When I was 17, my parents were preparing to move us to Orlando from North Miami Beach. I wasn't real enthusiastic about the move. It was 1963, Disney World didn't exist. Orlando was a cattle and citrus town. It was "crackerland". But, at 17, you don't get a vote.
My father was a salesman who had to travel throughout the state of Florida. The idea was that it would be less trouble for him if he lived in the approximate center of the state. He could visit the businesses he sold to more often than once a month. Yet, he would be home more because more of them were reachable within 2 hours driving time. It didn't work out as planned, these things rarely do.
Anyway, they were off for a weekend and I was left alone. Seventeen years old, male, with car, no supervision, what were my parents thinking? It wasn't like I could be trusted, I had already proven that by the occasional phone call from the police station, by running away for a few days, by the suspensions and detentions at school, by the... well, you name it.
They were gone one full day when I went to a party at a girl's house. Coincidently, her mother was out that evening on a date. Gigi was a sweet young thing. I had been in 4th grade with her, her mother worked at the same office my mother did. But we didn't run around in the same crowd nor were our mothers friends. Still, I had learned about the party.
One of my summer pastimes was to crash parties. My hoodlum friends (see "Yakety Yak" c. 1958 by The Coasters) and I would cruise around the usual hangouts and learn of a party then go there. We were never invited. We didn't get invited to a lot of parties.... but we managed to show up at them often enough.
This one was different, I was not exactly crashing it, I was riding with someone who was invited, I knew the girl throwing the party, I knew her mother, we had mutual friends. At the time, that was like receiving a formal invitation in the mail. Comparatively speaking.
It turned out to be a good party. Lots of kids, many unattached females, some beer. And a dog. I knew about the dog. A German Shepherd about a year old. Big. Strong. Scary. Not for me, I was not afraid of dogs at all. I had been to her house a few times with a friend who liked Gigi but was afraid of the dog. He, the friend, had climbed up on the roof of my car one time when the dog got out into the yard. I had petted the dog, made friends with him, thought nothing of it.
The dog was lying on the floor between a couple of girls who were fussing over him. He seemed calm, maybe a bit bored. I came over, knelt in front of him and ruffled his neck. He growled; a low, nasty, growl. I started to back away, to stand, but he came up quick. He hit me pretty hard even though I managed to get a hand in between us and against his throat. He dropped away as I made it to my feet.
There were screams, I recall, I turned to my right, hand over my mouth, toward a sofa where three girls were sitting. They were screaming, eyes wide. I had my hand over my mouth but it was filling up with blood and I pulled my hand away. Blood flew everywhere. More screams. I stood there. Someone handed me a towel. The friend I had come with grabbed my arm and said something about a hospital.
The ride was a blur. I let him drive. I recall he seemed to be driving slowly. I told him to hurry... it came out "Sep onit wih ya?" I was having a little trouble pronouncing words since my upper lip was split open. I kept touching the area, trying to figure out how much damage had been done. My friend would look over, fear all over his face, and offer the encouraging words of "Oh jeez!" or words which I will not repeat here. I was not encouraged.
It couldn't have been more than a 15 minute ride that seemed like an hour. He wheeled up to the emergency room entrance and I headed in while he parked the car. I still had the towel over the lower part of my face. A nurse asked if I needed help. I pulled the towel away, she turned a bit pale, her eyes widened, and said, "Come with me!" I was even less encouraged.
She put me in a room and told me to lay down on a table. An intern walked in, took one look, and walked out. I was beginning to get a bit nervous. The intern came back and explained he had called in a doctor, a plastic surgeon, he felt would do a better job than he could. I was getting even less encouraged.
The intern cleaned up the wounds while I waited for what seemed like forever for this doctor. The nurse asked me for contact information along with my name and age and all that vital stuff. I had them call my sister. The doctor showed up, gave me some encouraging words as he assessed the damage and asked if he could take pictures before and after. He wanted to use them as a teaching tool. I don't remember the encouraging words.
First, though, came the shots. Novocaine, he said. Undiluted, he said, Going to burn a bit at first, just for a second, he said. It did. I think I left permanent fingerprints in the metal table as I tried to scream. I don't think I made a sound but I opened my mouth wide. Which hurt also. A lot.
After that, things seemed to move along quickly. Stitches went in, chatter from the doc (a lot of "hmms" and ahhs"), pictures (flash, flash, flash). He talked about his preference for sewing up a wound like a shoelace. I could feel him tugging at the stitches, snugging them up. I couldn't see anything because they had laid a cloth over my face, covering my eyes.
I had asked to see a mirror when I came in but no one would provide one. After they were done and I was getting ready to leave, I asked again. They still wouldn't give me one. I asked where a restroom was, they told me. I was not stupid, I knew there'd be a mirror. I looked. It was bad but not as bad as I had been fearing. But ugly in the cold glaring light.
My brother-in-law and sister had shown up to collect me sometime during my sewing lesson. They took me to their house. I stayed there for the next few days and nights. By the next morning, the selling and discoloration had set in. Black, blue, green all mottled together. The jaw on one side had swollen up nicely, there were smaller wounds under my chin, in addition to the upside down Y on my upper lip, in a semi-circular pattern. His lower teeth made those. A puncture wound on my chin, halfway between my lower lip and the point of my chin, from one of his fangs completed the picture.
I remember the doctor saying I was lucky because the dog was young and his teeth were sharp. They had made clean cuts. Oh yeah, I felt real lucky.
It only took me two years to overcome the urge to run screaming from chihuahuas, a bit more for the larger breeds. There were more than a few bad dreams involving canines. Within a year, my sister had decided she wanted a German Shepherd for a pet.
I am no longer afraid of dogs. I don't seek them out. I just don't run away screaming.
A Night Unremembered
2 years ago