Big Dumb Dog
notes on fear
I remember starting up Lawn under a big sky, headed towards Pine. Friday night and there I was, midnight in September, or maybe October, but not too late because I’m lightly dressed, done up in a long cotton shirt, no coat, my long, easily-pullable hair uncovered.
Mood: 5 or 6 beers in, blissfully oblivious
Gait: friendly, in a big dumb dog sort of way
Destination: a Party, the Party.
My mind is elsewhere. My girlfriend, probably. Now ex. But back then she wasn’t an ex, and things were good.
I reached the top of the hill, just around Brainerd, walking on the right-hand sidewalk. There are a lot of people there, or maybe not so many. Kids, really. Highschoolers. Maybe ten of them. But maybe it felt like it was twenty. A white sedan pulls over on the other side of the street and someone’s getting out of the car and hugging one of the kids, and he’s hugging him back, and in the hug someone’s palm is flush on someone’s back.
When I said kids. I meant they were yelling and laughing and running around in the street and seemed young and drunk and I smiled at them because maybe I felt young and drunk too.
And then three guys are walking towards me, pointed at my back. I sense them more than I see them, an intuition of movement. I turn. I turn towards them and stop, because they’re saying something but I don’t know what. What? I ask. One of the guys says something again, but they’re mumbling and I think that maybe they want a cigarette, because I’m smoking a cigarette, so I wait for them to get closer and then.
Clobbered, creamed, thrashed, bulldozed, no matter how you cut it I’m getting the blood knocked out of me. It’s three against one; I’m surrounded. I put my hands up to cover my face so the blows come mostly to the back of my head. I spin, trying to land one of my own. The alarm in my head has not yet gone off. Instead, there is silence, a kind of patience, a catching-up, like water rushing out of a glass.
I remember thinking should I run? and deciding no, I’d stick it out, because fuck these guys, these scrawny, 18 year old, tough guy fucks, they suckerpunch me, swing at the back of my head, and they’re yelling, and kids in the background are yelling, too, or are they cheering? No, they’re laughing and then there’s something over my head and I don’t know what until I feel the cold on my stomach and it’s my shirt, they’ve pulled my shirt over my head and in the confusion I can’t get it off and my arms are stuck over my head and I’m bent down trying to get this thing off my head and I can’t move and I’m stuck and they’re hitting me in the head are people cheering and laughing and what is this is this happening and can I stop it why can’t I stop it
And then I scream. And at first, I don’t even know I’m screaming, but I am. My body knows it before my head. And it occurs to the me hearing that scream that something is happening to my body that I can’t control, and these thoughts in my head actually belong to this body, and these thoughts and body together are me, and these people are hurting my body, are hurting me. And I can’t do anything to stop them. Instantly, my cerebral separation from the assault caves in on itself. I snag into the moment, and everything else evaporates. And when its over, like the chlorine-rusted junk you find at the bottom of a drained swimming pool, all that’s left of me is a dense in my gut and my scream ringing out in the street.
And then I go down, and someone’s got me by my hair, my long, easily-pullable hair, remember? and they’re whipping my head into the pavement. But now, now I’m not afraid. I remember reaching for one of the kid’s legs, this scrawny, shitty little leg, and thinking, well only one thing I can physically do here, and biting him. The separation had kicked back in; I remember internally laughing at the sad absurdity of the scene: me on the ground trying to bite a kid’s leg through jeans because that’s all I’ve got. Almost as if I were viewing it through a television screen.
And from then on, throughout everything that happened after they left, after curling up in the street and bleeding into the gutter, after the people came and called 911, after the woman who brought me frozen peas for my head and the ambulance ride and all throughout the hospital trip, I managed to disconnect myself from it all again. Maybe it was shock, maybe it was the adrenaline, but I was in a pretty good mood, all things considered.
But something remained: the memory of my scream, the sound of fear, out in the open. I remember it still, a voice in my head that I had never heard before.