De-Bugged and Gutted

 

 

A girl and her (former) cars

We are driving down Freestate Parkway, or rather, Jon is driving and I am passenger-ing, away from Carmax in Laurel, Maryland.  Jon is wondering about lunch.

“What do you think? West End Grill?” he asks, turning slightly toward me from the wheel of our “denim” blue Ford Explorer.

I don’t answer. I can’t. Giant sad-emoji tears are cresting my lower lids and skittering down my cheeks. My throat is tighter than a welded lug nut. My chest begins to heave.

Jon jumps a little in his seat. His eyes widen.

“What’s wrong?” The SUV swerves a bit as he looks for a place to pull over. I am now guffawing in full abdominal sobs. I am not generally prone to tearful outbursts. He hadn’t seen this coming. Neither had I.

Carmax is a no-negotiation, this-is-the-dough-we-will-hand-over-for-your-automobile, multiplex where we have left my car, Betty Blue Bug, in our rearview mirror.

“Do you want to go buy back the car?” he asks, confused. We had talked about it. This was the plan.  We had one too many cars. We would get rid of my cute blue Volkswagen bug because we were tired of juggling positions in the driveway and the remaining two were the obvious, practical choices: the Explorer for the girls (dogs if you’re new here) and me,  and the Jaguar for Jon and, say, our date nights.

I shake my head no.

“Then...what?

“It’s just….” I inhale, then blurt, “The bug was the last thing I had!” I start sobbing all over again.

“What are you talking about?”

“It was…” More deep breathing, a bit of snot “…the last thing that was just mine!

So went our first marital automotive transaction. When I was single, I had bought the bug because it fulfilled my long-time ambition of having a dog car– a very well-worn, hairy, muddy well-suited for Ridgebacks, Jeep Liberty–and a cute car, in which I could arrive places free of mud and hair not belonging to me. It had taken me a lot of years to afford two cars, even if one was paid off.  But I had done it. The Jeep and the Volkswagen sat in my driveway as testimony to my achievement. Chalk up another she-woman, single girl accomplishment.  I hadn’t realized it during Jon’s and my personal car-talks, but selling that car was like handing off yet another shred of my disintegrating identity. Who was I, if not the person who could alone manage a single family home, a business, two cars, and as many large dogs?

The Jeep had gone belly up. We’d rented the house.  And now, a year into our marriage, I would drive a Ford Explorer and Jon would drive the Jag. The Explorer was actually the nicer vehicle. We’d upgraded the upholstery and the engine and nearly everything else. The seats and steering wheel are heated. Lillian and Delilah could occupy the entire rear section and I’d still have room for groceries, girlfriends, and 40-pound bags of dog food in the back seat. L & D had their own A/C controls and windows to slobber up. I could arrive places fairly clean, given the distance between the front seat and the dog-wagon.  It’s a good ride. I needed (and still do) a ground crew with flags and cones to park it properly, but I rarely went downtown anymore anyway. Still, the Explorer just wasn’t me. Or it wasn’t the me I’d spent 54 years constructing.

Dr. Kathy Gabriel, PHD, is a clinical psychologist.  She says very early on, we begin to develop ways to protect our own essence, that with which we’re born. Some people the shield is a career. For others it’s a relationship. We need those things to get through our lives, but we tend to over-identify with them.

“We mistake ourselves for the objects we attach ourselves to,” Dr. Gabriel tells me. “When those things are threatened or lost, we immediately try to reconstruct them.” That’s part of what causes the suffering.

So there I was, a very independent person, balancing all my “protections” (really not all that well, but I wasn’t in jail or anything) and then I get married and POOF.  My house, GONE.  My cute powder blue Volkswagen bug, GONE. Autonomy, GONE! Identity…GONE!

People say those who marry late in life may be “too set in their ways.” That’s a tad too diplomatic. We’re too set in our made-up, bricked up, mortared, slap-a-sold-sign on it, manufactured photo we have of ourselves. It’s real, but at the same time, it’s produced.  And sometimes it all changes, with or without our permission. We’re all glued up with bumper stickers declaring our beliefs, our loves, indeed ourselves, authentic or not. Ripping those off our fenders is jarring and painful.

Six weeks ago another chunk fell off. My sweet Delilah died. You’ve all heard it by now.  The loss has turned us sideways with grief.  I knew the vacancy would be loud and uncomfortable. What I’d forgotten was Lillian and Delilah were a cornerstone in my identity construction.  Lillian is a beautiful girl, and together, they were real head-turners.  The three of us entered a room as a chaotic, mischievous unit. We were a harmonious, well-muscled, love triangle. I couldn’t see one without thinking of the other.  “Where’s your sister?” had become my constant refrain.  And even though I am married to a loving and dedicated step-dad, they were still “my girls.” I managed them. I monitored food and exercise, administered medicines and took them for their regular vet visits. They looked to me for instruction and discipline more so than their beloved Papa Jon.  Jon has always joked that I was A-dog, Lilly was B, Delilah was C and he was D.

I couldn’t see one without the other.

Now “C” is gone. So goes my grip, my last bit of control, the category in which I still excelled, where I was still strong. One Ridgeback is so much easier, so much more ordinary than two. And that means the ‘ol superwoman folk-hero has to face yet another rehab. The worst part is the gutting, which, I hope, is nearly over. But please, someone, pass the botox.

Lilly is settling in to being a single dog, with two parents.  This morning she climbed into our bed and snuggled up to me. I scratched behind her ear for a minute before she threw her head onto Jon’s leg. She’s divvying herself up. She understands the new dynamic, the new triangle. She is so much smarter than I.

My husband is no dummy either. He drives the Explorer now. I dart about in a convertible Mini Cooper.  We both know that most times, Lillian is at the wheel.

 

 

DLOG: xoxo

We lost my sweet sister, Delilah on Friday.  Mom and Papa are pretty sad and mopey. I am not quite sure what to do with myself, except to lay on their feet and crowd them in their bed. Pope Francis says we will all be back together again sooner or later, so we can be glad for that.

Doing the DLOG is not that much fun with out my side-kick — there is no one to laugh at my jokes.  So I’m turning it back over to mom. You know how she is: blaaahdy blaaaah blaaaah,  so you’ll hear more from her once she gets it together. Snoozles and licks to you all – our whole family thanks you for your support during these very ruff past few months.  xoxo  #Cancersucks

DLOG: NOT TODAY, CANCER!

Delilah: I’m still on a break from the chemo bombs.

Lillian: So I can sniff her pooh as much as I want.

D: Mom’s been feeding me a whole bunch of chicken and gravy.

L: This preferential treatment is tyrannical. Someone please send help. Or steak.

D: Today I was feeling so good we went to the park and we got to see our friends Lizzie and Dottie. I actually broke into a TROT once or twice.

L&D:  NOT TODAY, CANCER!!!

For the time being, we’re taking over Mom’s blog. Now it’s a DLOG!

 

Lillian:  Hello DLOG lovers!

Delilah: We’re here to let you in on a bit of an upheaval, which MAY lead to some actual up-heaving, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Lillian: Ahem.  Well, I’ll just get straight to it. My sister has lymphoma.

Delilah:  I have crab-apple sized lumps under my jaw-bone.

Lillian: You look a little like a frog.

Delilah: I think I look like Maria Shriver.

Lillian:  I see the resemblance.

Delilah: On the additional up-side, I’ve been getting lots of treats and everyone is SUPER nice to me. Lillian even stopped stealing my dinner.

Lillian:  She’s a little skinny. And I didn’t want my super-modeling career upstaged.

Delilah: One thing I’ve learned is, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, one in every 15 dogs will get lymphoma.

Lillian: Good research, sister!

Delilah: That’s why I’m wearing my glasses.

Lillian: They make you  look smart.

Delilah: Why, thank you! The other thing we learned today is there is now a chemo drug that’s a pill.  It’s called LAVERDIA- CA1. So, I expect I’ll be getting it in a chunk of cheese, rather than intravenously.

Lilly: Wait. There are PILLS in the cheese?

D: Yep. Mom thinks I don’t know.  But she’s been feeding me Prednisone for a couple of weeks.  That’s why I’ve developed such a drinking (and peeing) problem and I pant so much and it’s been really hard to sit still.  Especially at night.

L: Oh. I thought you’d gotten into Mom’s bourbon.

D: Ha! Well, the steroid part’s over now. I start the chemo tonight with dinner.

Lilly: Well, thank goodness for the pills.  You don’t like needles much.

D: I don’t like ANYTHING at the vet much.  Which reminds me– I’d like to apologize to Dr. Pelura, Megan and Tammy at Davidsonville Veterinary Clinic for being a somewhat less-than-gracious guest over the past, ummm, decade or so.

Lilly: You might apologize in advance for the next time.

D: Yes, I’m sorry in advance for being a bit of a PIA.

Lilly: So will the chemo bomb cause you lose your ridge?

D: Supposedly we canines don’t USUALLY barf or lose our hair with the chemo, proving that we are the superior species.

Lilly: Most excellent! There’s already enough hair lying around here.

D: Anyway, we’re sorry to share this not-great news, but we thought if we, as a family, DLOGGED, it might help other dog-families in similar situations.

Lilly: So, Mom, Pappa, D and I will keep you in our loop! Feel free to share.

D & L:  Hugs and Lix!!

 

 

 

 

Mind’s Eye, Blind

“Cinnamon swirl, carrot, strawberry, caramel, chocolate, mint, mocha, or vanilla – pick four.”

I sat, wide-eyed, staring at my fiancé across the tiny table. We were about to get married. We were tasting cake.  It’s a lot less fun than it sounds.

“Um, cinnamon swirl… and – what were the choices?” I asked.

She sighed and I’m pretty sure, rolled her eyes. She was maybe in her late 20’s, and she ran the place. In a slightly harsher tone, she repeated the list, we made our picks and she turned on her heel toward the kitchen. I thought about Seinfeld’s soup Nazi. Clearly, we had violated some unwritten bakery etiquette.

The cupcake Nazi returned with our cake cubes. We straightened in our chairs, delicately picking at the samples, lest our knuckles be wrapped with a spatula.

“Now, we can do a texture, a fondant, – what are your colors?  Do you have a theme?  What’s your vision?” She rounded her lips like a big cherry lifesaver.

“Ummmmm. I just- I like teal but that doesn’t seem very appetizing on cake…”

The truth was, I didn’t have a theme, or a vision. I was 53 years old and never thought I’d get married, so I hadn’t thought about it much. Did I have to have a theme? Like Star Wars or Snow White or something? Can’t “We’re getting married!” be a theme?

We paid for my chai and Jon’s coffee, eyed some confection called “unicorn poop,” and trudged to the parking lot.

“I thought this was supposed to be fun,” I told Jon tearfully. I was an old bride, and clueless about cake. And themes. And dresses and playlists and seating charts and registries. I had three bridesmaids, all in their forties, who, it seemed to me, ought to be able to dress themselves. Our guests – I suspected, would figure out with whom they would like to sit without direction. Our only goals, from the outset, were inclusiveness and revelry. I did not think anyone needed to be choreographed.

At lunch one day I confessed to my friend, Lynn, that I didn’t really know what I wanted.

“It’s really not for you.” She smiled. “It’s for everyone else.”  I agreed. And I began to think more along those lines.

Several recent brides told me that I really would not enjoy my own reception.

“I didn’t see my husband the whole night!” complained one.

“I never ate, or had a drink,” said another.

“I had bruises on my arms from people pulling me around,” still another warned.

I braced for a very expensive mediocre time and hoped to avoid injury.

In the weeks that followed, our guest list blossomed. Relatives and friends were coming from England, California, Ohio and Kentucky.  People we’d only hoped might be there were hitting “accept” on our jonandterese.com website. We were flattered. I was terrified.

While the wedding dress people were less harsh than the confection queen, they still were very interested in my “vision.” The old storybook version of Cinderella has a picture of fairies arguing over what color Cinderella’s dress should be, resulting in a half pink, half blue number. That was as far as my gown fantasies had gotten. Forty-plus years later, “white” was pretty much all I could conjure. At one very foo- foo shop I stepped out of the dressing room and saw one of my bridesmaids,  Krishna, beaming. And so, it was decided.*  I didn’t truly love the gown until the seamstress got a look. As she tucked and pulled, I looked around her shop where several heavily beaded and laced gowns were bending their hangers. Mine was bling-less, with an elegant cut, helped along by a severe protein and vegetable diet. I marveled at our good taste. She thought we’d made a superior choice.

The wedding day zooming at us like a freight train, my groom and I spent the remaining weeks adjusting crowd numbers with oyster shuckers and crab catchers, and expanding our tent and table order. Jon and the groomsmen ran extra electrical lines to support the band and porta potties. We wrote and printed a detailed program and hosted Reverend Bill for dinner. We met with Doyle our friend and bartender, compiling an intimidating list of booze, beer and wine. I poured over wildflower orders for what would be a slightly chaotic DIY project. Each day, I eyed my neighbors’ feathery pampas grasses, which they’d promised me for centerpieces. Thankfully, the bridesmaids easily agreed on dresses and shoes,** despite some early raised eyebrows at my insistence on black. I worried that Lynn, who was hosting all three events at her beautiful waterfront home,(the rehearsal dinner, the reception and Sunday brunch) would grow wedding weary.

Even as we wrestled with every detail, I still didn’t have a mind’s eye.  It was all a jumble of jobs, hopefully ending with me somehow getting up the aisle, followed by some facsimile of a party.

Events began to unfold on Thursday with an almost in-law dinner. There were no incidents.

Our rehearsal was followed by a walk in the labyrinth on the church grounds. Jon and I had planned to walk it alone and were surprised and honored when we were joined by the Buckley family, bridesmaid, Jenn and her husband and groomsman, Craig. The crabs were sweet and the wine flowed freely afterwards.  Dan Haas, a local musician, played just right the sort of music. I had a fabulous time swooshing around in a splurged-upon dress, visiting with college friends, and cousins and watching a few become uncharacteristically overserved.

Saturday began with a 5:30am run with Jenn, which did a lot to settle my nerves. Then we ran the dogs which settled them as well.  A cleaned-up Jenn, along with Claire and Krishna showed up on queue with breakfast – and the hair and make- up frenzy began. All of the sudden it was time to get dressed.  Everything was coming together. I was oddly calm.

Jon and I had our “first look” photos taken at home along with some family shots. He looked handsome and happy in a plain black tux, a pocket square I’d picked out and the boutonniere we’d fashioned from a black calla lily and a rose.

I rode to the church with Claire and her husband Chris, who kept me hidden from the 200 guests, swarming the doors. As I stood outside, holding my brother’s arm, waiting for Trumpet Voluntary (Purcell) to begin, I marveled at the day. The flowers were stunning, the bridesmaids gorgeous, Lillian and Delilah, decked out in sparkly collars and haute black leashes, were behaving like perfect attend-dogs.

Because Jon was raised Quaker our ceremony included an element of “Meeting for Worship” in which everyone is invited to speak.  I’d pictured a silent, confused and bored congregation. But a few Quakers and non, spoke warm and beautiful words, sweetly bringing laughter and of course a few tears. Best of all, when the “meeting” closed with the sign of peace, Jon and I lapped the entire church. I worried that it took too long, but I loved seeing everyone close up in that moment.

Our guests gathered on the lawn for a 200 -person team photo, everyone wearing victory medals Jon had designed.  Then we were swept away to a nearby marina, where a chartered boat waited to take the bridal party to Lynn’s. It was one part of the plan I’d requested, but my “vision” had still been cloudy… how would I navigate getting onboard in my dress and shoes? What if it was windy? Would we all arrive with our over-goo’d and sprayed hair standing skyward?

We pulled away from the dock, the sun gleaming on the white deck and our rhinestone shoes. I looked around the bay where I’d spent countless hours kayaking, SUP boarding and swimming. Now my new husband and I were being motored across those same waters toward all of our friends and family.

As we rounded the point, the billowing tent and lawn party came into view.  Guests milled about with snacks and cocktails in hand as the band played its first set. It looked like a scene from movie. I scanned the crowd for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. But no, those were our friends. This was indeed, our party.

I snapped a photo in my mind. Finally, my vision. And I understood why I didn’t have one until that moment. It was simply more grand, more elegant and more perfect than I could have possibly imagined.

cake top with bobblehead

*please see earlier blog: Say Stress to the Dress 

      **please see earlier blog: Big Box Bridal

Bubble Wrap for the Soul

I didn’t cry until I heard his voice.

On my way to the gym in the early morning darkness, even NPR couldn’t make him sound better. How dare he try to sound conciliatory. Just one more artless con, I thought, spilling tears so fat I heard them splat onto my spandex.

I bumbled through body pump class, staring straight ahead, knowing that any number of people in the room had colored in a dot next to the name of an international joke. I recalled the November, 2004 cover of London’s Daily Mirror, which featured a picture of George W Bush and the headline, “How Could 59,054,087 people be so dumb?”

The only folks I could see benefitting from this election are the cast and crew from Saturday Night Live, but I’m not sure Alec Baldwin really wanted a fulltime gig.

At Starbucks, I ran into my friend, Susan. We hugged and cried in the parking lot then walked in together. I pulled my jacket around me tighter. I wished I had on baggier clothes. Lots of them. Because now it’s apparently okay to leer at women and make disgusting remarks. It’s so okay, that people elected a man clearly prone to this behavior, as their president.  I looked at the floor and Susan and bags of coffee. She talked about her daughters. I thought about a moment earlier in the campaign when I’d seen a little girl watching him speak, and I’d wanted to cover her ears.

Driving home though, I was forced to note traffic milling along at its normal pace.  Buildings still stood, the sun was rising. Indeed, the heavy curtain at the temple of Jerusalem had not torn. America didn’t seem broken… at least the Edgewater part of it. But I felt broken. Or at least soundly kicked.

Back home the girls hovered, nosing at my hands and leaning into my legs. I’m amazed at how they understand when I’m sad and do their best to bubble wrap my shriveled little soul.

My friend Jenn had asked Lillian and me to pay a visit to their neighbor, Andy, who was now in Hospice. She and her husband Craig had helped him out – cleaning up his yard and keeping an eye out – as his disease claimed more and more of his mobility.

I did not feel like visiting with strangers, but I’d said I’d go, so I bathed both girls and headed to Pasadena.

“Oh look who’s here!” one of the nurses called out, gleefully.

God, who could be happy today?

“Our regular therapy dog is out this week. People will be so glad to see you!”

Normally there are only a few patients well enough to visit, but there were many, along with their dog-loving visitors. We spent some time with Andy, who petted Lilly, gave her a treat and called her “pretty.” We traveled the halls, bestowing licks and love and accepting the compliments of sick and weary strangers with sloppy, happy grace. Lillian does not mind admiring glances. We stopped back in on Andy before we left.

On the way home we went to Jon’s office where both Lillian and Delilah frolicked from room to room, putting on a great show of irreverence and misbehavior. The girls obviously hadn’t listened to NPR that morning, and had ignored Chuck Todd the night before. They were soft, furry, exploding swirls of pure joy.

Later that same evening, I attended a fundraiser, dreadfully certain that I would be surrounded by victorious Trumpettes. But two women, for no apparent reason, immediately befriended me, and I had quite a nice time getting to know them and about the cause: FoodLink, which at that moment needed emergency cash to buy meals and diapers for local families.  I offered them free writing services.

The next morning, I checked to see if the President-elect had become bored with his national prank. No luck. I summoned my seeped energy to attend a veterans’ event hosted at the Washington Post. My friend Gina had invited me to watch what turned out to be an interesting series of interviews. She bought me lunch after. And she gave me some great tips and leads to find a few new clients. She was sad too, but still generous, kind and helpful.

Sometime that afternoon, I got texts from Jenn and Craig. Andy had passed away. They both thanked me for visiting. He’d mentioned us. It seemed a bright moment for him. We’d done a good thing.

The fog was beginning to lift.

I appreciate President Obama’s calls for unity. I’m humbled by Michelle Obama’s ability to politely host her incoming replacement. But I’m not ready. Not yet. Because I cannot unite with hate, exclusion and bigotry. I don’t embrace narcissism. I’m still shaking off the shell-shock  -the realization that half of this country threw its support behind an immature bully, who has so little regard for others.

But the last 48 hours have reminded me:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Each act that attempts to tear us down must be met with a powerful thrust of thoughtfulness. Every bruising blow must be mended by the sweet salve of kindness.  Insults- paid forward with hugs and dog kisses.

That is how we will fight.  We will put on our furry bubble wrap and hold on to our truths and our values. We can run happily from room to room and bring joy to others.  That is how we will fight and how, in the end, we will win.

 

girls-with-flowers

Going With Our Guts

“Ohhhhh. I don’t think so. Noooo. I just don’t think these dogs are cut out for that sort of thing,” said the breeder.

It’s early in 2011 and I’m on the phone explaining to the woman at South Fork Kennels, in Idaho, my intentions.

“Well, my hope is for both to be therapy dogs. I think people would really enjoy seeing Ridgebacks – they’re just so different from Labs or Goldens.”

“You mean they would visit – like go inside places like hospitals?” she asked.

“Well, yes, to cheer people up.”

“You’ve had a Ridgeback before, right?”

“Yep.”

“So you know what you’re dealing with.”

“Absolutely.”

I hung up. And then, I began to doubt my gut.

My friend Claire and I picked the girls up at BWI’s Cargo area, late on a January evening. We walked into a back room where they were sound asleep in their travel crate, all woven together, so it was hard to tell one from the other. Even the loading dock crew was smitten. They were beautiful. They were made to be shared.

So we went to school. First we attended PETCO’s basic, four-week training for puppies, where we practiced heeling and sits and stays, all the while surrounded by bags of dog food, treats and toys. We did more than one Kramer-like slide into a well-stocked barrel of pig’s ears. Sometimes store customers would gather to watch. Once a guy yelled out to me, “You got TWO Ridgebacks? You’re crazy! We had one – you know they won’t go outside in the rain!”

“Yes, I know. Luckily they have big bladders.”

“And ours learned how to open our kitchen cabinets!”

“No one ever called ‘em stupid, ” I answered.

I went home, and pulled on all the knobs.

We continued our education in Davidsonville, Maryland, enrolling in the beginner AKC program. After six weeks, we graduated, Delilah first in the class. Lillian was third. Of three. Delilah gloated. I wondered if Lillian, being the more statuesque of the pair, wouldn’t be better to pursue a career as a super model. But even then, she would have to hold still.

We were then permitted to begin intermediate training where we work, still, mostly on our manners. We’ve attended actual therapy dog classes. We’ve taken therapy dog tests. We’ve approached random people in wheelchairs. We’ve goaded friends, neighbors and complete strangers into helping us train. We’ve been welcomed. We’ve been kicked out. We’ve been cheered on. We’ve been doubted. We’ve licked little ears and stepped on big toes. We’ve walked amongst hundreds of Annapolis tourists testing our skills with people, and spent countless hours at dog parks, testing our skills with other dogs.

I celebrated each success. I despaired at every misstep. I wondered how it might be that my sweet dogs who love people might not pass a test proving that they are sweet dogs who love people. I was told to train each dog alone, doubling my training time, and causing me to worry during Delilah’s hour, that Lillian might chew a hole in the roof. Then during Lillian’s hour I grew anxious over Delilah’s tendency, when left alone, to wail like she was being stabbed. I thought they might never stop devouring their own beds, and wondered how that trend might manifest in a health care setting. I pondered how many containers of applesauce would go missing before my dogs would be kicked out, and if Lillian-the-Gooser could resist an open hospital gown. I had no idea of their bed-side manner, except that they preferred to be bed-top.

Nearly three years, and many nay-saying conversations later, Lilly and I stood, exercised, bathed and ready to visit some folks at Hospice of the Chesapeake. (Delilah had opted out of the therapy thing. She seemed to rather play “Dawn” to Lillian’s “Tony Orlando.”) I was excited. Lilly is always excited. We drove to the inpatient care facility, and parked out front. It, of course, was a quiet place. We were not, generally, a quiet pair. We rang the bell and walked in, Lilly hoovering about. A nurse gestured, “Rooms 1, 2 and 3 will be okay.”

Our first patient, I’ll call “Ruthie”, was a woman who seemed to float in and out of reality. Maybe she wouldn’t notice if Lilly did a cartwheel or whatever. This woman was a holler-er.

“I used to have a dooooooowwwwg!” she hollered.

“What kind of dog?” I asked.

“My huuuuuuuuusband’s dooooooooooowgs!”

I stood back, wondering if Lilly would be upset by the hollering.

“Would you like to pet my dog?” I hesitated, unsure of the whole situation. But Lilly stepped forward and dropped her head in Ruthie’s lap. And wagged.

“That’s a big dowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwg!” Ruthie yelled.

“Yes, she is.”

In the next room, “Charles” wasn’t able to speak much but his visitor told us “Charles” owned a Golden Retriever. Again, I was apprehensive. Goldens are gentle and non-intrusive. The man reached a very thin arm over side of the bed and Lilly put her head under his hand. He patted. Then, ever so Golden-like, she gently set her head in his lap. And she wagged. Luckily she reserved her signature the full -face scour for the visiting gentleman, who laughed, wiped his face and said, simply, “I have been loved.”

Our last visit was with Don, who was up and about, and we chatted about his former life as a horseman and his various arts and crafts projects which dotted the room. Don had a Doberman. He showed us a picture of his younger self with his handsome charge, then sat on the side of his bed and grabbed Lilly’s head, playfully rough housing. More wagging, and she was careful not to entangle herself in his oxygen tubing.

“I would like you two to come back,” said Don. Can you?”

I was taught that the average Hospice patient is only there for about two weeks. We are scheduled to visit every other week. I rather assumed most patients, we’d never see again. I pushed the thought from my head. Don seemed pretty chipper. I told him we’d do our best.

Back in the car, I was relieved. Lilly was nonplussed. There had been no miracles. But there had been no incidents either. It was difficult to measure success. Stupidly, I’d not realized that visits would be so quick, that the very sick aren’t up for a lot of chit-chat. What I thought would be moments of cheer, were really seconds. But if you’re packing up for your next life, seconds must count in this one, right? One thing was becoming clear. I, the human, I was over-thinking. Compassion isn’t learned behavior nor is it acted out. As we’d entered each room, Lillian just went with her gut. Maybe my dog was teaching me to go with mine.

Lilly hospice

That Girl

I knew eventually someone would complain.

The first sign of Spring had erupted even though it was still ungodly cold: Nine million or so budding athletes began buzzing the baseball diamonds of Loch Haven park.

Sometimes things just boil down to a turf war between those who have given birth to their charges and those of us who have not. Having not, mine were on leashes, as we made our way into one of the fields. There was just one practice going on, and I blocked the escape routes of ours so the girls wouldn’t be tempted to interfere in theirs.

I bent to unclip their leashes.

“Uh ma’am, we’d like to ask you not to do that.”

I looked up to see two um, gentlemen wearing plaid flannel shirts. Definitely extra -large flannel shirts.

“Don’t run your dogs on the fields. We come out here and work on these things to make ‘em nice for the kids to play on them and your dogs tear them up.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“We’re asking you nicely.”

“But who are you? Are you with the county?”

“The dogs dig.” He refused to identify himself. “We’re trying to ask you nicely.”

It didn’t feel nice. And it didn’t seem like anyone was taking care of the fields.

“There are piles of deer poop in there. And I don’t let my dogs dig. They just run. And I clean up after them,” I said gesturing to my trusty treat and pooh bag holder, strapped sideways across my body.

“YOU’RE AN IDIOT,” the fattest one muttered.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside Hulk’s brain when he’s becoming Hulk, I can tell you. I didn’t turn green but there were definitely smoke and lightening zots shooting between my ears.

“WHO ARE YOU WITH?” I demanded, wondering why I’d not trained my sweet girls to tear a man’s crotch out.

“We are just parents who come out here to work on the fields.”

Clearly, they were not doing a very good job.

“You know,” the not-as-fat one said, as if he were giving me a tip on a hot stock, “Some of the parents take pictures of your license plate if they see you out here with a dog.”

“WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO WITH THOSE?” I said, laughing.

These were not parents. They were stalkers.

“Well, uh…”

Unwilling to be accosted by the entire Friends of Flannel brigade, I heeled the girls and steamed off to my car. We haven’t been back. We are trying to cooperate.

A few weeks later my friends, Susan and Paul, who have twice birthed children and who also have a dog, invited me to Sands Road park, where there is nothing but grass and the river. It is all perfection for the owners of big dogs who like to run. Lillian, Delilah and Brie galloped and rolled and swam and played and no one was happier to be introduced to this gem than I.

I explained my glee to Paul as we walked back toward the park entrance.

“Yeah, it’s nice, but you know there’s talk of putting up some baseball diamonds in here,” Paul said.

“WHAT?”

“Well, if they can come up with the money…”

“NOOOOOOO. How many baseball diamonds does the county need? Where can you go run a dog without worrying about traffic? Do you know some big fat REDNECK parents kicked me out of Loch Haven park a few weeks ago because…”

Paul looked at me.

“Ohhh,” he said with a slight grin, “You’re THAT girl.”

“You mean you’re one of THEM?”

“Y- well I heard the story. Did they threaten to take pictures of your car?”

“YES, the weird, stalky fat people DID threaten to take pictures of my car.”

I felt like the slutty girl in high school who didn’t know everyone knew.

“I just want somewhere to run my dogs, Paul.”

“Well I agree with you, I am always looking for places to run Brie.”

So, he was not one of them. Not really. However, I would forever be “THAT GIRL”.

The Squeeze

I’m in Nordstrom looking like I’ve been tarred and dog-haired.

“Can I help you?”  “….find a shower somewhere?”  I finish the sentence in my head.

“I’m good,” I mumble, keeping my baseball cap- covered head low, like that might disguise my odor. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon.  At seven that morning I’d run 5.7 miles with two two-footed girlfriends, getting home just in time to throw my four- footed pals into the floppy roofed Jeep and head to the vet for their 9am appointment.

Lillian doesn’t mind Dr. P too much.  Delilah is more skeptical about him. He rocks my doggie world.

Delilah went first. I thought she would be a little skittish. She was satanic. It took three of us to hold her down for shots.  After that, apparently Dr. P had chosen some sort of medieval tool to trim her nails, as she was literally shrieking. I looked at his hands more closely. He had not. It was 9:15. Why didn’t they sell cocktails here?

 Lilly was easier.  Dogs live in the moment.  We left the vet at 9:23. By 9:23:01 they were happy again. I was shell shocked. And caked with dog hair.

We went to the dog park, where a recent layer of snow had created more mud, which mixed into a tacky paste with the hair and my now 8- hour- old sweat.  Then we went to Nordstrom.  The girls stayed in the car.

“You’re making your second pass, so you clearly need some assistance,” said the helpy, perfectly well put together and handsome menswear salesman.  No. Consultant.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, keeping my distance, “I am going on a third date tonight. Third.”  I held up three gritty fingers for emphasis.

“And you’re getting him something?”

“Well, that’s just it. It’s his birthday.”

“Oh yeah, you gotta get him something.”

“I know. I ordered a stuffed bulldog online but it hasn’t arrived yet and it’s tonight.”

“A stuffed bulldog?”

“Well, he – yes.”

He camouflaged an involuntary eye roll.

“What’s your price range?”

“It’s only our third date!”

He led me dutifully from table to table.  He showed me a plaid number.

“Straight guys wear that?” 

“Well, what does he like?”

“Me, I guess.”

He ever so subtly glanced below my gaze.  I kicked a mud crumb under the table.  I bought a tie.

The make-up department girls looked at me wistfully as I bolted out of the store. No. Out of the experience.

I went home, and pulled into the driveway as the UPS guy arrived and handed me the bulldog.  It would now be a tie-wearing bulldog.

A shower and some shaving later, we were at dinner, after which, I presented the over-dressed dog.

He complimented the tie and gave the dog a squeeze.   The waiter brought us a dessert to share.  He (the date, not the waiter) set the tie aside.  He continued to occasionally pick up the dog, looking into its poofy, smushed -up little face.

Being a chronic dog-squeezer myself, I find this promising.  

    
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This edition dedicated to Gates, in honor of a life well lived in support of one of our nation’s great “hospitalitans.”