Recently, I’ve begun to veer off the familiar and well-maintained trails in Frick Park. I choose instead thin and muddy bike-paths that wind around inclines so steep I fear for the biker's safety. This challenges me to find my way and keeps my ankles strong. It’s taken me a long time to venture to the park at all, let alone, by myself. You see, Frick is a dog-lovers park and I harbor an old and deeply embedded fear of dogs – apparently a big old friendly mutt knocked me down when I was two. I’ve come to learn that park dogs generally don't have any interest in me, but when they do trot, or run toward me, I freeze in place and depend on their owners to reassure me I’m safe.
Last night, I attended a “candle party” at my daughter-in-love’s. She and my son recently bought a house on a street with other 2-bedroom homes with small yards. About halfway through the party, when the candle scents became too much for me and the frequent “don’t-touch-that”s too much for my granddaughter, she and I went out together to explore her new neighborhood. She’s 2 ½. Hand in hand we walked up the streets and down an alleys.
“Dat my neighbor, dat my neighbor, dat my neighbor,” Nicole said rhythmically. (She hasn’t mastered "th" or "s" yet). She pointed to all the kid’s yard toys: bicycles, little plastic picnic tables, and foot-powered mini coups. We stopped for a good while as she peered through one fence and yearned to ride a carousel-colored rocking horse.
We rounded the bend at the end of her block to return by way of the alley, and to my dismay, we came upon an unleashed dog. He just stood there, staring at us from three houses up. Fear seized my stomach; I squeezed Nicole’s hand a little harder.
"Come on honey, let's go this way," I tried to make a quick U-turn.
"No, di way," she pulled my hand toward the dog. "Puppy!"
Instantly, I had visceral plan: I’ll scoop her up Heimlich-wise, bend over her with my arms and body, so the dog could only chew on my back when he attacked. (I’m not sure if this was before or after my (now embarrassing) inclination to hide behind her).
"Come on!" she pulled again. "Di way!"
I didn’t move. Her light brown curls flung off her shoulder as she turned to look up at me, eyes wide and brow furrowed.
“Puppy!” she said again.
I reassessed. The dog wasn't moving toward us. He wasn't barking. Maybe it would be okay. Probably it would be okay. And surely, I didn't want her to internalize my fear. I scanned the yards for a neighbor I could shout to, in case of attack. Then, with my plan in place, I let her lead me forward.
It was fine, of course. The dog was calm and friendly and cute. His owner, also friendly, was only ten feet away, hidden from my view as he worked in his garage.
Nicole tried to tug me into the future as I hung on to the past. As I think of myself standing there, balanced between two, I’m grateful I could choose the future. Grateful for my strong ankles, for my ability to inch forward on narrow strips of land on steep hills without tumbling down.