Part One: I Dare You
(Warning: Graphic violence)
My parents loved visiting their old friends Don and Gina, who had an only child named Craig (I’m an only child, too). I didn’t really enjoy being with Craig, because, although I had a hint of a wild streak, compared to Craig I was a hopeless pantywaist. Still, we hung out together when our parents visited, because, well, what else was there to do?
Craig had an ardently devoted pet, a shepherd-mutt mix named Rusty, and wherever Craig went, Rusty went. So when Craig headed for a nearby urban L.A. riverbed, Rusty was right at his heels.
Craig led us to a railroad trestle and climbed unhesitatingly up onto it, followed by Rusty and me. We’d barely arrived when we heard the blare of a diesel horn. A freight train was moving toward us at an alarming rate.
“First one to jump is a chicken!” Craig shouted gleefully.
I was the chicken. A moment later, Craig made his victorious leap to the riverbank. But Rusty was afraid. Craig shouted, “Come on, boy!” Rusty whimpered, fearful of the drop. “Rusty, jump!” Craig yelled. But Rusty just stood there whining.
“Rusty!” Craig screamed.
And then the train struck. It hurled the frightened dog between the steel beams and onto the riverbank twenty feet below.
Craig ran to him. Rusty was panting hard, bleeding profusely, and barely conscious. Craig gently scooped him up, weeping bitterly, and carried his best friend home. There was a vulnerability in Craig I’d never seen before. And never saw again.
The veterinarian amputated Rusty’s tail and re-set his hip and leg bones, but Craig’s faithful companion died a week later.
I’d like to say Craig changed, but he didn’t. Or maybe Rusty’s death hardened him; I don’t know. At any rate, five years later, at the age of 16, he was killed while racing drunk across town in a convertible.
Two other people died.
The moment his mother called our house, I knew. I wasn’t sure how I knew, I just did. I didn’t know how to pray back then. But I do now. In fact, I’m praying for each of the people involved as I write this (I may be bound by time, but the One who hears me isn’t).
Craig’s devastated parents split up a year later. Decisions don’t occur in a vacuum, they send ripples into other people’s lives, far beyond what we can see.
If that had been the sole incident, I might have skated past the panic. But it wasn’t. A month later, I had another train encounter. It ended less tragically, but completed a one-two* punch to my pre-adolescent psyche.
Were these incidents precursors to the anxiety I would experience as an adult? Maybe. Or maybe my brain was simply trying fear on for size. Our minds are like that. Fear is always a possibility.
But so is the overcoming of fear.
*To read Part Two (Conclusion), click here.