Change of Tune

I gotta stop talking about my “near-death”. Seriously, talking about that day gets me all panicky. But I can tell you something about Bella. And then we can go back to talking about the kids.

You want to stop for the night? We can. As soon as we find a town.

As for Bella. I’ve gotta tell you this one. I tell it to everyone ‘cuz I think it’s kind of important. I got her when I was like thirteen but I was like 16 when we decided to go for a walk one day. A walk that turned into more of a struggle to get back to society.

I don’t remember why, but I was pissed off about something and decided to take Bella for a walk one day. My car wasn’t working, there was no way to get it started right that second, and I was sick of being in the house! So I strapped her leash on and we set out.

We were gonna go far. Fuck it. I was pissed about something I can’t remember now. Bella was ready – a strong, agile, cheerful, and energetic dog. Fuck ’em, she seemed to agree with me as we strode down our street.

Northern Illinois towns are all surrounded by fields. Fields of soybeans, of corn, of junk. We reached a “small” field soon enough, one that we would cut through to make it to another road faster.

Were we prepared? Not a bit. I think I had tennis shoes on but that’s it when it came to preparedness that day. The field was dry nearest the road and we easily made it down into the rows of older, dry corn that nobody was caring for. The sun shone hot on us. It was fun.

Soon we reached a creek. Not a real creek but one of those arroyos that appear in fields – most likely full of run off. It was low so we crossed it easily. We were doin’ it – strikin’ off on our own, I mean.

During none of this time was I delusional. Just a dumb kid walking with her dog. But “outside” is still much more difficult to traverse than many realize. We soon found that out.

After the arroyo we reached the end of the drier field and the grass became much taller. I couldn’t see the road we were trying to reach anymore. All we could see was grass. Mud was suddenly deep and sucking us in. I had to choose – struggle on or turn back.

We turned back. And turning back was the hardest part. The grass was so tall, the mud so thick and everwhere. And what direction were we going? Finally we came back to drier soil, but we were in a different area and the arroyo was running full right in front of us.

Arroyos can be deceiving – they look shallow but their currents are strong. I, not having crossed many arroyos before, took two steps in, almost lost my balance, and jumped to the other side. Bella had waited, watching me cross, and thought she could do it then.

She had been more tired than I had realized and as soon as she set down a paw into the creek the water picked her up and started to carry her. Thinking fast, I pulled her to me with the leash still connected to her collar. We sat down on the ground after that. Soon enough we picked up and went home, mud-covered, wet, hot, and scared.

As a leader, I sometimes fuck up. I sometimes misjudge currents that I haven’t seen before. But I know an arroyo now. Bella and I never did that shit again – walking around where we don’t know the ground.

The point? I don’t know. I’ll give you a minute to think of one. I see neon up ahead.

First Day

So, Dick was a real prick, right? He was old. His wife, Marcela, (no, I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP) was German (pretty positive) and she usually stayed inside. Dick’s place was off a scenic highway that led from one small town to a bigger city. A curvy road. Fun to drive, but oh, so dangerous. A big river gave its steep bank to the road. Don’t over-steer! You’ll go right into the water.

People liked to drive fast on that route. Why not? Rules are made to be broken. Are all of them? Is there not another cliche that says without rules chaos will lead instead? And chaos is one grizzled, mean, chain-smoking cowboy. Or cowgirl. She (or he) rides a mean horse, one that’s gasping for water in the middle of the desert (Y’all seen Hidalgo?). Desperation can make you fearless. Or it can make you bold. It can also make you vulnerable. And it can turn you cold.

Anyway. I was thirteen, and the first class with Dick was on a Thursday (they all were). I was starting high school the next week and I was terrified of all the rumors. What was a period? (LOL) How did lunches work? Would I have any friends? Did those showers really work?

I was terrified of the training class, too. Because my mother had told me rumors. She is the one who called him, she knew where he was. My last mentor had been a woman who taught me to play the oboe. She was great, too. Just a little harsher.

I thought I looked great! Thought I looked cute! I had some flip-flops on (yellow with a plastic daisy glued to them) and shorts, I think. Dick snapped at me as soon as I strode up, pulling that stubborn Bull Terrier behind me. She was a great bitch. Beautiful, funny, strong, agile. Stocky and tough. Quiet but sensitive.

“What are you gonna do with flip-flops on?” He snapped. I had not even said my name. The memory is clear because of the embarrassment I felt. This is not the only time that Dick called me out, but this was on the first day.

I didn’t have shoes, so he said oh well! We would tour his woods, then. Everyone (older people with skittish German Shepherds, mixed breeds, all kinds of dogs) traipsed up a hill and onto the path. That path led into a confusing agility course – created almost entirely by nature. Old tires and boards had been used to create make-shift agility obstacles among the pine needles littered by all those beautiful trees.

Sucked. Cause I had fucking flip-flops on. I also had to learn to put the choker on right and to give it a good snap – so that the stubborn Isabella could hear it, as well as feel it. We made it. We all had to go through the obstacles – even me, with a brat of a dog and the wrong footwear.

“Dumb on a leash is what you’ve got there,” he liked to tell me.

“I know, but I think she’s beautiful,” I would always smile, in return.

I always came prepared after that first day. I had learned my lesson. Dick gave me leads for conformation, and we always worked on showmanship after the regular training classes. Just me and him. Bull Terriers are dumb on a leash. But not in the ways you think.

That dog still puts a smile on my face, and I can feel her breathing. Grief can be caused by anything. It’s sad. It’s tragic.

But she was hilarious! I have so many great memories! She’s still here, snuggling up next to me!

They call Bull Terriers clowns, pigs (dog world terms meant to be endearing), but I just called her Bella. And nothin’ beats sittin’ under the sun with a dog, remembering your teachers, not saying a damn word at all.