- And I Will Give You As Many Roast Bones As You Need
Our father drives a county bus and often works a double until midnight. On these nights, our mother ignores our bedtime. Throughout the evening, as we lose ourselves in TV or in G.I. Joes, she walks by and says, "Don't forget. Your father's paying you a visit when he gets home." Headlights beam through blinds, and we peek to see if he has arrived. When he finally does, our mother greets him in silence ten feet away with arms crossed, foot tapping. Denied a moment to kick off his shoes or grab a leftover porkchop, he is sent to our room where he sits at the foot of my brother's bed and faces the doorway. Our mother lines the two of us up in the hall. Our father folds his belt in half—thick black leather, a man's belt—and snaps it in the middle. We flinch with each crack. One at a time, from best to worst behaved, we enter. A high school wrestling coach in his spare time, our father finds respite from work and fatherhood at the gym. To him, weightlifting is meditation. His chest is so thick that, in a car, he cannot reach across himself to buckle his seatbelt. If we walk too slowly toward him, he says the sooner we reach him the sooner it will be over. We pull our pants and underwear to our ankles. We bend over his knee. Our mother reaches to close the door. [End Page 9]
My fifty-pound boxer, Jade, snaps savagely. I do not know how she got by our mother. Whenever we cry, yell, moan, or make any sound not described as perfectly calm, even when playing, she rushes to our side, growls angry and deep. Jade will put herself between us and anyone who threatens us, bite into flesh, never let go. She chokes herself as our mother struggles to pull her back across the threshold by the collar with one hand and close the door with the other. My dog's bark from the hall drowns our cries and the crack of leather on skin.
Before we milked cow, herded goat, raised pig, an eight-year-old boy walked beside his dogwolf in France's Chauvet Cave. Before we planted rice, cultivated barley, grew cornstalks, a balding man and a slender woman were purposefully entombed with their dog under a basalt slab. Our relationship began thousands of years ago in the Pleistocene Period. For perspective, mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, and woolly mammoths roamed the earth. The proto-dog tracked and harassed larger animals, steered them into our stone axes and spears. We had yet to invent even the bow and arrow. We exist today because of the dog. Man's Best Friend enabled us to outhunt our main competitor, the Neanderthal. To outhunt everything. To butcher countless species into extinction. To butcher ourselves. Our conquest of the dog ignited our conquest of nature.
Out in the Wet Wild Woods all the wild animals gathered together where they could see the light of the fire a long way off, and they wondered what it meant.—Rudyard Kipling
Home from college for my brother's high school graduation, I gather with family at Champs Sports Bar after the ceremony. My new girlfriend and my mother, for whatever reason, discuss spanking children. I talk with my grandmother a few feet away but pay close attention to their [End Page 10] conversation. "Kerrie we never really hit," my mother says, "you know, she's a girl. Timmy we hit a few times, not much. He was pretty well behaved. Sean … Sean we beat the crap out of." They laugh. I pretend not to hear. I think I feel shame for being spanked, for being incapable of following rules. Years later, I will wonder if I felt shame for a different reason. There is that image most boys wish to fashion themselves as: the tough guy, the rebel, the lone wolf. I felt shame because the spanking tamed me, and that taming was shared with...