In. Som. Ni. A.

“Hmm. We’re having trouble finding that site.”

Well, then keep trying, bitches! Seriously. Give the damn wifi a minute to hook its ass up to the computer before turning into a big fat quitter. Jeez.

In. Som. Ni. A. That’s what I have. I diagnosed myself. I didn’t even use Dr. Internets, or read Dr. Wikipedia, or anything like that. I just figured it out all by myself because I’m brilliant and have lots of star stickers.

I thought I had cured my In. Som. Ni. A. You can read all about it here if you’re bored or don’t have a sock drawer to arrange or something like that. And while I truly did experience some relief there for a while, and although sleeping with wifi on next to my head is akin to setting off a bullhorn three inches from my ears, I didn’t actually cure anything because the shit came back with a vengeance a couple of years ago and it likes sticking around like a bad rash. It’s like foot fungus. You put on the cream between your toes and a few days later it’s like your feet are normal or something, but really, they aren’t because one day you’ll wake up with a burning fire on your feet and know that the cream did NOTHING.

That’s how the In. Som. Ni. A. is for me. Thought I beat it down. Thought I cured it. Wrong and wrong again. That’s what I get for making assumptions.

Back when I lived in Portland and during the time I had a regular doctor for a decade because I was being the poster child for public healthcare (see that here), I went to her and asked for a sleep test. My best friend suffers from some of the worst sleep apnea in the whole world and she had been listening to me lament my In. Som. Ni. A. for decades, literally. One day after I was complaining in an incoherent rambling manner (kind of like this blog, actually) because I had been without regular sleep for so long, she said, “You need to get a sleep test. What if you have some sleep disease like sleep apnea that can kill you if left untreated?”

This of course scared the crap out of me because I can’t die before my children are grown and really don’t want to die anyway because I’m too young for that shit and who would take care of my animals and I’m digressing, probably because I’m so frickin’ tired. ANYWAY, so I asked my doctor if I could have a sleep test and she laughed at me. Yes, she did. She laughed! She said the sleep testing center told her that if she sent one more person over to have a sleep test for In. Som. Ni. A. they were going to kill her. Well, they didn’t say they would kill her. I actually don’t remember what she said they said they would do to her if she sent another insomniac for a sleep test, but they would do something really, really bad, so she wouldn’t let me go. Bummer.

This is the same doctor who wouldn’t let me have cortisone shots in my frozen shoulder when it was in the freezing stage and I thought maybe I was going to throw up sometimes from the pain in it. She told me she had had two frozen shoulders and they froze, and then they unfroze and so I could just suck it up. I really liked this doctor, but sometimes she was a little bit like Katherine Hepburn or something. I’m not sure why I thought she was like Katherine Hepburn. Maybe she was a little entitled? Maybe she was like someone who had all sorts of people she could order around when her arms didn’t work so it didn’t matter that they didn’t work. I am not like that. I do not have people in my life I can order around when things don’t work. I need them to work so I can do stuff. And sometimes that shoulder would hurt so badly it felt like maybe I would vomit from the pain and I have a VERY high pain threshold, so it’s saying a lot to say it made me nauseated from the pain.

Again, ANYWAY. I don’t know how I ended up here in this story, but I did. The point is that I’m getting tired of being tired all the fucking time. I wonder if some of the many people in my life who have decided they don’t like me and don’t want to know me anymore got together and put a curse on me and gave me In. Som. Ni. A. There are enough of them, I think they could probably put out some really ugly vibes if they wanted to. But at the same time, I also don’t think I’m that important to them in their scheme of things so it’s unlikely, but I do have some sage so maybe I should just burn it anyway in an effort to rid myself of the possible curse. I will try that. I am at the point where I’ll try anything.

I got new health insurance and it’s AWESOME health insurance. I’m not with the same medical group I was with when I had the wonderful public health insurance I used to have. I don’t know if that kind exists anymore. Obamacare and all the insurance companies made sure of that. But I have this paid for health insurance and it’s wonderful and I have a new doctor, so I’m hoping maybe I can beg and they’ll find a cure for my In. Som. Ni. A. that doesn’t involve horrible drugs that make me feel like I’m stuck in slime or make me drive my car to my ex’s house in the middle of the night and climb into bed with him. That happened to me once about 11 years ago. Took this stupid sleeping pill and woke up across town in bed with my ex. Didn’t remember one minute of the experience. I have to AVOID that shit for sure. I don’t want to die, remember?

ANYWAY. Digressions seem to be par for the course in this blog post. The point is that I’m going to try and see if a new doctor has some new ideas. It can’t hurt. I’ll also try the sage burning. And maybe chanting. Or maybe moaning. I could be like Harry in When Harry Met Sally and lie in bed and moan.

Moan.

Moan.

Moan.

I can dream, can’t I?

No, I can’t, because I can’t fucking sleep and you have to be sleeping to dream.

Shit.

Dogs can be Naughty

Dogs can be naughty. I have one dog in particular, George, who vacillates between extremely well-behaved and extremely naughty. When he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he is so naughty that I want to hang him by his little feet and shake him.

He is the absolute best sit-and-wait dog. My other two dogs eat special dog food and eat it in the kitchen, their little bowls side by side. George, in full Dr. Jekyll mode, waits patiently in the dining room, sitting and waiting until they are done so he can go and lick their empty bowls. He waits until I tell him it is okay for him to go in and erase any possible molecules remaining from their breakfast. He stays sitting there even if I leave the room. He also is the first to run to his kennel when I call out, “Dogs! Kennels!” because we are leaving to go somewhere. When he is being Dr. Jekyll, he is an extremely well-behaved dog.

But George has another side, a more precocious side, his Dr. Hyde side, a side that is quite devilish. Since he has become an adult dog, he is much less inclined to do things like open the closet and remove the box of brand new loafers from Germany that cost over a hundred dollars and chew them up (he did this as a puppy), or open the bathroom door and eat an entire roll of toilet paper (also done as a puppy). Yet in spite of the fact that he is less inclined to do such things, it doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

A couple of weeks ago Milla and I decided to take the dogs with us while we ran to Costco. Along the way, we realized we were starving and stopped and picked up some sandwiches from a Mediterranean restaurant. They were oh, so delicious. George and Oliver and Betsy stood salivating in the back seat. We gave them several nibbles each because it just didn’t seem fair to eat in front of them without at least sharing some small morsels.

We didn’t finish eating our sandwiches before we got to Costco so we simply wrapped them up and put them into the glove box. We had also gotten a side of hummus, and we put this into the console between the seats. We did this so that there would be sandwiches for us to finish when we returned from our quick jaunt into the store. We dutifully removed the trash bin I keep in the back seat, as we always do when we leave George in the car because he has been known to chew it even when it is empty, and opened the windows so air would flow (luckily the summer has been extremely mild here and it was cool enough to leave the canines in the car). Off we toddled into the Costco to get a few supplies for our impending trip to a lovely lake in Washington.

We returned to catch George in the act of doing this:

20160827-IMG_854420160827-IMG_8542These are the doors to the glove box (removed after repair). One opens up. The other opens down. George managed to open them both and eat the sandwiches inside. He also had done this:

20160827-IMG_8543This was the console lid. He had attempted to open the console but was not successful. The hummus was still there, but George had certainly done a number on the car. We were leaving in the morning to go visit a lake in the woods. George ensured we got to go on this trip with the inside of the car looking like it had been attacked by a much bigger dog than George is. He knew immediately that he was in trouble. The moment Milla stood by the cracked window and said, “Oh. My. God.” George jumped into the back seat and then over the back seat into the way back. Luckily the retractable tonneau cover was retracted. As a puppy, George had chewed our prior car’s tonneau cover, making it impossible to retract. I learned after that to make sure the cover was fully retracted before leaving him in the car. Up and over the seat he went, landing with a thud.

We spent the next two and a half weeks driving around with our shredded glove box and console cover. Once we got home from the lake, I spent some time online finding new parts on eBay. I found a brand new console cover for $60, and used glove box doors for $75. The glove box doors arrived a couple of days ago. They were actually two full top and bottom glove boxes, I just took the doors off of them to reuse. They had obviously been part of a car that had been sitting out and getting dirty because they were absolutely filthy. Today, the console cover arrived. I unpacked it and immediately went to work figuring out how to install everything myself. It was my hope that I could figure it all out so I wouldn’t have to shell out even more money to pay someone to install them. Luckily, I was able to do this and now our car looks like its old self again. In the end, those sandwiches cost us $135, dang dog!

Here is the car post installation. I’m grateful I was able to do it myself. Thanks, George, for keeping me on my toes and my skills sharp. And now we know, no more sandwiches in the glove box or hummus in the console, at least not with George around!

20160827-IMG_854020160827-IMG_8541

Can Someone Please Help me with this Letter?

Dear Ms. Gardner,
We regret to inform you that, despite our previous assurances to the contrary, we will not be able to return your brain.  Unfortunately, your brain was part of a shipment of brains that was lost at sea over the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared in what are said to be circumstances that fall beyond the boundaries of human error or acts of nature.  As you may know, some of these disappearances have been attributed to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.  Although substantial documentation exists showing numerous incidents to have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, there is no doubt that many ships and airplanes have been lost in the area.

As is often the case in the place just described, the plane carrying your brain simply disappeared off any radar.  Despite extensive searches and radio calls, we have been unable to make contact with the aircraft, its crew, or the items on board.  In fact, one search plane was also lost in the process.

We sincerely apologize for this egregious error.  We realize now that in attempting to save time by crossing this area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to decrease costs and thereby increase profits, we have created a huge liability for ourselves.  Our only hope is that because it was your brain that was lost, you will now lack the intelligence to realize the error was ours (despite this letter) and do nothing against us in retaliation or to mitigate your loss.  We also offer our condolences; a deficit of this magnitude must be quite distressing.  We certainly understand how you must be feeling right now, even without your limbic system.  There must be some awareness on your part that something is, well, missing.

As evidence of our sincerest and deepest sympathy, we would like to offer you this $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com.  It is our hope that you will be able to locate a nice children’s book or some other fine gift befitting the current state of your intelligence.  Perhaps a book on the alphabet or counting will allow you to find work at a telephone control center or at customer service for a credit card company.  In fact, we would be willing to put you in touch with our affiliates in these areas should you require assistance in becoming gainfully employed.  Additionally, we would also like to provide you with this gift of a handsome wallet for your identification and in some cases, pizza.

Again, please accept our apologies.  And have a happy holiday.  Thank you so much.

Sincerely,

Brain Restoration Services, LLC

Dear Brain Restoration Services, LLC;
I so much appreciated your letter.  Your kindness in letting me know that my brain had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and then your further kindness in offering me the $10 gift certificate and possible assistance with employment were both truly above and beyond the call of duty.  I accept the Amazon certificate, by the way, and look forward to locating a book I can now read (as reading has become somewhat difficult in the weeks since losing my brain).  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have been helping me in all areas, including reading, feeding, and wiping drool from my chin.  Without you I may actually have drowned.  Much gratitude also to my cousin for typing this letter on my behalf.

I would beg your further kindness, if at all possible.  Unfortunately, Amazon does not carry drool rags.  I searched their site high and low (again with the assistance of friends and family) and was unable to locate one in my price range.  I did locate a towel designed by a famous designer (his name escapes me at the moment–a not uncommon occurrence these days), only this towel was both quite large and quite expensive.  It was not really suitable for my needs.  I would prefer something absorbent that will withstand frequent washings.  Actually, two or three would be most suitable so I have something to use whilst my soiled rags are being laundered.

I also would like to inquire whether you are aware if others who lost their brains in this unfortunate incident might like to get together, not for a support group, but to play.  I think it would be quite enjoyable to build things with blocks or stack plastic rings with one another.  Our caretakers may even be able to trade ideas on dealing with the excess drool and, um, issues surrounding personal hygiene.  I have been made to understand that diaper changing on adults is rather difficult, as you may imagine.

Again, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope this letter finds you well.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Lara Gardner

Toilet Needs a New Home

I posted this ad on Craigslist a few years ago. A friend of mine asked me to repost it on the blog, so here it is:

It is time that Toilet parted ways with our family. It has been in this house for longer than we’ve been here. When we arrived, the home inspector informed us that this toilet was “top of the line” in Europe and ordered by all the best home designers in the US. “Pozzi Gnorri,” he said. “Go look them up on the internet. They’re one of the best companies in the world for bathroom fixtures.” So I did and was duly impressed. However, I had to wonder what a toilet of this caliber was doing in my little bungalow in Portland. But hey, some of us get riches to rags instead of the other way around, so who was I to question things or to remind Toilet of its brilliant beginnings? I could make Toilet sad thinking that way.

Toilet was lovely; a deep, thoughtful blue, with a white lid. And the flusher was in its top! My 8 year old loved that. Look Mom, you pull this button on top rather than pushing down on a handle! Fancy!

To keep reading, click HERE

Dear Mr. Outside Magazine Editor

Dear Mr. Outside Editor,

Here’s a concept: Don’t put some teaser on the front of your magazine and then Oops! forget to put a table of contents into your magazine so the person reading the front of the magazine can’t find the article. Even going page by page, which was annoying and made me not want to read your magazine because it was so controlling, I still could not find the article teased on the front cover. Since the issue in question was an “Encyclopedia” I thought perhaps that I missed the point and that I was supposed to go to the “Encyclopedia” to find the article (this in spite of the fact that the article in question could not really have been about gear). Nope. Not there. The teaser in question was “Why Aren’t Millenials Buying Trail Mix.” Trail mix is not in the index to the encyclopedia. Millenials? Nope. (I suppose Millenials really aren’t gear, now are they? (Although I am pretty sure I could make the case that they are or that some of them could be.)) in any case, I still haven’t found it. Still annoyed.

As a reader, it is annoying to:

1. Read a magazine where the table of contents is 30 pages into the magazine, thereby requiring we page through 30 pages of ads and nonsense to get to the content;
2. Read a magazine that hides page numbers when they do bother to publish tables of contents so that again, we have to page through stupid ads to get to the content in the table of contents;
3. Read a teaser on the front of the magazine that is either a) not really there (which appears to be the case in this issue), or b) isn’t really what the teaser led us to believe it was (really annoying).

Since I am ranting about this and rather on a roll, I thought I would include all of these annoyances for you to consider when being a big shot editor. When these annoyances occur, I throw the magazine away (well, recycle it). I am not wasting my time paging through ads that thwart my effort to get to the content for which I bought the magazine. I will not let the advertisers win in this manner. You might have gotten me to purchase the magazine, but since the primary driver of budgets at magazines is ad content, and since advertisers choose magazines because those ads cause the readers to go buy their stuff, it follows that if I don’t read the ads and I don’t buy the stuff that eventually it will all trickle down and you won’t get any ad revenue when I throw my magazine away. SO…may I kindly suggest you make your magazine palatable to readers who actually like to READ your magazine (I happen to be one of those people who reads nearly every single article in a magazine when I am not so irritated by getting to the article that I can’t access it) and stop making your magazine mostly palatable to advertisers? Hmm? Do you think you can do this?

I’m going to give this issue one more chance. I’ll thumb through it one more time in search of the elusive article on why Millenials do not eat trail mix, and if I am not able to find it on this perusal I shall dump this issue in the trash (recycling). Too bad for me, I won’t get to find out what gear you got paid the most to say is the greatest…er, what gear you think I should go buy.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Lara Gardner

Post Script: After sending this letter to Outside Magazine, I received a response back from the editors asking if they could use a line or two from my letter in their online letters. (I gave them permission, but I have no control over whether they will make me look like an ass in their choice of words from my letter.)

In any case, I asked where in the magazine I could find why Millenials don’t buy trail mix, because I had not been able to find it. The editor responded that it was in the encyclopedia under “Y – Youth: The Young and the Tentless” (Outside Magazine, Aug 2015, p. 92). As a commenter to this blog post noted, “the entry explains that very few people under 35 are participating in outdoor sports, beyond a day hike or pitching a tent in the backyard. There is, however, no mention of trail mix whatsoever, nor is there mention of food of any type in the entry.”

Yep. The teaser on the front of the magazine is just that, a teaser, and it is therefore even more annoying.

Cookie Monsters

CookiesI baked cookies for Christmas. Yummy, buttery, sugar filled, high fat content cookies. Basically they were mostly butter, sugar, and flour, and the frosting was straight up butter cream. Yum, yum, yum, but oh, so rich. I could only eat one at a time or I would feel sick.

I gave a bunch of these cookies as gifts to family and friends, but we still had a lot ourselves. I realized shortly after Christmas that I was going to have to give some more away; they were too rich for just me and Isabel to eat, and Milla was in Arizona for another five days. I decided I would take some to some friends at the coffee shop under my office. They were in the cupboard in a bag on top of our dinner plates. I thought of making the gift, but then forgot to take the bag to work with me.

A few days later I was at home putting away the Christmas tree and decorations and remembered the cookies. Ahh, what a perfect way to ring out the holiday season but with a buttery cookie and a cup of tea?

“Isabel?” I asked. “Would you like a Christmas cookie while we put away the decorations?” Isabel loved this idea. (And I should add that my daughter is the best person ever to remove ornaments with. She was extremely quick, careful, and thorough. I couldn’t have had an adult partner who did a better job than this five-year-old. She managed the bottom half of the tree while I did the top half.)

I put on the kettle to heat and opened the cupboard to get a cookie for Isabel and myself, and shock of shocks, the bag was gone! It wasn’t there! I peeked further into the cupboard to see if I was wrong. NO cookies. I looked in all the cupboards. I looked in the drawers. I looked in all of them again, and again. No cookies! I couldn’t figure it. What in the world had happened to them? I wracked my brains, trying to imagine if I had given them away and forgot about it. No. I did not. I could not fathom what in the world had happened to them. I asked Isabel. She was as baffled as I was and looked a little afraid I might not believe her. I gave her a hug and assured her that I knew she had not eaten that bag of cookies. There were a dozen and a half at least. It wouldn’t be possible for her to have, even if she could have gotten up in the cupboard and gotten them down. There weren’t any crumbs anywhere. Plus she’s not the sort to sneak cookies. If she wanted one, she would have asked first and then eaten it right in front of me.

I started to worry. Someone, somehow had come into our house and eaten our cookies. I started to wonder about anything else a thief would want. The bluetooth speaker was playing music in the living room so it wasn’t stolen and neither was the computer playing the music. My camera was in my room. We don’t own much else of value that is the sort of thing a robber would want to steal. I couldn’t imagine anyone would come into our house and steal a bag of cookies and just take that. I was completely baffled, and honestly a little afraid. What in the world had happened to those cookies?

Over the next several days I mulled this over and over. Isabel and I considered all the possibilities, but none were plausible. No one has a key to my house. I have a key hidden outside, and I moved it, just in case someone had found it and stolen the cookies, then returned the key to its hiding place just to trip me out. I don’t really have any trickster friends, but this was weird and I had to consider all options. I considered filing a police report, but just couldn’t bring myself to do so. It would seem much too ridiculous and I thought maybe they would wonder about my sanity.

On Saturday I went to visit my best friend Debbie in Corvallis and told her the story. She too was completely baffled and afraid for me. None of it made any sense. Somehow those cookies were gone and I could not explain their loss.

Today I cleaned house a bit. My dogs had chewed up a pinecone in my room and left little pieces lying everywhere. I dragged the vacuum from its place in the closet and plugged it in. I vacuumed through the main part of the house, the kitchen, the hallway, and my youngest daughter’s room (I don’t go into the teenager’s room–it’s scary in there). Then I headed into my room. Click, click, click, the vacuum sucked up pieces of pinecone. I began vacuuming under the bed. George, my Dachshund, loves dragging his forbidden quarry under the bed. He is constantly grabbing things that aren’t his and heading into his cave. It’s the perfect size for him.

My vacuum is a canister vac, the kind with a head that has it’s own engine apparatus. It almost vacuums itself. As I vacuumed under the bed, I heard a strange flapping sound as the vacuum sucked something funny. I turned off the vacuum and leaned over, peering under the bed. What was that weird thing off toward the wall? I sat up and grabbed my iPhone, scrolled to the flashlight app, and shined it into George’s lair. There, far under the bed, was what appeared to be the chewed remains of the cookie bag.

I called Isabel into the bedroom to have her crawl under the bed and grab the bag. She came immediately as she had been as curious as I in the disappearance of our sweets. I held the iPhone flashlight as she slithered under the bed with ease, retrieving the bag within seconds. It was obviously the cookie bag–there were bits of green frosting remains in the crevices. The mystery was solved.

I realized after this that in considering taking the cookies to my office, I must have removed them from the cupboard, set them on the counter, and then gotten distracted and left them there for the canine thief to steal. He’s done it before, jumped up and taken things off the counter. He might be short, but those squat legs of his are powerful and he can easily jump almost 4 feet in the air. All food goods must be pushed back from the counter’s edge if I’m not in the kitchen to supervise and intervene when George is around.

I am relieved. I’m glad to know that no one broke into my house and stole our cookies. It also explains the obnoxious gas both dogs suffered with for two days, naughty things. In the future I’ll be more mindful, and if and when there is a time in the future when any food goes missing, the obvious place I’ll check for evidence will be under my bed.

The Bratty Puppy

Tonight my daughter, while studying for finals this week, was cuddling in her bed with George the puppy, work splayed out about her. George was under the covers sound asleep. Milla needed to go to the bathroom. She rose, set her papers aside, went upstairs and used the facilities, after which she returned to her room.

On the surface, it appeared nothing had changed. However, when she sat down, she could not locate her algebra study sheet anywhere. Finally, after searching futilely for several minutes, she discovered the sheet shredded under her bed cover, George snoozing soundly next to it.

For real. The dog ate her homework. I saw the shreds. He got up while she was gone for three minutes, shredded the damn thing, then curled up and went back to sleep.

Remarkable.

Winged Gods and Goddesses

I published a story on Huffington Post. It can be found here.

Winged Gods and Goddesses
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me…click here to continue reading.

Can Someone Please Help Me With This Letter?

Dear Ms. Gardner,
We regret to inform you that, despite our previous assurances to the contrary, we will not be able to return your brain.  Unfortunately, your brain was part of a shipment of brains that was lost at sea over the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared in what are said to be circumstances that fall beyond the boundaries of human error or acts of nature.  As you may know, some of these disappearances have been attributed to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.  Although substantial documentation exists showing numerous incidents to have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, there is no doubt that many ships and airplanes have been lost in the area.

As is often the case in the place just described, the plane carrying your brain simply disappeared off any radar.  Despite extensive searches and radio calls, we have been unable to make contact with the aircraft, its crew, or the items on board.  In fact, one search plane was also lost in the process.

We sincerely apologize for this egregious error.  We realize now that in attempting to save time by crossing this area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to decrease costs and thereby increase profits, we have created a huge liability for ourselves.  Our only hope is that because it was your brain that was lost, you will now lack the intelligence to realize the error was ours (despite this letter) and do nothing against us in retaliation or to mitigate your loss.  We also offer our condolences; a deficit of this magnitude must be quite distressing.  We certainly understand how you must be feeling right now, even without your limbic system.  There must be some awareness on your part that something is, well, missing.

As evidence of our sincerest and deepest sympathy, we would like to offer you this $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com.  It is our hope that you will be able to locate a nice children’s book or some other fine gift befitting the current state of your intelligence.  Perhaps a book on the alphabet or counting will allow you to find work at a telephone control center or at customer service for a credit card company.  In fact, we would be willing to put you in touch with our affiliates in these areas should you require assistance in becoming gainfully employed.  Additionally, we would also like to provide you with this gift of a handsome wallet for your identification and in some cases, pizza.

Again, please accept our apologies.  And have a happy holiday.  Thank you so much.

Sincerely,

Brain Restoration Services, LLC

Dear Brain Restoration Services, LLC;
I so much appreciated your letter.  Your kindness in letting me know that my brain had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and then your further kindness in offering me the $10 gift certificate and possible assistance with employment were both truly above and beyond the call of duty.  I accept the Amazon certificate, by the way, and look forward to locating a book I can now read (as reading has become somewhat difficult in the weeks since losing my brain).  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have been helping me in all areas, including reading, feeding, and wiping drool from my chin.  Without you I may actually have drowned.  Much gratitude also to my cousin for typing this letter on my behalf.

I would beg your further kindness, if at all possible.  Unfortunately, Amazon does not carry drool rags.  I searched their site high and low (again with the assistance of friends and family) and was unable to locate one in my price range.  I did locate a towel designed by a famous designer (his name escapes me at the moment–a not uncommon occurrence these days), only this towel was both quite large and quite expensive.  It was not really suitable for my needs.  I would prefer something absorbent that will withstand frequent washings.  Actually, two or three would be most suitable so I have something to use whilst my soiled rags are being laundered.

I also would like to inquire whether you are aware if others who lost their brains in this unfortunate incident might like to get together, not for a support group, but to play.  I think it would be quite enjoyable to build things with blocks or stack plastic rings with one another.  Our caretakers may even be able to trade ideas on dealing with the excess drool and, um, issues surrounding personal hygiene.  I have been made to understand that diaper changing on adults is rather difficult, as you may imagine.

Again, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope this letter finds you well.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Lara Gardner

Autumn — Chapter 17

Read Autumn — Chapter 16

The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.

The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.

The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.

That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.

Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.

What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.

I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.

That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.

And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.

While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.

I knew.

I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.

I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment.  The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic.  One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.

I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.

Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt:  a horrible, ugly poison.

I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.

Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.

Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water?  There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet?  Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.

On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.

It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.

When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.

The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.

It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.

I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.

Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.

She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.

Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.

Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.

I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.

It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.

Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.

I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.

When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.

Epilogue
Autumn’s was the first major death in my life that I actually remember.  My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child.  The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart.  He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.

Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me.  I grieved her closely for years.  Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:

I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.

I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.

The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget.  Then I had to put the book aside.  I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note:  Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles.  Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.

Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking.  Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous.  Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year.  During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year.  The area of law I practice changed laws and my earnings plummeted to zero.  Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.

I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own.  Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next.  Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.

Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound.  Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death.  She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks.  She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog.  Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl.  Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight.  She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.

In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible.  When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead.  But she did not die.  Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better.  And she stayed better.  The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened.  She never had another seizure.

Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes.  She fell down the stairs to my boyfriend’s basement.  She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum.  She stopped wanting to eat.  We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her.  Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either.  We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less.  Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it.  Clearly something was dreadfully wrong.  My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it.  We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.

Molly died the next morning.  The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood.  She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life.  She was fourteen years old.  Her body was old and worn out.  Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.

I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years.  She was always there, quietly in the background.  Molly loved a lot of people.  She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends.  She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched.  She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship.  Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.

Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog.  What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.”  These words were simply true.  I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade.  Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.

In winter of 2009 I moved to New York.  I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own.  During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.

One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie.  While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight.  She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her.  She was utterly charming.

The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her.  Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap.  As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side.  Something traveled between us in that moment.  I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs.

After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head.  She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog.  However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store.  If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York.  If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately.  Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.

I fell immediately in love with this delightful creature.  There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine.  I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did.  It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.

Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her.  She sits on my feet.  If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot.  She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home.  Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with herYou go have fun.  We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me.

She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk.  She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.

Ava makes distinct faces all her own.  The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked.  She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her.

In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head.  Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo.  She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.

Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead.  Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them.  We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys.  She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything.  Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes.  Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece.  More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.

After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths?  I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why.  Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath.  However, none of them have run like Ava does.  The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs.  This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round.  It’s hilarious.

Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself.  She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe.  It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape.  Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing.  When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail.  When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in.  Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful.  Or perhaps she just wants our company.  Maybe it’s a little of both.

Ava truly loves to snuggle.  She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed.  She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed!  I can jump off the bed!  See?  I launch myself many feet past the bed!  Aren’t I skilled?

She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh.  She’s my little doggie stole.  She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs.  She knows I do not like her to lick me.  She does not even try anymore.  My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over.  The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower.  She will come in and lick the water off of my feet  until I dry them.

This dog makes me happy.  That’s the simple fact of it.  She came along when I was very sad.  There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness.  One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me.  I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me.  Vivid dreams.  Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again.  I laugh every day living with her.  She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit.  Frankly, I’m completely smitten.

Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  I don’t remember much of it at all.  I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.

However, I remember one thing vividly.  Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind.  My feelings in response to his position are unchanged:  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Life is full of different kinds of love.  Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members.  By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.

What a limiting view of human capacity.  I absolutely loved my dog.  It did not matter that her adoration of me was different.  My love for her was there, and it still is.  Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever.  She helped to teach me selflessness.  She brought me joy.  She increased my humanity.  For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.

Autumn

Autumn's Last Day

Autumn’s Last Day

Autumn — Chapter 16

Read Autumn — Chapter 15

I awoke one morning in early July 2005 and rose to give Autumn her shot. I called out her name, but she did not come. She was not at my bedside, and she was not anywhere in my room. She would usually get up to greet me and get her shot and food, because food was her favorite part of the day. I looked everywhere and was getting kind of frantic looking for her. Had she somehow gotten out again and I didn’t know it? I checked both doors, then headed towards the dog door to look out at the run. It was then that I saw she was lying in a heap of blankets on the back porch. I stood looking at her, my fist to my mouth, whispering, “Oh no, oh no, oh no. Not this. Not now. Oh, baby.” Funny, I had always pictured discovering her and running to her side, but I could not move.

“Autumn?” I queried. She remained still. Her ear stood on end. The light was the low, not quite sunny light of early morning in mid-summer. She was in a shadow. I stood back and could not move towards her. I was afraid she had died.

“Autumn,” I said. “Baby?”

I finally stepped forward and thought perhaps her ear had moved. Once I was within a couple of feet of her prostrate form, I could see that she was vibrating ever so slightly. I could see her breaths coming slowly, raggedly.

I knelt at her side and carefully touched her head. She was warm. Too warm. Her body vibrated, humming all over, like electricity was turned on inside her skin. Her eyes were glassy, staring at nothing. I was dry.

“Oh, baby. My baby.” I held her and stroked her, thoughts running through my head. What should I do? Who should I call?

I went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed Bjorn’s number at work. He answered and I could not speak. I could not emit a squeak. My voice would not come. I could not tell him what was wrong. Tears clouded my vision. The words were stuck.

He kept asking what was wrong. I finally managed to say, “It’s not Milla.” I meant that nothing was wrong with Milla.

He got the message because he said, “I know.”

I sobbed and finally told him that it was Autumn. After he told me this was probably for the best, I realized I had chosen the wrong person to call. Why him? Why on earth did I call him? I think on some level I wanted the closeness we never really had, wanted him to care about my grief and pain. During this crisis, I had a moment of absolute clarity when I realized that he would never be that person for me, ever.

I briefly told him what was going on, then got off the phone as fast as I could. I left a message at Dr. Fletcher’s office. Then I wondered, who do I call? I can’t call my mom; she won’t be a comfort either. I couldn’t call her.

Debbie. I realized then that Debbie was who I should have called all along. When I heard her answer the phone, I did not have to say anything. She knew it was me and she knew why I was calling her. There is a reason she is my best friend.

She asked for specifics. I told her how Autumn was. I told her I thought she would have to be put to sleep. I told her that I did not have any way to avoid my workday and would have to take her to Dr. Fletcher’s that evening because I could not get out of my work commitments. In spite of the fact I adored Dr. Horner, Ken was my friend, and I wanted him to be the one to put Autumn to sleep when the time came.

Debbie told me to keep her posted and stated that she and Robert would be there for me. She told me to let her know when I was coming down and when they needed to meet me there.

I was so grateful for her kindness and her calm. She put me at ease. As I spoke to her, I had filled Autumn’s syringe with insulin and given her a shot. I had given her some food. After the shot, she lifted her head and actually looked at me. Apparently the insulin had some effect, and quickly, because she was noticeably perkier than she had been.

It turned out to be a false alarm. Autumn gradually improved throughout the day and by the time afternoon rolled around and I could drive her down to the vet’s, Autumn had perked up significantly and was back to where she had been before the coma episode of that morning.

Dr. Fletcher patted her and gave her some string cheese. He always carried a can of the stuff to help keep pets happy in his office. Autumn gobbled at it.

“She’s not ready yet,” Dr. Fletcher said to me, patting her. I could see that. As prostrate as she had been that morning, she was back to her old self now.

We caught up on our news. Dr. Fletcher told me again that I should go to vet school, that I could have both law and veterinary degrees. We laughed together for a few more minutes before we turned to go.

“You’ve got some time,” he stated. “Not a lot, but some. Maybe a couple of weeks.”

Oh, I thought. Only a couple of weeks? I hoped with all my heart she would hold on just a little longer.

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

Autumn — Chapter 14

Read Autumn — Chapter 13

I remember the color of the light in the room the night Autumn first tried to jump on my bed and failed, golden yellow, soft, and warm. It was late and we were getting ready for bed. I was already in bed, reading. Autumn usually came and asked if she could lie at the foot of the bed. In the middle of the night, she did not ask, just jumped up on the bed, curling up at our feet, or coming to the head where even in sleep I would lift the covers for her to clamber to the bottom near my feet. But in the evenings, she pretended to ask before coming up.

That night, Milla was snuggled next to me in the warm down comforter. I was sitting upright, my book propped on my knees. Autumn came over and made an attempt to jump on the bed. She could not make it. She tried again. Foiled again. Finally I arose and put her on the bed. Must be her hips, I thought, and thought nothing more of it.

Over the next several days, she appeared to gradually deteriorate before our eyes. As October closed and November opened, she lost weight and strength. She seemed also to have another bladder infection and drank water excessively.

With interstitial cystitis, Autumn always drank more than the other dogs. I thought this was what was going on, that she was having an exceptionally bad bout of interstitial cystitis, and it was causing her to lose weight, but I thought she should still go to the vet. Again. I made the necessary appointment and three weeks after her first failed attempt to jump on the bed, I took her in to see the doctor.

She had lost seventeen pounds. I could tell the vet was very worried. He wanted to run a number of tests, but thought cancer might be the cause. He could see no other major possibility for the dramatic decline in weight. There was the possibility of diabetes mellitus, he suggested, but I thought this unlikely because she had tested negative for it before. Cushing’s also, but this had also been negative. He offered to run a battery of blood tests to start. If the results from the first set of tests were negative, he would run a second set. Then a third. We would continue testing until we figured out what was happening.

I handed Autumn’s leash to the doctor so he could take her back to the lab. She was not happy and leaned her head towards me, pulling the leash away from the doctor. I pet her head and kissed her and told her everything would be fine. She kept pulling towards me as the doctor led her away. How many times in her life had I watched her disappear behind a door in a veterinarian’s office? How many times did watching the scene cause my heart to constrict and tears of anguish to form behind my eyes? It did not matter how often I had experienced this, my heart always ached as she was led away from me.

I sat in the sterile waiting room of the doctor’s office, staring at the mismatched tiles beneath my shoes. I liked this doctor. He was not Dr. Fletcher, but no one could be him to me. Yet this doctor was kind and honest, and he explained things to me as if I had a brain. The biggest problem with the clinic was that it was in a town about fifteen miles from our home, so trips there were a bit out of the way.

In the waiting area was a giant cage with three kittens in it. Milla was thrilled with these kittens and played with them as we waited. A fat, orange, office cat came through and asked to be petted. It was not very friendly though, and scratched if you rubbed it too long, so Milla left it in favor of the kittens.

Milla ran through the lobby, her blonde curls bouncing, babbling and telling me about the babies. One of the kittens was a light grey color, its fur almost bluish. “See the blue kitty?” she asked me, pointing to it.

“That kitty is blue!” I responded, reaching out to give her a hug. She let me snuggle her for only a moment before running off to the other side of the counter, searching again for the scratching cat.

A half hour later, the door through which the doctor had taken Autumn swung open and the doctor stepped through. His diagnosis was quick:  Autumn had diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes mellitus, also known as impaired glucose homeostasis, is a group of metabolic disorders with one common manifestation:  hyperglycemia. Chronic hyperglycemia causes damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and blood vessels. It is a horrible disease and because of the manner in which it keeps the patient from absorbing food, causes gradual starvation. It results from defects in insulin secretion, or action, or both.

The disease was first identified in the ancient world as a disease associated with “sweet urine” and excessive muscle loss. The elevated levels of blood glucose cause the glucose to build up in the urine. Blood glucose levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level. In patients with diabetes, the absence or insufficient production of insulin causes hyperglycemia. Basically, diabetics have too many sugars in their blood and no way to filter them out. It is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime. And Autumn had it. Little did I realize how much this diagnosis would drastically change our lives.

Years after all of this, I came to believe that the medical problems Autumn experienced arose from problems with her adrenal glands.  At the time Autumn was alive, no one really knew what caused interstitial cystitis, but I’ve learned that recent research shows a link to adrenal malfunction. All along the doctors thought she had Cushing’s disease, although she never tested positive for it. And diabetes is one of the symptoms of a long-term Cushing’s dog. Considering Cushing’s is an adrenal malfunction and Autumn’s diseases were all manifestations of adrenal malfunction, I think it’s a safe assumption that this gland did not work properly for her, or else hers was covered in tumors, causing it to keep from doing its job.

The doctor started Autumn on low doses of insulin twice daily. He also wanted us to change her food to a prescription version for diabetics.

“What about her IC?” I queried?

“IC won’t kill her,” he answered. “Diabetes can and will. You will want to do everything you can to lengthen her life span and make her as comfortable as possible during that time. If she eats the wrong food, she could get really sick because she her body cannot filter out the sugars. This can cause all kinds of problems, from blindness to heart failure.”

I got it. Autumn would have to eat what she had to in order to survive the diabetes, IC be damned.

At first, it was somewhat of a struggle to settle into the routine of taking care of a diabetic dog. It took several trips to the vet to get her insulin levels right. We had started her on one type of dog food that she would not eat, probably because it tasted like sawdust, and kind of looked like it too. None of the dogs would eat it. I tried a couple of other brands before I found something she would eat. All of these dog foods were prescription foods and exorbitantly expensive. It was frustrating to buy a bag of dog food that cost nearly one-hundred dollars for a twenty pound bag, only to have every canine in our house turn its nose up at it.

I also had to concern myself with the ingredients of whatever dog food because certain of them would trigger IC episodes. Even though diabetes trumped IC in determining what would land on Autumn’s plate, that didn’t mean I would choose the worst of them and end up causing her unnecessary pain.

It was a struggle to figure out how to manage the diabetes. Because she would not eat most of the foods I would buy, Autumn would either tear down the house getting into trash or escape and go eat someone else’s. This led to several diabetic episodes where Autumn would escape, then wander home, glassy-eyed and practically catatonic.

At the time of her diagnosis, we were living in the country suburb where all the houses looked exactly the same. Shortly after purchasing the house, we installed landscaping and whatnot for the side and back yards. While doing this, we decided to add a sprinkler system to the entire property. Then we fenced a special side yard just for the dogs. Ever since we owned Poppy we had used dog doors to allow the dogs to go out to relieve themselves. These had proved to be a godsend when Autumn starting having bladder troubles. If there was a chance she could make it outside, she certainly tried.

In the new house, we installed dog doors into the garage and out to the doggy yard. This yard ran the entire length of the house, and was fenced on two sides by cedar plank fencing five feet tall. We then installed chain link fencing between the dog yard and our back yard. We placed river rock up the length of one side of the yard, and grass on the other, with paver bricks between the two and along the base of all the fences. The bricks under the fences were fixed into place with cement. Our thinking was that this would prevent Autumn from being able to dig out and under the fence. We thought the cedar planks, placed side by side, would prevent her from squeezing out. Same with the chain link. Basically, this fence was a dog fortress from which we believed she would never escape.

We were wrong. First, Autumn removed the boards from the cedar plank fencing. We nailed it back up and then nailed boards along the base on the outside. She then removed a corner of the chain link fence. This blew our minds. Her teeth in front were all broken in half from ripping off boards and fencing. Once we repaired that hole, she started in on the brick pavers under the fences.

This was the last straw. After Autumn tore a hole in the pavers and cedar fencing, escaping into the neighborhood and getting into someone’s trash, then coming home stoned on blood sugar, I had had enough. I immediately got into my car, drove to the pet store, and bought an underground electric fence, the kind with collars that shocked the dog if it went near it.

For years I had resisted these kinds of containment systems. I thought they were cruel, shocking the poor dog in the neck, but this was ridiculous. A shock was less traumatic than being smashed by a car.

We installed our fence and sent the dogs out into the yard. We set the range on the wire to two feet. This meant that four feet out from the fence, the collar would start beeping. As the dogs moved closer to the wire, the beeping became louder and faster, more insistent. Then, at two feet out from the wire, the collar gave them a shock.

It worked. It worked so amazingly well, I wished I had installed it years earlier. After two or three shocks, all the dogs stopped going near the fence the second they heard the beeps. Autumn would go to the faster beeps, but then she would stop. She was no dummy.

I no longer thought the fences were cruel. It kept my dog contained and out of the way of cars and other dangers lurking about in the big, bad world. It also kept her from getting out and into food that would cause her to get sicker.

All of the other dogs gradually figured out where the line of the fence was at and never even waited for the beep. They stayed away. When I bought a new house less than a year later, I installed the fence in the dog run area there, and it worked then too, to the point that neither of the other dogs needed to wear the shock collar when they went outside.

It was never this way with Autumn. If she did not wear that collar, she escaped, no exceptions. But she did respect the collar and would not risk shocking herself to get out of the yard ever again.

One major plus to managing the fence situation was that I was able to stabilize Autumn’s insulin injections. Once her blood sugar stopped fluctuating because her food intake was controlled, it was easier to figure out where it needed to be and to maintain its levels.

One rainy Sunday afternoon several months after her diagnosis, but before we installed the underground fence, Autumn escaped and got into something, causing a diabetic episode. These episodes scared me. Autumn would return from wherever she had run off to, listless, her eyes staring off into space. I called it her sugar coma.

It was bound to happen that Autumn would get into something on a day when the vet was not open. She didn’t schedule her medical issues around the hours our vet was working. The result was that I ended up driving her into Portland to a corporate vet’s office in a national pet store chain. I had resisted these offices because I fundamentally disagreed with many of their policies. They tried to sell nearly everyone “prevention plans,” claiming the services cost less with the plan, but they charged more for those services in the first place, and seemed only to ensure the corporation would line its pockets on a regular basis, especially since as a large buyer, it most likely got discounts on many of the products. I also knew from my few vet friends that the wages paid to vets were low and the hours unstable. Overall, as is typical in many such conglomerates, profit drove its motives above all else, and I didn’t like that.

That said, the nice thing about such offices is that they are open many more hours than most smaller establishments. The vet we had been going to was open on Saturday, but not on Sunday. If we needed care on Sunday, they directed us to the emergency vet clinics in downtown Portland or downtown Salem, as they had when we thought Autumn’s stomach was twisted. It was one thing to pay an exorbitant price for such a visit at 3 in the morning, it was quite another in the middle of the day on a Sunday.

I dragged Autumn in to have her hooked up to an IV and get her blood sugars stabilized. After running all the tests, the clinic didn’t even bother trying to sell me their plan. They knew they would make way more money on me just based on Autumn’s many problems.

Yet I loved the doctor. His name was Dr. Horner and he was the closest thing to Dr. Fletcher I had found yet. Because I had read so much medical literature, and spent many hours discussing these issues with Dr. Fletcher, I was well versed in a lot of what was going on with Autumn metabolically. Dr. Horner seemed to sense this, and discussed her case with me at a precise, technical level. He was also extremely kind, and gentle with my dog. Over the years I have taken many animals to see Dr. Horner, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a rat, or a dog, or a lizard, he is always compassionate in his handling of animals.

While I had a good working relationship with the vet we had been using, his office was fifteen miles southwest of our house, towards Salem in a town called Woodburn. Not much later, I moved to Portland, and the new house was even further from the doctor in Woodburn. Once we moved, it was easy to slip into using Dr. Horner as our primary vet rather than the office that was so far away.

Read Autumn — Chapter 15

Lifting Their Legs on the World

When I was a girl, my family took car trips around the country. I know there were many long, uninterrupted and rather boring stretches where my sister and I complained and asked, “Are we there yet?” Five minutes later, “Are we there yet?” I used the time to read, still a favorite pastime, or to stare out at the landscape.

Yet as time has ebbed, it isn’t the long drives I remember so much, it is the places along the way. I have several ethereal, out-of-context memories, such as an intersection in the middle of nowhere stopping us at a light in the middle of the night. I was in the backseat. It was dark. We were in the desert. That is all I know. Or the Native American roadside stand in New Mexico or some other southwest place, selling strange toys and dolls covered in actual fur. We stopped at a place to go to the bathroom, and I was given a plastic pony covered in grey felt. It was short and fat, a Thelwell style thing. I can’t remember if I was given the pony before or after my crying fit, the one that seems as if it lasted hours, because I hadn’t gotten something I wanted. I remember the stickiness of the car seat, my raw facial flesh from the salt and water and rubbing. It was cloudy, but it was also hot — our cars never had air conditioning. It seems unlikely my parents would have given it to me after crying in such a manner, but I also seem to have some vague notion of there being some unfairness too, and so I was given this trinket. This episode was obviously linked to some emotional overflowing, and therefore this is the reason it sticks in my brain. I know it was summer and I was 10 or 11.

Mostly though, I remember the places: the museum at the petrified forest, the fluorescent lights shining on off-white, speckled formica tile, the bits of hardened wood under glass on tables, and the signs explaining the geological phenomena. I remember a roadside dinosaur we could climb inside. I remember campsites in far flung places, usually the desert, because we traveled every summer to visit my grandpa and uncles and aunt in New Mexico. I remember Los Alamos and the mesa stable, walking out and looking over the cliffs at what seemed to be vast canyons. I remember the Grand Canyon, and the Great Hoover dam and its unbelievable, terrifying, breath stealing bridge. I could see the water, trapped on one side and then far, far below, the canyon on the other, empty of water. I would marvel that the water caught on the far side could be that deep. I remember the Glen Canyon damn, and riding wide boats among the sheer rock faces. We roamed wax museums, and visited the pretend old west in Carson City, Nevada. We stopped at roadside attractions showing the path of the pioneers along the Oregon trail, and visited ghost towns that had thrived in the heyday of the gold rush. I remember passing billboard after billboard, announcing the coming attractions, as well as signs you had to read as you passed by. Roadside poetry. So it went. Summer after summer, we took our yearly drive. Sometimes in the winter we also visited, and skated on iced-over ponds, or hiked through snowy forests.

Last summer, I took my daughters to Europe. We trekked through several cities. I found myself feeling sadness and a little frustration that in city after city, the same corporate shops dotted the landscapes. Museums were large, crowded, and expensive, certainly not the best option for my then 2 year old. I could not find a small chocolate shop in Antwerp. A shop owner in the Netherlands told me it was because the multinational corporations had driven up the cost of real estate and all the small shops had gone out of business.

When Milla was three, we trekked to our annual family reunion in South Dakota. It was the first time I had been to the small pioneer cemetery where one part of my family has been buried since settling on the plains in the mid-1800s. Many of those buried there were born in Scandinavia. I have a great, great, great aunt who was one of the only white people Sitting Bull befriended. She brought food to them because the American government was purposely starving them. She ignored the prohibition against it and fed them. There is a book about her. These hardy (and hard) people moved from a very cold, harsh place to another cold and harsh place. Some of them were run off their Scandinavian farms by political unrest in their countries. For this, I think some of them identified with the Natives on those plains and perhaps this is why they became allies.

The trip was a complete and utter disappointment on one level. I expected it to look like South Dakota. I expected a “South Dakota-ness” to the place. No. It was Target. It was Walmart. It was Burger King. It was the same ugly, conforming corporate crap we have where I live. Later I traveled to several other US cities. The same thing.

Something erased these individual places and made them homogenuous and boring. I know what it is: capitalism. Capitalism took away the South Dakota-ness, and the Oregon-ness, and the Arizona-ness and replaced them with bland, ugly sameness. There are no little shops selling trinkets made by locals. If there are, they are now in the upscale, “artsy” places and the people making things sell them for a small fortune to tourists whose tours are to shop. Tour brochures in motels feature the “best” malls and the “best” shopping. Going to places and finding things to do that are not shopping is difficult. Oh, you can pay a fortune to ride on some guided boat, or to rent some piece of equipment you likely own at home such as a bicycle or kayak, but it’s rare to go to places and find things about that place that you can’t find in every other place all over. Even Europe has lost its uniqueness in each city. Family trips are taken to destination resorts that are exactly the same as every other corporate resort. Even the lines are the same. All that might change is the weather. Too bad the corporations can’t control that.

Bill Bryson, in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid describes rides in cars visiting places in the US. I’ve read many memoirs where the author remembers such things. I have also read stories where such summer trips played a key role in the plot. Driving around in the backseat as a child is a key cultural memory for those of us born between the 1930s and early 1980s.

Since taking vacations as an adult, I have spent many trips trying to find places like those I visited as a child, unusual places that I can take my children that define the place they are in. I’ve been frustrated by the search. I’ve raged against travel brochures that feature shopping as a tourist attraction. What, so I can buy the same shit made in China that is sold all over the world and then lug it home? I drove across the country in 2009. Every single roadside, every single town was monochromatic, exactly like the one before. Nothing had its own identity.

In another favorite book of mine by Bryson In a Sunburned Country, Bryson describes a town called Alice Springs, Australia, near the site of an Aboriginal holy place at the base of the MacDonnell Mountain Range. It is overrun with McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Kmart. He says that Americans have created “a philosophy of retailing that is totally without aesthetics…” He also says it is totally irresistible, but I do not agree. I absolutely hate it and I do resist it. I avoid these places like the plague.

I’m currently reading Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself. In it, he describes perfectly how we are losing the identities of the world’s places. He describes his love of London, his visits there for thirty years, spanning from 1966 to 2006. Every year he went at least once, many even more. Yet in the last decade, London is losing itself because of the corporations “lifting their legs along London’s streets.” Oh, my good man, what an apt description. In it I had an Ah ha! moment that identified what has been missing from my vacations and visits to places that are not home. I thought it was something about me, that maybe I have lost my luster, and that this is why I haven’t been able to fully enjoy these places I’ve gone. I had an expectation of that feeling of newness, visiting something different from myself that I experienced as a child vacationing in the backseat of our family car.

Yet it wasn’t me at all. It was this erasing of individual identities from the places in the world. It was all the hideous conformity, with no regard whatsoever for the place that had been there. It’s the chasing of the almighty dollar.

We have to do something to change this. We have to stop the reign of capitalism. Something has to shift. People have to believe it is possible before we all become Stepford robots keeping up with the Joneses to buy ugly, plastic junk that destroys our planet. We need to go out of our way to find the few places that still exist where homogeneity isn’t the rule and take our children to these places.

Last summer I visited my friend in Ephrata, Washington. There isn’t much there; Walmart took care of that, although some small shops are trying to make a go of it. Yet they are shops, not tourist destinations. My friend took me for a drive out to the Columbia Basin plateau, a site of magnificent geology, where lava flows and massive floods created incredible landscapes. Up on the edge of one of the cliffs over a coulee there was a little museum telling the story of the geology, the ice age, and its effect on the land. My 13 year old actually read the information on the exhibits. It reminded me of the places we visited as a child. These places do exist. Find them. Take your children. Give them memories that are worthy of reminiscing. Don’t let us all turn into monochromatic robots, shopping our way around the world.

Autumn — Chapter 13

Read Autumn — Chapter 12

I have always ridden and trained horses. Horses and dogs seem to go together like peas and carrots, as Forrest’s mama would say. While attending the University of Oregon, I worked at an international hunter-jumper stable for a few years. Later, after we moved to Portland, when Milla was a baby and before I started law school, I worked at another big sporthorse barn in a suburb south of Portland.

While there, I befriended a woman named Lori who owned a small home-building company. The majority of her clients were wealthy, mostly conservative people, who dreamed of owning small farms and estates, the sort who usually hired someone else to perform all the work required on the farm.

Lori was a dear woman, somewhat doddering, but genuinely kind. She owned several Shelties and a lovely house on the lake in Lake Oswego, one of Oregon’s wealthiest towns. She owned a small thoroughbred at the barn where I was working and, when I left the barn, we remained friends. She hired me on occasion to help her organize her house or straighten up. Extremely generous, she usually paid me much more than the job warranted, as well as lunch.

We had been living in the farmhouse in West Linn for two years when Lori suggested we start looking for our own house to buy. Bjorn and I did not think we would be able to get into anything, but Lori thought we ought to try, and so we began looking for a house to buy.

It was Lori’s advice to buy a house as far from town as we could stand, built new or within the last five years. We did not take our lifestyle into account whatsoever when we took her advice. This advice may have served older, moneyed clientele, but it was not the best choice for young, liberal, professionals, as we were. I had always felt too far from Portland’s center, even when we were only a few miles away. Yet both of us were too giddy with the idea of home-ownership to allow something like reality interfere with our plans. We got pre-approval for a first-time home buyer program and started looking.

At first, the likelihood of our locating a house as suggested by Lori appeared dim. Part of the issue I think was that we were looking in the suburbs where Lori was used to building homes, which were all the places where the residents had higher than average incomes. After suffering one disappointment after another, we finally found a development thirty-two miles outside of downtown we could afford. We chose our lot, which in spite of our foolishness in the purchase on so many levels, was in a truly lovely location next to some older coniferous trees and a wetland. Years after we moved on these trees were chopped down to make way for more ugly houses, and for many other reasons it was for the best we moved on, but the trees were there while we were, and softened the blow of a truly bad decision.

I began having twitches of misgivings while the house was being built, but was still able to quell them by choosing light fixtures and countertops. I was in my final year of law school and fully in the throes of “bore you to death,” the final refrain in the saying about law school that first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death. I had figured it out, how to pull the law from opinions, how to hunt down statutes and legislative history, figured out what mattered and what did not. I was truly sick of it. But I still had work to do and after the house was built, it was exhausting to drive home from the campus that was nearly downtown out to the sticks where we now resided.

The length of the drive was an even tighter twist of the screw in that the road to our new home was two lanes and hilly. Although drivers were given free rein to drive 55 miles per hour, most of them chose speeds closer to 35. Because of the hills and curves, passing was a death sentence. This meant that our drives were an extra fifteen or twenty minutes longer than they needed to be.

What a mistake. We were living in a country suburb. As is often the case in these developments, it was named for what it had been: Big Meadow.  The meadow was gone and in its place were Stepford houses in limited shapes and sizes, with perfectly manicured lawns and neutral paint, as required by the unrelenting neighborhood regulations.  I quickly realized I was better suited to living close to downtown, near young, creative, liberal types.  I needed a house to fix up, and since ours was brand new, there wasn’t a lot to do to it. We gave the house our love, built a fence and a dog run, but we simply did not fit in. The neighbors brought us proselytizing literature on a weekly basis. Every visit to the store provided an invitation to our auto windshield to attend a local church play. We were one of only a handful of families who recycled. Basically, were major sore thumbs.

Our immediate next door neighbors were especially different from us. The main thing about them that I remember is that on periodic afternoons the woman of the house had her teenage sons out in the yard and driveway with square-nosed shovels to search for garter snakes to kill. She did not want them anywhere near her home. Since her house backed up to the edge of what had been the big meadow the neighborhood obliterated, garter snakes were frequently in evidence.  After her sons killed a sufficient number of garter snakes, she would spread poison all over her yard to kill insects. She would kill the harmless garter snakes that would have eaten the insects and chose instead to cover her yard in toxic chemicals. Insane.

Within months of the purchase, I was completely sorry and realized what a huge mistake the house purchase had been, but we were there and I knew there was no way I was going to convince Bjorn to move any time soon, so I made the best of it.

As was the case in every place I lived from the time Autumn was about five years old, she quickly figured out the neighborhood. She would roam around for a while then return home, barking her two short woofs to be let in. One nice thing about the development being unfinished was that there were not many houses in yet, and there was open land behind our house for her to run around in. I had to watch her diet closely because certain foods could cause her bladder to go haywire, but in spite of my dislike of the neighborhood, Autumn was very happy there.

The only dog in our family who wasn’t as happy as she could have been was Molly. Once we moved, Autumn and Poppy decided they were a gang of two and would gang up on Molly. Poppy especially was becoming rather aggressive towards her. Coupled with her extensive skin problems, her fixed unwillingness to figure out potty training, and her increasing nastiness towards Molly, I was actually beginning to think I should find her another home. This was an eventuality I had never previously considered, that I would send a dog away, but things were getting out of hand.

One afternoon during the dogs’ feeding, Poppy scarfed up her chicken and rice, then trotted over to Molly to see if she could steal some of her food. Keeping her head low over her bowl, Molly raised her lip, showing her teeth. This was as much as Molly ever did in aggression to anyone, human or dog, and it was always when she thought someone was going to take her food. She had learned that I was allowed to remove her dish, but no such rule applied to Poppy, not as far as Molly was concerned.

Poppy ignored Molly’s warning, and stuck her head in Molly’s food. Molly growled and Poppy lunged for her. The two dogs started brawling, rolling together across the floor. Poppy was attacking Molly, and Molly was trying to defend and get away.

I quickly grabbed Milla and yelled for Bjorn, who was in the garage. When Bjorn opened the garage door, Molly saw the potential escape and darted through, Poppy hanging from her neck. Autumn followed, barking and fired up by the violence. Bjorn ran after them, fearful of being bitten. The two dogs snarled and knashed, Autumn barked and barked, blood appeared in spatters on the garage floor. Molly tried to escape under the car, but this made the situation worse because she was too big to move underneath the vehicle, while Poppy, small and wiry, had full advantage.

Finally Bjorn grabbed the garden hose and sprayed under the car. Molly lay in a heap, whining and yipping in terror as Poppy bolted off. Bjorn chased her and tossed her into the kennel on the side of the house with Autumn. I set Milla down and crawled under the edge to try and coax Molly out. She was obviously hurt. I told Bjorn to go grab my purse and keys. He installed Milla into her carseat as Molly finally crawled towards me on her tummy. She stopped whimpering, but her paw was bleeding badly and she had a tear in the edge of the skin next to her eye.

“Poor baby,” I crooned. “Come here, Molly. Come to me, sweet one.” I petted her and held her. She stopped shaking and I put her into the car and drove her to the vet.

Poppy broke Molly’s foot that day. We did not seek immediately to find Poppy a new home; I thought it would be difficult given her skin condition. A year and a half later, after she had attacked Molly twice more, I decided enough was enough, and I was going to actively try to find her somewhere else to live.

We were living in the new house I purchased in Portland. There was a neighbor who walked her wire-haired Jack Russell down the sidewalk in front of my house nearly every day. Narrow and stoop-shouldered, with white hair and glasses that slid down her nose as she spoke, she would stop to talk and criticize while I worked in my yard, informing me that “People who owned other dogs should not own Jacks,” referring to Jack Russell terriers. She also said that “People with large dogs should not have small ones.” These pieces of wisdom were offered in response to my telling her about Poppy’s attacks on Molly. I thought her ideas were somewhat strange, but what could I say to her strange ideas? I just listened, nodded, and continued raking, or weeding, or whatever else I was up to.

I found this woman’s perspective on Jack Russells somewhat entertaining, especially considering my interaction with another Jack Russell named Jackie. When Bjorn and I had lived in West Linn, someone had offered to give us another Jack Russell.  We were well into many of Poppy’s behavior issues at this point, and crazy busy to boot, so we weren’t terribly thrilled at the prospect.  However, the person who told us about the dog said she was being housed in a tiny kennel in someone’s garage and tranquilized 24 hours a day.  We investigated and discovered the story was true.

The people who owned Jackie worked full-time and lived in a rather small house with a tiny back yard, but they had purchased a Great Dane and a Jack Russell terrier.  Obviously, foresight is not a requirement when one acquires a dog, otherwise how can one account for the canine choices in this family with so little room and no time?  The Great Dane was managing the situation, but Jackie needed more exercise and more room.  Instead of giving it to her, they kept her locked up and drugged.  After several months of this, they finally decided they should find her another home, whereupon we heard about her and decided we would bring her home with us with the sole purpose of finding her a more suitable home.

It did not take many calls for my friend Noelle to claim Jackie, before we even picked her up.  This was a fortuitous circumstance, and we genuinely hoped it would improve Jackie’s lot in life.  After visiting Jackie one evening, we made arrangements to bring her to our house later in the week and for Noelle to pick her up that day.

The afternoon we brought Jackie to our house was warm and sunny.  The people who gave her to us had ceased their drug administration. We lived at the farmhouse in West Linn at the time, and we were looking forward to letting her run drug free in the fenced field behind our house.  Nancy Reagan would have been so proud.

When we pulled up in the driveway, we opened the door to go inside, and Jackie darted out of the car and down the street.  Bewildered at the speedy escape, we backed out of the driveway and drove around for the next two hours, looking for her.  We finally gave up and called Jackie’s previous owners.  Jackie was still wearing her old tags.  If someone found her, they could call them, and they would call us.

Within two hours we received a call from the state police.  They had gotten our number from Jackie’s previous owners, and wanted to bring her to us.  Five minutes later, a patrol car pulled up at our house.  Jackie had been discovered sitting on a log, floating down the Willamette River, several miles upstream from our house.  We never heard the details of how she had been rescued, but this river is massive and swift, and we lived upstream from a rather large waterfall. Jackie was a lucky little dog.  Unfortunately, we were not terribly sad to see her go when Noelle came by our house to pick her up later that evening.  Our neighbor at the new house was right, perhaps some people should not own Jacks.

Not long after we moved into the new house, Poppy disappeared from our fenced dog run in the backyard. There was no evidence of escape, and Autumn was still there, a sure sign the fence was intact; if Poppy could have escaped, Autumn would have been gone as well. It seemed someone had taken Poppy right out of our yard. The dogs had free access to the house and dog run while we were at work, and if someone wanted to, they could have taken her.

The day after Poppy’s disappearance, but before I had posted any of the signs I printed on my computer that said MISSING DOG, I was in the front yard of my house when the white-haired woman walked by with her dog.

“I haven’t seen Poppy out here lately,” she stated, matter-of-factly. “Did you find her another home?”

“No,” I answered, “She is gone. Someone took her from our yard.”

“Oh, well that’s too bad, but you know, people with other dogs shouldn’t own Jacks.”

“Well,” I answered, “I hope whoever has her knows she has a skin condition and gets her the shots she requires and feeds her foods that don’t make her itch.” I said this while looking directly at her, knowing full well she was the one who had taken our dog, because no one else knew yet she was missing.

“Oh, I’m sure they will,” she said, walking off. “I have little doubt of it.”

We never saw Poppy again. The woman had done me a favor, but I was not happy about the sneaky and thieving way she had gone about it. Milla especially was upset to have her little dog gone without so much as a goodbye.

Molly healed from her broken foot and we began feeding the dogs in separate rooms. Molly and Autumn got to eat in the house, on opposite sides of the island in the kitchen, while Poppy ate in the garage. It was the least she could do having hurt Molly.

In spite of the fact Autumn was dining on a smorgasbord of ground turkey, rice, and some disgusting vitamin goo that looked and smelled exactly like blood, she continued to escape and eat trash at the neighbors’ houses whenever she got the chance.

One night, I arrived home late from a law school class that ended at 10. It was nearly 11 by the time I dragged my lumbering book bag into the house. Everyone was asleep. I made myself a bowl of cereal and was just sitting down to eat it and read a magazine before bed when I noticed Autumn lying near the glass back door. She did not look well.

It was not unusual for the dogs to skip greeting me when I arrived home late, so I had not noticed her when I came in. She was glassy-eyed and bloated. She belched every few minutes, and was passing horribly smelly gas, and she seemed to be in pain, holding her head down, with her legs spread at unnatural widths from her body. The worst part though, was that her stomach was extremely swollen. It looked as if she had ingested a soccer ball or something, her abdomen was so distended.

I went into our spare room and logged on to the computer, and entered the symptoms into google. All of the responses came back with “gastric dilatation,” and “twisted stomach,” and “gastric torsion.” One even said simply “bloat in dogs.”

I immediately called our vet’s office. The answering service told us to contact the emergency vet in Salem. I called the emergency vet who confirmed that the symptoms did indeed sound like gastric torsion, and that we should bring Autumn in immediately. Every site I had looked at said the diagnosis was a virtual death sentence.

Terrified, I awakened Bjorn and told him what was going on. He dressed and we loaded Milla and Autumn into the car for the forty minute drive into Salem. Because it was nearly midnight, the drive didn’t take quite that long, simply because we did not have to follow any extra slow drivers.

We slipped into the darkened parking lot of the emergency vet just over a half hour later. The building looked deserted, in spite of the fluorescent lights glowing through the opaque windows. A sign at the door told us to ring a bell. We waited in the cold, Bjorn carrying Autumn, and me carrying Milla over my shoulder. A tech responded to the buzzing and pushed open the door. It felt like we were being ushered into a science fiction spaceship. The lights above hummed continuously but the building was deafeningly quiet because the lobby was completely empty. I’m sure during the day the room was abuzz with activity, but not at that hour. The tech took Autumn from my arms and carried her into a small examining room, the three of us following closely on her heels.

“We will take her back and get an x-ray,” said the tech. “Then the vet will look them over and come out to let you know what we find.” Her voice was grim.

Less than five minutes later the vet came into the room to let us know her plan.

“We will take x-rays. From the way she is presenting, it certainly appears to be torsion, but we can’t be sure without the films.” Gastric torsion is a life-threatening condition whereby a dog’s stomach becomes twisted on its axis, causing the contents of the stomach to become trapped. The stomach then distends because it is twisted and the gas cannot escape. It is extremely painful and if left untreated, the dog will die quickly.

She went on to explain that if Autumn had torsion, her options were limited. We could try surgery, and if she had surgery, there was a strong likelihood this would happen again and again until it killed her. She said she was going to take x-rays first to determine what was going on, but she was fairly certain Autumn was suffering from torsion.

Bjorn and I said nothing. We waited and waited in the sterile, fluorescent waiting room. I was tiring of spending time in these cold, unwelcoming spaces. So much time waiting for tests on this dog I loved like a child. The chairs were never comfortable and on the few occasions televisions were left on, I was even more miserable. I hate television, with its unrelenting noise, flashing, and commercials. The two of us took turns holding Milla as she slept, warm and sweaty on our shoulders.

Forty-five minutes later, the veterinarian came out to talk to us, and asked us to come into the examination room. There was an x-ray on the illuminated x-ray sign.

The vet was calm as she said, “Autumn doesn’t have a twisted stomach. It appears that she got into something that has expanded, causing her extreme discomfort, but the stomach is not at all twisted, and is in exactly the right place. I suspect that as soon as whatever she ate passes through, she will be just fine. I administered a stool softener to help move things along, and gave her an injection of painkiller to aid with pain.”

I was so relieved, but it was after 2 in the morning and I was thoroughly exhausted, both from the emotional turmoil of the situation, as well as lack of sleep. I was grateful that once again my dog was okay, theoretically anyway. The visit cost nearly $300, but we wouldn’t be wondering where to bury my dog anytime soon. Every time we ended up in a veterinarian’s office for another Autumn medical catastrophe, I wondered where that place would be. Every time I asked, would this visit be the one that ended it all?

As Bjorn drove, I sat quietly in the passenger seat, hunkered down low, the chair reclined back touching Milla’s car seat, Autumn curled at my feet.

I was not the sort who prayed, but as we slid through the dark towards home, I sent out a silent prayer, hoping that this problem would be the last, that this visit would be the end to constant medical conditions, and issues, and investigations, and expense, that there would not be more waiting in yet another sterile room.

All the way home, I was grateful she was still with me, but I was fervent in my hope that this time would be the last. Perhaps I did not pray enough, or asked too late, because a positive answer to this prayer was simply not to be.

Read Autumn — Chapter 14

Autumn — Chapter 12

Read Autumn — Chapter 11

Summers in the West Linn house were extremely pleasant. The enormous cherry tree in the front yard kept the house nearly fully shaded. There were windows covering two entire walls in the living room, and a full corner of our bedroom. A large picture window opened onto the dining room. In warm months, we opened all these windows, allowing a gentle breeze to move throughout the rooms. In combination with the shade of the cherry tree, the effect was comfortable and gratifying.

Because of the grandfather clause allowing livestock on the property, we owned two ducks and had brought my old, childhood, bay pony named Lady to the house from my parent’s. Swaybacked and ancient, she kept the grass behind the house mowed and blackberry vines in check. I set up a hammock between two trees in the backyard, and would lie between them with a book while Milla roamed the yard with the dogs and Lady.

I was lying in this hammock the afternoon of Autumn’s bladder scope, waiting for the call from the vet telling us to come and bring her home and, I hoped, some diagnosis.

Finally, at about three in the afternoon, the specialist’s office called to say Autumn was ready to go home. The receptionist informed me that the specialist would call me to discuss the case.

I gathered up my book and hefted myself out of the hammock, pulled Milla from the sandbox, wiping sand from her hands and knees, and headed through the house and out to the car. The specialist’s office was in another Portland suburb, about twenty minutes from our house.

When I arrived at the specialist’s office, Autumn was woozy, but none the worse for wear from her experience. The office told me the specialist would call me later with the results. Seriously? Dang, this was taking a long time.

On the drive home, my mobile phone rang. I plugged in my corded headphones and answered. It was the specialist.

“Your dog’s bladder looked like world war three,” she told me soberly. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The inside of her bladder wall was a mess. I cleaned some off some of the loose tissue, so she should not have any further bleeding.”

She went on to say that there wasn’t a lot of information out there about why this happened. The doctor didn’t know the exact cause of Autumn’s troubles. She said in cases like this, it was believed that stress brought it on. Antibiotics would not help, and actually could make it worse, so she wanted me to stop giving Autumn antibiotics. The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer, and no indication that anything was going on that would kill her. The bad news was there wasn’t much more that she could tell me, and there was not a lot that could be done.

I thanked her and hung up the phone, then called Dr. Fletcher and left him a message, and called Debbie and Bjorn. I was so relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t death.

Over the next several years, Autumn had several other similar such bleeding bladder episodes, and they all occurred when she was stressed, even when the stress was good. One such incident occurred when I took Milla and the dogs for a weekend at the beach. We rented an oceanfront motel cabin with a hot tub in the room.

Autumn adored the beach. She would run herself ragged, chase sea birds, and gambol and play in the edge of the ocean. Most of the places we liked to visit along the Oregon coast were located at the mouths of creeks or streams emptying into the sea. Autumn would race back and forth through these waterways, soaking herself and anyone nearby.

In spite of the fact that Autumn loved the beach, her bladder issue came back with full force while we were there. Luckily the motel room was covered in synthetic wood flooring, making it easy to clean her accidents, but I could not take her anywhere in the car, and liberally covered the seats with towels before heading home in case she leaked blood or urine. I gave Autumn one of the painkillers prescribed by the vet because the episodes were painful, and simply waited for it to pass.

A couple of years after Autumn was scoped, and after many bleeding bladder episodes, I was visiting my mom’s house. My mom is something of a magazine addict, and keeps dozens of them around the house and in the bathroom at any given time.

While there, I picked up a Lady’s Home Journal and thumbed through it when one of the headlines caught my eye. It said something like “Bladder Problems Nearly Ended my Life,” or some such thing so dramatic. I read through the article and became increasingly excited.

The author of the article had experienced what seemed to be bladder infection after bladder infection. The infections were extremely painful, and grew worse, not better, with antibiotics. She often leaked blood. Nothing helped, and as time wore on, she lost her job and was in nearly constant pain. After years of struggle and torment, a doctor scoped her bladder and saw that the inside was shredded, exactly as the vet had described Autumn’s. It was only after all of this that the woman was diagnosed with a condition called interstitial cystitis, often called IC.

Finally, I too had a name for Autumn’s condition.

The article said that there was no cure for IC. In some cases in humans surgery could remove some of the damage to the bladder wall, but these surgeries were rare, and I knew in Autumn’s case we could probably never afford it, even if it were possible. It also stated that the best way to maintain the condition was through diet. Certain foods were triggers that could make the condition worse. And, as I had already determined from trial and error, stress was one of the biggest culprits in causing an episode.

The article referenced a website for humans suffering from IC. Later that evening after I returned home, I found the site and read everything there, and then searched further, thrilled to have found something that matched Autumn’s situation exactly. I also discovered what I had been figuring out by accident: bland foods were best, as was minimizing stress.

I called Dr. Fletcher and told him what I found and how. He knew of IC because he said it was common in cats. He had recently read a journal article about it, and reiterated that diet was the best means of maintenance. He also pointed out that studies showed that the binders in commercially prepared foods were one of the worst things for Autumn to eat, and suggested I look at natural foods to help with her disorder.

After reading everything I could get my hands on about IC and talking to Dr. Fletcher, I began purchasing 10 pound tubes of ground turkey and 20 pound bags of rice and cooking Autumn’s dinner every night. We had experimented with this diet before in an effort to calm Poppy’s skin problems, but it had not helped. However, I was willing to try it if it would help Autumn to feel better. Everything I read about IC said the episodes were very painful. I could only imagine how this felt for an animal who could not describe for me how she was feeling.

Of all the discoveries I made when Autumn was ill, the revelation that her bladder issue had a name and diagnosis was the most gratifying. Finally I had a name for the condition. Finally I had a list of triggers that made it worse. Finally, though nominal, I had some sense of how to manage it. I could actually make a difference and help her live more comfortably. This made all our lives more manageable in the long run. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but now I understood Autumn’s issues and was able to control things for the most part, which was a huge relief.

Read Autumn — Chapter 13

Autumn — Chapter 11

Read Autumn — Chapter 10

Autumn was seven years old when she began having bladder infections. Always fanatically clean and unwilling to wet inside, she began peeing uncontrollably wherever she happened to be standing when the urge overcame her. We had purchased a dog door insert for the sliding glass door to the backyard, so none of the animals ever had to wait to go potty. Autumn couldn’t even make it to the door. She would get up from wherever she was lying and head for the pet door, then stop and squat, trying to urinate. There would be a dribble, and nothing more. I could see the fur on her back end quivering as she strained to urinate, feeling the pressure, but getting no result.

I took her to the vet’s office near our duplex. Unlike Dr. Fletcher, when this vet would examine Autumn, a technician would take her from me in the lobby and do something with her in the back room. Autumn never liked this. She would pull towards me on her leash as she was led away. The doctors were kind though, and always explained things thoroughly to me.

The vet ran a culture on Autumn’s urine and prescribed antibiotics. She would get somewhat better on the antibiotics, but then the infection would recur as soon as the course ran. I would take her back to the vet, get another culture, get more antibiotics. This went on for several months.

Finally, frustrated, I told the doctor we needed to do something more drastic. The vet decided that we should give Autumn some very powerful antibiotics and work to kill the bacteria once and for all. After the course had run, she seemed better, and did well for several months.

There was a great deal of stress going on in Autumn’s life at this time. Actually, there was a great deal of stress in all of our lives. I had begun my first term in law school, Bjorn was completing his final year of his engineering program, and we got another dog:  a Jack Russell terrier we named Poppy.

Bjorn had always wanted a Jack Russell. I saw this dog advertised somewhere and chose her for his birthday. She was living in a small cage in a man’s nearly empty apartment in Gresham. Another dog was in a cage next to Poppy’s. There were urine stains under the cages because he left them there to do their business. It seemed he left them there all the time. If I could have, I would have taken both of the dogs, just to get them away from the man.

The entire time Poppy lived with us, she suffered severe skin infections. She would get fungal infections in her ears that required oozy medications. After she scratched herself bloody, I had the vet run allergy tests, and it turned out she was allergic to about ten different things, several grasses among them. We lived in the Willamette Valley, the grass capital of the world. Not a great place for a dog allergic to several varieties of grasses. Considering all the problems she had, I wondered if the man who sold her to us had bred her in some inbred puppy mill or something. We had not requested her papers, although he offered to get them for us for an additional price. Since we planned to spay Poppy and keep her as a pet, her papers were meaningless, but I wondered later if we could have seen the issues coming if we had known her breeding.

When I got Molly, Autumn was not pleased. She saw the acquisition as a betrayal and competed constantly for my attention. When Poppy came along, however, Autumn enjoyed her new friend. The two of them ganged up on Molly and had a grand time doing it. Molly seemed to suffer more stress over the transition than Autumn did. However, being Molly, she didn’t act out, but spent more time under the bed.

While this was going on, we moved from the duplex to that lovely little farmhouse on two acres in the middle of the suburb.

Autumn loved it. We fenced in about a half an acre in an attempt to provide the dogs with a large place to play and also to attempt to keep Autumn from running off.

All of the dogs seemed to really enjoy this new arrangement. We would let them out in the yard and they would wander around sniffing the bases of the trees, marking each other’s urine, and chasing squirrels.

In spite of the fabulous new digs, Autumn managed to get out and disappear for a couple of hours every week. Ever since she was a puppy living near the field in Tennessee, if she had the chance to go wandering, she would take it. Most of the places we lived had fences so secure that her escapes were not much of an issue. She would return from her adventure and bark at the door to be let in.

Escape was easier at the house in West Linn. Autumn would take off, often for a couple of hours, then back she would be at the door, barking to be let in. We diligently searched the fence for signs of escape, and repaired any areas that looked like possibilities, yet she managed to get out again. Of course.

For a while Autumn did quite well. There were no bladder infections and she seemed happy. Then Poppy starting causing trouble, urinating on the furniture and getting into things and chewing. I almost wondered if Poppy was ruined for potty training because she had been left to pee in the same kennel where she slept for the first nine months of her life.

One evening, Bjorn was in the kitchen cooking, and I was playing with Milla on the floor in the living room. Autumn and Molly were lying on the floor next to me when Poppy jumped up on our nubbly, brown love seat, squatted, and peed. I screeched and jumped up, grabbed her, and tossed her out the back door. The other dogs sniffed the spot, then Molly slunk off and hid, while Autumn looked at me quizzically. Luckily, the love seat was new and came with a cleaning warranty, so we were able to have the urine taken care of, but this was the sort of thing Poppy would do.

Unfortunately, there was no way to lock up just Poppy and leave the other dogs with a way to get out to go potty, so all three had to stay on the porch when we were away to keep Poppy from destroying the house in our absence.

Autumn hated this. After locking them on the back porch, Autumn would bark and bark, venting her frustration. Once she thought I was gone, she would settle down, but soon after the dogs had to start staying on the back porch, Autumn got another bladder infection.

I did not realize it at the time, but I know now that the stress of staying on the porch when she had previously had the run of the house contributed to her getting another infection. And as in the past, it took several courses and a final strong dose of antibiotics to get rid of the infection.

I will never forget the moment one sunny afternoon a few months after she had been off the antibiotics when I let Autumn out to go potty in the front yard, and she peed a stream of deep red blood, contrasting brightly with her fluffy blonde pantaloons. I learned the true meaning of my own blood running cold. I felt my face blanch, and it was as if the world stood still for a brief moment as I questioned whether this was really happening.

I went over and sought to examine the place on the ground where Autumn had peed. The spot was a mix of scrubby grass and hard packed earth. I could not see anything. I called Autumn to me. She seemed to be fine except for the desperate urge to urinate. She continued trying, although nothing came out. Whenever she managed a little, there were chunks of bloody tissue in it. It was gross and terrifying. I thought for sure my little dog was dying.

Heart pounding and choking back sobs, I called the vet. She said to bring Autumn in right away. I grabbed a towel and covered the front seat with it so if she bled again, none would get on the upholstery. I gathered the baby, diaper bag, my purse, and the dog, and we loaded into our compact, green car.

Driving to the vet’s office, I tried to hold back tears, little hiccuping sobs kept escaping my mouth. What if Autumn had cancer? What if she was going to die? Milla sat in the back seat, her eyes wide. She knew something was not right.

We arrived at the vet’s office. The technician wanted to try and get a sample of the bloody urine, so we led Autumn around out front in the strip of grass between the parking lot and the road, hoping she would try to pee. She made several attempts, to no avail. We were ready to give up when she urinated, and some small bloody chunks came out as well.

After the technician took Autumn into the back examination room, the doctor came out to discuss what steps would be taken.

“There are several possible prognoses,” she said. “It could be cancer, but this is unlikely, given the overall symptoms. It could be that she ingested some rat poison. Rat poison causes animals to bleed out. Is there any chance Autumn got into some rat poison?” she asked me.

Anything was possible. Autumn escaped all the time. She also ate anything and everything. I had tried to teach her “Leave it” when it came to food, but this had only ever worked when I was standing right above her, forcing her to leave something alone. She would sit with her head up at an angle, her eyes cast down at whatever food item I was forbidding, a gleam in her eye, licking her chops, hoping against hope I would give in and let her have it.

“Well, we will run the test for that and if she did ingest rat poison, we can take steps to alleviate any harm if we have caught it in time.”

“Okay,” I answered, unsure and worried. There was more. I could tell. The doctor had that anticipatory look about her.

“The other big possibility, and this really matches her history, is Cushing’s disease.”

Cushing’s disease? I had never heard of it. The main symptoms were increased water consumption (check), increased urination (check), accidents in previously fastidious dogs (check), increased appetite (well, Autumn was always hungry, or so it seemed), stealing food (same as hungry), a bloated tummy (check), a dull coat (not so much), and exercise intolerance, lethargy, general or hind-leg weakness (check, check, check).

I was dumbfounded. This described my dog nearly exactly, and actually illustrated parts of her that had been showing up for years, but I had overlooked. She was only a few years old when she began to refuse running with me. Could that have been the beginning of Cushing’s and I did not know it? The vet told me there were other symptoms that also showed up, but these were often the most obvious features. She said it is usually either the increased water intake and urination, or the coat changes which prompt an owner to have their dog examined by a veterinarian, because Cushing’s dogs don’t suddenly become dramatically ill. It is also much more difficult to ignore a dog that is peeing on everything, eating trash, and losing its hair.

The bad news was that Cushing’s was notoriously difficult to diagnose because there were many false negatives. In addition, the medication to treat it was prohibitively expensive. She told me we would rule out everything else first, then look at doing the primary test for Cushing’s. She also thought Autumn should have a scope of her bladder to see what was causing the bleeding.

“How much would that cost?” I queried.

“About 750 dollars,” she responded.

Oh my holy Christ! 750 dollars! There was no way we could afford that, but it seemed necessary to rule out bladder cancer and to try and figure out what was going on in there, because Cushing’s wouldn’t cause bladder bleeding, even if it did seem like all the symptoms fit my dog.

After much hand-wringing and consternation, Bjorn and I conversed and decided we would approach our friends Debbie and Robert for a loan.

I met Debbie when I began working at Oregon State. Poker-faced with a constant smile reminiscent of the Cheshire cat, Debbie worked as a graduate assistant at the university. I worked as a general office assistant. She and I hit it off nearly immediately. We shared the same ridiculous sense of humor, and could entertain one another for hours repeating the lines of simpletons in movies or pretending to dance the river dance. Bjorn and Robert would shake their heads in consternation as the two of us spent hours on the phone laughing until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces at basically nothing at all. Most of what we found hilarious would cause most people to wonder whether we should be incarcerated in a mental institution.

Debbie and I also shared an interest in politics.  We could spend hours discussing whatever was happening politically in the world.  Debbie was the first person I called the morning the twin towers burned.  We sobbed together, realizing the world would never be the same again.

Because Debbie became my very best friend in the entire world and she shared her life with Robert, Robert became a friend as well, and later my de facto father. I never knew my biological father, and was certainly never close to my step-father. In a sense, I had no father figure really, certainly no one had ever filled those shoes for me, so after the birth of Milla, Robert stepped in and took the job.

While I was pregnant, I decided Debbie was the person I wanted there with me as my support. Robert drove most of the time, and on the night before Milla’s birth, when we called them at 3 in the morning to let them know her arrival was imminent, Robert drove. The birthing center where Milla was born provided birthing “suites,” much like hotel rooms. Robert plunked himself down on a couch to wait for Debbie. Debbie took care of me, and Robert managed Bjorn and kept him company.

In the end, both of them were present at Milla’s birth, and forever after, she was Robert’s heart. He loved that child like she was his own. For the rest of his life, whenever he had the opportunity, Robert would tell the story of Milla’s birth and how, after the doctor plopped her up on my belly, he could see her tiny, quivering cleft chin. He then turned his head slightly and saw an identical chin, only slightly bigger, quivering on me.

Robert loved telling that story, and he utterly adored my daughter. Robert also cared for me in his own way, fighting with me when he thought I was being “dumber than a bag of hammers” (his words), or I thought he was being a “stubborn pain in the ass” (mine).

The two also thoroughly understood my love of Autumn and Molly. Debbie has a human child, and Debbie and Robert lived with the previously mentioned cat named Misty whom they loved completely. They cared for our dogs while we were in the hospital after Milla’s birth. They also welcomed our dogs whenever we visited their house. And they knew I would not have considered having Autumn euthanized for the medical issues she was experiencing unless it were the only option.

Between the two of them, Bjorn and I found emotional support often lacking in our own parents. We would have done anything for them, and in this time of need, they provided us with a loan so Autumn could have the tests deemed necessary by the veterinarian. We paid them back a few months later after Bjorn graduated and received a signing bonus at his new job, but if we hadn’t gotten that loan, I’m not sure what we would have done.

And so the tests were begun. After all the blood work and examination on the day she peed blood, nothing was found or conclusive. Rat poison was ruled out, and surprisingly, so was a bladder infection. There wasn’t any bladder infection bacteria in her urine, once they were able to obtain a sample. They also tested for diabetes mellitus, but that was negative as well. Also, based on the blood tests, cancer was unlikely, but the vet wanted to wait for the results of the scope to rule it out completely.

The vet’s office helped us to schedule the bladder scope at the specialist’s office. They also scheduled the Cushing’s disease test, which required that Autumn fast for twelve hours, then come in and leave a blood sample. She had to stay at the vet’s office all day for the Cushing’s test because first the doctor would inject her with a substance called dexamethasone, which was a synthetic steroid. She would then take blood samples four and eight hours later. In a normal dog, the body would recognize the steroid and suppress cortisol. Cushing’s dogs would not suppress the cortisol because their feedback loop was messed up.

After making all the schedules, I gathered Autumn into the car with the baby. She had stopped urinating blood because the doctor had given her something to relax the muscle walls in her bladder. The vet had also dosed her up on antibiotics, as she had the last time Autumn had a bladder infection, even though there had been no signs of that type of bacteria. The heavy antibiotic doses had worked in the past, so she figured we should do it again.

I called Debbie and Robert, and described everything we had experienced so far, all the tests, all the speculation. Then I called Dr. Fletcher and discussed what was happening with him. He asked me to keep him posted and let him know if we came up with a diagnosis.

I wasn’t as scared as I had been before because everything described to me so far could be managed, but I could hardly wait for the bladder scope that was scheduled for the following week. I was hopeful it would provide some clarity into what was going on.

Read Autumn — Chapter 12

Autumn — Chapter 10

Read Autumn — Chapter 9

The spring Milla was born, we decided to move to Portland. Living in Corvallis had worn thin for me. It was too small and too far from the activities we enjoyed. I liked bigger cities and had mainly stayed in Corvallis because first Dan, then Bjorn attended university there. Bjorn had grown up in a suburb of Portland, and during a visit shortly after Milla’s birth, we realized we could move.

I remember clearly the moment it occurred to me that we could leave Corvallis and live somewhere else. We were driving along in the car in Portland near Bjorn’s childhood home. I was a passenger in the back seat next to the baby (because I was always a passenger in the back seat next to the baby), and as we slid past orchards and neighborhoods, the idea we could actually leave where we were and go somewhere else popped into my head, and I said to Bjorn, “Let’s move. Let’s move up here now.”

Milla wasn’t even yet a month old, but I wanted a change, wanted out of Corvallis with its memories and limitations. Bjorn had one year left towards his engineering degree, and I was planning to apply to law school. We held a garage sale, packed a moving van, and headed north. Autumn was six years old.

We started out renting a room in Bjorn’s dad’s house, but this proved unsatisfactory nearly immediately. I had learned the hard way what living with family can do to a relationship, and within a month we had rented our own apartment on the third floor of a complex that had been, only months before, a filbert orchard. There were still filbert orchards across from our apartment, and we taught the dogs to run out the door, down three flights of stairs, and out across the median to the trees to do their business.

In spite of the fact the apartment was rather small, near Christmas the year we moved in, my brother Derek asked if he could stay with us for a short time while he looked for a place to live.  He had been living with our parents in Jefferson, a town about sixty miles south of Portland.

For years, Derek had struggled with drug addiction.  He would go to treatment, move out on his own and get a job, then for various reasons end up back living with our parents and near the people who always helped him get into trouble.  This cycle had run through about four times at this point.

At the time Derek wanted to live with us, he had been back to our parent’s, and we all believed that if he could just get away from the area, he would have a better chance at success in beating his addictions.

Bjorn and I discussed whether to allow Derek to stay with us.  Bjorn actually didn’t have any problems with it, but I was worried if we allowed him to stay, we would have a difficult time getting him to leave.  Unless he did something awful, I didn’t want to have to call the police simply to get him to move on.

We finally decided that we would allow him to stay, but with certain limitations.  Namely he had to get a job and he could not stay with us longer than two weeks.  We also did not want his girlfriend to live there.  Neither of us I liked her very  much, but we did not tell Derek this.  Even if we had loved her, we simply did not have the room.

Derek moved in. We let him sleep on the couch and keep his belongings in Milla’s room because she slept with us in our bed.  Nearly immediately, he was able to secure a job during the swing shift, so we didn’t see him very much except in the late morning before he left for work.  One afternoon when he did not have to work, I took him over to the management office to help him fill out an application for an apartment of his own.

For Christmas, I invited my parents and my sister and her family to our house for Christmas.  The apartment was tiny, but I had decided after Milla’s birth that we were not going to do the usual holiday run-around anymore.  On Christmases past, we would drive to my parent’s, then Bjorn’s dad’s, then his mom’s family, and often to my sister’s, or some other version of it.  No one ever came our way.  I did not want my baby to spend her holidays driving all over the place.

We pulled out the leaves to the table and made room for everyone. The kitchen was not large, but it served its purpose, helping us to serve dinner to eleven.  Once the family was satiated, we all opened gifts, our families left for home, and I straightened up the mess.

For years I had gone to the movies on Christmas day, me and many others.  Apparently Hollywood figured out this trick because movies started opening on Christmas, which was great since we saw a lot of movies and frequently needed new choices.  During movies, I would breastfeed Milla and she would fall asleep in my arms.  Derek was with us so we all bundled up and headed out to the car and off to see a show.

Three hours later when we arrived home, things were not in order.  We had only opened gifts for my family and one another, but there were still many gifts left for Bjorn’s family and for our friends.  The wrappings to most of these gifts were now spread throughout the house.  Little pieces of ribbon, bows, wet wrapping paper, and tags lay everywhere, in the living room, across the rug in the dining room, down the hall, and in both bedrooms. The cork stopper to a jar of nuts was half shredded, bits of cork speckling the carpet.  Pieces of candy cane were littered everywhere, the chunks obviously sucked on because they were coagulated in their plastic wrap.  A thorough mess.

Normally if we had arrived to a scene like this, Autumn would be standing happily in the middle of it, tongue out with some incriminating evidence on her muzzle, and Molly would be hiding, but both dogs just stood there, looking at us.

“What in the world is going on?” I asked them sternly, knowing of course there would be no response.  “Did you eat our gifts?”

Looking further, we discovered several food items in the hall and in our bedroom.  It did not look like much was eaten, but they had certainly seemed to have had a party opening all the presents and spreading them all over the place.

“What in the world were you thinking?” I hollered?  “Why did you do this?  Do you really think I want to clean up a mess like this on Christmas?”  They ignored me.  Neither of them seemed in any way concerned, which for Molly was completely strange.

I began picking up the pieces and pulling the presents together to rewrap.  Bjorn and Derek took the dogs out on our patio to keep them from getting into anything else.

It wasn’t until years later, after Derek had been to rehab a couple of more times, and long after Bjorn and I were no longer a couple, that I learned the real truth of what happened that night.

Apparently my brother had hidden in his backpack a rather large, brownie-sized cake of hashish.  When the four of us returned home to the mini Christmas disaster that night, Derek quickly realized what was up.  His bag was askew, the pocket in the front of the bag where the hashish had been stashed wide open.  The hashish had been wrapped in aluminum foil with a sticker on the front that read Acapulco Gold!  This foil was lying smashed and spitty in a pile on the cream-colored carpet, the Acapulco Gold! label torn in half.

Derek immediately pulled Bjorn aside and told him he thought the dogs had eaten his hashish.  The two of them dragged the dogs to the patio to confirm their suspicions.  Apparently what I failed to notice was that our dogs’ pupils were the size of platters and rimmed in red.  The reason neither dog had reacted in any way to my tirade was that they were both completely stoned.

When I heard the story, so long into the future, I laughed, recalling the picture of both dogs baked and confused.  I can only imagine how it must have been from their perspective, discovering Christmas goodies while they were high on hashish.

Yet Derek and Bjorn were right that I would have blown a gasket if I had known at the time. Even later, the implications were not lost on me.  Derek had kept drugs in our apartment, and had done so with our small daughter there.  She was mobile by then, crawling about and getting into things.  He assured me the stuff had been zipped up tight in his bag, and that Milla would never have been able to find them, but his concealment had not been enough to keep our dogs from making their discovery.  They were very lucky they didn’t get sick.

Ultimately, Derek fulfilled his end of the bargain.  He moved into his own apartment in the complex and got a job.  His story then continued on its own trajectory.

Meanwhile, Bjorn and I were both ready to move less than a year later.  The apartment was so tiny and located in a suburb that seemed designed to stop all drivers at every traffic signal, which drove me crazy. It was also too far from the university where Bjorn attended classes and the law school where I planned to attend classes a year later. I wanted more than an apartment. I wanted a yard where the dogs and baby could play. I wanted space, and not to be able to hear our neighbors arguing.  Bjorn, nearly 6’7″ in height, wanted room to stretch his legs without banging them on another wall. And so, less than a year after moving north to Portland, we moved again into a high-ceilinged duplex with a rambling yard. An ancient oak shaded half the yard and kept our home cool.

I loved that duplex. Too bad there were drug dealers in the park next to it. We could hear shouts and shots and all sorts of unmentionables there, at all hours of the day and night, which frightened me somewhat, considering the blonde, curly sprite living with us. The dogs also barked at all hours, warning off interlopers, causing us all to jump as we studied and played.

Finally, after witnessing a police officer throw a half naked woman and several baggies filled with white powder across the hood of his patrol car, cuffing her and tossing her carelessly into his backseat, we decided that it might be best to move on yet again.  During the years Bjorn and I were together, we had a knack for moving into places that suited one need and not another.

Our next choice was the perfect little farmhouse. Charming and comfortable, the house was yellow with white trim, and sat on two acres in the middle of one of Oregon’s wealthiest suburbs. The acreage was grandfathered, allowing us to keep livestock, so we fenced it and brought home my old childhood pony, as well as some ducks. We could have stayed there forever. Unfortunately, the little house was a rental and the manager a son who was waiting with bated breath for his mother to pass so he could develop the property, which he did not long after we moved out. There was a five-story cherry tree in the front yard, which was promptly chopped down, along with the house, in his zealous desire to destroy the land and fill his greedy hands with cash.

Our next place was our first purchase and horribly ill-suited for us, too far from town, and too much suburban sameness, block after block. In purchasing this house, Bjorn and I took the advice of a well-meaning, but misguided friend who assisted us in making the purchase. It was only years later after Bjorn and I broke up that I finally bought a house that was suitable to me. We learn with age that which we will no longer tolerate.

However, at the time we chose the duplex, we were a long way from buying our own home. Bjorn was in his last year of school and I was in my first of law school. We both worked and studied and parented our child. The duplex was spacious and shared only a small wall with our quiet neighbors. Built in the sixties, it had sloping, vaulted ceilings and two bathrooms. After the dinky, third-floor walk-up, this was paradise!

During our move from the apartment to the duplex, I saw a sign over the mailboxes at the apartment complex advertising a free cat. According to the sign, the cat liked children and other pets.

Milla and I headed over to visit the prospective cat. The apartment was on the third floor. The people who owned the cat ran a daycare service out of their home. The lady of the house wanted to find the cat a new home because her husband would not allow the cat to come into the house, and he had therefore been living on the balcony for his entire short life. She had gotten him from the humane society when he was a kitten. Except for a few visits with the daycare children where he was dressed in doll clothes and pushed around in a stroller, he had spent eleven months living on a 3 by 6 balcony with one other cat. His name was Friday and we fell in love with him on the spot.

For the rest of his life, Friday adored us. I swear he was grateful to his bones we had released him from the prison of that godforsaken balcony and the daycare children dressing him up in baby clothes.

Autumn had never been a big cat chaser. There had been cats living at the apartment complex in Tennessee and in every neighborhood we had lived in since. She and Molly were both nonplussed by the newest member of the family. After some initial sniffing, the three all ignored one another.

I suppose after Milla, as far as the dogs were concerned, any new family members were acceptable. The two of them had both settled into life with a tiny person running around. First she was a lump they could sniff and mostly ignore, but then she began moving about and carrying food with her, and suddenly she was a much more interesting prospect.

They also relished her diapers. Their’s was a disgusting and foul habit, this desire to eat diapers. No matter what steps we took to keep used diapers away from them, they would somehow manage to get into them and eat them. This would be followed by yellowish turds filled with chewed up plastic and diaper innards.

We had purchased for Milla’s room a widget called a Diaper Genie. The thing had a weird hole in its top through which one placed a used diaper. The diaper would slide through a convoluted plastic contraption and into the bowels of the Genie. A door on the front of the Genie allowed access into the bag which held the diapers. Its point was to ensure that the smell of the diapers did not escape into the room where the Genie was placed.

Both our dogs could open that Diaper Genie and get the diapers out. We would come home from wherever we had been to discover diaper shreds, baby shit, and pieces of soiled diaper spread from one end of Milla’s room to the other. Molly, of course, would be hiding in our bedroom under the bed because, in spite of her biological urge to eat diapers, she knew that our discovery of them would result in lots of hollering and hand-wringing, and this terrified her half to death. Autumn would sit among the diapers, her tongue lolling, breath smelling foul and wrong, wondering where she could find some more.

We attempted to avoid this problem by placing the Diaper Genie into the closet in Milla’s room. To no avail. Autumn was always a clever getter into things, and she would simply open the closet and proceed to dismantle the Genie in there instead.

Finally, I went and purchased an industrial strength, outdoor garbage can, the kind with a lid and bungee cords for closing. We put the Diaper Genie in this, put the whole contraption in the closet and, as long as we remembered to keep Milla’s bedroom door shut, the closet door shut, and the lid on the industrial garbage can securely fastened, we could avoid diaper catastrophes. It was also imperative that we remove the filled bag from the diaper genie to the outdoor garbage can once it was full. On a couple of occasions Bjorn left the full bag on the floor in the bedroom, which may as well have been a giant, flashing invitation to the dogs to come in and have a diaper smorgasbord at their pleasure. It only took a couple of misses on this one for Bjorn never to make that mistake again.

Milla celebrated her first birthday at the duplex.  I invited our family and our closest friends to a little garden party.  I baked a cake that looked like a caterpillar and covered it with fondant.  I sat up half the night stringing together green and yellow, construction paper, daisy chains, which I hung all over the kitchen and living room.  Clearly, Autumn’s birthday parties were just a warmup.

Within weeks of her first birthday, Milla walked across the living room.  She had been cruising for a while, walking everywhere as long as her hands held a couch, the wall, or some other support.  Then one afternoon while holding a marbly green, plastic ball, she took off and walked twelve steps across the room.  It was as if the ball were her support.

Once she began walking, she kept going, and only became faster.  Up to this point, the dogs were interested in her usually only when she sat in her high chair.  Both Milla and the dogs had discovered that the high chair could be quite fun.  Milla would toss whatever food item she happened to be consuming, and then laugh hysterically as the dogs pounced on it like starving lunatics.  Occasionally this would cause arguments between the dogs, which only made Milla laugh more.  First lessons in cause and effect.

During her crawling phase, when things became a little too silent, I would often discover her on all fours, both hands in the dog water dish.  She was also quite fond of making dog food soup, mixing together whatever food stuffs were left in the dogs’ dish with their water.  I kept the dishes on a place mat in the kitchen, and after these escapades, the floor around and under the mat would usually be a watery mess.  Autumn especially loved eating the soupy mixture, and would wait to one side while Milla mixed it for her, then dive in as soon as the baby crawled off to explore elsewhere.

When Milla began to walk, she also began to carry different food items with her.  I usually put her in her high chair to eat, but sometimes, especially if I was busy trying to study or straighten the house, I would pour some cereal in a little dish for her to carry around, or give her a cracker.

One night I sat at the kitchen table studying.  Milla had finished her dinner, but was wandering around with a sandwich in her hand.  Molly was hiding under the dining room table, doing her best to remain as unobtrusive as possible.  Autumn, of course, was following Milla, trying to get the sandwich she held in her hand.  Milla kept telling her “No!” and holding the sandwich up, trying to keep it out of Autumn’s reach.

Finally, frustrated at her inability to get the food, Autumn jumped up and tried to grab the sandwich, snapping at it, shoving Milla backward into the cupboard.  Autumn tried again to snatch the sandwich, but she got Milla’s cheek instead, high up, underneath her eye.

Milla cried out in pain.  I jumped up and raced over to her, shouting, “Autumn!”  Autumn ducked and backed up as I gathered Milla into my arms, sobbing.  Bjorn raced into the kitchen, screaming “Autumn” in a loud and ferocious voice.  He grabbed her by the ruff of her neck and threw her across the room.

“I could kill that dog!” he shouted.

“Leave her alone,” I screamed.  Milla wailed.  “She was trying to get the sandwich.  It was an accident.”

“I don’t care if it was a fucking accident,” Bjorn raged.  “She bit my daughter in the face!”

“It wasn’t on purpose.  She just wanted the sandwich,” I answered.  Milla hugged me and sobbed in my arms.  I grabbed a washcloth and set her on the counter to investigate the damage.

“Go get some antiseptic cream,” I instructed Bjorn, hoping that a project would separate him from his anger.  He stalked out of the room to go search for the medicine.

I wet the washcloth and gently rinsed Milla’s face.  She had suffered a small scratch under her right eye.  Thank goodness the bite was on her cheek and not her eye.

I looked around to see where Autumn was at.  She was cowering in the corner near the glass back door.

“Autumn, it’s okay,” I cooed to her.  “I know it was an accident.”  She was trembling.  I opened the back door and let her out.  From wherever she had been hiding, Molly came running and scooted out past me as well.  Neither dog was comfortable with yelling and violence.

Milla calmed down.  I swabbed some ointment on her small wound and then took her into the bedroom to nurse.  She was none the worse for wear, but Bjorn was still quite angry, and never forgave Autumn for this bite.  For days he told anyone who would listen that he should have killed my dog.  Eventually his anger wore down, but I made took extra care with Milla and food to ensure nothing like this event ever happened again.

Read Autumn — Chapter 11

Autumn — Chapter 9

Read Autumn — Chapter 8

Despite the fact that Dan and I had spent almost two years in couples counseling, the combination of marrying young and living with family had taken its toll on our marriage. As is often the case, there was also a strain between my desire to start a family and Dan’s desire to wait. As his final year at the university wound down, we decided our marriage was over.

We had moved from the apartment to a tiny little house with a small yard, a minuscule garden, and a park nearby for the dogs to run and play. Dan moved out of this little house and back into his parent’s, but would visit with Autumn every so often. He had been offered a job in California, and I think he knew that after he left, he might not see her again.

I remained in Corvallis with Autumn after Dan moved away. Over the next year, I dated a few different men, and eventually met another man named Bjorn. Without intending to quite so soon, our relationship became much more serious than we intended when I discovered I was pregnant. While I was concerned about an impending pregnancy with a man I had only known a few short months, I was also delighted. I had wanted a baby with Dan, but he had not wanted to start a family while he was still in college. Bjorn had two years left before graduation, but when I informed him I was pregnant, he was as excited as I was.

How does one explain circumstances about which one is certain to be judged by a segment of the population? I wasn’t as circumspect as I could have been. I certainly could have made choices that to some would have seemed wiser. Yet I have no regrets; once the seed of my child was planted, I would not have changed a thing that could have arrived at a different result. I knew three months into the pregnancy that I would have ended the relationship with Bjorn sooner rather than later – we were completely incompatible in many ways. But after my baby was born, and even before when she was a minuscule mass of cells clinging to the inside of my body, there was no way I could imagine my life without her.

The months I was pregnant were emotional, both up and down. In retrospect, I realized I was mourning the loss of my marriage and the friendship I had carried for over seven years, while I was simultaneously intoxicated with the joy of expecting a new baby. It was a paradoxical place.

Prior to my pregnancy and after Autumn had decided she was no longer interested in going for runs with me, I would take Molly running or roller-blading, then take both dogs to the park near my house to run and play. When the weather was warm, I would take Autumn swimming. She was extremely healthy. After having spent several years swimming in the summers, she no longer displayed any signs of hip dysplasia. She was quite active, and though not as lithe as Molly, she was definitely athletic and capable. After I became pregnant, I stayed active, walking both dogs, roller-blading and running with Molly for as long as the pregnancy would allow, and riding horses well into my sixth month. The dogs enjoyed the exercise. As the year wore down from fall to winter, we all settled in, expectant and waiting for the enormous change due in spring.

Both of the dogs were big shedders. In spite of the fact that I vacuumed at least every three days, there were always puffles of fur in the corners, under the furniture, and in my bedding. I would joke that I could collect this fur and make a pillow out of it, there was so much.

Bjorn and I had moved into an apartment together. The little house I lived in first with Dan, then by myself was simply too small for our family. As the time grew nearer for our baby to arrive, I began nesting in earnest, cleaning and vacuuming. As my due date loomed, I became nearly frantic with the desire to move about, wishing I could run or ride my bike as I had before the pregnancy.

I awakened the first morning of May and wanted to get out of the house, in spite of the fact that I had expanded beyond any notion of comfort. I had heard that walking could help bring on labor so I was headed out. I grabbed my purse, keys, and the dogs and jumped into the car, Bjorn trailing. The local kennel club was sponsoring a pet day fair. At the fair, hawkers sold kerchiefs, dog toys, leashes, and other assorted canine goods. We wandered for a couple of hours, until my hips could no longer tolerate my weight and the heat. It was a warm day for early spring.

We spent the rest of the day out and about, doing our best to encourage baby’s arrival. It must have worked, because shortly before midnight, my contractions began and increased. At 12:24 p.m. on May 2, 1999, Milla Elina was born.

The two of us had arranged with my best friend Debbie and her husband Robert to take care of our dogs while I was in the hospital having the baby. They were parents to a kitty named Misty and completely understood the relationship I had with my dogs – as far as we all were concerned, the dogs were surrogate children and could not be left to fend for themselves for two or three days.

In spite of the love I felt for Autumn and Molly, I was unprepared for the tsunami level of emotion I felt toward my infant daughter. It was all consuming. I suppose this connection is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species. I was in such love, such infatuation, such complete adoration for my child, I could not understand why everyone wasn’t having babies. I walked around for weeks staring at everyone thinking, “You were someone’s baby! Someone loved you like this!” Only later as the hormones wore off did I understand intellectually that some people never feel like I did, but I could never understand it in my heart. I loved my child with my whole body, mind, and spirit.

When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to Milla, Autumn kept trying to get up in my lap, to get near me, but I was afraid she would hurt the baby. I had sworn before giving birth that I would not become one of those people whose dogs disappeared into the background, forgotten and forlorn, but during the first few days home, I did just that. Once we were used to having the baby around and had settled into a routine, I shifted back and Autumn became part of my attention circle again, but I’m sure the first couple of weeks were very hard for her. I imagine in some ways this is how it is for older children when a new baby is born, especially when they are very close together in age. There were fifteen months between my sister and me, and when Milla was fifteen months old, I could not fathom bringing home another infant. She was still very much a baby. People do it, but it must be hard.

Bjorn and I decided that Milla would sleep with us. We bought a pillow with a curve in it and placed her between us on the queen bed. Those first nights were difficult, mainly because little Milla kept getting dog hair in her nose, making it hard for her to breathe. In spite of all my cleaning, there were still dog hairs in the bed, and they would stick to Milla’s little nostrils, causing her to sneeze and cry. I had thought we could manage allowing the dogs to sleep on the floor next to the bed, but that first night they kept trying to get on the bed and get near me. Bjorn would yell and shove them hard onto the floor.

It pains me now to know that I did not do more to stop him. I felt so exhausted and physically worn out. It breaks my heart that I let him treat both of my dogs that way and especially Autumn. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her. She had lived with me her entire life, nearly six years, and this man who had arrived less than a year previously yelled at her and often hit her and at first I stood by and let it happen, too spent to do anything about it. And here was this new baby, taking all my attention, and causing her more grief. It’s not something I can really reconcile in my mind; I wish I had done more for her, prepared better, done something different, but I did not. Thinking of it still gives me a hard spot in the pit of my stomach.

After the first night, I decided to thoroughly clean and vacuum the bedroom. There was so much dog hair, even though I vacuumed nearly daily. It was in the crevices along the wall, behind the bed, in the covers, under the sheets. I took the bed apart completely, unmoored it from its frame, and vacuumed everything from the mattresses, to the carpets, to the window sills. I washed the sheets and bedding, and dusted all the floorboards.

Once the bed was rebuilt, remade, and the room completely hair free, I put up two baby gates in the hall between the bedroom door and the rest of the house. The dogs hovered around the outside gate, wanting in, whining and moaning. I have a photograph from that time, of the two dogs lying out there with pained expressions on their faces, wishing and hoping that they could come back to bed with me.

Keeping the dogs out of the bed made sleeping much easier for the humans, and much more difficult for the dogs. Autumn had never been ostracized before. It was terrible for her. She began to act seriously depressed. I was so involved with the baby, I did not have the energy to give to her, and her heart was broken. She kept trying to get close to me and I kept pushing her away because I did not want her to hurt Milla.

I would sit on the couch trying to nurse (something that was not going well) and Autumn would attempt to jump up next to me. I would halfheartedly tell her to get down, then Bjorn would yell at her. I eventually succumbed and allowed Autumn to lie next to me on the couch while Milla suckled. She curled into a little ball and snuggled as close as she could get. What kind of person had I turned into that I let this happen? My only pathetic excuse was new parenthood and all the that goes with it.

We did eventually get into the groove of parenting. Milla grew and after only a couple of months, the dogs were allowed back in the bedroom and back in our bed. It made for crowded sleeping, but everyone was more content.

Read Autumn — Chapter 10

Autumn — Chapter 8

Read Autumn — Chapter 7

Life moved on. We settled into our routines; I would drive to Eugene five days a week, while Dan drove into Corvallis. I was further along in school and was able to take fewer classes, so I took a part-time job in the evenings at a video store. I was also a member of the university equestrian team, and would travel to horse shows in California every few weeks. Dan was a sports official, so depending which sport was going during whatever season we were in, he would often be out officiating games. Autumn spent most of her time with me, although occasionally I left her home as well.

Basically, as a newly married couple, the two of us were not spending a whole lot of time together. We also experienced tension living with Dan’s parents. Dan often felt conflicted between my expectations for the marriage, and the expectations of his parents. I often felt like his parents treated him like a child even though he was a grown and married man. Dan, stuck in the middle, would often just leave the house and not return until late.

After nearly two years and many tense arguments, I finally realized that we needed to find our own place to live. I was graduating, and we decided it would be easier for us if we lived in Corvallis near OSU where Dan went to school. He was studying engineering and living near the university would give Dan easier access to study groups and the library.

Since I was the more particular of the two of us, I searched for an apartment we could afford that wasn’t too close to the parties and college nightlife. Neither of us were into that and Dan needed somewhere he could study. We also required a yard or patio so Autumn could go out.

We finally located a place not too far from campus and moved there in late spring of 1996. When we announced to Dan’s parents that we were moving, I think they were as relieved as we were. They wanted to do some more work on their basement, and convert the apartment area into a rec room for themselves. Overall, it was the best move for everyone. Dan and I had started marriage counseling and the counselor also supported the move.

The new apartment was located near some hills and a park. Every morning I would rise and go for a run, winding up through the hills, taking Autumn with me. I also took her swimming in a number of creeks nearby when the weather was tolerable. The running helped her to maintain the muscle development when she wasn’t able to swim. As long as she was exercising, she did not have any soreness in her back end.

Rain was heavy one morning as I set out on my run, my sneakers slapping the wet pavement, spraying my socks and legs. Autumn had never minded the rain, but on this particular morning, she was hesitant and lagging behind. Wanting to finish the run quickly and get out of the weather, I pulled her along. Finally, she just stopped, causing me to nearly trip and fall. I turned to look at her thinking maybe she needed to go potty, but she just stood there, drenched and looking forlorn.

“Autumn, what is going on?” I asked, shouting over the loud water falling around us. She just stood there, sides heaving, as if the effort of it all was too much to bear in the downpour.

“Okay. If you want to go back, let’s go back,” I said, realizing that the run was over and turned back toward the apartment. She followed me easily once she knew we were headed home.

The following day after pulling on my running clothes and shoes, I headed outside to run. It was still raining. I tried anyway to take Autumn with me, but she would not budge beyond our front patio. I took her inside and she curled up under the covers with Dan who was still slumbering. Oh well. I figured when the rain abated, I would take her with me again.

But something had changed in her. She never wanted to go running with me again. I don’t know if it was the weather, or if her hips bothered her or what. She had not been acting sore, but for the rest of her life, I could take her for walks, but I was never able to take her for a run with me again.

Shortly after moving into our new apartment, I started working full time at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Dan had another year to complete at the university, and Autumn had to be left home every day by herself. I would eat lunch at the apartment, but I worried she might be lonely all day, although she never developed any of the habits dogs often exhibit when they are unhappy at being left by themselves. In spite of the fact that she seemed to be tolerating the time by herself just fine, I began to think that maybe we should get another dog. It wasn’t that one I day I decided absolutely that we would do so. It was more a vague sense that if the right dog came along, getting one would be helpful.

Even before I considered adding a dog to our family, I was always one to troll the humane society or other shelters. I liked visiting the homeless pets, petting them, giving them treats. I had been donating money to the humane society for years and fully supported animal adoption. I considered myself an ideal owner; any animal that lived with me would be a full member of the family, receive top of the line care, and lots of love.

One Sunday in December 1996, I drove up to Salem to visit the humane society there. It was the biggest animal shelter in our part of the state, and I loved the idea of browsing through all the animals. I was not sure what kind of a dog I wanted, but I knew I did not want a brand new puppy, and also that I wanted a female.

As I entered the lobby at the humane society, I could see through a window in the door into the kennels where the dogs were housed. I waited my turn, then checked in at the desk in the main lobby. They explained their procedures – if I was interested in a dog I should note the number on the kennel, then return to the front desk where they would set me up in a room to meet the animal.

I entered the kennel. The door and walls between the kennel and the lobby must have been built well because while the lobby had been fairly quiet, the kennels were bedlam. The floors and walls were cement, which caused the barks to echo and flow around my ears and head. There were rows and rows of kennels, and all of them were filled with dogs. Each kennel was surrounded on three sides by grey brick walls with a chain link gate in the front.

I wandered up and down the aisles, looking into the kennels. There were so many dogs to choose from. There were lots of brand new puppies, and most of them had signs on their cages indicating they were already adopted. Some of the dogs stood patiently at the gates, others stayed on their blanket at the back, others jumped and pawed at the chain link, barking and hollering. Because it was a Sunday, there were many potential doggie parents milling about looking for dogs.

I stopped at a few cages. Every dog seemed sweet. I read later that the society handled them to ensure they were well socialized before adopting them out. I wandered up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to pet one and say hello. One dog in particular caught my eye.  She was about the same size as Autumn, but mostly black, almost like Autumn’s photo negative. Where Autumn was brown, this dog was black. Where Autumn’s points and eyebrows were dark brown, this dog’s were beige. She sat quietly in front of the fence. I went over and started to pet her. She looked at the floor, but leaned into the fence of the kennel so I could pet her ears. She was extremely thin, so thin I could count all of her ribs and see her hip bones.

This dog had curved front paws. There was no obvious bend like an L. Rather, her paws simply curved like the bottom of a U.  Later when Autumn contracted diabetes and her body began to gradually starve, her paws began to curve too and I learned that curved paws were caused by muscle degeneration due to starvation. However, that day in the humane society I did not know that the reason this dog’s paws were curved was because she had been starving. The sign on her kennel read QUEENIE. Her breed was listed as a Doberman mix.  I did not believe her to be a Doberman.  Her colors might have been vaguely reminiscent, but nothing else about her resembled that breed.

I pet her for a bit, then moved on to look around some more. I would wander up and down the aisles then return to the kennel with Queenie. Other visitors would stop at various kennels, but no one else stopped at Queenie’s. I kept going back. She would look up at me, then look at the floor, then look back up at me. I decided to take her number to the front desk for a visit.

I was allowed to take Queenie out into a back yard to walk her around and to spend time visiting to see whether she would be a good match in our home. She was thoroughly unobtrusive and mild.  She sat next to me and walked quietly beside me as we strolled through the yard. I asked her if she wanted to live with me.  She just looked at me, then looked away, then looked back again at me. The way she would shyly glance up, then look away, then up again won my heart. I decided right then that this was the dog I wanted to take home.

The workers at the humane society told me that Queenie had been found wandering the streets of Salem three weeks prior. The day I chose her, she was extremely thin.  I could count each of her ribs and she had those curved paws I did not know signified atrophied muscles from malnourishment.  If she was in this shape after three weeks, I can only imagine how thin she had been upon arrival.

Prior to that day, Autumn had lived with us as our child. She slept in our bed. She ate the best dog food. She received top of the line vet care.  She was a priority in our lives. I cannot imagine an animal more loved and cared for. Yet the humane society in Salem would not let me adopt Queenie because the house we lived in was rented and did not have a fence. Also even if our house had met the required standards, Dan and Autumn would have had to come in to meet her before we could take her home.  Even though I had owned another dog and cared for her in that house for over a year, the people there determined it was not good enough. No wonder so many animals can’t find homes. If someone like me could not adopt a dog, I did not see how anyone could.

I hugged Queenie and left the facility completely dejected. I wanted her. I knew she would fit well with our little family. I had to find a way to bring her home.

Knowing the criteria that had kept me from adopting Queenie, I set out to find a friend who would “kidnap” her for me.  I had no qualms about the fraud I intended to perpetrate.  The shelter she was at was not a no-kill shelter.  I could not bear the thought that someone might never adopt her and she would be euthanized.  She was such a gentle, sweet creature.

I ran through a list of possible co-conspirators, and at first I came up blank.  My first thought was Dan, but I had listed him on the application form.  If there were any way to cross reference our names, he would be found.  His name was quite unusual.

I considered my friends Lily and Janae, but they were both students and there was no way they could adopt.  Both of them lived in dorms.

While I was mulling it over, fortuitously, my phone rang.  It was my uncle, John.  My mother had been the oldest of five brothers and a sister.  John was four years her junior and while he shared common facial features, the similarities stopped there.  Where my mom was short and petite, my uncle was tall and broad-shouldered.  He used to be a body-builder and it showed.  John also had been injured in an accident and had lost an eye.  Because of this he always wore mirrored, aviator sun-glasses. When my sister and I were little, we loved looking at John’s one glass eye.  He would tell us stories about taking it out and scaring people with it.  Simultaneously titillated and terrified, we would scream, then beg for him to tell us more.  I think he loved delighting us with his tales.

John had recently moved nearby and was calling me to ask me something about my mom.  I answered his question, then told him about Queenie, and that I was looking for someone who could go in and adopt her for me.

“I could do it.  If you pay me the adoption fee, I’ll make up some story and go in and get her for you.”  John was actually the perfect choice.  He felt the same way about dogs as I did.  Sadly, he had recently lost his own little blue shepherd after she was hit by a car.  He would be happy to help me adopt Queenie.

Elated, I relayed all the details that had derailed my own adoption, including the lack of fence, renting, and that I would have had to bring Autumn back in to visit.  I was never concerned about that requirement, I was simply suffering from a bad case of instant gratification, and I had no desire to drive the thirty-five miles one-way to Corvallis, then back to Salem the following day if I could help it.

“I’ve got it,” he told me.  “I will go there right now and try to get her for you.” I was so pleased! Perhaps Queenie would be coming home with me after all.

I drove home to Corvallis, keeping the phone nearby for the rest of the afternoon.  I waited and waited for him to call me.  I took Autumn for a walk and cleaned the house.  Dan arrived home from class and I told him what was going on.  He was skeptical, but figured it would all work out.  We were scheduled to eat dinner at his parent’s that evening, and late in the afternoon, we drove over there

During the drive, John called to inform me that he had Queenie and wanted to know where we should meet.  I gave him directions to a park near Dan’s parent’s house. I had thought it best if Autumn met Queenie at a neutral location so neither dog would feel threatened, Autumn by the interloper, and Queenie by the top dog who had been in place long before her arrival. We did not want to do anything to further traumatize Molly, or to unnecessarily upset Autumn.

After I hung up the phone, I clapped my hands in joy.  Queenie was ours!

When John arrived at the park, I climbed out of the car with Autumn.  John handed me Queenie’s leash and Dan held Autumn. We let Autumn go because we knew she would come if we called her.  The two dogs sniffed one another all over. Then Queenie laid down, snuffling her nose in the grass while Autumn ran off to find a stick.

“That was uneventful,” I said to Dan, smiling.

“It’s a good thing,” he informed me. “What would we have done if they hadn’t liked each other?”

“I knew they would be fine when I met Queenie,” I told him. “She has a very unassuming personality.  They might not be the best of friends, but they are neither one the sort to fight.”

The story my uncle had told the humane society in order to secure the adoption was convoluted and long. He had gone back and visited Queenie, then came back and asked to fill out an adoption application. During the meeting, he told them he owned his own house with a fenced yard. He said he had a motherless little boy who wanted a dog.  As expected, he was informed that he could not take the dog until the little boy had visited.  He countered with the creation of a sob story whereby the two had owned a dog since before his boy was born, that this dog had recently died, and that after the death of his mother, the loss of the dog was devastating. His little boy was desperately sad and missed this dog more than anything. Queenie looked like that dog and he wanted to surprise his little boy.

“I even cried a little,” he told us.

They couldn’t resist his tears.  Thankfully, the humane society people did not question why a motherless child was not with his father and accepted his story, allowing John to make the adoption.  There was something comical about this enormous man crying just so he could adopt Queenie for me.

The month was January and the air frigid, plus John needed to get home for the evening.  I thanked him profusely and gave him a hug.  I also reimbursed him for the cost of the adoption.  Since the two dogs were so nonplussed by one another, we called the dogs and helped them into our car, then headed over to Dan’s parent’s house as John drove off.

That evening as we sat at the dinner table, Queenie lay under the table near my feet.  Murphee had been as disinterested in her as Autumn.  Both of these two were more concerned with waiting to see if any of us inadvertently dropped some food from the table as we ate our dinner.

As we sat there, Dan’s mom stated that Queenie did not look like a Queenie.

“You should change her name,” she informed me.

“No kidding,” I agreed.  “Queenie is a pointy name.  This dog isn’t pointy, she’s sweet. I knew the second I saw that sign that if I adopted her, that name would go.  It doesn’t suit her at all.”

“I think you should call her Molly,” said Dan’s mom.

“That name certainly seems to fit her,” I agreed again.  “She really does look like a sweet Molly girl.

“Molly,” I said to her.  “Do you want to be called Molly?” she just lay there sniffing the air, noticing the food for the first time.

As part of the agreement to adopt, I had to pay the humane society a rather large fee. It was claimed that most of the fee was to pay for a certificate to spay Molly.  The humane society where she was adopted was in Marion County. Before our adoption fell through, I had been assured that I could use the certificate at a vet in Benton, the county where I lived.

A few days after Molly came home, I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Fletcher to have her spayed. However, his receptionist informed me that unfortunately, the certificates for spaying were not good in our county.  Even though I loved Dr. Fletcher, I thought I should at least get to use the certificates, so I called around to some other vets and was given the same story, the certificates could not be used.  Because I was not going to get to use the certificate anyway, I scheduled the appointment with Dr. Fletcher. He decided he would honor the certificate even though he would not be reimbursed for the work by the humane society. Basically he would be performing the operation for nothing.

Two days later I took Molly in to be spayed. She held her head low, afraid of the vet’s office, but went along willingly.  That was Molly. There were many situations where she was afraid, but she would trust me and go along if I was there. She was like this her entire life.

A couple of hours after dropping Molly off, I received a phone call from Dr. Fletcher’s office letting me know her surgery was complete.  When I arrived at the office, Dr. Fletcher came out to talk to me. It turned out that when he opened Molly’s abdomen, she had already been spayed. He sewed her back up and called me to come and bring her home. He said because the humane society told me she needed to be spayed, it had not occurred to him to question it before performing the surgery.

As I stated before, prior to this I made all of my charitable donations to the humane society.  I wanted to help the organization so it could help animals.  However, after my experience trying to adopt Molly, after the experience with the spaying certificate I was told would work and then did not, and finally the fact they hadn’t even realized she was already spayed and making her undergo an unnecessary procedure, I stopped donating to them.  It has been my unfortunate experience, then and since, that there are many people who work in the animal adoption industry who seem to have the attitude that they are the only people good enough to care for animals. I absolutely understand and support taking steps to keep animals out of bad homes or laboratories.  Yet when organizations that claim their purposes are to serve animals, to keep them from being euthanized, and to find them decent homes, they should not make it impossible for a good owner to adopt a pet. Unfortunately, because of the holier than thou attitude at some facilities, this is exactly what happens.

When she first came to live with us, Molly was skittish, but she loved me and trusted me right away. From the beginning Molly knew certain words and was terrified of them.  Her entire life if I said “vacuum” she would go and hide. In the early days, she was genuinely frightened. In later years she would go and sit on the back porch or in the closet when the vacuum came out. She could not stand the thing. She also knew cuss words and would go and hide even if they were spoken in a sentence full of other words. For instance, I could say I’m going to go and dump the damn garbage and she would go hide. It was like a parlor trick, her knowledge of naughty words. I often wondered what happened to her in her early days to instill such a fear.

Molly loved sleeping on the bed, but years after this, once I owned three dogs and a cat, and had a child, we decided that the bed was too crowded so the dogs were relegated to beds on the floor.  Every so often, Molly would slip quietly onto the bed and lie there as still as possible hoping I would not boot her to the floor. Most times I let her stay; she was not obtrusive.

Dr. Fletcher, examined Molly’s teeth very closely the month I brought her home and told me he was 95% certain she was just under two and a half years old. This would have put her birth around September 1994.  A lot could happen in that time and I will never know what.  In addition to her fear of cuss words and vacuums, she was terrified of loud men, arguments of any kind, and she knew sit, stay, and come. It was obvious she had lived with someone, but who knows what her life was like exactly. She did not like being in trouble, and her perception of trouble had a higher threshold than most of us.

During Autumn’s last years, Autumn would get into the trash and try to eat things she wasn’t allowed to because of her illness.  I would come home to Autumn wagging her tail and Molly sitting in the corner hiding. Simply based on Molly’s body language, I knew Autumn had done something naughty. I know some animal behaviorists would say that Molly was reacting to my reaction, that she had no way to know Autumn had done something wrong, but this explanation does not satisfy. Molly would be reacting to Autumn’s behavior before I even knew what had happened, so there was no way for me to react to it. Molly just knew, garbage spread around meant I would be irritated.

Molly was also extremely fastidious. She would hold potty for hours and hours rather than go in the house.  A few years after she came to live with us, we lived in a 1930’s farmhouse with a full basement. There was no door on that basement so we put a gate at the top of the stairs. The top of the stairs opened onto an enclosed back porch.  When we were gone, we would leave the dogs on this back porch.

One day I came home to discover Molly on the top stair to the basement. “How did you get over the gate?” I asked her. She wagged her tail.  I went down into the basement to discover Molly had gone potty in the farthest corner of the basement. Rather than potty on the back porch Molly had jumped over the gate landing on stairs and gone down and as far away as possible to do it. That’s how she was.

Autumn was not thrilled by the interloper, especially considering I had been her person for the four years comprising her entire life. However, she grudgingly accepted Molly into the pack once she determined she was not going anywhere. For the rest of their lives the two basically ignored each other.  Later when we adopted Poppy, Autumn and Poppy became good friends, and later after that, Autumn and Edna seemed to like one another as well. But Autumn and Molly never did.  They acted like the other did not exist. About once a year they would get into a nasty quarrel and one or the other of the two would end up with a bloody bite. I may have found Autumn a companion in Molly so that she would not be lonely during the day, but my objective in finding her a friend failed wholeheartedly.

Read Autumn — Chapter 9

Autumn — Chapter 7

Read Autumn — Chapter 6

In November 1994 my parents called me and asked for my help getting a dog for my brother Derek.  For years he had pined for a Rottweiler.  Every chance he got, he would go to breeders or shelters to look at Rottweilers and swore he would get one of his own someday.

Derek’s birthday is November 7.  For his 15th birthday our parents decided they would buy Derek his own dog as a combination birthday and Christmas gift.  This was before the internet had taken hold for such purchases, and even after it became more ubiquitous, my parents never really used it anyway.

To make their purchase, my parents relied primarily on the classified ads in the newspaper.  There was a pet section in the classifieds.  It was usually two or three columns long.  Breeders would advertise puppies for sale.  Over several weeks, my parents contacted several breeders, and through this process, they ultimately chose a puppy who would be ready to go home right at Christmastime.  The breeder was located in Portland, an hour north of my parent’s house.  They asked if Dan and I would drive up and get the dog and bring him home the day after Christmas.  Of course we agreed.

The night we drove to get the puppy was rainy and dark.  Visibility was difficult.  We were following the directions the breeder had given my mom, and as is often the case when one gets information third-hand, the directions were not easy to follow. Combined with the terrible weather, we had difficulty locating the house where the breeder lived.  Finally we called my mom who gave us the number for the breeder.  We contacted him and he directed us to his house, two blocks from the street we had been circling for twenty minutes.

The breeder’s house was a simple 1950s ranch, with low eaves and small windows. The home was cheery and clean however, and festively decorated for the holidays.  The puppies were kept in their own bedroom, but were running loose when we arrived.

As soon as we stepped in out of the rain, we were mauled by a wriggling black mass of six puppies.  They wiggled and writhed and jumped all over our feet.  Dan and I squatted to pet them.  One puppy in particular was desperate for our attention.  His fur was shiny, thick, and black.  He had orange eyebrows, and an orange throat and belly.  His tail had been docked, and he wagged his stump as he clambered over his siblings and into my lap so he could lick my face.  I held him against me, smelling his sweet puppy breath.  The breeder stood off to one side smiling.

“That’s your dog,” he stated, matter-of-factly, hands on his hips.  The man was slightly balding with a comb-over, his short-sleeved, oxford shirt tucked into his trousers.  “it is like he knew you were coming to get him tonight or something.”  He grinned at us as he said this.

The dog did indeed seem particularly excited by our visit. The others were playful, but within minutes of our arrival, they dispersed to cause mischief elsewhere in the house.  Our puppy, or rather, Derek’s puppy, hung close, trying to lick our faces and sniff our shoes.  We always thought Autumn’s paws were large, but she turned out to be a mid-sized model.  In comparison, this puppy’s paws were enormous.  There would be no mistake that this dog would be massive.

The breeder spent several minutes showing us his papers and introducing us to his mother and father, both of whom were on site.  He came from a long line of German dogs.  His grandparents were all still in Germany.  We could see from the papers that he did not have any inbreeding, which I thought was unusual for a purebred.  Many of the thoroughbred horses I knew had at least some crossing with cousins.  Years after this I adopted a greyhound who had several cousins who showed up in the lines of both her parents.

The puppy’s bloodlines mattered little to me; I knew he would be neutered eventually.  But I also knew Derek cared, and actually so did my parents.  His breeding was a primary factor in my parent’s choice of this dog over other Rottweilers they looked at.

A half an hour later we were back on the road, the lumbering fur ball asleep on my lap.  Our visit had worn him out.  Before we left, the breeder had spent a few more minutes describing his diet and medical history.  He had noted all this information on a sheet he attached to his registration papers.

For this trip, we opted to leave Autumn at my parent’s house.  We did not want her to overwhelm the puppy on the long drive home.  We called my parents to let them know we were on our way.  The plan was that our dad would take Derek into town shortly before our arrival, then return a short time later to the best gift he had ever received.

As is often the case, because we were not searching for our destination, the ride home seemed shorter than the drive up.  As we wound up my parent’s mile-long driveway, the puppy sat up and yawned, then stretched.  He was so cute.

We could hear Autumn barking as we exited our car.  I knew this bark — it said I know your car and you’re my mom and I want you!

Holding the puppy close to my chest, we dodged raindrops and raced into the house.  Shedding water left and right, we burst through the door, pulling our wet coats from our heads, plopping the puppy to the floor.  Autumn shut up long enough to give the puppy a sniff before she dashed over to me, shoving her nose into my crotch and wriggling and woofing in delight at my return.

Dogs.  No matter where we have been or for how long, they are always so happy to see us.  This must be one of the top reasons people love having them around.  Where else do we get such complete adoration on all levels, simply for being ourselves?

The puppy was sniffing around, looking like he wanted to pee.  I recognized the circling and sniffing.  It could also have been that this was a new place, with lots of new smells, but rather than take a chance, I scooped him up and headed back out onto the porch to see if he would go.  Autumn followed.  She lowered her head and ducked into the rain, squatted, peed, and jumped back under cover.  The puppy watched her, and then followed to squat and pee in the same spot.

One advantage to a mile-long driveway is that those at the top of the driveway can see visitors coming several minutes before they arrive, should they choose to look.  In this manner we saw the headlights to my dad’s truck and were able to settle in the house with the lights low in order not to give anything away. The plan was to just let the puppy roam, and see how long it took Derek to notice him.

We hovered in the living room.  Autumn lay at my feet.  The puppy had lain on the floor near a window and was snuffling in the carpet.

The back door slammed, and my brother called out, “Hello?”

“We are in here,” I said.  Autumn stood, barked once, and went to greet Derek before returning to my side.

Derek walked into the living room, my dad close behind.  He stood there for a minute, then his eyes grew large.

“Oh,” was all he said, before he walked over and kneeled by the puppy, pulling him up into his lap.  The puppy licked at his chin.  Derek, always averse to spit or other bodily fluids, leaned his head back to avoid the tongue washing. My parents smiled like schoolchildren who had successfully pulled a prank.

Only a few times in my life since he has grown have I seen my brother cry, but he had tears in his eyes as he sat and held his gargantuan puppy.

Derek named his dog Kaine after another Kaine in his ancestry.  Within months he weighed over 100 pounds. Like his forebears, he loved herding cattle and rambling around our parent’s farm.  Like Ferdinand the bull, Kaine would lumber down into their fields, then lie down and watch the world, his nose twitching, occasionally chomping at a fly as it buzzed overhead.

He was extremely smart, and learned quickly.  One of the rules in my parent’s house was that dogs were not allowed on the furniture. Autumn was occasionally allowed to get up on the couch, and periodically attempted to thwart my parent’s rule.

One afternoon while we were visiting, Derek was in his bedroom. I sat in the living room with the dogs, and Autumn jumped up next to me on the couch.  Kaine immediately ran into Derek’s room and woofed.

“What do you want?” Derek asked him.  Kaine woofed again, then turned and bustled out of the room before returning to woof yet again.  It seemed to Derek that Kaine wanted him to follow.  He stood and Kaine turned to walk out of the room, looking back to ensure Derek was behind him.  Kaine entered the living room, trotted over to Autumn, turned to Derek and woofed.  Autumn was on the couch, and this was against the rules!  Derek and I laughed and laughed.  I asked Autumn to get off the couch and lie on the floor.  This seemed to satisfy Kaine.  He circled and lay down in the corner, sighing. All was well with the world again.

Derek was fifteen years old when Kaine came to live with him.  Within a few years, Derek moved in and out of my parent’s house several times. He was never able to move anywhere that allowed a dog of Kaine’s size, or there would be silly breed restrictions that forbade tenants keeping Rottweilers.  For this reason, he lived his life at my parent’s house.

In addition, the summer of his seventeenth year, Derek began a decade-long struggle with drug addiction, a horrible, life-siphoning disease.  When he was using, he didn’t care about anyone or anything, and could be cruel.  Kaine sensed this and avoided him during those times.  When Derek was clean, Kaine was his loyal follower.

The result of this was that ultimately, Kaine adopted my mom as his person.  Although he had been purchased as Derek’s, a piece of paper is meaningless to a dog.  He decided who was his person, and although Derek was near the top, along with me and my dad, my mom was his choice.  She was the person he would follow from room to room, if only for even a few moments.  At some point, Kaine decided that this meant my dad could not hug my mother.  He would bark furiously and shove his head between the two of them.  They would laugh and separate, but unfortunately, this seemed only to reinforce the behavior.

Kaine also never seemed to understand that he was bigger than a miniature pony.  Derek held him in his lap when he was a puppy, and when he grew up, he still wanted to sit on one of us.  If we sat down where he could reach us, he would come over and climb in our lap, whether or not he was invited.

Kaine’s biggest shortcoming was his tongue. It was a constant battle to keep him from licking our faces, our hands, our legs if we were wearing skirts or shorts.  His licking drove Derek to distraction.  He absolutely hated spit of any kind, and would shout “Stop licking!” at Kaine when his tongue dared slip past his lips onto Derek’s skin, which happened all the time.  Kaine was almost pathologically incapable of stopping, in spite of Derek’s ire.  After a scolding, Kaine would turn his head to the floor, but his eyes would stay on Derek, as if to say, “Ooh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t help it.  Now can I lick you again?”

At about age 8, Kaine began to show signs he was unwell.  He would be struck still by debilitating fatigue and weakness in his back and legs, lying in a lethargy for hours.  Frightened by this behavior, my mom took him to Dr. Fletcher for tests.  It turned out that Kaine had Addison’s disease, a serious health complication whereby a dog does not produce enough cortisol.  Interestingly enough, it was the exact opposite condition of Cushing’s, the disease I believe Autumn suffered, although she never tested positive for it.

Addison’s is treatable through periodic cortisone tablets.  Kaine was prescribed cortisone to take when he began displaying Addison’s symptoms.  However, as with any steroid, the cortisone could cause side-effects, including long-term problems, so the drug had to be given sparingly.  Near the end of his life, Kaine was taking his medication daily. Without it, he would quickly relapse into dreadful lethargy and pain.  He would whimper if made to move, and he would not eat.

In February 2005, Kaine gave up eating and lay in a corner.  Nothing could coax him to take food or to move.  For two weeks, he worsened, showing interest in nothing, least of all the will to live.  My mom did not want to believe that he was dying.  I know her heart was broken; she loved Kaine like her own child.

Finally though, on President’s Day, my mom called me and asked if I would contact Dr. Fletcher and ask him to come to the house.  I spoke to him and he arranged to meet me there that evening.

The night was cold and clear, diaphanous clouds floated high in the sky.  I could see an exact half moon through the gauzy altocumulus formations.  Kaine lay on a blanket in a darkened room in the basement of the house my parents were building.  His sides heaved, and he did not look up as we entered.  My mom was so upset, she could barely speak.  Dr. Fletcher spoke quietly to Kaine, feeling his glands, running his hands along his prostrate form.

“He’s done,” he informed us.  “It’s time for him to go.”

My mom just stood there, tears on her cheeks. She could not bear to lose her friend.  She asked me to stay with him.  Dr. Fletcher opened his small toolbox and pulled out a syringe, filling it with a clear, pink liquid.  Kaine’s breathing was irregular and ragged.

“Talk to him,” he whispered to me. “Tell him it’s okay.  Tell him you love him and that he can leave now.” Dr. Fletcher administered the shot.

I leaned over Kaine and held his large, head in my hand, kissing his face and whispering to him as Dr. Fletcher had instructed.  Milla sat next to me, kneeling.

“It’s okay, boy,” I said. “We love you.  We will miss you.”

Gradually, over the next several minutes, Kaine’s breathing evened out and slowed.  It was not obvious when he stopped.  His breaths became slower and shallower until they could not be detected.  Every few moments, Dr. Fletcher would check his forearm for a pulse.  Eventually, he said, “He’s gone.”  My mother turned wordlessly and headed upstairs.

Read Autumn — Chapter 8

Autumn — Chapter 6

Read Autumn — Chapter 5 here.

The fall after we returned to the west coast, I attended the University of Oregon in Eugene. Four days a week, I drove south 45 miles to campus. Autumn would lie in the passenger’s seat, her forearm over the console and across my elbow. There were some lectures where it simply was not possible to take her with me, and for those Autumn would wait for me in the car. For the smaller classes, Autumn would attend, lying under the desk at my feet. She was so well-behaved, many people were not even aware she was there.

As was often the case if the weather was dry and the grassy fields were not too muddy, as I walked along with Autumn on her leash, I would find sticks for Autumn to fetch. I would toss the stick, Autumn would chase it and bring it back to me, and so it went.

One afternoon while doing this, I tossed the stick and was waiting for Autumn to return to me when I noticed another student taking off his belt and wrapping it around his dog’s neck. The dog had no collar or leash. Autumn ran back to me with her stick and as she did so, an officer walked up to me to give me a ticket.

“You are going to give me a ticket for letting my dog chase a stick, when she is wearing a collar and leash, is properly licensed, and comes when called, yet that guy over there doesn’t even have a collar on his dog and you aren’t going to give one to him?” I asked incredulously. “You must be kidding!”

He wasn’t. He handed me the ticket and walked off. I must have looked an easy target, or at least a responsible one who would probably show up in court and pay the damn thing. I did go to the court date and did pay the ticket, but I let the judge know exactly what happened and he reduced the fine. Going to court for such an infraction required that one license their dog. Giving me a ticket ensured the officer had won half the battle, and Mr. Belt Collar likely wouldn’t have shown up. I was easy revenue, at least for that first infraction. I never threw the stick for Autumn anywhere near campus again unless I made sure there weren’t any officers lurking about with nothing better to do than extort money from a reliable income source.

About a month after her first birthday, Autumn took the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test. I did not know anything about the test before I signed up for it. Somehow, I had heard about a dog carnival at a park in our town. The carnival was to have booths selling dog paraphernalia, dog games, agility, and other dog-related activities. In those days, I always sought out anything dog. Autumn loved playing games and I thought she would really like agility because she was light and built well for it, plus she was extremely well behaved.

The day of the carnival was cloudy, and although rain seemed likely, it did not seem imminent. The two of us headed over to the park in my green Mazda. Autumn wore an orange scarf around her neck and sat in the front seat, as she always did when there was only one of us in the car with her. I had purchased a harness that I clipped to the seatbelt so if we got into an accident, she would not go flying through the windshield. As we drove up, she looked around at all the dogs, ears attentive, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.

Autumn stayed close to my heel as we walked through the various booths and activities. I bought her a new yellow scarf with pink polka dots on it. After meandering about for a half an hour or so, the two of us headed over to the agility course.

Agility is one of the few dog competitions in the United States where the breed of the dog does not matter. It is comprised of a series of obstacles such as tunnels, fences for jumping, teeter-totters, and other events requiring agility in the dog.

As we worked the course, Autumn wore what I considered her doggy happy face. With her mouth slightly open, her tongue out, and eyes bright, she looked like she was smiling. She would look at me, then walk up a ramp to a bridge five feet off the ground. She would look at me, then walk across the bridge. She would look at me then enter a tunnel. Throughout the activities, I would point to something and Autumn would follow. She loved this!

After the agility, we wandered around the carnival some more, when we came upon a table and fenced area. A sign at the table indicated that this was the place for dogs to try and pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test. Oh, what was this? It sounded fun.

I asked one of the ladies sitting at the table what it was? She told me that the Canine Good Citizen test is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community.  The Canine Good Citizen test is comprised of ten “tests” that the dog and handler must complete in order to receive certification that the dog is a good citizen. In order to receive a certificate, Autumn would have to complete all ten tests. Would I like to try?

Well of course! I paid the small entry fee and Autumn and we waited our turn. We looked over the requirements as we stood off to the side until our names were called.

The first test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The second test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. The third test required the dog to welcome being groomed and examined. It also required the dog to permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so.

The fourth test would demonstrate that the handler was in control of the dog. The dog’s position during this test could leave no doubt that the dog was attentive to the handler and responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction.

The fifth test showed that the dog would move about politely in pedestrian traffic and remain under control in public places. The sixth test demonstrated that the dog had training, would respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down, and would remain in the place commanded by the handler. Test seven required the dog to come when called by the handler.

The eighth test showed that the dog would behave politely around other dogs. Test nine demonstrated that the dog was at all times confident when faced with common distracting situations such as joggers or something being rolled by on a dolly.

The final test required the dog to be left with a trusted person, and that it would maintain training and good manners when it was left. The owner would then leave the dog’s sight for three minutes, and the dog was supposed to remain calm and behave.

After quickly skimming through the list of requirements, I was confident that Autumn could complete all of them. This would be fun!

After waiting for several minutes, it was our turn to begin. The evaluator explained the rules of the test, which included the rule that the dog could not relieve itself during the exam. Funny rule, I thought.

We began the exercises. Each time, Autumn passed. The only test I thought we might have trouble with was number ten, the final exercise. I was not sure whether Autumn would remain quiet after I asked her to lie down and then went to hide behind a tree for three minutes. During the test, I peeked around the tree to see what she was doing. Autumn was lying still, her head alert, looking towards where I had walked. She did not get up, and she did not make a peep. After three minutes had expired, the evaluator came and got me from behind the tree.

“Your dog passed,” he said. “Congratulations.” He smiled as he handed Autumn’s leash to me, leading me over to retrieve our certificate.

“Thank you,” I answered him.

“You know, your dog, she is completely devoted to you,” the evaluator said, looking down at Autumn as he spoke.

“Really?” I asked. I always thought Autumn loved me too, but it was pleasing to hear it from someone else. “How can you tell?”

“Watch her,” he answered. “Every other step she takes she is looking at you to see where you are, what you want her to do. You can always tell a well-trained dog and one that completely loves its owner when it keeps checking in with its owner like that.”

I beamed. I knew Autumn was my best friend, my dog child. I loved her as much as she loved me, and it showed.

Years later when the internet was much more ubiquitous than it was at the time Autumn took the CGC test, I looked it up and discovered that some dogs train for years to pass the CGC test and never pass, that it is a real honor and achievement to receive the Canine Good Citizen certificate. My little dog had passed it on her first try.

Not only was Autumn good at the tests required by the Canine Good Citizen test, she had managed to learn a lot of tricks.  I have read arguments by people that humans should not force dogs to perform tricks, that it undermines their dogness or something.

Yet such assertions ignore certain aspects of canine character, namely that some dogs, like Autumn, truly seem to enjoy performing these feats of skill.  There was no force involved.  Most of the tricks she learned because we were goofing around and she figured out that certain actions resulted in a reaction from me, which she sought.  Many times Autumn would come to me and perform a trick when there was no food around.  Usually she just wanted my attention, and it worked.  She got it.

Autumn performed all the usual manner of dog tricks, such as shaking or giving five.  She would shake with her right paw and give five with her left.  She also sat up on command, balancing on her haunches, her paws curled on her chest.  Sitting up was one activity she absolutely came up with on her own.  I never held her and taught her sit up, she just started doing it when she wanted something.

Autumn’s best activity by far was playing dead.  I would pull out my finger pistol, aim it at her, fire, and cry, “Bang!”  Autumn would slump over on her side like a dead dog.  Sometimes she would lift her head and look at me with one eye.  I’d cock the gun and shoot again.  Her head would fall with a thump and she would lie there until I told her to get up.

Mornings before I left for school, I would spend a couple of hours studying at my desk.  Most of the time, Autumn would come and lie at my feet, dozing until I packed up and left for school.

As was her habit her entire life, if I left my desk for even a moment to use the bathroom or to get a glass of water, she would follow me, no matter how brief the interruption.  I would stand and head into the bathroom or kitchen.  Autumn would pull herself to her feet, follow me into whatever room, and lie down beside me sighing heavily, her tags clanking on the floor.  A minute later when I headed back to my desk she would rise again and follow, lying again at my feet. This is how she behaved most of the time.

Other times, she woke up ready to play, and she would make every effort engage my attention.  Usually this meant digging through her basket to locate the toy of her choice, then dropping it in my lap or on my feet.  I would kick the toy or toss it, trying to focus on my work, but this only encouraged her to try harder.  She would bring the toy back and drop it again and again until I either ignored her or stopped working to play for real.

If I ignored her, she would then increase her efforts, bringing in the big gun:  the rope.  Autumn’s rope consisted of two thick cotton ropes, one red, one white, woven around one another and through a hard piece of red rubber.  First, she would bring the rope to me as she had with the other objects, dropping it in my lap or at my feet.  When this failed to elicit a response, she would pounce on the rope and shake it vigorously, whacking me in the shins with the piece of rubber.

“Ow!” I would holler.  “Stop whacking me with the damn rope!”

Autumn would stop and pant, eyes bright and tail swinging.  If she was feeling especially fresh, she would lower her front end, holding the rope and shaking it, growling.

“I’m going to pummel you again if you won’t play with me!” she seemed to say, brandishing the rope like a club, ready to bludgeon me again if I failed to join in her play.  Unless I was under a serious deadline crunch, this usually worked.  It was hard to resist someone so determined to have fun.

That fall I purchased a sewing machine.  As my first project, I decided to sew Autumn a little coat.  I purchased a red, green, and cream colored fabric.  I lined it in red and trimmed it with green piping.  Autumn looked smart in the coat, its colors complementary with her creamy tan fur.

I also sewed Autumn a Halloween costume.  Using bright, colorful fabric, I sewed a ruffled clown collar, and ruffles for each of her paws.  I also made a ruffle to go on her tail, but every time she wagged, which was frequent, the ruffle went flying.

On Halloween, we dressed her in the costume, and I painted colorful circles on her fur with washable fur paint from the pet store.  I encircled one eye in blue, the other in red.  Dan dressed in a clown costume as well, and I dressed as a ringmaster, using my riding breeches, coat, and boots.  We made quite the festive trio as we handed out goodies to trick-or-treaters.

The children loved Autumn. Always a fan of anyone who would play with her, Autumn wagged her tail and snuffled the visitors at our door as we handed out candy.  The way she sniffed at their various Halloween bags, I think she hoped someone might offer her a treat.

Later that evening we all went over to Dan’s parent’s for a small party.  We brought along our fur paint and covered Murphee in colorful circles as well.  We may not have been frightening in the traditional sense, but I think some of the other guests thought we were pretty scary to go to such lengths in dressing up our dog.

Not all of my friends shared my canine enthusiasm.  Elizabeth, a friend I had known for years, lived with her husband and son in Eugene, south of us by about forty-five minutes.

On occasion, Elizabeth would ask me to watch her four-year-old son.  I would drive to their house, Autumn beside me on the seat.  I spent one cloudy Sunday afternoon babysitting for Elizabeth while she and her husband went out for a few hours.  They owned a beagle named Lucy.  I always liked Lucy, but Elizabeth thought she had neurotic tendencies.  I never saw these tendencies, but was assured they did exist.

I arrived for my babysitting and spent the afternoon playing with Elizabeth’s son and the two dogs.  Later in the day it began to rain, and we spent the rest of our time together playing in the house.  Near evening, Elizabeth and her husband arrived home.  Her son had fallen asleep next to me on the couch where I sat watching a movie.  The two dogs were sleeping on the floor until they arrived home, but once they came through the door, bedlam ensued as both dogs barked enthusiastic welcomes.  I gathered my things, rounded up Autumn, and headed home.

A month later, Elizabeth called and asked if I could watch her son again.  I checked my calendar and agreed, noting the details in my day planner.

Elizabeth paused for a moment, as if she wanted to say something, then said, “Would you please not bring Autumn with you?”

“Um,” I answered, “Okay.  I won’t bring her in the house, but I want her with me, so I will keep her in the car.  it is a long way away and I don’t like going that far alone.”

Elizabeth said that was fine, we said our goodbyes, and got off the phone.  I didn’t say anything at the time, we had known each other for years and it wasn’t worth a disagreement, but the request irritated me.  I didn’t so much mind not bringing Autumn in the house, but I was, after all, helping them out; allowing the dog to visit seemed a small concession for the assistance.

I knew though, that Elizabeth’s husband was picky about cleanliness, pickier even than I, which says a lot because I’m pretty particular in that regard.  it is one of the reasons my dog got baths every few days.  It was only years later after their divorce that I understood some of the difficulties going on in their marriage, and I’m glad I didn’t make an issue out of it at the time.

Read Autumn — Chapter 7 here

Autumn — Chapter 5

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

Autumn shared her birthday with anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, August 16. I found it remarkable that decades after the man’s death, the date was still so publicly memorialized. Ah, the cult of celebrity. While many lamented the day, we were going to celebrate.

In hindsight, I realize that some of the way I cared for my dog was a little over the top, but I loved her. I did not have any children. To both Dan and me, Autumn was our child.  I had many friends with dogs, our parents had dogs, and having a party meant we could invite the dogs, but also see our friends and family. After a year across the country we welcomed this opportunity.

Just as with any birthday party, I sent out invitations to the party to be held in the park near our house. I purchased gifts and wrapped them  I bought food, made Autumn a dog food cake, and bought a human cake as well. I also got several balloons. We had celebrated Dan’s birthday when Autumn was five months old. At that celebration, Autumn was thrilled with balloons. She would pounce on them and pop them with her nose. I don’t know how she did it; balloons frighten me, especially near my face.

The day of the party was sun-kissed and warm. The park where the party was to be held was six blocks from our house.  I loaded the cakes, food, party favors, and gifts into a wagon and lumbered down to the park to reserve a table. Because of the season, tables were a rare commodity, and one had to arrive early to get one. Autumn was excited by the presents. She kept sniffing in the wagon and trying to remove the packages. I made her wait, pulling her from the toys and asking her to heel.

In spite of the fact that the purported reason for the party was Autumn’s birthday, nearly all the guests we invited showed up to see us, many without their dogs. Both sets of parents, Dan’s grandma, and a half dozen friends arrived to celebrate Autumn’s birth.  I played Frisbee with my friends while Dan and his played a mini version of softball.  Autumn ran back and forth between both activities, alternately chasing the softball, the Frisbee, or other dogs. Murphee hovered at our feet, willing us to throw balls for her.

When the time came to open gifts, Autumn tore into them. She loved presents. She had discovered at Christmastime that presents meant treats and toys. In fact, for every Christmas for the rest of her life we had to be careful about what gifts were placed under the tree. Even if they weren’t hers, if they contained something she liked, she would root around and find them, tearing off the wrapping to see what was inside. My heart swelled watching her; she was so dear to me and obviously enjoyed her presents.

None of the other dogs were really interested in the cake. They weren’t much interested in Autumn or one another either. Like toddlers at a first birthday party, they were in it for themselves. All the dogs were given treats, and all were allowed to share in the cake, so they went home happy.

I celebrated birthdays for Autumn for the first few years of her life, then we got Molly, and later Milla was born, but for the time, they were a fun way to get together with friends and enjoy our canine friends.

That fall, Autumn started limping after long days at the park or after I took her running with me. It got to be that my runs were take the dog out for a drag rather than taking the dog out for a run. After some months like this, we decided to take Autumn to the vet to find out what was going on.

Since we had arrived back in Oregon, I had taken Autumn to a veterinarian’s office near our house. I had a lot in common with the veterinarian there. His name was Dr. Ken Fletcher, and over time, we became friends.

I adore Dr. Fletcher. After him (who wanted me to go to vet school, and still does in spite of having chosen to go to law school), no other vet could compare. Dr. Ken treated me like a partner in my pet’s care. He told me honestly what I could do myself and what I should let the vet do. He told me how much things cost the vet and what was just junk profit. Basically, he gave me credit for having a brain and for being able to do some things on my own as a collaborator in my pets’ health care. He was not a director who acted as if I could not possibly understand the intricate undertaking of a shot or even more complex aspects of veterinary medicine. He was my partner, and he treated me as someone capable of managing my pets’ health.

When Autumn started having hip problems, Dr. Ken referred me to a specialist in Eugene named Dr. Barclay Slocum. Dr. Slocum was considered the top hip dysplasia doctor in the United States. He had developed the technique used to replace failing hips in dogs, and had performed the surgery on hundreds, if not thousands of dogs.

Dan and I made the drive south to meet Dr. Slocum and to look at Autumn’s hips. Dr. Fletcher had explained to us that if Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia, the cost would run into the thousands of dollars. We were apprehensive because we knew if she did have the problem, we would not be able to afford to fix it, and we doubted our parents would lend us the money.

Dr. Slocum’s clinic was slick and professional. There was a room with a glass window where we could watch as they anesthetized our dog and took the x-rays of her pelvis. Autumn had to be asleep because they would lay her on her back and press her pelvis open, which would be difficult and painful if she were awake.

An unassuming man with careful bedside manner, Dr. Slocum spent some time with us explaining what would happen that day, as well as what would follow. During our conversation, an assistant came and took Autumn away. She was apprehensive, turning to look back at Dan and me as she was led into the other room. Tears welled behind my eyes. She looked so vulnerable and frightened.

Watching as the technicians worked on Autumn while she was anesthetized was heartbreaking. She lay on her back, her head tilted, her tongue pulled out to one side with a tube protruding from her mouth and throat. My chest tightened in apprehension; she was so still, and with her tongue out, she looked dead. Dan decided to wait in the other room, unable to bear watching, but I could not leave her. I held my fist to my lips, watching as she lay there, prostrate. She looked dead. It killed me.

The tests revealed that Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia. Not only did she have the disorder, she had one of the most severe cases the doctor had seen. He explained that the hip sockets were supposed to be round so they would hold the head of the femur at the joint. Autumn’s were flat. Every step she took, her femur rotated back and forth across the flat plain of her pelvic bone.

Dr. Slocum displayed Autumn’s x-rays for us to see. The image looked like a Rorschach blot. As the doctor pointed out to us what the hips were supposed to look like, it was obvious that Autumn’s were a mess.

The cost to perform the surgery was several thousands of dollars. In addition, recovery would take nearly a year, as first one hip had to be replaced, then recovery, then the second hip.

We waited for Autumn to wake up from her anesthesia. She cried and yipped, kicking her feet. Both of us pet her and held her even though the technician had assured us that such behavior was normal when anesthesia was wearing off. It still scared me; she sounded in pain. Once she was up and awake again, at least somewhat, the technicians took her vital signs and pronounced her ready to go. Leaving the clinic and driving north to home, Dan and I were heartbroken. We knew it would be difficult to come up with the money, not while we were both full-time students, and working minimally. We were also really worried about the intensity of the surgery and the recovery time. Autumn would essentially be out of commission for a year. I held her in my lap and stroked the fur on her head. I loved this dog.

Once we arrived home, I made an appointment with Dr. Fletcher to go over the results. A week later, Dan and I met with him to discuss what to do.

“You know,” Dr. Fletcher informed me, as we sat with him in his office, stroking Autumn’s bunny soft ears as he spoke, “There is research out now that suggests that sometimes the best thing to do with dogs like Autumn is to wait and see.”

I raised my eyebrows at him and looked at Dan. This seemed to be an odd approach.

“I know it sounds strange, but you won’t lose anything by waiting. Her hips are what they are and the bones are not going to change shape for the worse. Basically you strengthen Autumn’s muscles by taking her swimming,” he said. “There isn’t any impact and over time, the stronger muscles keep the head of the bone in place where the socket can’t.”

It was worth a try. We couldn’t afford the surgery, and even if our parents were to lend us the money, the surgery would have meant Autumn would have to stay in a kennel for months, and then allowed gradual exercise for a year. I could not see putting her through that.

In the end we decided to try Dr. Fletcher’s approach, not only because of the cost of the surgery, but also because of the length of recovery, and we could change our minds if her situation worsened. Primarily it came down to the impact it would have on her quality of life during the prime of her youth. We just couldn’t do that to her.

I began walking Autumn down to the park near our house where a medium-sized creek ran into the swift Willamette River. Up the creek a half mile or so, there were several swimming holes that were ideal for taking a dog. They were off the main path where people liked to congregate, and Autumn loved the water, probably more than anything other than eating. She would jump in any puddle, any pool, any lake, any river. Basically if it was wet, she wanted to be in it. Since the diagnosis came in the middle of the summer, the timing couldn’t have been better.

Nearly every day I took Autumn out to swim. At first, she tired pretty quickly, but as she became fitter, she could swim for a couple of hours without tiring. She would chase any stick, no matter where we threw it, and retrieve it. We would toss colored balls or frisbees into the water and tell her which one to get. Always smart and attuned to our body language, she quickly figured out which was the green ball or the red frisbee, and would swim out to wherever to bring them back to us.

One scorching summer, in an effort to escape the heat vibrating off the cement and buildings in the city, I took Autumn along with my friends Debbie and Robert, and we drove out into the countryside.  As we wound out into the hills, the air became cooler and more tolerable.  We came upon a rocky stream, and pulled over to wet our feet.

Autumn jumped from the truck and scurried down the embankment straight into the water.  We followed more gingerly, seeking to protect our ankles and backsides from a fall down the gravely ridge.

The edge of the stream was covered in lumpy, grey river rocks.  Another fifteen feet in from the bank, trees hung low.  The water was runoff from the nearby Cascade mountains.  Even in late August, the water remained icy cool.  Logs littered the bank, evidence of winter storms and raging water, days when the stream was not nearly so docile.

I was wearing a bathing suit under my t-shirt and shorts, and quickly stripped down before wading midstream to my waist.  Debbie and Robert simply waded out in their clothes.  At its middle, the stream was about four feet deep, and fifteen feet across.

On days such as this, it was as if Autumn had been reincarnated from a fish.  She swam and swam, lapping and biting at stream bubbles, her legs churning under the water.  I would throw sticks for her, she would calculate where the stick would arrive as the water moved rapidly downstream, and meet the stick before it passed her.  On the few occasions the stick made it past before she reached it, she would swim faster, chasing it like a mad beaver determined to create a dam. Debbie and Robert laughed at Autumn and her water antics.  She was obviously having fun.

After tossing sticks for a bit, I sat down on one of the logs in a sunbeam to dry and warm my legs.  Autumn dragged herself out of the water and shook vigorously, sending droplets every which way.  She then bounded over to me and grasped a rock from the pile at my feet, picking it up and tossing it in my lap.

“Ow!” I exclaimed.  That hurt!  “I will throw rocks for you, but don’t hit me with them.”  I stood and chose a rock for Autumn to chase, locating one the size of a plum.  Autumn danced at my feet, barking.  Throw it! She seemed to say.

I tossed the stone into the river.  Autumn turned and hurled herself into the water, dove beneath the surface, then reappeared nearly immediately, a rock in her jaws.

Debbie, Robert, and I stared at one another.

“Do you think it is the same rock?” I asked.

“No,” Robert answered in his baritone, grumbly voice.  “She just found a rock.”

“But it looks like the same rock,” I stated, and Debbie nodded, agreeing with me.

“Let’s throw in another one and see if she gets it,” I said, already choosing a rock.  I looked at it closely to see whether we could identify it as the same rock, then threw it into the water.  Autumn had dropped the original rock at my feet and turned to race back into the water after the second one.  She plunged into the water, disappeared for a moment, then popped up a moment later, swam to shore and dropped the rock at my feet.  She didn’t even shake off the water, but stood dripping expectantly, waiting for another throw.

I examined the sopping stone at my feet.  There was no way I could tell if it was the same rock and told Debbie and Robert as much.

Robert pulled a pocket knife from one of the many pockets covering the overalls he wore, his default uniform regardless of the weather or occasion.

“We can use this to mark the rock, then we can tell if it is the same one,” he said as he picked up a rock and carved a long groove into pale grey surface.  He then dunked it in the water to see whether the mark was still visible.  It was.

Robert handed the rock to me and I threw it out into the water.  Autumn zoomed in after it.

Moments later she dropped the marked rock at my feet.  Amazing.

We played this game for a while, then I went out into the water with her.  I wanted to see what she looked like under the water as she retrieved.

Robert found and marked a rock, tossed it, and just as the rock pierced the surface of the water, I held my breath and went under.  I could see the rock as it slowed dramatically and settled onto the floor of the creek bed.  I also saw Autumn watching the rock as it landed.  She kept her eyes open underwater so she could pick the correct stone!  The dog loved water, there was no denying it.

In time, it became apparent that swimming was ideal for Autumn’s hip problems. Gradually she stopped having episodes of pain and limping. Over the years as she aged and developed other health issues, I was only able to take her swimming a couple of times a year, but she never experienced problems with her hips again. Dr. Fletcher still uses her story as an example to patients who come to him with dysplasia dogs as proof that surgery may not always be necessary.

Read Autumn — Chapter 6

Autumn — Chapter 4

Read Autumn — Chapter 3

After a year, Dan and I were ready to go home. We were still homesick, and also the school I was going to was extremely expensive and not all the programs were as good as had been advertised when I applied. Dan had finally met the requirements for residency to obtain in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee, but we were both tired of the differences, and missed Oregon and our families. We wanted neighbors who would not look at us as if we were aliens. We longed for our friends.

Though we had not told our families, the two of us had gone to a justice of the peace in December and gotten married. The main reason we did this was because Dan could not qualify for financial aid based on his parent’s income and assets, yet they could not afford to pay for his university studies. After the marriage, we announced to the family that we were engaged and that we would be getting married the following summer. No one seemed surprised. Only Dan’s grandma seemed pensive at the scheme, believing we were still too young for marriage. We ignored her portentous concern, especially since the deed had already been done.

When Dan’s parents called to tell us they would allow us to live in their basement apartment for no rent if we stayed in Oregon after the wedding, we did not even think about it, agreeing immediately. I would attend the University of Oregon in Eugene, Dan would go to Oregon State in Corvallis, and we would live in Albany with his parents.

In retrospect, the decision to live with Dan’s parents probably sealed the fate of our marriage, but at the time, it seemed like the perfect solution. Living with Dan’s parents would not matter to financial aid since we were married, and paying no rent would allow us to go to school without having to work full-time. Considering I had worked full-time for my first two years of college, this part was especially appealing.

Once school let out for the summer, we set about selling all the furniture we had acquired during our year on the east coast, and boxing and shipping our belongings back to Oregon. This part was easy. Our biggest concern about the move was the drive back home in a car without air conditioning. We were leaving in late June, driving across the bottom half of the United States, and it was going to be hot. We also wanted to bring as much with us as we could manage to save on shipping costs.

Once we figured out how we were going to pack the car, the only room left for Autumn was at our feet in the passenger’s seat. This wasn’t going to be fun for either the passenger or the dog, but we were so happy to be heading home, we did not care. When we were ready to go, we got up at dawn and drove away, stopping only for breakfast since all our cookware was gone.

We drove straight for 25 hours into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dan drove all of it.  He was so eager to get home he flew, breaking speed laws in five states. By the time we hit New Mexico, we were all exhausted and the heat was overwhelming. We arrived at noon and decided our best plan for the remainder of the trip was to sleep during the day and drive at night. We crossed Arizona in the dark, then drove north through Nevada during the early part of the day. The temperatures were staggering, near 120 degrees Fahrenheit, yet we had no complaints, gratified that the warmth was dry heat. After the dripping east coast humidity, we were fine with arid wind blowing in our faces.

Autumn managed the trip well. She was used to riding in the car, and since it was so warm, content to curl like a caterpillar, nose to tail on the floorboards. I was the passenger for most of the trip, propping my legs on the dash or in the edge of the yawning window.

When we finally arrived back in Oregon, we were exhausted, but happy. After the tawny deserts, Oregon was lush and verdant in early June. Driving north on I-5, the mountains were corpulent and green. Trite but true, there is no place like home.

Dan’s parents lived in a stucco, Pepto Bismol pink bungalow. Squat and square, from the outside the house didn’t look very big, but was actually quite spacious. They had renovated part of the basement and rented it out to some of Dan’s friends. This space was to be our new home. We would have our own entrance at the back if we chose to use it, or we could go through the house. We would share the upstairs kitchen.

Dan’s parents had a dog of their own, a black and white Border Collie named Murphee. To call Murphee neurotic would be an understatement. Typical of her breed, she wanted to herd all the time. She would skulk around, head parallel to the ground, a tennis ball gripped in her jaws. If she saw a human, she would drop the ball, then stop and stare intensely at it, her brown eyes occasionally flicking up to see whether the human was going to make a move to take the ball and throw it.

Autumn had not turned out to be the enormous beast we all predicted based on Maude and her paws. At just under a year old, she was only about twenty-five pounds. By the time she was six months old, it was clear to us that she was Cody’s daughter and not Jasper’s. Having spent many hours in the presence of the two potential fathers, we had witnessed Cody’s mannerisms in Autumn since she was quite small. Her trot especially was identical to his, their gaits like a Standardbred, front legs straight out in front as they moved. Cody was a very small Border Collie. I found it amazing he had managed to impregnate Maude, but such are the miracles of the animal kingdom.

Murphee, two years older than Autumn, was not much bigger, although she was much more filled out and thicker. Autumn was as tall as she would ever be, but still looked like a lanky dog teenager, with long narrow legs and a slim body. The two were destined to be nearly the same size, although Murphee was always heftier. Autumn’s fur was much softer than Murphee’s. Murphee’s hair was wiry and course. I often called Autumn “bunny ears” because of the blissful softness of the fur on her ears. All her life, rubbing those ears would bring me comfort.

We settled into the basement apartment. The space was open like a loft, only it was mostly underground. There were windows at the tops of the walls on both the east and west sides of the house, so we always had outdoor light. We set up the space like rooms, our bedroom at one end, an office in the middle, and the living room at the other end.

During Autumn’s entire life we had kept pet rats. She was used to them and was careful around them, having been bitten in the nose by our rat Shasta when she was only three months old. Sometimes if we were lounging on the bed or couch and holding a rat, Autumn would want to play with it or sniff it, but mostly she just left them alone.

Murphee, however, was entranced with our rats to the point of obsession. She would stare at the rats like they were tennis balls or sheep. If they were out when she was nearby, she would nose them roughly. I was certain that given chance, she would have eaten one of the rats. Because of this, we left the door to our apartment and the rest of the basement closed. Dan’s parents also used the other portion of the basement for laundry, and I wanted to maintain some semblance of privacy.

We kept the rats in a cage on top of a dresser in the “office” portion of our apartment. The dresser was one I had purchased used as an 11-year-old and refinished. One afternoon, I returned from my day at school to discover that Murphee, in her efforts to get to the rats, had scratched deep gouges all along the top of the dresser.

I was furious. Murphee was not supposed to be in our apartment, and she sure as hell wasn’t supposed to ruin my dresser.

After this, whenever Murphee would come down to whine at the door because she wanted to get to our rats, I would say, “Murphee, get out of here!” in a sharp voice. She would whine and claw until I either chased her away or took her back upstairs.

“Murphee, leave!” I would shout.

Over time, Autumn learned that “Murphee, leave!” meant that I did not want Murphee downstairs. She would growl a warning at the door. Because her growl sounded so fierce, we started saying the phrase when Autumn was terrorizing one of her stuffed animals. “Get Murphee!” we would growl, “Murphee, go away!” Autumn would shake the stuffed thing to death, growling like a crazed fiend, spittle splattering everything in her mock fury.

Over the years, even long after we had moved away from Murphee and the basement, saying the words, “Murphee, go away!” would turn Autumn into a crazy frenzy. I taught her a hand signal to go with the words. I would hold my arm down to my side and shake my hand really hard up and down, saying the phrase. Autumn learned that when I did this, she was to act like a crazy dog. When I stopped, she would stop abruptly. My thinking was that if anyone ever grabbed me around the body and arms, I could still make the hand signal so Autumn would act nuts, hopefully scaring the attacker away.

A few years later, I called into a radio program where the hosts gave out prizes for doing silly pet tricks on the air. “Murphee,” I hissed. “Go away!” Autumn snarled and shook. I stopped the movement. Autumn went silent. I made the movement again and she turned into a raving lunatic. I stopped and so did she. We won a DVD for our efforts.

Sometimes Murphee’s neurotic herding had unintended consequences. Dan was close friends with the two guys, Steve and Brian, who had rented the apartment from his parents for two years before we moved into it. They were a typical group of guys who had known one another since childhood. They liked hanging out and drinking beers, playing sports, and telling each other dirty jokes.

For Steve’s birthday the summer after we moved into the apartment, we decided to get him a crass, pornographic toy in addition to his real gift. After searching the local triple X store, we settled on a plastic labia. It barely resembled its intended design. The thing was baby mouse pink, with brown painted on the plastic to look like hair. There were also several nylon hairs that had been added for effect and a tube of plastic in the middle. It was hard to believe whoever designed the thing ever intended it to be anything except a joke.

We wrapped the toy in wrapping paper and gave it to Steve at his party, which was being held at our house. Dan’s parents had a fine backyard for entertaining, and we often invited Steve and Brian over for events like this one.

Steve opened the gag gift and reacted as we expected he would, with laughter and revulsion. The thing was perfectly hideous. The guys began tossing it back and forth between themselves. Murphee, as was the case anytime anything was thrown that she might catch, started tracking the thing in her Border Collie way, head low, one foot slightly in front of the other, never once taking her eyes from her prey.

Laughing hysterically, we threw it for her to fetch. She ran it down, retrieved it, then dropped it at Steve’s feet, staring at it rapturously. Over and over, we played this game, laughing until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces.

In the house, we heard Dan’s parents come home. Murphee picked up the thing and ran into the house. We waited to see what would happen. A couple of minutes later, Dan’s mom and dad walked onto the back porch.

“We walked into the house,” Dan’s mom informed us, “And Murphee brought us this wonderful gift.”

She held the thing up for us all to see. “Can anyone explain why our dog is carrying around a plastic vagina?”

Read Autumn — Chapter 5

Autumn — Chapter 3

Read Autumn — Chapter 2

Our lives were extremely busy.  Dan had his job and was waiting to attend school until he had lived in the state for a year so he could pay in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee in Johnson City.  Dan worked the day shift, which began at 6 a.m.  His workplace was about 45 minutes from our apartment.  He car pooled for most of that distance, but we had to drive to meet his car pool at a location twenty minutes from where we lived.  We owned only one car, so Dan’s work hours meant that I had to get up and drive him to meet his ride.

Every morning in the pre-dawn, before it was even light, Dan would rouse me from bed when he had to leave. Without changing out of my pajamas, I would pick up Autumn and carry her to the car where I would fall immediately asleep. Once we arrived at the vacant, eerie parking lot in the middle of nowhere – and it really was in the middle of nowhere, a parking lot plopped in the middle of some farmer’s field – Dan would kiss us goodbye and leave us to get into the car of one of his coworkers.

I would clamber into the driver’s seat, Autumn on my lap, her head across my arm as I held the stick shift. When we returned home, I would climb into bed and Autumn would nestle under my arm, burrowing under the warm covers. It was the only time she wanted to sleep in the bed, preferring the floor under the couch for the main part of her sleep.  Autumn began what became a lifelong habit when she snuggled together with me in the bed. She would lie with her head across my neck.  Her fur was so soft, it was like wearing a warm fur stole. Two hours after returning from dropping Dan at his ride, I would rise for classes and Autumn would stay in bed until we were ready to leave.

I loved life at this time.  I was so naive and confident.  I thought I had everything all figured out.  I spent my twenties believing I knew it all; that I was invincible.  Oh, I knew there were facts of which I was not aware, other countries and places to discover.  But I thought I was pretty on top of things when it came to fearlessness, strength, and inner knowledge.  How little I knew, how much pain I had to experience to figure out just how clueless I really was, but that was years away.

In spite of my sophomoric confidence, I did know that I would love my child when I had one, but this did not stop me from loving Autumn with every bit as much devotion.  Watching her and experiencing her was pure glee.  My heart would fill up, and I would feel my chest tighten loving her.  When I had my human child, I truly experienced parental selflessness when, days after her birth, I realized my ego had to go and she had to become my center.  Until I had Milla though, Autumn was my child. Everything she did brought me delight.  I adored her.

Every couple of days Autumn would go out to run and play in the creek down the hill, regardless of the weather.  This meant that she was often muddy or wet when she came into the house. If only her paws were wet, she would stand at the door and wait while we wiped her feet.

“Towel,” I would say to her, picking it up when she arrived at the door, begging to be let in.  She would stand and lift each paw until all four were dried and wiped of mud.

If she was a real mess, I would carry her in the towel to the bathroom for a bath. Autumn loved baths, and would jump in, waiting for the warm water.  Sometimes she even snuck past the shower curtain and jumped in while we were showering.

When she was done with her bath, she would shake off in the tub with the curtain closed, then jump out onto the mat to wait for her toweling off.  As I rubbed her fur all over, scrubbing her face and behind her ears, she would wiggle, hopping her back end up and down and side to side, shoving her butt into the towel for a good scratching.  After she dried, the hairs on her rear became fluffy, white pantaloons.

I had been taking French and Political Science from a wonderful professor from Rome named Dr. Riviello.  He had a lilting and appealing accent, and taught with brilliant clarity and depth.

Dr. Riviello loved Autumn.  He too had a dog he considered his child, a Dachshund named Baci.  The two of us would talk endlessly about our wonderful dogs.  He was the only professor who allowed Autumn free roam of his classroom.  She would lie quietly under my desk as I worked.  Together we commiserated over our love for our dogs.

During first semester, Dr. Riviello invited me to apply to an honor’s program in political science. There would be an intensive history course studying the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, beginning with Hitler’s birth. The course would culminate with a study during May term in spring at the University of Munich. We would attend seminars in english three times a week with leaders in various aspects of political science. Our lectures would be in the late afternoon, allowing us to explore the city and surrounding areas during the day. We were also to take day trips into various places such as Berchtesgaden in the Alps, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a Bavarian village where Christmas is experienced all year round.

I applied to the program and was accepted. I was exhilarated at the thought of returning to Germany. I had lived in Hamburg for a short time in 1990. This time I would be staying in Munich. While I was excited to be going, I did not want to leave my little dog. I knew she would not understand. The two of us spent every waking minute together. When she wasn’t with me, she was with Dan. While I was in Europe, Autumn would have to stay alone while he worked. My stomach turned at the thought of her anxiety and fear at being left alone for long periods for the first time in her life.

To help acclimate Autumn to the change that would be coming, I started leaving her at home periodically. At first, she was a wreck. She chewed up several of my shoes and stuffed animals. I scolded her, but the scolds were half-hearted.

After several weeks, Autumn seemed to adjust to staying by herself. Our neighbors never complained about barking or whining, so we assumed she was okay.

In the days leading up to my departure, I left piles of clothing and traveling items around, organized according to my own system. Autumn would root through the clothes, then roll on them. I would chase her off, scolding. Moments later, she would be back in another pile, knocking it aside and mashing the carefully folded clothes.

Like a mother leaving her children, I filled my wallet with photos of Autumn before departure. I wanted to bring her image to mind at a moment’s notice. I also thought that at eight months of age, she would likely change dramatically in the time that I was gone. I was right about that. When I left she still looked like a puppy. When I arrived home she looked like a lanky pre-teen dog.

The day finally arrived for me to leave to go to Germany. We took Autumn to the airport with us. I held her the entire way, trying not to cry. I was excited to be going, but I was going to miss my baby. At the airport I kissed her goodbye and flew across the ocean.

Upon landing, I immediately called to check in and to let Dan know we had arrived safely. He told me Autumn had been sniffing all over the apartment, and that he was sure she was looking for me. She only finally settled down when he went to bed.

I asked him to put the phone to Autumn’s ear so I could say hello to her.

“Hello, Autumn,” I spoke into the phone. “Brown, Brown? How are you puppy? Are you okay? Mommy loves you.”

Dan came back on the phone. He said Autumn had cocked her head to the side, looked quizzically at the phone, then jumped down and started sniffing at the back door. Apparently the sound of my voice was confusing to her, so we decided that I would not talk to her like that again.

Professor Riviello also missed his dog Baci. I took Autumn’s photo everywhere I went and showed it to anyone who would look. My professor would show his as well, and the conversation among many of the other students would turn again and again to our perceived bizarre behavior. Some of the students on the trip had never been outside of the small town where the college was located. It seemed to me that they had a pretty narrow perception of acceptable behavior. They certainly considered our dog nostalgia as completely eccentric. They just did not understand. We both thought leaving our dogs was worse than leaving our partners; yet our partners could speak to us on the phone and knew where we were. Our dogs did not.

The weeks passed quickly. The lectures were fascinating, and I was having an amazing time. Too soon, however, the term was over and we were headed back home. Dan knew when I would be arriving. I told him to be sure and bring Autumn.

“Of course,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t leave her home for this!” I knew it, but I just missed my dog so much, I did not want to wait one second longer than necessary to see her.

Even though these were the days before major airport security when loved ones could meet their travelers at the gate, Dan had to wait outside because of Autumn. I raced through the airport, through customs and baggage before heading out into the warm spring afternoon.

Dan was parked at the curb, waiting with a lanky puppy on a leash. She had grown since I had seen her last. She looked like a teenage dog, and less like a little puppy.

I kneeled and called out, “Autumn!” She turned and looked at me, then squatted on the sidewalk and urinated. Oh, my little baby. We knew in that moment that my leaving had most definitely had had an impact on her. She must have thought I would never return, yet here I was.

She ran to me and jumped on my lap as I knelt next to her. She licked my face and arms and chest, her entire body writhing with her tail. Her mommy was home!

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

High School

A couple of days ago I listened to a story on This American Life about prom.  It got me thinking about mine because the people interviewed kept remarking just how important prom was.  One person even went so far as to say it was second in importance to a wedding.  Seriously?  I don’t know that I agree with that.  Prom is certainly a ubiquitous high school event, but it wasn’t anything at all life-changing for me, and it wasn’t because I was an anarchist or anything.  I just didn’t really care.  I thought it was a dumb dance.  I was not one of those people who spent all of high school looking forward to attending.  I did finally obtain a boyfriend by senior year so I actually had a prom date.  If I hadn’t gotten the boyfriend, I probably would not have gone.  I was much more concerned with acquiring a boyfriend than attending prom, and much more surprised and shocked that this happened than I ever would have been at getting a prom date.

For me, the story of how I got my first boyfriend was practically out of a high school movie.   Every February, our school hosted a Valentine’s Day school dance.  For some reason, one of the most attractive, most popular boys in school asked me to dance.  A lot.  We danced together all evening.  This was a surprise to me.  He was Mr. High School All-American boy.  Extremely popular, he had attended the schools in my town his entire life.  This meant something in our little town; it meant you knew everyone and everyone knew you.  This could be a bad thing, but for a lot of people, it accorded them with additional status.  Eric had this status in spades, plus he was captain of the football team and President of the Senior class.  Seriously.  He also had blonde hair and blue eyes, lovely chiseled features, and an athletic build.

I, on the other hand, was not Miss High School All-American girl.  I had the blonde hair and blue eyes, but my hair was short, and for the dance in question, I had tried beforehand to trim my bangs.  After cutting, I realized they were crooked, so I cut them again and made them crooked the other direction.  By the time I was done, they were about two inches long and still crooked.  I was also skinny as a rail, with no breasts to speak of.  Certainly not curvy.  I imagine I was prettyish, but definitely not a beauty and never one of the girls the boys talked about or wanted.  I spent most of my time buried in books, riding my horse, or acting weird because my friends thought it was funny and I liked making them laugh.  My parents lived like they never had money, no matter how much they had, so my clothes were not name brands, which I cared about in those days.  (One nice thing about growing up was giving up that ridiculous delusion.)

In spite of my average appearance and lack of social standing, here we were at this Valentine’s Day dance and Eric was dancing with me.  My friends couldn’t believe it.  “He must like you!” said Marie.  “He keeps dancing with you!”  I didn’t quite believe he liked me.  Deanna kept giggling every time he came near.  “Stop it,” I would hiss to her in a whisper before heading to the dance floor.  Kari just smiled her poker-face smile.

Over the weekend after the dance, my friends and I spent many hours on the phone deconstructing the dance and its portent.  Did Eric like me, or was he just being nice?  I could not believe that he did.  They could not believe that he did not.  On Monday, I was embarrassed and terrified at the prospect of seeing Eric. We had a class together the last period of the day.  I spent most of that day a nervous wreck, wondering what would happen in that class.  I was terrified.

Later that afternoon, we were all in Mr. Fisk’s class listening to him drone on about who-knows-what.  Mr. Fisk’s stories were fascinating as sophomores and stupid by the time we were seniors.  I don’t remember now how it transpired, but somewhere along the line in the class a note was transferred to Eric.  I think it was supposed to be from me to Marie or Marie to me, or something like that, but it was about how much I liked him.  He sent me a note and we agreed to both ask to go to the bathroom at the same time.  A few minutes later, Eric got up, asked to use the bathroom, and left.  Heart pounding, 30 seconds later, I asked to go to the bathroom as well.  Mr. Fisk was none the wiser and let me follow Eric. He probably didn’t even notice we were out at the same time. We were the good kids, the ones who always turned in our homework and would never leave to go fraternize and cause trouble, so bathroom passes were easy to come by.

Eric was waiting by the bathroom.  He was wearing his Levi’s 501 jeans, a pink polo shirt, and white sneakers.  I thought he looked amazing.  He said hi and then kissed me.  Exhilarating.

We were going out after that.  We never had a conversation where he asked me to be his girlfriend or anything, I just was.  I adored him.  Completely smitten, I would do anything he wanted to do or go anywhere he wanted to, just to be with him.  Compared to stories of teenage activities I hear about these days, our actions were so tame.  I would never have considered having sex with him, not in a million years.  Honestly, we never made it past second base, but to both of us, this was a lot.

How is it that I managed to get the most popular boy in school for my boyfriend senior year?  I mean really?  I think about this time and I have to wonder.  I know part of it is that this most popular boy in school was unique in some respects.  So often the popular kids are so idealized that we have a vision of how they must be, but to become truly popular and liked by everyone (which Eric certainly was), that person must possess some characteristic of some sort that makes people like them.  Eric was truly likeable.  Plus he’d been in the same town schools since kindergarten.  Plus he was handsome.   Really.  Blonde.  Blue-eyed.  Captain of the football team.  President of the class.  I mean, come on, was this for real?

It was.  That is what is so remarkable to me.  I look back now and for the first time truly marvel at it.  I mean, come on!  Do you think he could have been more of a cliché?  And it’s even more amazing that I, with my background and thought processes, could have had him as my first real boyfriend.  That alone is a feat in and of itself.

One night, we were making out in the backseat of his housemate’s ginormous 70’s automobile.  The thing was a boat on wheels.  I was supposed to be spending the night at Marie’s house, and a group of us had all gone and done something that evening.  Eric and I parked the boat outside her house and started kissing in the backseat.  It was cold out and the windows fogged up.  At some point, I realized there was a round light moving along the back window.  We both sat up quickly and pulled on our shirts (each other’s, as it turned out).  Then we heard a tap on the window.

Humiliated, Eric opened the car door and got out.  The officer took him aside and scolded him.  He then stuck his head in the car and asked me my name and where I was supposed to be. Terrified and humiliated as well, I told him.  He said I should go into my friend’s house and go to bed.  It was probably only 11:30, but I was scared and obeyed without question.

I spent the next week completely terrified that the stop would show up in the local paper.  A weekly, the local paper did not have much to report on, and therefore contained a section listing every petty grievance to which the police force responded.  I was certain our names would be listed with our transgression for all–especially and including my parents–to see.  Thankfully, this never transpired.

Because I now had a boyfriend, prom seemed like it might actually be fun. My friends were all going and I looked forward to hanging out with them.  My mom is an excellent seamstress, and after looking and finding no dresses that I liked, she offered to make a prom dress for me.  I picked out a pink satin and some pink tulle.  She made a long dress with a fitted bodice, with a pink ribbon around the center and tulle around the collar, which sat off the shoulder on my collar bones.  I liked it fine.  Looking at it now, I think it’s kind of boring, but I enjoyed getting dressed up.  Eric looked amazing in his tuxedo, and he arrived in the boat to pick me up, a pink corsage in hand to match the boutonniere on his lapel.

The best memory I have of prom is that my best friend Marie won as prom queen.  She had a huge crush on a good friend of Eric’s named Gary.  Gary had a girlfriend, but for prom king and queen, there would be a dance.  When it was announced that Marie was queen and Gary was king, I was thrilled to death for her.  She was able to dance with the boy she liked for an entire slow song.  I could tell watching her dance, her head against his shoulder, that she was in heaven.

After prom, we went to a party at some friends of Eric’s and sat in a hot tub before he took me home.  Most of them were drinking alcohol and this scared me.  I didn’t find that part of the night much fun.  I can’t remember when I got home, but I don’t think it was very late.

One other huge aspect of my relationship with Eric was that shortly prior to our starting to date, he had become “born again.”  Over the course of our courtship, he became more and more heavily involved in the church.  In an effort to please him, I went along.  I had been friends for some time with another girl who was extremely involved in her church.  I started going with her, mainly because I had a crush on David W. and David W. was in youth group.  David W. would flirt with me at youth group and I enjoyed this.  Also, my friend’s parents would take us for pie after church.  Having grown up in a family that went out to eat maybe once every two years, this was an immense treat.

Interestingly, while I was attending church and trying to be a good Christian, I was discovering a lot of hypocrisies that bothered me immensely.  One morning, the pastor described faithful Muslims praying to Mecca.  He spent a good deal of time describing the scene, to the point I could practically feel the warmth of the sun on my back and the rug under my knees.  Then he dropped a bomb saying, “Isn’t it a shame that all these millions of faithful Muslims are going to hell?  I could not tolerate or believe this.  This sermon was a turning point for me.  I had serious doubts about Christianity and organized religion in general anyway, and that statement made me start looking for inconsistencies, which were not difficult to come by.

However, I kept my doubts to myself.  Eric would drag me to youth group on Wednesday and church twice a day on Sunday and I would go with him because usually after we would make out in the back of his truck and I liked doing that.  I went along with the church thing, even so far as memorizing the entire book of Romans because he did so as well, and I believed that he wanted me to.  I would pray with him, and discuss the Bible with him.  Mainly I just wanted to be with him and this offered me the greatest opportunity.

Our small town, like many, had started offering an all-night graduation party to the entire senior class.  The point was to keep teens from drinking and getting hurt or killed as a result.  I was not a drinker and looked forward to graduation and the graduation party.  My grandparents had flown in from Kansas for the event and I was excited by the prospect of all of it.

The day before graduation, Eric took me out in the afternoon to eat at a nice restaurant.  When we arrived back at my house, at the top of my parent’s driveway, he got out and gave me a hug.  Then he said, “It’s been really fun hanging out with you, but we are going to have to stop. I’m going to college in the fall, and I am afraid our relationship is interfering with my relationship with Jesus.”  There were more words, but I don’t remember them.

I was incredulous.  I had not seen this coming, not even close.  Heartbroken and numb, I stumbled into the house and into my bedroom.  I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on my bed in a pool of misery.  We were to attend a Baccalaureate dinner that night.  I dressed in the new outfit my mom had bought for me, a knit yellow sweater and white cotton skirt.  I don’t remember much of the Baccalaureate dinner except there were some speeches.  Eric was there, but he ignored me.  I stared at my plate all evening.  My parents and grandparents could tell something was wrong, but didn’t say anything.

Later, after we arrived home, I went again to my bedroom and lay on my bed, trying not to cry.  My family wanted me to come in the living room and visit, but I just couldn’t do it.  Finally, my grandma came in to talk.  I confessed what had happened.  “Oh, honey,” she said, rubbing my back.  “It seems so hard now, but you’re so young. It is for the best.”

I still remember her voice and the way she stroked my hair and back.  I also remember that graduation and the party were a drag.  My friends kept trying to get me to liven up, but I just couldn’t do it.  Forever after, when I think of graduation, the memory is colored by the fact that the day before the ceremony my first love dumped me for Jesus.

It was the best decision of course.  Eric became a successful missionary in Africa. He is still there, working on a Bible translation of some sort, I think.  I saw him at our reunion and it wasn’t weird at all.  Time heals all wounds and we had grown up. I was such a baby at 17.  I am immensely grateful Eric didn’t do something stupid like ask me to marry him.  I would have said yes in a heartbeat and it would have been the wrong decision. We would have been divorced by the time we were 20.  I’m so different from that person, I can barely remember how I thought or acted.  Most of what I remember about myself at that time makes me cringe in embarrassment.  I certainly could never have been a Christian.  The seeds of doubt in organized religion had been planted, probably before I knew the ground was tilled.

In any case, this was my prom and the story around it.  Nothing spectacular, just an old memory. It’s funny, as I’ve been writing this, how much I actually do remember.  Life is interesting and so much is forgotten.  I’m glad I remember this.

Jet

When I was 9 we lived in some apartments in Salem.  I was not happy there.  The other children did not like me and would not play with me.  I spent most of my time reading.  When I wasn’t reading, I was trying to get the other children to play with me. When they would not, I would hang out with local dogs and cats and imagine I had friends who were mostly horses.  As might be apparent from this and has been mentioned elsewhere, I was somewhat peculiar.

Our apartment complex was surrounded by fields.  A few years after we moved away, the fields were mowed to put in a GI Joe store, Bi-mart, and strip malls.  Ugly places.  But when I lived there, the fields did too, filled with scrub trees and brush high enough in which to make forts.  Our apartment had a patio that faced the main road, which was lined with oaks.  There was also a tall, thin oak in our patio area.  On this tree, there were often buggy creatures.

One cool, fall day while sitting on the patio breathlessly discussing my latest gymnastic championship with an imaginary sportscaster, I noticed a movement on the tree.  Always curious about things of this sort, I went over to investigate.  The movement was that of a fluffy, brown-and-black striped caterpillar.  She was crawling rapidly up the tree.  Bump.  Flat.  Bump.  Flat.  On she moved to some unknown destination.

I was utterly enchanted.  A friend!  I picked her up and placed her in my palm.  She rolled into a small circle, the two black ends of her body touching.  I walked over to a lawn chair and sat down, waiting.  Her fluffs were kind of prickly, but also kind of soft. She had a shiny, black hood for a head at one end of her oblong body.

Eventually, she wakened and began crawling up my palm and onto my arm.  I picked her up to turn her around.  She rolled back into a circle.  We continued like this for several minutes.  She would begin crawling until she started to get too far up my arm, then I would move her back to my palm.  After several rounds, I placed her on the table on our patio and watched her inching crawl.

This caterpillar was fast!  I knew if I did not keep an eye on her, she would soon be gone.  She was so fast, I decided she needed a fast name and decided on the highly original Jet.  I loved her.  I wanted to keep her until she grew into a butterfly.

I went into our apartment and began to rummage around for a jar.  I placed Jet into a bowl on the kitchen counter and located a small jar with a lid.  I took the jar and Jet out back and looked for some nature-like things with which to furnish Jet’s new home.  I found some leaves, sticks, old brush, and a few dandelion flowers, and arranged them carefully in the jar.  Then I placed Jet inside and twisted on the lid.  I then, however, began to worry that Jet would suffocate in her new home, so I reopened it and went back into the house to locate a hammer and nail with which to create a ventilation system.  I found the tools and headed back outside once again.

A short time later, Jet’s home was properly aerated so she would not suffocate.  At this point I figured she might also need hydration, and went in to get a cup of water, leaving Jet in the jar while I did so.  When I returned, I placed some droplets of water for her on a leaf.  Jet crawled around the minute space for a bit, and then just stood there on a stick.  I thought perhaps the home was boring for her, and brought her out again to play.  This went on for a couple of hours until my mom came home from work.  I showed her Jet and Jet’s new apartment before she began making dinner.

That evening, as I sat and watched television with my sister, Jet sat with me in her jar.  I would take her out to crawl, then return her to her house.  Finally my mom pointed out that Jet might be tired.  I agreed and took her upstairs to my bedroom window sill for the night.

The next morning, upon awakening, I immediately went to Jet and her jar.  She was not there!  I looked and looked, but there was definitely no fluffy, black-and-brown caterpillar in the jar.  I ran hollering into my mom’s bedroom, sobbing.  Jet is gone!  She isn’t here anymore!

My mom looked into the jar as well.  Then she pointed to a soft, brown cocoon.  See that?  She made her cocoon. So fast?  I could not believe it.  I looked skeptically into the jar. Lo and behold, there was a  cocoon!  In my frenzied excitement over the missing caterpillar, the cocoon had completely escaped my attention.  Part of the reason may have been because the cocoon was much smaller than Jet had been, or so it seemed.  It was about the same width, but only about half the length, and it was light brown.

I kept the jar in my bedroom for the next few weeks.  At first, I checked it constantly to see if a beautiful butterfly had emerged.  As time progressed though, I began to wonder if maybe Jet had died in the cocoon.  The grass and leaves shriveled up, and the jar looked decidedly bleaker than it had when I created the nest.  The cocoon looked so light and fragile, I wasn’t so sure Jet was still alive.

My childhood existed before there was an internet where one could go and look up the incubation time for caterpillars, or what kind of butterfly or moth would emerge.  I had gone to the library to see if I could find a book about Jet, but was not successful.  I had no idea how long it would take for her to grow.  Little did I realize that Jet would be wintering with me for months.

One morning the following spring, upon wakening, I went immediately to the jar, as had become my habit.  I never expected a change because it had been a very long time since she had moved into the jar and turned into a cocoon.  But this morning was different.  The cocoon was spliced neatly up one side.  However, I could not see any butterfly inside the jar.

Having been fooled once into thinking Jet had left, I was not so easily deterred this time.  I took the jar into another room where the light from the windows was much brighter than in my room.  There, among the dried leaves, grass, and dandelions, was a brown, spotted moth.  Jet was not a butterfly, but a moth!  I thought she was beautiful.  Her wings seemed still to be wet and not completely ready to fly, so I left her in the jar while I went to school.  After school, I took the jar and placed it outside with the lid off so she could fly away.  Later when I went to see her, she was gone.

Since thinking about Jet recently, I went and looked up this type of caterpillar on the internet. Somewhere along the way I learned they are often called woolly bears. I played with many more such caterpillars throughout my childhood.  In my recent research, I discovered that the moths that grow from woolly bear caterpillars are called Isia Isabella, or Tiger Moths.  I love it that these creatures who brought enchantment to my life as a girl share the same name as my youngest daughter. I also learned that I had created just the perfect habitat for little Jet to cocoon for the winter.  They like cool, small, dimly lit spaces with dirt, leaves, and dandelions, and once they are ready, they will hunker down until spring.  My cool window sill was to the west under some trees; the jar an ideal woolly bear habitat.

Interestingly, there are legends that the woolly bear can predict whether winter will be more or less severe based on the thickness of their stripe.  Some believe that if the woolly bear’s stripe is wide, winter will be mild.  If the stripe is narrow, winter will be severe.  Others believe the narrow stripe arises from more moisture, while a wide stripe comes from dry conditions.  Considering wet winters are also often severe, these two lines of thought seem in corroboration.

I don’t remember what the weather was like the year Jet wintered with us.  I lived in Oregon, so it was likely a wet winter. Compared to the many woolly bear photos I have now seen, hers was a narrow stripe.  If this one woolly bear’s stripe was any indication, perhaps the legends about the woolly bears are true.  All I know is that she was an interesting companion and brought happiness to an introverted and often lonely child, and she gave me something fun to look forward to.

Here is a photo of a woolly bear. This one looks exactly like Jet did.

Winged Gods and Goddesses

Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me, I would ride my imaginary horse along next to the school bus in the morning and again in the afternoon. Galloping freely, jumping driveways, mailboxes, shrubbery, and drainage ditches; along we would glide. As the flattened shadow of the bus crawled in among the deep spaces, lengthening and shortening according to the landscape, I would fly over them, stopped by nothing.

When I was fifteen, my dad the auction-hound bought a thoroughbred off the track. He was handsome in the way of thoroughbreds, so we named him Prince. He was a nearly black bay, a Sam Savitt thoroughbred, with perky ears and an unruly mane. He watched the world sideways, as if to ask, You talkin’ to me? I love thoroughbreds; love their minds, their impossibly long legs, the way they are fretful because they can be, but give them an opportunity and they will prove what they are capable of.

As is often the case with thoroughbreds who have been racehorses, Prince was damaged goods. Something had happened to one of his legs–I can’t recall which one now–so he was not able to jump. However, he could still be ridden, and he could certainly run. I would ride him bareback, my skinny legs clinging to his slippery back, and canter around the field below our house.

One afternoon when Prince had only lived with us for about a month, I decided to take him for a ride down the driveway. Ours was a legendary driveway. We actually had to walk a mile, one way, to the school bus, regardless of the weather. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, you name it, no matter what, we did not get down that driveway by any means other than our legs. Down the long hill into the curve over the creek, up the steep curve, down the long, rocky stretch under oaks to the west and a pasture to the east, then through the gate at another bend in the creek, around the corner, and down the last flat stretch for another half a mile. This portion ran under a cove of cottonwoods. Once while walking to the bus a bird pooped in my sister’s hair. I imagined the birds up in the trees, taking careful aim and firing. We would see poop land nearby as we trudged toward the bus. I laughed hysterically when one finally hit.  Melanie did not laugh. She was mad and she hit me in the arm for my glee. It was worth it because it wasn’t me.

The day I rode Prince down the driveway, it was severely overcast, but not yet the sort of gray where the clouds seem almost to meet the earth in their desperation to drain. The light was nearly fluorescent, and cold. I threw a small snaffle bridle on Prince, hopped on using an old tractor as a mounting block, and headed down the hill. We walked carefully along the rocks on the first part of the road. Prince was not wearing shoes and the rocks along the beginning of the driveway until it met the long flat place were large chunks, uncomfortable to bare horse hooves. Where I could, I guided him into the grass along the edges to protect the soles of his feet.

As we headed down the long stretch downhill, I felt the itch to run him, but I was also afraid. We hadn’t had him long and I wasn’t riding with a saddle. I did not know if I could get him to stop if he started to run. Yet I was an overconfident rider. I believed myself capable of so much when it came to horses and my family did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.  Ignorance is bliss, obviously. If I had only any clue then what I know now. But I didn’t.

As we met the straight, flat place, I squeezed him into a real gallop. He was only too happy to oblige. I felt his energy surge forward, the strength of him move under my narrow thighs. Too late I realized just how fast he would run and what little I meant, perched there on his back like an organ grinder’s monkey. Wrapping my fingers into his black mane, I held on for dear life and screamed.

Rock. Cold. Fear.

The wind rushing at my face ate the scream right out of my mouth. It didn’t make a dent. I lowered my head and wrapped my arms around his neck. Wind lashed my bare arms icy. I had read of landscapes passing in a blur. Now I could see what this meant–the landscape really was blurry.

In spite of the speed, in my brain it was as if time stopped, like a narrator hovering above, watching a train veer off its tracks. First the engine, then the cars, and finally the caboose, whipping like a snake’s tail where it didn’t belong. There she goes, I thought. See the horse galloping? See the skinny girl holding on? I cannot fall from here. I will not live if I fall from here. I must stay here until this horse stops running. But how can I make that happen?

Yet the road at the end of our driveway was coming, and across the road there was a fence, then there was a field, and Prince could not jump, so at some point the train’s tail would whiplash and there would be a problem. On and on we thundered and I actually settled in. I was not falling off and had joined the rhythm. But there was an end. What if someone was driving on the road as I came to meet it? I controlled nothing. If a car was coming at the same time we were coming then there would be severe damage.

No car, just the road, hooves sliding on cement, then mud, grass, fence, and crash. I hit the ground with magnificent speed, I rolled over onto my shoulder, Prince rolled across me and up and continued to run, reins flinging wildly around his neck. I sat up and screamed and screamed and screamed. Prince slowed. I screamed and screamed and screamed. Only there was something about the cold light and the wide space that made the screams seem small and insignificant.

I could see far up the road, see a car, see it drive along, slow, then continue. It did not stop so I screamed again. Prince had trotted back over towards the fence, away from me, but not far. Another car moved along the highway. It slowed beside Prince, then sped along, then slowed as it saw me. I screamed and screamed and screamed. These sounds were so tiny, escaping me. I felt like I was putting all my lungs into the screams, but they were silent in the wind. The clouds moved closer.  A drop of rain landed in my hair and then another. I realized my left shoulder was screaming too, in a different way.

The car cruised by, long and slow. Then it stopped and backed up. The people disgorged from all the doors. A gold sedan. I was rescued.

I severely bruised my shoulder that day, but other than that, I was okay. Prince was none the worse for wear. The only real difference was that for the first time in my life when it came to horses, I had fear. The next time I climbed on a horse, I remembered. I stayed on and kept going, but I could not ride bareback for a month. I would not go on the driveway.  Over time, the fear faded. Horses came back to me as gods and goddesses, my protectors, my escape from a dismal reality.

For some reason, Prince came to me recently. I remembered the merciless run down the long road, the sharp, icy air, the cold, gray light. I remembered all of it except being afraid. In spite of everything, the fear was forgotten. In its place instead was this lightning god on four legs, flashing down the road at magnificent speeds.

No wonder girls love horses. They give us power and help us fly and they do so without brutality. Winged gods and goddesses, indeed.

Venom (fiction)

The one asked the other if she could say what drew her to him in the first place.  Her answers were heartfelt, loving.

He sneered and said he did not believe her, that she was lying.

Later the other asked again if she could say what drew her to him in the first place.  She could not.  All she could remember was the ugly sneer.  It made her want violence.  She imagined her fist connecting with flesh, skin rupturing skin, bones causing breaks in the tissue, blood angling for the surface.  She imagined saliva aimed with sharp precision.  She imagined sarcasm.  All she felt was ire.  She said that the heartfelt answers were gone, that they had been true, but were no longer.

Only bile remained.

Happy Birthday, Star Bright

Anyone who knows me well knows I am basically horse crazy.  I didn’t come out horse crazy, but certainly acquired the insanity not long after birth.  I was three years old when my mom took me to visit her little sister and the sister’s pony, Patches.  I fell in love.   From that moment on, I was hooked.

When I first told my mom I wanted a horse, because her little sister was twelve when she first acquired a horse, she promised me I could have one at twelve as well.  She made the promise less with the intention of actually getting me this equine nearly a decade hence, but more to shut up my incessant requests for my own four-legged friend.  She never believed her three-year-old would remember this promise.  Ah, the naivete of parents.  Of course I remembered and at age twelve years, three months, I did indeed receive a pony of my own.

The story of that pony is for another post.  Suffice to say I absolutely adored her, but she was only 10 hands tall, which is basically forty inches.  Considering I hit 5’7″ by age 10, this pony was much too small for me.  In spite of my adoration, I eventually had to sell her and purchased a larger pony.   I continued to grow and outgrew her as well.  At age 14 I was 5’9″ tall and it was time to move on from ponies.  I simply needed a horse to accommodate my ever-lengthening legs.

I had started doing some work for local farmers, helping out with horse training and stable cleaning.  Through this I met a couple who had purchased a two-year-old gelding they did not have the time or experience to train.  They offered him to me to buy for $200.  Having just sold my pony to a good friend for $350, I had enough to buy him.  They called him Volcano because he was born on the day Mount St. Helens erupted, May 18, 1980.

I remember the day I went and picked up my very own horse.  I was so proud as I walked him up the road along the railroad tracks from their farm to ours.  Though I would never have admitted it to anyone, and although I was terribly excited, I was also a bit frightened.  He was big!  I changed his name to Star Bright because of the bright star on his chestnut face, plus Volcano seemed a name that did not bode well.  I took him home and settled him in.  He was my horsey companion for the next twelve years.  Life in my extremely dysfunctional family was difficult; Star made those years as a teenager bearable and even brought me happiness.

Star was an amazing horse.  He could perform circus tricks and would give me a hug with his foreleg in exchange for a treat.  I rode him hunt seat and also in gymkhana.  At one horse show, I rode him in an equitation semi-finals class in the morning, which we won, placing us in the finals that evening.  That day, I rode him in a bunch of gymkhana classes because he seemed to really enjoy the speed and agility required for these gaming events.  He won the hi-point championship for the gymkhana.  Then that evening, still energetic, I rode him in the hunt-seat equitation finals and we won reserve champion.  He was amazing like that.  The horse was as happy in a show ring as he was trekking up the side of a hill or at the beach playing in the water.

Keeping a horse after I grew up and moved away from my parents’ farm was a bit difficult to say the least.  I moved him around and even leased him for a year while I traveled.  I was modeling at the time and spent a good deal of time out of the country.  At some point, it became clear that keeping him was not in his best interest.  He needed someone who could focus on him and I wasn’t doing it. My parents didn’t keep horses anymore, so he could not go back to their place, and he would have been ignored there anyway.

The day I sold him was heartbreaking.  He would not go into his new owner’s trailer.  It was as if he knew what I was doing and did not want to go.  I felt horribly guilty and sad.  I visited him at his new home and he always remembered me.  The new owners eventually sold him to someone else, a woman in a small town in the northwestern part of Oregon.  The last time I went to visit him, he was 19 years old, and seemed genuinely happy to see me.   He rubbed his head on my chest.  I rode him and visited, then said goodbye, not realizing I would never see him again.  The farm was over two hours from my home in Portland.  The next time I tried to contact the owners to arrange a visit, their number had been disconnected.  I was not able to locate them and do not know how Star’s life turned out.

Every year on May 18, the rest of the world remembers the day Mount St. Helens blew its ash all over Oregon and Washington, flattening trees and decimating a forest.  I, however, remember May 18 as the day my Star was born.  Not a year goes by I don’t remember this day and think about the big chestnut horse who made me happy.   Happy Birthday, Star Bright.  Thank you for being my friend.

Goodbye Lady

When I was about three years old, my mom took me to visit her sister, then age twelve.  Her sister had an originally named pony named Patches, an old pinto with large patches of brown and black covering her white body.  My aunt took me riding and I was hooked for life.  From the day of that first ride, I begged my mom for a horse.  Finally after listening to my ceaseless cajoling, she promised I could get a horse when I was twelve, never imagining for a moment her tiny child would remember the promise.  Ah, such simple logic.

From that moment I read, slept, breathed horses.  I took riding lessons when I could, went on trail rides at farms that rented horses, attended horse camps.  When my twelfth birthday came and went, I knew a horse was on the horizon, and not long after, the promise was fulfilled and Rosie came home to me.  She was too small for my long legs, but I adored her and she quickly became a part of the family.

Riding was fun and my sister started saying she wanted a horse too.  My parents relented and took a trip north of Salem to the horse auction.  They came home with a larger, seven-year-old pony mare.   She was a perfect bay, shiny and red, with black points and a rambunctiously thick mane and tail.  She was dainty and pretty, quite ladylike, and so we named her Lady.

I had outgrown Rosie by the time I got her and a year and a half later, my feet touched the ground.  It broke my heart, but I had to find a bigger horse.  This story continued for the next several years.  After I sold Rosie I bought a larger pony, sold her and bought a horse.  As time progressed I became rather horsily proficient and started doing some training work.  For one such job, I traded training work in exchange for stud service to Lady.  Eleven months later, Lady had her first and only baby, Prize.

We had many horses live with us during those years.  We experienced many different horse personalities, some pleasant, some obnoxious.  Lady always lived up to her name.  Where many of our other horses were difficult to catch, Lady would always come wait at the gate, eager for human contact.  She was a smart girl.  She seemed to know the capacity of the rider.  If the person was skilled, she was right in front of the leg, willing and capable.  If the rider was timid or really young, she responded in kind, taking gentle, gingerly steps and walking very slowly.  My mom was terrified of riding.  Her young sister had jokingly put her on a horse with much too much spunk for her abilities or willingness, scaring the daylights out her in the process.  But she rode Lady a few times, the only horse who made her feel safe.  My brother would ride Lady like a wild hellion up and down our mile-long driveway, his whoops filling the air as Lady’s feet clattered on the gravel.

Time progressed and I grew up and moved out.  I kept riding in various capacities, but when I left, my sister’s desire to ride left as well.  My brother only seemed to like riding because horses went fast.  Once he moved on to cars and motorbikes, horses lost any appeal.  My parent’s horse farm dwindled and eventually Lady and Prize were the only horses remaining.  After a few more years they sold Prize to some horsey acquaintances of mine.

For a few years, Lady did not get much attention, but she enjoyed hanging out with my parent’s cows.  They would band together to eat and block the wind.  Then my sister started having babies, I had a baby, Derek had a baby.  All these babies grew into small children who liked to ride the pony at Grandma’s house.  When Milla was two, we rented an old farmhouse in West Linn, Oregon.  It sat on two acres of land right in the suburbs with a grandfather clause allowing livestock.  We decided to have Lady come and live with us.  I was riding at a large hunter jumper barn and Milla had been begging to ride.  I did not feel confident putting her on a tall Thoroughbred, but Lady was just right.

Milla would go out the back door to spend time with Lady.  Lady would lower her head and allow Milla to put on her halter.  She would then lead her around the yard or out into the fenced paddock.  Milla used an old log to clamber onto Lady’s back so she could walk and trot the perimeter of the field.  Friends would bring their children over for a ride.  Our suburban neighbors were thrilled.  They would stop by the fence and offer Lady bits of carrots and apple.

We eventually bought a house and moved on from there, so Lady headed back to my parent’s farm.  My sister had four children and between them and Milla, Lady got pretty regular rides.  My sister bought a farm and Lady came to live there for a while until the place got too muddy, then back she went to the farm.

Lady was long in tooth and pretty swaybacked, her eyes cloudy with cataracts, but she would always come to our whistle, eager to see if we had any special treats in our pocket for her.  Last winter her weight dropped dramatically.  The year was bitterly cold, far below the average, and we worried Lady might not make it through the season.  My parents bought her a warmer blanket and started bringing her up to the house to eat her grain separately from the cows who were hoggy and pushed poor Lady to the back of the line.  Her weight improved and it seemed she would get to see another summer.

The last time I was in Oregon, in late December, I went to visit my parent’s farm.  Like an old fixture there stood Lady out in the pasture among the cows, grazing on the stubby grass.  She was so familiar, such a part of the landscape.  I pointed her out to Boyfriend, who had not been yet to my family’s farm.  “That’s Lady.  She’s got to be in her thirties by now.”  Little did I realize or even think to consider it would be the last time I saw her graying face.   My mom called this morning to let me know that Lady died on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  I had been driving the death truck across country on the day of her death, and my mom had not wanted to add further stress to our blisteringly stressful trip.  Apparently Lady was lying down in the pasture as if asleep.  My dad saw her and realized she was gone.  They buried her on the hill below the house in the place were as children we always rode.

Over the years, Lady patiently allowed little hands to braid her mane and tail, and stood untied while they brushed her, bathed her, and picked her feet.  She would carefully nibble treats from outstretched palms, making certain to leave fingers behind.  In her easy manner, she helped us learn how to care for horses.  She was a part of my life for so long, carrying three generations of our family on her back.  So many children rode, played with, and cared for Lady.  In turn, she cared for us.  I will miss her.

Clear Cuts National Forest

One thing that struck both of us immediately as we set out early January 8 was how shocked we were at the bright, sunny, and simply warm weather.  As we crossed the Siskiyou Pass, there was so little snow, the landscape around us looked almost summer-like in places.  Then as we headed into California and passed through national forests, Shasta and Lassen, we were apalled at the level of clear cutting. The forests there were simply obliterated.  We decided to take some photos.

Photo Diary: January 8 and 9, 2009

We left our house in Portland at about 6:00 p.m. on January 7. We headed south on I-5 because I-84 east was closed in places. We decided we would check out the weather in Wyoming once we hit Reno, and if things looked dicey, we would go south through Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first night we drove to Grants Pass and spent the night there before heading south the morning of January 8.

January 8, 2009 Driving to New York

Day three of the trip.  I have not been able to post much of anything because, as I explained in my mini-iPhone post this morning, we have not had internets in our motel rooms, in spite of promises by Expedia to the contrary.

My last long piece was written before we reached Susanville, California at about 4 in the afternoon.  Heading into Susanville tested my driving mettle.  Leaving the mountains we headed down a 6.5% downgrade curving into the town.  The final curve is 20 mph 180 degree turn at a ridiculously steep downgrade.

The road leaving California and heading into Nevada is mostly flat, long and low across the desert.  We decided we would stop for the night in Elko, Nevada, nearly across the state.

When I was twelve, my dad worked in Alaska for part of the year.  He and my mom decided to have her drive up in a truck with a camper on the back, taking my brother and step-brother.  For years after the trip my mom would tell the story of the drive on the narrow freeway, trucks passing and causing the camper and truck to rock back and forth, back and forth.  She was terrified, but my brother was little and my step-brother had only a learner’s permit–the job was hers.

I fully and completely sympathize.  I had been driving comfortably on the long, flat straight highway.  For the most part the road was smooth.  Bridges were a different story.  There were seams at the beginning and end of each bridge, some dipping a good four inches below the surface of the road.  Driving along at 60 mph, I hit a dip and the truck began to rock side to side, back and forth, the up wheels completely off the road.  Boyfriend had experienced a similar rocking on I-5 in Oregon, but not nearly to the extent of this.

Fear of that magnitude is a physical experience.  As the truck rocked side to side, I felt my body blanch, sweat pouring from every gland.  My heart raced.  I thought I was going to wet myself.  Seconds later as I managed to straighten the truck and slow significantly.  My heart was pounding.  My only thought was that I wanted to get to Milla.  Minutes later, I began to weep.  Weird, this fear response.  I continued for my portion of the drive, then Boyfriend took over.  He kept braking, terrified of a repeat.  He had experienced the same terror as I did.  When we finally arrived in Elko after midnight, all we wanted was a bath and sleep.

This morning we headed across Nevada towards Salt Lake.  Our intention was to get to Boulder in one day.  The roads were clear, the sky was bright with sun, and we were optimistic.

The desert there is quite lovely.  There are snow-capped mountains in the near distance.  Sagebrush dots the landscape contrasting beautifully with spots of snow.  Its expansiveness filled us both with awe.  Ours is such a beautiful planet.

I fell asleep two hours outside Elko.  A half an hour later, I woke and sat up sleepily.  As I stared catatonically into the distance (I have had only 4-6 hours of sleep each night in the last week.  My insomnia has returned with a vengeance.), I felt the truck jerk and bump, then it began its furious side to side weaving.  Boyfriend attempted to drive over the anti-sleep ruts on the shoulder.  This did not work and the truck veered madly toward the edge of the road, tilting and rocking.  That fear hit me again.  Boyfriend managed to straighten it out and slowed to nearly 35 mph.  He had not been going faster than 55, but the combination of a monster tractor-trailer and massive dips after a bridge created the turbulence.  I could smell the sweat on him after, fear palpable between the two of us.

A short time later we made our driver switch.  Driving into and through Salt Lake, I was a wreck.  There were tons of tractor-trailers.  They buzzed by proving just how piddly our truck and trailer were to them.  The roads were terrible.  There were repair seams everywhere crossing all lanes.  Construction projects forced cars into narrow, cement-sided passageways.  I spent the entire trip taking deep breaths, constantly wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans.  As we headed into the mountains east of the city, I was not sure I would be able to manage.  I was so afraid and I could not talk myself out of it.
I am not normally a very fearful person.  I will often push through situations when fear seems to want to take over.  But too many nights without enough sleep, a lot of pretty crappy road food, and the stress of driving the monster weaving truck had me completely out of sorts.  I felt on the verge of tears at every turn.  Finally as we headed towards a sharp 45 mph curve on a 6.5% downgrade slope, I lost it and started bawling.

Boyfriend had called my dad who has driven trucks across the country before.  My dad described the physics of what was happening to us.  He said that rather than braking or stopping acceleration, when the truck began to rock we should actually accelerate.  Once the truck straightened, we could then brake.  He said the worst thing to do was brake.  This made sense and we wondered that we hadn’t figured it out ourselves, but our automatic response was to try to slow down not speed up.

As we headed towards the severe downgrade curve, Boyfriend told me to brake.  So afraid of rocking back and forth, I had stopped wanting to brake altogether, taking the advice to avoid it to the extreme.  It’s okay to brake, we aren’t rocking, he told me calmly.  I managed to slow from 50 to 35 and we made it through the curves without incident.

We continued on through Park City, Utah.  I had managed to accelerate through a few minor rockings and discovered that it did indeed work.  Then we saw a sign indicating that Cheyenne was 427 miles from our location.  I quickly calculated in my head and realized we would not reach Boulder and Milla at a reasonable hour.  Boyfriend was on the phone with a friend and at that moment, after describing how slowly we were going to avoid tipping and rocking, said We aren’t in any hurry.

I realized he was right.  Why were we breaking our necks to get to Boulder tonight?  I wanted to spend time with Milla.  We had forgotten to change the clocks so our calculations put us in Boulder even later.  When Boyfriend got off the phone, I told him I wanted to stop somewhere right inside Wyoming, get a good meal, a solid night’s rest, and relax.  He said, I think that is the best idea we have had in a while. What a man.

Our trip from that point on was much more relaxed. I drove to Edmonton, Wyoming.  We stopped at the corporate addiction palace to get some caffeine and to log onto the internets to make motel reservations in Rock Springs, Wyoming.  When we left, Boyfriend took the wheel.  We are almost there.  I am looking forward to some time to relax an enjoy ourselves.  It is 5:45.  We’ll be there in under a half an hour.  Boyfriend has been driving like a pro.  Now that we have figured out a way around the horrible careening truck swings, and since we know we’ll have a night to relax, we’re both much happier.

January 7, 2009 Driving to New York

We just entered California on the second day of our great moving adventure.  We are both happy to be on the road and headed to our new home.  I have lived in a lot of places, moved around the country on several occasions, but this time feels surreal and exciting at the same time.  It is the first time I have decided to permanently settle somewhere besides Oregon, with no intention of returning, and the first time I have done so with another person.  We are both thrilled and a little scared.

The last few days have been exhausting.  We picked up our rental truck on Monday morning, drove to my friend Kathleen’s house to pick up my boxes that were stored there, drove to my friend Mark’s house to get the last of my boxes, then drove home to pack the truck with the piano.  Our timing was perfect; we drove up just as the piano movers did.

A word about piano movers–they are brilliant at their job.  They loaded up a baby grand and got her on the truck in under a half an hour.  I was mightily impressed.  We had a set of stairs at our Oregon house.  They led from the yard down to the street.  The piano movers backed up their truck and placed a bridge across.  They then just wheeled the piano across the bridge, backed their truck up to ours, set the bridge into our truck, and rolled the piano onto our truck.  Viola, piano loaded!

After the piano movers left, we loaded some gross furniture on the truck to take to the dump.  That was an experience.  We went to an environmental dump where they parcel everything out into different piles depending on what it is.  There was a giant wood pile, a giant couch dismantling station with piles of upholstery, foam, and wood, and a giant plastic pile.  The plastic was tossed onto a conveyor belt where it was dumped into a compactor that turned it into hideous, plastic lumps.  I am constantly refusing to buy certain items for Milla because they are landfill disasters.  I took a photo of the landfill disaster and sent it to her to see where all the ugly plastic goes when it breaks or someone doesn’t want it anymore.  Too bad we can’t put the dump next to Walmart or Target so people can see where the shit goes six months after they buy it.

After the dump at nearly 4 in the afternoon, we headed home to load up.  Boyfriend wanted to leave early Tuesday morning.  I thought he was being overly optimistic, but hey, who am I to rain on his parade?  Unfortunately, Boyfriend’s belongings were not quite packed yet.  We started packing boxes and loading the truck at the same time.  A friend came to help, but things were slow.  Another friend of Boyfriend called and offered to help.  It was dark but things were moving.  Boyfriend’s mom came and helped to pack the kitchen (thank goodness–she was a lifesaver).  Her fiance’ packed Boyfriend’s bike (thank goodness again).

One of our best helpers was Robert, an old, alcoholic singer with grey hair.  Long in the face and long in tooth, he is simply awesome.  He took charge and ordered Boyfriend and helpers diplomatically.  When rope needed cutting, he pulled out his trusty “Old Timer” pocketknife.  Such an old character, so cool, and he adores Boyfriend.  He was indispensable.

It became apparent after the mattresses went into the truck that all the stuff would not fit.  We packed the truck completely, but realized at about 10 p.m. we were going to have to get a trailer.  The rental places were closed at that hour so we amended our plan to leave until later on Tuesday.  Finally, at about midnight, we were ready to stop work and get food.  It had begun raining about 11, so we were grateful everything was in out of the weather and that we could finally eat.  After eggs at an all night Denny’s we headed home to get a tiny bit of sleep.  We had packed the bed so we curled up on an old twin mattress on the floor.

Our dog was confused by all the changes. She had spent the day wandering around watching all her stuff leave the house, her black, triangle-shaped head cocked to one side.  She lay on her bed next to us, blinking sleepily.  I can only imagine her doggy thoughts.  Probably not much more than some vague notion that life was not right, and hopeful her people wouldn’t leave.  Before dawn the next morning Boyfriend moved to his roommate’s futon because he kept falling off the twin mattress, so the dog came and curled up next to me.  It wasn’t until the alarm went off that I realized it was the dog I was snuggling and not my warm man.  She was a worthy substitute.

The next morning I immediately called the Uhaul up the street.  They had trailers we could look at.   As we drove the truck to get the trailer, it became patently obvious that the truck had not been packed evenly.  It listed precariously to the right, all the weight dragging it over.  A baby grand piano, 300 pound armoire, and thousands of records were all on one side, mattresses were on the other.  Damn it if we weren’t going to have to repack half the truck.

Boyfriend immediately jumped on the phone and called everyone he could think of who might help us.  An hour later we had three friends to help, the rain had stopped, and we began to furiously unload to beat the weather and lost time.  We managed to reload and load the trailer in only a couple of hours.  We both feel much better about the reload; the armoire and records are now on the opposite side of the truck from the piano.  We also repacked a bit more securely.  It must have worked; so far at every check, nothing has shifted and fallen.

We were finally able to leave the house at about 6 p.m. Tuesday night.  We had to stop and give a friend the key to Boyfriend’s car because he is selling it for us.  We also had to stop and buy a lock for the trailer.  It was rainy and late, and traffic was terrible because of the hour, but we were both so excited to be on our way, we didn’t care.

Boyfriend climbed a steep learning curve last night on how to drive a big truck with a trailer.  I have driven many trucks and trailers because I have hauled horses all my adult life.  I am used to the stopping distance and turning radius required.  I have learning how important it is not to overcorrect, how a little move of the steering wheel results in a big move with a heavy vehicle.  Boyfriend figured it out last night driving in the dark and rain.  Needless to say, his shoulders were a bit tense.

Today, however, is a different story.  He is driving like a pro.  At one point he went to pass a slow car in the right lane.  The truck began rocking side to side.  He held the wheel and the rocking gradually ceased.  Later, he was making strong man arms as he climbed the mountains at 45 mph.

Our iPhones have been a fantastic road trip addition.  Once we were finally on the road, we figured we would make it to Grants Pass, Oregon for the night.  I jumped on the internets and booked a room on Expedia for $40 a night.  Not bad for a twin bed, clean room, and warm bath!  Tanya the dog approved of the room, and she protected us this morning from an 80-year-old Navy veteran.  Good dog, Tanya!

Luckily for us but not so for the planet, it has been sunny and warm today.  It was too warm for hats and scarves, that’s for sure.  Anyone who thinks climate change is a myth is deluded.  We spent the last two hours driving over the Siskiyou Pass.  At 4600 feet there was barely any snow on the tops of the mountains off in the distance.  Everywhere else it looks like late August.  I can’t quite express my dismay and fear at the sight.  Things really are changing; arguing over it is a tragic waste of time.

Right now we are driving through Shasta national forest.  It is breathtakingly lovely.  Here there actually is snow on the ground, but the road is completely clear and dry and the sun is shining.  We could not ask for better conditions for driving the first week of January.  Our original plan was to head south through Albuquerque, but forecasts and friends assure us we can go through Denver without any problems.  We will decide here in few hours because we have to decide by Reno whether to continue to Elko or head south.  Right now it is looking like it will be Boulder.  We’ll get to stay with friends and see Milla besides.  Sounds good to me.

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Regardless of your politics, having a black man running for president has been good for one thing:  it has sussed out all the secret racism that has been seething under the surface in this country for years.  People who felt unable to express their nasty views publicly seem galvanized by the knowledge there are others just like them and are now willing to put their racism out there on display.  Terrorist attacks too have brought the issue to the fore, letting racists vent their hatred against people from the middle east all in the name of supposed fear of terrorism.

Obvious loathing for Mexicans isn’t even a secret.  Public officials and citizens claim to want immigration reform to “protect American workers.”  They tout limited Spanish instruction in southwestern schools and propose English-only referendums sold under the patronizing aegis of wanting to help Mexican children assimilate into American culture.  It’s all just racism.

I have often suggested it has not been publicly okay to be racist against blacks, but a person can get away with being racist towards Mexicans and Arabs.  Hating blacks is moving back out of the closet.  Perhaps the acknowledgment that it is going on will help kill it once and for all, although I don’t expect this to happen overnight.

Racism is the epitome of ignorance.  It is the Parable of the Cave come to life.  It is the philosophy of The Other.  It brings some sort of pitiful security to the hater who feels some protection in perceived superiority, unwilling to admit base and immoral fears.  I personally cannot fathom why someone’s skin color should scare someone enough to hate them, but it happens.  It happens all the time.

Racism is confusing.  There are members of my family who are blatantly racist. My mother was the oldest of seven children.  When my mom was six, my grandmother divorced my biological grandfather.  With three children in tow, she married a Navy man and had four more children.  When the youngest child was 8, my grandmother developed cancer.  Over the next four years, she lived and died a harrowing death, her body completely eaten by the disease.

By the time my grandmother died, my mom had moved out, married my father, and had two little girls.  The rest of the children were in various phases of growing up.  My mom’s step-father was the man I called Grampa.  He was the generous person we visited on every holiday.  When my biological father physically abused my mother, my Grampa helped her out, offering financial and emotional assistance.  He did not date or remarry until his youngest child was in her early twenties and married.  He was a Navy man who fought in World War II.  He was a good man who worked hard and took amazing care of his family.  And he was a racist.  He is still a racist.

I know others with similar family members, the grandparents who give them everything yet hate black people, the step-father who was kind, but rails against Mexicans in restaurants.  It is such a complex problem.  Interestingly, in all of the cases I know of good people with loving family members who happen to be racists, none of us are willing to do much about it except to sit silently, thinking these people are old and will never change, that they have good in them too.  Perhaps in our complicity we are perpetuating the problem.  I don’t know.  It is truly a conundrum.

You be Sorry You Mess with Me Pure Med Spa!

See my post on the Pure Med Spa bankruptcy here.

I am writing an article on Pure Med Spa.  For info, please click here.

Because I have received so many messages in response to this and my other Pure Med Spa post, and since it seems not many of these commentators have read my later piece on the Pure Med Spa bankruptcy filing, I have included this paragraph to inform any readers of that filing.  Effectively, if you received your treatment or they took your money BEFORE they filed for bankruptcy in 2009, this means you may NOT file a lawsuit against Pure Med Spa, except through the bankruptcy court, and there only for certain causes of action (which include fraud).  You may NOT contact the company in any way about the money they owe you.  You may NOT call the CEO and harass him.  In short, you may not do anything to them.  That is the point of the bankruptcy stay, to protect the company from creditors, and I absolutely support this, even when the filer is as abominable as Pure Med Spa.  The same laws that protect Pure Med Spa protect you if you ever had to file, and speaking from experience as a bankruptcy attorney, that relief means a lot to people who are being harassed night and day by creditors.  Don’t think this means you don’t have options, just follow the rules to ensure you don’t violate federal law.

Original Post You be Sorry You Mess with Me Pure Med Spa:

I kick your ass little med spa stupid place.

I have lots of lawyer girlfriends.  Because I am a lawyer, of course I have lots of lawyer friends.  It goes with the territory, you know?  What I find amusing is how often my lawyer girlfriends have to pull out the lawyer card as part of their ass-kicking when some stupid company fucks them over.  My lawyer boyfriends do not seem to have this problem, and I mean friends who are boys, not actual boyfriends.  I only have one boyfriend and he is not a lawyer, thank GOD…anyway, I digress.  I think sometimes us girls get hassled by companies who would not hassle boys just because they think us girls are pushovers.  Small problem.  We are not all pushovers, especially lawyer girls.  Lawyer girls in my experience have a little extra something that likes to kick asses, if you know what I mean.  Something of that ass-kicking mentality pushes us to do things like go to law school and become lawyers.  I am sure there are other professions like this as well, but as a group, my lawyer girlfriends are ass kickers.

ANYWAY.  So my friend Kathleen has had many instances where she has had to kick company ass.  It’s fun to listen to her because you can tell by her story that she is always right and the company is always wrong and I am not being facetious here, she really is.  Like the time the bank told her she could have her deposit in 7 business days so she deposited a rather large sum based on that assertion, then the receipt the bank gave her after the deposit said she could not have that money for like two or three weeks or something.  Um.  NO.   Bank wrong.  Kathleen kick ass.  Or another time, I don’t remember the details, but she was bidding at a furniture auction and bid on a piece of furniture and the auction people gave the furniture to someone else who bid earlier.  Kathleen kick ass again.  I think she lost on that one but the company was sorry they had crossed her and her husband looked sheepish.  The company was wrong, no doubt in my mind. Fuckers.  I would have kicked ass too.  Kind of like when the bank in Hawaii thought I was a terrorist and would not give me an account even with a very large sum of money, a valid driver’s license, a social security card, and a passport.  Very large ass kicking there. I ended up at another bank.  Upset Lara.  Oh, and then there was the time the air filter company tried to mess with my lawyer friend Sara.  Their ad said Free In Home Estimates.  So they came and did their estimate and it was too high so of course Sara used another company.  Then they tried to charge Sara.  Um.  No.  Sara pointed out the various laws their attempts to collect violated.  Needless to say, they didn’t get the money they did not deserve.  Jerks.

ANYWAY.  So the point of this rambling diatribe is that I gave this med spa fifty bucks to hold my appointment back in July.  They said We need a fifty dollar deposit to hold your appointment.  If you don’t show or cancel within 24 hours of the appointment, we keep the fifty bucks. Okay.  I can deal with that.  Well, I called to cancel the same day I made the appointment.

Oh, we don’t do refunds.  This isn’t a refund.  I didn’t get anything.  It is outside the 24 hour period, I want my money.  Well we won’t give it to you.  Okay then.  Have you heard of the Oregon Health Spa Act, ORS 646A.030?  It allows the right of rescission of any spa service within 72 hours of requesting or paying for service.  Um, let me get my manager. Yeah, you do that.  So the next several conversations were not pleasant.  I described all the things I would do to them, including writing about their spa on my blog (doing that now), calling the Oregon Attorney General’s office, and telling Clackamas Town Center, the mall where they are located.  During all this, I also promptly sent off the written notice requesting the rescission, as required by statute.  Finally the manager spoke to someone who would allow a refund.  She told me the money would be in my account by the end of the day.  Nope, not there.  I called again.  Within three days.  Nope, not there.  It is now three and a half months later and still, no refund.

So I’m going postal on their asses.  I filed my complaint with the Oregon AG.  I am going to call the mall where they are located.  And I’m writing about them here.  I did some research and discovered MANY forums lamenting the many problems with Pure Med Spa.  They are a terrible company.  They have huge problems giving refunds or returning deposits.  They also use technicians who are not properly licensed and forget to follow health regulations when performing spa services (this information comes from the forums, not my personal experience).  Too bad I did not know this when I walked by them in the mall.  They are counting on people not knowing this when they walk by in the mall.  This is part of why I’m going to tell the mall.  I don’t know if the mall will care, but there should be some public service message to let patrons know the company they might deal with is a giant crook who will steal their money and could possibly perform some atrocious health violation on them or something.

The problem with stupid companies assuming customers are stupid is that their assumptions are often WRONG.  Guess what? I know where to look for the statutes about stupid asses like you.  I am happy to let others know there are statutes out there to protect consumers from shitty companies.  Oregon and many other states have rights of rescission statutes in many areas (though not in car sales, as is often believed).  Anyway, in Oregon anyway, there are statutes to allow you to change your mind about gym contracts, time share contracts, things sold door to door, certain home sale contracts, and other consumer contracts.  Usually you just have to send them a letter.  It’s not difficult, people just don’t know this is their right.  It would be better if the statutes required these jackasses to post something prominently stating as much, but for now, at least the laws are there so if some crappy company like Pure Med Spa tries to rip you off, you can fight them if necessary.  Fees to sue them and damages for causing you the trouble are often included in the remedies, so all you are out is your time.  The next time a company gives you trouble, go look through your state’s consumer statutes, you might find you have certain rights.  It is so empowering when some ginormous company who couldn’t give a shit about you tries to steal from you and you kick them in the ass.

Empathy for Kurt Cobain

Life is surreal. It’s amazing how twisted up people can make things.  I constantly hear stories that from the outside seem to have such simple solutions, yet the parties involved are fully unwilling to act simply, choosing instead to remain mired in complications.  Humanity.  It appears we are doomed to destroy ourselves, but before we go we are all going to make certain we’re as miserable as possible.  How often, I wonder, could one’s life be different with the simple choice of just letting something go?  Ah, what do I know anyway?

Blogging non-sequitur: I did not know that Willie Nelson wrote Crazy.

So yesterday I went to Aberdeen, Washington.  The trip was an homage to Kurt Cobain.  We listened to Nirvana the whole way there.  Okay.  I’m joking.  That would have been pathetic.  Aberdeen was an afterthought.  We listened to a lot of music, but none of it was Nirvana.  My friend and I decided to go to Long Beach to get out of Portland since we both had the day free.  We got to Long Beach and although it was brilliantly sunny, the wind felt like it was blowing off the side of a glacier.  We walked out to the ocean then turned around and went right back to the car.  Our ears were frozen.  The best part of the visit was our dogs.  His dog was thrilled to pieces.  Oh my God, we’re at the beach!  There is sand!  There is water!  There are people to sniff!  I can get wet!  I can run!  I can wag! My dog was not thrilled to pieces and clearly thought we were insane.  He followed behind me whimpering.  You have got to be kidding.  Can’t you pick me up?  My paws are freezing!  Is that water?  That’s water.  No way.  I am NOT crossing that water.  Oh for Christ’s sake, are you crossing that water?  What is wrong with you people?  That water is freezing.  Do you feel that wind?  Seriously.  I can’t believe you would volunteer to come out here into the sand and water and wind.  There must be something deranged about human beings.

I think Piper was right.  It was too cold, windy, and wet.  So we decided to leave Long Beach and head to Aberdeen.  It was only another hour north and Kurt Cobain grew up there.  We had to see if the town was anything spectacular, particularly since he’d become famous and then died.  I mean, towns love that stuff, don’t they?

Apparently not.  Wow.  That is about all I can say.  We both lamented having failed to bring any sort of recording devices beyond the cameras in our mobile phones.  I don’t know that I can convey in words the pitifully depressed state of the place.  I actually had the thought that I could understand why someone living there would want to commit suicide.  Of course, Kurt wasn’t there when he committed suicide and had probably not been there for a long time, but it gives one the sense of the place to know that the impression it leaves is that of the will for self destruction.

The approach into town from Long Beach leads one by miles and miles of decimated forests.  Good for you, logging companies!  It appears you have ensured there will be no lumber to harvest for decades!  The land was fully raped and pillaged.  We passed the Weyerhauser Mill, drove along a stretch of uninviting highway lined with storage warehouses and beaten down manufactured homes.  We came to a bridge and wondered whether Aberdeen continued on the other side or if the next locale was Hoquiam.  We discovered to our delight that Aberdeen did indeed continue to the far side of the bridge. Unfortunately since our visit was an afterthought, we arrived just shortly after six p.m.  This meant that nothing was open except the corporate strip mall and a porn shop.  We browsed the porn shop.  It was the same as all other porn shops I have ever frequented.  The funny part of the visit there was that a man sat at a counter and another man browsed horrible videos.  There were rooms in the back and we heard noises leading us to believe there were men back there as well.  But as far as we could tell, other than me, there were no other women in the place.  I informed my friend that the other men in the place were probably impressed he had a real girl with him and not a plastic pussy.  Good times.  The other highlight of our Aberdeen visit was the Star Wars store, but unfortunately it was closed.  Today I discovered quite by accident a similar store less than a mile from my house.  Since we missed the Aberdeen version, we’ll have to hit the one here.

The homes in Aberdeen were run down beyond belief.  My friend suggested that perhaps I could purchase one there for cash out from the money received in the sale of my house.  We took down the address of a place for sale to look it up.  I did and it is actually possible to buy a house there for 1960’s prices.  I saw several for between $40k and $80k.  The only problem is why would you want to?  Yuck.

Visiting freezing Long Beach and decripit Aberdeen was a fun impromptu road trip. We went to the grocery store in Aberdeen and bought jelly beans and went to the bathroom.  The bathroom had a beautiful view of the bay.  Seriously amazing.  Too bad it was wasted on a grocery store bathroom.  We drove home on the non-scenic highway through Olympia.  An enjoyable time was had by all.

Toilet Needs a New Home

I posted this ad on Craigslist last fall. A friend of mine asked me to repost it here, so here it is:
It is time that Toilet parted ways with our family. It has been in this house for longer than we’ve been here. When we arrived, the home inspector informed us that this toilet was “top of the line” in Europe and ordered by all the best home designers in the US. “Pozzi Gnorri,” he said. “Go look them up on the internet. They’re one of the best companies in the world for bathroom fixtures.” So I did and was duly impressed. However, I had to wonder what a toilet of this caliber was doing in my little 1920 bungalow in Milwaukie. But hey, some of us get riches to rags instead of the other way around, so who was I to question things or to remind Toilet of its brilliant beginnings?
To keep reading, click HERE.

More Confessions of a Fraudulent Cancer Patient

By the time I felt the lump in my breast, sometime in late October or early November 2006, I had experienced six months of my own personal hell. I became the person that my friends used as a yardstick against whom to measure their problems. We would have our conversations, and they would talk about their miserable jobs or problems with their partners. Then they would say, “But at least I’m not you.” Ah yes. Good thing, huh? And this was not about to change any time soon.

I do not know which day exactly I felt the lump in my breast. I was not a vigilant lump checker. Rather, I would periodically think to do a self-exam while in the shower or while dressing. I rarely did as thorough a job as the nurses would during my yearly annual exam. Actually, come to think of it, I never did that thorough a job. I would just remember sometimes to check and that is what I did one morning while getting ready for work. Sometimes I would find a lump and fiddle around with it and it would go away. I would realize it was a gland or a pimple or something else, but not something to worry about. And on that particular morning, I found a lump while I was in the shower. But when I started fiddling around with it, it did not go away. It stayed.

I got out of the shower and got dressed. The lump stayed. I asked my daughter if she could feel it and she could. I was not scared, but started to feel a little concern that perhaps I should have a doctor look at it. I would wait and see if it went away. Over the next few days the lump did not go away. I did not feel alarmed. I did not worry that this was cancer, but I finally decided to have it checked out by a doctor.

I do not have health insurance. I did not want to incur a large medical bill, especially for a lump that was likely nothing. A few years ago, I sprained my ankle and because I did not have insurance, Providence allowed me to fill out a form stating my financial situation and forgave the debt. I remembered this and called them to inquire about proactively getting coverage before seeking care.

The process was not easy. Ironically enough, it is easier to get assistance when you have more money than when you have less. I had been unemployed for nearly a year. I had drained the last of my savings paying an attorney in a court battle with Milla’s father. I had nothing left and Providence wanted to know how I could make it when I had nothing. They wanted to know how it was that I had a couple thousand dollars in the bank. I told them the truth. I had sold some furniture. I had sold Milla’s pony.

How had I gotten to a place of such desperation? I am an attorney. Everyone thinks attorneys are rich. That is so far from true, it’s laughable, especially when you factor in student loan debt. It’s obscene. Most of my friends owe near or over six figures, and I am no exception. When I left law school I worked for a firm, then I started my own practice. The first couple of months were tough, but soon after, the clients who had come in for initial consultations starting coming back to file, and new consultations were steady. I had more flexibility than I had dreamed possible, was earning a good living, and doing fairly well. Then Congress decided to change the bankruptcy laws and life as I knew it developed a deadline. No one knew exactly how things would be different after the laws changed, but we all knew business would experience a dramatic decline. I took as much business as I could in the months leading up to the law change. I took as many clients as I was capable of seeing. I worked seven days a week, often ten and eleven hours a day. Luckily since I was self-employed, I could bring Milla with me to the office. It was brutal, but I knew that the money I was earning would likely be the last I would earn for some time. I even found the time to apply for different jobs, but I got no interviews or opportunities.

Saying my life changed after the law changed would be a huge understatement. Other than child support, I had zero income. I closed my office and moved it home to save on overhead costs. I cut our expenses to the bare minimum. I did everything I could to ensure that every last dollar I had saved would stretch as far as I could stretch it. I was unemployed for nine months before I found a job as an executive assistant at an internet marketing company. Because of my law degree, they offered to pay me more in order to have me draft and review some of their contracts. The company’s books and operations were disorganized. I streamlined everything, reviewed and rewrote all of their contracts, and basically organized myself out of a job. Three months later they laid me off for lack of work.

The rest of the year did not fare much better. My daughter’s father took her and did not send her home. Custodial interference they call it. I call it feeling like my arms had been removed along with the capacity to do anything except lie in bed until three in the morning watching VH-1. It actually worked in my favor that I did not have a job because I would have been useless at it. The court case dragged on for months and cost thousands of dollars.

Through the fall I worked frantically on my house in an attempt to get it ready to sell as my savings drained away. By the time I found the lump, I was planning to put it on the market because I would only be able to pay the mortgage through the end of the year. So I set out to beg Providence to allow me a visit at reduced or no cost. I went ahead and made the appointment, figuring it was best to find out regardless whether I ended up with a huge bill.

As I waited in the examination room after the nurse had left me to change into a paper gown, I felt again to see whether the lump was there. I remembered all the times before I had felt lumps only to have them disappear within days. It was still there and I was still not worried. The nurse came in and asked me why I was there. I described the lump. I described finding it. She asked me to lie back on the bed with my right arm above my head and proceeded to examine my right breast. As she made the examination she described what she was doing. The room was passionless and clinical. November sun streamed in, enhancing the cold, blue florescent light. It was chilly and I wanted my turtleneck back.

She began to examine my left breast, moving in large circles from far outside what I considered breast tissue, working her way in. She explained that this was necessary because breast tissue is present in the areas surrounding the breast and that lumps could form there. As she moved closer to the lump, I wondered whether she would find it too. I still thought it was nothing. She moved her fingers back and forth and back and forth across the spot. “Is this it?” she asked me. I told her that it was. She asked me if it hurt. I told her it had not initially, but my prodding the spot for days had left it feeling bruised. She completed her examination and had me sit up.

“It is likely nothing,” she informed me, “But I want to get a mammogram and ultrasound to be completely sure.” I asked her then if she knew whether I had been approved for Providence assistance because I did not have insurance. She didn’t know. As she entered my information into the computer and waited for a printout, she said she thought there were places I could get a mammogram for reduced cost. She wrote some names and numbers on a piece of paper and handed me the printout ordering the tests.

Later that day I called all of the numbers she had given me. I left messages at a few of the places and waited. The ones I spoke to had no help for someone under forty. This was the story everywhere I called. Do you know how difficult it is to get someone to talk to you about getting financial assistance for a mammogram when you are under forty? In spite of having a lump and a doctor who wanted to see it, no one wanted to talk to me because I wasn’t yet old enough. It was crazy. I complained to my friends about the mammogram thing. With all the lip service paid to “finding a cure” why the hell can’t we find out if someone under forty has breast cancer in the first place? No one had an answer for me.

A few days later, the nurse practitioner called me to ask if I had scheduled a mammogram. I had to admit that I hadn’t. When she wanted to know why, I explained about not having insurance and that Providence was stalling on my application for assistance because I had too little income. I told her that all the providers I had called about free mammograms would only give me one if I was over forty.

She asked if I had called the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program. The what? No. I did not have that number and had not called. She gave me the number and the name of a specific person. She told me to call her and she was sure my age would not be an issue. I called and left a message and a short time later a kind woman called me back. She asked me some questions about my income and said it appeared I qualified for the program. She told me to fax over the order for a mammogram and ultrasound, and assuming all was in order, I could schedule a mammogram.

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) is run by the Centers for Disease Control. It provides access to breast and cervical cancer screening services and diagnostic testing when the tests are positive for women who are not insured or cannot afford care. According to the CDC’s website, Congress passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Act of 1990. This statute directs the CDC to offer these screening services, presumably to do just as its title suggests, prevent deaths from breast and cervical cancer. What a great idea–preventative care. Imagine that! Whether or not the program prevented my death can’t be said for certain because who knows what would have happened had I never gotten screened, but I am alive today and my cancer is “cured,” so it accomplished that much. At the very least my detection ended up being so early I was spared chemotherapy and more drastic surgery.

After gaining approval for services, I scheduled my mammogram and ultrasound. The medical center scheduled them for the same day, the ultrasound to follow the mammogram. They told me not to wear deodorant or perfume because it could mess up the mammogram. The mammography center was in the hospital in my town. The entrance was designed like so many hospitals today: photos of all the busy and important people on the board of directors, photos of past busy and important people, muted, earthy-colored carpets, printed statements letting us patients know just how much the hospital cares about us. I headed past some low-slung chairs and asked the woman at the information desk where to go. I had to fill out some paperwork in the mammography area, as well as give them the paperwork the nurse practitioner had given me ordering the tests be done. A short time later, the technician called my name.

I wondered then, as I did many time later, why is it that the medical professions require nurses, techs, and other medical helper-people to wear smocks that look like they were designed for six year olds? Are they keeping them ever prepared on the off chance a child might walk in and find comfort in the infantile patterns and colors? This theory doesn’t make much sense when the person wearing such a garment works in a place like the mammography center where the likelihood of a child patient is slim to none. Perhaps they want to subtly remind the adult patients that we are being cared for and should not only feel safe, but accept our care like good children. I don’t know. It baffles me.

In spite of the fact that her garment was more suited for a jaunt on a kindergarten playground, the technician who assisted me that day was wonderful. In fact, every mammogram technician I had throughout my entire cancer experience was wonderful. I don’t know if it’s that those kind of people are drawn to that kind of a job, or if they just love what they do, but as a group, every one of them who helped me was just so cool. They were professional and did their jobs, but all of them just seemed to enjoy having me as a patient and doing what they did.

Getting a mammogram is not an enjoyable experience. Yes, there are lots of worse things. I admit it. And complaining about mammograms seems rather silly considering how helpful they are. But seriously, why can’t they design a machine that is shaped in such a way that accommodates the rest of the body?

First they hold your breast and pull it out from your chest as far as possible, laying it on a plastic tray. At this point, you’re thinking things aren’t so bad. Then the tech steps on a little lever and that plastic tray rises up under your breast in a manner that leaves you thinking maybe they are trying to slowly tear it from your body. This requires a slightly balletic toe dance as a method of self-preservation. The tech then pushes another lever and another plastic tray lowers down and squashes your breast as flat as it will go as she asks how you’re holding up. Fine. Yes, fine. As long as I don’t tip over backwards, I may avoid an unplanned masectomy. She then decides that your arms and shoulders are in the way. Relax your shoulders. What, they aren’t relaxed? They feel relaxed to me. But apparently not because she presses them down hard with her palms.

At this point I was on my toes to keep my breast from feeling like it was being ripped off from the top, shoving my shoulders down, and feeling very nearly like I might tip over backwards. This led me to grasp wildly for a bar along the back of the machine. Oops, no! Can’t do that. Then what are the bars there for? To taunt me? Ack! I was allowed to hold the bar with one arm. That was a bit of a comfort anyway, until it became apparent that my head was in the way. Lean your head back. Lift your chin. Oh my god, I’m going to fall over backwards, I just know it, and rip off my tit in the process! I felt like someone who had fallen of the top of a very tall building and was holding on with one pinky. It was kind of funny when the tech went over to a computer screen to take the picture and told me not to breathe. Breathe? I hadn’t breathed since the top plastic flattened my breast into a neat pancake for fear of its being torn off! After repeating the process with the breast from a side angle, she left to speak to the radiologist. I sat there, topless, reading a book.

A short time later she came back and said they needed some more films, up higher, in my arm pit. We did the whole thing over again, only the squishing process was more difficult because there just isn’t much flesh there for the machine to grab. She would struggle to position me so she could film as far into my armpit as possible, go take the photo, shake her head, and begin again. Over and over she tried in vain to see whatever it was she was looking for in that armpit region. Several times she left to consult with the radiologist.

This wasn’t where the lump was at. This was something different. What were they looking for? Each time she left I would stare entranced at the moon shaded breast on the computer monitor. It really was lovely and looked exactly like a little lunar surface traced with spidery trenches and occasional clouds. Mammogrammed breasts are beautiful.

Finally, after an extended absence with the radiologist the technician returned and announced that they wanted to film another place, towards the center of my chest, in the top quadrant of my left breast towards the center. If the armpit was a struggle, getting breast tissue from my flat chicken chest was even worse. There just wasn’t anything there for the machine to grab ahold of. However, she must have managed because it only took a couple of tries before she and the radiologist were satisfied.

Time for the ultrasound. I redressed and followed the technician through the perfectly manicured halls to the room where I would undergo an ultrasound. Unlike the mammography center, this room was much more clinical. Where the mammography center was a cozy, welcoming place where everyone could sing Kumbaya together, the ultrasound room was like a large hospital room. The floors were the same industrial tile that had lined my elementary school, speckled grey things with the occasional navy blue tossed in for fun.

I was introduced to the ultrasound technician who requested I go into the attached bathroom and change into a gown, front open. Okay, I know I’m digressing yet again, but I have to wonder sometimes what makes them decide whether your gown opens to the back or to the front. There were times, like this one, where the opening to the front made sense. We’re aiming for the breast. It’s in front. Open to the front. No brainer. But other times I would be told to leave the gown open to the back, like later, during radiation. In either case, the gowns were so big I had to wrap the strings around my neck twice or hold the whole thing shut so I wouldn’t flash the planet.

I went back into the main room. A bed sat in the middle of the floor, the television monitor on which the ultrasound image would appear beside it. Another television was mounted on the wall over to the left, presumably so the person lying on the table could see the images available to the technician. I waited for a few moments and the ultrasound technician returned. She was a plain woman wearing the usual babyish outfit. She told me to lie down on the table with my arm above my head. As she instructed me how to lie on the table and moved the ultrasound wand in cold rotations over my breast, I attempted to make small talk with her. I asked her questions about her job, about the machine, about what she was looking at on the screen. After a few moments she told me the ultrasound machine was quite sensitive and that it did not work properly if I spoke. Basically, she was telling me to shut up. I lay there quietly for the next forty-five minutes while she took photographs of my breast.

Weeks later when I had another ultrasound, the technician chatted amiably during the entire procedure. I asked him whether the machine was so sensitive it would not work if I were speaking. He laughed and asked me what made me think I couldn’t talk. That first ultrasound technician was the crankiest person I encountered during my entire cancer experience, and really, she wasn’t that bad. She just didn’t want to talk to me. Throughout the entire process, all the nurses, all the staff, all the doctors were as kind and professional as they could possibly be. All of my doctors seemed to respect my education and explained things to me in great scientific detail, usually in response to my fairly detailed questions. None of them treated me paternalistically. None of them were ever rude or unkind. I have never in my life had an experience where every single person along the way was as pleasant as the medical staffs I encountered during my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. They were truly astounding.

A couple of days after these procedures, the nurse from Providence called to inform me that I needed to schedule an appointment with a surgeon because the films showed something questionable. She said the lump I found appeared harmless, but there were other questionable things on the film that would need to be biopsied. She told me to call the Breast and Cervical Cancer lady and let her know. Then she provided me with the names of a couple of surgeons. I thanked her and hung up.

Thus began my journey into cancer. For some reason, from that point on, I knew it was cancer, yet I was never afraid. I told my counselor more than once that I knew I had it before I actually got the results. I marveled that I could remain so calm. I analyzed my feelings constantly. Was there some hidden emotion of which I was not aware? Was I stuffing how I felt? No. I was simply not afraid. It was weird. It is now a year since I began radiation and I have not once had any kind of meltdown or delayed emotional reaction. The doctors explained everything, sometimes such textbook detail my eyes glazed over. I read books and information on the internet. I had nothing to fear.

It was during the radiation process that I began feeling like a fraud. I conceived the idea to write an article about my experience to show women that cancer could be less than they fear.  I spoke to so many who had were terrified when they were diagnosed, terrified through the process, then wondered later what they had been so afraid of. I have heard many more stories of women who did not go get checked because they were afraid they would have the disease, and because of the wait it was more progressed into a place that justified these fears. I began to believe that if I could show that cancer could be my experience rather than bloating, oozing, pain, and fear, maybe more people would get checked sooner and avoid the later stage diagnoses. So here I am, doing this, telling my story.

My radiation oncologist told me that every cancer for which there is a screening process, if detected early, the cancer is curable. He agreed that cases like mine should become the faces of cancer, not the scary death-filled stories. Too many people don’t get checked because they don’t want what they fear and unwittingly create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am here to tell you, go anyway. Get checked. Make those mammogram and prostate appointments. Wear your sunscreen and check funny looking moles. If you have something and it is caught early, your experience could be less traumatic than the flu.

I have made a few posts about my breast cancer experience.  If you are interested in reading them, just check my categories section or do a search.

Black and White and Grey all Over

So the lady who wrote me about the girl who was mean to me in junior high and I had a little chat via email over a few days. I actually enjoyed chatting with her. She seems nice. Anyway, I kept thinking about that time in my life, maybe because my brother is living with me for the time being and I think about childhood, I don’t know. One thing I have thought a lot about was what kind of a kid I was back then, especially from about age 12 to age 14. Looking back, I still don’t think I like who I was. I know there are all these self-help growth books blah blah blah that tell us to go back and love our inner child and embrace that kid who felt so rotten about herself.

Whatever. I don’t mean to be dismissive when a person needs that, but for me, what a load of crap. I could perhaps feel some compassion for the kid who was picked on and whose stepfather had turned out to be mean instead of loving and possibly even for the big dork that I was as I tried to navigate through junior high, hormones, and popularity. But in some ways I was exactly like the mean girls, just trying to survive. Funny what humans will do when they think it will buy them some control.

I watch movies like Mean Girls, where the main characters come to the realization that they are selfish and shitty and shallow, and it’s great that this is how it comes to be for them. But in my life, I was not as enlightened. I decided not to be friends with Sandra Gordon based solely on the fact that the other girls I wanted to be friends with termed her a “scumbag.” I purposely pulled away from her for no other reason than that. I wanted to be included with more popular people and if that meant dumping Sandra, then I did it, even while the even more popular girls were picking on me.

And later I stopped being friends with Dee Roberts for the simple reason that I heard others thought we were gay, and I did not want anyone to think that. So stupid. So shallow. It was years before I grew any sort of personal backbone, years before I quit giving a shit what other people think and standing on my own. Luckily Dee and I have some friends in common so as adults we were able to reconnect.

I look back now and am amazed at my ability to cut my friendships off with such precision. Perhaps we would have grown apart anyway, but I will never know that because when I decided that I was not going to be friends with someone anymore, that was the end of the friendship. Thinking on it now, maybe some of that ability was just the age. I had friends who cut me off with the same sharp capacity when they saw me as a hindrance to their own popularity. Friends one minute, not friends the next.

I followed my friends Rae and Wendy around like a puppy, begging them to love me. Especially Rae. She was my best friend, in my eyes, but I wasn’t hers. I was there for her, but she wanted Shawna Peterson. And at some point Shawna Peterson decided that she hated me. So if Rae was hanging out with Shawna then she was not hanging out with me.  I guess I can hardly blame her.  In eighth grade all my friends had braces.  I had perfectly straight teeth.  So one day I wore tin foil to school.  I told Rae the dentist made me do it.  Seriously.  I did this.  Is it any wonder few people wanted me near them?

Rae never openly told me not to let anyone know I was her friend, but she did not hang out with me at school. I hung out with Sandra Gordon until Rae and Wendy told me I shouldn’t, then I didn’t hang out with anyone. Those years in junior high were utterly hopeless, utterly miserable. Then I went home and life there sucked too.

I wonder where the kids with a backbone get the backbone. In movies, the left out child that the others bully comes back with a vengeance, kicking ass and proving their inner strength. Often the bullies realize that they don’t have to be so mean either. In my real life, I did not have any such inner strength. I hated myself. I think I believed them.

Occasionally I would stand up for myself, but I was fucking scared to death of it. One time on the bus, a torture chamber if there ever was one, these girls put gum in my hair. They were perfect. They had perfect clothes, perfect hair, perfect makeup. And they hated my guts, just because I wore the wrong clothes, the wrong hair, wore no makeup, and probably looked like I was waiting to be kicked. I told the bus driver. She told me to put gum in their hair the next day. I waited, planning to do so, but scared shitless to actually go through with it. I ended up just putting gum on the pants of the girl who instigated it all. I don’t think she even noticed.

Another time, the bus driver made me get off early and walk to my house. I was pissed. So I hid in the bushes in front of my house and when she drove by, I threw gravel at the bus. She pulled it over, brakes screeching. I hightailed it into the house and hid. My sister Melanie wouldn’t let her in. I think I got written up, but I don’t remember. Funny, that bus driver was a friend and an enemy. Mostly I did not like her. She let a lot happen on the bus that shouldn’t have.

It is also interesting that when I would stand up for myself and not chicken out, I was ruthless, kind of like with cutting off my friends. Where is that? Where does it come from, that ruthlessness? That ability to be so cold? I just don’t know. But I could do it. Maybe it’s that survival instinct, that belief in some control.

The main person able to incur my wrath without fear was Kim Dawson, Melanie’s friend. She hated me and I hated her. I don’t recall why. But she was constantly after me. The first time I fought back, I had gotten on the bus wearing purple cropped pants before they were in fashion. I think I just wore them because I liked them but had outgrown the length. As was typical in those days, I did not have a lot of clothes and my parents would not buy what was in fashion. My mom tried making me some pants like the other girls wore, but it didn’t make me popular. Nothing could have, I don’t think.

Anyway, Kim asked me if I was waiting for a flood. When she went to get off the bus, I stuck my foot out into the bus aisle as she walked by, smearing mud on her pants. She was pissed. She pulled my hair when I got off the bus. I pulled hers. The bus driver pulled us apart. We both got written up.

Then another time, the bus was really crowded. I sat in a seat near the front with a little boy. She was in the seat directly behind me. She leaned forward and made some comment about me and the little boy. I reached back and slapped her in the face. She grabbed my hair. I kept hitting her until she let go of my hair. I think we may have gotten written up then too.

Funny, I was written up three times in junior high, but all three times were so far apart that each time, the principal said since it was the only time I’d been written up, he’d let it go at that. Makes me laugh.

The final time I fought with Kim, I beat the crap out of her. I was twelve years old. She was at our house with my sister. The two were nagging me, picking at me, egging me on. Finally, Kim said something to me that I do not remember now. I jumped her. I sat on her and hit her. Melanie screamed. I finally got up and that was the last time Kim bugged me, but we hated each other to death.

Luckily for me, Rae hated Kim too, so we would order pizzas to her house and make hair appointments for her at salons in town. This was in the days before caller id and all that tracking. We knew her address and phone number so it was easy. Later, she got a boyfriend who was a really big dork, and Rae and Wendy would tease Kim about him. I just joined as a watcher. I loved it because I still hated Kim.

I can’t believe now that I got in hitting fights. Actually, my fights with Kim were the only fights I’ve ever had where hitting was involved. And mine wasn’t one of those situations where I saw open violence at home all the time or anything. Our home was filled with the stealthy kind of violence, like a gaseous poison that oozes through the walls; words laced with hate, looks of vile hatred, screaming matches between parents while children hid in their rooms, doors slammed. Except when I would get hit for doing something, which was somewhat infrequent, we didn’t witness hitting or slapping like some of my friends did. My fighting with Kim came from my own inner capacity to whack someone. I don’t know where she got hers.

Funny, I read back through this and it’s as though I’ve unintentionally continued the same theme that permeates all my posts lately: nothing is black and white, human behavior is mostly directed by an illusion of control or an attempt to garner control. Like I said, it has not been intentional. It just keeps coming up. Maybe there is some deep dark purpose behind this, but more likely it is just that these are central themes in human behavior and I happen to be noticing them in my attempt to reach a point. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been writing for a hour now and my daughter is irritated at me because she wants to go bike riding and she says I “always write” and she can’t understand it. She wants me to stop and focus on her. So that is what I will do. Maybe I’ll have to show her the scene at the end of the movie Stand By Me where the dad is writing and his son who has obviously been waiting and waiting comes in and asks him when they are finally going to leave and the dad says in a minute. Then the boy turns and tells his friend his dad gets like that when he writes. See Milla? I’m not the only one.

Poopy Paws

So what is it, Murphy’s Law or something that after you clean your rugs your dogs will immediately find some poop to walk in and track through the house?  My house has a large utility porch where the dogs hang out when we’re not at home.  It has its own doggy door and a little side yard for them to poop and pee in.  I clean the side yard as infrequently as I can manage, which is about once a week.  Once I let it go a month and that was just awful.  The air throughout the backyard was tinged with the pungent smell of poo.

Last night after doing a bunch of painting, I was straightening up the utility porch and could smell dog poop.  I said something to my daughter.  She suggested that Edna had farted.  Edna’s farts are legendary.  She is a greyhound.  She was rescued.  According to the vet, racing dogs are never fed hard food so their teeth rot.  Most of Edna’s teeth were rotten when I got her and they had to be pulled.  As a result, she has very few teeth with which to masticate her kibble.  This means she swallows the kibble whole.  Even though I buy her the smallest kibble for the smallest dogs, her digestive system is not pleased with this arrangement and rebels by making her fart the smelliest, most horrendous doozies your nose ever encountered.  They literally make the insides of your nose burn.  If we had wallpaper, her farts would curl it off the walls.

Only the smell was not fart smell, it was poop smell.  It stank like one of them had laid a big one right in the middle of the room, but there was nothing there.  Perplexed, I assumed there must have been a fresh pile right outside the doggy door that I would have to remove in the morning.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.  I came in the house, sat down here at the computer, and the poop smell followed me.  We do not wear shoes in the house, so I knew I could not have poop on my shoes.  Right about then, Molly came over and begged for a pet.  The smell was overpowering.  I knew then and there that she had poopy paws.  I hustled her onto the back porch and sure enough, BOTH back paws were covered!  It was late, I was exhausted, and I was not going to be bathing dogs at 10 at night so I left her there and returned to my computer seat.  Still the smell.  Damn.  It turned out Edna had a poopy back paw too, and both of them had tracked poopy into the house.  Luckily it seems only one place on one rug got poop on it.  Most of the rest landed on the hardwood floors.  But yuck.

So now it’s the next day and neither of them are pleased at having to sleep out back and both of them are yammering to get in the house.  Molly bangs the door with her head and makes it rattle when she’s out there and I’m in here and she wants in.  She’s banging away.  I tried to wash the poop off their paws with a wash cloth but it didn’t work.  It’s all ground into the hairs between their toes and pads and yuck.  It’s going to require bathing.  Only I wasn’t planning on taking a shower until after I rode the horse today.  What is the point of showering, riding and getting all smelly, then having to shower again?  It’s a waste.  No problem, except that I can’t ride until 11:30 when the arena is available and right now it is not even 9.  This means the dogs will have to chill on the back porch until early afternoon.  They are not pleased with this arrangement.  Unfortunately they are going to have to live with it because I just don’t feel like cleaning the rugs again.  It’s a big pain and takes all day.  Maybe I can pretend to leave.  I’ll drive my car out of the driveway, park in front, sneak in the front door, and hide in here.  They’ll think I’m gone and chill out. It might work, but I doubt it.

Development of the Opossum Approach

Caveat:  I originally posted this with the actual names intact.  Turns out enough people find these posts that a person who knew one of the players contacted me, so I have changed the names to make them anonymous.  All other facets of the story are my memories and true to the best of my recollection.

I have been thinking a lot today about mean people and the opossum approach and all that and I have concluded that a large bit of preparation for being mean is cultivated during junior high. I certainly got a great deal of practice being victimized by mean people in junior high. I was a target ripe for the pickings. And I most definitely mastered the opossum approach. I could walk through the halls invisibly and when necessary, play dead. I’m not here. Do not notice me. Avoid paying any attention at all costs. Sometimes though, I failed utterly and completely at avoiding notice, in spite of my best efforts.

I remember an incident that took place on one particularly memorable afternoon. It occurred in Sex Ed class, which on some level makes the whole thing much more vivid. I had a crush on Mike Jones. Mike was lanky and horse-faced, with tousley brown hair, but I thought he was adorable. Mike was popular. He was on the football team. Everyone knew who he was. He did not know who I was. I would fantasize that he would say hello to me. That was how silly and naive I was. I did not even consider hand-holding or kissing. At age twelve, such conjectures were well without my realm of possibility. No. Saying hello was about as brave as I could get. Because of my crush, I wrote “I like MJ” on my palm. Why did I do that? Did some little part of me hope he would notice and fall instantly in love with me at the sight of his initials inscribed on my hand? Was I a fool? Come to think of it, I doubt I thought much of anything. I probably sat there in my preteen, hormone-addled state, reading something in the library. I read a lot in the library. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I had read every book in the junior high library by the end of eighth grade. I also won the library’s “Ghastly Riddle Contest” at Halloween. It was a sort of treasure hunt through haunted books whereby clues were given in the form of quotes. You went to the quote and it would lead you to another clue. It required some knowledge of the books involved to locate the original quotes. A weekly clue would be handed out to help you when you were stumped. I won a nice set of horse books. I think they knew that I would win since I doubt anyone else tried.  Few people would have been geeky enough to play at a contest like that and I was too clueless to know it was geeky.

Anyway, I digress. Back to my lusting after Mike Jones by hoping he would say hello. I had taken the liberty of professing my love via ball point pen. I sat, hiding, in the far row of Sex Ed class. I do not recall the name of the teacher, but I remember what he looked like. He was one of the coaches. He was tall and stocky, with blonde hair cut in a bowl style. Unlike some teachers, he was actually pretty kind to me. The head cheerleading coach, for instance, acted like I was a virus she might catch if I asked her something about the pre-algebra that she taught. But Mr. Sex Ed was pleasant enough.

There I sat in Mr. Sex Ed’s class. It was a sunny afternoon and I remember sitting and staring lazily into the sunbeams. I had done the reading. Mr. Sex Ed was dozing up front. Most of the class was chatting and passing notes back and forth. Suddenly, Kelly Smith, who sat behind me, leaned forward in her chair and asked me a question.

An aside about Kelly Smith. When my parents chose to move our family to “the country” because that is where I thought I wanted to live in order to have a horse, I was in the sixth grade. The little school in our town had one grade per class and each class had about twelve students. Kelly Smith was in my class. She immediately befriended me and nearly as immediately dumped me when she discovered that I did not smoke, drink, or swear, and that I rode horses and read books. She had perfectly feathered blonde hair. I did not have perfectly feathered blonde hair. Mine curled in all the wrong places and my mom cut it for me. How humiliating. Kelly Smith wore San Franciscos and Sticky Fingers and had several colors of Nike swish shoes. I had one pair of Sticky Fingers, no San Franciscos, and no Nike swish shoes. I wore Keds and Keds were not popular. Kelly Smith knew that one was supposed to carry a large comb in one’s back pocket. Until meeting her, I was not privy to such inside information. In short, Kelly Smith had all the makings of a cool person while I had zero. By the end of seventh grade, when this incident took place, we were in junior high and I was a persona non grata. Kelly Smith was a cheerleader. She still had perfectly feathered hair. Mine still curled in the wrong places. I think I may have finally acquired a pair of Nike swish shoes and a comb, but they were clearly out of place in the library.

I was not happy to have Kelly Smith peering over my shoulder. Kelly Smith did not involve herself with me except to make my life miserable. She had completely mastered the pretend to be friendly and suck me in while simultaneously concocting some nasty evil plot approach. She would say something that seemed kind. Weaving back and forth, back and forth, hypnotizing me, I would respond to the false kindness, believing for a moment that she might actually be friendly, whereupon she would suddenly expose her true nature, losing the lovely exterior, spitting in my eyes and becoming the cobra she truly was. Once she put gum in my hair without my notice. Usually she would say something really ugly and make her friends laugh. “Do you use butter grease to style your hair?” she would sneer. Her friends would erupt in laughter. Ha ha. Real funny. You’re so clever, why don’t you hit the comedy circuit?

Back in Sex Ed, she wanted to know, “Who is MJ?” Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh. Fuck.

“Nobody you know.” My heart was pounding. Why couldn’t she just go away? Why did she have to torture me? Was I really such an obvious target? Apparently so because she did not go away. “So who is it?”

“No one you know. Someone from another school.” God, please don’t let her know. Mike Jones was in that class. If he found out. Oh crap.

“What’s his name? Is it Mike Jones?” What the….? How in the hell had she nailed that on the first try? Maybe she saw my hand and worked it out before saying anything.

“No. No, it’s not Mike Jones. It is not. No.” I stammered, obviously flustered. I must have seemed like a giant bullseye for her pointy cobra fangs.

“It’s Mike Jones, isn’t it.” It wasn’t even a question. “You like Mike Jones. Wow.” She turned and told her friend, another Kelly who must not have been so evil because I do not remember her last name. “She likes Mike Jones. Can you believe it?” Kelly could not believe it. In fact, she was so shocked that she had to share it with the girl next to her.

Then Kelly Smith did the unthinkable. She called out to Mike Jones, “Hey Mike. Lara likes you.” Oh dear God. Please kill me now. I should be punished for having written those damn initials on my hand. Actually, I was being punished for having written them on my hand. Mike turned and looked over in our direction. He may have been looking at me. I don’t know. I was staring at my desk and begging the gods to reach down and suck me from my chair. Anything, anything but this.

“Is this bad news true?” he asked. All the kids who had been paying attention laughed.

My pain was complete. Not only had I been fully humiliated by darling Kelly Smith, Mike Jones saw my liking him as bad news and he wasn’t afraid to say so. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I suffered through the remainder of the class, wishing I could disappear. Having ensured she had gotten a good and deep bite right into the side of my head, Kelly Smith was no longer interested in torturing me. She moved on to discussions of cheerleading routines and hairdos. My face burned and the room swam. I pretended to read my Sex Ed book. At least I could say the bad news was no longer true. I no longer liked Mike Jones and could not wait for class to end so I could go and wash my hand.

Once the bell rang, I shuffled through my belongings to take as long as possible to leave class and ensure I did not have to rise and move with the other students. After every one was gone I sat for a few more seconds. Alone in the room, I took a deep breath. It seemed like it had been long enough for the lot of them to clear out of the hallway.

You know, I must have lacked some serious capacity to foretell possibilities because it had not been long enough for Mike Jones to clear out of the hallway. He was the only one left, digging through his locker that was nearly across the hall from the Sex Ed classroom. Mine was down past his, requiring that I pass him, completely humiliated. Thankfully, he did not look up as I shuffled quickly by. Perhaps part of his dismay at my liking him had been for show. Certainly his reaction had been. At least he left me alone. I went to my locker, deposited my books, and took the long way around to P.E. class because the direct route would have taken me past his locker again, and there was no way I was going there.

Yes, junior high is definitely a breeding ground for mean people. Volumes have been written on the subject. Millions have been made in movies about the outcasts being tortured. Pleasure is taken in the geek who grows up and shows up to the high school reunion in a heliocopter. I think we all assume that as adults this crap goes away. Unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking. Even when you grow into a swan and develop inner strength and confidence, there are those people who never move past being mean to you.

Luckily for me, we had moved away from that school after ninth grade, so Kelly and her friends were only able to harass me for three years. I heard that she got pregnant her senior year in high school. A few years after graduation, I saw her at a discount store. She was extremely heavy and was dragging around four ruffian-looking children. A friend of mine who had finished school with her said they all had different fathers. I remembered her bragging in eighth grade about drinking and having sex. Maybe whatever made her so damn mean was also what made her gain weight and have lots of kids by different dads by the time she was 25. She’d clearly hit her prime in junior high. She was still mean though. At the store, she came up to me and sneered, “You think you’re really hot now, don’t you, Lara?”

I remember looking at her, not knowing who she was because she looked so wretched and different. When it was obvious I hadn’t a clue about her identity, she said, “I’m Kelly, Kelly Smith,” like I was retarded or something. Funny. I realize now she sounded something like Forrest, Forrest Gump. I said hello and turned to continue walking with my mom. Thankfully, when it came to girls from junior high, I didn’t have to pretend I was dead any more.

Bonding Over Bathroom Fixtures

When my nephew was four he was at the grocery store with my sister and my two year old niece who had finally started using the toilet.  While standing in the line with a loaded cart, Nathanael announced to everyone, “Now my whole family wears underwear!”  It was pretty cute.

I have beautiful shower fixtures now.  My dad installed them for me.  I asked him to do it a couple of years ago when I bought the fixtures, but he told me to hire a plumber.  He didn’t think he could do it.  Then the other day I was showing him the list of stuff I still need to do on my house before selling it.  I was showing it to him to demonstrate just how little is left on a house I’ve basically gutted and remodeled all by myself.  The only project I hired someone for was rewiring the thing and installing a new electric box (another friend who did an amazing job and to whom I still owe money when this box sells).  My dad has helped me on a few projects since he’s a retired contractor and carpenter.  I think he’s proud his daughter has picked up his skills and remodeled the entire kitchen, removed a wall, built a wall, built a ginormous walk-in closet, moved a door, retiled the bathroom, built two sets of built-in bookshelves, painted the entire thing inside various colors, replaced molding, rebuilt window frames, replaced light fixtures, took a jungle out of the front yard, built a rock wall, and installed a yard, as well as countless landscaping projects.  When I ask him how to do something, he seems happy I ask his advice and shows me what to do, sometimes offering to help.  I was so glad he offered to put in the bathtub fixture for me because I had no idea how I was going to pay a plumber.  After he did it and it took five hours because the new fixture was a different shape than the old one and the whole thing had to be installed behind two solar water heater pipes, I was even more glad.  One plumber I had called estimated the job would take 45 minutes to complete.  He had not looked at it.  I have no doubt when he got here and discovered the tile had to be cut and there were pipes to work around, he would not have been so optimistic and it would have cost a hell of a lot more than the $120 he quoted.

Anyway, my dad did this for me and I’m grateful.  I know he’s sad I’m selling the place.  We haven’t told my mom yet.  She’d freak and we all know it.  So continuing the tradition of secrets, none of us tell.  But it’s funny, it’s not like alcoholic secrets where things are obvious yet everyone denies them.  It’s more like we all know my mom freaks about the most mundane of events and won’t sleep for a month and will stomp around the house and make everyone around her miserable, so to avoid the hassle none of us will mention it.  If the information is dropped, well, we’ll spin it to create the best story for her so hopefully she won’t lose any sleep and start to freak out.  In my mind, that’s not really living with secrets.  Rather it’s more like living without a hassle.

Anyway, I’m glad my dad did this for me.  It looks amazing.  Last night I came home from a friend’s party and even though it was midnight, I had to take a shower in it.  It was so fantastic to be able to adjust the heat without pliers, something we’ve done for four years now.  Thanks, Dad.

All the Wittle Animals and Adam

My friend wrote this.  I thought it was such a funny story, I had to post it.

Once upon a time, God got an itch to create himself some little planet.  Yeah.  And on the planet he put all the wittle animals, some shrubbery, and Adam.  Oh, and then he turned on the light.  And then he rested.  Yeah.  And Adam was lonely so he ripped out a rib and created a woman.  Yeah.  And then God made sure that Adam and Eve were stupid and wouldn’t question anything.  Yeah.  So then, there was a snake, a talking snake, that persuaded Eve to eat an apple.  Yeah.  And then, well, then everything went to hell (woman’s fault, you know).  And then, God wrote the bible and told everyone that this was the Bible and that it was the word of God and that you had to obey it all.  Yeah, even the parts where you stone your own children to death if they profess non belief.  — CW, 2008

My choosing to publish this story represents a perfect microcosm of a little problem I have been dealing with lately.  As cliche’ as it sounds, on some level my blog is my own personal therapy session.  I come here and spout and think and muse and make shit up no one cares about.  Part of the deal for me is that I have to be brutally honest.  But also, no censoring.  And lately, I have wanted to censor.  I have been worrying way too much about who might read this and their reaction.  As a result, I have not been the happiest little camper lately.  Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’ve not been sleeping well.  Not sleeping makes me turn into a rather cranky little monster, if you know what I mean.  Lack of sleep will do that to a person.

But another part of my angst has been wanting to write stuff and then not doing it because of my perceived expectation of a reaction or concern over what others will think of me.  I even went so far as to delete the post I wrote on toxic work places because I was worried someone at the old workplace would read it.  I also worried about what I wrote yesterday about wanting a boyfriend, all concerned the man I’m going on a date with might read it, realize I’m bananas, and run screaming for the hills.  I worried a parent in Milla’s class might discover what a foul-mouthed hooligan I can be.  Then there were a few days where all I wanted to write was a bunch of negativity because I was mired in a sleep-deprived, hormonally-induced, mini depressional psychosis and I didn’t want people to think I’m that much of a mental health disaster.  For over a week now I have not written much at all because of concern over someone reading what I had to say.

Then last night I was reading and taking a nice bath to relax before bed in the hope I would fall asleep when I realized what I have been doing.  I realized I was censoring myself and I had to ask, what in the world is going on here?  I am not writing for the audience, I am writing for me, regardless how stupid, opinionated, depressed, or ridiculous I may be.  I want to have an audience, that’s why I put it out there.  But I can’t write with the audience in mind.  So I had this little epiphany and resolved to go back to being my usual blabber-mouthed, opinionated, cussing sometimes self, regardless if I was having a good day and regardless what anyone else might think or say.

Then this morning I received the story my friend wrote and wanted to post it because I think it is hilarious.  I cut and pasted it and put it into my wordpress window, then when it came time to tag it and categorize it, I started to worry about offending someone or the neo-nazi religious types that might read it and send me hate mail and I got a little flutter and almost didn’t put anything in the tags and only a couple of categories to ensure no one would read it.  Then the lightbulb went on and I realized I was doing it again, censoring, worrying about the reaction, and I knew then that I had to post it and add all the tags and categories I would have if I knew no one was reading it.  I had to put it out there, regardless of the reaction.  Because ironically enough, I honestly don’t care whether someone likes it or not.   I’m just too tired right now to deal with the possible reaction.  And that is the crux of it, I suppose.  I have been feeling so lousy from lack of sleep that I do not have my usual strength and resolve to put up with someone else not liking what I have to say.  I’ve regressed back to the person in my teens and early twenties who had zero confidence in her writing or her self.  I suppose it is normal to make these regressions when I’m overly tired, but it doesn’t mean I have to stay there.

So I’ve put on the story and I put back the toxic workplace post and I’m leaving the relationship post and if there is anyone reading it who doesn’t like it, well, I guess that’s too bad.  Go read something else.  I’m not trying to change your mind.  I’m not trying to make other people hate my ex boss.  I’m not trying to troll the blogs hoping some Prince Charming will read my relationship posts and come sweep me off my feet.  I’m writing because I have to and it keeps me sane.  It is part of my spirituality.  I know that’s a useless psychobabble reason, but it’s true, and that’s all there is to it.

Death and Loving

Ah, Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day.  This is the first year I can ever remember when I haven’t either wanted a romantic Valentine’s Day or the not wanting it isn’t sour grapes.  There have been a few of those years, ones where I pretended to myself that I didn’t care but deep down it hurt that there wasn’t someone special to remember the day for me or I had someone who was careless about such things.  Right now, I am honestly happy just being who I am and love having my little girl as my Valentine.  As a result, this is a really nice Valentine’s Day, at least thus far.

Milla is so sweet.  Last night the two of us took heart cookie cutters and cut beeswax hearts for her classmates.  We then wrapped them in tissue paper and tied them off with yarn. As is often the case in these sorts of projects, I had the assembly line going.  There have been moments in the past where I go off half-cocked trying to be Martha Stewart mom and decided to make 28 Valentines from scratch.  16 Valentines in and 4 hours later I’m ready to slice my wrists with the scissors and poke the glue sticks in my eyes.  One year we hand-cut hearts from construction painting paper, then watercolored hearts on each one, then I helped Milla sign her name to each one.  It was fun for the first 8 or so, then Milla was getting mad because she was sick of signing her name and I was getting mad because there was paint on the ceiling and walls and we were both ready to kill each other so I’ve learned my lesson.  I’m not the Martha Stewart of mothers.  Now I know when it comes to large crafty projects making multiples of anything, go for the assembly line approach.  These kids won’t know the difference and ninety-percent of them will likely end up in the trash anyway.

So last night Milla and I lined up the wax and started cutting the hearts.  Then we piled them up in twos.  Then we cut the yarn for the tissue paper.  Then we cut the tissue paper into squares.  Then we wrapped them and she tied.  At one point she tried tying bows but that deteriorated after about 3 sets because it was a huge pain in the ass.  The yarn kept getting caught on her fingernails and she’d pull the whole lump out of my hand and we both got irritated so we quit that.  We managed to complete the entire project in under an hour, so that was all good.  Of course, we got to school this morning and it turns out her teacher doesn’t do a Valentine’s Day exchange, but with my luck if we’d skipped it there would have been an exchange and I would again look like the mother that couldn’t.  I’m good at that.

Valentine’s Day is kind of a weird holiday.  In some regards it seems almost like Mother’s Day; designed entirely by the greeting card industry to make people spend money.  But it has a really cool history and dark side that appeals to me.  There are all these legends about who St. Valentine may have been, but in all of them, he’s rescuing someone and doing all these good deeds and as a result, he gets killed off.  I suppose that’s the nature of Sainthood, but I find it somewhat ironic that his life is held up as the namesake for a holiday about romantic love.  Isn’t the murder of St. Valentine for all his good and loving deeds kind of a perfect analogy on some level for the way we lose ourselves in romantic love?  It’s all good if both sides are party to the celebration, but more often than not I think it all ends in despair.  And even when both sides are happy about things and ultimately stay together, the romantic part inevitably ends.  And most sane people I know are glad that it does.  It’s almost like death in some ways to be in that place where you’re so in love you can’t eat or sleep or think or do a damn thing and you might as well be dead.  It’s a good thing that part ends or we’d never get anywhere.

Another interesting consideration in the history of St. Valentine is when it’s celebrated.  Some say the mid-February date is to commemorate St. Valentine’s death.  However others argue it was an active choice on the part of the Christian church to obliterate a pagan festival called Lupercalia.  It was one of those native festivals where people prepared their homes for spring and celebrated fertility through a festival to the Roman God of Agriculture.  Well, we certainly couldn’t have people worshipping any Agriculture gods, now could we?  That would be idolatry.  So the Christians murdered off the local religion with a nice little holiday of their own.  How special!  I do find it quite fascinating that in all the history surrounding Valentine’s Day there is quite a lot of death.  And loneliness too.  As I understand it, St. Valentine spent his last days in prison before being put to death.  There he was trapped in his lonely heart and then he was killed.  Wow.

On that special note, I think I’ll sign off.  Someone I know told me he likes my blogs because I just go on my rant without making a point.  Yep.  That’s me.  Pointless.  Ha!  Well, I have a point today, and that’s to enjoy the beautiful girl I made while in the throes of romantic love that ended with a sputter.  Her father and I may have our differences, but if I could go back and choose whether or not to toss that condom across the room (Yes, mom.  That’s what happened.  It didn’t break like I told you.), I would do it again in a heartbeat because the love I have for her is better than any romantic love I’ve ever experienced.  I suppose that’s the point, though, isn’t it?  To fall in romantic love so you breed, have children, and ensure the continuation of the species.  Who cares if the species grows up, falls in love, and ends up killed over it.  As long as the breeding took place and the children were born first, it’s all good, right?  Kind of senseless and weird, but it must work or we wouldn’t have a population explosion.

Tales of a Grumpy Mailman

My mailman is grumpy.  He’s the grumpiest thing ever.  I have no idea what bug crawled up his butt, but it has set up residence there and makes Mr. Mailman the grumpiest mailman I’ve ever encountered.  I say hi to Grumpy Mailman, he looks at me like he wants to hit me.  Maybe he does.  He is a mailman after all, and mail carriers are notoriously grumpy, what with shooting up post offices and all that. It’s people like him who gave us the expression, Going postal.

He seems to have a particular problem with my mailbox.  It is a new style mailbox.  I got it to replace the old style one I had previously.  You know, the kind that is a piece of metal bent over into a half circle, flat on the bottom, with a door that has a little handle, and a red flag.  My mailman had well, issues, with my mailbox.  He could not seem to close the door.  I am not sure exactly why, but more often than not, I would go to check my mail and there it would be, door hanging open, mail available for anyone to look at.  It was near the street and under a tree.  I live in Oregon.  It is wet in Oregon.  So having my mailbox open under a tree in Oregon meant that even when it stopped raining, the tree continued to drip steadily into my mailbox.  And anyone who is paying even slight attention knows that identity thieves love stealing mail.

I wrote a nice note.  Dear Mail Person, I wrote.  Would you please be sure to close the door of my mailbox?  Otherwise my mail gets all wet.  Thank you.  That’s polite, isn’t it?  I called the carrier a “person” and not a “man” (I wasn’t sure of the gender at this point).  I said please.  I said thank you.  What more could one want?

Something else apparently because Grumpy Mail Person did not stop leaving the door open.   He also kept leaving the flag up, even after taking the mail.  I’d wait and wait for the mail to arrive, assuming it hadn’t because the flag was up.  Then I would realize the door was open so there was no way the carrier had not been there.  My mail would be inside, damp.

So I decided to go and get another mailbox.  I bought a locking mailbox.  It is black and kind of historic-looking to match my bungalow.  It has a bronze top that makes it look like it’s old.  There is a slot that is about 2 inches by 14 inches.  I tested the slot to see if it was big enough for magazines and whatnot to slip through.  Easy!  I was so excited about my new mailbox. I installed it and waited for the mail to come.

It did.  It was mangled and torn and the lid to the mailbox was left wide open.

Huh?

Consternated, I examined the mail in an effort to determine what had gone wrong.  It appeared the mailman had folded all the large mail in half.  This created quite a large wad of mail, not easily inserted into the slot.  This made little sense.  Why fold it?  I laid it out as originally designed and it inserted right through the slot in the mailbox.  No problem.  And why had he not closed the lid?  Hmmmmm…

Over the next several weeks, my mail was destroyed more frequently than not.  Because of the mailbox shape, when the lid was open, it filled with water.  This left the mail in a drenched sopping mess.  Then one day I received a certificate from the bar association for some pro bono work I had done.  Clearly printed in large letters across the envelope were the words DO NOT FOLD.  It was folded in half, the crease permanently embedded in the gold-embossed letters of the certificate.

Consternated, I called my mom.  My mom is a rural postal carrier.  She has worked for the post office for over twenty years.  I told her about my mail troubles.  She said that if mail did not fit then they were to fold it.

“But it fits!” I told her.  “In fact it fits BETTER if it’s not folded in half!”

“Well then you need to call your postmaster,” she told me.  “Your postmaster needs to know what is going on because that isn’t called for.”

Have you ever tried to call the local postmaster at a local post office?  Have you?  Try it.  Go to your phone book and look up your post office.  Right.  See that?  See that 1-800 number listed for EVERY SINGLE post office in your area?  Do you know what that means?  It means that you don’t get a local post office when you call.  It means you get the central 1-800 number.  It means you get to listen to post office advertising about how great it is to send packages via the US Postal Service.  It means you get to listen to some really fantastic music while you wait for a human.  I finally connected with the human.  She took my story.  She gave me some identification number.  She told me my local post office would call me back real soon.  She apologized for the trouble.  Hey, I just want my mail flat and dry.  Is that too much to ask?

A couple of days later, the local post master called.  He was grumpy.  I began to get an inkling that grumpiness and this post office went hand in hand.  First he spent about 20 minutes trying to convince me that my mailbox was not post office approved.  It was.  It had said so right on the box.  He asked where I got it.  I told him.  He said that place sometimes sold not approved mailboxes.  I told him that this one was approved.  He then said that older mailboxes that had been in stores a while ago and were approved then weren’t always approved now.  I told him I had just purchased it the month before.  He told me it still didn’t sound like it was right.  Finally I asked him if he had spoken to my postal carrier and determined the box was not post office approved.  He told me he had not.  Then I asked him to hold on a sec.  I used my mobile phone and called my mom and asked her.  She had seen my new mailbox.  She said it was post office approved.  I got back on with the postmaster and told him that my mom was a carrier and that she had seen it and that it was approved.  He finally let that go.  Then he informed me that the carriers were required to fold mail in half.

“That’s crazy,” I told him, “Especially when the mail says right on it ‘DO NOT FOLD.'”

“Well that’s what I tell them,” he informed me.  “It’s our policy.”

Well then you need another policy because my mail is getting ruined and it fits just fine without being folded in half.  Incidentally, I asked my mom after this conversation if she was supposed to fold all mail in half and her postmaster is just the opposite.  They aren’t allowed to fold anything unless it absolutely will not go in any other way.  However, I was not privy to this information at the time of this phone call.  And I was getting frustrated.

“You know,” I told the postmaster, “I’m getting really frustrated here.  My mail is getting ruined.  I had to buy a new mailbox because my carrier kept leaving the other one open and I was worried about mail theft, not to mention the fact that my mail was sopping wet 90 percent of the time.  Now you just spent ten minutes trying to convince me my mailbox is the problem, and now you’re telling me all my mail has to be folded in half when it makes no sense to do so.  Do you have a boss I can talk to because I seem to be getting no where with you.”  The postmaster’s tone changed after that.  He said he would talk to the carrier and make sure my mailbox was closed and my mail not ruined.  I thanked him and hung up.

Over the weeks, not much changed except my mailbox was closed more often than not.  It was still left open sometimes, but not as much as it had been.  Then the weather improved and I didn’t notice when it was open because the mail did not get all wet.  I kept trying to be friendly to my carrier when I saw him even though he frowned at me when I said hello.  I gave him a Christmas gift three years in a row.  I figured he needed some happiness with that grumpy postmaster of his.  The two of them were like two peas in a pod.  I would occasionally ask my mother about it, but she kept going on and on about how different city carriers were from rural carriers and how the post office was getting to be such an unpleasant place to work and on and on.  I finally quit bringing it up because I didn’t want to hear about it anymore.

This fall, it started getting bad again.  In an effort to avoid a call to the postmaster or the 1-800 number, I wrote out a nice note on an index card, put it in a ziplock bag, and taped it to the top of my mailbox.  It said:  Please do not fold my mail.  Also please close the mailbox lid because leaving it open makes my mail wet.  This seemed to work.  The mail fit perfectly, it was dry, everything was wonderful.

Then about a week before Christmas, I went out to discover the mailbox lid wide open.  Now, I don’t know if you are aware, but this has been one of the wettest years I can remember in Oregon and this day had been one of those rainy days where the drops are a half an inch across and soak everything.  In the mailbox, my two bills and two Christmas cards were so wet, the letters on the cards were unreadable.  I took them in the house.  They dripped, literally dripped on the rugs!  One of the cards held photos.  They were destroyed.

That did it.  I was mad.  I had maintained some semblance of cool for years while my grumpy mailman went about his shitty day ruining my mail and acting like I was the asshole for bringing it up.  I went online and found the US Postal Service website.  It had a place for comments.  It did not have a place for complaints.  I went to the place for comments.  I said in the subject, I do not have a comment, I have a complaint.  I described what had happened to my mail.  I told them that the lid on the mailbox worked perfectly, that it wasn’t rusty, that it closed easily.  I then stated I had spoken to the local postmaster before and he had not been very helpful and so I was writing this message to whoever got the comments from the website.

Three weeks later I received an email response.  It informed me that my message had been forwarded to the local office and I would be receiving a call within 24 hours.  A week later, I had not received a call.  I replied to the email.  I told them I had received no call in 24 or 48 or even 72 hours, that it had been a week and that I had gotten no call.

The next day I was not home but my brother was here.  He said the post office called and would talk to the carrier about my complaint.  Good.  I was glad.  I had not had to speak to grumpy postmaster, but someone had the message.

Two days later, my mailbox was wide open.  The mail inside was a sopping ball of paper.  Literally, a ball.  I removed the mass and held it, dumbfounded.  I decided I would drive it to the post office and show the postmaster.  And that is what I did.  I went to the post office.  I waited in the very long line.  I approached the counter person (who was VERY nice by the way.  All the counter people were.  Maybe grumpy postmaster doesn’t affect them very much.) and showed them my mail lump.

“This is how my mail was in my box,” I said.  “I have called before, but it doesn’t seem to help.  So I thought maybe the person in charge could SEE what I am talking about.”

The counter person looked appalled.  “This is how the mail was in your mailbox?” he asked incredulously?  “Yes.  Exactly.  I took it out and brought it in just as it was in the mailbox.”

He went into the back.  He was gone several minutes. When he returned, he was carrying a camera.  “Can I take this and photograph it?”  Of course.  So he did.  He told me he would show the postmaster.  He took down my name and address.  I left.

It has been about a month since I did that.  My mail has been flat.  My mailbox has been closed.  My brother went out one day to try and retrieve his mail directly from the mailman because he was here and could do so.  My brother said the mailman snarled at him and would not give him the mail.  So Derek came in and got the key and got the mail.  Seems none of this has made the mailman any less grumpy.

Just now, before I wrote this, I was sitting here working on my book.  I saw the mailman out my window.  He was walking along carrying the mail.  He had a grumpy look on his face.  He does not seem very happy.  I don’t think he likes his job.  I don’t believe he left my mailbox open out of spite, I just don’t think he pays attention.  For whatever reason he is caught up in his own grumpiness and pain.  It’s too bad.  Today is actually sort of pretty.  The sun wants to come out, though the clouds are winning.  He’s wasting every minute he goes grumbling around.  I hope he finds what will make him happy, whether it’s becoming something other than a carrier or learning to enjoy what he does.  In any case, I just want him to close my mailbox.

Little Fish

I made this story up for my daughter one night when she wanted me to tell her a story. The next night, “Tell me the story about Little Fish.” Huh? I had thrown it together on the fly. But she remembered every detail so as I began telling it, she would fix it. Together we recreated it. Then every night I had to retell it. After a bit, it gained nuance and tone. I finally wrote it down. She still loves it.

Little Fish lived in the ocean. She wanted to swim up the stream where she had been born.

Little Fish decided it was time to go. She started up the stream.

But then she saw a fisherman fishing along the banks of the stream, so Little Fish went back to the ocean to wait for a while.

She waited and waited and decided again that it was time to go back up the stream.

Little Fish swam and swam, past the place where she had seen the fisherman.

But as she swam, she saw an eagle, high in the sky, looking for a fish to eat. So Little Fish went back to the ocean to wait for a while.

She waited and waited and decided again that it was time to go back up the stream.

Little Fish swam and swam, past the place where she had seen the fisherman, and past the place where she had seen the eagle high in the sky.

But as she swam, she saw a giant fish, lurking in the shadows along the riverbank, hoping to capture its next meal. So Little Fish went back to the ocean to wait for a while.

She waited and waited and decided again that it was time to go back up the stream.

Little Fish swam and swam, past the place where she had seen the fisherman, past the place where she had seen the eagle high in the sky, and past the place where she had seen the giant fish lurking in the shadows.

But as she swam, Little Fish saw a monstrous brown bear, reaching into the water, looking for its next meal. So Little Fish went back to the ocean to wait for a while.

She waited and waited and decided again that it was time to go back up the stream.

But every time Little Fish swam up that stream and back, she grew a little bit more. And she was no longer such a Little Fish, but a very Large Fish.

This time, Little Fish swam boldly past the place where she had seen the fisherman, past the place where she had seen the eagle high in the sky, past the place where she had seen the giant fish lurking in the shadows, and past the place where she had seen the monstrous bear.

And Little Fish made it safely to the top of the stream to the place she would now call home.

Racism is Racism is Racism is Racism

So Christmas morning, I got this lovely little story in my inbox from someone I work with.  It tells how she hung a bird feeder in her yard and the birds came and set up nests and pooped on everything so she couldn’t enjoy her yard anymore, so she kicked out the birds and got rid of the feeder and now everything is all wonderful again. She then likens the whole thing to undocumented immigrants and how wonderful life would be without them.

Fuck that.  And I got this shit on Christmas.  I couldn’t believe it.  So I wrote this in response:

I read the nice little informative story that is going around to the “good taxpaying American citizens.” What a friendly Christmas reminder how far from anything Christian anyone who believes this shit has become. Do you think Jesus would approve? I highly fucking doubt it. Jesus was like the undocumented worker, his parents searching for a barn in which to give birth. Or how about the story of Good King Wenceslas. Did you ever hear that one? You all probably hum the tune once or twice a Christmas season. I seriously doubt any of you know the words to the song and if you do, you clearly ignore them. You certainly do not know the true story behind the Good King. Good King Wenceslas was a king who took care of the poor. For this, his brother murdered him. How dare he share his riches with those who have less than he? But of course we don’t sing about that part; we sing about the good king who shared his riches with those less fortunate. We wouldn’t want to sing about the brother because he reminds us too much of ourselves.

How many of you, if actually faced with someone who needed something, would turn them away and say, “No. You didn’t fill out the proper paperwork so go starve. And by the way? We aren’t going to give you the medical care you need either. Who cares if your kid is dying of pneumonia because your kid is a little brown Mexican.” That’s what you are arguing for here. I don’t hear any of you screaming about the tax dollars that paid for me on the Oregon Health Plan when I had cancer (but of course, I am white and blonde so it’s okay to spend money on me). Your anger is displaced, and your argument is just plain stupid and wrong. You just want someone to blame because of your own unhappiness and it would be too hard to look in the mirror. You think shipping off some undocumented worker you never see is going to change anything for you? Get a clue-it won’t. Because the problem isn’t with the undocumented worker, but with this entire system. You sit there on your computer sending out your email in your warm house after eating your big, fat Christmas meal. How dare you? What on earth have you to complain about?

If you want to complain about how your tax dollars are spent, why not do something productive like helping to feed and clothe the immigrants who need it?  Do this instead of going shopping. Why don’t you lay your hatred at the feet of those who really cost you your tax dollars? Why aren’t you protesting this useless, lying war that costs us billions? Why aren’t you protesting the spending of billions on contractors to go and rape and kill Iraqis (oh but that’s okay too because they are Iraqi and don’t know any better. They’re just going to turn into a bunch of terrorists anyway so we might as well rape and kill their children).

Of course you won’t protest the real problems because it is easier for you to sit and point fingers at the Mexican family whose values are different than yours than it is for you to place the blame at the feet of capitalism or this administration or the Reagan administration, or hell, even the Eisenhower administration, whose actions are all more responsible for the financial state of this country than the minuscule dollars spent on a few undocumented immigrants. It is so much easier to blame them because you see that they live several families in a house and have lots of children and you don’t like that because it is DIFFERENT from you. You see that as somehow disgusting instead of seeing it for what it is: a better situation for people who had NOTHING thanks to their government and ours. But that would require too much thought on your part and thought is not part of the equation, now is it? It is easier to write some hateful fucking diatribe against these people on CHRISTMAS than to actually DO anything about it. Why don’t you admit what it really is that bothers you is that these people are different than you are? Why don’t you admit your racism instead of couching your hatred in some sort of moral outrage at how your tax dollars are spent? Be fucking honest, if nothing else.

I hung out a bird feeder last spring. The birds didn’t come and build nests and sing and poop like your happy little metaphor. Squirrels tore down the bird feeder and ate all the food. I’d say that is a more apropos metaphor for what is really going on.

Merry Fucking Christmas

The Path

Once upon a time there was a lovely little path that ran north and south along a cliff.  The cliff dropped to the edge of the ocean.  The path was covered with ashy, pea-sized pebbles.  The sky above the path connected the ocean to a grassland that grew between the path and the horizon.  The grassland swayed back and forth in the gusts and breezes that blew in off the sea, rhythmic and habitual, keeping time as it had for centuries.  The cliff’s edge scalloped in and out, rising up to one hundred feet above the waves.  The cliff walls were sheer and precarious, plunging deftly into the foam.

The space between the path and the cliff was close; too close for some.  Periodically, a rock wall appeared in this margin, moss bathing the stones in its ancient, curly tendrils.  The cliff below the places where the rock wall stood was particularly steep and rocky, cascading directly into the water below, with no sandy shoreline dividing the face and the water.

In places, hardy trees fought the wind and coarse soil to make a home for themselves along the path.  During winter, the trees were cold and skeletal.  In spring, blossoms burst forth with luster and strength, giving birth to lush foliage that lasted well into fall.

The path ran for miles.  It began randomly off the coast amongst several run-down cottages that overlooked the shoreline.  It concluded at the berth of a hill overlooking a quaint, little town.  Every year different townspeople took it upon themselves to care for the path.  Men would lug bags of gravel to fill the thin places.  Children would plant lupines and sweet peas.

Citizens of the town used the path for various purposes.  Some ran.  Others strolled.  One old woman walked down the path and back every Saturday, no matter the season, no matter the weather.  Couples sauntered hand in hand, sharing the sunset, bundling together against the breeze.

One such couple walked daily along the path, if the weather suited them.  Depending on their schedule, they would walk for a short half hour or spend the day walking to the path’s end and back.  Some days, the fellow held the woman close, her head laid gently on his shoulder, their stroll languid, contemplative.  Others, she would bounce ahead, while he followed more sedately behind.

Regular path walkers knew the couple.  The woman had walked the path since she was a small child.  She had developed a routine whereby she walked its entire length once a week on Sunday if the weather was cooperating.  The man was not much of an exerciser, but he loved to walk the path as well, and gradually adapted to her habit.  When she jogged, he would walk along behind, waiting until she returned, the two walking back together while she cooled off.  Or sometimes he would ride his bicycle, the handlebars unsteady on the gravel, as she ran beside him, her ponytail bouncing to the rhythm of her steps.

One elderly woman, Mrs.  Mettle, often followed them while they walked together, hand in hand.  She eavesdropped on their conversations, wishing her life was more like theirs.  She was not certain of their names, but she had taken to calling them Martin and Beth in her mind.  She felt the names suited them.  She knew the two were not married, but thought perhaps they were planning to do so soon.  Martin worked as a schoolteacher in town, teaching math.  Beth wrote children’s books and sold vegetables and flowers from her expansive garden.  Mrs.  Mettle also knew that Martin owned a rambling, delightful bungalow with an enormous front porch that overlooked the cliffs to the sea.  She longed to follow them into that bungalow and learn more about the life she was sure the two must lead.

Ah, if she could.  As is often the case, Mrs.  Mettle would soon discover that things were not as sanguine as the surface would have the world believe.  Although the two appeared connate, if Mrs. Mettle had spoken to one of the pair, each story would be quite different from the other’s, much more so than either of the two could contemplate.

Both of them had remained unattached for quite a long time before their inadvertent meeting in a bookstore one rainy morning.  Martin had a family who adored him, decent friends, and a good job that, although it did not pay a lot of money, allowed him enough for a comfortable living.  But he had been terribly lonely for a long time.  He had longed to share his life with another.  He dated women and had a few girlfriends, but nothing ever panned out.

Then he met Beth.  She was a wild, fearless, energetic woman who rearranged his every aspect.  Her life was so different from his; she had four dogs and three cats, her work was sporadic, and she often had a million things going at once, which overwhelmed his sure and steady single-mindedness.  But overall, she liked things mostly tidy like he did, she enjoyed art and theater, she cared about the environment, she loved to travel and relished studying other cultures, she had principles and lived her life accordingly.  And she was so beautiful.  Devastatingly so.  His heart ached each time he imagined her pristine complexion, the golden hair she wore casually pulled back from her face, her luminous eyes, whose color matched the ocean below his house.  He felt certain that he was truly in love.  Beth completely captivated him; she was perfect and everything he had ever dreamed of.

Martin knew he had never loved a woman as he loved Beth, and not long into their courtship, he realized he would ask her to marry him.  Even though they had only been going out for a few short months, he had no doubts that she was exactly what he wanted, and he began to plan how to convince her to accept a proposal so early in their relationship.

Beth was not as immediately enamored of Martin when she first met him.  She had a busy life and liked the way things were.  Although she was not in the market for a boyfriend, she welcomed the diversion.  She thought that even though his hair was thinning, he was attractive enough.  He wasn’t conventionally pretty, but she enjoyed the way his eyes crinkled at the edges like he always had a laugh waiting, and his calm and easy smile made her feel secure.  There was an allure in his manner that made her unusually active mind sedate.  He was frankly earnest, and this made her laugh.

Still, she spent their first few dates debating with herself whether she really wanted to go out with him.  He was much too interested in science fiction and sports cars to suit her tastes.  He insisted they watch all of the credits in the movies they watched, which drove her to distraction; she hadn’t the patience for it.  And even though he had worked at his job for a number of years, he complained incessantly about the place when the subject came up, but would take no steps to change things.  She wondered whether he was a pessimist in disguise.

Over time, though, these things seemed to matter little.  He was so attentive, she could not help but react positively.  He brought her bundles of flowers on a regular basis.  He took her to dinner at fine restaurants and refused to even consider allowing her to pay.  Beth had girlfriends who would have found this offensive, but Beth did not.  She actually thought it was quite sweet.  Martin wasn’t pushy or aggressive; he simply wanted to offer her a nice time.  And she liked that, rather a lot.  In time, she was certain she would grow to love this man.

Gradually, Beth stopped questioning her interest in Martin and allowed that she was utterly in love with him.  She accepted the characteristics of his that were different from her, to the point that she found them deeply endearing.  She noticed acutely his absences.  When they spent even one night apart, she found that she could not focus on anything.  When they were together, she felt complete, content.  It did not matter if they were on a date at a fancy restaurant or digging plants in the garden.  In any case, she wanted him there with her.

But Martin had begun to notice what he perceived as Beth’s flaws.  She was irritated by small things and this drove him nuts.  For instance, Beth would swear and complain during nearly every walk about the roots that poked into the path and tripped her when she was not paying close attention.  Why couldn’t she just pay closer attention?  The roots weren’t going anywhere and it ruined their walks to have her bitching about it all the time.

And she was shy.  He would take her to functions at his school and she would stand off to the side, avoiding conversations with anyone she did not know.  Why was this?  She said she felt uncomfortable talking to people with whom she was not acquainted.  But Martin knew them, so why couldn’t she just step up and start talking?  And if she would talk to them, she would become acquainted, thus eliminating the concern over not being so.  Why did she have to make such a production out of it?

Reality was sinking in:  his lover was human and this humanity scared him.  He did not want to feel the distress of heartbreak.  He did not want her to either.  But sometimes he could not stand how she was.  He was also concerned that their being together would eliminate who he had been without her, a perplexing problem for which he saw no solution.  He could not bear turning into one of those meager, simpering men who crouched at the call of their spouses, rushing off to do their “chores” with their tails between their legs.  Castrates, thought Martin.

He was terrified of arguments.  They did not have many, but each time one occurred, he was certain it represented the state of the relationship’s future.  The subjects of these arguments were most often trivial, and usually occurred when both were overly tired, not feeling well, or both.  Yet he was unable to shake the feeling that argument was their destiny.

With time, he began to ignore all of the things about Beth that had seemed so marvelous, and looked longingly into his past at the days he spent alone, wondering how those days had gotten away, forgetting how lonely he had been.  He blamed her for the time he was not spending by himself, for the choices he had made in letting things go too fast.  Oh, he blamed himself too, but he really felt that she was the problem because she was no longer what he had dreamed.  He began to wonder and worry again and again how to eliminate their courtship without the wretchedness that was guaranteed to ensue.

Of course, Martin could not tell Beth these things that bothered him.  To do so would solve nothing.  He did not want to hurt her feelings.  He hated conflict and speaking to her about such matters would bring considerable conflict.  And most of the time, he really felt he loved her.  He would take one look at her immaculate cheekbones, her delicate, slender neck, her impossibly long legs, and swoon.  Could he give this up?  Never.

One morning, Martin decided to take the day off to spend with Beth.  They went to breakfast at a lovely café.  They went back to Martin’s bungalow and made love in the late morning.  Afterwards, they walked hand in hand through town, to the bookstore, and ate lunch at the local delicatessen.  That night, they attended a play together, laughing over its silliness as they curled together in bed, nestled in one another’s arms.

Beth yawned in contentment as she snuggled deeper into Martin’s shoulder, falling drowsily into sleep.  She felt so safe with this man she adored.  Martin lay with his arms around Beth, wondering when their next struggle would develop.  He forced these thoughts from his mind.  He would not think of them.  He would not.  He held Beth close and fell determinedly to sleep.

The next morning, as Beth kissed Martin goodbye on his way to work, she asked if he would like to take a walk down the path on his lunch break.  Martin liked the idea.  He enjoyed getting away from the school during the day, and the path always worked to clear his head.  He readily agreed and Beth offered to pack a picnic lunch.

Later that morning, Beth held Martin’s arm as they strolled away from the town.  No other walkers were out.  It was early spring and winter still held sway over the temperature.  The air was cool and still, a mist hanging over the edge of the ocean, hovering lightly on the tranquil grassland.  They settled onto one of the rock walls overlooking the ocean and spread out their lunch.

Neither spoke as they finished their sandwiches and potato salad.  Beth brushed bread crumbs from Martin’s chin.  He flinched.  She patted his hand and asked if he was okay.  He smiled, but did not answer.  She turned and began to pack the cloth, utensils, and plastic cups back into the basket.  They stood and began to walk down the path.  Beth traveled slightly ahead of Martin, as was often the case where the path narrowed.  As she headed towards town, Beth stumbled over a root in the path.  She stopped and bent to rub her foot, complaining bitterly at the root’s existence, at the fact of its being exposed.

Thoughts flooded Martin’s mind, overwhelming him.  Beth was so exquisite.  In some respects, they got along marvelously.  But she was also frustratingly picky, had an obnoxiously quick temper, and he would never understand her sense of humor.  And most of all, he was losing himself.  He had no idea where his fundamental self had gone.  Who was Martin?  Who was this man who would spend his life with a woman who complained about roots?  He no longer knew.  If he broke up with her, he would break her heart.  If he stayed with her, he would smother.  He would disappear.  Martin would cease to exist.

Martin reached out.  He saw his hands, disembodied from his arms.  He saw his thumbs.  He saw each of his fingers.  He saw the two hands like the plaster hand impressions taken as a child, hanging in memorial on his mother’s kitchen wall.  Together his hands pushed Beth in the back, shoving her hard from the path into the water below.  He did not look at her.  He did not look over the edge.  He did not look down.  He kept his eyes up and walked back to town.