My Phobia

Scan 15

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.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Story Power and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to My Phobia

  1. Thanks for sharing this personal story, Mitch. So sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. schoen55 says:

    So sad. My heart goes out to all those involved. These are incidences that our minds never forget and leave scars on our very souls. It is our prayer that God create some purpose we cannot fathom out of the pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara says:

    Mitch,I am practicaly in tears for all the people involved but also for the dog! Thankfully, you survived your dangerous childhood and I am able to know such a sensitive individual who is a great story teller too!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. These do affect our lives and they can affect us years later. Prayer now, prayer then – the only thing that matters is the prayer happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. joyroses13 says:

    What a powerful post! Moved my heart. Was almost in tears over the dog and can’t imagine the guilt your friend must have carried. I think traumatic situations like that definitely do affect us and can affect us years down the road.
    Thank you sharing something so personal and I think my heart is ready for Monday’s post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. M.B. Henry says:

    I’m so sorry 😦 For everyone involved and touched by those ripples. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. smzang says:

    By sharing your experiences you open eyes and hearts.
    That’s what I call a Teacher. It’s funny, when I read here
    of Rusty’s fate, I thought of Over-the-Rhine and Ingrid’s son.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a sad story. The things we experience early in our childhood DO have a lasting impact in our lives. It changes us deeply and we are never the same. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow. I can’t even imagine. I love my dog so much. This is just gut wrenching, Mitch. I’m not surprised that it made such a lasting impression on you. Powerful story; powerful writing. Thank you for sharing it with us. I’m honored.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ann Coleman says:

    It is late, and I have far too many emails in my inbox, some of which I am just deleting without reading. But something (or Someone) made me read yours, and I’m so glad I did. Yes, our decisions to have repercussions on other people’s lives (and animals as well) and this is a good reminder of that. I don’t know what drove poor Craig to live on the edge as he did, but I’m so sorry for him, for his dog, for his family, and for you for having to witness that whole thing. This was a very powerful post…..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jennie says:

    This is so sad. Why is it that tragedy with dogs bothers me more than with people? My heart goes out to you because I know there is more to this story. God bless Rusty.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: My Phobia | Mitch Teemley

  13. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    Wow! Sometimes breaking down or bringing to light a fear is cathartic. Thanks for sharing,


    Liked by 1 person

  14. Terri Nida says:


    Wow – such a powerful story of how much our sin affects everyone around us, even our beloved pass. Thank you for a moving post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: My Early Brushes with Mortality | Mitch Teemley

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