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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Sophie, My Protector

Sophie, Thanksgiving 2000

Sophie, Thanksgiving 2000

Sophie was my protector. Not so much physically. At 25 pounds she couldn’t have fended off a mugger or a monster, but she saved me from loneliness, which is one of my greatest fears.

I was lonely for the first year after we moved to Pennsylvania. I couldn’t find a job in the area, and even though I worked part-time online for my former university, I wasn’t making enough money to contribute my fair share, and the limited contact I had with my former colleagues only emphasized how isolated I was. Doug went to work to teach all day and stayed most evenings for rehearsals. I knew no one else.

On fall break, Doug insisted we go dog shopping, their eyes met, and we came home with her. The only reason I was opposed was because I took the responsibility seriously and worried I would screw up as a pet parent the way I felt I was screwing up in general. To a lesser extent, I felt left out of whatever bond Doug and this dog had. Sophie was never as excited as when she reunited with Doug upon his return to the den. Throughout the day, we would look at each other not with hostility, but with confusion. What were we supposed to do while the guy we loved, albeit differently, was out of the house?

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Dream On

A week ago, a friend wrote to tell me she dreamed of my dog, Sophie, who recently died. She dreamed she was walking Sophie and that dogs from the neighborhood surrounded them. She reported the incident to a local official, concerned that the dogs would somehow be in danger. The official told her to talk to her neighbors and solve the problem together. Back on the street, the dogs had vanished. When she set Sophie down, Sophie ran away across a beach and into a city.

My friend asked me what it meant. If there’s an intended message from The Universe, I don’t know what it is. But I’m jealous that she’s having dreams of Sophie and I’m not. Supposedly we all dream, but I almost never remember mine.

Her dream makes me think of something that actually happened. Shortly after we adopted Sophie, my parents visited. Sophie barked at my father for a day and a half until Dad offered her a Triscuit. That simple gesture won Sophie’s trust. Whether she was easy to win over or had been demanding some kind of payment from him, who knows. Once while Dad had her outside, she ran into the corn field behind our house. We lived about a quarter of a mile from a highway, so I worried not just that she would get lost but that she would get run over.

I’ve forgotten the details, but Doug tells me he was inside and heard me yell her name and saw me run after her. All I remember is feeling relieved that she stopped, that she came back home. I couldn’t have taken the pain of responsibility if she’d gotten hurt or disappeared. Even though Dad was with her, I’d trusted him, so it would have been my fault.

I do have a brief, apparently false memory of my father running after her, disappearing into the stalks of corn. Not only did he not run after her, but the corn would have been harvested by the time they visited, which was around Thanksgiving, so there would have been nothing to block my view. Considering Dad died just before Sophie, I’ve probably rewritten the scene to connect them. They’ve both run off, and this time they haven’t come back. I’m impatiently waiting for something I know isn’t going to happen. I’m feeling responsible for something I didn’t do. I’m feeling abandoned when neither of them would have done anything to hurt me.

Knowing they’re together would comfort me if I could believe it’s true. I’m open to the possibility, and maybe my friend’s dream is a faint sign. But where the hell are my dreams? My dead loved ones never come to me. I’m as open to their visits as I could consciously be, and still there’s no pixie dust sprinkled in my dreams, no irreverent voices from Beyond telling me they can see me peeing. No sublimity, no ridiculousness. Just absence.

I’m assuming their presence in dreams would fill the emptiness I feel when I remember them in waking moments. “They’re always with you” is a nice idea, but in day-to-day life, it’s kind of a bunch of crap. A colleague noticed Sophie’s photo as we ended a meeting in my office. I explained that she recently died. His response? “She has the sweetest face.” His observation happened in the present tense, tempting me to avoid talking about her in the past tense, which I do to acknowledge reality. It’s the same with my father. It’s the same with friends who died on me nearly 20 years ago.

If I love you, I don’t let go. I want to have you around in present tense again. I want to feel some confusion about which moments are happening now or even real. Every now and then, I want to take a staycation from reality without plunging headlong into psychosis, and I want you to be there. I don’t do faith, but I’m faithful. I’m like a dog that way, waiting on the front porch for you.

Subject to Change

I want to say something about Change, if only because Change has had its say (flipping me off, mostly) and deserves one of my sharp retorts. This summer, my father died, our oldest dog died, a tree fell on our house. Those are some major “fuck-yous”–depressingly final.

Even the positive changes have been major and leave me unsure where things are, metaphorically and literally. We had new flooring installed in our family room and office, which required completely clearing those rooms and removing the carpet. At work, my department just moved to a new space, so there’s a lot of unpacking to do amid all the usual prep work for the semester that begins in a week.

What I really want is to leave things where they are for a week or two. I have vacation time left, so it’s possible, but it’s not a good idea. I wouldn’t be able to relax and would return to work feeling even more overwhelmed. Taking leave of reality only works for fictional characters with unlimited resources. “I’ll send for my things,” they say. How much does that cost? I have a feeling if I have to ask, I can’t afford it.

I don’t want to stop and mope, but I know it’s not a good idea to soldier on without time to reflect. As the shock of loss wears off, disbelief lingers. I woke up a few days ago and thought I saw Sophie lying on the bed, but it was light playing off the wadded sheet. I dreamt last night that dog heaven is actually on Earth, somewhere in one of the northern, central states, so in my dream I was planning a road trip to find her. As for Dad, every day I see news about some gadget I want to tell him about, or I think of a question I want to ask him next time we talk. I look at pictures of him and want to hug him so hard that, if he were still alive, I would just end up crushing him to death.

Time is all that will help me at this point. And timing. I’m going to keep grieving deaths and dealing with life on my schedule. Sometimes it will help to talk, and other times I’ll need to sit by myself. As needed, I’ll speak up, close my office door, force a laugh, write contemplative blog posts, go offline.

More Than Our Share

Doug made it sound as if we were going window shopping. “Let’s just see what dogs they have,” he said. I fell for it, and of course when he locked eyes with a little red-brown dog shivering on a dirty blue blanket, there was no way we would leave without her. The attendant clipped a leash on the little dog’s collar so we could take her for a “test drive.” The shivering, pitiful creature transformed, suddenly energetic, full of hope, barking loudly what in English would have been “Get me the fuck out of here!” Neither of us had cash or our checkbooks, so I drove to the nearest ATM to get the $40 adoption fee.

As we paid the fee and finished the paperwork, a woman left crying. The attendant explained that the woman’s dog was very ill and had to be euthanized. The woman sat in her car, next to ours, sobbing and inconsolable. I felt guilty as we left with our new, loud bundle of joy, but I wanted to get away from her and the warning she was giving us.

Me & Sophie enjoying babytime.

Taken shortly after we adopted Sophie in 2000.

So we can’t claim we didn’t know from the beginning that our time with Sophie would end, sooner or later. It’s easy to get lost in imagining that a loved one is immortal, and we did, but we also took her to the vet at the slightest indication of trouble. We’ve been dreading her death for the past eleven years. On Tuesday, the day came. Sophie had been limping for a month and had been tested and treated for various ailments, but her problems didn’t go away, and her pain increased.

As it turned out, I wasn’t with her. Two weeks ago, my father died after months of suffering from lung cancer. Doug and I both attended the funeral, but Doug sensed he needed to get back even though our dogsitter reported no problems while we were gone, and we hoped Sophie was on the mend. Doug had to go it alone, taking her back to the vet (she’d been so many times in the past month) and then to a specialist who identified a perplexing spot on her x-ray as bone cancer. There was no miracle cure, just painkillers that probably wouldn’t make things even temporarily better for her.

For the past few days, I’ve been sobbing off and on like that woman I saw on Sophie’s adoption day. I haven’t cried like this in years, since the summer of 1994, when two of my friends died within two weeks of each other (but that’s a story for another time). Even after Dad died, I had a hard cry once or twice, but it just didn’t hurt like this hurts. He loved his cats like Doug and I love Sophie, so I know he would understand. There was so much happiness in our eleven years with her. More than our share. We were lucky, and now we’re greedy for more. Continue reading

Crazy Dog Person Gets Hackles Up

I made the mistake of reading Judith Warner’s New York Times whatever-it-is (blog? editorial? whiny journal that should be in a spiral notebook with a unicorn on the cover?). According to her 29 Aug 2008 entry (essay? rant?), titled “Dogged by Guilt,” she’s not a dog person, which is fine, but her intolerance of dogs and “dog people” is a little too unenlightened for my taste.

At the bottom of the web page of her whatever-it-is, there is a form for comments, so I posted the following. In haste. With passion. I managed to refrain from hurling epithets (I think).

Given the strict conditions you placed on getting a dog, it’s amazing you decided to have children. Don’t they also drool, smell bad, and chew on things?

You obviously don’t know many dog people. We don’t purchase animals to exploit them as gifts or as tools to make children’s lives better. We live with them and respect that they are different than us, even if we dare to value them as much as we value humans.

Dogs make dog people happy, but we don’t necessarily pass along the happiness. Some of us are considerably misanthropic, in large part because of people like you. You gave a dog as a gift to your children, then whine about having to care for him. Did you really expect the dog wouldn’t want attention? Didn’t you do any research about dog behavior? Did you think it was like buying a pet rock?

You don’t have to like dogs, but if you don’t want a dog, don’t get a dog. Or if you don’t want to take care of your dog, give him away. He deserves better.

My dogs are not people; they are not my children. I know these facts well. Yet I believe their lives are no less important than mine. My partner and I aren’t extravagant, but we’re willing to provide them with what they need and want. We’ve carefully selected Continue reading

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