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Weeks passed. Sometimes, after school, I’d stand outside the gate, peering down the block, waiting. But Diana and Sammy never came. Other times, I walked past the block on East Second, trying to guess which house she lived in, but I saw only strangers and closed doors. I wanted to ask, but there was no one who would have known where the gentile lady and her forbidden dog had gone. Diana and Sammy had disappeared. They were there, then they were not. I never saw them again.
Today, I often watch my children play with dogs on the lawn in Central Park. They play fetch with them, taking turns throwing sticks. The dogs’ owners watch from the sidelines.
I remember feeling surprised at how quickly my children took to animals, and at the joy they expressed while playing with them. I was certain that my fear was genetic, an inherent part of my DNA. Yet I quickly discovered that children aren’t afraid of animals. What they are afraid of is the fear in their mothers’ faces, the vulnerability in their older siblings’ eyes. For a child, any creature that can so frighten a parent must be a terrible thing. And so the wound is passed on like a holy tradition.
Sometimes, as I watch my children jumping playfully with a puppy, or making a beeline for the kittens on a stranger’s porch, I think about Diana and Sammy. As I child I thought about them often, wondering where they had gone and if they were happy. I can still see them like it was yesterday, my little hand sticking through the hole in the fence, reaching out to the old lady and the gentle, waiting dog that taught me not to be afraid.
Judy Brown wrote the novel “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. “Inside Out” is her essay series about life in the ultra-Orthodox world. It is based on true events, but her characters’ names and identities have been changed; some are composites, comprising several real-life people.