Maggie was the curly-haired terrier that lived across the street from us with her soon-to-be-divorced cardiologist and housewife parents. She was orange and brown and weighed about as mush as I did in 1983 when I met her one spring afternoon as she came bounding across her parents’ front yard, across the street, and at me, jumping into my face and knocking me onto the pavement in front of my brother and Stephanie, the cute girl who lived a few houses down. My heavy backpack glued to the ground and my legs in the air like a sprayed-with-Raid cockroach, I lay there for a few seconds while trying to keep stinking mongrel spit from coating my hot pink face. A few seconds later, I slowly rose to my feet and stared into the cur’s shit-brown eyes while declaring, “I am Muskrat: chaser of amphibians and small reptiles, navigator of a blue Mongoose, and defender of this land. And I will have my vengeance.”
But there was no vengeance. Only frightened running from the bus stop to my parents’ front door every day after school, like Ralphie, Flick, and Randy running from Scott Farkus and Rover Dill, but without the background music.
Fast forward two years later. I’m a little bigger and stronger now, and I’ve found a natural affinity for shedding tacklers and delivering stiff-arms in games of “smear the queer” and backyard football. After one such contest at recess, I jumped off the bus and stood on the street at our bus stop. Then I saw a figure I hadn’t seen in quite some time–a blur of orange curls bounding straight for me. It was my old nemesis, Maggie.
I dropped my backpack onto the ground. The kids who’d just disembarked slowly backed away. The beast continued her acceleration as I stood there, gritting my teeth and staring at her approaching breastplate.
I remembered my Social Studies teacher’s telling us about the colonists’ not firing ’til they saw the “whites of their eyes” during a Revolutionary War battle and decided I would do the same. As soon as Maggie’s eyes were visible, she leaped for my stomach, and I kicked her in the chest as hard as I could.
I let out a bellow that would’ve made Howard Dean jealous, a sound I can only imagine would come from Chewbacca and a basset hound’s lovechild. Maggie crashed to the asphalt, rolled over a few times, and then looked at the circle of pre-pubescent children staring down at her. She slowly rose from the gravel shoulder, shook, and trotted the other direction, never to chase me again.
And from that day forward, any time I saw Maggie from afar, I’d release that bellow at her, and she’d sprint the other direction like a frightened bunny.
Call me Maximus.