Picture the scene:

I was fourteen—a confused puberty stew of zits, girl craziness, cracking voice, and crippling shyness. It was summer. My family and I were spending a week in a small Wisconsin town. My dad had driven me to a swimming area across the lake from our cabin. He told me he’d pick me up in a couple hours. Said I should stay put—swim, girl watch. Not to walk the three-mile stretch of lonely country road back home. I agreed. But after less than an hour, I’d had my fill of the murky brown water, and the locals that looked straight out of Guns & Ammo magazine.

I began the long walk back to the cabin.

I was barefoot. It was ninety degrees out. The asphalt beneath my feet felt double, triple that temperature. Every step was like walking through Dante’s sixth circle of Hell, less the heresy and flaming tombs. My mind grew delirious. Road mirages wavered all about. My sweat-drenched Rush T-shirt stuck to my skinny chest. My jean shorts—hand-me-downs a size too big—kept slipping down to reveal butt crack.

At one point, when I reached a rise in the road, I approached a house on the other side. Two small children—a boy and a girl—were on the front lawn, playing fetch with their small border terrier. Upon spotting me, the dog ran out into the lonely stretch of highway. He barked at me. The children grew frantic, yelled: “Lucky. C’mere, Lucky.”

I, too, yelled at the dog, waved my arms about, tried scaring him away. That only made him angrier. He drew closer. With every step, his collar jingled. I decided to ignore him, keep walking. But he kept following me. Jingle, jingle. I stepped into the highway, stomped a foot, hollered at him to screw off. He kept coming at me, barking. I kept stomping. The children kept crying. The dog and me, we just stood there facing off at that rise in the road.

That’s when a truck appeared out of nowhere.

I lunged backwards. The dog stayed put. One moment he was there. The next moment: gone. The truck kept going. The children began crying hysterically. Crying for their dog. Crying for their mother. I was crying, too. Kept saying I was sorry. Kept asking if there was anything I could do to help. The children kept crying. Their mother was crying, too. I don’t remember her hair color. Or whether she was fat or skinny, tall or short. All I remember was that she was wearing a flower-print dress. On any other day except that one I would’ve thought that that dress looked so beautiful.

There were no more cars in sight. Just me in the middle of that desolate stretch of road with all the mirages, and that dead dog. Except you could no longer even recognize him as a dog. Now he was just some furry, greasy bloodstain on the road.

The kids, their mother, and me: we kept crying. The kids kept hollering: “Why did you kill our dog?” I kept saying: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was only trying to help.”

I just stood there looking at those kids and their mother, crazed with sadness. Kept looking at that stain in the road. It was the first of many times where I would’ve gladly traded my own life for another.

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RICH FERGUSON has performed nationally, and has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, T.C. Boyle, Jerry Stahl, Bob Holman, Loudon Wainwright, Ozomatli, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the New York City International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, South by Southwest, the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, Stephen Elliott’s Rumpus, and with UK-based poetry collective One Taste. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? (the sequel to the double Grammy-nominated film 1 Giant Leap), featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, Krishna Das, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium Magazine, has been widely anthologized, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured at poetry film festivals throughout the world. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press.

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