Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Today while speeding across town to pick up my sister because I got out of class late, a random memory shot off in my brain.

It was a flashback to 8th grade. I was living with my sister then, and my father had to pick me up every morning at her house to take me to school. My dad worked third shift, in another town, so he had to leave work as soon as he got off and book it to get all the way to Shelby, and back to my Middle School. He was always late, making me always late; sometimes it was definitely his fault, and sometimes it probably wasn’t. I was always in trouble for being tardy and I always hated being in trouble and I probably saw three recesses all year for all the damn detention I got for being late.

It was the week of proficiency testing and we’d been getting it hammered into our skulls that we had to show up for school. And you had to show up on time because if you didn’t, the test would start without you, and the world as we knew it would cease to be or somesuch. I understand now what the school wanted; most kids were doomed to fail the tests at least once, and the worst kids would have to take them a dozen times before they finally passed, and they didn’t want lousy students to miss a chance to just squeeze by. But at the time, showing up on time seemed like a divine command akin to “Thou shalt not murder,” or “Thou shalt not burn thine textbooks, no matter how much more useful they’d be as kindling.”

Anyway, as I stated previously, I was always late. But this week I couldn’t be, and I’d given my dad a long speech about the subject. I would NOT be late to class. So, of course, day one of proficiency testing, the old man shows up late to my sister’s house. I’m pissed.

I threw a fit. You know how thirteen year old girls are. I freaking bitched him out. Told him to speed if he had to, but I’d damn well better get to school on time. I could NOT be late; I wasn’t going to deal with another week of detention for HIM. And God knows how I’d catch it for being late during Proficiency Week; didn’t he know how important it was? Didn’t he know anything at all?

He sped. I could tell he felt bad, but I didn’t let up. I decided that I’d keep bitching until we got to school. I’d make him get there on time. I’d bitch the pedal right down to the floor. And it worked. He did speed. He sped like I’d never seen before; he sped like I’ve never seen since. And probably because he was speeding so fast, he didn’t see the German Shepard running out into the road.

He hit it. There was a horrifying smack on the car. The dog could be heard whelping. I didn’t give a damn about proficiency testing anymore, or detention, but what could be done? The dog ran away. He wasn’t killed instantly, but judging by the blood and fur on the car, he was probably dead soon after. Dad decided to keep driving; we were only maybe a mile from school. He would go back and speak to the people who owned the dog after I’d gotten to school since it was so damn important I got there on time.

We didn’t talk on the way. We never talked about the dog afterward either. But I felt so bad about it that I think I didn’t eat for a week. I remember not being able to sleep or think straight. I kept asking myself whether getting to school on time was worth a little dog’s life? I loved dogs. I knew what it was like to lose a dog and I kept wondering which of my classmates dogs I’d killed because I wouldn’t be late for school during proficiency testing.

I hated a lot of people: my mother for leaving my father and making me live in Shelby; my father for always being late; myself for being a brat, knowing full-well that I was one, and making the old man speed. I wondered then, as I often wonder now, why an innocent should suffer for someone else’s crimes. The truth was that both my parents and I were guilty, but what had the dog done to anyone? The suffering of an innocent has always been intolerable to me; and to know that I was personally responsible for such suffering was unbearable to me.

I learned a lot of things that day. I learned that it’s not as important to get somewhere on time as it is to be a safe driver; a lesson, of course, I suspend constantly, particularly as I sped across town to get my sister today. I learned that being an insufferable brat, even if it’s partially justifiable, really isn’t worth the suffering that being an insufferable brat implies; a lesson, of course, I suspend constantly, at least a hundred times a day.