You’d think, while wearing a bloodstained shirt, I’d be more concerned with how the blood got there than with the loss of a favorite garment.
When I was a sophomore in high school, our family pet at the time, a German Shepherd named Thor, had an issue with me, or so it seemed. Actually, he just had issues. Ever since he was a pup, he growled excessively, to the point of foaming at the mouth. Never a good sign.
He had this territorial thing going on, except there was no consistency to it. He’d be protective of my mother or sister, growling at any of the rest of us who came into the room where they were. But on this particular night, he decided to protect my friend, Jody, who he barely knew, from me. My parents are travelling and Jody is spending the night. At around 3 AM, we get hungry, as teenagers do, so I go into the kitchen to heat up some meatballs. Somehow that seems like an appropriate snack. By the time I return to the living room to get Jody, she’s asleep on the couch, and Thor is lying on the floor in front of her. The growling begins, waking Jody up.
Following suggestions given to us by the vet about Thor’s aggressive behavior, I sternly reprimand him. “Thor, NO.” The growling intensifies. “Thor, NO!” As I step closer, he becomes more agitated. I tap him on the nose, while repeating, “No!” Improvement? None. This next step probably wasn’t the best idea. I pick up the television remote, smack him on the nose, and yell, “NO!!” He doesn’t appreciate this.
Before I know it, he’s up on his hind legs, front paws on my chest, and teeth fiercely attached to my face. “Somebody help me! Somebody help me!” I start out relatively calmly, but my pleas get louder each time. Jody is frozen on the couch, literally in a state of shock.
I try to pry his jaw open so he’ll let go, to no avail. He’s latched on to me like I’m the finest piece of meat. Now, there’s something I wouldn’t mind being thought of, but not by my dog. As I have my hands in his mouth, trying desperately to release his grip, my sister, Michelle (the one he protects), comes running downstairs. She grabs Thor around his midsection and tries to pull him off of me, but he won’t let go of my face.
She walks around to his front so he can see her, and yells, “Thor! NO!!” Upon her command, he immediately releases, puts his tail between his legs, and cowers in the corner of the adjacent room.
In case you don’t already know this, the face bleeds a lot! I head into my parents’ bedroom to look in the mirror. Why, I’m not sure. Glutton for punishment, I guess. As I stand and stare at my reflection, blood spraying onto the mirror, I’m focused on my favorite sweatshirt, now soaked with blood. “No! Not my sweatshirt!” I can picture it as clear as day. It was pink with gray pinstripes and ¾-length sleeves. I loved that shirt! Maybe this is my way of responding to the horror of the situation, but I’m not thinking at all about what has just happened. Instead, I’m fascinated by the amount of blood, and pissed off that my sweatshirt is ruined.
Michelle calls 911 and a police officer quickly arrives at our door. As he hands me small pieces of gauze (yeah, that’ll do it), he says he can’t call for the ambulance because, since it’s such a small town, there’s only one, and it needs to be available in case there’s an emergency. Emergency? What the hell do you call this?! There’s a messed up perspective. Michelle calls one of my other sisters, and Cheryl is here in no time. After blowing through the cop’s small box of gauze, Cheryl loads me into her car and speeds off to the hospital.
As I sit in the passenger’s seat with a bunch of ice wrapped in a towel, holding it to my face to try and keep the swelling down, I don’t even notice that she’s doing 85 mph on the twists and turns. We arrive at the hospital and the ER doc takes a look. “Well, she’s obviously going to need stitches. I can go ahead and stitch her up or we can call in a plastic surgeon. It’s your choice,” he says, looking at Cheryl.
“What would you do if this was your daughter?”
“Since it’s her face, I’d call in the plastic surgeon. Any other injuries, Kerri?”
“Yes,” I think to myself. “I have claw marks all over my chest.” But, being a modest 16-year-old girl, I simply say, “No, just my face.”
In my shocked and naïve state, I think we’ll be making a future appointment with the surgeon. Oh, they’re calling to wake him now and come in? Oh geez. Here we go.
An hour or so later, the surgeon arrives and we prepare for the procedure. Cheryl insists on staying in the room despite the staff telling her that it’s not a possibility. She refuses to leave and gets her way. The closest she can sit to me is in a chair by the end of the bed. She can barely reach me, but manages to hold onto my foot to let me know she’s there.
With each of the 15 individual Novocain shots administered into the hole in my face, I tense my body, but apparently don’t make a sound, or so I’m told after the procedure. Looking back, I can see I was doing my best to be a “good girl” and not be a pain in the ass by screaming. There was my “Don’t express your needs and people will like/treat you better” belief in action.
After the surgery, the doctor goes over my follow-up care – I have to limit my sun exposure to my face for a year, and when I do go outside, I need to use a special sunblock on the wounded part, as it will age faster than the rest of the skin. He warns me to be careful of anything that could pull or stretch my wound. “Ooh!” I think to myself. “Maybe I can get out of IPEC!” IPEC, for those who didn’t attend Medway High School, is gym class in 10th grade. It stands for Interdisciplinary Physical Education Curriculum, and is basically a year-long ropes challenge course involving lots of heights, climbing, and other scary shit. I tried to get out of it prior to the school year starting, but the other option was to be in an 8th grade gym class, and that was just way too humiliating.
Yup, so as the doc is alerting me to all the additional precautions I need to take, how long I’ll be out of school, etc, all I’m thinking, in a singy-songy fashion is “I’m getting out of IPEC. I’m getting out of IPEC!”
As Cheryl and I are about to walk out of the room, I turn back and say, “Oh, doc, I should probably get a note from you to excuse me from gym. It’s a lot of climbing, swinging, and other things that could really re-injure my face or rip the stitches.” He gives me a subtle smile, and with a nod, says, “Sure,” as if it’s the least he could do after what I’ve just undergone.
As we’re walking out of the hospital, I’m reading the note to myself and smiling (with one side of my face): “Please excuse Kerri Richardson from any and all physical education activities for the remainder of the school year.” Yahoo! Thanks, Thor!
I guess it’s all about perspective. Although my dog attack is a pretty extreme example of seeing things in a different way (I focused more on the loss of my sweatshirt and getting out of IPEC than I did about the permanent scar on my face or the fact that I experienced a traumatic event), we can apply it to any situation in our lives that seems challenging.
Grieving a recent break-up? What are the gifts you can take away from that relationship? What if you considered that ending to be an opportunity for a beautiful new beginning? Didn’t land a job that you really wanted? My guess is that there’s something better for you coming up. We can all look back over our lives and remember a time when something didn’t work out the way we thought it should have, and we now see what a gift that was.
OK, so it’s your turn. What are you up against right now? What are the different ways you could look at the situation? Please share in the comments below and let’s get a convo going.