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Friday, February 11, 2011

Circumstantial Evidence

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There's a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, we had a dog – a Black and Tan Coonhound to be precise. To be even more precise, it was actually my brother’s dog - Britain was her name. I can’t really remember why he named her that – probably ultimately to annoy my British mother.

Britain was a good dog. Long hound dog face, long floppy ears, friendly and affectionate. But she was also a hunting dog. That’s what she was bred for and that is what big brother was training her for – as a bird dog for hunting. The idea here being that the hunter would shoot the bird and the dog would either go get it and bring it back to the hunter, or if she couldn’t retrieve it, she would stay by it and howl about it until the hunter found her (rather like what you would hope to happen with a lost two year old come to think of it). So Britain definitely wasn’t one of those house-friendly-sleep-in-a-cute-little-basket kind of house dogs. She was messy and slobbery and really did much better out of doors. But the problem was
that when she was home alone in the backyard she would mournfully howl for hours and hours, which for some reason the neighbors didn’t like (go figure). If she was in the backyard and we were home, it was ok as long as we said hello every once in awhile she was content. I guess she just felt better knowing someone was around. So because we didn’t want all the neighbors to hate us, we had to make a place for Britain inside. That place was usually in the kitchen because; as I said she was messy and liked to chew things. Even in the kitchen we had to kind of fortify and dog-proof the place since Britain was really prone to some typical canine curiosity like going through the garbage or trying to see what was on top of the table. To prevent Britain from ransacking the house while were gone; we had kind of a tall wooden gate that we would brace in front of the kitchen door. It was too tall for her to go over and too heavy for her to go through. My mom was very particular about the barricade and understandably so because boy! That dog could really make a mess. So it was super-important to fortify the kitchen whenever we left Britain home alone. She actually still howled a little bit when we first left the house. But, being inside it wasn’t as loud for the neighbors and she would eventually give up and take a nap (also kind of like a two year old come to think of it).

As I said, I was about 10 or 11 at this time and was either in the last part of 4th grade or the early part of 5th grade (I can’t quite remember which). My school would sometimes have Saturday classes in different kinds of recreation and sometimes performing arts areas. I think it was volunteers that would come over from BYU on Saturdays for about a month at a time. Sometimes it was flag football, basketball or volleyball. Sometimes it was tap dancing, ballet or modern dance. And sometimes it was baton twirling and cheerleading.

Let me just do a little sidepiece here about baton twirling. When I was growing up there were 3 major parades here in Provo – the 4th of July Parade of course, a big Christmas parade and then in the Fall was the BYU Homecoming Parade. It has dwindled quite a bit in recent years. But when I was a kid it was every bit as big and event as the other Provo parades. But the thing I liked about it best was all off the BYU performing groups that would march in the parade. There were the folk dancers with their colorful international costumes, and the square dancers with their puffy skirts (the girls anyway) and tap shoes clogging along University Avenue. There were the cheerleaders and the Cougarettes of course (like the drill/dance team). Also the giant Cougar Marching band and in front of the whole procession were the three (sometimes four but usually just three) baton twirling majorettes. These girls really had it going on. They had the blue and silver sequined leotard and the tall white boots. They usually had their hair piled up in a beehive hair-do (seriously, year after year after year – it must have been a tradition for Beehive- state majorettes or something) and these girls were bad with a baton. There was the whole flurry of twirls to the front, to the side, to the back. But the tosses were the most awesome (seriously, they were). They would get this thing twirling so fast it was just a blur and then fling it 15 or 20 feet in the air. Then while still marching, spin around, do a skip, a cartwheel and still catch it sometimes behind their back! As a little girl sitting on the curb with my feet straddling the ditch it was some mesmerizing stuff I can tell you. So when the BYU Baton twirlers were coming to teach a Saturday Class at Timpanogos Elementary I was there!

Ok, now back to the dog. One Saturday my mom and brother had to go somewhere but I wasn’t going with them because I was going to walk to the school for my BYU Baton Twirling class. I was happy, excited and maybe even imagining my hair piled high in a beehive. Mom and Big Brother left first and I can remember some serious reminders from my mom to “put that dog in the kitchen before you leave.” Yeah, yeah, I know, I know I wasn’t going to forget. So the time to leave came and I pulled the reluctant puppy by the collar into the kitchen, pulled the gate closed and braced it securely. Giving the sad Britain a pat on the head I locked the front door with my key that I kept on a crochet cord around my neck and marched myself out of the front door baton in hand heading for class. Of course the sad howling started as I left and I could still hear it as I paraded up the street. I even remember stopping on the corner about ½ a block away amazed that I could still hear the faint mournful howl – that dog had some lungs.

I went to class and all was well. Well, actually I got bonked on the head a couple of times by a wayward baton but you are supposed to suffer for your art right? When I got home though, my mom was waiting for me at the door grabbing my shirt collar and yanking me roughly into the house. The living room was a wreck. Brittan had gotten a hold of a foam couch pillow and ripped it to shreds. She had knocked over the houseplants that sat on the coffee table in front of the living room window obviously having jumped up on the table to see out of the window so besides the broken houseplants, there was a trail of potting soil across the carpet and out into the hallway. Britain had also tried to eat one of the houseplants – which apparently didn’t agree with her because she had thrown-up in the middle of the floor too.
“I told you to put the dog in the kitchen!” My mom screamed at me.

“I d-d-did.” I stammered back.

“Then how did all of this happen!” said Screaming Mom.

“I….I…don’t know…I put her in the kitchen…I heard her howling…” I stammered again.

“Don’t lie to me!” sputtered Screaming Mom.

“I’m not….I didn’t….I did…” I coughed out starting to cry. “Did she knock over the gate?

“No she didn’t knock it over! The gate was still behind the door – it hadn’t been moved! Screaming Mom spat out.

I was in some serious trouble here. Trouble that I didn’t deserve could see no way of getting out of and had no explanation for. I looked helplessly at Big Brother who was standing there with a kind of “boy are you screwed” expression on his face.

“Did you….?” I started to ask Big Brother.

“Don’t you blame him!” Screamed Mom, grabbing my by the shoulder and spinning me around to face her. “We came home at the same time! Now you get this mess cleaned up and don’t even think about any more baton lessons. You’re grounded for a MONTH!

Long story short, I still have no idea what happened. I clearly remembered (and remember still) locking up that damn dog and hearing her howl as I walked down the street. My brother swears it wasn’t him - that when they came home the gate wasn’t up and the dog was roaming freely through the house. I was overcome with the injustice of it all. I had been falsely accused with no opportunity for recrimination or redress. My baton twirling career (such as it was) came to a screeching halt (didn’t matter that I’d paid for the class with my own babysitting money) and I couldn’t do anything but homework and extra chores for a month (actually 6 weeks because about a month later my mom and I had an argument about the actual date of “the incident” – an argument I lost).

This memory came to mind because if something that happened at school this week. Someone was accused of something that they didn’t do. Nothing too dark or sinister – just kind of awkward. Circumstantial evidence had piled up, but luckily events unfolded that proved that it was all just a big misunderstanding. In my case it was all a big misunderstanding too with, I’ll grant you, circumstantial evidence that was quite damning. I can’t really blame my mom for being mad and not believing me. It certainly seemed like she had this one down cold. But certainty or not I think this event was kind of a turning point for what became a rough relationship for my mom and I.

I was always very adamant about my side of the story and tried often to talk to her about it. I knew what I had done and I knew that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I had done what I was supposed to. But even though I stuck to my guns, she refused to talk about it and never really trusted me after that - and who can blame her? After all, what’s worse than an apparently adamant pathological liar? Sadly even after I was grown up and you have those talks with your parents about the things you did as a kid they never knew about (like teenage Ebay and Superdude driving my new car to Park City while I was at Girl’s camp :-/ ). Or things you got in blamed for that were actually the dog or…I don’t know…space aliens possibly? She still never believed me and eventually didn’t remember the incident well enough to care. But, as a kid, I could never get past the hurt that she wouldn't talk to me. She didn’t even try to listen, try to believe me, and at least consider an alternate possibility. Or if she thought I really was lying, why I kept at it so resolutely – wasn’t that at least worth a conversation?

I really don’t mean that as a grudge. After all there isn’t a parent in the world that hasn’t blamed a kid for something that they didn’t do. And most of us justify it with “Well, if they didn’t deserve it this time, they deserved for another time when I didn’t catch them.” But all I know is that it was definitley a turning point that put us on the no-communication relationship road from which we couldn’t seem to exit. And I don’t think all the broken houseplants or baton lessons in the world are worth that.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'm not kidding - this almost exact thing happened to me when I was a kid, only I SAW my brother do was I was accused of doing.

At the time, my mom's judgement was sooooooo clouded with anger that I think that she literally could only see red.

Then after she cooled off and realized what I said might have been the truth, pride showed up and shoved any thoughts of apology aside.

I was also grounded and re-grounded when the time frame was "fuzzy" and the next dance came up.

I don't hold a grudge against my mom, but the experience sure taught me to listen to my child and try to understand the situation before I hand out due punishment...maybe that's why it happened to me in the first place....

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