I’m looking at a photo of me, age 6, and two childhood friends. In the picture, I am lying on the floor, watching television, head hanging from the far left edge of a pillow. That’s because I’m sharing the pillow with my two friends, Mokey and Coco.
Mokey and Coco are dogs. Boxers, to be precise. Huge heads. Powerful jaws. Gentle hearts.
I grew up with them. Played with them. Rolled on the floor with them. Put clothes on them. Made them wear hats. Leaned on them. Fell on them. Chased them. Tried to ride them. And never, not once did either of them kill me.
Jeremiah’s childhood friend was Onion, an English mastiff-Rhodesian Ridgeback cross. Huge head. Powerful jaws. Gentle heart. And Onion killed Jeremiah.
I survived my canine friendships. And Jeremiah did not. And there is no explanation for that, other than when humankind domesticated the wolf, I suppose some part of every dog will always bear some fragment memory of being a wolf. I’m saying Jeremiah is dead pretty much for the same reason that some bozo occasionally wins Megabucks.
It’s been 19 months. But Jeremiah’s grandmother tells the story with keen clarity, as if she’s narrating a slide show. As if she’s still there. Which, in many ways, she is.
April 27, 2012. Jeremiah is 366 days old. He and Gramma are playing, crawling around on the floor. Giggling. Laughing. Gramma “chases” Jeremiah.
In walks Onion The Dog. The same dog that befriended Jeremiah on the day he was born. The same dog that licks Jeremiah’s face. The dog that, with patience and love, has tolerated being crashed into and run over by the baby walker. This is a dog that, if you broke into the house, might well help you carry the television to your car. While wagging his tail.
Onion walks between Gramma and Jeremiah, and Gramma leans back to sit on the floor. She pets the dog. Jeremiah, in a signature toddler move, uses Onion’s body to raise himself to a standing position. But then loses his grip and collapses toward the floor, his padded, diapered butt squishing into carpet. And, as Jeremiah folds toward the floor, Gramma exhales an anxious gasp. She instinctively and reflexively reaches toward the little boy, as if to grab and catch him.
And, in one horrific moment, Onion turns and attacks the boy. A “kill bite,” veterinarians call it. Jeremiah is pronounced dead at the hospital about three hours later. Henderson Fire and Rescue give the survivors of the household — grandmother, father and uncle — my name. They come bearing an unspeakable grief. The kind of grief that surges, threatening sanity. Our journey together begins.
The media lays the home to siege. Onion, 19 months later, still lives in a crate while the city argues with The Lexus Project about euthanasia versus rehab in Colorado. (Like, a dead dog would make this better?)
An actual human being, living here in this valley, actually took the time to find a pen and paper, to find and address an envelope and affix a stamp, to send the grandmother the message “Baby killer.” Other aspiring wretches, cretins and cowards weigh in on the infamous “comments” section online: “(The grandmother) should be put down. … They should be punished for leaving their baby alone with a vicious dog. … What kind of people would leave their baby with an infirm, sickly grandmother,” etc.
As a big brother, I never had occasion to go down to a schoolyard to confront a bully on my little sister’s behalf. So, better late than never:
What’s wrong with you? Does it hurt to be so incomprehensibly stupid and cruel? Seriously? You think these people need help feeling bad? You’re like the people who tortured and burned heretics during the Inquisition, because it takes too much spiritual depth and courage to accept the capricious, absurd (and utterly ambiguous) event of the Black Death. You don’t have the courage to face life as life is, to bear the suffering that is ours, each in turn, nobly to bear, so you find someone to blame. That apparently makes your tiny little insecure life feel better.
Well, bring it. I am for you. You’ve got my email. Online, you will find the “comments” section. Call it a macabre curiosity. I’m actually looking forward to meeting you. Here at the cyberschoolyard.
In the meantime, if you loved Jeremiah, I wish you peace. His death was an absurdity. And it could have happened to me. To anyone.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@ reviewjournal.com.