At 14, I had already begun to feel like an outcast in both my personal and professional lives. My “professional” life was school, of course, and having recently turned the corner from matriculating lacrosse player into alienating BMX bike rider, it felt like I had disaligned with the prominent, acceptable political party. At the time, the two worlds did not cleanly overlap, and all but a few of my friends from one ran for the hills when I began to prioritize the other.
One carry-over was a popular kid, a sports stand-out, and the son of the football coach. He was a lifer in the conventional system, but had an affinity for the fringes where I now resided. He rode BMX with me whenever he could, and was good at it, and in my opinion him doing so was one of the only reasons that I wasn’t even more severely ostracized.
We got along well- causing trouble wherever we could find it, listening to Suicidal Tendencies on near-constant repeat, and riding bikes like we were being paid to do so. Being a sports kid in a sports family, I believed that things like football and lacrosse must have felt almost like jobs to him, and bike riding (especially with me) must have felt like a nearly-supreme rebellion.
Most nights I would pedal my bike home, even though it was quite a trek from our usual riding spots to my parents’ house outside of town, but I usually didn’t mind the process and enjoyed the independence. It had gotten especially late one evening, and at our last stop I had gotten a flat tire. Not an unusual occurrence by any means, but the bike shop was closed and we had no other means to fix it. The ride was taxing but manageable, but the walk would have been a little much.
My parents were MIA (or maybe the phone line was busy) so the last resort became asking his dad to drive me. A burly, stern sports-guy, he had little patience for someone like me, and was not discreet or unclear about his lack of interest in shuttling me around. Moments after he begrudgingly agreed to do so, we carefully piled my bike into the trunk of his large sedan and made our way.
He was driving as if speed would erase the inconvenience he was feeling, and both his son and I felt the tension. Neither of us said a word, and the glances we shot back and forth were not accompanied by their usual smirks and smarm. Once we were outside town and had entered the rural area approaching where I lived, he sped up even a little further, and I remember it making me uncomfortable.
There was a cut-over street that contained a very old single-lane bridge, and upon crossing it we were then only a few miles from home. We were now relatively rural, and if my dad had conveyed anything to me during his driving lectures it was that it was better to be patient than sorry when driving on dark country roads. We were going way too fast, and the universe chose to let us know in a terrible way.
Like it had come from nowhere, a tall black dog was standing directly in the middle of the road, and nothing short of divine intervention could have kept us from hitting it. To this day, I believe it to have been a greyhound- black, with brown on its neck and paws. The speed at which we hit it essentially demolished the dog, and sent pieces flying a nearly surreal distance from the car. The noise and smell were sickening and washed over me in slow-motion, and I both covered and closed my eyes once I realized what had happened. The volume and ferocity of swearing from the adult in the front seat was shocking, and his anger quickly became directed at his son, and at me.
We pulled off the road and got out of the car to survey the damage. There was a large dent and a broken headlight on the left side of the car, but that seemed secondary to the mess that we now stood amongst. It appeared for a second that he was prepared to get back in the car and drive away, but reconsidered… kind of.
He conveyed that we needed to attempt to let the owners know what had happened, and I learned quickly that by “we”, he meant “me”. I felt truly awful for every aspect of what had unfolded- beginning with the cardinal sin of imposing on him for a ride- and the idea of having to tell someone that we had just killed their dog nearly made me cry. He sent me up to the nearest house as he stayed back by the car; It was in that moment that I lost all reverence for the outward appearance of men. Kind of a blessing, I suppose.
I knocked on the door, discovered that I had indeed found the owners, and pitifully conveyed my message of death. After doing so (and having to stand there awash in its effect), I turned and walked back towards the still-running car, now a full handful of years older than I had been just a few hours prior.