Outrunning the Beast

I can still see the German Shepherd in my mind. Snarling, snapping and chasing me in full gallop. I was a newly minted teen throwing papers as a stand-in for a friend. In the South in the 1970s dogs roamed free until and unless they bit or were hit. I didn’t understand that taking time to shift gears on my orange AMF 10-speed while trying to prevent the canvas bag holding a couple dozen evening papers from hitting my knee with each pedal stroke was, as plans go, a bad one.

Even if I could have sprinted, even if I understood what that effort was, I doubt a different effort would have earned a different result. The snarling dog grabbed my pants leg—easy to do as this was the era of bell bottoms—and after yanking its head in a couple of awkward circles the dog snapped its head sideways and yanked my foot from the pedal.

I screamed for help.

I no longer recall what happened next, whether a friend scared the dog away, a bystander came to my rescue or the owner did the unthinkable and corralled the animal. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of the story. My terror is the point. Whatever it was I feared was far worse than what happened.

At some level, I’ve been outrunning a metaphoric beast all these years. My terror no less, the reality no worse. I can’t outrun the beast, even with a better bike and the ability to sprint. With riding, I may keep it at bay for months at a time, but the beast always catches me. In fact, the beast doesn’t have to catch me. The beast is with me.

Every idea, every fear inside my head stays with me, more ever-present than any horror-movie boogeyman could ever be.

The help is both as forgettable and consequential as what I received that afternoon. That’s the thing about the beast chasing me—it won’t kill me, can’t kill me. And I need less help than I believe. What’s different between then and now? I cried out for help. Kids know to cry out for help. We’re taught that help will arrive if we call for it. And as adults, we’re taught to fend for ourselves, that we are the help, that adults are not supposed to cry mercy.

To relearn something I knew as a child but gave up as an adult requires humility. Asking for help invokes a red-faced vulnerability, a spiritual nakedness. I know the lesson, but even now, I can’t scream. It’s still a mumble for the most part. With a select few my voice is clear. I’ve yet to summon those words from my diaphragm.

Maybe, next time, I can make those words heard before the beast brings me to the ground.

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  1. bart says

    This is true for me…”And as adults, we’re taught to fend for ourselves, that we are the help, that adults are not supposed to cry mercy.” Reading this post helps me think about this “truth” and how I can change my relationship with it. Not sure where it will go, but I’ll be thinking about this further.

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