“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
― Mark Twain
I didn’t think much about the car approaching from behind. As a young girl, my worldview was secure and small. People were all friendly, mostly consisting of family and neighbors.
On this day I had decided to walk along the shoulder of the rural highway to the “swimming hole” that existed on the edge of the farm. By swimming hole I mean a tiny body of dark brown water that belched rudely, unapologetically, from the culvert under the highway when the rains allowed. It was a hot day, and I wanted to get wet.
I could have cut through the pasture, slithered beneath the barbed wire fence at one or two choice points, and arrived just fine, but the creek was running high. It was more comfortable to walk along the highway.
To my delight, our dog, Bucko, had decided to tag along. He was getting older, moved stiffly, and was a relentlessly happy soul. A Samoyed by breed, I thought of him more like a nicer older brother than a dog. (I have three actual brothers in which to judge the quality of “niceness,” and trust me the dog won paws down in those days!)
As Bucko and I meandered along the half-mile trek, he mostly stayed near me. Occasionally a sniffing foray altered his path when something particularly intriguing caught his attention. And that’s what caused it all to go wrong.
It’s hard to describe what happened next, although I’ve relived it in my mind countless times. What I remember, what I see when I close my eyes, is the sun coating the pasture grass in golden backlight. I hear the crunch of oddly shaped gravel under my feet and feel the ripples of heat bouncing off the blacktop. A small breeze came suddenly from the north, and Bucko raised his nose to receive it. He stepped onto the highway, walking towards some mystery scent…
For my part, I knew a car was coming. But the highway seemed so huge. Bucko and I were readily visible in the rural span of pasture and creek. The car would slow down and go around us; maybe the driver would even smile and wave. That’s how people were.
But not on this day.
Panic hit late. The car was not slowing down, nor was it trying to avoid Bucko. I desperately wanted to throw myself on him and pull him to safety. He was just a few feet away, I could do this…but I couldn’t. I swear my feet were anchored to the ground.
And then the thud.
Bucko’s broken body spun into the ditch. The impact and damage hit me as hard as it had Bucko, and yet there was not a scratch on me.
The car never slowed, the car never swerved, the car never stopped.
I don’t know how long I stood there in shock, but eventually, I went to Bucko and ran my hands over his body. He was twitching soundlessly. I thought maybe, maybe, he would survive. That this crack in my world would close and it would be okay.
This time I did cut through the pasture, running as fast as my child legs could go. Every second counted. When I burst into the house, I was crying so hard I could barely form words. I told Mom about the car, about Bucko, could she save him? Please, please, please save him.
We jumped into the car and drove to Bucko. Mom took in the scene and bent over his body. She shook her head. “He’s gone.”
She asked me more questions. What did the car look like? Did I see the driver? Did it slow down at all? Did it stop afterward?
I saw a man driving. No. It never slowed down. No. It kept going like nothing had happened, like it hadn’t stolen my belief in the goodness of people.
I cried until the tears were gone, and then I dry sobbed until the pain inside balanced the pain outside.
Fifty plus years have passed since that day, and it still shadows me. There is this sharp edge that cuts and wonders if I could have done more to have prevented that moment. I don’t know.
Bucko often accompanied my farm wanderings, and I wandered a lot. Nothing bad had ever happened in our happy bubble life, so I wasn’t prepared to protect him. It doesn’t matter that I was a child. I feel I should have done something. And that brings me to another bit of awareness that I’ve visited over the years.
I pinkie swear I could not move my feet that day. It was as though some unseen force stopped me, held me back, kept me from running to Bucko. For, if I had acted on my whole-hearted impulse, the car would have hit me too. I genuinely believe it was divine intervention. Some may argue otherwise, but I know what I know. I know what I felt.
The other day my husband mentioned that I am too controlling when we walk our dog, Booker. “You suck the joy out of the experience,” he said. “Just let him out on the leash, let him sniff and pee and wander.”
I know I’m guilty of being a dog walking joy sucker. I know I keep the 25-foot retractable leash short.
But every time Booker steps off the sidewalk and onto the street the little girl in me remembers a sunny day that turned black. I grip the leash tightly as a plea for a “do-over” that will never come.