Brody: A moment in anarchy


“I feel guilty,” I said. We laid in her bed on those soft gray jersey-knit sheets, and I nestled my chin against my chest as I ran my right pinky through her straight dark-brown hair. It rested on her face, so soft and silky that it fell back in her face even when she habitually pulled it behind her ear. My finger brushed against her cheek, soft and glowing even in the artificial twilight of her room. “We got him together, but we leave him at my apartment all day. I’m here, and he’s locked in my room. You know Justin and Gabe aren’t letting him out.”

Her voice held a note of concern that didn’t match the gravity in my chest: “What do you want me to do? I’m allergic to him.” Her hand rested on her pillow. Christina looked at me, but I didn’t meet her eyes. Instead I watched my hand retrace the dark strands.

I lifted my chin so I could meet her gaze before replying, “Let me bring him over from time to time. Let him play in the back yard. That would help a lot.”

She sighed, having heard this request before. “I can’t do that. My roommates don’t want him in the house—”

“Just from one door to the other.”

“—and I don’t want his fur in my home. I itch and I can’t breathe.” Her eyes rolled away from mine.

I deflated. “If only Justin and Gabe would help me out like they promised they would before I agreed to take him.” I let out a frustrated breath, anger at the whole situation filling me up, tying knots in my back. “I’m trying to balance his discomfort and yours. You asked me to get him, remember?”

“That’s because they were going to take him to the shelter!” Her exclamation came out soft but firm; I could almost hear a groan behind it. “I didn’t know that I was allergic to him, and I still don’t want him put to sleep.” Her hand moved from the pillow to my unshaven cheek, warm and light against the week-growth of down.

“Well, I can’t keep him like this. I can’t keep him locked in my room while I spend my time here. He’d be better off at a shelter than locked in my cell of a bedroom.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?” she asked quickly. “They’d kill him!”

I closed my eyes, inhaled, and exhaled, confused about how to proceed. Brody, my five-month old German Shepherd, had come from Christina’s upstairs neighbors when his owner, some sorority girl, had graduated in December and decided she didn’t want to take him home. I had Brody for a month before we found out that he triggered Christina’s allergies, and I left him alone in my bedroom when I went to class or to her place. In his boredom, he had started to chew up my book collection. Since I was a liberal arts student, I treasured my books more than for their usefulness in class and resented that he saw them as toys.

These thoughts went through my head when I considered giving him up: fully grown and energetic, it seemed unlikely that he would get adopted, but I was ignorant of Waco’s demographic for dog adoption and could only picture some young family seeing him and thinking that he wasn’t right to have around children. I feared that nobody would take him, that he would die there. Also, I enjoyed his company when we were together; he would curl up next to me with his head on one of my thighs and sleep peacefully or jump his upper body into my lap to show me his puppy smile. Brody’s playful personality inspired me to leave the house when I would’ve otherwise played computer games or read for leisure, and I wanted to work out a way to spend more time with him rather than sacrifice his love for Christina’s.

“Well, I need to go to him now,” I sighed. “He’s been alone almost fourteen hours today. I’m tired of leaving him alone all the time; it makes me like a dick.”

“Alright, but I’ll miss you,” she answered. Christina reached out and took my hand, pressing it softly against the soft cotton between her breasts.

“Stay with me just a little longer, won’t you?”

A small smile bent my lips. I rolled my eyes. I agreed.

**

Four hours later, near three in the morning, I stumbled into my loft apartment. I had fallen asleep in Christina’s arms and had to drag myself out of her warmth, her soft bed, to come home to Brody. He’s lucky that necessity trumps preference in my book: I would’ve preferred to stay.

I thought I knew the layout of my apartment by heart even in the dark, but I knocked my right leg into the loveseat on my way to my room. The couch scraped across the polished concrete, making a racket that seemed ungodly loud in the early morning silence. As I cursed under my breath, I heard Brody put his front paws against the wood door of my bedroom, waiting for me.

After I opened the door, he pranced for my attention. Brody jumped on the bed and turned in circles, smiling. A white bookshelf that held my uncared for books stood behind him against the brick wall, inlaid with one square glass window; Brody’s reflection danced there.

A carcass of a book lay on my floor. Purple paper like skin tossed aside littered the floor, marking the carrion feast at the foot of the dark wood bookshelf that held my personal favorites. Brody had learned how to get under the sliding glass shelf doors.

Get him over here, I told myself. Smack him once so that he knows not to do it, but don’t make it a big deal. He’s chewed books before.

I put a stern expression on my face and snapped my right middle finger and thumb, pointing at the book afterwards. Brody stopped prancing. His ears dropped, his butt hit the bed. He looked away from me ashamed.

I snapped my fingers again, waiting for him to obey. He moved away from me on the bed, curling up in a far corner. He knew that what he had done would anger me and he had done it anyway. My shoulders tensed, and I felt an angry heat on my cheeks.

Get him over here, I thought, and smack him once. Don’t draw this out.

I sighed, closing my eyes and turning my head to the right, forcibly relaxing my shoulder. I could still feel tension in them as I looked over a Brody and grudgingly made my way over to him.

He cowered, sinking his head down as if he were a turtle and my pillow his shell. I grabbed his collar with my index and middle fingers on my right hand. I made to pull, and he bolted.

The collar twisted on my fingers, and the joints at their base popped. I instinctively yanked my hand back, which pulled him by his throat off the bed. Urine, in a shifting arc, left him and landed on my bed, on my pillow and comforter.

Surprised, I yanked him by his collar off the bed, and he fell on the concrete with a yelp as one of his legs slid out from under him. He tried to run, but he didn’t have his footing; he only managed to pop my fingers again as the collar twisted.

I drug him across the bedroom floor to the ruined book, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. I smacked Brody once on his right hind quarter. I expected that to be the end of it.

I yanked my hand back as if to strike him again. I tightened my body, knowing I didn’t want to. I turned to my bed and saw the small yellow pool sinking into the bedsheets. I thought of how frustrated I was with my roommates. I pictured Christina at her apartment, in her bed without me. With these supports knocked away, the weight of school and ownership collapsed.

My hand fell hard on Brody’s pelvis, and he howled. More urine escaped him, hitting the floor and scattering, smattering my khakis. I lifted my arm again and hit him solidly in the ribs. He yelped. He kicked against the ground, but his feet slipped in the puddle of urine and he fell to his stomach, pulling my left arm down with his collar. I struck his pelvis again. And again, and again. Brody didn’t howl anymore; he cried.

I heard Justin on the stairs, clunking heavily, metallic echoes. He opened the door to my room and grabbed my arm midthrust. How long had I been hitting Brody? Two minutes? Five, maybe, before Justin woke up and stopped me, screaming at me that I’d kill him, and a question, what the fuck I was doing.

“I can’t do this!” I shouted at him through tears as he forced me away from Brody. “I need help! You promised you would help!”

In a flat tone that showed him truly unimpressed, he said simply, “It’s your dog,” and walked out of the room.

**

I collected myself and wiped my face of tears. I threw a towel on the floor, changed my pants, and leashed Brody. In my shaken mind, I still wanted to take him outside, even if the purpose was no longer clear.

On the way out I grabbed my backpack, thinking maybe I would drive to Dallas. I radiated heat, even more than usual, and my mind fumed. Rather than to my car, I walked Brody to the apartment pool.

When I sat down on some steps outside the pool gate, Brody seemed genuinely unfazed by the incident. He nuzzled against my hand with his nose and sat down in the grass next to me. Maybe he could tell the crazy had left me. Maybe the isolation had driven him as crazy as me.

I wrote about betrayal. I wrote about how I had beaten Brody for things that were mostly my fault. I wrote about how I had never lost control of my emotions like that.

I wrote about expectations, about black and white morality how it applies to dogs: good, bad, no gray. He shouldn’t touch my books; he shouldn’t dig through the trash; he shouldn’t piss when I beat him. That is the amoral judgment.

I wrote about how I did it to him, how I had locked him in my bedroom without toys. I wrote about how Justin had been right. I wrote about betrayal through broken promises on his part, on our other roommates part. I wrote about responsibility, about our broken promises, mine and theirs.

I wrote, “As I see it, I have two choices: give him up (not preferred) or work out a deal with the roomies. I will talk with them before I surrender the dog. I am coming to love him.”

A few days later, I cried after handing him over to the SPCA. I lied to them, told them I had found him on the streets less than a week ago so that I could get out of owning him without having to pay a fee.

I remember feeling like a bastard. I remember the guilt.

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Author: Greg Freed

Pre-comments:

This is a conversation I had with @wattsnan_poetry about the piece via Twitter. I hope it’s easy enough to follow!

wattsnan_poetry OMG how horrible you were to that dog. I hope it wasn’t true. 😦
greg_freed it was true. i totally lost control. but its a story we need to reckon w/; to me this piece is connected to Garden and Controlling Passion.
wattsnan_poetry What kind of responses do you think you will get?
greg_freed i want people to talk about how much control they have over their emotions, pet ownership frustrations, etc.
wattsnan_poetry not with a dog 😦 actually, never…I think it’s the mom in me
wattsnan_poetry I have a dog..Joey/boarder collie-spitz. He chewed a $2000 Natuzi Chair when he was a puppy…
greg_freed the post may be dark but i still expect that it’s universal. it’s relies on whether readers will want to admit that they’ve been there, too.
wattsnan_poetry Mom’s may think it…but we also understand that children, and pets are reactive to the situations we put them in…
greg_freed one of the best stories i’ve heard at a public reading was from a mom talking about almost but not hitting her kid, similar to this post.
wattsnan_poetry I get the loosing your temper…I remember sleep deprivation when the kids were babies…
greg_freed i tried to imply that he had chewed books before but not bothered me, that it was a collision of factors, not just the book, that snapped me
wattsnan_poetry I don’t think you get that you treated the dog badly from the beginning…Couped up in your room for 18 hours?
wattsnan_poetry I can’t believe he didn’t pee all over the place…
greg_freed i opened the piece arguing with christina about treating him poorly, and i argued with myself about how to discipline him ‘cuz i knew
wattsnan_poetry you shouldn’t have disciplined him…you should have disciplined yourself…that’s what you don’t get…
wattsnan_poetry As long as you know the poor dog did nothing wrong at any point…Don’t have kids any time soon
greg_freed i get it. that’s why a statement of guilt opens and closes the piece. in the moment i got it, too, but i was confused. guess it didn’t work.

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17 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

17 responses to “Brody: A moment in anarchy

  1. Ashley

    Hard to read. Clouds my ability to deam the piece a good one.

  2. Mani Afsari

    There’s a fine line between, discipline and a beating. I think you pulled a Wile E. Coyote and strapped yourself to an ACME rocket and launched yourself to “a beating”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think every kid needs spanking, most larger pets do too. People who claim that their kids/pets never got spanked and turned out fine, are either lucky or lying to themselves. More often than not they are lying.

    Ever since Riley and CJ moved in I discipline them. The punishments vary and some are more severe than others, but they are consistant. You loose your cool every once in a while, but then you remember that your speaking about a living breathing human being, and you control yourself. No matter what chain of events have made me overly touchy and want to fly off the handle I’ve always remembered that they are kids. They’ll fuck up, and love is a much better teacher than fear. I’m sure you’ve figured that out with Kali.

  3. Mani Afsari

    ohh yeah go back and check some of your wording. Ashley is on to something.

  4. Jennifer

    This was a really hard read for me. At first I was so shocked I didn’t even know what to say…I have known Greg for 10 years now. If you were to have ask me if he would do something like this, I would’ve said no. I see how much love he has for his dog now and it amazes me. I have no doubt that he knows that what he did was awful. He should’ve dumped the girlfriend, not the dog. His frustration and anger came from knowing he wasn’t doing the right thing. Frustration with Christina, himself, his roommates and the dog. Greg is, in my opinion, a good person. To me the point is how fine the line is to make such a mistake. To get overwhelmed and do something so terrible. How someone who is such a good person could do such a horrible thing. People are human and not immune to doing terrible things. It only takes so much when a person makes the wrong decisions before a person snaps. I know he thinks that it is terrible and probably still doesn’t forgive himself. I know he would never do it again. I see how good he is with his dog and how much she means to him; I can’t even imagine it.

  5. It takes a lot of courage to be honest about your shortcomings in public. The question I have is: What did you learn? How do you manage issues of responsibility, expectations, and anger now?

    We all struggle – and some of us were raised in environments where feelings weren’t openly expressed – which can result in explosions of intense emotions.

    It’s up to us to learn new ways to adapt and cope. That’s one reason I’m reading Nonviolent Communication right now. I have come to realize how much we are trained to blame and rage, instead of taking responsibility and changing.

    Lots of luv, bro.

  6. Amos

    A lot of courage to write this one. Bare your soul. Good can come of it.

    One of my favorite movie lines of all time was in “Chinatown”.

    “You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place they’re capable of anything.”

    The blinding, maturity-killing, damaging power of anger. That’s one way to the “right” time and the “right” place. Real emotions have meaning, but not letting anger be one’s master is a vital life lesson. That feeling that anger can give you, of turning something in the world, even something loving and alive, into a target for all rage. Rage is a monster that can eat almost anything in order to feed itself, mostly growing and rarely becoming truly satisfied.

    Watching others be a slave to it, if only briefly, and then whip me, has been a primary way to deeply learn the lesson. Real anger is a near impossibility to me, because I’m so acutely aware of how I despise being targeted by it. I do better than most at avoiding hypocrisy.

    One time, while in my year abroad in England, I had a fairly innocent conversation with a girl I secretly loved, who was in my flat. It came up that, with no real experience in the field, she thought little of videogames as an art form or anything at all. For some reason, I decided to deal with it straight on in an email. I sort of hammered her, using the word “ignorant”. I still don’t know how I justified it. I didn’t even feel angry, just like I wanted to make points.

    She took it very poorly. It’s one of those memories of times in my life that, when the shadows creep in, reaches out of them to slash at me.

    Another such moment actually has to do with a dog. A fairly intelligent female dog named Winger was given to us, temporarily as it turns out. By “us” I mean some New Jersey guys, also twenty-somethings. She got pregnant (funny story, but another one). She was very young and had two puppies. They were so cute. The were annoying her once, and she growled at them and bit at them to correct them. I briefly lost it, hitting her moderately hard, maybe a few times. I couldn’t believe she’d do that to such puppies.

    I regretted it.

    On the receiving end, I’ve recently lost friends because of the complexities of cancer, anger, and misunderstanding. For over two years they let anger stew, never informing me so I could change it. They talked behind my back. They cast me out, only one by means other than just ignoring me in certain ways. The one who did it directly sent just about the most terrifying email I ever got. I try to tell myself that what he really did with that email was make a cowardly, judgemental fool out of himself.

    Other than that, being an unusual and not particularly put-you-at-ease fellow, I’ve fallen prey to more than my share of unrighteous anger. It can come out of the sky like Thor’s sledgehammer, since I’m not always socially astute.

    I remember spending much of my time in college believeing that, really, I shouldn’t be there. I couldn’t give the respectable system the respect it deserved.

    I suppose having a dog, or having any life that you care about, can be the same way or more.

  7. I really like this piece, because it so clearly details the hopelessness and rage you were feeling at that moment. You let it overcome you instead of taking a deep breath and counting to 10.

    I have owned two gorgeous German shepherds; I still miss the last one, Jessie. When my ex-husband and I got her, she’d been kept outside in the Florida heat and was pretty wild. She jumped up on the kitchen table one day and I shouted at her. I watched her freeze, unable to figure out how to get off the table.

    She had a few accidents and my then-husband would get angry and threaten to take her to the pound. No way was I going to let him do that; I loved this creature, and I knew she could learn with some love and discipline.

    Gradually, we worked with her and she became more obedient than most other dogs. She still had a wild streak in her and we couldn’t walk her because she’d want to attack other dogs. Some people feared she would bite them, but she never bit anyone. Jessie had lived with a family for a brief time, and at least one of the kids pulled her tail. She got very jumpy when you touched the base of her tail.

    In my heart, I knew Jessie’s nervousness would never completely go away and that she wouldn’t live a long life. One day when she was 10 she lost interest in food and my ex took her to the vet. After a day or two of tests, we learned it was liver cancer and she would have to be put to sleep. It killed me to let her go, and I still tear up when I think about her energy and how it only took a couple of weeks to sap all of her spirit.

    I am glad, though, that she had those eight years with us and she was safe and happy, brief as those years seem now. Someday we’ll be reunited in heaven, I’m sure, and she’ll come and lay her head in my lap to comfort me, like she always did.

    Dogs are just like kids, except with even shorter attention spans. Their moods swing like crazy, and they always seem to pick up on their owner’s feelings. They forget their punishment about 10 minutes after you mete it out.

    Your sweet Brody has already forgiven you for your outburst. The good times he’s spent with you far outnumber those few moments. Consider yourself fortunate, because if you had lashed out at your girlfriend instead, you would have heard about it for months, maybe years.

    You’re human, like all of us. Forgive yourself and promise to take a few deep breaths the next time you’re tempted to strike an innocent animal. Take a newspaper and hit him on the rear end, and move on. Like kids, they can’t defend themselves and they don’t always know how they’re supposed to act. They are begging for attention and they’ll try anything to get it, even if it means getting whacked.

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