Blackie was the sort of dog who mothered better than your own mother. I have early memories of him dragging me around by my shirt collar and slobbering on me to clean me. He was constantly worried when non-family members would approach me. He was a dog on the edge with an excess of maternal devotion and he was a ‘he.’
He once bit the paperboy who had leaned in to smile at my older sister, jumping up and grabbing the young man in the stomach. Luckily, the family didn’t sue us or insist we euthanize old Blackie.
Today, I wonder if Blackie was a racist name, the equivalent of Whitey or if it was just simply beause the dog was black with curly fur. He was probably part Irish Wolf Hound. My mother was first generation American, so she was pretty proud of that Irish culture. My dad was the Chesapeake Bay man with only distant Irish, but both were self-proclaimed Catholics.
My dad would take out his frustrations on whoever was nearest at the time he accidentally hurt himself or whenever he felt angry. When I would help him in the kitchen and he cut himself etc. (he was horribly accident prone) he would kick me or hit me or the dog. Blackie and I seemed to be the most frequent targets of his rages and they were sudden and unpredictable, more so than a summer storm. When he was drunk at night, I could better see the rages coming on. I envisioned them as a woman in a Victorian dress walking past carrying a red lantern as if to warn me to walk away with her, which I most often did. The time sI stayed were foolish times, when I wanted my dad not to be alone for some vague fear I didn’t quite understand. Now I realize the fear was suicide, that I would wake the next morning and find him dead by his own hand.
As often as he turned his violence outward to me, the dog, my mother or sisters, he turned it equal parts inward with an absolute hatred. That is why I still feel compassion for him despite the fact that he was a pedophile and that he always knew the cruelest thing to say at the worst time. He certainly made my mother’s life a living hell and she wouldn’t leave him. She’d blame me for angering him at times. Still, at times it seemed as if something was riding on his back, some creature I visualized as a demon with large yellow, pitiless eyes, a sort of family curse – big baby head, gaping mouth and no legs, just a tattered, black robe. It would ride my dad getting him to do bad things and he would. My dad also heard voices in the walls and evidently on his shoulder. Funny about the angel and devil on the shoulders. Never saw any angel on the other side for him.
One day Blackie wouldn’t move, just lay there. My mother would get my dad to carry him out to the yard. She put water by him. By this time, my mother had ceased moving for the most part. My sister said mom could pass for a potted plant. She drank all night – wine, then vodka. She threw punches in her sleep as if fighting attackers, as if wrestling an angel. She stopped cooking and cleaning. She stopped bathing, so he wouldn’t touch her. She glued paper towels to every window pane so the judges could not judge, nor the spies spy.
To be continued…..