Monday, June 10, 2013

Dogs In The Road

I have an American Bulldog named Lexi. She is still young and so has a lot of energy. Some nights when I take her out for the last time, she starts running in laps around the yard.  It’s amazing how fast she can go.  Sometimes she is moving so quickly that she loses her footing and starts to slide across the driveway or sidewalk.  Not too long ago, her orbit of running took her out into the street just as a car was coming.  For the first time in a long time I had that feeling of panic that every parent has in their stomach and all through their body when their child breaks away from them and bolts into danger.  I screamed “No, Lexi, no! Come!”  Fortunately, Lexi was fast and the driver of the car saw her, hit her horn, and slammed on her brakes.  Lexi ran right into our open garage and cowered by the door into the house.  The driver stopped, mimed relief and I gave her a wave of appreciation and apologies. I took Lexi into the house.  She was shaking like crazy. I gave her a treat and then she ran right into her crate. I was shaking too, so I went out into the garage studio to try to calm my nerves.  I put on the radio, and as I stood there, I thought for the first time, in a long time, about Tippy Bogucki.

The night I killed Tippy Bogucki was one of the worse nights I ever had. Even 33 years later it hurts me to think about it.  There have been other times when I thought about it and said things certain things to myself in an effort to try and feel better about what happened.  I say, “It was dark and I couldn’t see her in the road,” or “”I did everything I could to avoid hitting her.”  It doesn’t ever really help or matter. Despite that it was an accident, and that I didn’t mean to kill her, the reality remains the same. I killed Tippy Bogucki and took her away from the people she loved and who loved her.

What makes it even somewhat worse is that, aside from this lingering guilt and remorse I have, there were really no consequences to me killing Tippy.  At the scene of the accident that night the people who had come out of their houses and gathered around treated me with the utmost sympathy and compassion. They took care of me and made sure I was alright. They hugged and kissed me and did their best to assure me that there was nothing I could have done differently.   No police ever came, no arrests were made. No charges were filed or sentences delivered. Unfortunately that’s what almost always happens when you haven’t killed a person, you’ve only killed a dog.

Here’s how it happened.  If I recall correctly, it was a summer night.  I was hanging out at home with my younger sister, Stacia, who was probably around 13 or 14 at the time. It was a hot night and we were bored. We’d decided that instead of sitting around sweating and looking at each other, we would drive to the local hamburger place we all frequented and get some ice cream or an Italian ice. We took Dad’s Buick.   Because I was only 17, or so, myself at the time, I’m sure I was driving too fast as we took off from the house. We literally had not gone a block when Tippy ran out into the road in front of us.
Stacia saw her first, and screamed.  As soon as I saw her too, I jerked the wheel of the car and swerved off the street, up onto a parkway, and plowed the car into a tree.  In those days we didn’t wear seatbelts like we do today. There were no airbags or other mechanisms to keep us safe in the event of an accident. When Stacia realized we were going to crash, she curled up into a little ball on the floor in front of her.  Smart girl. When we hit the tree she was banged around but basically uninjured. I, on the other hand, smashed my face into the steering wheel, my knee into the dashboard and my shoulder through the driver’s side window. Given that we were going anywhere from 30-40 miles an hour, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t hurt worse than I was.

My sister, Stacia, has always been good in a crisis. She has an amazing instinctive ability to jump into the fray and do exactly the right thing in an emergency. After the crash she leapt from the car, came around to my side and pulled me out onto the grass.  I was in a daze.  She looked at me and said, “T.S., you’re bleeding. I’m going to go get help.” 

My sister is like me and the rest of my family in that she holds a special appreciation for animals.  She’s different in that she possesses a love for them that dwarfs anyone else’s exponentially.  You can therefore only imagine what it was like for her when she went around the back of the car and saw that we had not averted tragedy but had actually caught Tippy with our rear tires and ended her life. To say that Stacia lost it at that point would be a gross understatement of the way she came undone.

By that time a lot of neighbors had come out of their houses to see what the loud noise of metal meeting wood was all about.  As I said, I was in a daze, so my memories of what happened next are somewhat vague.  What I do remember is that I was lying on the grass with my hand on my forehead.    I remember there being a lot of overlapping voices swirling around and buzzing in my ears. I remember someone saying, “Oh my god, that’s Tippy, the Bogucki’s dog.”

I remember getting up, my hand still firmly planted on my head, and going to the Bogucki’s house. I went up on the front porch and rang the doorbell.  Mrs. Bogucki answered it. I said to her, “Hey, Mrs. Bogucki, I’m Tom Sharpe from up the street.”  She said, “Yes, I know who you are. Is everything alright?”

 “No,” I said,” I think your dog has been involved in an accident.”  She turned and yelled down the stairs of their split-level to her daughter. 

“Honey, can you check on Tippy? Where is she?” A few minutes passed and then I heard Mrs. Bogucki’s daughter yell back, “Mom, Tippy’s gone! I put her on her chain but now she’s gone!”

I don’t think I will ever be able to erase from my mind the horrorstruck look on Mrs. Bogucki’s face when she turned back to me, tears already filling her eyes. I didn’t know what to say.  What I did say was this, “I think you need to come with me, Mrs. Bogucki, and you might want to bring a blanket or something, because I’m pretty sure I just killed your dog.”   Then I turned and walked away.

When I got back to the car, my parents were there. My dad and some of the other neighbor guys had the hood up and were trying to assess how bad the damage was.  My mom had her arms around Stacia and was trying to calm her down. When she saw me she asked, “How are you, Tommy?”  I shrugged my shoulders and said, “It hasn’t been a great night.” She reached an arm out to me as well. Then, I finally took my hand off my head and my mother freaked.  “Oh shit, Tom!” She cried, “You need to go to the hospital! Your head is bleeding so bad!”

 I don’t really remember much more about what happened that night because I kind of fell out of the equation. There are a few things I do remember though.   I remember one of the neighbor moms, not sure which one, coming up to me, hugging me and kissing me on the cheek. She whispered in my ear, “Tom, sometimes things happen that aren’t your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Dogs don’t think before they run into the road.”  That didn’t make me feel better. I remember lying on the couch with big bandages on my head and knee, hugging our beagle, Audi.  I remember my older sister and my younger brother sitting by me and trying to make me laugh. I remember going into Stacia’s room where she was sleeping, sitting on the bed, and rubbing her head. 

What I remember most is my dad coming down to my room in the basement late that night, which he almost never did in those days. I remember him wandering around picking up books, pictures and other stuff I had on shelves and my desk like he was seeing them for the first time. He said to me, in that eye-contact-averted way he had in those days, “Tonight was a bad night, Tom, but you handled it well. You did what you’re supposed to do in these situations. That’s good and I’m glad.” Then he left and closed the door behind him. A few seconds later I heard him on the other side of the door again. He did not come in. He just spoke through it. “T.S., I am sorry about Tippy. I know that was hard and it really is not your fault. Please don’t worry about the car.  Cars come and go. They can be fixed or replaced. I care that you are alright. I don’t care about the car.” Those were the only two things my dad ever said to me about the night I killed Tippy Bogucki, but as was always the case with my father, it was all just enough, and what I needed to hear to start feeling better.

I am an unabashed dog lover, so killing Tippy really took something from me. The night Lexi almost got run over, and I started thinking about Tippy, was about a year after I got diagnosed.  On that night I also thought of Gilda Radner.  That might seem strange but it’s really not. I think it explains, in a way, why I love dogs so much.  I once heard a quote from her in an interview. She said: “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love.  For me they are the role model for being alive.” I like that, because it makes me think of my parents, my family, my friends…and I have always kept it in the back of my mind as something to remember as I live my life.  I don’t always do that, but Lexi is a great reminder.