The beginning of Shame
When I was four years old our family dog had a litter of puppies. They were these cute, snuggly fur balls. It was so much fun to play with them. They stayed in our screened in porch off the kitchen.
One morning I woke up early. I was eager to play with the puppies, so I put on my slippers and creeped across the cold linoleum floor. Very carefully, very quietly, I opened the door to the screened in porch. Ever so quietly, I made my way over to the box where the mommy dog lay. Lucy, my favorite puppy, was lying in the box next to her mother.
I went to pet her, and she didn’t stir. A sudden coldness grasped me. I tried to pick her up. She didn’t stir. Her little eyes stayed closed. I put her down and made my way back to the kitchen.
I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t really supposed to go out to the dogs by myself. Still, I felt certain there was something terribly wrong. I was so scared I wanted to sink to the floor. I wanted to disappear.
I forced my little body to move. I half ran, half tiptoed my way to my parent’s room.
Mommy and Daddy were sleeping. I went to Daddy’s side of the bed. I tugged gently on his arm. I half wished he wouldn’t get up. Nevertheless, I tugged harder. “Daddy”, I gave a loud whisper. Then again.
Daddy stirred. His eyes opened. It took a minute for him to focus on me. When he did, he looked annoyed. I wished I could crawl back out and go back to my bed. Lucy needed me, though. So, I stayed.
He asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain about Lucy not answering me, not feeling soft and fluffy.
Suddenly, he threw back the cover and grabbed his robe. I struggled to keep up as he raced to the covered porch. I stood in the doorway while he went out to investigate. He told me to go back inside and help mommy make breakfast.
I heard the screen door open, shut, and open again. I was crouched on the kitchen chair. Daddy came back inside. I saw him give my mother a look. He put up his hands in an “I don’t know” gesture.
I very quietly asked him where the puppies where. I wanted to know when I could play with Lucy.
He sighed and sat down on the kitchen table. He explained to me that someone had left the screen door unlocked. The puppies got out of the door. They climbed through an open space under the porch. There they found broken glass. The puppies ate the glass. The glass cut them inside and they were dead.
He told me we were going to have to bury the puppies. He got a large box and gently put the puppies in it. Then he put on the lid.
He was going to take the puppies up to the forest behind our house and bury them. I didn’t know what bury meant. I didn’t really understand dead. I was sure I was the one who left the door open. Surely my parents weren’t that careless. It was my fault the puppies were going to be up in the forest, cold and alone.
Daddy put on his shoes and picked up the box. He asked me to come with him, but I refused. I climbed up on my yellow foot stool, the one I used to reach the sink, and watched him climb the hill behind our back yard.
Suddenly, I wished I had gone with him. I longed to race after him, to yell for him to wait. Because I knew I was a bad person, a careless person. Because I couldn’t even remember to close a door the puppies would be gone forever. They would be stuck in the wood, cold, lonely, and scared.
Now, frightening as that experience was, there is obviously as back story. No child takes on that level of responsibility unbidden. So, what was life like for little Debby before the puppies died? What made me vulnerable enough to wish I didn’t exist?
Well, one of the earliest memories I have was of being unsafe. My mother took me for swimming lessons. I was about 2 ½. In the dressing room there was a huge window that showed the pool. The only thing was, the water line was above the window. I saw other children diving and swimming under the water.
I was no dummy. I knew I couldn’t stay under the water without breathing. Of course, I could not have told my mother that. I just knew that I couldn’t go in that pool under any circumstances.
I did what any smart kid would do. I threw a huge tantum. I didn’t believe that my mother could keep me safe. I did not trust her, somehow.
At another time, perhaps even before that, my mother left me alone in a shopping mall. It was time to go home, but I didn’t want to leave. So, I dragged my feet. I sat on the ground. I refused to go. I don’t know why my mother didn’t just pick me up. I do know she said something to the effect of get going or I’m going to leave you here.
She did. Much to my surprise and dismay. I saw her walk away. I don’t know if I could see the car. Apparently, she drove around the block, then came back for me. My life was definitely not safe.