When I was 16 years old, my parents thought it would be a swell idea to leave me in charge of my youngest sister Sarah (10 at the time) while they, along with my other sister Wendy, traveled to England. My maternal grandparents were celebrating their golden anniversary and my mum and dad could not afford to take all of us.
Now another set of parents may have decided that this was not such a great idea. They might have arranged for an adult to come and stay in the house or, because a 50th wedding anniversary is not exactly a surprise event (my math may be wrong but you have a fifty year build up to it) appropriate amounts of money could have been put aside on a monthly basis so that the whole family could have flown from Toronto to Heathrow. Neither of those choices were made, and to be completely realistic, my father would have managed to squander any money saved up anyway on some nag in the fifth race at Frontenac Downs. So……my 16 year old self was declared competent to hold the fort and be responsible for a 10 year old’s survival.
It was actually not a bad call. I was a very responsible teenager. That’s beside the point though. The sting of being left behind is still felt by a part of me to this day, though not because I was made to stay behind. Noperdoodles. It’s because of what happened while part of my family was in jolly old England. To be more accurate, it’s what COULD have happened if not for a cantankerous dog we had. Barney. A harmless sounding name, but that dog was anything but harmless. He was a loving dog to the family, but any other person was greeted with suspicion and snarling teeth. More than a few of my friends had been terror-stricken by this doggo. I will never know why Barney was so antagonistic towards anyone outside of the family, but what was always an irritant instantly changed to indebtedness that winter afternoon. I probably owe him my life.
Let me interrupt my story at this juncture to wax on about Barney. As a child, I loved him, as a teenager, I was annoyed by him. When we immigrated to Canada in 1966, it wasn’t long before my father found a dog along the side of a rural road. Actually, not so much a dog as a puppy. Barney was brought home and declared by my dad to be a wolf. Being five at the time, I completely believed him. Now looking back at visual evidence, it’s clear that while Barney’s ancestors were certainly wolves, his immediate canine family was more likely of the German Shepherd/Collie/Labrador variety. His spirit though? All wolf.
As a teenager with an alcoholic father, I did not often invite friends over. It was never safe to do so. I could never be sure as to my father’s mood. I was not a popular girl in high school. I excelled at being invisible. However, if one of my friends happened to be at my house during an alcoholic rage, then my anonymity would change. I’d be THAT pathetic girl with the raging father. Gossip was inevitable. I knew that much when I started high school. Reading Judy Blume had prepared me socially!
In addition to my father’s unpredictable behavior, there was Barney. As I previously mentioned, Barney could be ferocious. Okay…vicious. If I had a friend over when I knew my dad would be safely absent, I had to make sure that Barney was out of the way. I had very little control over him. If he started to attack someone, I’d be hard pressed to stop him. I want to be clear here. I never feared that Barney would attack me, or any member of my immediate family. I could climb all over him and he’d never even so much as nip at me. He became another dog altogether when guests would arrive. In Game of Thrones language he was a Dire Wolf.
Although I’d love to blame my father for Barney’s temperament, I can’t. I don’t have any memories of my dad specifically training him to be dangerous. In fact, my dad showed Barney more love than he did any of his family. He could also be savage towards him. I remember one night when my father came home late and thoroughly drunk, and in his dipsomaniac rage, threw Barney down the basement steps. I can still hear Barney’s screams (howls is a completely inadequate word) when I recall this memory. However, unlike me, Barney never avoided my father after mistreatment. As well, unlike me, he did not seem to want him dead. Barney was always loyal to my father despite the erratic way my father would treat him.
Okay, background on Barney accomplished…on with the story…My mother had arranged taxi service for me while they were in England. A taxi ride to school and a taxi ride home. This was necessary because we had moved to the nearby town of Amherstview from a community in Kingston called Bayridge where I was attending Bayridge Secondary School. I had my driver’s licence by then, but there was no way I was going to be allowed the keys to my mum’s car while they were away. My sister Sarah had switched schools and was going to a local public school. She had a bus that picked her up and dropped her off. Sarah would be home before me while my parents were away. This was the 70’s, so no one freaked out if there was not a parent at the bus stop to wave their precious baby off and no one at the bus stop to collect them.
Everything went very smoothly for the nine days of the ten that my parents and sister were gone. I was picked up at the same time every morning and dropped off at the same time every late afternoon by the same person. Except for the last day. The last day was very different. I was picked up by the same person that morning, but when I headed out the heavy school doors that afternoon, there was another driver there to collect me. He smelled awful. I remember that clearly. It was the middle of winter, so there was not an option for me to open a window. I’m sure that I did not hide my displeasure at the stink. Not because I was a rude child, but because when you’re 16, artful politeness often escapes you.
The ride home was filled with questions from this fat, smelly older man. What was my name? How old was I? Why was I taking a taxi home? Questions about my family. Soon this taxi troll knew everything about me and where my family was at that moment. At no point, however, did I think I had made a mistake in doing so. I was 16 and very trusting. He was being polite and I was answering questions being posed to me by an adult. To do anything else would have been unthinkable. Nope, I was all smiles and wrinkled up nose along with shallow breathing happy.
Just as we got to the beginning of my street, the taxi driver asked me if he could come into my home and make a quick phone call. I thought that this was a completely acceptable request. I really wish I could recall that I was at least a bit uncomfortable, but I’m positive I was not. I’m positive because what happened next was a complete feeling of dread and of being absolutely frightened, where just a split second beforehand I was without a single care.
We pulled into the driveway and there was my sister, Sarah, playing in our front/side yard, building a snowman. I got out of the taxi as did fat, smelly inquisitive guy. He followed me to our side door that opened up into a tiny foyer that gave you two choices. Down the long flight of stairs to the finished basement, or up the very short set of stairs to the kitchen. I led the way. I started up the stairs leading to the kitchen when I heard a distinctive click coming from behind me. I quickly glanced around and saw that the taxi driver had locked the side door after him.
Our eyes connected and I KNEW. I knew that things were going to get bad. Time slowed down and a feeling of utter dread came over me. I actually started tingling. Probably the adrenaline. I’ll never forget that sensation. He started to reach for me. I’m not sure if he was going to pull me towards him, or push me away so I’d fall to the ground. It never got that far anyway because a snarling and snapping Barney appeared right behind me and he went straight for the disgusting bastard. I’d never been more grateful for anything in my life right at that moment. It had not occurred to me at all that Barney would be inside the house. Normally when Sarah got home, she would let Barney out the back door to a small dog run that also contained a dog house. There he would stay until I brought him in for dinner or if the weather got really cold. The relief wrapped around me and gave me strength where just a split second before, I had none. I let Barney have at him. Mr. Taxi Driver tried to turn to run for the door but as he had locked it, he fumbled around the handle. He screamed at me to call Barney off, but I did no such thing.
It seemed like forever, but in reality I’m sure it was only a few seconds. The bastard finally got the door open and ran to the car. Barney right behind him. I followed and started screaming for Sarah to get in the house. She froze, as did I because I could see blood on the snow and ice leading to the taxi. The would be rapist/murderer/Godknowswhat had managed to get in the driver’s seat and get the door shut, leaving Barney leaping at the door. At that point, I don’t think Sarah had moved from her spot, but I can’t be absolutely sure. What I do recall with absolute clarity is a stream of expletives coming loudly from the taxi. I recognized all of them as my father made regular use of most.
As he started up the car and reversed out, Barney was still following. My concern for myself quickly changed and suddenly I was terrified that Barney would be run over by this maniac. My screams for Sarah to come in the house, quickly became screams for Barney to come back to me. I was too terrified to step towards the car to force my point to Barney, but something in my voice must have connected with him, because he left off battering the car, and trotted towards me. The relief was all enveloping. I remember my lower body suddenly feeling weak.
In the development where we lived, the houses were spaced pretty far apart, but my screams must have been loud enough to attract the attention of our neighbor across the street. She opened her front door to see what was going on, and yelled across to me, asking if I was okay. I yelled no and I remember bursting into sobs. Neighbor woman dashed out of her house immediately, without coat or shoes, which I noticed later once we were back inside my home. I remember because her light-colored socks had blood on them. She had tracked in Mr. Murder’s blood after stepping in its trail on our driveway.
As the concerned neighbor made her way across the street, I yelled at Sarah to put Barney in his run in the back yard. All I needed was for Barney to continue his attack on the good Samaritan and I would have folded right there and then. Oddly, Barney was calm. Sarah came quickly to get him, all the while asking what was wrong?….what was the matter? It dawned on me that there was no way of her knowing what had transpired inside the house. All she saw was a man running for his life. I later learned from Sarah that she thought she was in trouble for not putting Barney outside. I told her that it was a MIRACLE that she had not or I might be dead, or feeling like I should be. It wasn’t until later that night that I realized that Sarah also could have been a victim. It made me sick to my stomach.
Before all that transpired though, I had a very concerned woman asking me what had happened. I told her, probably in a hysterical way. She immediately called the police. When they arrived, I told them my story. I remember feeling completely detached at that point. All I could think of was the trouble I would be in once my parents got home. Yep. That’s where my mind went. Both police officers seemed unmoved by the fact that I was sixteen and home alone, caring for my ten-year old sister. As my parents and Wendy were due home the next day, perhaps they did not think it was a big deal. I’ll never know.
So, there are two parts left to my story. One: how my parents reacted when they got home, and two: what happened to the troll. He was not arrested. For good measure, he turned it around on me and told the police everything I had EXCEPT for the locking of the door and the grabbing for me. What it boiled down to was his word against mine. The taxi driver was not supposed to use a customer’s home phone, but that was not an arrest worthy event. Add on the fact that Barney attacked him, and we were told that it would be best just to let matters drop. So we did. Did I mention that Barney bit him…several times? GOOD BOY!!
My parents? My mum felt awful. My dad blamed me. Seriously, blamed me. I was retarded for telling the driver so much. I was a stupid c*nt for letting him in the house. My hatred for him was elevated to the next level after that. He never hugged me. He never asked about the experience I had. He never wanted to go and shoot the asshole that did this to me. My mum comforted me as much as she could. In hindsight, I imagine she felt horrible for leaving me while visiting England, but not once do I recall her standing up to my father and telling him to leave me alone. That would have been the action that would have comforted me the most.
I got a big takeaway from this frightening experience, and it’s one that has stuck with me ever since. I learned to be more aware. To form a connection between my gut instinct and my brain. It taught me that you can’t float through life unaware of the risks surrounding you, but you also cannot live in fear because of it. That last part took awhile. It was a LONG, LONG time before I calmed down, but as the months and years passed, that lesson stuck with me. Has stuck with me until this day. I have avoided a few situations that would have gotten complicated had I not just listened to that inner voice. It was the same voice that told me I was NOT a stupid c*nt, by the way. Just a silly teenager who was really lucky that an annoying dog became her knight in shining armor that afternoon. I think about Barney frequently. He was with us a long time. From 1966 until at least 1978 or ’79. It was a sad day for all of us when he had to be euthanized. I like to think that a small part of him has been in all the dogs I have owned since. I know it was not an accident that Sarah forgot to put him out that afternoon. Barney was supposed to keep me from harm that day. I think we all have angels that look out for us. On that day, Barney was my angel.
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