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Healing Heart, Drunken Pit Bull: Making Peace

April 9th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon

This is the story that I would have told last night at The Moth for the theme “Making Peace.” I don’t think I’ve run it here before. Any constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.

I’d been dating this girl who was confident and cool with beautiful tattoos, so gorgeous she’d make a whole room turn and feel ugly whenever she walked in the door. I’d just lost a pile of weight and was giddy with the sudden attention — giddy enough to miss the warning signs and get my newly narrowed ass dumped in about three weeks. I had no idea why, didn’t see it coming at all.

I lived in tired little termite buffet painted the color of dingy Band-Aids. A small community of grizzled vagrants in electric wheelchairs would commune around a trash fire in the alley behind my house most afternoons, drinking Thunderbird. Sometime around twilight most nights, one guy with a blurry swastika tattooed on his forehead would rev up out into the road, barreling upstream against one-way traffic. I had decorated the interior of the place myself — carpeted the entire house in Astroturf, green for the living room, the stairs, and upstairs hallway, my bedroom in neon blue with a giant American flag for a bedspread. Waking up each morning was like a Lego funeral at sea.

All the furniture in the downstairs was inflatable — a couch and two easy chairs. There was a sculpture on the front porch that I’d made myself out of several deer carcasses and a giant head covered in glowing white war paint.

In hindsight, I may have been dumped for aesthetic reasons.

Richmond, Virginia is a small town, even smaller if you hate hippies AND the Dave Matthews Band. There isn’t but one or two awesome things to go out and do each month, and I kept seeing her at bars, rock shows, art openings, whatever — usually accompanied by her new boyfriend. It was embarrassing, and more than a little awkward. She asked me one time “are you, like, following us around?”

I wasn’t. Not intentionally, anyway.

A vandal took a knife to her motorcycle seat one night after we’d awkwardly crossed paths at a bar. She e-mailed me the next day to ask if I’d done it. It was embarrassing and painful to think I came across as the kind of guy that operates that way. I mean, getting dumped sucked. And seeing tangible evidence that she’d moved on to some dude who, had the scene been different, I’d have probably been friends with — that sucked more. But what really bugged me the most was being thought of as some kind of common creep, some low-grade weirdo.

I stopped going out so much. Seeing her around kept picking my scabbed heart open, and what should have been a minor injury was going to get gangrenous if I didn’t just lie low. I stayed in a lot over the winter — listened to a lot of records, learned to play the drums, wrote a lot of highly regrettable poetry.

Spring came around – ending my social hibernation and thawing my mood. My roommate and I threw a party to celebrate. We mopped up the Astroturf and got a real couch, and I e-mailed an invite to everyone I knew, and against my better judgment, included her on the list.

The party was the kind you can only throw if you are in your 20s, underemployed and living in the ghetto. A few of our neighbors brought a cooler of fresh oysters down from the Eastern Shore, got liquored up and started hooting and shooting their potato cannons out into the night.

I was just flipping over the Rick James record on the turntable when I heard screaming from out on the sidewalk. Suddenly she burst into the room, this girl of the strange breakup and grabbed me by both shoulders, saying “Hey — you got to get out here and put a STOP to this!”

I was kind of stunned, but ran outside. A man sat on my curb, feet in the street, swaying and drinking from a tall can of Old English, with a box of more cans next to him. Someone shouted “OH SHIT, it’s coming back!” and pointed up the street. I looked, to see a monstrous pit bull galloping down the street, full-tilt. I remember thinking that it looked just like one of those things from “Ghostbusters” as it leapt, soaring through the air and shoulder-checking the man with the OE cans, sending him flat and the cans scattering.

The dog then grabbed a can in its jaws and bit down hard, puncturing the can and shaking it like a baby — which sent streams of malt liquor shooting out of the holes around its fangs and straight down the monster’s throat. It spat the mostly-empty can out into the street, covered in drool and malt liquor and wagged its tail, happily burping.

The man picked himself up and yelled “motherfucker, what did I JUST TELL YOU,” and grabbed the dog by its neck and belly, clean-and-jerked it and threw the thing like a soccer ball as far as he could. It hit the pavement and skidded, snarling and growling and ran straight for him, knocked him down again and grabbed another can.

This cycle had been iterating for a little while.

It was my house and I had to stop this thing, but I had no idea what to do. I picked up an ax handle from the front porch. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but it made me feel better. I mean, a gigantic drunken pit bull that’s ready to fight isn’t just gonna sit and stay. And a guy that’s already been fighting that drunken pit bull — you can’t talk a lot of sense with that guy, either.

I yelled out to them to knock it off and go home. The dog looked at me, wavering, and crashed to the pavement, panting. The dude said “you can’t make us leave, man, this is the road, it’s public property, man, I got just as much right to be here as anybody and I’d like to know what you’re gonna do about it.”

I looked over my shoulder, nervously, at the crowd on my porch, girl and her guy standing there open-mouthed, hand-in hand. We all wanted to know what I was going to do, especially me.

I pulled out my phone and said “Alright, look. I’m calling the cops and I’m calling Animal Control. Whoever gets here first, wins.”

He sighed and said “Shiiiit. Come on, buddy, let’s go home,” and picked the pit bull up like a giant baby, slung it over his shoulder and walked off into the night, his box of malt liquor dangling from a free hand.

I turned back to my house, extending my hand for a handshake with the boyfriend and said “Thanks for coming out, guys … it’s really good to see you.”

And she gave me a big, friendly hug and said “yeah, man, it’s good to see you, too.”

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