That Time Garth and Mick Got It Right

Years ago, Garth Brooks thanked God for Unanswered Prayers. I’ve often felt the same way even though I don’t believe in unanswered prayers. After all, “no” is an answer.

I’ve told you before that I’m a single mom (acknowledging that “single” is hardly “alone” given my fantastic support network of family and friends). What I didn’t tell you is that I’ve been a single mom since pretty much about three days before I found out I was pregnant with him. That was the night that his father broke up with me. I know you’re probably wondering; so, I’ll go ahead and answer the question: no, I did not get pregnant on purpose. However, I wasn’t all that worried about it, either, since I thought our relationship was solid and had a future. I thought that right up until he came back from a trip and announced that he didn’t want to see me anymore. (I’ve had that happen a few times in my life – been blindsided with a break-up. I guess maybe either I don’t read men as well as I should or I don’t pay close enough attention. Whatever. That’s why I have cats now.)  To be honest, I prayed long and hard that he would love me and want us to be a family. When it didn’t look like that was going to happen, I prayed long and hard that he would want to be a father to our child. That didn’t really happen, either. It was my belief at the time that fatherhood just wasn’t for him at that point in his life. The answer to my prayers was no. I was heartbroken and just plain broken for a very long time.

That was 22 years ago – 22 years of rebuilding a stronger version of my Self, of scratching out a living, of trying to be a good mother, of recovering from various catastrophes and of watching my son grow into an amazing human being. His father and I have spoken on three occasions during those years when I initiated contact – twice for legal reasons and once because my son wanted to know if he had siblings.

To say that I was surprised to see his name in my email list in February is putting it mildly. The failure of that relationship is one of the most painful periods of my life; so, quite honestly, I didn’t know whether to vomit or cry when I saw it….so I did both. Then I put on my big girl panties and read the email. In short, he wanted to try to establish some kind of relationship with my son. I was so overwhelmed that I threw up and cried again before I composed myself enough to make some kind of response, which was that my son is grown and any relationship would have to be his decision, not mine. I forwarded the message to my son and told his father that I hoped that they could work something out.

Now, please understand that although this was the real desire of the more developed part of my brain, the petty, childish part was saying all manner of nasty, hateful things. However, we’ve talked about that part of my personality before and that she spends most of her time getting put in the corner – deservedly so. After forwarding the email, I spoke with my son about his feelings on the matter, my feelings and my opinion on how he should proceed. Since I’ve told my son little about that period of time, he doesn’t carry any of the baggage that prompted the rantings of that troll portion of my personality. To prevent his having baggage borne of my perceptions is precisely why I didn’t tell him anything.

So, the men have been talking since Spring and, in September (on his birthday weekend), my son traveled to Dallas to meet his father for the first time. The Henny Penny Mother was worried that my son would be hurt in some way, although the Practical Mother knew that wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t. By all accounts, they had a really good visit. His stepmother baked my son a birthday cake – a personal touch I thought was really kind. They are defining and creating their relationship as they go on and, you know what? I am truly thrilled. My son had a family he didn’t know; but, that is changing. He will soon be meeting grandparents, an aunt and cousins. His world is widening and, I think, becoming more complete. And you know what else? I am freer, as well.

The universe didn’t come crashing down with the contact that I both feared and craved, and I didn’t revert to the woman I once was. I’m still the strong, independent woman I’ve striven to be – the woman I actually like, the woman I don’t believe I’d be if I’d gotten what I prayed for all those years ago. So, like Garth, I’m thankful for those “unanswered” prayers; and Mick was right – you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.

The Growing Cold

“She can’t breathe, John!”

I remembering hearing my mother say that to my father as I sat coughing, watching television one night. (No doubt we were watching Gunsmoke or something.) Anyway, I remember her sounding alarmed and me thinking that it was just a cold. Well, my dad picked me up and took me, wearing my flannel nightgown covered in Pirouette-style clowns, to the hospital where I was admitted with pneumonia. The doctor tried comforting me by telling me that he was building me a playhouse. (What fun!) I told him that it wasn’t a playhouse, that it was an oxygen tent. Who was he trying to kid? I watched Medical Center and I told him so. I was between three and four years old.

(The whole experience was humiliating! They made me sleep in a baby bed, for crying out loud! AND, big girl that I was, they made me wear diapers. Ugh!)

My next experience with the illness was about eight years ago when, while splitting firewood (something I well and truly suck at) I began to cough up blood. On account of I’m so smart and junk, I knowed right off something was wrong. (Okay, I didn’t. I totally called my dad to see what he thought. You can guess what he thought.) This time I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, but spent the next week recovering on my sofa snuggling with Trey. I highly recommend big, black dog snuggles to cure what ails you.

As breathing became a greater and greater challenge last week, I began to wonder if I was up for round three with it. So, I dragged myself to a doc in the box on Saturday who diagnosed acute bronchitis and infected ears. Ugly, but not pneumonia. So, I’ve got my steroids, my antibiotics, my inhaler, my sorbet (better than sherbet, methinks), my Powerade Zero, cough drops, and vegetarian soups. I’ve got books to read; but, sadly, no coloring books to color. Maybe when I feel a little better I’ll go on a hunt for those.

As I recall, they were a pretty good curative, too…not as good as a sweet, black Labrador, but, then, few things are.

A Friend for Ellie

Trey and Ellie were my two BBDs – big, black dogs. As you know, I had to help Trey across the Rainbow Bridge in February and we are all still adjusting to a household without the old man – Ellie especially.

Ellie came to live with us several years ago when I had to go out of town for a conference and asked my sister Chele if she would come and stay with my son while I was gone. She said that she would, but that she was fostering a bitch with five pups that weren’t weaned yet. Barracading the family in the kitchen was easy; so, I told my sister to bring them on with her. “But,” I said, “you listen to me and hear what I’m telling you. I don’t care how cute those puppies are, they are all. going home. with you.” (See how I never said anything about the mama?)

So, my sister arrived with this painfully skinny black dog and five of the cutest puppies EVER. I had them all named within five minutes, much to Chele’s dismay. (I didn’t realize that you weren’t supposed to name foster puppies. It makes it harder to send them to new forever homes.) Anyway, I named them all and we got everybody into the house where I inquired about the mama whom they called Princess.

She had wandered up to some guy’s house. He started feeding her and thought he was going a great job since she was getting so fat – then she dropped five puppies. Knowing that my sister is a soft touch with the canines, he contacted her and dropped the whole family off with her. Chele said that while the dog would let me pet her, she would not come to me and that she was head shy. This mama dog was just heartbreaking! So thin, she looked like her bones were about to cut through her skin. And she was, indeed, head shy, but after a few minutes she walked up to my chair, sat next to my feet and put her head on my knees. Yep. She picked me. What was I supposed to do with that?!

Now, we already had Trey who had become destructive since the death of my previous cat – the 19-year-old (some say possessed, I say precious) Isabeau. He wasn’t too keen on the puppies (especially after they tried nursing on him. Poor guy flipped out over that! One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.), but he loved having Princess around. Since she had been a stray for some unknown period of time, she was very  fearful. When Trey tried to play with her, he frightened her. However, he was patient and sweet. Eventually, she came to trust him and they were wonderful playmates even after we renamed her. (There is only one princess in my house, honey. Moi.) So, Princess became Ellie and our home to one BBD became home to two. Until this February.

Once a month, my friend Kent comes to stay with me for a few days. He brings his BBD puppy Khaleesi with him. Last month was the first time he came and the first time Ellie met Khaleesi. And did those two girls ever have a wonderful time! They played outside all day every day and came in exhausted every night. I knew that Ellie would enjoy having a friend, but I underestimated how much. When Kent arrived on Wednesday, Ellie saw Khaleesi through the window and she, who never goes out the front door without my permission, bounded out the door as soon as it was open, joyfully greeting her friend on the sidewalk before the two of them went running through the house, out the back door and into the yard to play just like the little girls that they are.

I have no intention of adding to my horde and, with four cats to play with, Ellie is a long way from lonely; however, it’s great that she can have play dates with someone her own size. And, for the next several months, every month, for five days, there will be play dates and a friend for my Ellie girl.

Snowbound

During the worst part of my recent illness, my father came to stay with me a few days. As it happened, we had a good deal of snow and ice during that time and the poor man couldn’t have left if he had wanted to! We were snowbound.

And it was wonderful.

The amount of precipitation we had in Middle Tennessee that caused a panic and empty bread shelves at the Food Lion wouldn’t have even caused a school delay when my son and I lived in Latrobe, PA; but, they have the proper removal equipment there and we just don’t have it here. We don’t get that kind of precipitation often enough to make it economically feasible to have snow plows all over town. And, frankly, a snow plow doesn’t do much good with ice anyway; so, Dad and I were stuck in the house where we talked, rested and read in front of a fire we kept going for almost the whole week.

As I’ve told you, I adore my father. There are a great many things this imperfect man and I disagree about, but that just makes for interesting conversation. Mother nearly died giving birth to my sister and she was very, very ill after having me, as well. So, with both of us, Dad was the one who took care of us early on – and he still does it. I remember him running across the yard and swooping me up out of the fire ant bed I had climbed into, and him carrying me into the hospital when I had pneumonia as a toddler. More recently he insisted on coming to take care of me a few years ago when I had my tonsils removed and couldn’t swallow even the pain meds. (Incidentally, I certainly hope the stories are true and that it hurts worse as an adult than it does as a child. That was worse than labor!) Those are just three of the countless times Dad has been there to help me. My father is not a man who often expresses love verbally; however, he never lets me forget that he loves me and that he worries about me. Even with his expansive vocabulary, he is a man of deed more than a man of word. Words lie. Deeds don’t.

A friend at work lost her father last week in a house fire. We have all grieved for this sweet woman in her loss; but, I have to admit that part of my grief is not for her. It’s for myself. I know that the day will come when Dad won’t be there when I’m unwell. I won’t be able to call to “check his pulse.” He won’t read us ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He won’t be peppering conversations with stories of his years in the forest and with Southern idioms like “useless as hip pockets on a hog.” Someday he won’t be here and I will be devastated at the loss of my father and, again, at the loss of my friend. But, until that awful day comes, I will treasure every chance I get to be with him and, after, I will treasure the memories of being snowbound.

 

The Ringing in My Heart

The first singer I ever saw in concert was Elvis Presley – don’t hate. I remember my ears ringing after that concert and after every one I’ve seen since. The music is always so loud that it’s like my ears turn down the volume themselves to get some relief. In all actuality, the tips of the hairlike stereocilia in my cochlea have been broken by the sound and continue to send false information to my auditory nerve even after the noise has stopped. After about 24-hours, the tips repair and the false signals stop, ending the ringing. While the damage is repairing, however, it’s harder to hear the real auditory input for all the garbage.

The last couple of weeks have been like that. I’ve taken several pretty serious emotional hits that have left my emotional ears ringing. I’m having a great deal of trouble at this point hearing much of anything. Anything, that is, except, “I love you.”

I have heard that through the ringing from friends, from family and from some people that fall into both categories. I haven’t been able to respond well; but, I’ve heard you. I have heard some of you especially clearly.

There are friends who say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “Let me know if I can help.” Those friends are sincere and are valuable. However, there are also friends who say, “Here’s what time I’ll be there,” or they just show up, or they call or write because it’s all they can do at the time. Those friends are invaluable.

I have far more of you than I deserve and I am so grateful.

Time to Say Good-Bye

It’s a beautiful song, but often a terrible thing to do. Today, I will say good-bye to Trey. While I am destroyed over it, it’s time. He has stopped eating and drinking more than a couple of mouthsful – except for last night when he got a plain double cheeseburger and cheese curds from Dairy Queen. (We’re not going to discuss what I had.) He doesn’t wag his tail and the sparkle is gone from his sweet eyes. Even with medication he is in constant pain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy tireless sister has found a vet that will come to my house this afternoon. Trey will be in his home, comfortable and unafraid when he makes his journey across the rainbow bridge. My friend Sean and my niece will be here with me. My niece will take his body for cremation. I know. I know. I used to think that was ridiculous, too – cremating a pet. I don’t anymore and, frankly, I don’t care if anyone else still does. I’ve lived a highly transient life and don’t see me staying here forever either. I don’t want to leave him here. Maybe if I were living in the house I planned to retire in, I’d feel differently; but, I’m not and I don’t.

It’s been a highly emotional couple of days for me and there have been several times when I’ve wondered if I could actually dehydrate by crying. There have been times when a tiny voice in my head called me silly for grieving so over a dog; but, another voice stands up and says that he’s more than a dog – he’s a friend. My other dog Ellie is not the brightest bulb on the circuit – beautiful, sweet and lethal for squirrels, but not all that smart. She doesn’t seem to know that anything is wrong; however, she will grieve for the loss of her playmate, the one who taught her to play when she was a terrified stray. Although I will let her see and smell his body, I expect her to look for him for awhile. At this point, only the cat Bodhi seems to know something is wrong. He’s stuck very close to me and has even been snuggly with Trey.

It has been emotional here and will continue to be for awhile yet as we learn to adjust to life without the old man.

So, remember yesterday when I said that I wouldn’t always make the right nutritional choice? Well, I won’t be making it this afternoon. My sweet friend Katie has already announced that she’s coming by after work with the comfort food of my choice – ice cream, any flavor but mint chocolate chip (I really hate that one). So, I don’t know what flavor she’s bringing and I don’t care. I’m going to eat whatever she brings.

Helping my old friend across the bridge is the right thing to do and it’s time; but, I don’t know that I could do it without the help of my other friends. My most sincere and heartbroken thanks to you all.

Doing Right By An Old Friend

I had planned to write today’s piece on yesterday’s excursion to the library; however, my heart is heavy on another subject. The library will just have to wait until tomorrow. Today, I want – no, I need – to talk to you about a friend of mine, our Labrador retriever, Trey.

I got the dog for Jaegar for Christmas the year my son was eleven. I had told him that we would not be getting another animal until my cat Isabeau died; but, since it didn’t look like Satan wanted her back, I caved and got him the puppy while she was still patrolling the house hissing and spitting. I had grown up with several dogs and a couple of cats, and I thought that every boy should grow up with a dog. So, a friend of a friend found this 2004 Christmas puppy in Lafitte, Louisiana, way down in the swamp. My son took one look at the wiggling black pup and dubbed him Blackie. (Skreech! Um, no. We are not having a black dog named Blackie. How boring!) I encouraged Jaegar to come up with a different name for the little guy and my son, being a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan, came up with Tracer Bullet after Calvin’s film noir alter ego. We called him Trey for short.

This adorable little puppy was a complete nightmare. He was impossible to housetrain and had horrible separation anxiety. In his crate, he would whine all night long. He alone has convinced me to never, never, NEVER again have a baby dog. That baby dog was nearly as much work as a baby human! The cat hated him. In spite of it all, he was pretty cute and I loved watching the boys wrestle around the floor or snuggle up to watch a movie. I was about at my wit’s end with him, though, until we found an obedience class. That helped tremendously! Well, it helped if I got the commands right. I worked with the dog for hours on forward, about turn, heel, stay, place (which he never really got) and halt. Halt, I said, not stop.

339384_10150287970238197_4747270_o (1)One night, I took our trash out and the 10-month-old Trey followed me in the fenced in yard. I pulled the gate to, but didn’t latch it since I was only going to be out there a few seconds and, besides, he always followed me along the fence line to the trash can, anyway, right? Wrong. He nosed the gate open, got out and ran for it. Oh, what fun! He had a game of chase on! Me, standing there yelling “stop!” Him racing down the alley towards Robert E. Lee Blvd. I’ll make a long story short. He made it across three of the four lanes of the road before a car hit him. The poor driver, who turned around when he heard me screaming, never saw this black pup at 9:45 that night. He knew he had hit something and he heard the screams; so, he came back. Wonderful man!

Three vet clinics, two surgeries and a week later, Trey came home. He had a broken leg, two broken ribs, a broken pelvis, a perforated diaphragm and a broken tooth. His game of chase was a very expensive one. Several people reminded me that it would have been cheaper to put him down and get another puppy. I couldn’t do that though – for two reasons: 1:. it was my fault he got out, and 2. he wasn’t crippled or brain-damaged. So, I paid through the nose and have been rewarded with a wonderful companion for ten years.

Recently, the pins used to repair his broken leg had to be removed since the femoral head they were anchored in had dissolved and the pins were painfully backing out into Trey’s muscle. He effectively has no joint for his right hind leg. His left hip is damaged to the point that it can’t really pull up the slack anymore; so, the old man is hardly able to get around. He has started urinating all over the house again for whatever reason; so, he has to sleep in the hated crate again. He still whines when he’s in there. I let him into the back yard each morning where he stays, lying in the leaves until it’s time for dinner. But, last night, he ate little of that and didn’t whine once after I put him in the crate, leading me to believe that my old friend is nearing the rainbow bridge. He is in great pain and I know that it will soon be time to help him cross that bridge – it will be my last loving act for this puppy, this dog, this old man who has been so precious to us.

And it breaks my heart.