The thing that watches

There’s a schism that happens inside of me sometimes, precisely when events happen that really should be so overwhelming they drive all other thoughts away. Be it a traumatic phone call or a car accident – part of me is having an experience, and another part of me is trying to remember the experience so I can use it later for material, like an eager vampire of my own life. Like yesterday.

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood yesterday when quite suddenly a very large and very enraged dog shot out from behind the house I was passing in front of. As it barrelled full speed towards me, barking furiously, I thought, immediately after the oh god, this is so not happening part, I thought now this is interesting, I’m about to be attacked by a large dog and it’s absolutely fucking terrifying – what’s this like? I must remember this, the way my body has gotten all stiff, and my lungs have closed off. The dog was seriously frantic and aggravated, and stopped about two feet away, teeth bared, snarling, making lunges at my thighs. And as I was thinking about how to get out of this, I found myself wanting to remember, to slow down my own reactions, so I could better remember what terror is like, so that I could use it later because if we’re fortunate, terror doesn’t come that often. Fucking writers, I thought, as it came towards me, think too much. So it seemed, perversely, like an opportunity.

At a loss, I tried to suggest that the dog go home, the suggestions getting increasingly loud. I tried to back slowly away from the dog – who followed, snarling, lunging, growling. I found myself tensing up for the all-too-easily remembered sensation of dog teeth sinking into my thighs (yes, when I lived in Texas I was attacked by a dog on my way to the polls on this terrible day. I bled onto the floor of the voting booth, but that damn GOP dog was not going to stop me). But this dog, this dog that I found myself observing even as I was increasingly desperate to get the hell away from it, circled around to my front, actually blocking my escape, snarling and baring its teeth, lunging, backing me against a fence.

Finally, a woman who was presumably the owner appeared, clearly shocked and shaken, calling at the dog, trying to be calm, until the dog lunged at me again and I screamed, actually screamed in a terrified and angry voice that was not without pleading, “Help Me!” And I thought: well, I’ve never screamed for help in terror before in my life – what an interesting feeling this is – the note of humilation and desperation working its way into the terror. I’ve really got to remember this because this will be quite useful. At which point she sprinted towards us, screaming at the dog, until the three of us were standing there on the sidewalk all screaming at the top of our lungs, and she was reaching for the dog and cringing back from it, and we all realized that now she was afraid of the dog too, her own dog, until the dog finally relented and raced back where it had come from. The woman – and I could see the upset and panic on her face – and by then I was pissed off as well, but she looked so shaken and I searched her face, thinking, she’s as scared as I am for quite different reasons, notice that, notice how she looks – scared, filled with some new burden of responsibility that she really does not want, and the shame that’s there, too, the shame we both feel that makes us want to get away from one another. She looked at me, apologetic and horrified – and then at the retreating dog, at which point I just gave in to instinct and got the fuck out of there. And she, not sure what to do, stuttered something at me, then raced after the dog.

And on the way home, I tried to remember, even as the adrenalin in my brain was trying to obliterate the memory, tried to retain every last little sensory detail – the dog’s tan and black coloring, how it danced around intently so that I could not escape, the way the woman dropped her garden shears in terror, the torn grey of her work t-shirt, the way my arms flew up to my face in instinct, the searing in my lungs afterwards as I realized how loud I’d yelled. And how even though this was really a minor episode of fear, something without real consequence, that this thing that watches is something that’s always there, will always be there waiting, willing to split off no matter what’s happening, waiting to watch and observe and report.


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