This weekend I met The Devil, and He introduced Himself in the form of a 7-year-old Columbian boy.
The moment I opened the gate at the dog park, I heard His oddly adult-like voice taunting me from the bordering baseball field. “I don’t want you in here.”
It was unclear whether He was addressing me or my dog, Dallas; His coal black, beady eyes concealed the object on which they were focused. But either way, I took offense on behalf of us both. Nobody talks to my baby that way. Not even Satan.
I walked closer to Him and muttered a disappointingly intimidated, “That’s not very nice,” as I took a seat on the grass. Only a chain link fence separated my ass from His tiny blue Nikes.
I made small talk with the teenaged girl next to me, who seemed oblivious to this creature hovering over us as we watched our dogs wrestle in the distance.
“My name’s Bianca, by the way,” she said.
“Your name’s Ugly Face,” The Devil whispered. She remained blissfully unaware of the demon taunting her from behind. I jerked my head in His direction to signal a warning, though I was careful not to make the eye contact that would blow my petrified cover.
“Lauren,” He noted, as He began kicking the area of fence where Bianca leaned. She sat up straight, unaffected by His abuse – probably chalking it up to just another bratty child.
“Hey, don’t be rude,” I shouted without looking at Him, struggling to play the role of a grown adult woman who isn’t afraid of children. The kicking stopped.
I felt His presence return directly behind me and tried not to wince as I anticipated a wad of spit on the back of my neck. But, instead, I felt nothing. Except the rage that raced through my body when I heard His next words:
“Kill the black dog.”
I quickly surveyed the roaming crowd of canines; the only black dog was my Dallas.
“HEY,” Bianca protested, suddenly mindful of His presence. I spun into a standing position, facing Him through the fence. Though I was double His height, I felt small even as I looked down to meet His terrifying stare.
“Kill the black dog.” He repeated His threat on my baby’s head while our eyes were locked in a stand-off. I peed.
But fear has never been a contender for my inability to keep my mouth shut when angry. I stepped closer to the fence and gripped the rusted metal in front of His face. I bent at the waist to meet Him at eye level, less than three feet from the ground where my legs were begging me to run.
“Hey, Kid,” I reminded us both of His age, yet continued. “When you go home, I want you to ask your mother what ‘manners’ are. Maybe she can pick you up some the next time she goes to the store.”
His eyes softened, changing like a mood ring from midnight to shit colored brown. His baby Nikes retreated a few steps.
“You’re a real crappy kid, huh?” I prompted Him for confirmation. His bottom lip quivered. “You probably get picked on at school so you take it out on innocent dogs and girls that you know won’t fight back.”
Was that a tear rolling down His minuscule cheek? What an impostor, breaking character at the first sign of confrontation. I rattled the fence and He jumped back, startled. He turned to run.
“Shut up!” His prepubescent voice cracked with terror as He raced to the side of His older brother, who ushered Him through the opening in the gate.
“Shut up?” I challenged Him. “You should consider taking your own advice.”
“Let’s go home,” said His brother, soothing The Devil while he guided Him around the perimeter of the dog park where I stood. They hurried across the grass in a synchronized shuffle, perhaps attempting a head start should I try to chase them. As if.
And then, in a fortuitous moment of irony, Dallas charged at The Devil, blocking His way to the exit. Her entire 70-pound body sprung from the ground and her muddy snout poked His forehead. Knowing my dog and her gentle yet clumsy, childlike nature, I was well-aware that she’d simply flubbed an attempt to give Him a kiss. But to the eye of an onlooker, this pitbull sought revenge. I felt my lips stretch involuntarily to form a satisfied sneer.
The Devil froze and emitted a closed-mouth scream resembling a tea kettle approaching a boil. Dallas jumped again, excited by what she misinterpreted to be reciprocated play. Her force sent Him sideways three feet into the fence. He was cornered; “the black dog” repeatedly slamming Him backwards as His brother grappled for the door. The faint sound of whimpers were drowned by the relentless clang of His wee little body against the trembling chain links.
Now, usually I’m offended by the fear I detect in others’ eyes as my dog approaches them for a mere pet on the head. I spend most of our routine morning walks redirecting her from the path of unfriendly adults who can’t see beyond the stereotype equating all pitbulls with danger. But in this moment, I observed this generalization in practice with the gratification I imagine mothers feel as they witness their child’s first steps.
The Devil’s brother looked at me, helpless, admitting defeat and pleading for assistance all with the depth of his eyes.
“Dallas!” I hollered, knowing we’d won. “That’s enough, baby. Come here.”
She strutted obediently to my side; tail wagging like a metronome powered by brand new batteries, eager to keep the beat of my heart, booming with pride. “Good girl, baby!” I reinforced my appreciation of her unceasing desire to show love to even the most undeserving of people.
“You’re The Devil, Kid,” I shouted in acknowledgment; His head tucked in His brother’s armpit as they jogged awkwardly across the street to their home, “safe” under parent supervision within the four Godless and dogless walls where they live.
As the park transformed back into the quaint and peaceful place I know and love, I sighed with more contentment than relief and returned to the crowd of dog owners who were gathered in the center of the field. My sense of fulfillment waned a little as I approached the group, which had formed a circular formation of solidarity, not loosening one bit to create an opening for my entry. I giggled nervously as I read the shared expression on each of their faces, much like the one I wore just 30 minutes earlier when I first met that boy in the bordering baseball field.
I gathered my belongings – the frisbee, the leash, the world’s friendliest dog – and faked a voluntary decision to head home. Making one last attempt to redeem my standing, I shrugged apologetically and offered my best explanation for the behavior that I’d just now recognized as grounds for disapproval:
“There’s nothing I hate more than a bully.”