Growing up the youngest kid in the neighborhood there was no one my age with whom to play. I tried to tag along with my older brother and the big guys, but was often told, "Get lost, Squirt." I hung with them whenever I could and learned to keep my mouth shut (a trait my wife says I have forgotten).
Sometimes the guys would allow me to play football, baseball, or hockey. The only rule was “no crying.” If I got hurt and cried, it was home I went. Going home was worse than getting run over while making a tackle or getting hit with a puck. (No one could afford shin guards.)
One time we had a rock fight, just for fun. (It was summer and there weren’t any snowballs.) I caught a stone above my left eyebrow. They let me cry then. Heck, they even let me bleed.
We hustled down to Dr. Grover’s office with ice in a washcloth over my eye and he stitched me up. Doc Grover only charged five bucks for an office visit. He was almost family, having delivered me, my two brothers, and performed surgery on both maternal grandparents and my mother.
The first time I cried without benefit of physical pain sticks in my memory even today. My parents were not big into pets. They knew pets meant responsibility and they didn’t want to mess with another burden. One day a neighbor came over with a puppy from a litter of five.
In keeping with the standards of our neighborhood, the dog was of untraceable lineage. I think there was some Spaniel, but who knows what else? That little black and white dog was the cutest thing you ever saw. After begging with all I had, my parents let me keep him if I promised to pick up after him. I named him, “Wimpy.”
We had never had a pet before. I didn’t know about shots or vets. I never knew a dog that had a license. Wimpy was a great dog. He loved me because I fed him, took him for walks and rubbed his head and belly. Because he was a mongrel, he was not high strung from being inbred. He was laid back, smart, and fun. He housebroke easily.
After about two months, when Wimpy was my best friend and a part of our family, he started acting listless. His eyes watered and his wet, cold nose turned warm and dry. That’s when I learned about distemper. My parents explained the only thing we could do was have him taken away.
I was in the third grade. On that morning when I said good bye to Wimpy, I knew it was for the last time. He barely raised his head. School was tortuous that day because I knew what going home meant.
That afternoon I had my mother tell me in detail what the man looked like who took him, what the truck looked like and everything I could think of.
Then, I went to my brother’s and my bedroom. I remember kneeling on the floor, putting my head on the bed and crying harder than any other time, be it getting smashed making a tackle, catching a hockey puck in the shins, or a rock in the forehead. Yet, no one had touched me. Wimpy was gone. We never had another pet.
I seldom cried as a cop because I was too busy assembling a case for prosecution to let emotion in. Sure, I felt for the victims, but I had a job to do.
The older I get, tears come more easily and frequently, but I don’t care.
Basinski is a former Chula Vista police officer.