There I stood, on the corner of 22nd and Belvidere gazing stoically down the soft slope of 22nd Street. I watched the fall breeze ruffle the vibrant leaves of a nearby maple tree transfixed by the swaying colors. The breeze wasn’t soothing like it had been the last time I had found myself looking down this particular street. It was cold and biting, making my eyes water as it whipped into my face in small gusts as if it was trying to tell me to turn back. A part of me wanted to listen and keep making my way down Belvidere, but a louder part of me was tired of vehemently avoiding this small piece of Buffalo City that was still so close to home.
My feet were planted firmly in the middle of the empty street as I let my eyes wander over to the black mesh fence partially hidden by a row of colorful trees. The dog pen reminded me of a prison. The parameter of the small cage was much too small for a one hundred-fifty pound Newfoundland, and inevitably it had gone mad from lack of enrichment. I stood frozen with my eyes locked on the small jail as my hand absently grazed over my side, deft fingers smoothing over my six scars and pausing on the largest. I took a hesitant step forward before clenching my fists and adamantly placing one foot in front of the other.
No more being afraid of this ordinary road. No more jumping every time a dog, large or small, barks. No more going out of my way to get lost in the labyrinth of streets in Buffalo City while trying to avoid dogs or anything remotely dangerous. No more. Because i’m done being afraid.
My jovial laughter rang throughout the empty street as I pedaled onward down the familiar route to my house. I roll past the baseball field at a slow languid pace, silently sighing as the breeze dried the slight sheen of sweat on my forehead. I clutch my phone against the peeling rubber that was once my handlebar while my other arm dangles like a useless noodle at my side. A single earbud filters my cousins playful banter into my ear as the other earbud swings methodically in time with the lazy movements of my legs.
My two mile ride from Cochrane was almost over and despite my sluggish pedaling, I was ready to be home in the air conditioning. The daily trip from my bestfriends house wasn't horrible, although the muggy July air didn’t make it at all enjoyable, I found that my cousin's company made the journey a much faster one. Upon seeing the steady incline of Belvidere Street I felt the drowsiness in my limbs grow, making them feel like they were made of lead instead of fragile flesh and bone. Now being my lazy self, coupled with my lethargic mood, I looked to find an easier way back to my house. One required less pedalling on my mountain bike that had broken gear shifts. There, on my left side, I found one. 22nd Street.
The gentle downward slope was so appealing to me at that moment that I did not even hesitate to turn. I started coasting down that oasis of a hill to give my weary legs a much needed break. A dark figure demands my attention from the corner of my eye, cutting me off mid-sentence. A dog. The Newfoundland I have seen on this street before, but not in its cage like it usually is. Now it runs beside me like how two friends run beside each other in gym class, tongue lolling and tail wagging with its soft brown eyes focused on me. A Newfoundland exactly like my dog who ran away from home less than a year ago. Same doughy eyes, same fluffy black fur, and the same large stature that all Newfoundlands share.
So, with the memory of my beloved dog still in my ignorant mind, I reach out in an attempt to run my fingers through the soft fur on the top of its head. As my hand approaches the top of the dog’s head, the hairs on my arm stand at attention, and my stomach feels as if it shrinks in on itself. Warning bells are sounding in the back of my mind and I don’t know why. I listen to them. My hand snaps back to my now rigid body on its own accord, as I begin to move with out making the conscious decision to do so. I stand up and thrust down on one of the pedals of my bike as hard I can, just beginning to gather the momentum needed to go as fast as my old beater of a bike will let me.
While standing on the pedals of my bike was the only way I could’ve gotten away, it also bared my entire right flank, leaving it open and unprotected. Two shallow thrusts was all I could manage before I felt a hard impact on my right side. The first bite was by far the hardest. It was like a cannon ball crashing into the starboard of a ship. I was only able to feel the force behind it, but not yet the sharp pain that came with the sharp teeth piercing my side. The next couple bites were in quick succession. They were like staccato chomps compared to the strength behind the initial bite. I wobble dangerously for a few seconds before jumping off and holding my bike between myself and my attacker.
My bike was old and rusty from being left in the rain carelessly a few too many times. The gears no longer shifted, the front tire was crooked and pulled to the left, and there were bugs living in the hollow handle bars. I begged my mom for a new one almost on a daily basis. But for a few moments you would have needed a crowbar to pry it out of my hands, because this rusty old bike was my shield. My grip was firm despite how badly I was shaking as blood ran down my right side and leg as I held the bike between myself and the snarling canine.
I felt numb from adrenaline, absently noting the wet feeling run down my side but not daring to look away from the dog that was now trying to get around the bike, but not needing to look to know the wetness had begun a steady drip onto the road. I wasn’t even aware that I was screaming, but someone was bound to hear for it was a nice evening in July and there were lots of people outside taking advantage of the cool temperature. Eventually the owners did come out, and without putting a leash on their dog they called him off.
A woman that I assumed was the owner of the dog walked over to me with an unconcerned look on her face and asked,”Did he getcha?” Despite the state of shock my body was still in, my eyes bulged in disbelief at the woman before flickering to the smattering of crimson droplets surrounding us on the road that should make the answer to her question fairly obvious. My expression should give her the answer the knot in my throat is preventing me from saying and in response to her question I slowly peeled my now sodden tank top up, revealing to her that he did indeed ‘get me’. I would say he got me good.
This being the first time that I have had the chance to see exactly how much damage has been done, I gape in disbelief at the amount of large indents in my side. My eyes sweep the bloody mess before staying on the largest and most worrisome puncture. It looked like it was deep, blood was pooling inside of it before overflowing and running down my side like a gory fountain. Without paying much attention to the woman who was rambling off her phone number in a distant monotone, I told her I was fine and that I could bike back to my house.
I pick up my phone that was thrown aside into the long grass and wince as I throw my leg back over my worn bike. I grimace and hiss through my teeth as the movement sends more blood oozing out of the countless cuts and coaxes another tear to slip down my cheek. I start to pedal again, sending another prayer of thanks for the hill and using it to slowly coast without having to move and further disrupt any of my injuries. In the back of my mind I recall reading somewhere that you apply pressure to a wound to stop the bleeding, and I try but in my case it doesn’t help. The fact that I can’t tell where the blood is coming from causes me to begin to panic. Even if I could figure out where to apply the pressure to, to do so would cause excruciating pain.
I make it back to my house with the help of some kind neighbors and immediately rush to the ER where I am seen right away. The oncall doctors and nurses wince as I walk by with my shirt held up. I’m led onto a table where they apologize (because this will sting) before scrubbing all of the bites with a pink liquid solution. And yes, it did sting quite a bit. Then the doctor had looked over at me with an apology in his friendly eyes and told me they needed to measure how deep the largest gash was with a large cotton swab to make sure the bite hadn’t punctured anything important. While that was anything but pleasant, it was better than the gaws they had to stuff inside of the tooth sized hole in my body. It the end I was left with a string hanging out of my side that was later used to pull the gaws out, but for now just made me look like a demented candle with a long floppy wick.
I wish I could say that all I was left with were the teeth marks in my skin that would later become permanent scars, and the teasing memory of my sister telling me the string hanging out of my side made me look like a tampon. I really wish I could, but that's not the case. I wouldn't say that I am traumatized, but I now have an underlying paranoia that is always present whenever I am outside. While I do wear my physical scars with pride and am not ashamed to show anyone curious enough to ask about them, I am not as vocal about the psychological scars.
To say my bike rides have dramatically decreased in frequency would be an understatement. Even when I do choose to ride around I still call my cousin, not for her company, but to feel safe and to have something to distract me from the fear overtaking my mind telling me that there could be a dog around the corner. I do still consider myself a dog person, but still to this day if I hear a dog bark I will tense up and be afraid momentarily. Despite having a harder time being at ease outside, I have learned a thing or two. No matter how close to home you are, you are not safe. Even if you live in a small town where nothing happens, things do still happen and will happen if you aren't careful of your surroundings.