The keychain was bright red and made of plastic, probably purchased at one of the gift stores in the mall. I customized it with different colored letters spelling out my first name and added a plastic music note for fun, because I had always loved to sing. My mom had put our single house key on it, for the days I had to walk home by myself from the bus stop.
Even though I couldn’t have been any older than 8 or 9 years old, there were days my mom had to work and I used the key to let myself into our house on a rural country road in central Texas after getting off the bus. I would make myself a snack, and curl up on the couch with a book and our fox terrier PeeWee while I waited for my parents. An only child, I was used to time alone when my parents had to work and I didn’t mind it. The only thing I minded was that one house on my route had two large dogs that often barked at me aggressively from behind a large metal gate, making me quicken my pace. Occasionally my grandmother would pop in from her home a few miles away to check on me.
On this particular morning, my mom was still home when I tucked the key into the pocket of my pink shorts and made my way down the road about ¼ of a mile to the bus stop. I could see the other neighbor kids in the distance, standing on the corner and chatting. I was so focused on watching them that I didn’t notice the gate in front of the house with the two barking dogs was wide open. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dogs stand up from their spots in the yard, low growls reverberating in their throats.
My heart was in my throat. My skinny arms and legs trembled, as I tried to gauge the distance from the house and the bus stop, and back again to my house. Did I have time to make it to either place? A voice in my head told me to stay calm. I weakly said, “Hey doggies. Hey good doggies. It’s okay.”
That’s the last thing I remember before being toppled to the ground in the dirt driveway. I was too frightened to scream. I could feel their teeth pulling at my clothes, grabbing at the pocket of my shorts that held the keychain. As I struggled for breath I could see the flashing lights of the bus stop down the road, and the kids at the bus stop piling into it.
Then it was gone.
After feeling a sharp, searing pain in my leg, the dogs stopped their attack as quickly as they had started it. I stumbled home, sobbing, and was so shaken when I made it to the front door I didn’t even reach
for my key to open the lock. I repeatedly rang the doorbell until my mom opened the door with surprise.
The rest of the morning was a blur. My mom loaded me into her pickup truck and drove straight into the yard of the house with the two dogs, laying on the horn as the dogs circled the vehicle, barking. She honked the horn until a sleepy-looking young man came into the yard, and she rolled down her window.
“Your dogs attacked my daughter!”
He shook his head. “They wouldn’t do that,” he said, yawning.
“Look at her leg!” my mom continued, her voice shaking with anger. “It’s got a huge bite mark in it!”
I don’t know how the rest of the conversation went. The next thing I knew, we were arriving at an Urgent Care, where a kind nurse cleaned my wounds and asked me questions. I seem to remember getting some type of shot, but I don’t know what it was for. That night, my step-dad took photographs of my leg, which was black and blue with one clearly visible set of teeth marks in the middle of it. I reached my hand into the ripped pocket of my shorts, pulling out my plastic keychain. It had visible teeth marks in it from the attack.
My existence changed from that day on, even though I don’t know what ever happened in the squabble between my parents and the owners of the dogs. I have a vague recollection that my parents brandished the photos and were able to get the medical bill taken care of, but I could be making that up. I do know that my mom drove me to the bus stop in the mornings for a while after that. And that in the afternoons, I dragged my feet slowly down the road, breaking out into a cold sweat whenever I approached that house, praying the gate was shut, and closing my eyes as the dogs barked at me.
The keychain remained in my pocket, teeth marks and all, reminding me that although I had thought I was growing up in my independent time after school, I was still just a little girl after all.