Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

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Searching

September 27, 2011

I talk a lot, but I don’t say much.  I am actually pretty shy.  Keeping secrets is a shortcoming.  Not secrets about you, secrets about myself.  Many people, even those closest to me, do not know very much about me.  They are often surprised to find out even seemingly ordinary things about me.  But there are people, those I know and those I have never met personally, who tell me my secrets.  These short stories are about some of those people.

“Honey, what are you going to do about your marriage?”

“My marriage?”

“I could see you’re not happy.  You’re too young to be unhappy.”

Was it that obvious?  He was quiet.  He didn’t talk very much during our visit up east, to me or anyone else.

“I am not making any decisions right now.”

“Maybe you should get some counseling.”

She only stands shoulder high, but her presence is undeniable.  When she smiles her teeth mash together as she crinkles her nose.  It was impossible to avoid eye contact when she talks.  She is my aunt.

Memphis had a tough start to life.  He was aggressive, and I could not control him.  I came very close to putting him to rest.  When he was only a few months old, he would go from sleeping peacefully in my lap to violently attaching the other dogs, Boston in particular.

To manage his behavior and to keep the other dogs safe, I strategically placed baby gates, crates and air horns throughout the house.  At the time, trying to manage the situation was all I could do, while I uncovered the cause of the behavior and to modify it.  I used special collars and leashes, changed his food, gave him supplements and adhered to strict rules and routines.  I would not let any of the other dogs stare at him; they learned to look away and not make eye contact.  Things improved, but there were still fights.

When Memphis would get into a fight, my first concern was always safety.  I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.  My second concern was all of the dogs’ emotional states.  I worried that Memphis was insane and that it was affecting the other dogs.  They all learned to be cautious around him, but were they scared and unhappy too?

My mother liked to play bingo.  This was the only time she ever went to church.  Every Tuesday, she would ask one of us in the house to go with her.  The answer was always no, but she went anyway.   Bingo was for old people, it couldn’t be much fun. One week she couldn’t drive, I don’t remember why; but I agreed to take her.  I was nervous, not knowing what to expect.  When we arrived at the church, we stood in line, waiting for the doors to open.  It was important to get there early, so she could get her “usual seat.”  The desk in the hall had piles of bingo cards on it.  People bought a hundred of them.  My mother got her cards, and I began to sweat.  “I’m with her,” I said.  “I’m just going to watch.”

I followed my mother down the long hall into a huge room full of tables and chairs.  We sat down in her usual spot.  She spread out some of her cards.  They were made of newsprint, so she took some tape out of her bag and taped them to the table.  In her bag was also two plastic bottles of ink, a bright red wand with a magnet in it, lots of red translucent markers, and cash.  She took one of the bottles of ink and dabbed the free, center square of the nine cards in front of her, then placed the bottle down.  She was ready.

Memphis had not gotten into a fight in almost four months.  Then one night, Memphis and I were sleeping and I rolled over onto him and woke him.  He instantly stood up on the bed, looked me straight in the eyes and froze.  I was sure he was going to kill me, so I was quietly making a plan to defend myself.  Then, just as suddenly as he’d stood, he looked away, shook, jumped down off the bed, circled a few times, then got back on the bed, laid down and went back to sleep.  He shook it off and was now sleeping! I could not close my eyes.  This was the moment when I knew he was better, this was the moment I saw him look away.

“N32 . . . B14 . . . G50.” The man calling the numbers was on a stage with a round basket next to him, and a large sign with numbers and letters above him.  The sign would light up each time he spoke.  “B1!”  Everyone in the room swiped their bottles down the B column and dabbed the corresponding square on their bingo cards.  No one spoke.  Their gaze was on the cards and their ears alert for one word.

“Only a few people know this: my husband is a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for three years.  It was hard for him to stop drinking, but he did it.  We are still adjusting to our new life.”

“Three years is a long time, honey.”  She said as she leaned in closer.

I wanted to tell my aunt everything but I couldn’t.

“I know, but right now he is focused on his work and staying sober.  I can wait.”

“Are you getting help, have you gone to meetings?  They really do help.”

How does she know about meetings? Look away, look away!

“Ya I go to meetings, we both do.  We are working on it.”

“That’s good…”  I don’t remember what she said next.  I was trying to hide my pain and fight the tears.

Finally, I said,  “when my parents had their 50th anniversary party, my mother said, ‘Fifty years, and they weren’t all happy.’  Well, how do I know if these are the years that aren’t so happy?”

“You know if you have a good foundation.  You have to be good to each other; but remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

BINGO!

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Hope

July 31, 2011

“I think you should get her thyroid checked.”

“Her what?”

“Her thyroid.  Goldens are not supposed to be this shy.  She may be hypothyroid.”

That conversation happened at a dog-training center.  We were talking about Virginia, when she was about two years old.  I was taking a class to prepare her for her Canine Good Citizen Certificate (CGC).  She did not approach strangers, she was uncomfortable when anyone pet her, and no one was allowed to touch her feet.  I just accepted that she was shy; I did not imagine it could be the result of a medical condition.  After a few weeks of have having every person I saw pet her, touch her feet, and give her a treat, I made a vet appointment.  Virginia learned to tolerate the attention, but was still never as accepting as a Golden Retriever should be.

“Who told you to get her thyroid checked?”

“Natalie.”

“The dog trainer?  Oh, . . . there is no need to test her thyroid.  If she had a thyroid problem, her coat would be thinner she would have dry skin, and be overweight.  Virginia is healthy.  She is just shy.  Some dogs are shy, even Golden Retrievers.”

Most people think I am outgoing, because I talk a lot and I have no trouble talking to strangers.  I am equally comfortable instructing a small group of adults and a gymnasium full of elementary students.  I do, however, have a problem making friends and forming long-term relationships.  I have only a few close friends.  Typically, I only contact them when things are going well.  When I hit a rough patch, I keep to myself.  The friends who know me best know exactly how long to leave me alone, until they call or visit to bring me back to life.

When I met Bob, we were working together in Charleston, South Carolina.  The company was recruiting people from all over the country to build a “World Class Manufacturing Plant.”  The first time he saw me, he told his friend, “Now, that’s trouble.”  At the time, I was married to someone else, so I said no the first time he asked me out.  The next time he asked, I said yes.  My husband was still living in Indiana, and it was becoming clear he was not planning on moving.  I was also realizing that I ran away from him, as much as I went to a new job.  When it came to fight or flight, I always chose flight.

Not long after that first date with Bob, my life changed dramatically.  I divorced my husband, moved in with Bob, got laid off from work, found a new job, and moved to Nashville.  During the time we were separated, Bob held our relationship together.  On several occasions, I said I could not handle a long-distance relationship and I wanted him to let me go.  He is a fighter.  He fought to keep his job and me.

Bob was the last one out of the building, when the plant closed 18 months later.  He got a job with the new owners in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and convinced me to come with him.  We got married 5 months later.  Bob and I stayed in Wisconsin from New Year’s Day to Valentine’s Day three years later, before moving to the Chattanooga area to build a manufacturing business.  We were working together again and I was happy, really happy, for 12 years.

Virginia did not pass her CGC; she failed, not on the touching tests, but on the separation test.  She did not like being left with Natalie for three minutes without me.  She pulled, barked and lunged on the leash to get to me across the training building.  I was not upset we failed; she wanted to be with me, and that meant more to me than a certificate.  After the test, Natalie recommended Virginia and I take her obedience class, saying that it would help socialize her.  So we did.

On the first night of class, a small, mixed breed dog leaned into her and growled.  Virginia fled under a table.  Then the dog blocked the entry into the training ring.  The dog’s owner did nothing to manage his dog, so I picked up Virginia and carried her over the threshold.

“Don’t pick her up.”

“She was afraid.”

Natalie said, “Put her down.  She needs to learn how to behave around other dogs.”

I thought, “What are you correcting me for.  The owner of the other dog did nothing when his dog chased her away.  That dog and owner need to learn how to behave around other dogs.  In the meantime, I am going to protect Virginia.”

I later learned that picking her up was the wrong thing to do, but for a different reason.  Picking a dog up like that makes the dog and the person the target for attack.  That did not happen.  Virginia was safe, which was all that mattered.  I have been teased and made fun of my whole life, and there were many times when I wished someone would pick me up and carry me to safety.  I didn’t pick her up anymore, but I did get her out of harm’s way every time she was threatened.

Three years ago, life took another turn.  The owner of Bob’s business sold it to some bankers.  The workplace was becoming hostile and he did not want me to get hurt; so Bob fired me.  For the first time, Bob started losing his grip on his work and his life.  So, Bob stopped drinking.  He withdrew into his work and his program.

While he was holding on to his job and his sobriety, I was holding on to him.  Then Virginia got cancer and died.   I felt so alone, I wanted to jump into the grave with her.  I cried for months.  I still cry.  Many of my friends believe I am having such a hard time with Virginia’s death, because I am mourning two losses: Virginia and my marriage.  Now my mother is dead.

Friends are asking how long I will stay with Bob.  He is hardly ever home and when he is, he barely talks to me.  He spends all of his time at work or at meetings.  They say, “It’s been 3 years of grief and it may be time to move on.”

They are right.  It is time to move on, I need to quit grieving not my marriage.  All my life, I have run away from my problems.  This time I want to stay.

I am feeling better.  Wisconsin is beginning to fill the space that Virginia once held.  She has brought play and joy back into the house, into my life.  I don’t feel alone anymore.  My mother is with me all the time now.  We are no longer separated by time and distance.  Bob is working hard to make a good life for us.  What I need to do is stop pulling against the leash.  He can’t pick me up; but if I wait, he will come to me.  Barking and lunging will not bring him closer.  I am moving on.  I am done grieving for my past, and I am staying right here.  This time, I will not flee.  I will fight.

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Leap

June 2, 2011

I should not have been surprised when my 20-week-old puppy, Wisconsin, leaped off the dock at a recent dock diving event.  But I was, thrilled!

It was here, at this dock that I saw the Golden Retriever I wanted; she was dragging her owners across the yard to the pool.  This was a small, light colored Golden, with good structure.  I thought she was a puppy, but found out she was over a year old. I was looking for a small Golden and was told that this breeder was very responsible, cleared their dogs for hips, shoulders and eyes and did not breed with dogs that had cancer in their blood line.  Wisconsin is from this breeder.

Virginia was also good at dock diving.  She learned to jump off the diving board at my parents’ house.  She would run to the end of the board and dive into the deep end of the pool after her football.  After grabbing it in the water, she’d bring it to the stairs in the shallow end, step out of the pool, and run back to the diving board to do it again.  When we traveled to dog events with dock diving, she would drag me to the pool and jump in before I could find something to throw to her.

During my mother’s wake, I did not stand with my brothers, my sister and my father.  I stood outside the door and greeted people as they came in.  I’d moved away ages ago and most of the visitors had not seen me in a long time.  When they saw me, some acted as if they had seen a ghost.  They thought I looked exactly like my mother.  I told them I sometimes look in the mirror and see my mother.  In fact, this past spring someone took my picture and wondered where my facial expressions came from.  He looked at the image on the camera and then looked at me.  It was not the same person.  He showed me the picture, and it was my mother.

At the end of the wake, when it was about time to go home, my sister, Maryann, and I kneeled at my mother’s coffin and talked to her.  I reached out to touch her and her arm was hard.  I was surprised.  My sister had already experienced this and said that this was not her.  She turned and put her hand on my chest and said, “Mom is in there.”  Then, Maryann put her hand on her own chest and said, “Mom is in here.”  According to her, our mother was not in that hard, cold, lifeless body, but was in us.

Although we have never talked about it, I don’t believe that my sister meant it literally.  I think she was telling me that our mother was in our hearts and in our memories.  Perhaps she’s right.  However, the numbness I felt in the first few months of grieving has faded, and I can now begin to feel my mother in me, in a very literal sense.  I can feel her arthritis in my fingers and toes, and I crave sugar the way a diabetic does.

Just yesterday, Maryann reminded me that my medical history is repeating our mother’s.  I already knew this–every time something was wrong with me, I consulted with my mother before calling a doctor.  What my sister does not know is that Mom and I both have also had long battles with depression.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, also had arthritis and diabetes.  She died when she was 65.  I have only brief memories of her, twiddling her thumbs, putting milk and cold water into her tea, and brushing the knots out of my hair one hot summer day at the kitchen table.

“She brushed your hair? No, she would not have done that.”  This memory of my grandmother brushing my hair is so clear, but my mother said no.  We had this conversation a few years ago.  When I asked why not, she was vague.

“My mother,” she said, “was not affectionate. She did not take care of her grandchildren, not even brush their hair.”

I remember the night my grandmother died.  The phone rang late at night, and after all of us kids heard the news, we sat at the kitchen table with my mother as she cried over a cold cup of tea.

I have often wondered where souls go when someone dies.  I believe people have souls, and they go somewhere.  Is it possible that souls leap from one body to another?  Did my mother embody the soul of my grandmother?  Is it possible that I have inherited the soul of my mother, my grandmother and possibly many more generations?  If so, what do I do with this collective soul during my lifetime?

I have started mistakenly calling Wisconsin Virginia.  I do this perhaps in a way that parents go down the line of the names of their children, until they call the correct child.  But is it possible that Virginia leaped into Wisconsin?  This is what I was really hoping for. Wisconsin has many of the same traits, and I see more similarities every day.  She is even beginning to look like her.  I was hoping that Virginia would come back to me.  I wanted it so desperately, I looked for a dog that would look and act like her.  I intentionally bought a dog that had the potential to become Virginia, but is it possible that she is Virginia?

I have seen ghosts.  I can recognize other people who see ghosts.  The ghosts I have seen did not look like the people they were, but I saw them as they are now.  Perhaps these ghosts had nowhere to go.  They did not leap.  I saw Virginia carrying her football around the house for months after her death.  Now I see only Wisconsin.  I keep a football in the toy basket.  I will know she is Virginia when she picks it up and asks me to throw it for her to retrieve.  I never see my mother as a ghost or in a dream.  Her I only see in the mirror and in photographs.

I do not have a daughter or a granddaughter.  I worry who will inherit the collective soul of my mothers.  I am compelled to connect with these women and ask their advice.  I created a place for Virginia; now I must create a place for the souls I have inherited.  I have time.  My mother lived longer than her mother, and I expect to live longer than her.  I want to take that leap; I must find the heir and brush her hair.

There is a video of Carolina, Virginia and Boston playing at the pool at my parents house on my website http://www.MeAndMyDogs.biz.

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Lost

May 19, 2011

My mother just died suddenly.  Ma and Dad were on a cruise when she had cardiac arrest.  They were in South America at the time.  After having a good day together, they went to their cabin to take a nap.  She woke up coughing and died moments later.  It took one week for my father to get home.  It took an additional week for my mother to arrive.  I made the trip to my family’s house in nineteen hours.  I had two of my dogs with me.  My parents each traveled alone.

While at my father’s house, I let the dogs out into the side yard to take care of their business and to play.  I was on the phone making arrangements for my mother’s services.  When I came back, they were gone.  I called them but they did not come.  I ran in the house to tell my father, and then ran out to the street to start looking for them.  I asked everyone I saw if they had seen them.  I explained, they did not live here; they did not know how to get home.  Some of the neighbors did see them.  One said they went up the street, the other said they saw them going down the same street.  The man who lives on the corner directly behind my father said they were playing in his yard, then ran off “in that direction,” as he pointed toward the golf course.

It took two weeks for my mother to come home.  The cruise line and the insurance company arranged everything.  My brother and sister-in-law were in constant contact with them, making decisions about the details of her processing and her trip home.  Her passport was with her, along with documentation from the ship describing her medical condition and treatment prior to her death.  Two death certificates were prepared, one in Spanish and one in English.  The English version was with her when she arrived in Boston, along with customs documents and a bag of black sand.  It was a Friday night when the plane landed.  A car from the funeral home was there to get her.  She was home.

When my dogs were gone for over an hour without being seen, I began to worry.  Where could they have gone?  They must have wandered beyond the neighborhood.  There is a golf course very close to my father’s house.  Several of his neighbors told me, when their dogs ran off, that is where they would go.  We contacted the clubhouse and asked them to call us if the dogs showed up there.  When the call came, my brother and I rushed to get there.  One dog, Boston, was playing in the pond and in the woods.  When we grabbed him and leashed him, he was not the least concerned that he did not know where he was or that I was worried about him.  He knew I would find him and bring him home, just as I did each time he’d run off in the past.

The groundskeeper who found Boston drove me around in a golf cart to look for Memphis.  Then my family converged on the golf course to look.  He was not there.

My parents bought their plot and marker several years ago.  The plot was in the same cemetery as their friends.  The area they chose was new.  It had just been cleared of trees.  On the day we went to the cemetery to make the arrangements, we learned that we had to pick out a plot.

“I thought we had a plot,” my father said.”  “No, you picked out the area.  Now you have to pick the exact plot”.  To help him understand this, I told him, “Dad, you picked out the neighborhood, now you have to pick the house”.  He chose a spot close to a water fountain and a stone bench.  When the trees mature, there will be lots of shade.

We continued to look for Memphis.  I showed everyone I saw a picture of him on my cell phone.  I gave them my business card and asked them to call if they saw him.  My nieces and nephews joined the search.  They rode their bikes around the neighborhood.  My sister drove her car up and down the streets.  We all whistled and called his name.  When darkness approached, we went back to my father’s house in despair.  We all knew Memphis would be spending the night outside.  Everyone went home and it was just my father and I.  He felt awful about Memphis being lost.  I felt awful that he felt awful.  He had lost his wife.  I’d lost a dog.  It is not the same.

I did not sleep that night.  In the morning, I was out looking for him as soon as the sun came out.  I went beyond the neighborhood to places I did not go the day before.  By now, everyone in the neighborhood knew what he looked like and how to contact me.  I was at least ten miles away from my father’s house when Bob called.  He told me someone had found Memphis.

The story is, when some local person let their dog in, Memphis came into the house, too.  When Memphis finally stopped circling their kitchen island, they got Bob’s name and phone number from the plate on his collar.  I rushed to the address Bob gave me, which was less than a mile away from my father’s house.

When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with emotion, and so glad to see him.  Memphis was indifferent.  He knew I would find him, just as I had done before.

The wake was at the funeral home where my parents have been too many times before.  The funeral was in the Catholic church where we were confirmed and where my sister and two of my brothers were married.  It was nice.  After the service, we drove my mother to her final resting spot near the fountain and stone bench.  She is close to where my father lives and very near their friends.

I stayed at my father’s house a few more weeks to help him adjust.  Bob brought Carolina and Wisconsin with him, when he came for my mother’s services.  When he left, he took Boston, Memphis and Wisconsin with him.  Carolina stayed with me.  We slept in the room down the hall from the room I grew up in.  My old room was now my mother’s craft room.  It is full of needlework, yarn and fabric.  This is also where she kept her computer and paperwork.  Each day, I sorted through these things and kept my father company.

When it was time, I packed up my belongings and some of my mother’s, and loaded them in the car.  I had a nineteen-hour drive.  I didn’t have a passport or a collar that could help me get to where I was going.  I was not in the neighborhood, close to my family.  I did not know how to get home.  There was nobody making travel arrangements for me.  There was no one looking for me.  I did not know the neighborhood or the house where I belonged.  All I knew for sure was I wanted to be with my father, with my family.  I wanted to be in my old room.  Or in my mother’s room.  I envy my mother.  She was never lost; she always knew where home was.  She is home now.  She is in a different house, but in the same neighborhood.

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Grief

August 24, 2010

Dedicated to my dear friend Rainey and her dog Wolf

 

On the day the tumor ruptured and Virginia clung to the floor in her safe place, Bob was the first to come home.  He called me on my cell phone, I was on my home and he did not feel it was reasonable to tell me about it.  He did show alarm when I arrived.  Earlier that day, Virginia was slow retrieving her football.  This had happened a few times in the months leading up today.  I knew there was something wrong, but three different veterinary specialists said there was not.  I immediately called her vet and told them we were coming.  Bob carried her to the car and put her in. Bob did not go with us.  He had a meeting to go to and asked if I would be back in time for dinner.

This is a story of grief and loss.  Virginia’s story cannot be separated from Bob’s story.  But this is my story, not theirs, and I will do my best to keep it that way.

When I saw Bob for the first time, I told to stay away from him.  He was known at the ax man and everyone who he came in contact with got fired.  That explained why he was standing alone passing back and forth with a cigarette between his stained fingers.  I said yes when he asked me out weeks later even though I was married to someone else at the time.  I enjoyed working with Bob, sometimes working against him, and wanted to spend more time with him.  From the start he held on to life with white knuckles as he tried to build the business and a new life for himself.  After I divorced my husband and moved away, he continued to hold on.  Bob held our long distance relationship together for over a year until we were together again then got married.

Virginia loved the mornings.  She would greet me everyday with a smile.  She would sit on my chest and insist I pet her on her belly until I got out of bed.  In time, I saw the mornings through her eyes and came to love them with her.  I would let her outside with the other dogs to take care of her business.  She was always the last one back to the door.  Virginia never learned the business first rule, no life was too short, and she always played first.  After chow, she would lay on the couch with me while I drank my coffee.  If I didn’t pay enough attention to her, Virginia would stand up rub her face in the cushion and stomp her feet.  Not sure what she was trying to do but it got my attention.  We would laugh a bit, then she would lie down and I would go to work on my computer.

When I married Bob I knew that I would take second place to his work.  He did have a business first policy.  His work was important to him and that was okay with me.  There was enough of him left over for me.  We were always together.  We worked together and we danced together.  Every local band and bar tender knew us.  We enjoyed each others company.  That all ended in the months leading up to his sobriety.  He fired me from work for the third time.  Well, the second time, the first time he fired me, I didn’t technically work for him.  The business was becoming hostile.  Bob was losing his grip as the alcohol and the bankers wore him down.  I could only watch as the alcohol softened his brain while the bankers hardened his soul.

My biggest fear when Bob went into rehab was he would come out a jerk.  I decided I would rather have 10 good years with him than 30 bad ones.  We had what appeared to be a very loving relationship.  After ten years of marriage, many of the people we met thought we were newly weds.  But Bob was deteriorating.  None of his forefathers lived past 65 and that milestone was only ten years away.  Every time I asked him to stop drinking his response was always the same “not going to happen”. So imagine my surprise the day he answered “okay”.  I knew Bob.  I knew he meant it.  I knew he was going to stop drinking.

Virginia loved to ride in the car.  She would lie down and hold her head up so she could see out the window and get some fresh air in her mouth.  She would smile in anticipation of where we were going.  That day on the way to the vet, she had a different kind of smile; the kind I knew meant pain.  We both knew this was not a ride like the hundreds we had taken together before.  She went to agility shows and demonstrations with me, to elementary schools and to visit friends and family.  No this ride was different.  It was the beginning of a new journey we would take together.  The very next day she was able to walk to the car following emergency surgery.  They wouldn’t tell us how long they thought she would live.  I was hoping for at least four days I got six months.

At the time we put Virginia to rest, Bob had been sober for nearly 2 years.  In that two years the only time he really hugged me or showed any emotion was the day we buried her.  Even today as they are trying to bury his business, he is emotionally bankrupt.  Before he was born, alcohol took over the part of his brain that controlled emotions.  Without alcohol he has no emotions.  Many wives of drunks lost their husband to alcohol, I lost mine to sobriety.  Virginia was my dog.  She was one of four dogs in our house, but Virginia was mine.  She filled that place that Bob held for the first ten years of our marriage.  She loved me unconditionally, as I now try to love Bob unconditionally.  I want to be like her.  Even in pain, she loved.  She greeted every day with a smile.  I try, I really try, but I have not smile for him.

Grief is like a bright orange life vest.  It weighs heavy on my chest, but somehow keeps my head above water.  It is so heavy, sometimes I cannot breathe, but it reminds me of when Bob would hold me tight as we danced well past midnight in the bars and night clubs and of Virginia sitting on my chest each morning.  As I long for the past, grief floods my mind with memories of Bob and Virginia.  But it won’t let me sink into despair.  It pains me to keep me in the present.  It is stronger than pain or love.  Perhaps it is all that is left when the pain is over and the love is gone.  Grief is mine.  And I will hold on to it with white knuckles until a greater love comes to take its place.