When I was a kid in the South Bronx, there was a trucking company next to our house. To keep thieves out the owner erected a large, chain-link fence and, when I was about 10 years old, he put a trained attack dog in the yard. He was a HUGE German Shepherd and the owner wouldn’t even name him because he wanted him to be fierce and ferocious.

During the day they kept him chained up in the back, but when the yard shut down for the night, I would see the dog from my house pacing around the yard behind the fence. I started to feel sorry for him and went over with a box of Milk Bones. And I threw them over the fence to him. After a few nights of this he started to wag his tail when he saw me and I would sit down by the fence and try to pet him through the holes.

One night the owner came back unexpectedly…a short, bald, Italian guy named Vito (think Paulie of the Rocky films). He saw me sitting there and marched to my house and told my mother to keep me away from the fence before I got killed. “That dog,” said Vito, “Is a trained guard dog…special license to have him…. He’s nice to her when there’s a fence between them but he’s trained to kill.” My mother said stay away from that dog.

And I didn’t listen. Kept going back. Named the dog Norman. And Norman seemed to like me. And I liked Norman.

There was a family that lived around the block. I don’t remember their last name but the boy, Tito, was about 2 years older than me and part of the group of neighborhood kids. Well Tito’s father would walk their dog, a smaller Shepherd, by the yard where Norman was. And he would put the dog up to the fence and Norman would go crazy. One day my mother said, “You better stop teasing that dog.” And I would go comfort Norman after they left.

And Vito would yell at my mother, “Tell that damn kid to stay away from my dog and stop calling him Norman!”

One day one of the new truckers left the fence open as he was leaving and Norman came bounding out of the yard and made a beeline straight for me. Vito was yelling and screaming and ready to shoot Norman (yes, he had a gun). But Norman came over and jumped on me and started licking my face. And I pet him and we played and Vito was red-faced about this time. He came and grabbed Norman and said he was not going to tell me AGAIN to leave the dog alone.

A couple of weeks later Tito’s father came by with his dog (this had been going on night after night for months) and once again, the gate was open. Norman came screaming out of the yard. He did not go after the dog. He went after Tito’s father. Knocked him down and was mauling him. Both Vito and I ran over and got him off of him. There were bites and my mother was screaming at him that it was his own fault. But Norman was in big trouble because it happened in the street and not in the yard.

Norman went away and no one would tell me where. I was really upset for a really long time. But I haven’t thought of Norman in years. I only think of him when the “fear of dogs” topic comes up. Dogs have always been a comfort to me. I don’t have one right now but I still feel comforted when Mattingly comes for the weekend or when I see them in the park or on the street. But I haven’t thought of Norman for years, really.

Since Michael has been sick, I have acute insomnia. I’ve always had it but it’s worse now than ever. The OTC meds don’t work on me and I’m afraid to take anything stronger. I have nightmares all the time. I don’t know if I really have insomnia or I’m just afraid to go to sleep. There’s no one to comfort me when I wake up freaked out.

The other night I took OTC meds at 9:30 and at 11:30 I was still wide awake. I took another one at midnight and closed my eyes. I had a dream that Norman was running toward me but when he got there he started biting me, mauling me like he had Tito’s father. I couldn’t feel the bites but I was annoyed that he was trying to bite me.

I woke with a startle. It was only 12:40. I hadn’t been asleep very long. I put my head on the pillow and thought, “Norman would never bite me. That wouldn’t happen.”

And then I thought, “Yeah, I always thought Michael wouldn’t leave me either. And that’s happening.”

And I wonder why I can’t sleep.

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