Thursday, May 31, 2012

"It happened so fast." We hear that phrase each time someone recounts a tragic event whether it was a hit-and-run accident, a mugging, a fire... 

And yet, in the moment, everything moves in slow motion. That too has been reduced to cliché. But that is exactly how I remember it.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It swung like a rope in Sadie's grinning jaws. And I saw the blood dripping from its fangs. And then I shouted, "Drop it!" 

And Sadie did. And time shifted back to normal. But it wasn't normal. I tried to edit away the vision of the bloody teeth, even suggesting Sadie had picked up a dead snake. Snakes don't swim; Sadie found a dead snake in the water.  But my husband Matt saw the telltale puncture wounds. And we would later learn that rattlesnakes are in fact capable swimmers

This was not what we'd had in mind when we packed up for a last-minute Memorial Day camping trip in Angeles National Forest. It was perhaps the worst day of our collective lives. We were far too upset to think straight. "It happened so fast."  We had gotten lost on our way in and now we'd have to trace those steps with a 60-pound wounded dog in tow. 

Sadie went into shock, stumbling forward and collapsing at our feet. Panic turned to doubt. How were we going to get out of here? 

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. A middle-aged couple was bathing in the creek just yards away from where Sadie was bitten by the snake. I shouted to them. "Help us!" 

We ruined their peaceful afternoon. And I don't even know their names, nor do I know where they live. They have no idea Sadie survived. "It happened so fast." I asked them to help and they dropped everything to join our pathetic effort.

They, particularly the woman, truly saved the day, leading us forth in the correct direction and not leaving our side. She was there when the second snake sprang up from the grass, striking a blinded, swollen and bloodied Sadie. She heard us cheering for Sadie to keep going. We couldn't have done it alone. We were almost as helpless as our brave but fading dog.

Today, a year later, I have a chance to slow down and truly say thank you. We couldn't have done it alone. I think about that couple often. How "It happened so fast." Suddenly, they became a part of an unforgettable Memorial Day. And then, when we reached the end, "It happened so fast." We parted ways without a chance to exchange information. 

The post-traumatic stress haunts us each time we enter the woods. We hold Sadie's leash tight; stare intently at the ground and creek beds and hold our breath when we pass the sign for Devil's Canyon where "It happened so fast." Sadie found two snakes that bit her. And we found our way thanks to two selfless strangers. 

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