In fiction, it’s the conflict that generally drives a plot. It’s what keeps us reading – wondering if a character will get what’s coming to them, survive the threat hanging over them, or have a fight with the crazy ex-girlfriend.
But in real life, it’s human instinct to avoid conflict. Sometimes, though, conflict finds you.
When I got up yesterday, I was in a good place. The sun was shining. My daughter, who had traveled all alone at age 19 to Hong Kong, sent me a text and then posted a great picture on Facebook which reassured me that she is doing just fine on her solo adventure on the other side of the planet so I can stop holding my breath.
Then, after letting out the chickens and feeding the horses, I took the dogs and foster dogs for a pack walk around the pasture and thought, “Wow, am I lucky.” I even came inside and journaled about how blessed I was feeling.
Next, I put in nearly two hours of writing on the manuscript that has been flummoxing me and finished polishing the proposal for my next memoir and zipped it off to my agent.
After lunch, I answered emails, tootled around on social media and then spent some solid time playing with my foster puppies – three adorable butterballs who are only six weeks old. Later in the afternoon, I set off for a walk up our road with a good friend, and Flannery O’Connor, one of our foster dogs.
We’d only gone about fifty yards up the road when one of my neighbors hollered at us. And when I say hollered, that’s exactly what I mean. In fact, my friend said if she hadn’t seen him with her own eyes, she’d have assumed he was some kind of backwoods hick just from the sound of him. But I know him to be an educated person and a veteran.
He told me (loudly and intensely as if he had bottled up this anger for some time) that if I walked my dog past his house on his side of the street again, he would get his gun and shoot it.
Yes, he did say this. I have a witness.
And yes, I repeated it to the police officer who took my report later.
Ever since the incident, I find I’m struggling to focus. The scene plays over and over in my head. I want to let it go, but the whole thing is just so incongruous with reality, that I’m distracted and struggling to make sense of it.
I worry that my neighbor has had some kind of psychotic break. I worry that he’s been angry with me for fifteen years as I’ve walked my dogs every day past his house.
When I responded to his first threat by saying that I was walking on a public street and had a right to, he said that he didn’t care. That me walking my dog past his house on his side of the street upset his dogs and so he would shoot my dog if I did it again. He was very clear about this. I’ve conferred with my friend to be sure I did hear him right.
Let me back up and just say that every time I walk past his house (and it doesn’t matter whether I’m on his side of the street or my side of the street), his little dogs bark. They yap and yap and yap and yap.
I have always assumed that people who have little dogs grow accustomed to the yapping. And since his house sits nearly on the road (once the school bus got stuck on the corner of his porch roof as it maneuvered to share the road with an oncoming vehicle), I imagine they bark every time a bike or pedestrian or motorcycle or loud truck pass by.
(Actually, I don’t have to imagine because sometimes when I am in my yard, which is at least 100 feet away up the side of the hollow, I can hear his little dogs yapping. It reminds me why I don’t have a little dog.)
So, the issue of his dogs yapping because I walk on his side of the street and not my side of the street is moot. They will yap regardless of which side I am on.
I’ve thought a lot about this because, like I said, I’m trying to make peace with the situation (and not get my dog or myself shot). I’ve wondered why he hasn’t, in all these years, just walked outside and said to me, “You know, I’d appreciate it if when you pass my house with your dogs, you could walk on your side of the street so it doesn’t upset my dogs.”
Had he done that (instead of going straight to threatening my dog’s life), I’m sure I would have said, “Sure, I can do that,” even as knew it wouldn’t stop his dogs barking.
But because he threatened my dog’s life with a gun, I called the police. I almost didn’t. I almost tried to engage him civilly, but then I realized that he was not civil. And I also realized that he’s a bully. He has successfully bullied me into being fearful of walking down my own street with my dog.
And since I don’t know what else to do about it (beyond reporting it to the police), I’m writing about it. Writing has always been the way I negotiate the muck in my head.
So now you all know. Should this crazy person decide to shoot my dog because I’m walking it legally down the road, it was premeditated.
I’m not sure when I’ll again venture out. Today I drove to a local trail and walked Flannery there. And I simmered with fury as I did so.
And now, like a good novel, there is suspense infused in my daily story.
I don’t like it one bit, but at least I know how my characters must feel.
Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.
If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com. You can shop for signed copies of all my books there, too!
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Released Aug 2018 from Pegasus books:
Find out more about the book, how YOU can help shelter dogs and everything you wanted to know about fostering dogs at AnotherGoodDog.org!