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With so much anger in the world, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the sharp voice cut into our peaceful walk, but we were stunned at such rage aimed in our direction.
What offense could we have committed to warrant such a vociferous torrent of expletives?
I shiver even from the safety of my desk as I recount the confrontation. The look on his face as he glared. The venom flowing from his mouth.
I understand what a crazy year this has been. We have all been cooped up in our houses and apartments cowering from a pandemic. Some work from home when they prefer to be in the office. Some are at work but fret about contracting this blasted disease. A few are the owner of a small business wondering if it will survive and how to care for valued employees. Some have it the worst of all—unemployed and stressed about putting food on the table.
Those with kids in school are concerned they will catch the virus. If the children are at home distance learning, is it working or are they falling behind?
If that weren’t enough zaniness to last a lifetime, political issues have exploded causing strife online and massive demonstrations in the streets. Some cities have devolved into looting and violence. Tear gas wafts through the air. Storefronts are shattered. Buildings burn.
Just a week ago, two tropical systems threatened the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, one exploding into a massive hurricane with ferocious wind. People fled their homes for safety and returned to find everything gone.
Our news organizations and social media have blasted us with overwrought horror stories, Remember murder hornets that turned out to be something less than imagined (even though it would make a terrific name for a band—Welcome to the stage, the Murrrrrrrrderrrrrrr Hornets!).
When I heard an asteroid might collide with the earth the day before the elections, my first thought—why didn’t it come sooner and put us out of our misery? Then I discovered the rock hurtling toward us is not much bigger than a refrigerator. Even if it hit us, which scientists don’t think it will since they’ve tracked it for years, its small size guarantees it would burn up in our atmosphere long before reaching the ground.
So much stress. I don’t know how you deal with everything, but we escape these pressures with simple walks with the dogs twice a day.
A beautiful greenway intersects the entrance to our neighborhood. A turn to the south takes us on a winding trail through the woods of Huntington Beach State Park. The buffer of trees and calls of wildlife muffle the traffic noise of Highway 17 and provide a semblance of serenity.
In the mornings, though, we turn north. For a half mile, the trail runs along the side of the busy highway before disappearing into more forest. Through that initial stretch, nothing more than a few feet of grass separates us from four lanes of heavy traffic. Big eighteen wheelers roar by hauling their loads of timber or containers of imports coming from the Port of Charleston. Cars whiz down the pavement, the drivers yacking on cellphones as they weave between lanes. A plethora of work vans and pickups head to the zillion construction sites scattered around the Grand Strand.
One of those vans held our antagonist. His voice carried over the roar of the traffic, startling us from our morning conversation. We were mid-sentence in a discussion of our coming day—like the schedule ever changes in 2020—when his harsh tone shook us.
The dogs were innocently sniffing the trail enjoying the scent of previous creatures on the path, but stood erect at his screech and turned their heads toward the offender. We followed their gaze and spotted him quick enough. He wasn’t trying to hide from us. He wanted our attention. He wanted us to hear him, see him, feel the emotions he fired in our direction.
A white work van cruised along in the near lane, ladders and work gear stacked on its roof. The driver never glanced at us, intent only on the surrounding traffic, but his passenger—oh, his passenger—he had his eyes locked on us.
Half his body hung out the front window as he leaned as far as he could, straining his body against the seat belt strapped across his chest. His muscles rippled as he bristled at our mere presence. He was young, strong, and filled with menace. We felt every ounce of his distaste. He yelled at the top of his lungs.
Was he jealous we walked a trail while he was headed for a day at a construction site? Perhaps he resented that perceived leisure. He didn’t know I would settle down behind my desk once we returned to the house. Then again, would he consider sitting in front of a computer work when he spent his days surrounded by men and women building something concrete? Mere crafted words weren’t the same in his world.
Maybe he had no motive at all. Maybe he was he just one of those hotheads looking for trouble wherever he could find it. Did he not like the way we looked? The way we walked? The fact that we existed at all?
Or maybe I misjudge him. Maybe I need to show him some compassion, forgive his outburst. Did he just want to walk with us and enjoy the morning?
Whatever his motivation, it was hard to ignore his tirade as he continued to unload his verbal taunts.
We turned and tried to ignore him, continuing along our path. We could never make it to the woods before he passed, so we braced ourselves for the onslaught. Our dogs twitched on the leash, aggravated by his shouts.
The van grew closer. He would pass a mere few feet from where we walked. We were exposed, unable to find any shelter from his rage. I tensed and dared another glance over my shoulder.
He was still focused on us. His eyes were big and staring deep into my soul. Spittle flew from his lips as he unleashed a fresh barrage.
The language. Nasty language filled with four-letters words.
I’ll share some of them with you. I try to keep my stories PG rated, but you won’t understand the situation fully without reading some of them. If you’re easily offended, stop here. Don’t read on.
For those who continue with my story, brace yourself. I’ll give you just a small taste, a sample, a snippet of what he screamed:
“Bark. Bark. Woof. Woof. Bark. Howl.”
The van passed. The German Shepherd turned his head and watched us as the separation grew. The wind rustled his fur and his ears flickered. He barked his last taunts, his voice fading as he went down the highway. Then he turned his attention forward, searching for his next victim.
I hope he had a good day at work. I really do. I don’t hold a grudge.
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