Mom loved the dog more than us. She didn’t mean to, but when one is contemplating suicide, the dog is probably just easier to love.
His name was Jack and he was a German Shepherd. The year I was born she picked Jack from a litter of puppies and my grandmother picked his sister Jill.
When grandmother brought Jill to our house, Jill would refuse to go into the lake. She’d stand on the thin and reedy beach watching Jack bound into the water and snap at the waves. He’d run over to her and nudge her closer in, and then away he’d go, leaping and splashing, only to come back ashore and nudge her again. He’d keep coming back until she was in the lake with him, running and jumping and barking until grandmother called her to get in the car and go home.
They did this every visit. And when they were really happy, Jack would come up to Jill and click his teeth against hers. Not that I remember. My mom just told me this story a thousand times, and I can still hear her voice describe the clicking of those teeth as if that one sound held the secret of the universe. She really loved that dog.
So Jack, like any good dog, protected us from intruders and all the threats dogs see in the world. We lived on road that had little need for traffic and cars were rare. We had no fence because what would we keep out aside from the occasional bobcat or fox? Besides, the road cut through our property and a fence would keep us from our own bit of land on the other side. And it would cost money. Why, said dad, spend money on a fence when good sense was free and ought to keep us from running in front of a car?
Fences don’t keep out monsters anyway.
This monster rode a motorcycle and carried a gun, and when Jack ran along the grass, barking as any loyal dog will do, the monster shot him. We were not home.
But our neighbor dragged Jack’s body to his house, down his long driveway, and threw a tarp over him. That’s where he was when we got home, and if my father told my mom not to look at the body, she didn’t listen. Well, she was never the type to look away.
When my father tells this story my mom isn’t in it. In his story Jack is his dog and he saw the body and he took care of it. That’s how he is though–he never tells a story with my mother in it. She’s not even in the story when he talks about the night I was born. It may well be that my dad was the first person to teach me the power of editing.
Choose the right words and a character’s grief no longer exists, the suicide attempt no longer happens, and another character hoses the dog’s blood off the driveway. Choose the right words and you’ve got an entirely different story. You’ve only got to choose the version you want to tell.