you just the same; always and forever my little friend – yes we still love him and him us today, we are sure sure certain).

 

But you see how it is.

 

We’d sit around – me making up voices for my friends – and play. And no matter where we went – overseas, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey: there were my friends. The only ones who stuck with me through ‘the end’ (though the end has not come – not quite yet.) They stuck with me through bad times and good. When other friends died and moved on – they were there. When we moved – they came with me.

 

Leo the Lion has a small ink mark on him. This was from one of the few times I took my animals in for “Show and Tell” – and I only took him and his friend, Alley the Alligator (the only two puppets we had at the time). I think I must have been in third grade and the kids were passing them around – I had stood up, pulling them from my brown grocery paper bag, and nervously giving my ‘presentation’. And some kid marked him up before they turned him in. I got him – rather sad, somewhat mad – and resolved never to take them to school again. People were too unkind; you couldn’t trust them – hell, I couldn’t even trust my own parents – but I took care of them. After all; they were mine to take care of. And I always try to be good to my friends.

 

I think my mom knew – and appreciated – my deep devotion to my animal friends there at the house. She made clothes for almost all of them. I don’t know if maybe she was just bored, or practicing making patterns to sew. She took clothes in and made new ones, functioning as the seamstress of the ‘hood to make extra money. Money was tight in those days. But in doing so she taught me to sew as well – how to ‘throw some stitches’, that I should turn things inside out before sewing them (that way the seams don’t show); how to thread a needle, how to choose the thread. And while it was some years later, I ended up making my own stuffed animals – rather plain and sad affairs, really, for I could afford no ‘fur’ cloth for them, and used buttons for the eyes. I made a red owl out of some clingy yarn material my mom had left over from something (naturally called her “Owl”) who was more of a pillow than a comfort, and I made a snake for my friend, Valentine, giving her a checkerboard plaid husband, complete with whiskers and a smile.

I remember dressing Chee-Chee – changing his clothes. At night he would wear a red pair of soft snap-up flannel pajamas that covered his round body firm; during the day he would have on his Army outfit, or a pair of overalls. My brother’s Bear also had overalls; his had an Army badge. He still wears them.

 

Nowadays? I got Monk-Monk back just the other day. My mom has been hanging onto them – my entire crew – for many years. She’s always known how fond I am of them, and lately I’ve been wanting them back.

I’ve had Valentine under my bed for awhile; her and her husband, too. Her ‘fur’ is matted and her fabric has gotten weak – I have to be careful, for she is brittle. And I have sewed. I had to sew a new ‘collar’ on her – she had gotten a hole, and the time-rotted fabric wouldn’t hold. But she is still mine, and I know she loves me – and I ‘love’ her (yes, I know, but I am of multiple minds). Or at least a part of me holds her very very dear – and so I, the adult, honor that love and devotion and am willing to keep her near. Her and all her friends – my friends, my childhood friends who held my dreams and tears; who listened to me when I was said (and Chee-chee, his little arms raised as if to say: gimme a hug and I’ll give one to you, little boy blue).

They stuck by me – were my friends. I’m not ready to let them go. And I won’t. They are a part of me – or a part of a part of a part I once had, one who’s quite alive . . .

I think I’ll keep them for a little time more.

My stuffed animals,

cherished memories, warm friends, loved ones, comforts . . .

all the things a family should be

and often were when I had none.

And They Were Animals


And They Were Animals

When I was a kid in the ‘Hood, animals were treated more as utility items or parts of the scenery than living beings. Such callous behavior was exhibited by the grownups and handed down to us kids, though the highest rated animal, the dog, were usually afforded a bit more consideration.

When we first arrived in the ‘hood, the only animals of consequence that I remember were the chihuahuas which lived next door. They traveled in a huge pack of twenty or thirty animals, a yipping brown carpet which would roll across the neighbor’s yard, or dash after cars in a shrill barking horde, their tiny paws collectively kicking up a small skim of dust not much higher than their shoulders. We could never keep track of how many there were, but they were the heart of the woman who lived next door, her only comfort sometimes, I think, though occasionally they would get run over. It was amazing how sturdy those small dogs were; us kids witnessed a tractor-trailer going over the small horde, bowling the dogs head over heals like so many tumbleweeds – and to our surprise every one of them survived. Gathering their wits (or what little wit they had), they charged after the mechanical beast which had dared to intrude upon their kingdom, but it left their short little legs far behind. Over time the pack became smaller and smaller, until finally there were only a few dogs left – much to the relief of us kids, because they would chase us with the same yipping intensity that they pursued anything that moved. And yes, they were sometimes ferocious; they would bite everything but the hand that fed them, and for a number of years we kept a cautious eye out for our miniature enemies, watching for their random attacks.

The lady next door often bought chickens from the chicken farmer. He would go door to door, a basket of eggs hung in the crook of one arm, and the unfortunate fryers which had quit laying hung from the other. I remember seeing these nondescript hens, their legs tied, hanging upside down – oh so calm about their impending fate. I don’t know what it is about hanging a chicken upside down that calms it, or sends it into some kind of stupor, but the woman next door would buy some, then hanging them on the outside wall of their barn, go from hen to hen, cutting their throats. Us kids would watch, fascinated, as the blood gushed, then trickled down the rough wooden boards; the chickens, feeling the knife draw through their skin, would wake with an alarmed cackle, flapping their wings and sending flurries of feathers everywhere; then they would calm down, as if going to sleep. She’d let them hang there awhile, then later in the day would go back and take them down in preparation for dipping in a pot of boiling water to help loosen their feathers prior to plucking. My city raised dad bought some of the chickens one day. I’ll never forget that, either!

Taking the hens into the back yard, he up-righted an old log, and holding the chicken’s head, he hacked off it’s body with a hatchet. Immediately the body fell to the ground, and spraying a fine jet of blood, jumped up against him in a headless attack of flapping feathers and blood, as if seeking revenge for its death. My brother and I watched in amazement as the body ran around in small circles, my dad cursing the blood on his pants, until the body fell over, its legs still twitching, wings still flapping. With a pass of his hand he swept the head from the stump, and my brother and I watched as it silently gasped in the grass, its bright eye blinking up at us. We could not believe it – this thing had survived for long moments after having its head separated from its body – while my dad set to work on the next chicken. Having learned nothing from the first one, he again grasped its head and took a whack – and again the body ran around, spraying blood everywhere. Here, now, thinking about my father and his hidden fondness for cruelty, I wonder if perhaps he was getting off on watching the gasping head, the staring eye before him. That would be so much like him. Deep down he was (and still is) a cruel SOB, though he is expert at keeping it hidden. I just wish he’d kept it hidden from us.

Another act of animal cruelty – if you can call it cruelty – I recall witnessing was when the man next door to us – not the neighbors with the chihuahuas, but on the other side, shot his dog.

Us kids were on hand for this momentous event. I don’t know why we had gathered there, but I seem to think that the man had called us over to see what you do with a rabid dog. That is my gut feeling, a memory of a memory, so to speak, and I’ve learned to pay attention to such things. Often they are right, as I’ve discovered in talking with my brother.

Gathering us on the carport, we watched the man call the dog and command it to sit. It was a medium sized white short haired dog; I remember that real well, and it just sat right there in the dirt, just a few feet away, its tongue lolling as it looked at him. And the man said there was something wrong with it; that it had been bitten by something with rabies, and that it had to be ‘put down’. I recall the dog was thickly drooling, not like foam, but not like spit either. Taking a pistol from his pocket, he pointed it at the dog’s head. I remember the dog looking at him almost quizzically as he shot it. There was a loud report, and instantly a black hole appeared above it’s liquid brown eyes, drops of blood spattered across it’s back, and the dog fell over, it’s legs stiffly quivering and then falling limp. Some of the kids cried, a lot of us were shocked. We really didn’t understand why the man had shot the dog, only that he had shot it and now it was dead. And we all had a big respect for pistols from that moment on.

Perhaps it was the woman killing the chickens, or perhaps it was just an innocent kid’s fascination with death and curiosity about animals that led to my first real act of animal cruelty. Maybe it was because I was being raised in a world of violence, statistically fitting the profile of an abused kid. But at any rate, my best friend next door had found a bird, caught in a wad of string. I wanted to let the bird go, but he kept saying “no, its leg is broken, it’s going to die anyway”, so I let him talk me into going behind the barn with him, the innocent bird in hand.

Back there we took the bird apart. Lacking knives for a proper dissection, we did it with sticks. It was a dark colored bird, that much I remember. The poor bird shrieked and flapped its wings as we ripped it open with our little sticks. It was a cruel thing, but I found myself fascinated by the organs we found inside and the beating heart, which my friend pointed out, until it slowed and died. I guess we knew we had done something wrong, because we buried that bird right there and then.

Later I took a frog, stuffed him into a little cardboard candy box, similar to the kind you get those hard candy hearts with the messages in, the type with the cellophane window. Tucking the box far beneath a pile of wood and refuse which was to be burned, I left. Later that evening when I came back the pile was a smoking ruin. Digging through the charred embers, I found that box, blackened but intact, with the frog inside.

I’ll never forget that frog. It had been baked and dissected, no juices or blood remaining. In many ways it reminds me of the frogs we dissected in college biology class, all the organs perfectly preseved. I was amazed by the intricacy of its construction; how neatly the organs nestled next to each other, but in the back of my mind I could imagine the pain and horror of the frog, slowly cooking beneath that burn pile. I always felt guilty about that – I don’t know why, it was just a frog. I guess I realized then what I know now: every living animal can feel pain.

Later in my life, when I was a young teenager, I was determined to become a veterinarian. I wonder how much these early experiences had to do with that. I ended up working several years in animal labs, though I never obtained my goal – but I did take care of the animals, and tried my best to make their short-lived stays as comfortable as possible (for all animals that go to animal labs die – it’s the rule.). And in all this dealing with animals, I learned a lot of things, though there were times I committed crimes against them. We won’t go into that here. Lets just say I had more learning to do, and I was no angel. The way I was raised – in extreme violence and terror – had a lot to do with it. That is part of the penalty of being a physically abused child – you go on to abuse other things. Hopefully it isn’t humans. But over time I learned to have a great compassion for animals, no matter how small, and will go out of my way to save them – from a turtle in the road to a snake in the grass. Even the spiders in the house have my mercy; my wife calls me to carry them out, knowing my distaste for needless killing Perhaps it is to atone a bit for the things I’ve done. But don’t think I’m soft hearted – I will kill an animal if I see the need. Sometimes to maintain an ecological balance; sometimes to remove their pain. Other times they can be a threat. I had to shoot eighty squirrels on a single acre last year — they were eating the baby birds — but at the same time I saved a giant snapping turtle and three snakes, and just last week placed a baby bird wren back into its nest. It’s hard to explain to people how I can be this way, the loss of balance in nature and our obligation to replace the predators we’ve destroyed; they often don’t understand. But I do know this: every time I have to kill an animal, I make it quick and mourn its loss.

~ For more on my experiences in the Animal Labs, and my take on them – and the researchers, and animal testing, you can read this:   Blood On My Hands . . . the Animal Labs

Be kind to animals – as best you can. Maintain a balanced environment.  Treat life with love and respect.  It’s the least you can do for what it’s done for you . . . through sacrifice, tears, and pain.

 

Dogs


(sigh)

WARNING.  TRIGGERS.

That’s all I’m going to say about that.  Be prewarned.  “Caution.”  “Triggers.”  Why should life contain those verses?

(space for your safety)

(space for your safety)

(space for your safety)

(space for your safety)

(space for your safety)

Contains descriptions of Bestiality and Child Abuse.  Do not go there is you do not want to and are not strong enough to stomach this. 
Mostly done by my inside alter, Michael or “Mikie” as he likes to call himself.



Triggers.

Dogs are triggers to us sometimes.  Especially large ones.

This is because we used to have sex with dogs.

During our first time it was our abuser doing it to us.  He had us sucking dogs.  That was bad and it stinks.  It smelled bad and it tasted bad and there was this thing in our throat.  It hurt us bad sometimes taking it all in.

Later on we got fucked by dogs.  This was big dogs doing it to us.  They would enter our ass and nearly rip us out.  There are those large things on the dogs balls – they are like big balls on his penis – and he would enter us and those things would swell up locking him inside of us, ripping us.

They hurt us bad sometimes having a dogs penis shoved up your ass.  Even worse was when they would lock onto us; locking INTO us and then we’d be locked with the dog with them things swelled up big inside of you and they can’t get out and it would be inside of us hurting us.

clear streams and jets of streams shooting out inside of us.  It felt good some of the times but mostly good but sometimes bad really bad when he’d get to humping and trying to pull us out and it would nearly be ripping our asshole as large and big as we are round or at least it felt so

once we were bleeding from the ass from what he did.  he had ripped us inside somewhat I reckon.  no matter we are getting better from those things.

it hurts real bad to have a dog rip his thing from you when its all swelled up inside.

the dog claws were pretty bad and things nothing like having a dog pensi shoved in your ass while he’s expanding and ripping at your shoulders and things with his claws anxious panting and rolling his eyes and dogbreath in your face while he comes.

dogbreath on your shoulders smells bad anyways

dog penises smell bad as well.  and they are meaty and round and not like ours.  They are disgusting.

but the claws were the worse sometimes we got hurt bad by those claws sometimes clawing up and down our sides until we were bleeding while the dog is getting it on and we’re hunched all over on our hands and elbos and nees and its all falling apart right here and now it hurt soo fuckinbad.  getting ripped up like that by those claws and things.  the penis in the ass wasn’t so bad until they’d let me go and then they’d rip this thing outta me frightening away the dog and me and the dog screaming only i wasn’t screamngn so much as asking them to let me go asking pleasing the dog saying doggie please get the fuck offn’ me and let me GO ow NOW and it would hurt so bad up inside of me.

dogs.

we kinda love them but always have ahd them but they hurt me bad osmetimes.

that’s why i got me them girl dogs

they can’t hurt me anymore.


Warning: Tough Read for Animal Lovers . . .

“True, but necessary . . . animal research.” – my answer to anyone who paints the entire  field of animal research with the broad label: “Cruel”. 

If god ever grants me angel-hood, I’ll be an angel with dark wings.  You’ll see.  But I’m okay with that.

For I have the blood of thousands upon my hands – tens of thousands, probably.  I don’t know.  After awhile . . . you kinda lose count.

But they were Animal lives; thousands of lives, both large and small.  Souls, every one – even back then, in my eyes.  teeny-tiny, large and small: souls in captivity in a body held captive in a lab, their only release: Death.  And often I was that face, for I dispensed death every day . . . and like our dark angel, grieved deep inside.

But I’m okay with it.  Very – and I cannot stress this enough! – very sad.  I saw things you do not want to see.  I did things you do not want to do.

I helped thousands.

I started working in the army animal labs when I was 15 or so, a year after I’d finished my stint as a volunteer helping old men get around.  I was a volunteer at the animal labs, too – I’d requested the transfer, having gotten tired of the old tired (and oft times bitter) “sour and dour” crowd.  Animals don’t complain – they accept – and when they have pain – they are honest.  People – not so much.   And I wanted to be a veterinarian.   Working in animal labs, I reasoned, would give me the experience for my career – I could learn everything.  (Mr. Straight A+++ in science classes, as well as Art 😀

There the doctors took me under their wing – informal, friendly, but also very strict in method and procedure, tutoring me in the basics.  My responsibilities were as animal caretaker, which meant scooping the poop from thousands of rat cages, washing everything – disposing of any dead animals (you could smell a dead mouse or rat in a room full if one had died overnight).  And . . . I killed animals.

All of us did.  Everything from goats to mice; sheep to dogs.  There should be a sign over the doggie door saying “Abandon all hope, for you are about to die” written in every language an animal can understand, for it was the truth: no animal enters that does not die.  This was true in the civilian hospital I worked at a few years later.  Animals can be contaminated – we had radioactive mice in one lab.  Even a scratch from some can kill you.  I remember a horrendously contagious ‘tumor growth’ mice problem in another (the mice would literally burst at the seams from the tumors growing all over it’s body.)  We had to wear suits and used gloved boxes – masks, negative pressure hoods and all that mess.  And get this:

In the middle of the room was a pedestal.  On the pedestal was a notebook – pages and pages of hand-scrawled notes.  Every once and awhile a researcher would go over and look at this notebook, flipping pages and whatnot.  After the second or third day (not to mention I was a little . . . alarmed! . . . at my ignorance – what was this and why did I need this suit?) – I asked, nodding towards the notebook:

“What’s going on here?”

So the researcher told me.  A doctor had been studying this horrible disease.  That was his notebook.  He’d ended up catching it and died.  They weren’t sure where it was going, but they were following his notebook – hoping that they could find a cure.  Ever since I’ve been haunted by the vision of this doctor – tumors growing like rapid-fire grapefruit under his skin and bursting open.  This is the price researchers pay – every day – these grim facts, that grim knowledge, and the visions that go with it.

In short, doc gave his life for ya’ll, folks.  You and me included.  For all I know, the research is still going on.  A lot – and I mean a LOT – of mice will die.  But the benefit – like that man’s notebook – will live on.  Hopefully they’ve found a cure (a lot has happened since ’76) – and that benefit has not only been to us, all mankind – but to the animal kingdom as well, since human ‘cures’ and procedures often trickle down to the vet and pet trade.

So here’s the big question:

Is animal experimentation cruel?  Hell yes.

Is it necessary?  Reluctantly – yeah.  A very reluctant, but grim and firm: Hell yes. (our Sgt. there)

I never met a ‘cruel’ animal researcher.  We had one guy in the Army animal labs – you could smell when he was working . . .

There’d be this stench of burning hair in the hallways.  Growing curious one day, I grew closer.  Then I heard the screaming.  Hi-high ever so hi! – screams! screams! screams!   Rushing (but not running), I flung the door open and looked in.

The doctor was “flaming” a burning bunny while it was still alive.  Yeah, Jeez, it stopped my heart.  The bunny, partially burnt, was alive and wiggling – in too much pain I think to even scream.

There were more than one.  There were many – very many – of these burnt bunnies, poor things.  And I asked: Why?  Why are you burning them alive?  Can’t you at least knock them out?

And he replied:

“No,”  he said sadly, looking at all the burnt bunnies.  “I can’t.  It might affect the experiments.”  Then looking back at me, he explained.

“Soldiers aren’t ‘anesthetized’ when they get burnt.  They are like this bunny.” Nod of head towards bunny he is placing in cage.  “They don’t get ‘treatment’ right away.  And when they get burnt, their body chemistry changes.  Adrenalins, endorphines, shock syndrome . . .”  Poor bunny looks in shock.  He looks back at me.  “Those would be affected by the anesthesia.  The bunny would feel no fear.  There wouldn’t be a release of adrenalins – ” (he knows I know what he knows – that clamps down on arteries and circulation) “and we need them to be as real as possible.  I wanna help those soldiers.”

At this he looks real sad – burdened by his goal and the methods which he must stoop to to achieve it.  And his research helps everybody.  His research – and that of countless others – has advanced burn therapy far beyond what was possible 40 some odd years ago.  And again – it used to benefit animals as well as humans.  We learned things.

But I’ll never forget having to gas all those lab rats in a 5 gallon bucket, feeling the lid thump beneath my foot as they screamed for escape.  Painless my ass.

Or the dog that was shot in the brain.  Dogs . . . man, I love ’em.  But that was to help find cures for brain injuries.  And yes: the doc’s were very gentle with this dog.  We all were: we came to love him, staggering to the left and right down the hallway as the doctor called out to him – analyzing the walk, the gait, etc.  The dog had to walk to his next ‘operation’ – the skullcap loosely held on with bandages.  And I know us caretakers cried inside.  I remembering wishing once: dog – GO – RUN at the doc and attack him . . . look at what he’s done to you.

Yup, heart breaker.  Prepared me for the Marine Corps, I reckon (or, LOL, the parents did!).

Finally the final issue: training.  Trust me.  I’ve been following this ‘virtual reality’ type training gear they’ve come up with.  Fine for us ‘pre-med’ students; even on through college.  But trust me: there’s nothing like knowing that the animal your are working on (whether it be our animal/human bodies, or that of another animal) – is a live, living being.  You go oh-so much more carefully then.  A fingertip can ‘feel’ that thin fiber of nerve string (been there, done that) – but those ‘resistance gloves’ and all that hi-tech gear?  Not yet, not hardly.  Plus – when you are working on a real thing you know: there is no going back.  There is no “save game” or “checkpoint” to go back to if you screw up.  This is the real deal – deal with it.  No reboot, no ‘screen of death’.  It’s the real thing, baby – alll the way.

And that’s why I (grimly, and sickened, but knowing the greater good) – some of the ‘repetitive’ experiments in animal research – as long as students are doing them, and learning from them.  Not all is necessary, just as I saw thousands of animals executed ‘unnecessarily’ – did it myself – but there are guidelines and reasons behind a lot of that.  Perhaps if people weren’t so ‘sue-happy’, animal labs could give ‘gently used’ animals that had no dangerous contaminates to folks . . . who for some reason want 10,000 gerbils.

Anyway – I won’t go into all the details, but jeez . . . sometimes I think about those labs, my role, what I saw, what went on – remembering the beginnings of vein grafts – now seeing them in my friends (successful!!  We had troubles back then – the docs did; I just watched, helped as needed – hold this, open that, sew him up or to the trash.)  And I think: yeah.  I did my part.  I helped. And . . .

(sad)
For we are an angel, with dark wings.

   

If I could speak on behalf of every researcher I ever met – and those of us who took care of our charges with love, grief, and pain – I would say:  We had heart; we cared . . . there is no other way . . . and in the end: we save lives – both yours, mine, and so very, very many others . . . and so our burden is your gain.  To All of you – from all us – with love.  – signed: The Researchers of the World.


Cat Scratch Fever
(Tokoni 05/09/2009)

I was wandering around the kindergarten yard looking for something to do; I didn’t play a lot with the other kids – not that I didn’t want to, but I guess most of them sensed I was a little ‘off’. A difference. And you know kids: the ones who are different get shuffled into isolation, made to play with themselves. The rejects; the ones no one wants to know. I’d already had my hand stepped on – quite intentionally, with the other kid looking down and grinning as he used his foot to grind my hand against the bar of the jungle gym to keep me from climbing up. My hand still hurt; it would hurt the rest of the day. And the swings were occupied – they were always occupied, and usually there’d be two kids at a time, one pushing, one riding, while the teachers stood by and supervised.

Anyway, I’m wandering around the yard – leaving the play area to walk around the building, when what do I spy there, laying on the air-conditioning unit, but a cat, curled into a comma, its nose tucked under its tail.

So I go over to the kitty – there’s no one else around – and begin stroking its oh-so-soft hair. Its a fine cat, a healthy cat, and, I think, the school’s cat. The cat, pleased at the affection, raises its head and purrs – I can still feel that vibration in my hand – and rubs its face against the back of my hand, its long whiskers tickling. I love this kitty already – its body is so warm, its fur is so soft, and it is being so affectionate towards me.

Kitty apparently loves me, too, for kitty does what cats often do – it give me a little ‘love bite’, right there on the top of my hand. I don’t mind – in my mind’s eye I can only see a little drop of blood, and the pain is nothing compared to what I’ve already been through. I just smile and continue to pet the cat, loving the way it loves me, returning my affection with affection of its own.

Soon the teachers begin calling the children in, but I’m left standing there, out beside the building and no one really notices me – until a teacher comes around the corner and sees me petting the cat.

I guess I may have been bleeding a little bit more than I thought, because the teacher gets quite excited, and rushing me in, has me washing my hands for what seems hours, but was probably only minutes. I’m not bothered; in my mind I can still see the cat laying there, waiting for me to come back out again. But that was not meant to be.

Later that evening my hand starts to swell up. I don’t mind. I can still see now how puffy and red the back of my hand looked, and the single puncture wound there. Apparently it got much worse, and quickly, though I don’t remember feeling any pain.

That’s when it started.

(okay, I STILL get goosebumps here.)

Let me tell you about the old Ft. Gordon military hospital.

Imagine a field. It’s almost exactly five miles long; I know, I’ve driven past that field in my adult life many times. In this field is the hospital. It’s not one building – it is many, all connected by a long, undulating hallway that runs the entire length. Going west to east, you would find the wards (or wings) on your left; the small examination rooms to your right. And this hallway – just about ten or twelve feet wide – follows the ground under it, flowing up and down.

This hallway – where there aren’t examination rooms or ward entrances – has old, white wood framed windows. The entire hospital is built like the old army barracks – white plank boards outside, white framed eight pane windows studding it like black eyes, and it sits just slightly above the ground on blocks, thwarting the Georgia termites. Here and there, periodically, are parking lots – more dirt basins, for very few of them are paved – and you always have to walk up a set of stairs to get into the hospital.

Inside the hallway – well, even to my adult mind it was a drab and dreary place, more industrial looking than anything. This was during the Vietnam era, but due to its size, it seemed we rarely met many people in the hallway. They were usually waiting in the wards – endlessly packed waiting rooms, and in my case, ones with lots of screaming and crying children. Sometimes you had to wait a long, long time, because the soldiers came first; dependents came last when it came to treatment. That’s just the way it was – and rightly so, in my opinion.

Underfoot this hall had large square tiles, dark green, scarred by age, and covered with a years of polish. No matter what, that floor maintained its dark, glistening glow, catching the reflection of the light from the windows and the utilitarian half moons of the metal lamps that hung periodically overhead. And overhead! An endless maze of steaming, hissing pipes, some covered in asbestos insulation; others naked steel. Wires aplenty ran this way and that, mostly hung high along the walls, as if this was some sort of bizarre crown molding. The walls always had black framed pictures and posters, and the occasional bulletin board. Having been there prior to them tearing it down, I know the black framed pictures weren’t pictures at all: they were the standing orders, given by the C.O., and stating hospital policies. There was nothing decorative about this place at all. The walls were an off-white, and metal strings of conduit hung down everywhere, supporting switch plates and boxes.

It was always a scary place for a little kid to go, but I was somewhat used to it. I’d been living around military doctrine all my life; these utilitarian sort of places were like home to me. Hissing steam pipes – the occasional cloud of steam – dripping pipes – you didn’t dare touch the water, it would burn you. I knew these sort of things, though I don’t know how I ever came across this knowledge, unless it was by finding out the hard way at some earlier time I don’t remember. I do remember touching the ancient steam radiators – we’d lay a finger on them, just a quick touch, just to know what they felt like – whether they were cool or warm, or in many cases, scalding hot to the touch.

Anyway, back to the story.

My mom takes me to this hallway, and we walk down it for what seems an endless ways. The steam pipes are venting above me; you can smell it in the air – sort of a flat, chemical smell, the peculiar one that steam always seemed to have. (I learned later in engineering it’s because of the rust preventative chemicals they put in the water that they use to generate steam with.) We walk and walk, my mom has my hand firmly squeezed in hers.

Then they take me to this room. Actually, its not “they”, but my mom. Its one of the examination rooms – there’s the window facing the door, a big stainless steel table in the middle, and metal counters all around. I also remember the chair they had sitting there – one of those metal framed, armless, vinyl coated cushion chairs – right by the door, next to a cabinet as you walk in. I would come to remember that chair very well. It was a sickly sort of light green, with a narrow back, and the cushions were only about an inch thick. How I’d come to hate that chair – and that room! And the doctors in it.

Now I don’t know if this was the first time, or the second time, or the third time, or more. It all gets a little jumbled up.

What I do know is this: after the first time, my mom would leave me in that chair, in the company of those doctors, to do their ‘stuff’.

She has since said it was because she couldn’t stand to hear my screams. She would walk away, out of that room, down a mile or two of hallway, and go sit out in her car.

And I know that she said that she had to start bringing me in the late afternoon, because my screams were disturbing other people in the hallway. It was disturbing the G.I.’s who’d gotten shot up in Vietnam. So the doctors had her start bringing me in later – when most of the traffic had died down, and the G.I.’s would be in their distant wards, not getting treatment in the rooms.

Maybe that’s why the hallway always looked so empty. Because we were always coming there late.

Here’s what I remember.

The doctors would come in – not one or two, but six or seven. This is because I was a strong little boy. I ran and played hard, and wasn’t afraid to tackle someone twice my age. (Later this would become an issue, but that’s for another time.)

They would have me peel off my shirt, sitting in that chair, and then . . . I remember that so clearly. Peeling the shirt off, turning, setting it carefully on the chair for when I would be back. Then they – one or two – would lift me up on that table.

The first time – I remember that, the first time, and I guess it was like that every time. But the first time – it caught me with a childlike surprise. After all, I was young – five? Kindergarten age.

The doctors spread me out on this table; firm hands press my legs and arms HARD against it, REAL hard. Hand grasp the side of my head. Hands come down on my chest. Hands holding me down everywhere.

And (goosebumps again) – I can still see THAT so clearly. The doctor, his face half covered by a surgical mask – I can barely see him through the forest of arms, bending over my mid-section. In his hands, angling down toward my chest is a needle. It’s the longest needle I’ve ever seen. It looks like it could go right through me.

Now, as a kid I was NEVER terrified of needles. I thought they were cool. The doctor would always say, “Look away now!” – but I’d just watch, fascinated. The pain wasn’t nothing – not even for all those endless inoculation shots they gave me prior to going overseas. Lots of other kids – my brother especially – would go into hysterics at even the mention of a shot. Not me. I welcomed them. Like I said – I thought they were fascinating. Watching the needle go in – slight jab there, slight pain there – the plunger depressing – sometimes the skin bulging up a bit – then zip! The needle would come out, the cotton ball pressed on, and it all was over. No big deal, right?

Not this time. This time it was different.

This time they had me in for the rabies series. And this was no joke.

I remember the first time – or the first time every time – when they’d sink that needle in my gut. Me suddenly bucking and screaming from the burning hot agony pain!! jeez …. then black. Just fade to black. I must of screamed pretty loud, because here, forty-five years later, I can still hear the echoes of those screams in my ears.  And like I said: it disturbed the war hardened vets enough that the docs had me come at night.

Apparently I screamed quite a bit, given what I learned later, and by what you’ve read before.

And I was a tough kid. I know. They all said so. They still say I’m tough, but that – that was something else altogether.

Afterwards – I don’t remember ever getting off the table, but I do remember standing in front of the chair, stiffly – very stiffly, very very … hurt – picking up my shirt and putting it back on. Being careful not to let it touch my gut. And then sitting back down to wait for my momma. The doctors would file out, leaving me there to my own devices – but all I remember doing is sitting there, staring at the walls, and that tall, long steel table. Knowing I never wanted to come here again. Knowing that I probably would.

Sooner or later mom would come get me. Never a word was said; none that I remember. No hugs or kisses or “I’m sorry they did this to you.” The doctors were as utilitarian as the hospital they worked in. My momma was much the same. And she’d take me by the hand – her grip ever so tight, as it always was, and we’d go back into that hallway and start walking. Going back to the car – and home.

I don’t know how long this went on – but later, in my mid-twenties – I found out something.

They had shipped the cat out to Atlanta for testing – and the cat died.

It turns out that I didn’t catch something from it – it caught something from me. Influenza or something – and expired.

They stopped the rabies series early (thank god) – but to this day . . . .

Jeez, there’s just not words to describe it, the emotional crap behind this memory. Pain? Yes. Obvious. The sense of abandonment? Yeah, it was there. The dread when we’d start walking up that endless hallway. The weird scent and sound of the steam pipes overhead. The dark and dreary interstices between the pipes. The yellow white light of the lamps. And all those doctors bent over me, their faces half hidden by their masks; never a word of comfort to me, but endless advice to each other – words like “hold him” and “stop kicking” and “hold him.” That one got used a lot. Odd, that one.

When I say “hold him” in regards to a child, I usually mean hug him (or her). Never this sort of thing. Not hold him down so that I can stick him.

And I know when my daughter got sick and hospitalized at five years old – I was right there beside her, the entire time. I even took off from work so that I could sleep right next to her, in the very same bed. I never left her side except to go to the bathroom. And when I held her, I held her tight, and with all my love, and her screams and cries just made me want to hold her more.

Not abandon her in the room she was in.

Not like my mother did me.

I don’t care how loud or hard a child cries – I go TO them, not away from them. (Heck, I did this just the other day, hearing a child screaming from a block away.)

And I don’t fault the doctors: they were just doing their job, what they were trained to do, what they needed to do.

But perhaps – just perhaps – they could’ve been just a little bit more human.

And yeah – I’ve always felt bad that the cat died. For in the end, it turned out there was no need for any of it. None at all.

Not that it doesn’t continue to affect me some (Re: the goosebumps). And the other effect is that I’m very sensitive to a child’s pain. Just can’t stand it. But like I said: I don’t run away. I run towards.

Any child in need.