Love and Death In Charlottesville

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Photographs of Old Cville by Paul Whitehead

True Stories by Jamie Dyer

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Hounds and Stags

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Once, when I was driving through Hell (which at that moment happened to be a small Virginia country road at about 6pm on a late summer's day), I ran over a large dog that was laying in the middle of my path.

I had no time to avoid it as I came up over a small rise and the dog was just there, in front of me, laying in the road. The poor creature went under the car and traveled the length of the vehicle that was going at 45 mph and I felt it die.

I also died a little bit in sympathy, as many of us do in these moments.

I stopped the car and walked back to the scene, shaken and far from ok but better off than the dog. A large lab/husky mix with a long black coat devoid of the spirit of life and laying on its side greeted me.

I had 15 seconds or so to make both silent and voiced apologies for my part in this small tragedy when the front door of a small house across the road opened.

A man emerged. He crossed the 50-75 feet between us quickly. I immediately made regrets for the situation and attempted to report events as seen through my eye sockets.

He barely heard me, grabbed the collar and the scruff on the carcass and began to pull his dead animal home. He looked at me through his very dark sunglasses, his beer gut hanging over his speedo-style underwear and his half-open black silk bathrobe dragging at his sandals (neither of us were prepared for the moment) and said in thick central European accented English, "Do not worry. He was not a smart dog. I hope this does not spoil your evening."

He left with his dead dog and I left in my car. My planned evening consisted of playing music for people at a local venue. It went off alright but certainly wasn't my best evening, I'm sure. Always a friendly crowd at this spot, I hung out for a while after the gig.

I left at midnight or so and drove home, the way to which was along the same road as events previous. I passed the scene of death-by-car and felt a twinge of mortalsorrow for the dog, the man and my own sorry self.

I turned the radio on and marveled at the death of culture.

A couple of miles past the home of the late not so smart dog, my brakes and steering gave out. The road was bearing to the right but I was going straight into the woods with no way to stop or steer.

Small trees were snapping under and around the car, a very sensible Subaru Outback, as I went on the sylvan sleigh ride. The windshield cracked as a bough or large branch smacked it. Then the car stopped, very suddenly.

It took only a couple of very brief moments to take stock of my situation. I was alive, apparently unharmed and my car was wrecked. There were no lights or electric services of any kind in the car.

I gave a thank you to the Eternal Whomever and opened the driver's door. I stepped out and fell about six feet straight down into a ravine. I landed on my back and had the wind knocked out me.

I couldn't breath but I actually did laugh. The Eternal Whomever has an obvious fondness for slapstick and I couldn't help but share it at that moment.

When breathing was an option again, I saw in the light of a quarter moon that my car's motion had been arrested by a large fallen tree. The hood was folded up and the frontend was crushed considerably. The front and rear end of the car were sitting on high spots with the body of the car positioned perfectly over the ditch I was now laying in.

I deduced that the dog's travels along the underside of my car had degraded its mechanical integrity such that Fate could step in and have her way with me. She dropped me in a gully in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

To this day, not all cellphones work well in the part of the county where this tale took place. Mine was one of them. I walked through the woods the hundred or so feet that I had traveled (at roughly 40 mph in two seconds, give or take) and saw the huge trees I'd just missed and the saplings and brush I plowed through in my runaway car.

I was lucky to be walking out of the woods onto the road.

This particular road isn't well traveled after 10pm or so. I didn't want to leave the area because I had some expensive musical equipment in the car.

I did manage to appreciate the peepers and the fireflies for a few minutes before I heard a car coming from the north. I made the universal sign for "help" though there really isn't one so I had to wing it. They passed me and kept on going.

A single male on the side of the road in the middle of the night with no visible car isn't a good social recommendation. More peepers and fireflies, and a few more cars went by in the next hour or so with the same results.

Finally, a fellow of indeterminate age in a pickup truck stopped. I told him my story, with an on-the-fly edit of "I landed in the woods because I was trying to avoid deer" instead of "I ran over a dog earlier and it stripped my brakes and steering". The dog story sounded like a bigger lie than the deer story and I just really didn't want to get into it.

You understand, I'm sure.

Being a wise son of the soil, the fellow in the pickup truck rightly sensed some not-rightness in my story somewhere. Not being able to figure out exactly where it was, he accepted it for the moment and offered to let me use his phone. He appeared proud that his phone worked and mine didn't.

I shared his pride.

He told me that his cousin could get my car out of the woods with his towing rig but his cousin wasn't around tonight. Having no cousins with towing rigs, I called the number for a local towing company. The tow man said it would take him about half an hour to get there.

Unbeknownst to me, the tow truck driver called the police and a county officer showed up before the tow truck did. The son of the soil with the cellphone was still there. I sensed he had a hope that I'd get in trouble and he didn't want to miss it.

The officer was a polite, professional young man about 10 years my junior. The first thing he did was step in to smell alcohol on my breath. As I don't drink, there was nothing to smell.

I told him the deer story instead of the dog story. I simply just didn't want to go into the dog story on the side of the road in the middle of the night with strangers. The area was infamous for deer and car wrecks. As I had no history of moving violations on my record, it sounded good.

Another officer arrived and he watched me while the first officer went into the woods to see and probably search the wreck. Officer Two wanted to hear my story also. He got the same one I told to Officer One. The tow truck driver appeared and he seemed on friendly terms with Officer Two.

Officer One came back and conferred with Officer Two. He then conferred with the tow truck driver and they walked down to the wreck together.

Officer Two was a little friendlier and the son of the soil left when he sensed that I wasn't going to get in trouble. I took these things as good omens.

Officer One and the tow truck driver returned. Officer One approached me and said, "You're very lucky you weren't hurt. Are you sure you're ok?"

I agreed that I was indeed fortunate and that I was fit but just shook up and sore. I knew that I was in the clear and the hounds and the stags will chase each other forever.

The tow truck driver approached me and boomed, "And what can I do for you, sir? Where would you like to take your car?" He didn't mean the "sir" part. I hadn't yet considered this part of the operation.

I called my now deceased friend/sister/teacher/mother Janet (I had to use the tow truck driver's phone. Everyone's phone worked out here but mine.) I'd known her for over half of my life and a third of hers. Her property was just a few miles away and she'd say yes.

But I had to let her know first or she might start shooting if we showed up unannounced.

She was known for not answering her phone, a landline, after 8pm. But I called anyway and it rang and rang. I hung up and called again and it rang and rang. Five minutes of this cycle and Janet woke up enough to finally answer the phone.

She was HIGHLY annoyed.

"Whoever the hell this is, you'd better be dead or in jail."

I said it was me and I had a wreck and I needed to put my wreck somewhere. She softened immediately when she heard my voice because I was always one of her favorites and she told me to bring my wreck right on over. Unlike a lot of her other kids and friends, this was the only time I had ever asked her for disaster assistance so she knew I needed it.

I miss my friend and teacher but her soul and her ashes are still sifting through this world. You'll know her if you meet her.

I got off the phone and the tow truck driver grabbed his steel cables to fish my wreck out of the woods. The cops stuck around for a few minutes until the wreck was secured on the truck.

Officer One sensed the fluffiness in my deer story but was wise enough with heart enough to know that I was a harmless idiot in a stupid situation and he had better things to do that night than suss out the fibs of a fool.

The cops left and I rode with the tow trucker to drop off my wreck at Janet's. He overcharged me but I didn't care.

He'll never get to lay in a ditch and learn what I learned.

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lovedeath@loveanddeathincharlottesvilleville dot com

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