Eventually they ask how I got the scar on my chin and if I’m being honest, I usually don’tknow what to say. There is a simple answer. It’s short, and it’s cold, and it’s quick, and it’s not wrong. But that’s always been my problem with simple answers. They leave so much out.
At first they ask about the weather. It’s what people do. They want to talk to someone, anyone, and they go to the weather, or to sports, or to any other topic they read about in the morning paper. They just want in. And I wouldn’t blame them or anyone who did it. Some people spend their whole lives trying to get in.
So they start there and they move to where I work, what part of the city I stay in. Part of me wishes I could enjoy these bits of it. It’s nice to feel interesting, to be asked about. As if what part of the city I stayed in mattered to anyone.
I’m used to it. It usually comes a few questions after the job. They wait until they thinkthey’re in, as if that makes it a little bit less awkward, but it all comes down to the same thing:how’d you get that scar?
What maimed you?
What put you in the position you’re in and just how horrible was it? I want to know so I can feel lucky it wasn’t me.
Half of me tries to act like I don’t hear them because most people won’t repeat a question that was ignored. The other half of me kind of wants to tell it. Sometimes, when you’re different, all you want to do is explain why. People like me say it’s not about pity—the want to tell—and I believe it’s not for the most part. But there is something relieving in sharing the bad that happened to you—in being heard. If the thing that changed you made you feel like any less of a person, then having someone understand it made you feel more like one. Simple as that.
So I start with the simple answer: it was a dog.
More often than not that’s the end of it. They nod. Sometimes they say I’m sorry. And then they move on. They go about their normal day. They feel like they got their right foot in, their right foot out, and then they hokey-pokey the hell out of there.
They don’t want a long story anyway. They want a buzzfeed article. Man gets bitten by dog, but just wait until you see what happens next.
Long stories are complicated and tied up with strings. They include footnotes because you can never really say it all, and they contradict themselves from time to time. They’re hard to figure out and sometimes along the way the good guys and the bad guys get hard to tell apart. They’re life, in other words. And when you’re looking for a little escape, the last thing you want to do is end up staring life in the face.
So I start with the simple answer and more often than not, that’s the end of it. But sometimes it isn’t. And when it isn’t I walk the balance beam between lightening my load and feeling a set of dogs teeth sink into my chin again. Time heals all wounds. They never said anything about scars.
You can never tell how it will go, but occasionally I tell the story about me and my friend Rodney and his foster Dad and their dog. It takes a while to get going. I don’t want to bother anyone with it. But they asked, didn’t they? Even after I told them it was a long story, they still asked.
So I tell them.
I was about nine. I had this friend Rodney who lived in the same neighborhood as me. He was a foster kid, but he kept his fosters happy enough to get him a dog.
I don’t tell them I never kept my own parents happy enough to get me a dog. What’s the point? It just makes it worse.
I liked that dog. Its name was Hogan, like the wrestler, so we always called him Hulk. He was this big black Labrador that always licked your face when you came into Rodney’s house. When you came into my house most of the lights were off and you tried to be as quiet as you could. Hulk made it different. I liked it.
Rod and me, we used to play this game, Army Dodge Ball. You throw the ball at each other and if they hit your arm, you can’t use it. Hit your leg, etcetera. We played it a lot. It’sgreat at making the game last longer when there aren’t a lot of kids in your neighborhood. Rod and me were lucky to know each other for as long as we did.
The last time we played it, the sun was out high up. I’d gotten two of Rodney’s arms and they were tucked in his shirt and I was chasing him across the front lawn. It was summer and there were people all up and down the street watering their grass or drinking beer on the porch or grilling or whatever and there’s this chatter. I can still hear it, like a radio station just out of range.
Rod was screaming his head off because I had the ball. He had no arms and all I had to do was get his back or chest for the win. That was when Hogan came down the street withRodney’s foster dad behind him. He’d let him off the leash. It was a gorgeous day and the Hulk was good with kids. Any other time, any other way and it doesn’t happen quite the way it did.
So Hogan, this big old lab who’s licked my face, pressed his big wet nose against my cheek when I came over, he comes charging at me, but I don’t notice. I’m too focused on winning. No matter the game, I never won much and I had him in my sights. Rod turned around the side of the yard in a mad attempt to get away, and that’s when I see Hogan. He’s coming at me like a black bullet in a Mario game. All I can see are the slits of his eyes and the sharp white teeth.
In hindsight, it’s really not anyone’s fault. It’s not foster dad’s fault for not having him on the leash because that’s what they always did and it’s not Hogan’s fault because I was chasing
his screaming boy around. It was just one of those things: the bad ones that just happen.
He got to me before anyone could get to him and I swear it really is like in the movies. When your time is short, or you think it is, things will slow down on you. I saw him coming and I saw his mouth open and honestly all I could think about was where he was going to get me. It looked like the throat, but I must’ve moved without realizing it because all he got was a chunk of my chin. It bled pretty bad for a while, but when they got him off me I ended up all right.
I don’t tell them that I often think of the things I could’ve had if Hogan hadn’t taken a chunk of my face. A prom date, a girlfriend, a family, a job where people didn’t give you pitiful looks and offer to set you up with their husbands sister—the one missing her right arm up to the elbow. I don’t tell them that I still wonder what became of my old friend Rodney. We didn’t see each other after that. Foster dad was afraid of my parents suing him, I guess.
And I don’t tell them that for a long time I was happy about what happened to Hogan; that they had to put him down. In some odd way it made me feel like I won. Dog for a chin.Hammurabi’s code. But after a while I started to realize that while life may be a zero sum game, that doesn’t mean it will ever even out for you. Our lives are too short to see the benefits of balance. Often no one wins.
Like I said, the ones like me, we tell stories to make ourselves feel better, to lighten our loads. Sometimes it works. This has not been one of those times.
Benjamin Brindise (b. 1987) is an American writer of fiction and poetry as well as a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. He is a PSI certified spoken-word poet who qualified to compete in the 2015 and 2016 National Poetry Slam. He has been a guest speaker and workshop facilitator at multiple institutes for higher learning throughout New York State and Canada.