Monday, January 14, 2013

How Literature Saved Me From Rabies

WARNING: This post contains spoilers about Their Eyes Were Watching God.
But most people have not heard of that book, or read it, and after reading this you probably will have no desire to either.  So peruse on, dear reader (I love saying makes me sound like Nathaniel Hawthorne)!

I read Their Eyes Were Watching God again this weekend, while stuck in bed with a swollen jaw that limited my ability to eat, chew, and basically enjoy life.

I haven't read it in years and years...I'm estimating it has been about 6-7 since those pages last saw my face...and last made said face glisten with tears.


I was up until the wee hours finishing it and was crying and dripping snot like a baby and started shrieking at the ending (remembering WHY I haven't read it in so long) and then I threw the book across the room and hid under the covers.
This, of course, woke up Eli.
He is used to my reading escapades (you should see me with Jennifer Donnelly novels), so he rolled over in bed and mumbled "what is it this time?"

And after much hair pulling and stuttering on my part, I tried to explain the plot to him (which, unless you have read Their Eyes Were Watching God yourself, does not make a damn ounce of sense).
so I got to the point of
"...and her and Tea Cake--YES BABE, THAT IS HIS CHARACTER'S NAME--were so in love and just finally making it on the muck in Florida and then the hurricane (sob)...and they didn't know (sob)...and they nearly drowned and in the water there was a cow swimming and they tried to grab onto it for help, but (gasp for air) there was a mad dog riding on the swimming cow (sob)--YES! I SAID A RABID DOG SITTING ON A SWIMMING COW'S BACK! IT IS POSSIBLE--and it tried to bite Janie, and Tea Cake tried to defend her (drawn-out sob)...Oh Tea Cake!! And the dog bit his cheek.... blahblahblah... He got rabies and she couldn't save him (more blubbering) and he tried to kill her because he didn't know...and she had to shoot him to defend herself...oh honey it was awful (unbearable sobbing for a few minutes). And she had to go on trial for her life! Even though he was rabid! All because of that damn mad dog!!"

Eli was completely thrown by this one.
Usually he can follow the He-Loves-Her-But-Is-True-Proud-To-Tell-Her and other sob stories of the books I read, but this one, of Rabid-Dog-On-A-Cow-Leads-To-Shooting-Of-Beloved-Rabid-Man was just too much. He said "Jesus, no wonder you have nightmares, reading that kind of shit!!"
But then he got upset at the thought of having to shoot me if I got rabies and that hit him hard, so he got the concept of what I was trying to express.

But I am still not over it! Ugh! What business is it of a rabid dog to destroy love?? And in such a twisted, unfair way?
This isn't the first novel to star those damn mad dogs.

The one in To Kill a Mockingbird scared the shit out of me too-- I can still picture it, sweating and convulsing in the sun, and and palpable terror of someone getting bit by that dog, frothing white at the mouth.
 I shudder just thinking about it... but brave, good Atticus comes out and takes that dog in one shot, his glasses slipping as he does...

Oh Lord, don't even get me started on Atticus Finch!! I love that man as if he were real (in my heart, he is... but then again I love my books like they were my children and collect them like stray cats).

There is also a mad dog in that Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, and even in the book World War Z, and that shitty Old Yeller of course.  I hate that story by the way.

It gets me to thinking about rabies, and the mad dog, as a literary device, and the different things it can symbolize.
In Latin, "rabies" translates as "madness" and is similar to a Sanskrit word for "performing violence."
And the first written record of rabies is about owners who have a dog that is showing symptoms and their responsibilities to prevent bites. Isn't that wild?? The first record of rabies and it involves the mad dog.
And of course, this caused the superstitious (during the Middle Ages, no doubt) to ban dogs and ostracize anyone who was even suspected of being bitten by a dog (rabid or not) to the point that the victim of the supposed bite might kill themself.  Or cut out their tongue.  Seriously!
Madness indeed.

So, due to these novels, I always had an irrational and rabid fear (haha, couldn't help myself), of mad dogs.  But I didn't actively think about it, until a few years ago, when I was in Greece on a college tour, and it confronted me head on.
We were in Delphi to see the Oracle, and it is a charming little village.

Me on the Main Street in Delphi, having fun! This was taken RIGHT BEFORE the attack..

I was wandering the shops on Main Street with friends as the sun was setting, and saw a model of Ancient Delphi standing on a table next to the sidewalk.  I absolutely love models, so I trotted on over to have a looksie, and then suddenly there was a deep, throaty growl coming from under the table.
It was some ominous shit, as my best friend would say.

And there were 2 wild dogs under there, in heat, and the male was psychotically protective and came at me, jaws snapping, and literally tried to claw his way up my body in order to get at my jugular.
You guys, it was HORRIFYING.  My blood ran cold, and all that.  It really does happen.

And flashing through my mind was not my life, but those DAMN MAD DOGS OF LITERATURE!
I felt my heart crying out for Atticus Finch and his crackshot rifle, and thought "I don't want to die like Tea Cake!" and I swear to God my literary knowledge helped save me.

Because knowing the threat of the Mad Dog from being a bookworm, I knew I could not let this wild dog with the festering eyes and filthy scalp bite me.  So I became my own Atticus Finch and proceeded to beat the shit out of him.
Some of the carnage.. I still have scars.
He had sunk his dirty claws into my skin (they punctured right through the cotton skirt I was wearing) and was snapping at my neck.  I was screaming and everyone around my was screaming but no one wanted to get involved for fear the dog would turn on them.  I saw my opportunity in his exposed stomach, and sunk my knee into it hard.  Then I kicked and screamed and swung my purse into his neck and looked into that dog's mad-looking eyes and tried to appear as intimidating as possible.
And it worked.
Yes, I walked away from that battle (as Henley would say) "bloody but unbowed!"

But I did look a fright.  White skirt, dripping with red blood, myself sweaty and shaking and in shock.
They wanted me hospitalized from the deep scratches the dog made in my thighs, but because Delphi is so tiny all they had there was a little pharmacy.  We talked about an airlift to the city to get shots, but I didn't even begin to wonder how, as a student in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language, could work out at all. And since the dog was dirty and wild, but not likely rabid, we went to the pharmacy instead, where a funny little skit occurred: Me speaking English to the Italian tour guide, her trying Greek (and terrible sign language) to the pharmacist, and eventually another Italian-speaking Greek getting involved.  In the end they gave me the strongest antibiotics they carried, and made me promise to get shots, or go to the hospital if my eyes turned red or something (the translations here were not precise).
When I finally joined the rest of the group for dinner, they bought me an entire jug of wine to myself to celebrate my successfully taking on a vicious street dog, and I washed down the pills with it.
The entire box was in Greek... I'm still not sure what medication I took.  But it worked.

And after crying to Eli about Tea Cake and his morbid death at the teeth of the rabid dog, I remembered what happened in Delphi, and how Tea Cake (and Atticus Finch) helped me defend myself, and my story came full circle.  Thanks, guys.

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