Abandonment
Home Up St. John's


DESTINY


CHAPTER TWO:
ABANDONMENT

Written by Rick Archer
 

   


SUBCHAPTER 007
- TERRY

 

My childhood was a time of great hardship for me.  However, there was one bright spot in my life... my dog Terry.  My story would not be complete if I didn't talk about Terry. 

Odd as it sounds, I imagine Terry did more to keep me sane during my troubled years than any single human being.  I got Terry in 1958, one year before the divorce and my start at St. John's.  I was eight at the time.  Terry would serve as my constant companion during my nine years at St. John's. 

1958 was the year my parents began to argue.  My father would come home and immediately pick a fight with my mother.  My mother would retort that she gave up her education so he could get his degree.  These moments led to brutal shouting matches. 

I would run to my room and hide, holding my dog to my side for comfort.  I would be so scared.  Inevitably I would bury my face in my dog's fur and sob.  Even though he was just a puppy and was always in trouble for chewing up my rubber dinosaurs, I loved this dog fiercely.  Terry would lick my face and do everything in his power to help me survive those awful nights.  Terry was absolutely my only friend in the entire world. 

Things weren't always this bad.  When I first got Terry, I was a pretty happy kid.  Terry and I roughhoused all the time.  Our favorite game was chase.  I would run and Terry would tackle me by grabbing the lowest part of my pants with his teeth.  Since Terry never missed a single open field tackle, he would have made a great football player. 

Once he got me on the ground, we would roll on the grass and wrestle.  Hanging onto my pants, Terry would shake my leg and growl.  I would growl right back.  Then I would grab him and squeeze him with delight.

Of course my mother had mixed feelings about our games.  She was constantly sewing up my torn jeans and washing the grass stains out.  However Mom didn't complain. 

Mom loved my dog too.  Once the marital nightmare began, Mom was well aware Terry was the only thing keeping me glued together during the final year of her marriage.

 

I almost lost Terry as a puppy.  It was my fault. 

We lived in a brand new subdivision known as Sharpstown.  There were fields in front of my house, behind my house, and at the far west end of our block.  Consequently there was practically no traffic, so I never gave Terry's safety much thought. 

I was eight years old and completely unaware of the danger I put my dog in by not having him on a leash when we explored together.  Terry was still a puppy and didn't have any voice discipline yet.  One day we went running through a giant field a block from my house.  On our trip home, Terry dashed out into the middle of the street.  I saw a giant Sears delivery truck barreling down on Terry and screamed "Terry!!!" at the top of my lungs.  It was too late; Terry couldn't stop. 

The truck driver also saw Terry and slammed on his brakes.  That man hit those brakes hard!  The loud screeching sound of the brakes was unbelievable.  Too late.  One of the front wheels hit Terry pretty hard.   Terry began to spin uncontrollably.  The dog rolled over and over and over.  Terry took six violent flips in front of the truck's path that covered at least fifteen feet.  When he finally stopped, I was sure my dog was dead when he laid there motionless.  Suddenly Terry magically bounced up and dashed right past me at warp speed.  Poor Terry!!  The little dog was so frightened, he ran home as fast as he could!!

Thank God the truck driver had slowed enough so that Terry did not get caught under the wheel, but rather bumped the dog very hard.  Full of tears and consumed with guilt, I yelled my gratitude out to the truck driver.  I waved at him and thanked him profusely.  His alert action had made the difference. 

I could see the man smiling with relief that the dog wasn't hurt too much.   Seeing my tears, he could tell how much my dog meant to me.  The man grinned at me and waved back his acknowledgement of my appreciation.  He knew he had saved my dog's life. 

 

Now I turned and chased Terry home.  I found him shaking like a leaf on our doorstep.  I took my trembling puppy into my arms and cried huge tears of relief.  I thanked God for giving me a second chance.  At that moment, I knew I loved this dog with all my heart.

Two things happened after that.  Terry had such an incredible spirit of independence that I still couldn't bear to put him on a leash.  Terry loved so much to run free.  I tried to put him on the leash, but I just couldn't do it.  He looked so sad.  So I looked for other solutions.  I became very cautious from that point on.  I did put a collar around Terry's neck and held that collar tight whenever we were remotely near any traffic. 

In addition, I developed an uncanny voice control over my dog.  All I had to do was say "Terry" and he froze.  Terry trusted me completely.  He recognized I was looking out for him at all times.  My voice became his warning signal.  Terry would run along beside my bike and stop the instant I said "Terry" if I saw any problems up ahead.  We became quite a team. 

It gives me tremendous satisfaction to report that Terry would never have another incident nor any sort of close call.  Thanks to our teamwork, Terry was able to run free for his entire life. 

Terry loved to run away.  Every three months or so, he found some way to escape while I was at school.  I would go looking for him, cursing him the entire time because I was so worried.  That dog drove me nuts.  One afternoon after yet another escape, I saw Terry from across the street before he spotted me.   Terry was headed towards me, but hadn't noticed me yet.  I said nothing because I was worried that he would be excited to see me and dangerously run across the street.  Fortunately there was no traffic, so I relaxed and watched to see what he would do.  To my surprise, Terry stopped at the street and looked both ways before crossing.  Terry had learned his lesson from the Sears truck years ago.  I was very impressed. 

Terry was the most intelligent dog I have ever known.  It wasn't just his loyalty that drew me to him, it was my respect for his immense talent and spirit.  I had a sense that this dog had a mind and personality that was 'human-like' in so many ways.  We had a profound connection.

I had other lessons to learn besides looking out for my dog's safety.  One day not long after the divorce, I asked my mother why Terry was so skinny. "Probably because you forget to feed him at night."

A look of horror crossed my face.  Oh my gosh, Mom was absolutely right.  Sometimes I did forget!  I was beside myself with guilt and shame.  I vowed never to forget again and I kept that vow.  Caring for this dog I loved so much helped teach me responsibility. 

Terry had a great life thanks to me.  I kept him busy.  He went with me everywhere and I mean everywhere.  We were inseparable.  It is safe to say Terry was one heck of a happy dog.  As for me, I could not have made it without him. 

 
 


SUBCHAPTER 008
- FATHER'S ABANDONMENT

 

Shortly after the August 1959 divorce, Dad began to disappear from my life.  I saw my father every other weekend without fail for the first four months.  Then something awkward happened that first Christmas.  

I was 10 years old.  Here we were in his apartment full of Christmas cheer, just Dad, me and the Christmas Tree.  Under the tree was an enormous gift-wrapped box. 

I ripped open the paper to discover my father had bought me a gigantic erector set complete with some kind of fancy electrical motor.  This was a very expensive gift.  It came in a heavy metal box so large I could barely lift it.  Dad was extremely proud of his gift.  I have a hunch this was the kind of gift he coveted when he was my age, but of course never received because his mother was very poor. 

Dad beamed at his lavish present.  Being an electrical engineer, this erector set was right up his alley.  As for me, I gulped.  I had never tried this sort of thing before and wasn't sure how I would I do.  But I kept my worries to myself. 

I hugged my father and thanked him.  Dad looked at me with a huge smile.  He wanted to build something neat with his son.  That would make this his best Christmas ever!   

"Well, sure, of course, Dad, let's build something!"  At this comment, I was beside with myself with happiness.  I had missed my father so much lately.

Dad took out the list of projects and looked it over.  He immediately suggested we build a drawbridge so we could take advantage of that fancy motor.  I wasn't so sure.  That idea seemed a little ambitious. I was thinking the stuff on the first page was more my speed.  However, if Dad said I could do it, I would try. 

The drawbridge had elaborate instructions.  He said all we had to do was follow the instructions.  What could be easier?  Dad handed me the tools and worked with me for a while.  I was game, but I didn't do very well.  The instructions made no sense. 

 

As I had feared, this project was way over my head. 

When he realized how totally overwhelmed I was, Dad got the strangest look in his face.  He stared at me in disbelief. 

Now I gulped again.  I was almost certain I knew what he was thinking.  I believe when my father was my age, he had the talent to build stuff like this without anyone's help. 

So why couldn't his son do it? 

Dad's frown deepened.  He could not believe how inept I was, especially when compared to his own immense natural ability at mechanics.

At that moment, something terrible snapped in the man.  I could see it in his angry expression.  He had just discovered his son had no mechanical ability.  There would be no following in his genius footsteps, now would there? 

Dad studied me in disbelief.  His face was crestfallen.  What a disappointment I was to him.  How could I possibly be his kid?  And even if I was his kid, my value had just plummeted.  At best, maybe someday I could get a job pulling bubble gum off of theater seats or something equally noble.

Impatient, Dad snatched the tools out of my hands and began to build the bridge himself.   Dad told me to watch carefully and he would show me how to do it.  Then I could do it again by myself tomorrow after he took me back to Mom's apartment.  Yeah, sure, Dad. 

With the sparkling Christmas tree as our backdrop, Dad got down to business on the living room carpet.  The moment he stuck his tongue out on the side of his mouth, I knew he was in The Zone.  Sticking his tongue out was Dad's trademark signal whenever he locked in.  I noticed he didn't even need the instructions.  One look at the picture was enough.  I was incredulous... not even another glance!

Dad was in another world.  The entire time I did not exist.  Despite my own sadness, I smiled at seeing how happy Dad was.  I had never seen him look happier.  Dad was probably reliving some of his own boyhood Christmas memories.   I marveled at my father's immense talent.  I was reminded of the good old days when he had built that gigantic electric train complex in the attic with me at his side watching in awe.  It is a good thing I paid such close attention as he built that drawbridge.  Little did I know this would be the last time I would ever see my father display his wonderful ability. 

Three hours later, Dad finished.  If it took my father three hours, that in itself should explain how complicated this project was.  I never had a chance, did I?  But I did not know that.  Nor did he reassure me that this was a tough place to start.  I was ashamed of myself.

The completed drawbridge was a magnificent structure.  It was huge.  Hit a switch and the drawbridge went up and down.  Dad was so proud of himself.  This is what he was capable of.  He looked at the bridge and beamed with pride.  Then he looked at me and frowned. 

I got the message.  I had failed him.  I wasn't good enough.

After Christmas, Dad stopped seeing me.  I was supposed to see him every other weekend, but he skipped our next weekend visit.  Then he skipped the one after that.  An entire month had gone by without hearing from him.  At the time I was sick in my stomach. 

Meanwhile, things were really bad in my new home.  Mom was struggling with the divorce and had brought this awful man named Tom Cook to live with us.  Among other things, Tom Cook stole my silver dollar collection to pay for alcohol.  Recently he had beat my mother up after getting drunk.  He even tried to get me started on smoking.  What a pal.  I was badly rattled and needed my father.  Where was he?

I assumed Dad's absence had something to do with how badly I had done with the erector set.  What else was I supposed to think?   He didn't even call to explain his absence.  Missing him, I asked Mom to check.  However she was still too angry about the divorce to get in touch with him.  So I stayed in the dark assuming his disappearance was all my fault.  I went around criticizing myself for being so stupid.  Probably other sons my age could have built that drawbridge with no trouble.

Half a year went by without seeing or hearing from him.  Then one day out of the blue Dad called and said he was coming over to pick me up for our scheduled Saturday.  I was thrilled!  I got my father back!  He must have forgiven me for being so stupid.  I was going to be the best kid possible. 

Now get this.  I went to my closet and got out the erector set which had sat there untouched for six months.  I tried building the beginner models every day for the next few days leading up to our visit.  I wasn't very good, but I finally figured out how to build a simple house frame.  Mind you, it had no moving parts like the drawbridge, but it was a good start.  The point is I tried as hard as I could to do something to make my father proud of me again. 

When Dad came to the door, I had my giant erector set kit in my hand.  I was going to bring it with me and show Dad what I had taught myself to do.  I was going to build that house for him without any help.  Dad took one look and frowned.  He said, "You won't need that, son.  Leave it here."

When I got to his apartment, there was a surprise waiting for me.  Dad introduced me to his new girlfriend.  She had lunch waiting for us.

After lunch, he suggested I turn on the TV.  Dad spent the rest of the day hanging out with that lady in the kitchen where I could barely see them.  I watched nervously out of the corner of my eye as the two of them played court and spark in the background.  Then they went into the bedroom for a while.  I wasn't quite sure why he was ignoring me.  I guess she was better with erector sets than I was.

Then he drove me home.  What a great father-son Saturday. 

It took me a few years to figure it out, but the real reason Dad had skipped his weekends with me was to pursue his new flame.  It had nothing to do with my lack of mechanical ability.  Too bad I didn't know that at the time.  I spent half a year feeling worthless for nothing.

I did not like his girlfriend at all.  The best words to describe the woman were 'frosty' and 'phony'.  Where I was concerned, she merely went through the motions until she could seal the deal.  And seal the deal she did.  Dad married that woman not too long afterwards.  I wasn't invited to the wedding.  No surprise there.  Due to my eternal contempt, I won't bother giving her a name, not even a fake one.  We will just call her 'Stepmother'. 

Stepmother did not like me at all.  Mind you, Stepmother never came out and admitted I disgusted her.  But actions do have a way of sending the message.  Stepmother allowed me into her home once a year at Christmas time.  It was the Christian thing to do, no doubt.

After the wedding, Stepmother's next step was to get rid of me.  She was wildly successful.  Dad almost completely disappeared from my life.  During the nine year stretch from the 1959 divorce to high school graduation in 1968, I saw my father four times a year.  

My father was a creature of habit.  He played a game I liked to call 'Four Seasons.'  Christmas marked my yearly visit to his home.  Since I was not welcome in my stepmother's home at any other time, Dad switched to picking me up at school for lunch.  No problem.  Lunch was a convenient option.  Once on my birthday in October.  Once in early Spring.  Once shortly before the Summer break.

 

I am not sure why I didn't see my father more often.  After all, my father worked just down the street from St. John's. 

I estimate by car, St. John's was a four minute drive from his office.  Maybe less.

Dad's office was at the corner of Weslayan and Westheimer.  This spot was a half mile from my school on Westheimer and Buffalo Speedway. 

3,000 feet to be exact, but a million miles away in my father's mind. 

For a busy man, much too far to take the time to see the forgotten son.

 

This was a heartless move on the man's part.  My father had no excuse not to see me more often.  Seeing me was so easy it was ridiculous.  Permission slips were unnecessary at St. John's School.  Back in the Sixties, security was not a concern.  Since the SJS receptionist knew who my father was, any time my father wanted to see me, he would just phone and leave a message with her.  The lady would hand a note to me when I passed through the Reception area.  The following day Dad would pick me up for lunch for our quarterly visit. 

Dad would periodically hint in some roundabout way that Stepmother was responsible for his absence. 

That set me to thinking about the sincerity of his statement.  If Dad wanted to see me more often, I would have gladly ridden my bike to his office.  It didn't have to be lunch; why not after school?  I understood that I was Taboo, off-limits in her book, but the suspicious wife would never have to know her husband was seeing the Forbidden Child.   I could have visited him at his office behind Stepmother's back. 

Here is my point.  If my father wanted to see me, it was effortless.  He could have seen me every day of the week if he chose to.  I would have been overjoyed to see my father more often had he permitted it.  One lunch a week would have been wonderful.  The truth is that I have always had a soft spot for the guy even though another part of me despised the man for how he neglected me.  I have never really quite understood my mixed feelings.  No matter how much my father disgusted me, I was shocked to realize how much I looked forward to seeing him again.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that I rarely saw my father.  He obviously preferred his Four Seasons approach.  Maybe he liked the symmetry of it.  The rest of the time, Dad made it clear how busy he was and that my phone calls to his office were a nuisance.  The message was clear... I needed to know my place.  He was a busy man.  Don't call him; he'll call me. 

Now that I wasn't allowed to bother him, like a desperate mistress, I began to wait anxiously for his call.  For the first year or so (4th grade), I developed a pathetic habit of walking past the receptionist twice a day just in case he had called.  Once I hit the 5th grade I didn't bother any more.  Now sometimes the receptionist had to hunt me down if he called.  This kind woman always looked at me with the most profound sympathy.  I think she understood how sensitive this issue was for me.

Perhaps if my father had ever been openly mean to me, I might have gotten the guy out of my system.  Such was not the case.  Whenever we met for lunch, Dad was invariably nice to me.  In person, Dad was warm to me, always friendly, always affable.  I cannot recall a single harsh word between us.  

I still remember that big smile Dad would greet me with.  I guess when you spend four hours a year with your kid, you can smile with the best of them.  Must have been his sales training.  Seriously, Dad put up a great front.  I swear a casual observer would never guess the utter mediocrity of his parenting skills where I was concerned. 

Stepmother had two children by Dad, a boy and a girl.  No effort was ever made to include me in his second family.  I saw them each Christmas, but that was it.  Certainly not enough time for my bad seed ways to rub off on them. 

One of the most painful aspects of our relationship was my knowledge that Dad treated his other two children very well.  And how did I know this?  He told me!  Dad had the strangest habit of spending most of our time together telling me all about his two children.  When I was 13, Dad ceased talking to me like a father to a son.  He developed a friendly, superficial rapport with me.   There was no heart to heart communication whatsoever, just cordial stuff. 

While he spoke, I was mesmerized by how incredibly oblivious Dad was to my pain.  I think he preferred to avoid that subject.  Instead Dad behaved more like a distant uncle who calls for a friendly visit whenever he is town.  I was no longer his son in these conversations, but rather his buddy and confidante.  Nothing serious was ever discussed between us.  Just happy talk.  Now that I was his pal, Dad spent most of our time talking about his children and his job.

From what Dad told me over the years, it was apparent he loved his second and third children.  The girl was very talented, but the boy was somewhat mentally handicapped due to a problem during the birth process.  Based on the stories he told me, I came to the conclusion that Dad was a pretty good father to these two children. 

In particular, Dad exhibited a patience and caring for his struggling son that I admired.  Dad went to great lengths to help that boy overcome his handicaps.  His concern for my struggling half-brother indicated he was actively helping this boy any way he could. 

"Dick, I spend a couple hours every night helping Charles and Joy with their homework.  I am so proud of them, but especially Charles.  School comes easy to Joy, she's so smart, but school is an uphill battle for my son.  Charles gets very frustrated, but after I calm him down and give him some encouragement, that boy works as hard as he is capable of."

I could see the pride written all over my father's face.  It gave him pleasure to talk about what a good father he was.  It doesn't get much more ironic than this.  Here I was, the world's most miserable kid in desperate need of attention, but instead of receiving encouragement for my own problems, my job was to politely listen to Dad brag about how well he was raising his other children.

To me, his behavior reminded me of a man who makes a starving dog watch while he feeds his favorite dog.  To deal with the pain, I simply observed him speak with an odd detachment.  I must have been a good actor because I don't think he ever had a clue the contempt I felt for him while he told me these stories. 

Okay, I was glad that Dad had the ability to be a decent father to my half-siblings.  I did not begrudge them his attention.  Good for you, Dad.  But what about me?  Why would he always give me the short end of the stick?  And why would he make it so apparent that he cared more for them than me?

 

My father's disdain really hurt.  I wanted to believe I was a good kid and that I was worthy of his love, but it sure didn't seem that way. 

Why would my father play favorites?  Or, more to the point, why would my father play favorites and discuss it openly with the unwanted child?  Sure I was moody and introverted, but I never gave my father a bit of trouble.  Okay, so I was withdrawn and insecure.  Is that any reason to give up on me?  I was at a complete loss to understand how he could care for these two children, but not me, his first child.  This was the mystery.

Where had my father gone to?  I was certain that he had loved me when I was a little boy.  Now it was like he had a blind spot for me.  I could not imagine what I had done to lose his love. 

I tried so hard to please him, but it didn't seem to make any difference. 

Dad lost interest, that was apparent.  I will never know the real reason. 

 

Of course I laid much of the responsibility for this pathos on the doorstep of Stepmother.  I was ten years old when the brush-off began. I don't know why she disliked me so much, but from the start I could sense she really did not want me around my father.  I resented her deeply for the wedge she drove between us. 

In my opinion, Stepmother was the coldest woman I have ever met.  What sort of threat could I have possibly been to her or to her children?  I was a little boy, for crying out loud.  Nor was I any brat.  I was a quiet, withdrawn, sensitive kid who missed his father.

Nevertheless, Stepmother deliberately deprived me of my father.  Children depend on their parents.  Who was I supposed to depend on? 

What the hell was wrong with that woman?  And what the hell was wrong with my father for his inability to defy her?

 

My early life had been idyllic.  I once had a happy home and my father adored me.  It was mutual; I worshipped Dad.  I followed him everywhere like a puppy dog.  Dad was my best friend in the world.  Why he abandoned me after the divorce made no sense. 

Once in a while, I wonder about the strange nature of Good luck and Bad luck.  Yes, Stepmother was incredibly bad luck.  She cost me my father.  Yet at the same time, Stepmother was indirectly responsible for giving me my St. John's education... not that she deserved any credit of course.  

Stepmother had been Dad's secretary at his office.  Mom suspected an office affair that pre-dated the divorce.  Mom had no proof and no witnesses; she just felt it in her bones.  Call it woman's intuition.

When my father refused to send me to St. John's as the psychiatrist recommended, Mom told my father she knew all about his affair.  She would use the knowledge to take him to the cleaners in the divorce... unless he paid for St. John's. 

I traded my father for the best education in Houston. 

Good luck or bad luck?  In hindsight, considering how worthless the man was, I suppose I got the better end of the deal.  However, I did not know that at the time.  I missed Dad terribly.  It was a devil's bargain to be sure.

Why would a decent man stop caring for a child he once loved?  I am sorry to say I never got my answer.

 


SUBCHAPTER 009
- THE BOOKWORM AND HIS DOG

 

It was 1961 and the summer had just started.  I was 11 and I had just finished the 6th Grade at St. John's.  Back in those days, I was quite the bookworm.  Due to my lack of friends, I was constantly reading.  My favorite books were about Greek Mythology.  No doubt that revelation comes as a great surprise to the Reader.

Terry was such a wonderful dog.  He was my closest companion for the nine long years stretching from Mom's divorce till college.  We had an inseparable bond.  We went everywhere together, especially to the neighborhood park where I constantly practiced basketball.  When I say 'everywhere', I mean it.  No matter what I did, Terry always wanted to be by my side. 

One day I was getting ready to visit the downtown library.  Since I lived in the Montrose area, downtown was only a twenty minute bike ride away.  As I got ready, Terry stared at me expectantly.  "No, Terry, you can't come with me.  It is too dangerous."

Terry immediately began to pout.  That dog had my number, so I relented.  Since it was the start of summer, I was in no hurry.  So I decided to try an experiment.  I put Terry at the end of a long rope so he could run along beside my bike.  Keep in mind we were headed DOWNTOWN.  Busy streets, many cars, lots of traffic to watch out for.

This really wasn't very smart, was it?  But you know what, Terry and I were a heck of a team.  I knew we could pull this off, so I did it anyway.  I rode my bike down Bagby, a semi-busy city street.  I took it slow and made sure to keep the dog on the side away from traffic.  Once we hit the skyscrapers, the traffic got too great.  So I got off my bike and we walked together the rest of the way.  I tied Terry up outside the Library, then went inside to collect 12 books, the maximum allowed.  While I was in there, I joined the Summer Book Club.  I put the books in my bike basket and home we went.

On the way home from the library, a passing truck clipped my handlebar.  The accident wasn't my fault in any way.  The truck driver swerved out of his lane and hit me. 

I went flying out of control and hit the concrete pavement hard on my hip.  The truck was pulling an empty U-Haul trailer behind it.  The heavy wheels of the U-Haul went right over my right ankle, cutting it to shreds.  My ankle wasn't broken, but it wasn't working either.  I could see the exposed bone.  Yuck!  Something was wrong with my hip too. 

 

I was in tremendous pain.  As I writhed in agony on the street, Terry came over and stood guard beside me.  Worried about the oncoming traffic, I had the presence of mind to able to crawl on my hands and knees to the curb.  Some kind lady came out of her store and offered to call an ambulance.  Grateful, I also gave her my mother's number at work.

When the ambulance showed up, the men were very aggressive.   Without any explanation, they tried to grab me and put me on a cart. 

I put my hands up and resisted.  I said, "Hold on, guys!!  Wait just a minute!  What about my dog?" 

The moment I protested, Terry stepped in.  It was amazing to watch him in action.  Terry tensed up due to the urgency in my voice.  The men took one look at Terry and froze.  Now they practically fell over in their haste to step back.  I smiled grimly.  That dog would protect me with his life.

Terry instinctively moved between those men and me.  Now my dog wouldn't let the emergency personnel anywhere near me.  I was badly hurt and in a lot of pain, but I wasn't in any immediate danger.  I needed take care of my dog first and foremost. 

One of the men asked me to tie the dog up.  Despite my pitiful condition, I actually laughed.  Here I was lying on the curb of a hot city street with my hip so numb I couldn't move and my badly damaged ankle bleeding profusely, but these guys were asking for my help with the dog.  How absurd.   

"Mister, I am not going to tie my dog.  Why don't we just take the dog with us?"

"No way!!  You're gonna have to leave the dog here."  

My laughter disappeared.  These men were serious. 

"Are you guys crazy?  There is no way I am going to tie up my dog and leave him behind!!" 

These men were frowning and had their arms crossed.  They meant what they said.

When I realized how serious they were, I was suddenly panic-stricken.  I was worried they would use force to put me in the ambulance.  Then I realized as long as Terry was next to me, that wasn't going to happen.  So I focused on protecting my dog.

These men clearly did not understand my fierce loyalty.  They would have to knock me unconscious before I would leave my dog.  This dog was the most important person in the entire world to me.   Losing Terry would be unbearable.  I would rather lie here bleeding in the street till my mother showed up than take any chance of losing my dog.  This dog was my best friend, my only friend, in the whole world.  I had my life wrapped around him.

I asked again, "Why can't we put Terry in the ambulance with us?"

"We can't put a dog in our ambulance!  We will lose our job!"

"Then I am not leaving.  You can go, I don't care.  I will just lay here till my mother comes.  And you better not touch me.  You will have to fight my dog to get to me." 

The two men looked at each other.  There was a silent agreement that neither man wanted anything to do with my dog.

Terry was not a dangerous dog.  Not once did Terry ever bite someone or even snap at someone.  I don't even recall him growling.  But Terry had a way of staring right at those men that paralyzed them with fear.  I was so proud of him!

Terry was protective of me.  Oh yes, for sure he was protective.  Trust me, no one would dare touch me if Terry thought I was in danger.  Terry was the reincarnation of Old Yeller.  As I said, I firmly believed Terry would give up his life to protect me.

Well, that made two of us.  This loyalty went both ways.  I was willing to risk losing my leg to stand up for him.  Well, maybe not stand up, at least not at the moment.  But I was ready to lie here on this street for eternity to protect him!

I became scared that I might lose control of the situation.  The pain was terrible.  What if I passed out?  Then they might be able to gang up from behind on my dog, grab that rope and subdue him.

The thought of losing Terry was too much to bear.  So now I cracked.  No more tough kid... I began crying.  Talk about crocodile tears!   I cried my eyes out at the thought of losing my dog.  I could recover from my injuries, but not from a broken heart.  This dog was the only friend I had in the whole world.

Those tears turned out to be my saving grace.  Thanks to all the drama, this spot had turned into a circus of onlookers.  Cars stopped to see what the fuss was all about plus an entire crowd of pedestrians had gathered to witness the spectacle.  I guess there were at least twenty people watching.  What a sight this was... a wounded kid laying helplessly on the ground and a fiercely loyal dog trying to resist two big men who were behaving like insensitive bullies.  

Suddenly the people lining the perimeter came to my aid.  Some man hollered, "C'mon, you guys, let the damn dog ride with the kid in the ambulance!!  Can't you see the kid is crying?" 

With that, everyone cheered.  All the onlookers concurred with similar comments.  Suddenly I had an entire cheering section rooting for me and Terry.  Now one ambulance guy looked at the other in frustration.  They threatened again to leave me laying there.  That didn't work.  Despite my pain, I barked, "Then Go!  Leave!  That's fine with me."

Here I was hurt, crippled and bleeding, but I was defiant.  Not that it did me any good.  The men did not budge. 

Choking back tears, I said, "You men don't understand!!  I would rather take the chance of losing my leg than lose my dog!  This dog means everything to me!"

The crowd loved my speech.  Now they really cheered for me.  Seeing how upset I was at leaving Terry, the crowd stepped up the pressure.  They raised quite a racket.  Finally the men relented.  They said Terry could ride with me in the ambulance to the hospital.  Now all the onlookers cheered and clapped their approval.  Even the two ambulance drivers grinned a little.  What a scene. 

I told Terry it was okay to let the men touch me.  Then I allowed that nice lady who had phoned my mother to hold Terry's rope. I said, "Sit."  Terry was so unbelievably intelligent; he did exactly what I asked.  Terry somehow understood that these men were now my friends and he immediately backed off.  Once the men had me in the ambulance, I said, "Terry, come here" and gestured to him.  With that, Terry jumped in the ambulance and the lady handed me the rope.

The people all laughed and clapped.  Such a spectacle!  People began to nod their appreciation.  They could see why I had stood up for my dog.  That was one heck of a smart dog!  They were also proud of themselves for the big part they had played in resolving this odd standoff.

Now that I was in the ambulance, the nice lady came up to me and handed me the library books she had collected off the street.  I was glad to get those books back; I had wondered what had happened to them.

Then she grabbed my hand in an affectionate way and said, "Well, young man, it looks like you'll need these books this summer.  You take care of yourself and that great dog of yours."  I smiled wanly and thanked her.

The ride to Jefferson Davis Hospital didn't take long.  It was only a mile away from my accident.  Before entering the hospital, I asked the men to wheel the gurney over to a shade tree next to the entrance.  They lowered my stretcher to the ground and then wheeled me over to the tree so I could tie Terry up.  Crying profusely due to my fear of losing my dog and knowing how worried Terry was for me, I kissed Terry on the nose and told him to wait for my mother.  It broke my heart to see him tugging at the rope trying to follow me into the hospital.  The poor dog was so worried about me... he had his life wrapped around me too.  The separation broke both of our hearts.

Once inside the hospital, I broke down badly again.  Now that I was separated from my dog, I wasn't brave any more.  Not at all.  I had lost all courage.  I was worried sick about my dog outside.  My helplessness to protect my dog was too much for me to bear.  I absolutely could not stand the fear of leaving him out there alone.  That dog was my only friend in the world.

A nurse heard me crying, a black woman.  She thought I was in serious pain and came over to me.  She was surprised to find I was crying for my dog, not my injury.  Between sobs, I begged the sympathetic nurse to please give Terry some water and tell him I was okay.  I was frightened to death someone would steal him or he would get loose.  Terry was the original escape artist; I was terrified he would chew through that rope.  I also made the nurse promise to tell my mother where to find him in case I passed out from my considerable pain. 

After she left, I just laid there in a constant state of worry for my dog.  I had no idea whether the nurse had done what I asked her.

Fortunately, the nurse did indeed leave to go take a look.  She came back ten minutes later and said Terry had water now and was doing fine.  She said Terry was a great dog and that he had let her pet him.

"I reassured your dog that you were okay.  Gosh, I think your dog actually understood what I was saying!  He licked my hand!"

Choking back tears, I whispered, "Oh, thank you so much, ma'am.  I can't stand not being near him right now."

The nurse took a shine to me and kept me company. 

"You really love that dog, don't you?  I have never seen a boy care more for his dog in my life.  Don't worry, things are going to be okay."

As the nurse was talking to me, Mom showed up.  Mom reassured me she had found Terry just where I left him and that she had put him in the car for safety. 

"But what about the heat, Mom?  We can't let him suffer."

"I found a tree to park the car under so the car won't get too hot.  Let me stay with you for a while, then I will drive him home and come back if that's okay."

"Absolutely, Mom, take Terry home and come back.  Don't worry about me.  I have a bum ankle.  I'll live."

Once Mom found that I was more worried about the dog than myself, she was incredibly relieved.  Now my mother started crying too.  You know, my mother wasn't a bad person.  She may have been an emotional cripple, but there is no doubt she did love me.  I regret so much that we constantly butted heads throughout my childhood.  Sad to say, things would get worse during my rebellious teenage years.

This story has a happy ending.  The insurance company of the driver who hit me settled quickly.  Mom was able to get out of debt for a while and was very happy.  She even thanked me which I thought was odd.  Hmm.  Always glad to take one for the team.

Meanwhile Terry and I spent June and July in bed while I recovered.  I read every book under the sun.  Since I could hop on one foot well enough to fetch peanut butter sandwiches, I wasn't in any danger of starving.  Nor was Terry... he got a big corner of every sandwich.  That was our deal.  I made sure to put extra peanut butter on Terry's slice just to torment him.  I would laugh as Terry went nuts twisting his tongue to lick the sticky peanut butter off the roof of his mouth.

With Terry keeping me company, I read book after book.  I easily won the library's summer book club reading contest.  It took two months, but my ankle healed just fine.  The companionship of my dog made my suffering bearable.  As long as I had Terry beside me, I would be okay.  Peanut butter, Terry, and books... hey, that turned out to be a pretty good summer!  

 


part one: CHILDHOOD

Chapter three:  ST. JOHN'S
 

 

 

   TIMELINE

  1955   Cut my eye out (01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
  1958   My dog Terry comes into my life
  1959-1968   St. John's
  1958   My dog Terry comes into my life
  1959   Divorce, 4th grade at St. John's, Mom begins to fall apart
  1964   Blue Christmas (03)

 

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