All Downhill From Here: Concussions and Circus Dogs

I used to wonder sometimes if I lost any intelligence after I slammed my head on the pavement when I was 15. I swear I used to be smarter and more talented before that.

I was 15 and I had been out of the girls home for a few months. After a long summer of living in Billing, Yellowstone, Seattle and Mead Washington, our mom finally got a house and for the first time since I was 9, we all lived together. My brother had gotten into legal trouble in Seattle and moved to Spokane to start fresh. My sister, I don’t know, decided to show up from somewhere, and I went to LC (Lewis and Clark) Highschool downtown. I even had my own bedroom. It was surreal but short lived of course.

I had a job at a concession stand and would fund my own music, video games (pretty much just Sonic) and art, and I adopted a dog somewhere. He was a goofy looking, bug eyed, Boston Terrier named Otis and he was super smart and agile. We would practice ‘circus tricks’ in the back yard so they my plans of buying a school bus, building a stage on the side, and picking up hitchhikers to have a traveling crew, would be successful. I knew I didn’t have any real skills so my dog would.

I taught him to run up my back, jumping off into the grass, bow when I bowed and walk on the top of the wooden fence in the yard. When I’d take him for a walk I’d let him walk up and down people’s cars, more of his acrobatics, and my cat would follow us on the walks for at least a block. I even got him to do a backflip once but only once. Basically I’m a dork ad should be embarrassed but as far as I was concerned he was all I had and all my plans for the future included him.

When I was at school, Otis would regularly escape the yard and come back covered in another dogs pee, like he must have been going up to fences and getting doggy golden showers because I don’t know how else that happened – every time. I had to give him baths at least once a week and it’s a good thing the only thing I cared about in the world was animals, because he was a lot of work for a teenager.

One day, mid summer, I was riding my bike, deciding for the first time that he needed to run to get rid of some energy and a bike was the best way – Knowing it wasn’t a wise decision but sure I could pull it off. Well,.. it wasn’t a half a block from the house, on a small hill to the next street, when he bolted after something and directly in front of my tire. I was going pretty fast, full dog run speed when I slammed on both brakes as hard as I could. I knew I would crash, but better than killing or breaking Otis. Between the handlebars, and leash, my hands weren’t available and I smacked my forehead about as hard as possible on the street.

I had lost the leash and the dog was running off. I tried to stand as quickly as possible and couldn’t see straight, dizzy and in pain. I swear I remember an old man witnessing the whole thing and trying not to get involved. I don’t remember what I did next, chase the dog or go home but I remember trying to tell my mom what happened and showing her the bump and scape on my head. I felt horrible, out of it, half present. She did was she always did “oh it’s not that bad, you’re fine. It’s not a concussion”. But I knew it was. She hadn’t taken me to a Dr since I was at least 5, and undoubtedly then, only because of peer pressure. She only ever did anything parent like if someone was watching, which is why she was sure to disappear fast from people’s lives if they caught on and we would move or cut off family.

Based on rumors about people with concussions dying if they fall asleep, I slept believing I would die, and I wanted to. As a 15 year old who had never had insurance and wasn’t used to going to Drs anyway, and with a mother who didn’t care, neither did I.

I had the creepiest dreams for a week or more and the feeling followed me for years after, giving me the chills. Basically the “dream” was a sand waterfall…or, you know those sand and water filled pieces of glass on a spinner than you can make cascade and layer beautifully? Except that was my brain being sloshed around and it felt like some form of hell. I had to go to school in a fog, ride the city bus, and I tried to avoid sleep to avoid those dreams. After the knot on my head healed I was left with a dent in my skull.

I was reminded of this story today because when I’m dehydrated you can see the dent in my forehead. A lovely feature I’m sure.

I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that I’m dumber after that than before. I don’t know what Drs could have done for me, but even my mom caring a little and handing me an ice pack would have been something.

We stayed in that house for maybe 6 months – my mom probably stopped paying rent, as she does. My brother and sister remembered why they hated our mom and moved on, Sunni with a boyfriend probably and Travis got his own place in an apartment complex. My mom got a studio apartment in the same building as his and lived in Idaho while I stayed there alone. She checked in on weekends though so it was “ok” ;).

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