What is a “Friend” Anyway?

I have a friend, I’ll call him Edward. We have been friendly for about five and half years now. We had a mutual friend, a woman named Jill who originally suggested I pursue Edward as a romantic partner. “He’s single. You’re single. You’re the same age. He’s a really nice guy. Go out with him.” I think she must have been telling him the same thing about me because he started asking me to go to lunch, etc. However, there was no love connection and that was fine with me. We never did anything that could be constituted as a “date” per se, just lots of lunches or meetings at coffee shops over the years.

I have enjoyed having Edward as my friend. We were both bankruptcy attorneys and connected around this. We would dabble in talk about other areas of our lives. We had lunch on a semi-regular basis. We used each other to bitch and complain sometimes when something made us mad, especially in bankruptcy. One trustee in particular kept us in conversation. I went through a boyfriend or two over the years. Sometimes I would complain about them too. He told me all about his nasty divorce, especially because a mutual lawyer friend had helped him out with it.

Edward traveled a lot to faraway places by himself. I would ask him, “You went to (exotic city) alone?” He would tell me that he had and that he preferred it this way. Because of work travel and these travels, he had many airline miles saved up and could get upgraded. I told him about a boyfriend I had had a few years ago who was in the Million Mile Club and how we traveled together and would get upgraded.

Last year, Edward got a job in Montana, moving him away from the Northwest. I knew he had been looking for something outside of the self-employed bankruptcy world because he called me from the road on the way to an interview up near Seattle. He did not want this job and was talking himself into the interview. Actually, I think when he called me on the way there, he had no preference one way or another. He was indifferent enough that he was not nervous about the job. He had applied on a whim and if he got it, great, he would consider relocating, but if not, no big deal either. He called me immediately after the interview to tell me just how horrible the job seemed and to laugh about the interviewers and their bland questioning of preprinted questions. We talked his whole way home.

Shortly after that, he really did get another government job, as an administrative law judge in Montana. He closed his law practice and moved away. We have maintained contact, mainly through texts, but sometimes calls. He had a judge training in Reno and called to tell me about it. It sounded funny to me, the subjects judges have to learn about. I send him screenshots of the Map App on my iPhone looking like a coronary the roads are so dark red, blood vessels twisting and covering the screen. He commiserates and thanks his lucky stars he is far away in Montana.

I did have coffee with one of his bankruptcy attorney friends a few months back. He had mentioned that Edward had been in town a couple of weeks before and the two had had lunch. This stung. I felt slightly hurt that Edward had been in town and had not called to have lunch or coffee with me. Then I reasoned that he had probably had limited time and couldn’t fit it in. I was planning to ask him about it, but then got busy and forgot.

Basically, we have had this friendship and I have considered him my friend, in spite of not having lunch when he was in town. Sometimes we communicate several times a day for a few days. Other times we go several weeks without communicating. If I’m with a client who is taking particularly long to read their documents, I will send him a text like this: Reading. Every. Single. Word. He knows what I mean. We have shorthand texts for stuff because we have sent so many texts over the years.

In any case, this fall I was at a hearing waiting for my client’s turn, my head buried in a book. I keep one ear attuned during my reading at hearings so that I can hear when they call my client’s name. At some point I became aware another attorney said Edward and Montana and engaged. I perked up my ears to listen. I thought perhaps they meant my friend Edward. His is a relatively common name (his real name is much more common than Edward). What other Edward would be in Montana? Unfortunately, they didn’t say any more. I finished my hearing and left. Was Edward engaged? I sent him a text and said hi. We chatted a bit and then I said I heard you were engaged. He didn’t respond to that one. I then said, If you are engaged, then congratulations. He said nothing in response. We texted a few days later about something else and it never came up again. I thought this was weird, but actually forgot about it during the busy holiday season and living my life.

Then I was in court again reading a book, half paying attention to the hearings, but mostly occupied and focused on my book. It’s been snowy off and on in Portland. I heard Edward’s name, and Montana. I half listened. Oh yes, the weather in Montana is worse than here so they deal with it better. Yada yada. Haven’t heard that 8 million times. We get it. Portland spends less on snowplows than places where it snows all winter. That’s fine with me. They should spend that money in other places. Old news. Then…Edward is a judge. He has a cushy job. He gets holidays paid. He leaves at five. Again, old news. I pulled out my phone and texted Edward: “They’re talking about you in court this morning.” Him: “Why?” Me: “You have winter weather and a cushy government job.” Him: “LOL” I turned back to my book.

Then… “His wife got a job with the state, too, so they both have the same days off.” Umm, what? His wife?!? I heard that. His wife got a job with the state, too??

I was completely taken aback upon hearing this. Clearly they were talking about my friend Edward in Montana. What made me feel taken aback was the fact that Edward is married and he never told me about it. And the guy who said this about the wife getting the job with the state too, said TOO, which means also, which means that Edward had had this girlfriend-fiance-wife before he left and moved to Montana over a year ago. She got a job too.

Not only did Edward not tell me about his wife, he didn’t ever mention he had gotten a girlfriend, or gotten engaged to her (and he ignored my texts about it), and then married her, and never once in our many, many conversations did he bring her up. Not once. He had a wedding. Weddings aren’t generally small affairs, and considering Edward is close to his family, I doubt it was an elopement, but even then, why not share?

Why?

Seriously. Why is this? I have been mulling over the existence of this wife ever since I heard about her. In the meantime, Edward has texted me. I haven’t brought it up because I don’t know how to. I’m not jealous that Edward has a wife; I am confused as to why Edward never told me. Is it because I’m female too? Does he think I want him for a husband? Does he want to keep his options open? I just don’t know and it’s weird.

I called a friend yesterday and described my friendship with Edward to her and then described what happened in the hearing. She was as baffled as I was and understood completely my confusion. She believes that he didn’t mention this wife (or the girlfriend and then the fiance’) because he wants to keep his options open, however slim. Maybe I’m naive, but that just seems ridiculous to me. He has to know we aren’t going to have a romantic relationship. We haven’t in our five and half years of knowing one another made any attempt at a romantic relationship. We live three states apart. Really, this can’t be it. And if this isn’t it, what is it?

Edward texted me this morning about the weather in Portland (it’s snowing, profusely). He then asked if I have hearings today (today is hearing day in Vancouver). We texted a bit. Throughout it all I kept thinking about his wife and wondering if she knows he’s texting me and if she is cool with it. Maybe that is why he doesn’t mention her, she would be jealous? But if she is jealous, why not tell me she exists? I can’t figure it. I thought about bringing it up, but I’m not sure how. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing to bring up via text, but it would be weird to call, too. “Um, hi, Edward. I have something to ask. Are you married?

How do I make him understand that isn’t the fact of the wife that bothers me, it’s the fact he didn’t tell me about the wife that bothers me. Why didn’t he tell me? It’s weird now. I thought we had the sort of friendship where we would tell each other about these kinds of things. We don’t have super deep, level 4 conversations, but we are beyond the weather, even though it’s mostly what we have talked about recently.

Maybe I’ll send him this blog post. Hey, Edward! What’s up? Why didn’t you tell me about your wife? Did you think I would throw myself on a pyre in grief that you were no longer available to me as a romantic partner? Do you want to keep your options open? Did you just forget to mention it and now it seems weird to bring it up? (Did it ever occur to you that I have had a couple of boyfriends in the last few years and even mentioned them on occasion so mentioning a girlfriend and then wife would be okay?)

I don’t know. I’ve been meaning to write about the discoveries I have been making about myself and friends. Too often I realize that people mean more to me than I do to them. People expect less from friendships than I do and I’m hurt and confused when they turn out to be less than what I thought. I know Edward and I have had conversations of depth, but we have had a lot of shallow ones, too. Maybe to him our friendship, or perhaps I should call it acquaintanceship, has been too shallow to mention major milestones like getting married. He discussed the pain of losing his dog with me. This is the sort of conversation that to me meant we were friends, but I should not have made such an assumption. I might not be the sort of person who would discuss my pain at the death of a dog with someone who is just an acquaintance, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is like that. I shouldn’t be hurt, but I am. Not because of the relationship he has with her, but because I thought I was more of a friend to him than I am. Add him to the pile. I’ve discovered it’s a theme in my life and he is just another piece of that puzzle.

If Wishes Were Horses

I have heard the expression If wishes were horses. I don’t know where I heard this. I am resisting googling this before I write so my writing is not colored by whatever I find on the internets. I keep thinking that if wishes were horses, there would not be enough room on the planet to sustain all of them. And also that wishing and wishing and wishing does not make something true. Desire, desire, desire leads to wishing, wishing, wishing. If every wish were a horse this would be a very strange planet. And what about the horses themselves? Perhaps they are wishing too. What then?

For me, if wishes were horses, there would be a herd indeed.

I did do an internets search and found out that it comes from an old proverb. Horses can be interchanged with birds and fishes. This proverb is recorded in English from quite an early date. A version of the expression appeared in the published works of William Camden in the 17th century. The first known citation of the proverb in the form we now know it is in James Carmichaell’s Collection of Proverbs in Scots:

If wishes were horses, beggers wald ryde.

The date of Carmichaell’s work is unclear, but it does appear to have been published in his lifetime and he died in 1628. Whether it was Carmichaell or Camden who first recorded the proverb is currently not known.

I wonder if this means that beggars didn’t get to ride horses in those days. This should not surprise me. Owning a horse is an expensive proposition. Capitalism would have ensured that those at the bottom of the food chain did not own a horse, which requires food and shoeing and a place to live. No, beggars would not have ridden.

Okay, stream of consciousness, too early because I can’t sleep post is over. Suffice to say, for me, if wishes were horses, I wald haft love.

Feeling Love Means Feeling Everything

And with one push
it falls
Falling
Falling
F
A
L
L
I
N
G
Then broken.

Shards of glass where there used to be a heart.

Can you imagine someone feeling so happy with you that they cannot be with you because feeling happy by necessity thereby demands they feel other feelings as well? And they don’t want to feel happiness because they might feel pain? How narrow a conception of life. How much love isn’t felt in this world because of the fear of pain. This is to me, tragedy.

Doubt

Doubt is like a leak in the wall. It gets in and under and around. At first, you’re not even sure it’s there. But then you realize a dampness has spread like a cancer into all the tissues. If you’re not careful, the foundation will be shot and it will all have to be replaced. Three weeks from enthusiasm to doubt. I suppose it’s better to get to doubt sooner rather than later, before having invested much.

I have decided to give up trying to stay in bed and sleep when I awaken too early. I will sit and stare at the wall rather than lying and staring at the backs of my eyelids.

Good Adult Crush Ideas

I read an article that said adult crushes can be more difficult than adolescent crushes because you can’t give your best friend a note to hand to the guy in 4th period and my immediate thought was, “Why not?” Maybe you can’t do it in 4th period, but you could get your best friend to hand the guy a note somewhere else, like perhaps the water cooler at work if the guy you have a crush on is at work, or perhaps on the playground if the guy you have a crush on is another parent. Maybe you could pass a note via car windshield wipers. Just leave a note that says, I ❤ U. Maybe he’ll have a crush too and wonder if it was you that left it (or he could think he has a weird stalker, but just pretend that isn’t a possibility). You’ll just know it was him when you get the note back with a “2” written after the U. Plus there is no reason you couldn’t get your friend to leave the note. This might help prevent any stalker suspicion as well, especially if you have lots of good friends who could do this for you. And you could also do all those crush things you did as an adolescent like “accidentally” waiting for a drink at the water fountain. This works especially well at work with the water cooler. You just saunter over casually with your cup and get some water when he does. If he’s liking you and he’s sauntering over to the water cooler too, then you’ll both end up drinking a lot of water and this could result in a lot of bathroom trips at the same time and maybe, just maybe, you might bump each other on the way. Squeee!!! Isn’t the thought just too much?!?!?

This has real potential. I have to disagree with the author of that article. She didn’t have enough imagination about this. She probably doesn’t really have any crush as an adult. She’s probably married already and doesn’t need a crush. Her editor told her to write an article on adult crushes and she couldn’t think of anything to say except boring things like passing notes in 4th period. That editor should give me the assignment. I could come up with some really great adult crush ideas that aren’t difficult at all. I just know it.

The Crazy Train

I need to find some way of unclogging words. Words used to flow from my fingertips. No longer. I sit down to write and nothing comes out. Oh, I have ideas, but I don’t have the time to write them. I’m too over-scheduled with nothing. It’s all like yesterday, driving and driving. I drive to work, then drive to here to get a check, then drive to the bank, then drive back here, then drive to the pool, then drive here, then drive to the ice skating rink, and anytime I stop here in the middle I collapse on my bed. My poor children. They’re only going to know me horizontally.

My mom had a stroke on Sunday. Such a weird thing to have happen. Not so much I suppose, but I spent 2 days saying the words out loud to try and make them sink in. Really? She had a stroke? My mom is officially old. It sneaks up on you, this aging thing.

The stroke has brought enormous stresses because my parents are dysfunctional in the extreme, particularly my step-father. He brings criminals and misfits home to live with them because of some delusional, misguided fantasy of recreating his delusional, misguided childhood. He does not ask my mother. He is like an addict in his behavior, filling up on drama. He used to drink, but quit during my teens, trading the booze for chaos. I will get drunk on that instead, his mind seems to say.

My mother is the long-suffering wife who is not asked permission and does not insist on it. She has stayed in this misbegotten union, the first excuse being that she stayed for the sake of my brother when he was growing up, the second being that she did not want to give up their beautiful land. Neither is a valid excuse or a real one. Both are destroyed as a result of this hapless pairing. No two people are more ill-suited to one another than these two and together only bad things happen.

These two people (ages 68 and 69) are also raising my brother’s child, a 6 year old girl, taken from her drug addict, ex-con mother after she was abused violently as a toddler while my brother was in prison. My niece is better off with my parents than she would be with her mother, but that is not saying much. They are too old and neither has strong parenting skills. Even without the crazy criminal running around, I have been gunning in the background for a change for her. I think the best option at this point is for her to live with my sister. My sister may be a fundamentalist Christian who raises her children to smile even when they feel sad, but this is far preferable to the situation the child is in now.

My parents live on a farm. They have cows. A month and a half ago, a cow who was protecting her calf gored my step-father in the stomach. (Yes, cows have horns. It seems to be the first thing everyone says, that they thought only bulls had horns.) It was the most bizarre situation. The horn did not break the skin, not one bit. Yet after the goring, there was clearly damage. He was taken to the hospital where exploratory surgery revealed that the horn had split the muscles lining his gut like a scalpel. The 8 inch slice went clear through, and his intestines were poking out. Yet the skin was fully intact. The doctors had never seen anything like it. They cut the skin open, poked the intestines back in, and sewed him back up. The point of this story, here in the middle of all this other chaos? The cow has chased my father again. She is dangerous, pure and simple.

And finally, the latest ex-con, drug addict my step-father dragged home has been stealing from them and has threatened their safety. My dad has been parking his car at the end of their driveway (the fabled driveway I walked down as a child in rain or snow or sleet), sleeping in it with a gun to protect his precious stuff from the lunatic. I have to wonder whether the label has not been comprehensively applied.

Toss into this salad of insanity a stroke. I have little doubt the stroke was induced by the stress of bull goring, the out-of-control 6 year old, and the crazy criminal drug addict causing all sorts of drama and disharmony.

Tests revealed that my mother’s carotid artery was filled with plaque. For as long as I can remember, my mother has worried about her cholesterol. She is one of those people for whom eating is a chore because she is counting calories and examining labels and worrying and fretting over this cholesterol level. It always seemed to me if she would just eat actual food, stuff that grew out of the ground or walked on the earth, and then tossed in a bit of exercise, she would be fine. But it hasn’t been as simple as that for my mom. She still eats things that have an ingredients list, always tries to fit in substitutes for real food, and does not exercise at all.

Because of the plaque, Mom’s brain has not been getting enough oxygen, which explains her increasing confusion. Because of the stroke, she got surgery to remove this plaque, and will get medicine to keep it at bay. Her brain is now filled with the blood it was so desperately lacking. The doctors can’t do anything about the enormous stress, however. That change is up to her. And us, I imagine.

At the hospital the day before surgery, my sister and I staged an intervention of sorts. We brought in hospital staff to help us explain to my mother that she and our niece are are first priority and that neither can go back to the insanity that has been their life. It cannot happen.  There is too much risk, the obviousness of which cannot be overstated.

Someone asked me the other day if I date. I laughed. Right. When? When would that happen? And who? If I had time, which I don’t. If I had interest, which I don’t. And I would be almost embarrassed to have to explain my family to a normal person. I do not participate much in the drama train. I moved away a looong time ago. I get most of my information about these situations second-hand. Whenever I visit, it’s enough to keep me away for months again at a time. It frightens me. It frustrates me. I don’t want my children exposed to it. My children have such a different experience than I had that they are confused by the chaos there. I have not been able to change it; that’s their job. Growing up, I was the black sheep Cassandra who spoke out against it and was punished for it. I’ve come to terms with this, grieved it, accepted it, forgiven it, and moved on. How else could I ensure that I did not pass the insanity on to my own children? I decided long ago, long before a child should ever have to make such a decision, that my children would experience a different reality.

Yet here it is again, the crazy train. I guess I’m glad that I don’t bring my own emotional upheaval to the mix in trying to deal with it. If I were still angry, if I had not worked through all those old feelings, I don’t know how I would have reacted to all this. But it’s weird. Every time we think we’ve escaped, it seeps back into our lives. You can never completely get away.

This is why the words don’t come. My attention is directed in too many directions. I have so little time. I only managed this because I can’t sleep in the light, even if it’s light peeking around light-blocking shades, and I can’t sleep after I have risen, even if it’s at 5:34 a.m. My bladder wakes up with the sun and forces me out of bed, and I can’t go back to sleep. So today I got up, picked up the computer, and wrote this. Sleep would have been more satisfying for me, but oh well. Maybe someday life will free itself and the words will come again. I genuinely hope so.

Autumn — Chapter 15

Read Autumn — Chapter 14

In spring of 2003, I graduated from law school. I studied for and completed the bar exam. After taking the test but before getting the results, I was hired by a law firm. Whether I would keep the job was contingent upon my having passed the bar. The firm was in NE Portland, a forty minute drive from our country suburb house in the middle of nowhere.

The reality of consequences was gradually squeezing me into the accepting that some decisions can impact a life for a long time. Less than three years earlier, during my first term in law school, I discovered with a panic that perhaps I had made a grave error. Yet the cost of that error was already well over ten-thousand dollars. If I quit, I would have to repay that sum, and if I wasn’t practicing law, how would I do that? And so I soldiered on.

My dismay grew the remainder of that year. However, second year was an improvement, and I began to believe perhaps the error was not so disastrous as I first thought. By graduation and beyond, I had returned to my original assessment, that I should never have gone to law school. Only after completion I was much further in debt, and much more discomposed. While I loved the academic rigor of law school, I was not enamored of the practice of law. I began to see the entire enterprise as one magnificent, horrendously expensive mistake.

Simultaneously, I was coming to terms with personal consequences as well. I knew three months after meeting Bjorn that we were not the most suitable pair. We were simply completely different. We could spend forty-five minutes arguing a point, only to discover we were arguing the same side. I was extremely energetic, always on the move, and constantly trying new things. Bjorn took life at a slower pace. He preferred hanging out at home and watching sports on television to buzzing around to various events. When we bought the first house, even though it was brand new, I wanted to dive in and start new projects, fixing it up. Bjorn liked it fine the way it was. About our only real connection was the love we jointly shared for our daughter.

Life was forcing me to take a good, hard look at the choices I had made, often on the fly, and determine whether a course correction was in order. I was driving nearly 45 minutes in one direction to my job. I didn’t hate the job, but I didn’t love it either, and making that commute seemed not worth it. I was living in a house and neighborhood with others who did not share my values, my politics, or much of anything except real estate. And sadly, I knew I was no longer in love with the father of my child, and nor was he in love with me. House linked to career linked to relationship, a concatenation of choices was leading me down the path to misery. Change was in order.

Bjorn and I had discussed ending our relationship several times over the course of a year. Early in the pre-dawn hours of the new year, after leaving a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house in Salem, the two of us were rehashing the menu from the evening as we drove along the winding country roads in the dark.

I was always the health nut, eliminating high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil years before it became commonplace to do so. Bjorn liked junk food and fast food, and didn’t feel bad about it or any need to eat any differently. The party food had been mostly junk food and I was lamenting the lack of healthy snacks. I was also hungry.

“If you would just eat the junk, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Bjorn informed me, driving down the blackened, curved highway under the cold, winter moon and low, shredded clouds.

“I don’t have a problem,” I retorted. “We are just different. This is what I have been saying for months now. This is just one of many reasons why I do not think we are good together or for each other.” The passenger seat where I sat was reclined back, nearly touching the car seat holding a sleeping Milla. I slumped there, trying to make myself comfortable.

Bjorn didn’t say anything for a long time, such a long time in fact that I began almost to doze off. Then out of the silence he said, “You’re right.”

And with that, we ended our relationship of five and a half years.

Even though we were no longer a couple, neither of us immediately moved out and on. We had recently decided to sell the country suburb house and move into Portland. We had been looking for a house together, and I simply switched and began looking for a house on my own. Bjorn had been working as an engineer, but wanted to move into another area of engineering entirely, an area in which he was unlikely to find employment in the Portland area. He had begun sending out resumes to companies in other cities.

I wanted an old house, preferably a bungalow. I had been looking and looking, but this was the beginning of the housing bubble and prices were starting to get really steep. It was still possible to find affordable houses, but they usually came with another sort of price in that they were further out, in a less desirable neighborhood, or needed a lot of work. If it needed work, that was fine with me. I relished the opportunity. I was less willing to live further out, and I would not even consider some of the more troublesome neighborhoods because it would be just me and Milla living there. We had the dogs, but there was only so much they could do, and I didn’t want them to get hurt either. Often a neighborhood looked fine on the outside, but Portland had been experiencing an influx of Russian and Mexican gangs. No thanks.

After only a few weeks of searching, I found my house. Built in 1920, it needed tons of cosmetic work, but was structurally quite sound. With a few changes, the house would be perfect for us. It also had a lovely, floral back yard, as well as a side yard already fenced and lined with bark chips for the dogs. The support beams under the eaves were carved with loops and bows. This house was charming and perfect, so I bought it.

I had major plans for renovating and started immediately, before we even moved in. Bjorn moved to the house as well, and the two of us demolished the kitchen. It was the only place in the house that was truly awful. The counters were covered with tiny brown tiles that had not been installed properly. There was more grout than tile and each swipe of a sponge brought up a handful of dust, dirt, and goo.

In the four and a half years I lived in that house, I made many changes:  I installed an entirely new kitchen, put in a new kitchen window with rising double panes, to replace the former single-paned window that did not open at all, a travesty in a kitchen. I replaced the floors in the kitchen with new tiles. I removed the ugly, industrial grey tile in the bathroom, covering the floor with small, square white tiles. I removed a wall in the second room that opened into a small room with no real purpose, creating one giant bedroom. In that larger room, I installed a closet and discovered space above the stairs in the wall and turned it into a cupboard, using period knobs for the doors. I built a wall along the far side of the bigger second room, then opened a door into the master bedroom, creating a walk-in closet in a room that formerly had no closet at all.

While making the place for the door, I discovered newspapers from 1925 under the wallpaper advertising “Paris Frocks for Only $25.99!” I moved the front door from the master bedroom back into the living room where it belonged. I designed and installed built-in bookshelves in the living room, matching the woodwork at the base and along the top edge with the woodwork throughout the house. I painted the entire interior of the house with many lovely colors. I replaced all the light fixtures with period fixtures, and replaced a couple of windows that were no longer functional.

I also removed the jungle that covered the front of the house and built a rock wall, then covered everything in flowers. This was quite a chore as there was a 75-foot tall camellia bush that was so close to the house, it hung over the roof. I advertised the bush for free to anyone who would come and remove it. Two men arrived with a trailer and tools and excavated it over the course of a week, before driving it away on a flatbed trailer. There were also many scrubby azaleas who found new homes via the internet. For some reason, someone had installed sheep fencing in the front yard between the camellia and the maple tree near the sidewalk. Twisted and rusting, it was covered in ivy that used the sheep fencing as a ladder to higher reaches in the trees. All of it I removed and replaced with grass and smaller shrubs and flowers. I built a rock wall along the sidewalk, dragging the stones in three carloads from a rock quarry nearby.

Every job was done with the period of the house in mind, and in the end, it was charming and engaging. It was the perfect project. I did not have the money to hire contractors for most of the work, and therefore I did it all myself. I hired an electrician to replace the wiring and update that, and my dad installed the new bathtub fixtures and the front door, but everything else was done with my own two hands. It was a lot of work, but I loved that house and loved the end result.

Four months after I bought the house, Bjorn was offered a job in Florida doing exactly the kind of engineering he wanted, designing medical implants. Within three weeks of the job offer, he packed his truck and set off, leaving me alone with our daughter and the dogs.

On the one hand, I was relieved to let go of the tension between us. On the other, life became much more difficult. First there was the house. Even though it was a project of love, it was still a lot of work, especially for a full-time, working single mother. Milla was attending kindergarten and would go to aftercare there after school. Because of the hours at aftercare, I had to cut back one hour per day at the office, leaving at 5 instead of 6. This did not change my workload, only the hours I sat in the office doing it. In spite of the fact that the workload remained unchanged, the firm cut my pay, which I could barely afford.

I was also now the only person available to ensure Autumn was given her daily insulin shots twice every day. No matter where I was in the evening, I had to plan to ensure Autumn was medicated. I chose 7:15 as the time for these shots because it was early enough in the morning that I had not yet left for work, late enough that it would not be horrible to wake up to on the weekend, and early enough in the evenings that I could still do something after.

At times, I would take her with me in the car if I had to be somewhere and could not be home to give her a shot, a cooler in tow for the insulin, which had to be refrigerated. I also had to be careful not to shake the bottle because this could cause the insulin to become unstable and unusable.

In spite of the difficulties, we managed and forged a comfortable routine. Six months after Bjorn moved away, I left the firm and started my own practice. This brought its own stresses, but it was still easier setting my own time and getting work done at odd hours. I was freed up to attend more events at Milla’s school during the day, and it gave me much more flexibility for dealing with Autumn.

Over the next year, we settled into our lives with Bjorn far away and working at my new practice. I worked on the house on weekends and some afternoons during the week.

I took both dogs out of the house nearly every day. We lived near a dog park with a wide field where the dogs could run without leashes. Even on wet days, I would go and let them romp in the muddy grass, then wipe their paws before having them ride in the back of the car to home.

Autumn couldn’t get up into the car by herself, so I would lift her and get her situated. She would ride, watching the world go by, tongue lolling, ears perked, her happy face on. She loved car rides. Molly didn’t mind the car, but she preferred curling up in the corner or on the back seat.

Autumn actually didn’t seem to notice the poking of the needle into the skin at the back of her neck anymore. Every shot was followed immediately by food and she soon figured out that my shuffling around in the refrigerator door meant food was soon to be had, so she would wait right at my heels, eyes up, perky and expectant, waiting for that shot.

Needles. The funny thing about giving a shot is that the first few times you do it, it’s terrifying to think of the pain it’s inflicting. After you’ve given fifty shots, then a hundred, then several hundred, you can do it in your sleep. I suppose it’s like that for anything new. There is just something rather odd about doing something that becomes so familiar that is actually poking into another living body.

I will never forget those little orange tipped needles. I bought them in bulk from various pharmacy stores. I got to know where the deals were. The shocking thing was the difference in price from one store to the next, for the exact same needles of the same brand. It gave me some insight into what diabetics or others with chronic medical conditions face every day. The same box of needles would be ten dollars less than the cost somewhere else. The cheapest I found were about $17 for a hundred needles (they had to be thrown away after each use), but I found places that sold them for $33 for an identical box. I had the benefit of being strong and fit, so driving to another store where I knew the needles were cheaper was a fairly simple proposition. I could see how a mostly housebound senior would have a lot of difficulty shopping around.

After administering shots to Autumn twice daily for over a year, giving the shots became mundane and completely routine. On weekend mornings, I would wake up, stumble to the kitchen, roll the bottle in my hands, pull the shot, give it to her, feed her, and head back to bed, all in about three minutes flat. I don’t think I even really woke up. All the dogs knew the wake-up time, and if for some reason there was no alarm and I failed to awaken, one of them was guaranteed to rouse me from sleep.

One morning on a Saturday, I staggered into the kitchen, pulled the shot, and the phone rang. I squinted at the caller id, wondering sluggishly who would call at 7 a.m.on a Saturday. There was no way I could read the screen. I am ridiculously farsighted and my eyes were full of sleep.

I answered the call. It was Officer So-and-So from the Milwaukie Police Department. Did I have a golden colored dog? I informed him that I did, looking blindly around the kitchen for the neck I’d planned to shove a needle into not thirty seconds previously.

The officer went on to say that a yellow dog had been seen “wandering in a daze” down the road. She looked lost and starving. He responded to the call and found my number on her collar. He offered to bring her to me.

I explained that she had diabetes and that this was why she was so thin, that I had no idea she was out, that she was an escape artist of the highest order, and that I would be most grateful if he returned her to me. And please, I begged, don’t feed her anything.

Five minutes later, Autumn walked in the door, that diabetic-glazed look in her eye. I poked the shot into her neck, barely glancing down, I had done it so many times. I talked to the officer for ten more minutes, telling him Autumn’s story and about her magical ability to get out of the yard, and thanked him profusely as he drove off. I did not mention that I had failed to replace her underground fence collar after her bath the previous evening.

I was grateful Autumn was back, but I was really glad I did not get a “Dog at Large” ticket. Those can be expensive. I knew. Autumn had given them to me before. Even though the dog yard was fenced with underground wiring, it did not guard against escapes out the front or back doors, and I lived with a 5-year-old who had a habit of running out without making sure the latch had clicked. Autumn knew this and followed Milla around, waiting for any opportunity to slip out the door.

I was also extremely grateful he had not given her any food. On one occasion when Autumn escaped, a well-meaning yet misguided neighbor fed her two huge bowls of food before she keeled over in the woman’s kitchen. Why she waited to call me until after giving my dog a meal I’ll never know. Maybe she thought I was starving her on purpose or something, as if someone who was careful enough to tag a dog would be careless enough not to feed it.

In any case, when I went to retrieve Autumn from the neighbor’s house, the lady started to scold me for letting my dog get so thin, but I cut her off and explained that she had a chronic illness and that the food she gave her could have killed her, which is why she had keeled over.

I wanted to scream, “Why would you feed someone else’s dog, you idiot?” but did not. She didn’t know, and she thought she was helping. I used my glucose monitor to check Autumn’s blood. I ran the test, gave her an insulin shot, and she was back to normal within a half an hour. After that incident I went to the pet store and bought a tag that read, “I have a disease. DO NOT FEED ME!”

The glucose meter was a godsend and really the only part of all the illness-related activities Autumn endured that she seemed really to abhor. Other than testing urine, it was the best way for me to get a reading on Autumn’s insulin levels, especially if she had broken into the trash cupboard and found something to eat, or escaped and gotten something.

We had a strict food routine in the house whereby any food-based garbage went into the compost bucket, which was kept on a high shelf with a lid. When it was full it went into the compost bin out back, away from the dog area. The rest of our waste was separated into two containers, one for trash and the other for recycling. Autumn loved to get into the trash version and lick through whatever was in there, such as butter wrappers or soiled plastic wrap. Once the new cabinets were installed in the kitchen, I put in a double-garbage-can rack, placing the recycling in the front bin, and the trash in the back. There was a childproof latch on the door. When that was closed and the trash in the back, she was not able to get into it. However, Milla had a knack for leaving the door open and the whole thing pulled out. Autumn would then remove the can from the rack and go through whatever was inside.

One time shortly after we moved in, I arrived home to discover that Autumn had gnawed through the bottom corner of one of the kitchen boxes sitting stacked and unpacked on the kitchen floor. She had discovered all the dry good baking items and ate them. Molly had joined in on that escapade. I caught her because I discovered powdered sugar on her ears and muzzle. Naughty things.

Another time both dogs managed to get onto the table and eat a pan of chocolate cake.  I had heard the warnings that chocolate supposedly killed dogs, but this simply was not the case.  I read somewhere that it was only dogs who had an allergy that had to worry about eating it, but who wants to be the person making this discovery the first time?  It makes sense to keep the chocolate away just in case your dog is the one who is allergic.

However, potential life-threatening allergies did not stop my dogs from climbing on the table and eating an entire chocolate cake.  When Dan and I lived at his parent’s, Murphee climbed onto the island in the kitchen and ate a pan of brownies.  In all cases the worst thing that happened was the dogs came away with some really nasty gas, and we no longer had any dessert.  Apparently none of them suffered from chocolate allergy.

The glucose meter was a big help for these non-diabetic dog food eating sprees. However, in order to use the meter, I had to obtain a drop of Autumn’s blood. One end of the meter had a sharp lancet with which to pierce her skin. At the other end of the meter was a test strip onto which I smeared the blood to obtain a glucose reading. Autumn hated the pricking part. There was not any part of her body where it was easy to get a blood sample, mainly because she was furry. Only her lips and the pads of her paws were bare. The lips had to hurt; she yelped whenever I tried drawing blood from them, the skin was so thin and soft. But the pads of her paws were thick and extremely difficult to pierce enough to get blood. When I was able to poke them hard enough, it usually caused way more bleeding than was necessary for the meter, and this made her cry out as well. Digging that deep into the pads was painful. For this reason I only used the test when I knew she had eaten something she should not have. In addition the test strips were really expensive, so I didn’t want to use them up quickly. Humans would use the meters daily, because they could control their levels fairly precisely with diet. Autumn could only eat her prescription diabetic dog food, so it wasn’t necessary to monitor all the time.

Autumn was always so patient with the medical interventions she had to endure, but the lancets and subsequent rubbings were the one procedure for which she refused to sit still or comply. She would pull away and yelp, making it that much more difficult to get blood. But she was a dog – as much as I told her it would all be over soon, she just couldn’t get it. Sometimes I would be frustrated because she had gotten into something and made a huge mess, and then wouldn’t sit still so I could check her blood.

“If you wouldn’t get into anything, I wouldn’t have to do this,” I would scold, obviously more for my benefit than for hers.

I would read the meter and if the levels were high, give her more insulin. On occasion, the meter simply read HI, in its blocky digital letters. This meant her glucose levels were so high, they were off the chart, and insulin was required immediately.

Within a few months after her diagnosis, I noticed tiny white flecks in Autumn’s eyes. The flecks increased as the weeks progressed. I went online and discovered that Autumn was developing diabetic cataracts, a condition that is extremely common. I read somewhere that 75% of dogs with diabetes develop cataracts, and that their presence did not necessarily imply glucose levels were not under control.

In a normal eye, the lens is round, clear, and hard. It is connected by fibers that move so the eye can focus. It is enclosed in a capsule and gets fluids from the eye. The lens does not have its own blood supply. One of the fluids the lens absorbs is glucose. If there is too much glucose, the excess is converted into the sugars sorbitol and fructose. Sorbitol and fructose pull water into the lens which makes the lens cloudy, and a cataract is formed.

Some dogs develop complete cataracts fairly quickly after their diagnosis. Autumn’s developed slowly in comparison to some of the stories I read, and her cataracts were never completely solidly white; they were slightly less opaque than that. However, a year after the diagnosis, she could not really see. She would tilt her head and look at me as if she were peeking out the side of her eye, trying to see around the cataract. A couple of times she ran into the doorframe around the back door, but she quickly adapted and learned where her world was at. I could have had the vet perform surgeries to remove the cataracts, but we discussed it and ruled it out. The cost was over $1000 per eye, and the average life span of a dog with diabetes is two years from diagnosis. Even if Autumn lived another three years, the result did not justify the expense or the upheaval of a surgery. Blind dogs adapt quite well to living without sight, and Autumn was no exception.

After Autumn had been living with diabetes for nearly two years, she was almost completely blind, but she was lively. I would take her to the dog park and throw frisbees and sticks for her. I would set her up, touching her muzzle with whatever I was throwing, then guiding her head in the direction of my toss. Autumn would head out and look until she found what I’d thrown. Her sense of smell was fully intact, and she would find anything, no matter how far I had thrown it, as long as I pointed her in the right direction. She loved the game, turning and running right back to me to throw again, in that familiar trot she had inherited from Cody. She wore out easily though, and would lie down to shred the stick after only three or four passes letting me know she had had enough.

Read Autumn — Chapter 16