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1975 The Summer Of Fun

"Sometimes things are not as they seem."

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Author's Notes

"The summer of 1975 was supposed to be epic. How could I have known that petting a dog who looked friendly would change everything?"

The summer of 1975 provided hot, sunny days and warm, balmy evenings in Detroit. Having a pool in our backyard meant late-night swims so we could go to bed and let the box fan in the window blow air on our wet hair, helping to cool us off enough to sleep. That was my parents’ idea of air conditioning.

I never minded the heat. As hot as it was, it was nothing compared to the humid, tropical weather I experienced on my many trips to Florida. Those vacations turned the Sunshine State into my happy place. But it wasn’t just the weather that appealed to me; it was also the opportunity to make new friends. Popularity eluded me in elementary school, but the kids I met during our annual trek to St. Pete Beach thought I was intelligent and funny. There were other families as well with kids close to our age, so we all hung out on the beach together. Our parents enjoyed each other’s company around the pool at the resort where we all stayed.

We looked forward to seeing the same people year after year and developing close friendships. Anyone observing us all together would probably have thought we were family; it sure looked that way.

The adults drank a lot and paid little to no attention to us kids. Because a few in our group were a little older, we were given much more freedom than was probably wise. Fortunately, we were good kids and didn’t get into significant trouble—nothing more than typical kid shenanigans.

One of the oldest of our group was a boy named Brett. We were good friends despite our three-year age difference. I didn’t have romantic feelings for him, but I appreciated that he didn’t make me feel like a little kid. I preferred talking to him over the kids my age, and he seemed to enjoy my company as well. He was kind and funny and always made me laugh when he said he planned to live forever.

Fortunately, our moms got along quite well. So, since he and his family lived a couple of hours from us, Brett’s mom invited us to visit them during the break from school the following summer. I was so excited; I marked my calendar and counted down the days. We didn’t have cell phones or internet back then, so there was no texting or email. But Brett did call about a month before our visit and said he was looking forward to seeing me.

It would be a fantastic way to kick off a great summer—the Summer of Fun! Now that I was thirteen, I would be allowed to go places by myself. I envisioned trips to the convenience store to buy magazines and candy with my allowance. Taking bike rides with my friends to areas that involved crossing major roads and being allowed to come home after the streetlights came on were all part of becoming a teenager.

Besides visiting Brett’s house, trips to Cedar Point, my cousin’s house in Chelsea, and my Aunt Ada’s lake house in Traverse City were also on the docket. Sleepovers, swimming with friends, and camping with the neighbors would add to the Summer of Fun I had planned for months. It was going to be epic!

When the day finally came, we piled into the family station wagon and headed to Battle Creek. The only thing I knew about that city was that Kellogg’s made cereal there. Brett’s mom and dad, Sandy and Jim, said we could tour the facility while we were there. It sounded cool. I was glad to know they wouldn’t just be sitting around drinking Grasshoppers and Whiskey Sours as they all did in Florida. Plus, Brett said he would introduce me to some of his school friends. I was giddy at the idea of hanging out with a bunch of sixteen-year-olds. It was going to be the best day ever.

I vividly remember our arrival at their house. It’s something I’ve played over in my mind repeatedly through the years. They greeted us warmly, genuinely welcoming us into their home. Brett looked cuter than I recalled, and he’d grown at least three or four inches. My stomach did a little flip-flop when he told me he liked my hair, which I’d spent months growing out. He looked at me differently than before, and I liked it a lot!

We hadn’t been in the house for five minutes when their dog, Bruiser, came up to me, wagging his tail, looking for attention. I had minimal experience with dogs, as we owned a cat, but I knew that a wagging tail typically meant a happy dog.

I bent down to pet the dog and was instantly sorry. The dog lunged at my face and bit my nose, not letting go. Eventually, Jim and Brett managed to pry the dog’s jaw open, releasing my nose as it hung like something from a horror movie, only partially attached.

The pain was excruciating and instantaneous, along with the shock of what had transpired so unexpectedly, as well as the plethora of blood gushing from my face. That moment still haunts me nearly fifty years later. My joyful anticipation was dashed; the entire summer was ruined in one horrific instant.

The hospital in Battle Creek gave me something for the pain and told my parents to take me to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, where there was a plastic surgeon who could reattach my nose. Once we arrived at Bronson, we waited for what seemed like forever for a teenager holding her nose in place with an ice pack. It felt like a bad dream. My mother was talking about how my cousin and his wife were splitting up after twenty years of marriage, and wasn’t that a shame? She went on and on about poor Louise, my cousin’s wife, and how she hoped we wouldn’t lose touch with her. 

Years later, I would come to understand that Mom was trying to keep my mind off my own trauma, even if her methods were a bit odd. But at the time, I was irritated by what felt like a lack of compassion on her part.

Fortunately, the surgeon was so kind and gentle. I remember thinking how lucky I was that he seemed to grasp the severity of the situation and said things that actually made me feel better.

“I’m glad you came here, Katarina. I promise that when your nose heals, you will hardly be able to tell that anything happened. You’re in good hands.”

I was in so much pain that I could barely do more than nod. But I told myself that when I grew up and had kids, I would bring them to this hospital if they were sick or injured. It didn’t occur to my teenage brain that I lived a few hours away, which wouldn’t be practical. But at that moment, all I could think about was how the doctor allayed my fears and made me feel like things would be okay.

We didn’t return to Brett’s house after my nose was reattached, heading home instead. I was sad but relieved. I didn’t feel like being sociable with my face bandaged up. Besides, Bruiser was still there! As awful as it was being attacked, I felt terrible that Brett’s family would have to put their dog down since I was the second person it had bitten. His mom, Sandy, insisted that it was the right thing to do and that I shouldn’t worry.

My heart sank as the Summer of Fun began to unravel. Though the reattachment surgery was successful, for the first couple of weeks afterward, I didn’t feel up to doing much of anything. After that, I was self-conscious about the giant bandage in the middle of my face. Mom told me to stop being silly and that no one would care besides me. So, I went for a walk with one of my friends and discovered Mom was wrong. Clearly, she’d forgotten how mean adolescent boys could be. Their ruthless comments about how the dog had made me even uglier hurt my feelings terribly. I didn’t want to go out in public after that experience.

As I healed, I watched the summer slip away while I sat in my room, refusing to go out. Once the bandages came off, my face was so bruised that it looked like someone had punched me in the nose. The only bright side was that I was allowed to go swimming if I didn’t go underwater. I didn’t bother asking any friends to join me in my backyard pool because it wouldn’t be fun if we couldn’t play our usual game of trying to figure out what each other was saying underwater or go diving for pool toys.

Sadly, the Cedar Point trip was canceled, as we were camping and visiting my aunt. In fact, pretty much everything was a bust that summer because of my goddamn nose! I couldn’t even get brave enough to see any of my friends who lived in the neighborhood because they all had dogs. Bruiser wagged his tail at me before trying to liberate my nose from my face. He looked like a friendly dog, but he’d been fiercely vicious. How could I ever trust a dog again?

A follow-up appointment with the surgeon meant a drive to Kalamazoo. My mother called Brett’s mom to see if they would like to meet us for lunch since we’d be close by.

Sandy said, “Sure, we can meet you somewhere. That’s probably better since we don’t want to take any more chances of Bruiser being frightened.”

My mother’s jaw dropped. “You still have Bruiser?”

“Fortunately, we convinced the authorities that Bruiser was frightened by Kat approaching him too quickly. With her being a stranger, he felt threatened and was defending himself,” Sandy explained.

My mother was livid! “Are you kidding me? What happened to you doing the right thing? How dare you blame what happened on Kat! Your dog’s tail was wagging, and he ran up to her. She would never have attempted to pet your dog otherwise.”

Sandy was taken aback by Mom’s standing up for me. “Well, Genevieve, apparently, we remember the event differently than you do.”

“Apparently so. I don’t think we are going to have time for lunch after all. I don’t think we’d have anything to talk about anyway,” Mom said sternly.

“No, I guess not.”

That was the last time we spoke with Brett’s family. In October, we learned they had canceled their trip to St. Pete Beach and chosen somewhere else for their vacation. The other families were a little cool toward us at first. But when my folks explained what had transpired, they were floored, and things returned to normal with our vacation friends.

Still, it felt awkward without Brett there. For a fleeting moment, I thought we had a connection. Then again, he’d never bothered to call me to check on how I was after his dog mauled me, so maybe it was no great loss.

The Summer of Fun never transpired; I learned how to set my expectations a bit lower from then on. I discovered that impromptu arrangements were more fun anyway. Not that we never arranged things ahead of time ever again, but we didn’t set up an entire summer’s worth of plans only to have my hopes dashed. It would be how I protected my heart from disappointment for the rest of my teen years.

Eventually, after I grew up, got married, bought a house, and had some kids, I got over my horrific fear of dogs. A delightful Dalmatian named Princess lived next door and made it her purpose to get me to be her friend. The first time I was able to pet her and hug her, it felt amazing. It was like years of anxiety came tumbling off my shoulders and freed me from the fear that gripped me every time I was anywhere close to a dog.

Years later, my son attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He had some health issues in high school, and we were a bit concerned about him going away to school. However, the president of the university convinced me that they would look after my boy.

“And if he needs medical care beyond what our own health center can provide, we have Bronson Hospital right down the road.”

I smiled as I recalled the irony of thinking I would take my kids there someday if they needed quality health care. Now, that didn’t seem like a silly idea at all. In fact, he did end up at Bronson on several occasions. The doctors, nurses, and other staff members were just as compassionate as they had been during my experience a million years before.

On what would be the last time my son ended up in Bronson’s emergency room, I heard a familiar voice. When the ER physician looked up and made eye contact with me, we were silent momentarily. Then he smiled.

“Hello, Katarina. Don’t worry; we will take good care of your son. I’ll be right back after the nurse finishes taking his vitals.”

Despite being in pain, my son asked, “Who was that, Mom? He seems too young to be the doctor who put your nose back on.”

I shook my head. “No, this is a different doctor.”

“But he knew your name.”

I sighed. “He wasn’t the doctor who reattached my nose. He was the boy whose dog bit me.”

My son was flabbergasted, and I was just stunned. After years of wondering what happened to Brett, here he was about to examine my child in the emergency room where I’d been seen on the day I’d last seen him.

When Brett returned, he read my expression and said, “Just so you know. I was pissed at my parents for not putting Bruiser down after he bit you. But it also sparked my interest in becoming a doctor so I could, I don’t know, I guess, help people as a way to make up for what my dog had done.”

I smiled. “That’s nice to know.”

Once my son was admitted to a room and was resting comfortably, Brett stopped in to check on us.

“Hey, I just wanted to apologize for never calling you. I was embarrassed at how rude my parents were. Still, I should have at least checked on you,” Brett said, his face full of remorse.

“Take a look, Doc,” I said cheerfully, spying a wedding ring on his finger. “You can hardly see the scar.”

“It does look good. I’m glad for that.”

“Besides, if you had called me, we would have ended up falling in love, and then we wouldn’t have met the people we were supposed to fall in love with and marry,” I said playfully.

Brett cracked a smile. “We dodged a bullet, huh?”

“Yep, definitely.”

“Are you happy?”

“Ridiculously so. You?”

“It took me a while, but I’ve got a great wife and a baby on the way. I know; I’m gonna be one of those old dads, but I plan to live forever, as you may recall.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, anyway. It was good to see you, Kat. Thanks for not holding a grudge and making this more awkward than it was,” Brett said as he turned to go.

“Thanks, Brett. It was good to see you, too. I’m proud of you for what you chose to do with your life.”

“Really? Thanks!”

“Take care, Brett.”

“You too, Kat.”

As my son was finally resting peacefully with the pain medication taking effect, I sat in the chair next to his bed, pondering life. The summer of 1975 had seemed like a total disaster on the surface. But in reality, it was a piece in the puzzle that would set my life on the right trajectory, one that would lead to me being blessed to have a fabulous husband and three fabulous kids, including a wonderful son who was sure his summer was ruined. I could tell him that it wasn't, but he would need to figure that out on his own.

In time, he would discover what I did—that things don’t always work out the way you plan them. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, they work out better.

Written by KatarinaTechgoddess
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