7:25 a.m. A day off. I feel so spoiled. Two in one week. It's a record. Today I plan to clean out the refrigerator. (Ahem) I am also signing up for a 5K coming up later in September. It will give me a goal other than eating and chasing people with my camera.
I'm going to tell one more story from when I was a kid. It involves death. (Surprise, surprise.) I think that things I gravitated toward later in life were shaped a lot by what I experienced growing up and that is why these stories in particular stand out to me.
Vlad was a dark-eyed boy of Russian decent. He had stick-straight black hair that stuck up all over. He was always kind of strange. I could never quite put my finger on what was off about him. He was a boy that, upon meeting me as a three-year-old, immediately asked me if I wanted to go in the woods and “strip”. Strip? I asked him what that was and he informed me that we would take off all our clothes and then look at each other naked. Oh. Well, okay, then. Welcome to the neighborhood.
When Vlad was older, he used to dress up like a ninja and peak in the windows of neighborhood girls' houses until somebody’s father called the cops on him. How proud his parents must have been when they answered the door that night...
Vlad was definitely weird and perverted, but (except for the ninja getup) I suppose peaking in a girl’s window is not out of the realm of possibility for a horny teen-ager.
I think the real concern with Vlad was his homicidal tendencies. When he was a child, his parents kept him stocked with a fresh supply of gerbils because he somehow managed to kill them off every few weeks. I can only imagine how the little rodents in pet stores panicked on hearing they were going to be Vlad’s pets.
Going to his house was the kiss of death. He’d hug them to the point of suffocation or chop off their tails in Frankenstein experiments that ended badly. A couple died from apparent heart attacks when he and his big brother decided to use them as the ball in a football game.
As far as I know, I was Vlad’s only human victim of violence. (Of course, that was a long time ago.) It was late September. I was in third grade and would normally be in school on an early Tuesday afternoon. Our teachers had gone out on strike, however, so the neighborhood kids were being kept home on an indefinite sabbatical from education. And that was fine by us.
Vlad, Tina, Chris, and I sat in my driveway on the broad hood of the old family station wagon. My dad hated that car. There was always something going wrong with it. One night he was laughing in his sleep and when mom woke him up he said he’d been dreaming that the car rolled off a cliff and then a huge boulder fell on it.
The wagon's hood was big and flat and there was plenty of room for all four of us to sit on it. I was near the edge with my legs crossed, facing the center. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but I remember saying something to Vlad in a teasing tone about his penchant for “gerbilcide”.
(I learned a valuable life-lesson here… never taunt crazy people.)
Apparently, he was a little touchy about the subject because he pushed me. I teetered, waving my arms in broad circles in an attempt to regain my balance. I just caught myself and was straightening up when he pushed me again, harder. And this time I fell backward over the edge of the car. I would have landed squarely on the top of my head, except that I put my left arm up just in time to catch my fall. And just in time to shatter my elbow joint as my entire body weight bore down on it. I heard a sickening snap next to my ear as my arm hyperextended and I tumbled back onto the pavement.
I pulled my injured arm to my body and sucked in air as I lay on my back near the wheel well of the car. The pain was exquisite. Bright lights were flashing in my vision and I imagine I was screaming...loudly. I saw Vlad, his face ashen, peer over the edge of the hood at me. I looked away from him and instead concentrated on the sky. It was such a vivid blue with puffy white clouds moving through it. And as I stared up toward heaven, I remember praying that God would let me die rather than feel such unbearable pain. I’ve always been kind of a drama queen.
Tina, always my protector, helped me up off the ground and told Vlad to get out of our yard and never come back. I’m sure Tina would have chased him down and beat him with a stick if she wasn't busy walking me into the house to see Mom.
Mom was the testament of calm. I guess after 5 kids, she was used to gashed, broken and bruised bodies. She calmly examined my arm and got me an icepack before driving me off to the doctor’s office.
A couple of hours later, I found myself on the way home in a sling and a plaster half-caste that extended from my shoulder to my wrist. It still hurt, but by then I was riding high on some top-rate painkillers and I was pleasantly buzzed and drowsy. As I stepped out of the car, I glanced next door and watched with detached amusement as Vlad, his face again white with a different kind of fear, high-tailed it out the backdoor of his house with his mother in hot pursuit, disappearing behind a thicket of trees.
Years later, when I was 13 or 14-years-old, I went out for a walk and noticed Clair, Jack and Sandy out in the front yard. They hovered above a white towel covering a small lump on the ground near their front door. An asymmetrical pool of blood oozed out from beneath it.
I asked what happened and Jack, distraught but trying valiantly not to cry, said that Muffy, their dog, had jumped off the retention wall and killed herself. Even then I found it fishy that she would bleed like that from a four-foot fall. I wanted to inspect, but Clair wouldn’t let me. In the end, I reasoned that she must have tripped and hit her head at just the right angle on the concrete.
Poor Muffy. She was an ancient wiener dog that didn’t particularly like strangers or kids. And she’d been around for as long as I could remember; since before Jack was born, even. Muffy was a spunky old girl, low to the ground and the color of cinnamon sticks. It was comical how imposing she thought she was when a mere toddler could have easily drop-kicked her across the yard.
But Muffy had a weapon far worse than her teeth. She jealously guarded her home and her people with a yippy little bark that was just the right tone to pierce ruthlessly into the soft depths of your brain. And though I have no personal knowledge as of yet, I can imagine shoving an ice pick through your ear would not be unlike experiencing a Muffy bark.
It was a sad day and despite how universally annoying she was to everybody but her owners, I felt a loss when Muffy died. In the end, she was interred in a tasteful backyard ceremony right next to the deer forelimb that my father had bagged on that hunting trip years before. May they both rest in peace.
It was years later when my dearest and oldest friend, Helena, (another victim of the Peeping Ninja) told me that Vlad had been out in his backyard tanning the day Muffy died. After listening to her bark incessantly for well nigh an hour…at squirrels, passing cars, or the wind that dared to rustle the trees in her yard…he went into his house, got his father’s handgun, and killed her.
When Clair and her kids got another dog, he killed that one, too. He was never caught or punished.
That was a lot of years ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vlad has since graduated into a full-blown Geoffrey Daumer-type serial killer…replete with lampshades made of human skin at this point. And I'm only half-kidding about that.
Gee, I hope he never reads this blog.