Why I Can't Give Thanks for Mondays
© 2012 by B. L. Bierley
One of the worst Mondays of my entire life was the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2011. It was an ordinary day just like a hundred others like it. But something about that particular Monday set it aside from all others and made me question whether or not I wanted to get out of bed for the week that followed.
On that Monday I was up early, got my children ready for school, and waited for my youngest to get on his bus. After loading the car with my essential daily haul: my bag filled with notebooks of book and blog ideas, my favored writing instruments, my purse, and my lunch bag, I watched my garage door go all the way to the ground and noted the date aloud. “It’s November 21st, and my garage door is closed.”
I do that because I’m more than a little Obsessive-Compulsive. Cap gave me that tip to keep me from having episodes where I would freak out on my way to work trying to recall if I’d shut the garage. I’ve been late for work too many times to count simply because I went home to check that stupid garage door.
Anyway, I made my mental note and headed out of my driveway. I was driving my oldest child and two of her friends to school just as I’d done every day of school so far that year. Normally we would have discussions or fight over the radio station as DaVelma is certain she’s allergic to 80’s music. But this Monday was different. It started out dreary and tense. It went downhill from there.
Fox on the Run. Alas, No More
I equate the progression into my darkest hell that morning with three significant things that happened. Two were just ordinary things that wouldn’t have been significant on a regular day. But in the cycle of events for this particular day, these things were eerily foreboding in hindsight.
First, near the beginning of our commute, I saw a little red fox that someone had run over probably during the late evening or early morning hours. The sight of the little creature lying dead like that made me tear up. It’s not so unusual that I nearly cried over the demise of a wild, unknown animal. I am tragically tenderhearted and will cry at the drop of a dime over the most ordinary things most people ignore or take for granted.
It’s a flaw, I know, to be so affected by the world. Movies, television commercials, anything with a heart-wrenching message or storyline will get me every time. Before you ask, I will answer your burning question: yes, my poor husband has to deal with my emotional train wrecks even when I’m not pregnant or PMS-ing. But this morning, I was driving teenagers to school.
Teenagers as a group are compartmentalizers. They don’t show emotion in front of their friends. My lovely daughter is not outwardly emotional about things unless they strike close to heart. She’s got all the human compassion a soul needs, but she doesn’t get upset when things outside her emotional circle are affected.
DaVelma laughs when I cry at movies I’ve seen a thousand times. “Seriously? It’s just a movie, Mom. You know it isn’t real right?” are words I hear every time I reach for tissues. Often I don’t appreciate her frankness when I feel tears brimming over my eyelids. On that particular morning I told my daughter and her friends that they were hard-hearted because they laughed at me for getting a little emotional over what was essentially road kill.
Hurry Up and Wait
The second thing that happened was a major delay in our commute. In the county where I live there is obviously a disconnect somewhere in the scheduling of our county’s maintenance/ sanitation department pick-up times. Twice that year they brought parents and children to a complete stop during our morning carpools in order to pick up debris from the roadsides.
Normal sanitation wouldn’t do such damage to morning scheduling. It’s an act that wouldn’t really be so troublesome if they waited until a little after eight o’clock to begin either. But in 2011 we were still cleaning up debris from a horrendous spring event—the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that ripped our community apart in wide gashes.
The first time this sanitation delay happened that particular year was on the first day of school—the busiest and most hectic day for working parents with kids starting a new school year or, for some, brand new carpool routes! We were thirty minutes late to school that first day, even though I left my house with plenty of time to make the usually twenty minute trip. But I digress.
As we sat there on that fall Monday, waiting for the work crew to finish, I wondered in my head (and also aloud) whether the people in charge of these efforts realized that not only were they creating massive issues for the schools who need to function on a tight schedule, but also for the unfortunate parents who drive for over forty minutes round trip (and for some of us out of the way) nearly every day in order to get their children to school at a reasonable hour and still try to get to work on time.
That November morning the twelve minutes we waited for the claw to pick up the piles of sticks and debris put us further into the critical hours for the elementary school zone we had to pass through in order to reach my daughter’sschool. So, it’s safe to say I wasn’t in the best of mindsets as I dropped off the little darlings and headed to my office.
Nightmare on Old Railroad Bed Road
The third thing that happened to me that morning was the stuff of nightmares for a tender-hearted person like me. Already running behind schedule, and still smarting from the judgment of my teenage passengers (You know, Prince really was an award winning entertainer in his heyday!), I was determined not to speed to make up the lost time. I set my cruise control to the correct speed limit in order to refrain from lead-footing the gas subconsciously.
I was traveling on Old Railroad Bed Road. On that road there is a stretch of a few miles that bisects an ominous path where at least one of the tornadoes decimated homes and property just seven months earlier. It’s a place I saw every day on my commute that year, where ragged and ravaged areas of the April storms are still visible and raw. Some of the houses are just now being rebuilt due to slow return on insurance claims or people not having the money or time available to repair what the weather destroyed while others are rebuilding for a second time thanks to another wave of tornadoes that struck this past March.
At that time, in November of 2011, many tarps still covered sections of roofs where shingles and boards were torn away. Concrete slabs that used to be the foundation of homes, still sat barren and empty. Formerly wooded areas were left as a wreckage of twisted tree trunks and unearthed root balls. It still chills me to pass through and see the evidence of Mother Nature’s wrath marking our beautiful countryside like an ugly scar still to this day.
Prepare yourself for the painful part of my story. If you are tender-hearted also, you might want to stop reading now. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dog racing up on the left side of the road. The dog was running happily along carrying something in its mouth. But I didn’t have time to puzzle out what it was.
At first I thought the dog might stay to the left shoulder. I was just beginning to brake for the flashing yellow light of an upcoming intersection when without warning, the dog suddenly changed direction. The diagonal change had the dog aiming directly for my left front fender.
I didn’t have much time to react. I stomped my brakes, slightly fishtailing, and all the while praying the dog would stop or turn away from my car in terror. I begged out loud that the animal would go to the left out of self-preservation. But before my anti-lock brakes could slow my car enough to avoid it, the dog turned unmercifully to the right.
There are moments in our lives when things move in that slow, surreal way. You don’t know if you’re actually experiencing the event or if you’re dreaming. And what we do in those moments can haunt us long after the moment is gone. In those seconds I only remember what I tried to do and how ineffective my efforts turned out to be.
I veered as far right as I dared. A steep shoulder and a telephone/utility pole to my right showed me I had nowhere to go. And if I could have managed to go to the right of the pole it would put me through some poor farmer’s barbed wire fence protecting a pasture for livestock. In a sickening split second I realized what was about to happen just before I felt the poor creature’s body at the mercy of my tires.
I kept moving forward for several yards, just to the other side of the intersection, in utter disbelief. As soon as I could, I turned my car around on the narrow road and went back to see if there was anything I could do.
When I eased up near the dog’s body, I saw that it was already bleeding profusely and that it wasn’t moving or breathing anymore. I pulled off on the opposite shoulder into someone’s driveway and completely broke down. I heaved and sobbed for several minutes before getting sick and vomiting out my driver’s side door. I had just run over a dog. From the look of the animal, he or she was clearly someone’s pet.
How do you move forward from a moment like that? What is the acceptable protocol for the moment when the shock wears of, and you realize you have to tell some person you don’t even know that you were unable to avoid killing their dog?
If you’re like me you are imagining what it would be like if a member of your family just died. I come from a long line of animal lovers. My great-grandmother raised daschunds so beloved she barely outlived the last one. My parents have nearly gone broke on occasion in order to get medical treatments for dumped strays that wandered into their lives. They’ve nursed dogs through horrific heartworm treatments, dealt with incurable mange, fed many cats that were abandoned with kittens on the way, even when some of them were so wild you couldn’t even get close enough to try to provide care for their pitiful litters.
I’ve seen Aunt Nana buy disposable heating pads to put beneath old towels in a box in order to keep thankless mother cats and kittens warm on nights when it’s too cold to even breathe outdoors. My youngest sister had to endure the treatment for rabies because she helped a friend get a shelter pet and unfortunately got one that had been exposed to the deadly virus. If my accident had happened to my middle sister, who has too many pets and still more love to give, she would have taken that poor, broken animal to the closest vet and pleaded with him or her to save it, and damn the cost.
So imagine you are me, a member of such a family, having to find and inform somebody that their dog was dead and it was your fault. It was beyond my worst nightmare.
The Bitter Pill of Reality
Before I could drive to the nearby houses and try to find the owner of the animal, I had to get control of my emotional state. I felt as if I’d committed a heinous crime. Even though it was an accident, I felt so much emotion from the traumatic event that I was shaking and hyperventilating. And it wasn’t even a dog I knew. It was an unknown animal of unknown origin at that moment, and yet I still felt it to my marrow!
I was beyond distraught. I shook so hard, I had to shut off my car for fear I might not have the wherewithal to keep from running into someone’s house! I sat there with the door open, leaning out until the nausea passed. Cars continued to pass by. No one stopped. The dead dog was still lying half in the road on the right side. And I didn’t know what to do except continue to cry and shake.
Eventually, after I don’t know how much time passed, I pulled into the drive of the first house that looked habitable. Many of the houses in the area were still being rebuilt from the storm damage. No one was home at the first two houses. I decided to go back to the house on the corner near the dog’s body.
By that time, my brain was processing that the white farmhouse on the corner was probably the owner. The dog was running at a diagonal of the road, and that house would have been the only visible destination had it been able to continue its intended path. As I pulled around, I noticed that someone was there beside the dog.
A woman in a small pickup truck had pulled onto the crossroad and was getting out. She wore work gloves and pulled the dog’s lifeless body off of the busy road to avoid further damage from the drivers still passing by. I tried to pull up and see if the woman knew the animal or the owners. But by the time I managed to get close enough and off the road, she was already getting back into her vehicle and driving away.
I sat there for a few more minutes, puzzling over the woman’s actions and how poor mine had been by comparison so far. In my attempt to catch the woman, I only managed to get stuck on the side of the road. The shoulder was steep and the ground very soft from the recent rain, so my tires weren’t able to get a lot of traction.
After an embarrassing acceleration and a squeal of rubber on damp pavement, I managed to get to the intersection and pull into the driveway of the white farm house. Still sobbing and visibly shaking, I shut off my car, grabbed my handkerchief and walked resolutely toward the front door.
Confession of the Damned
Before I reached the front porch, I heard a woman calling out to me. She asked if she could help me. It was Monday, three days before Thanksgiving, and I had run over someone’s pet. There was no help to be had.
I was still in a state of emotional anguish as I stood in that driveway and admitted that I’d been unable to avoid hitting and killing a dog. I asked if she knew who the owner might be. The woman looked to where the dog lay about ten yards away, and said the dog belonged to her. I began to cry in earnest.
I apologized. I sobbed. I begged God for help. I tried very hard to tell her how sorry I was, though my speech was really unintelligible. The woman, who was obviously much stronger than I was, didn’t shed a tear. I guess she hadn’t had time to process what had happened. She actually was more concerned for me. She laid a hand on my arm and told me it was just good that I hadn’t had an accident myself. She was more compassionate to me than I had any right to feel.
I was still mentally revisiting the accident and trying to see what I could have done differently that might have spared her dog’s life. Could I have swerved more? Could I have braked harder? Perhaps I should have been watching the sides of the road more carefully looking for straying animals that might wander into my path? In that moment I was totally and completely out of my mind with grief. And this woman was worried that I wouldn’t be able to drive. It made me feel worse because I couldn’t be a comfort to her, the person who suffered the actual loss.
The woman continued to express her concern for me while I heaved great lungfuls of air and tried to stop shaking. Another person came out, I assumed it was her husband, but he didn’t say a word, just nodded in what I hoped was an acceptance of my profound apology for ending his dog’s life. That’s when I learned the truth of the situation.
The too-kind woman explained to me that their dog, a female collie-mix whose name I didn’t even think to ask until I was bawling at a traffic light twenty minutes later, had been escaping through their tornado-damaged fence in spite of their efforts to keep her contained. It was worse than you can imagine.
Worse than my own suffering in trying to make amends, I could hear the woman’s child inside her home. The child sounded very upset. I didn’t know for certain if it was because of what I’d done, or if the child was just upset because his or her mommy was outside while he or she was still inside without a mommy. But the end result left me feeling measurably worse for being there.
I don’t know what I said in the time I stood there on that damp morning and tried to come to terms with the finality of the incident. I was still in a state of traumatic shock I’m sure. Looking back, I think the woman just wanted me to go away so she and her husband could go and remove their pet from the roadside before one of their children saw her there. Eventually I apologized once again, got back into my car and cried all the way to work.
Even now, almost a year later, I am still emotionally and physically shaken by that Monday. I cannot close my eyes yet without seeing the dog running along the roadside, happy with her treasure in her mouth. I only pray that she was not in any pain and that in the instant she died the happiness she was feeling carried over with her into the next part of her journey. All I could do is try to recover from my broken heart and bruised soul.
I made a donation to the local animal shelter, in memory of the nameless dog whose life I cut short, and prayed that my deed could provide the balm of solace that will heal me enough to forgive myself.
The Thanks I’m Giving
This year, on Thanksgiving, I will give thanks for everything that is good in my life. I will give thanks that I have a job to commute to.
I will give thanks that I have a son and also a teenaged daughter who’s strong enough to see the silliness in her mother’s teary-eyed responses to tragedies, both real and imaginary. I will give thanks that my pets are safe and healthy and in no danger of getting loose or endangering their lives and those of passing motorists.
I will give thanks that I can take children to school every day to get their education, even if we sometimes arrive late. I will give thanks that my family and I survived the April 2011 tornadoes with minimal damage. I will give thanks for the subsequent power outage and time of community outreach that brought me closer to my neighbors: two of them have since become some of my family’s closest friends.
I will give thanks that I live in Madison County Alabama, a place where people look out for one another during disasters great and small and come together to do what they can to help their fellow man when natural disasters tear us down.
I will give thanks for the workers who do their best to meet the needs of our communities large and small. I will thank God for a woman, whose name I still don’t know, who showed me mercy when I had to tell her such horrifying news. The woman who handled the situation with so much compassionate poise and grace I am still humbled by it.
I will pray that no more lives are lost in connection (however remote) to those terrible storms and that the relief efforts and repairs are soon completed for all those still waiting.
And even though I said I can’t, I’ll probably end up giving thanks for every other Monday except that one.