By Kim Gray in Baltimore City
It was going to be another scorching weekend. My grandmother had pinned sheets from the clothesline to the fence to create a tent that would shade the yard. Dad had placed the fans in the windows to draw the heat from the house, and Mom had made at least a few gallons of iced tea. By Sunday the neighborhood was quiet, everyone drained from the heat, motionless indoors with a lucky few enclosed in air-conditioned rooms.
I was sixteen and had too much to do to be bothered by the weather. On this particular weekend I had two babysitting jobs. The first was to mind a neighborhood boy while his parents went on a fishing trip. The second was to care for two dogs so their owners could go to Ocean City. The little boy, whom I will call Jimmy, lived around the corner from me. He was two years old and I watched him every afternoon until his dad came home from work. We had spent many hours together over the past two years, but this was the first time I had kept him overnight.
The couple who lived a few doors down had a baby and two dogs. I had watched the baby on several occasions and had taken care of the dogs every time they had gone away. This weekend was no different from any other.
I took Jimmy to the house with me to feed the dogs. He loved them and had spent time with them due to the fact his parents were not only neighbors to the owners but friends as well. One of the dogs was a large Siberian Husky with beautiful blue eyes. The other was a funny, lanky dog with short brown hair and long ears. He was a Shepard mix. We had fed the dogs and put them in the yard while I made Jimmy a little lunch. The dogs were always very excited when they came back in the house and would jump up on us. I placed Jimmy on a tall stool in the kitchen while I opened the door. I didn’t want the dogs to knock him over.
The screen door slammed shut and I turned to face Jimmy who still sat on the stool, his legs tucked under him. The brown dog passed by and headed for the basement door. The second dog, the Husky, stopped to look at Jimmy. The air was heavy, the fan brought no relief and the only sound was its constant whirl. In one graceful motion the Husky pulled Jimmy from the stool. I picked the boy up, afraid he may have bumped his head. Jimmy seemed fine as I gathered him in my arms. The dog jumped on me, knocked me over and snatched the child from me. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I struggled to regain my balance. The Husky had Jimmy’s shoulder between its teeth and was shaking the boy back and forth. Blood splattered on the tiled floor and the green and white papered walls as I relentlessly pulled at the Husky, trying to free Jimmy from its grip. My hands had streaks of blood on them as I beat the dog’s head and body. Jimmy’s eyes stared blankly at me as his body was thrown back and forth like a rag doll.
I do not remember screaming, though later neighbors from blocks away recalled hearing me. After what seemed like hours, but in actuality was about fifteen minutes, my friend’s dad came charging through the back door with a hammer. When I saw him, I passed out.
The next thing I remember is being checked out by a paramedic. I had sustained no injuries, however Jimmy was being transported to shock trauma by helicopter. Dad went to the hospital with Jimmy while Mom and my grandmother stayed with me, watching intently as the police questioned me.
There was no way for us to contact Jimmy’s parents. They were out on the Chesapeake in a boat so the Coast Guard was sent to locate them. A few hours later the young parents pulled up alongside our house in their pick-up truck, the mom jumping out before it had come to a complete stop. We watched from our kitchen window as we sat around the table, our dinner untouched. We found out later they’d only been told to return home immediately and weren’t given any other details of the emergency.
Dad stood immediately, instructing me to stay put. It was the first time I’d seen him in this role. There had been a few occasions where I’d witnessed him arresting someone, but I’d never seen this compassionate side where he had to deliver bad news. I was sure he had to do this many times in his line of work, but never had it involved him personally. I stood at the back door as he spoke to Jimmy’s parents. Dad put his hand on the mom’s shoulder as she bent her head and cried. It was then I cried for the first time. Jimmy’s parents piled into Dad’s car and he drove them to the hospital.
It was a few days before I was allowed to visit Jimmy in the hospital. He had tubes sticking out of his small body from every angle and a large bandage covering his neck. There were stitches in his arm and leg and a few to close a gash near his left eye. It was a miracle that he had survived. Dad stopped every evening to check on him. Although I blamed myself for what happened, no one else did. Jimmy’s family continued to have me babysit once he had fully recovered.
As the years have passed, I not only remember the small boy and that summer afternoon, but my dad and how he taught me the meaning of compassion and composure.