CHAPTER 2: Stray Dog
by Doug Dean
How Did This Happen?
Every day for the last three months I sat silent in front of Dr. Cycow. I was the first case of his psychiatric residency, which meant twenty years of education was being wasted in speaking to a chemically induced deadhead. Each line of his questioning led to pleas for more freedom and less medication. It wasn’t until I cheeked the Thorazine did I start speaking, but not to Dr. Cycow.
It’s hard to pick a point when things began going bad for me. It didn’t matter which of my nineteen years one began an inquiry. Each year was worse than the previous one, year after year. Early dyslexia was compounded by childhood depression after my dad died. I was twelve and in eighth grade. President Kennedy had been assassinated weeks previously and death was in the public mind.
Prior years prepared my understanding of death as my great grandmother, grandmother, and my dad’s best friend died one after the other. My dad was man enough to cry in front of me, his only child. A stroke took him out. He was fifty one.
I cried knowing the pain that he shared with me was what I now felt. Then I stopped crying. I didn’t cry for six years – until I saw that stray dog.
Similar to the jokers teasing those under intoxication of ‘Bath Salts,’ as seen on YouTube, we attempted to ‘freak out’ each other back in the days. But a bad LSD trip can last a long 10 hours, especially when it starts out wrong.
After a visit to high school friends away at college my relationships began falling apart. I was an abnormally depressed teenager when a bad LSD trip took me completely out of the game. Those friends whose families were more stable growing up recovered sooner, or weren’t as damaged, from the counterfeit Ozzy Clinical Black Four-Way tabs of acid.
The mistake I made was visiting the wrong friend at the wrong time. Jokers generally don’t want bad things to happen to good people, but to rationalize the harm caused from pranking, as a deficiency of those pranked, isn’t funny. Thieves use the same excuse by stating stupid people deserve to be ripped off.
George had a brother, Steve, who was a year younger. They were both good friends of mine as our fathers had been drinking buddies at a local Chicago bar. George and Steve related to my other friends well – but not to each other. Inevitably George would take a parental role in correcting Steve, who would immediately slip into the child role of demanding independence. George would respond with criticism which escalated to condemnation as Steve protested, typically with a ‘fuck you,’ and the brothers would then stop talking until the next episode.
George was a student at Southern University of Illinois, although by my visit he had stopped going to class. George was a prototypic ADHD individual when it was called impatience. The only thing that could keep him calm for more than 10 seconds was cannabis.
George was a joker and spent a lot of time planning gags. Cramming hundreds of freshmen in multiple story dormitories seemed like a good idea at the time. They became caldrons for breading adolescent pranks where George created his greatest prank of all.
I stumbled into George’s dormitory room as the bad LSD seized my brain. Confusion gripped me as I rode up the elevator through a building full of 18 year olds getting ready for Friday night. Tonight the Bob Seeger System was in concert and the place was buzzing. My mind couldn’t process the madness around me as I was led into George’s room by one of his dorm buddies.
George was going through his ‘going out’ routine as I attempted to make sense of why a steady line of guys came in and out of the room for no reason at all. That scared me and I realized I had lost my notion of what people were up to. One fast talking friend of George’s tried to sell me a suit, which made no sense to me at all. Another was whispering that George had something crazy planned that was too dangerous.
Then the room filled with so many freshmen it would give any fire marshal heart burn. Words became nonsense to me as the tainted LSD shut down any resemblance of who I was to myself or anyone else. Then I hear myself say, “What’s going on?” With that George stood up and yelled something as indecipherable as it was loud.
The excited band of freshmen became silent as the one who had been whispering in my ear suddenly said, “George, no!” With that George open the window and left the room through it. In a single move the band of freshmen filtered out leaving the whisperer alone in the room with me. This time, in a normal voice, he said, “He’s done this before.”
Having known George since elementary school I figured he’d be safe out on a ledge or he had popped into the next window. With amused disbelief I looked out the window George had used to remove himself so stunningly. With the whisperer by my side I looked out the window, down eight stories, and saw no George splatter on the concrete below.
Something didn’t make sense and my mind filled with a fuzzy noise that slowed my thoughts as if going through molasses. The sight of no George splatter was reassuring, but I was struck by the danger George went through to freak me out.
Surrounding the dorm three feet below the bottom of the window was no more than a three inch ledge. There was no window to the right side, into which to slip, and only the corner of the building far to the left. Then it hit me, George somehow used the three inch ledge to circumvent the corner where he…, where the fuck was George?
I wasn’t sure how George did it but the band of freshmen soon appeared with George laughing his head off. Didn’t he know death was forever?
I knew George could do it because he did. What drove me down the rabbit whole was why the fuck would anyone risk his life to freak me out? Nothing came to me – a void filled my head except for an uncontrollable urge to fill it with something, anything. All I came up with seemed based on pure imagination, and at the time my imagination couldn’t be trusted. Everyone seemed to be acting for no good reason. I was going mad.
Somehow, someway, I made it to the concert with three close friends, which included George, now dealing with his own bad LSD trip. Slim, the friend I made the trip with from Chicago to Urbana-Champaign, where SIU is located, had taking the bad LSD at the same time I did and looked like he was continually being shocked by something attached to his gonads. The Bob Seeger System had their amps turned up to eleven and it was an hour before I figured something else was very wrong.
I was continually being blasted with a booming sound that I felt more than heard. Raw sounds of guitars, drums and voices where so intense that the source seemed to be coming from within my head rather than from outside of it. My whole body rumbled. As the force rose to levels which I thought none could stand, the blast of amplified air faded, only to cycle back again and again. The LSD absorbed me into each frightening crescendo of fierce roaring sound. The intensity was what made it feel like it was from me.
Sitting in a large auditorium thousands of college age students surrounding a round stage centered in the middle of what would typically be a sporting event. Not knowing the stage revolved to face different sides of the auditorium, I looked up to see the entire Bob Seeger System gone and yet still playing. ‘What the fuck is going on,’ I yelled to none in particular, which nonetheless, fell on friendly ears in their own LSD hell. I had to get out.
I’m not sure if Slim followed me out of the concert, or I followed him, but we were both headed away with our legs on autopilot. Rain drenched us to where it became cumbersome to walk weighed down by wet cloths. We were lost in a college town, late at night, in a storm, waiting for bad acid to wear off. So we found a street curb, took a seat, and chatted in parallel about life and death.
“I figured if there was no afterlife a dead person had no way of knowing he was dead. He may know he’s dying, but at the moment of death others will know something the dead man doesn’t – the fact he’s dead.” I’m making sense, I thought, “But nobody knows what it’s like to be dead since there’s nothing to compare it to.” “Except before-birth,” Slim said. “Have I been thinking out loud?”
Suddenly a stray dog tromped by. The mutt was cold and wet and I immediately assumed it had lost track of those taking care of it. That stray dog suddenly meant more to me than anything in the world. I picked her up and held her tight within my jacket. She squirmed and squirmed but couldn’t get away from me. Slim pleaded with me to let the muddy mutt go, but I held on to it as if its, or my, life depended on it.
In my LSD state of mind this stray must have reminded me of my childhood dog. Penny was a mid size all black mutt except for a splatter of white under her neck. We would play endless ball and she remained the only non-adult companion in my home growing up.
My dad brought Penny to me on my fifth birthday. Hidden in his coat Penny licked my face as my dad bent over to kiss me hello. This surprise brought joy to my life. Penny and I hung out like siblings as I learned how to train her with my dad’s coaching. He had been a Captain in World War II; stationed in England, guarded German prisoners, and kept track of the chemical warfare the USA kept stockpiled in case Hitler released his. He was firm, but seldom mean.
The war took something out of him, my mom told me. Being a few years older than most of the enlisted men, and married to boot, he was the ‘old man’ to the guys. The war took three prime years from his life and depressed him. When the confectionary box business he was partners in withered away, with war rationing, he lost his livelihood.
The stray dog was wet and didn’t cotton to being held. Nice enough not to bite me, she wiggled and wiggled to be let down. But I couldn’t put her down. I felt so sorry for that dog that I couldn’t put her down. She didn’t know what was good for herself. She needed help, “I thought.”
After my father died my mind went into a rage. I wanted to hurt someone for my dad dying no matter how unreasonable it made me. Day after day I shot my air pistol at targets I pretended felt pain. Until one day I saw Penny shitting on the basement floor after begging to go out while I was too busy target practicing to let her out.
Childhood rage took over and I shot at her twice. She growled and then looked at me as I had never seen her do. It was a mournful look only a loved one could inflict. Having played war with pellet guns, I didn’t think the pellets would penetrate. But they did.
At age fourteen my anger made communicating with my mother impossible. Overprotective by nature, she let no other tell me what to do. This not only prevented others from correcting me, it spoiled the shit out of me. My dad kept counter balance with firm consequences and never resorted to physical discipline. He’s gone.
Meaning to teach me self-disciple my mother failed at every juncture. Penny was nine years old and a burden to my mother to care for now that she had to work. She euthanized Penny without ever saying a word until I notice her missing. She told me I mistreated Penny and that’s what I get.
Nothing else was said about it ever again, nothing about the rage I felt for having my dad dying. Nothing about how bad I felt for hurting my own dog or how angry I was at…everything! Coming from an Italian family any thoughts my mother had were spoken out loud or, most often, shouted. But now she had broken down and I was her only reason to stay alive – and she wanted to die. The feeling that I was a burden to her, true to a degree, must have been compounded by the depression she told me would have ended her life but for me.
The rain had stopped but not the dog wiggling a paw away whenever it could get one from my grip. Finding a student to direct us to a friend’s dorm couldn’t have come sooner, especially for the dog, who at this point had partially succumbed to its captivity.
Slim managed to get a few psych majors to put their second year of classes to work. One convinced me to give the stray dog to another to carry away while another played guitar in the stairwell of the dormitory until the bad LSD wore off. It never really did.