I had never seen blood until that day. Sure, I’d seen papercuts and minor abrasions, but nothing like this. It was June 5, 2010, the day after school ended. I was nine.
My younger brother, Fisher (who was six years old at the time), had spent the entire day at his friend’s house. Around three in the afternoon, my mom and I made the quick drive up to the cul de sac to pick him up. Upon arrival, we saw Fisher and his friend still jumping on their trampoline like fleas.
“Why don’t you stay a while?” his mom asked “Have a glass of wine, let the kids play some more?”
“I can’t refuse that.” my mom agreed.
After all, my grandparents wouldn’t be here for hours. As the moms chatted about local dealings, I ran giddily outside to greet the family’s dog, Bandit. Little did I know that decision would gift me with two permanent scars, hundreds of dollars in medical bills, and a year-long encounter with animal control.
Bandit was a white cocker spaniel with light brown spots and a short face like he’d run into a window when he was a puppy. He was small, around the size of a large teddy bear. All of these things made him irresistible to a nine-year-old girl who worshipped dogs.
Fisher and his friend watched from the trampoline as I approached Bandit with my hand outstretched. I bent down to scratch his ears affectionately. I didn’t get to touch him before he bit me on my lip. Bam. Just like that.
I screamed. More out of shock than pain. I tasted blood in my mouth and felt the warm liquid dribbling down my neck. I was already walking toward the house when my mom rushed out wielding a custom-monogrammed hand towel. She pressed it to my face, letting it soak up the blood that had already ruined my outfit, ruining the hundred-dollar towel in the process.
Years later, she told me that I never cried. I don’t remember this, but I stood calm as my blood streamed down my face and said “Bandit bit me,” in a small, shocked voice.
When I was an infant, the first beings I came into contact with when I came home were my parent’s Portuguese water dogs: Penny and Magilla. My parents set my car seat down on the floor, letting them lick and sniff me all over, knowing this would happen sooner or later. I used my dog Penny’s fur to pull myself up in order to take my first steps. She walked with me as I stumbled around the room, using her for support. Even though it might have hurt her, my dog never protested. This was my image of canines: gentle souls who would never do anything to hurt me. The only thing I remember feeling after being bitten was a dreadful sense of betrayal.
My mother rushed me to the car, Fisher at her heels. As we drove to the hospital, she called some of our neighbors to watch my brother at our house. After about three calls, our across-the-street neighbor, Eliot, agreed to stay at our house while I got my face sewn up.
This was my first of three total visits to the Intermountain Hospital Emergency Room. It was a small hospital by most standards (without even a maternity ward), but it’s cafeteria was state-renown. Even people who were not patients would eat lunch in the cafeteria just for the french fries, the best in Summit County. I’m still convinced that that’s what they used to heal the sick and injured in that hospital.
I sat in the hospital bed while my mother gorged herself a basket of hospital french fries. Stress-eating, no doubt, my father was still nowhere to be found, being somewhere up in the Uintas on a mountain bike ride outside the realm of cell service.
After half an hour, I heard the telltale clicking noise of biking shoes. My father showed up at the hospital dressed in his full biking attire, suspenders and all. He was covered in mud and small sagebrush cuts from head to toe, leaving a trail of dust behind him like bread crumbs (much to the chagrin of the nurses). When he sat down on the hospital bed, there was a small poof of fine, beige Utah dust that left a stain on the pristine white sheets.
The next hour or so was a blur. I received three stitches on my lower lip, and a keloid scar on my upper lip that would never disappear. Woozy from blood loss and medication, I was ready to go back home.
Apparently others had the same idea. We arrived at the house to find half the neighborhood in our kitchen, blasting my father’s Queen’s Greatest Hits album. It was a full-on party, with wine, chips and guac, pizza; the works. Even my grandparents from Pittsburgh (nearly two thousand miles away) were there.
Everyone turned. But they were not looking at the swollen, bloody stitches on my lip, they were looking at me. After all, I was the one who brought them together. It was then that I realised why they were awaiting my safe return from the hospital. I was overcome with emotion, enveloped in a warm blanket of acceptance unknown to me before. I had never known how widely I was loved.