I never should have gone outside that late at night. It felt like a bad idea from the first step.
But I had to.
My wife and kids were out of town. I had the house to myself. Well. Me, the dog and cat.
I really hate that cat. It wakes me up demanding food. It waits until I sit down, to demand being let outside. It then waits until I get caught up in my work, before demanding to come back in.
That night it wanted out. It stayed out longer than usual. Fine with me. But my mind races sometimes. Panic builds up.
What if it’s gone forever? What if it’s dead in the road? My family will freak out of they come home and the cat is gone. No alibi would ever hold water. They would assume I did it.
Around one am, I began to wonder where my feline tormentor had disappeared to. Getting up from the book I was working on, I walked to the door. Looking through the glass panels, I did not see her. She normally presses her face to the glass while opening her face like a yawning crocodile, making the most painfully irritating noises. Noises you have to respond to. Noises that don’t stop until you open the door. Or feed her. Or give her anything else she wants.
I didn’t see her anywhere, until I opened the door.
She came running, as fast as her puffed up, cartoonishly large body would move. Making all the standard irritating noises, but sounding like a police siren as she went past and vanished into the house.
What freaked her out so bad?
A logical, rational human would have closed the door, locked it and gone to bed. A clown like me would wander outside to see what caused panic in that cat.
So. Barefoot. Gym shorts and a teeshirt. No baseball bat, gun, machete, pitchfork, dynamite or anything practical to defend myself. Just a big, goofy guy wandering into the darkness at one am.
The lights on my house cast an interesting shadow. It looks like the the world ends at each corner of my house. The front yard lights up well, the sides look like razor edged black holes. I walked directly into the darkness.
My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough. There was no moonlight, no breeze. I could hear nothing but my own breathing. Then there was something else breathing, at the edge of the woods. Maybe a hundred feet in front of me.
I couldn’t even make out a silhouette. No form. No idea what I was listening to.
Deep guttural breathing. Labored. It provoked images of a bear, after it had chased down an animal. Working off the adrenaline and catching its breath. Not frantic, just steady and rhythmic.
I tried to convince myself that the air conditioner was making that sound, but I knew better. That was an animal. An animal that I couldn’t see. I took a step back, made a shuffling sound, and the breathing paused.
It had noticed me.
All this might not have caused any fear at all, except for rumors of a bear in our neighborhood last year. The thought that I was standing in total darkness facing a bear began to bother me.
I stepped back into the light from the front porch. Pause to listen, didn’t hear it following me, walked around our car and stood on the other side. Just wanting something between us, if it followed me around.
Then I waited. Watching the corner of the house, for anything to follow me out.
After a few minutes, I assumed that it wasn’t following me and I should just go in the house. Before I took a single step, I heard it again.
It had walked around the back of my house. There are large bushes own that side, I heard it coming before I saw it. From the place I was standing, I would have to jump over my wife’s garden to get inside, but it was now close enough that I would have to run past it.
And honestly, I am not much of a runner.
I began to be concerned.
Without any logical reason, I waited. I could hear the breathing again. I could hear the sound of something walking through the grass, coming around the corner of the house. It was seconds from stepping into the light.
It was that moment when fear was building up, but I had to see it. I had to stand there and know what was following me. Stalking me. Creating a sense of panic.
And there it was, walking straight towards me.
A very old, very fat dog. Slightly limping. Old as dirt. With a serious breathing problem.
It walked right up to me and laid down in the grass. Almost at my feet. Like we were old pals.
The fear subsided.
I found a phone number on the collar and called the owners. They lived at the end of my street. I hung out with him until they got there. Good dog. Found out he has a throat condition that affects his breathing. Making him sound like a five hundred pound bear, from a hundred feet away… In the dark. He also has comical grey hair on his face, and classic bushy “old man” eyebrows, making him look even less threatening.
In dog years, he is about nine thousand… Give or take a few.
This dog was barely a threat to canned dog food. It moved at the speed of a glacier. It was almost as aggressive as a bowl of oatmeal. He couldn’t have chased me if his life depended on it. He wouldn’t walk more than a few feet before finding a new spot to lay down. This was the least dangerous dog on the planet.
After I finally got a look at him.
The whole evening bothered me. It reminded me of how often I let my imagination run and convince myself about what is real. Once that dog stepped into the light, the fear was gone. There was nothing about him that intimidated me, once I could see him clearly. But, up to that point, my imagination had turned him into something ominous. Something that was stalking me with the intent to kill. Something that was about to force me to run or fight.
I will assume that I am not the only guy who does this. In fact, I am willing to bet it’s pretty common for us to get all worked up about something, to later figure out that we weren’t even close. Our imagination didn’t match reality by a long shot. Not sure how you feel about it, but I get tired of making the same mistakes over and over.
A little humility goes a long way. Admit you have done this and we can move on.
Most of us make decisions because we are running towards something, or running from something. Most decisions are based on emotions. Most emotional based decisions aren’t generally the best decisions.
Maybe we should focus on getting more light on our choices, before deciding to run. Do a little more research about that big project you are about to throw your life savings at. Get a better look at that home, that you are leaving. Try and get a better, more realistic, perspective of that job you want to quit. Think about better uses for the money you are about to drop on that next toy.
Maybe carefully consider that family you considered abandoning… or starting.
Whatever it is.
Sometimes, even in defiance of everything rational, we need to take that long pause to wait. Give the bloodthirsty bear an extra few seconds to be fully exposed before running away. Sometime things aren’t as bad as we expected.
Except that cat. Much worse.
Want to know what the book was I was working on?
Visit my bookstore and see. Thanks for the support.