Everything else, Grief, Writing

Going, going… gone.

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It seems our life has become filled with pets to varying degrees. We’ve got three dogs now. My mom – who tolerated us kids having dogs when we were small but never enjoyed them on any level – has a dog. My daughter and her boyfriend have a 30 gallon tank filled with fish, including one named Ted who is pleasant enough as long as he’s fed regularly, but doesn’t mind gobbling up his small friends if the fish food sprinkles don’t arrive on time.

My brother was an avid animal lover, and couldn’t resist taking in one that was in need. Over the years he’d had cats, dogs, a parrot named Wilma, pygmy goats, rabbits, pigs, ducks, chickens, and I can’t even recall what all else. When he got sick last year, he had a cat and seven dogs. Realizing he was becoming too frail to be able to care for them, he made the heartbreaking decision to rehome some of them, including his own special dog, Beau. My daughter’s boyfriend had hoped to take Beau, but his landlord squelched that idea. However, a pastor friend of my brother’s offered to take Beau in, and that was nice, because he still had opportunities to visit with him on good days. They also had to rehome two of the chihuahuas, and their pit puppy, Jade.

They kept my sister-in-law’s tiny chihuahua, my nephew’s little shih Tzu, and their elderly family dog, Ellie Mae. The chihuahuas were able to find a new home together, which was great. Jade, the pit puppy, went to a friend’s home, and though she was hesitant at first, eventually recognized they were her new people and settled in.

I called my sister-in-law last night to wish her a happy birthday. It was her first one since we lost my brother, and I figured it’d be an especially difficult day for her. In the course of conversation, she mentioned how sad she was about Jade. The last I’d heard of Jade, she’d been doing well in her new home, so I asked what had happened. Apparently, the electrical wiring in the house caught fire, and though the couple were able to rescue their baby from the blaze, they were unable to reach Jade in time, and she perished in the fire.

Some of my brother’s dogs I’ve known since they were pups. I didn’t know Jade well and really had no connection to her. My brother’s family lives a couple of hours away, and Jade was just a baby dog when they had her, so I never got the chance to bond with her. But hearing she’s passed hurts me with a strange, sharp ache. It’s like another little piece of my brother has disappeared, and I hate it. It’s nobody’s fault. The fire was a tragic fluke, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for Jade’s death. Still and all, that pain is there.

Trying to hold on to all the memories is like holding my hand beneath a faucet and trying to catch all the water. Of course the memories are there, but there are so many, over so many years, that the more recent stuff gets shoved to the front. It makes me feel kind of frantic, like I’m losing my family all over again.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book about living with grief. It would be a compilation of pieces I’ve written during and after the deaths of my siblings. I don’t know if anyone would actually read it, but it feels like it might be cathartic for me, and I like the idea of having a tangible something with these precious memories in it. I was reading through some of the posts from when my sister died a few years back, and came across one detailing the moment she left this earth. I had written that with four of her children there, and my mom, my aunt, my sister’s ex-husband and her two little dogs perched on her bed, there hadn’t been much space. I had grabbed on to my sister’s ankles as she took her last breaths. Just to touch her skin. So she would know I was there. It was the only part of her I could reach in the crowd.

I had forgotten that. Or maybe I didn’t forget, but the memory was shoved to the back, less urgent than the others.

I don’t want to forget those little things. I don’t want these tiny pieces to float away.

So I think I’m going to do it. Tentative working title is “Grief in my Pockets.”

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Bits and Whatnots

The Vacation that Wasn’t.

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Let me tell you a story about how I’ve been living in a hotel for two weeks.

I’m not currently homeless, so don’t worry about that. I have a home, I just can’t go there.

A few weeks ago in the process of moving a file cabinet in our bedroom, we found mold. We called our insurance, who sent out a guy, who sent out a different guy, and then we heard nothing at all for several days. And then one Friday about three in the afternoon, they called and said we had to go, they had People coming out to Do Mold Removal Things.

While it’s probably typically not a hard thing to find a hotel room to stay in, our adjuster had a bit of a problem because our family is larger than what is allowed by law to stay in one room because of fire code hazards, so they had to find a place with two adjoining rooms.

And we needed a place that allowed dogs, because I’ve got two of them.

After much back and forth, the insurance found us a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn Express about a half an hour away from our home. It’s a nice enough place, don’t get me wrong, but the glamour of living in a hotel rubs off pretty quick when you’ve got six people and two dogs in an enclosed space for a long length of time. It’s not that my kids don’t love each other.

It’s that having to share beds and breathe air in the same room together for so many days in a row is turning them into zombies who crave the brains of their siblings.

The additional drive time whenever someone needs to go to school or work is draining our gas money in an insanely fast manner, and while at first it was kind of fun to eat dinner out every night, after two weeks I think we are all craving some of my own spectacular home cooked Burnt Food, or maybe just some cheap spaghetti that I make way too much of and cook way too long.

As a writer and human being who spends probably an unhealthy amount of time in my house and alone, it’s painful to be trapped in a hotel with strangers who want to start random conversations with me. I take my dogs to go out for a pee, someone strikes up some small talk. I sit in a dark corner alone in the morning for breakfast, people bring their conversations over to me and try to pull me in. It’s really a ridiculous amount of talking, to be honest. Like, in the hallways at 7:30 a.m. people smile at me and yell GOOD MORNING like they are some particularly horrible kind of monsters. One early morning as I was sitting alone, eating a biscuit and reading a Stephen King novel, some strange man in Very Ironed Clothes suddenly stuck his face in mine and yelled HAVE A NICE DAY! for no good reason at all. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of nonsense?

It’s a very clean hotel and housekeeping must come in every couple of days to make sure we haven’t trashed the place like the drunken rock stars we are, so every time I get things settled into some semblance of comfortable chaos, they come and straighten and fiddle and scrub until everything is back in order again. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awful. I cannot create while trapped in this stark, overly organized space. And can we talk about how horrifying it is when housekeeping actually comes in to clean? The night before, my husband and I take out the trash and pick up and try to make like we are halfway decent human beings. Then when the lady does come in to clean, I sit or stand here awkwardly because it feels bizarre to have someone else cleaning up my mess but if I offer to help or give her, I don’t know, a pudding cup or a muffin or something she looks at me weird.  Today when I answered the door, the housekeeper lady asked me if I was going to let my dogs bite her.

Yesterday, the toilet backed up. I waited nearly an hour before I amped up the courage to call the front desk (because hello, it’s more talking to strangers) and then the maintenance guy came and I had to talk more to someone else I don’t know and apologize for making him do this Terrible Thing.

Not one to dwell on doom and gloom, I will admit there are perks:

There is a swimming pool.

The complimentary breakfast is delightful. I’m not certain the eggs are really eggs, but the biscuits taste like they were stolen from the kitchen at KFC, which is not an entirely impossible notion, as there’s a KFC across the parking lot here.

I haven’t had to wash dishes in two weeks.

But I find the idea that I don’t know when I can go home makes me feel really stressed. People keep telling me to treat this like a vacation, but I think those people have likely never been abruptly stuffed into a hotel room with six people and two dogs for an extended period of time.

Last week, my son got really sick and had to spend some time in the ER. He’s doing better now, but I felt I had to ask the universe what bad thing was coming next, because I think we all know that Bad Things come in threes and I like to be prepared.

That was right about when we found out my daughter’s cosmetology school closed, three weeks into her first semester, with no warning. Just a post on the school’s Facebook page stating they were very sorry, don’t come to class tomorrow, they were closing down all 79 campuses. Of course, she’s distraught and we are left trying to find her a new school and deal with her loans and in general, it’s an entirely unpleasant experience.

BUT THEN

It got worse.

When my husband went to pick up dinner last night, we found out that Little Caesar’s is discontinuing their cream cheese dip.

I know. I KNOW. It’s okay, I cried a little bit, too.

I have been working, though. In addition to my regular freelance writing, I’ve gotten a few thousand more words on my current novel, and the other day fiddled around a little bit with a New Shiny Idea, which seasoned writers advise we shouldn’t do when we are writing a novel already, but I don’t understand how to get the voices out of my head if I don’t get them out on the page.

We had a meeting with the contractor a couple of days ago, who cheerfully announced it would likely be another two weeks before we can go home, and that’s barring any problems.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins. This little adventure has been nice and all, but I really just want to go home where I have all my books and my yarn and mountains of dirty dishes in the sink.

By the way, does anybody have a pair of ruby slippers I could borrow?

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

See what this nightmare has done to me? I’m already mixing up fictional characters. I’ll be utterly daft by the time I get to go home.

Probably not the worst things that could happen. I hear all the best writers have lost their minds.

 

Bits and Whatnots

A Little Ball of Fluff.

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Mid-August, 2010. It’s been just about exactly five years now.

In April of 2009, my dad died suddenly and I know I’ve written about that here before. It was unexpected and difficult to absorb for  a long time. After all, for so many years he had been such a big part of our family. My parents had always been a huge part of my children’s lives.

There is that strange numbness that happens after a death, when grief seems to have hold of every piece of your body and everything you do seems to become mechanical. You’re on autopilot, without even realizing it.

At some point that year, through the stupor of mourning, it clicked with me that my children had stopped laughing.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, other than I guess I had just been lost in my own head, my own feelings. But it struck me hard that day, when I realized I couldn’t recall the last time I had heard one of my kids burst out in laughter.

I didn’t know how to fix it. I could not even fix myself at that point.

One day, my two boys who at the time were about eight and ten came out of their room hauling filled-to-overflowing trash bags.

“Mom,” they said, “we need a pet. We want to sell our toys to get a dog. PLEASE.”

Now, the subject of getting a dog had come up before. But as a kid I had developed an allergy to most furry animals, and even as an adult, I could not even visit my sister and her min pins without a large supply of Benedryl and still having the delight of spending a couple days afterward with swollen eyes, hives, and an asthma flare. There are a lot of things I’m willing to sacrifice for my children, but I didn’t think oxygen could be one of them.

At the time, my husband was in college and had been talking to a classmate about the kids’ request. She told him she had a litter of puppies that were hypoallergenic, and he could have the pick of the litter. He came home and told me this, and I had a hard time believing such a thing existed. It sounded a whole lot like waterfront property in Arizona. After doing some research and finding such a thing was actually possible, we agreed to go and take a look at her pups, mainly just to see if handling them caused me to have trouble breathing or break out in a rash. But by the time we had come to this decision, she had already sold her litter.

Neither of us had had a dog since childhood, and we were both unsure of how to proceed from where we were. The last time I had a dog, my parents had gotten a Yorkshire terrier/poodle cross puppy from a friend. We named her Dixie. She was my best little buddy and she was run over by some little jerks on four wheelers when I was ten. That had been my last pet.

I was honestly reluctant about getting a puppy. I wanted to see the kids happy, I really wanted to hear them start laughing again. But as a mother of four kids already, I knew full well the majority of the work would fall squarely on my shoulders, and I didn’t really want a dog. But I was willing to give it a go. We called some local breeders and asked if I could come by and see if I had any sort of allergic reaction to their puppies, but they were not willing to let me do that.

At this point, my daughters had also caught the bug and were begging for a dog.

It was the middle of August, 2010. We had taken the kids to the mall to shop for school clothes and shoes. There was a newly opened pet store at the mall and we went in. They had little fenced in areas where potential buyers could take a puppy in to play, and we thought this might give us an idea of which dogs would not cause me to hack and wheeze.

If I had the information then that I have now about pet stores and puppy mills, I might have made a different choice. But at the time, I didn’t have that information. I didn’t know anything about dogs or shelters or breeders. I just knew that if we were going to do this thing, I first needed to make sure the animal wasn’t going to kill me.

So we went in and had a couple of puppies brought out. They were cute, for sure, and after explaining about my asthma and allergies, the staff was careful to only bring me puppies that shouldn’t cause me a reaction.

But there was this one pup. Up in the top corner square of glass, a little tiny ball of fluff. She was white with big brown eyes and a few brown spots and brown ears. She put her paw up on the glass and stared at my husband. He put his hand up to her paw and stood there, staring at the glass. A few seconds later, I saw one of the staff taking her down from her space.

I played with her a bit and held her close to my face and waited, but my eyes didn’t itch and my breathing was steady. I put her down for the kids to play with, and she turned on the charm. In what seemed to be a fraction of a second, my oldest son began to cry, big, fat tears streaking down his face. “Please Mom,” he begged in a broken little boy voice, “please. I love her already, Mom. Please don’t make us leave her here in this place. Please.” As I turned around, I saw my husband handing over a credit card. “Wait, wait,” I wanted to say. “I’m not sure…”

But the kids were so happy, and my husband was grinning and his ears were turning red, which was a sure sign of happiness. So we left the pup there and drove across the street to the pet supply store to buy a harness and leash and a crate and a few other necessary things. We went back to pick her up and bring her home. I felt completely unprepared and still slightly in shock of this huge commitment we had just made. I thought to myself about all the responsibilities I would now have, about getting up at night with this baby dog, and all of the extra expenses.

We had no idea what we were doing. We brought the puppy in the house and sat on the floor in a circle around her. She ran in crazy circles, her tiny fluffy white legs a blur. We laughed, all six of us.

We laughed.

I looked at my kids and they were grinning, laughing, falling over each other in glee.

We named the puppy Zoey, because it means ‘life’, and as cliché as it may sound, we really felt she had brought new life to our family.

I know there were a lot of ways we went wrong, trying to train this dog. Housetraining was a nightmare and I took a lot of bad advice from people I thought knew better than I, but I also read a lot of books about raising dogs and learned a lot in the process. And sometimes I would be cleaning the dog crap or vomit from the carpet and grumbling about how I never even wanted a dog.

But in the last five years, that little ball of fluff has grown on me, and somehow I’ve become her particular human. When I’m writing, she curls up on my feet. She’s my walking partner. When my sister was dying and I was lying in my bed, unable to function or care for my family, she stubbornly sat next to me in my bed, or if I sent her out, she refused to leave my door, sitting there outside my room for hours. When I’m sick, she’s right next to me.

As it turns out, I’m more of a dog person than I thought I was.

And the sacrifices I thought I was making to give this dog to my kids have come back to me tenfold.

I can’t imagine our family without this goofy ball of fluff.

We have another dog, a little yorkie, named Ziva. The two of them are partners in crime.

Every day we laugh, watching them run around the house. We take them on vacations with us, camping and to Ren Faires.

Even though they are a lot of extra work, and money spent when we don’t always have it…

It’s been worth it. Because no matter how much I spend on them, I’ll never be able to pay back the one thing they gave us when we needed it the most.

Laughter in the midst of grief.

And that has been well worth every penny.