A little over two years ago, I told Ethan (not long after my Yorkie had a minor surgery), “Be careful with Wensley, please. He has an ouchie and it really hurts him.”
“I know that,” Ethan said. “That’s why it is called an ‘ouchie’.”
Note to self: don’t explain child language to a child.
It just popped into my mind today and that seems fitting. We have a new puppy and he’s a delight and I’m so grateful that he has provided a counter balance to the loneliness Ethan is feeling as an only child sheltering in place. But I still miss my dog. I miss him every day. It’s an ouchie. And as the name alludes, it hurts. It hurts, real bad.
The thing is: I feel him. I feel that he is near me, sometimes. Especially in the night hours, I feel him at the foot of my bed. Sometimes I feel a motion that could be him and I write it off as Matt, shifting his feet around. But sometimes I feel it even after Matt is up, or when he has gone to sleep on the couch on a restless night. And I have thought, “Wensley is here; he is near me, now…”
Last weekend I googled, “can you learn to see ghosts?” I’ve met women who claim to see them and who have seemed sincere. I am a bit of a skeptic, but sometimes I wonder… maybe? What if energy decides to linger before it converts? I don’t know. I haven’t really wanted it to fall on one side or the other. Until now.
As you have probably already guessed, my google search wasn’t particularly helpful. Which is to say, it didn’t tell me how to check in with Wensley and ask if he is okay. If he blames me for deciding it was his time to go. I felt so silly for googling it, I did something I never do, which was delete my cache. (Not that it matters; I guess the deep state Knows, now.)
I felt it again last night. Something like the slight disturbance Wensley would make when he would do a deep stretch on the foot of the bed, late at night, and then fall immediately bad to sleep. It made my heart warm just a little to think he’s still here watching after me. However irrational that seems.
But then, a few hours ago, it hit me. It isn’t a presence I’m feeling. It is something more akin to phantom limb syndrome. Clearly my brain isn’t ready to let him go.
Am I saying I have decided there are no spirits? No. I don’t know what is out there. I’m just feeling the loss of my companion again today. And it hurts. It hurts, real bad.
I am obsessed with dogs. I don’t think that’s new information. But I have developed one dog obsessed habit over the years that I haven’t really talked about, which is this: if I see someone walking their dog, I have to turn my head and see the dog, and it has something to do with seeing what kinds of people choose what kinds of dogs. I find that most people are well matched to their dogs, but the more mismatched they are, the more it delights me. Exempli gratia: the biggest gruffest man in the world walking a dog so tiny, white, and puffy that it looks like the puff of a dandelion = my week made.
And so, yesterday, I was driving up the main thoroughfare that leads to my house, and… I saw a man out of my peripheral vision that my brain decided was walking a dog. In retrospect, what my brain registered was a man on the sidewalk with his had at hip level and a line going from his hand to the ground in a very leash like way. However, when I turned my head there was no dog. My eyes followed the line back up to the hands, which were holding a penis. And that’s how I saw a strangers wiener on my street yesterday. And even though I didn’t want any part of that experience, I got a close enough look at the piss stream that the first articulatable thought that went through my mind was, “he seems dehydrated.”
Here’s the crazy part. No, actually… that was the crazy part. But the thing that I keep thinking about is the fact that he was a clean cut silver haired gentleman in a button down shirt and salmon pants. He looked completely not homeless. And he was passing on the sidewalk of a busy street, at 4:30 on a Thursday, very near a secluded parking lot. And yet, he gave no fucks, only urine.
I’m just hung up on the Venm diagram of salmon pants and public urination. I realize, of course, that the percentage of me who would urinate in a public space under certain circumstances is 100%. But when do those circumstances include salmon pants? My instincts tell me there is little overlap there. Obviously my instincts need recalibrating.
Is it the pandemic? Have we all lost our attachments to norms? Has the implied social contract we all hold for one another’s safety and comfort disintegrated so completely in three months?
I’m picturing this salmon pants / street pissing / pandemic Venn diagram, and I see a cartoon rendering of a savage and bug-eyed looking germ each gripping one of those circles. They laughing while pushing them together until they over lap significantly. And in the shaded area of the overlap is a label that reads “the world can go fuck itself.”
My state is starting to open up. My city got the word yesterday that we have gone from “orange” (moderate risk) to “yellow” (low risk). Restaurants are opening patios and people are excited to get out and enjoy the lovely May weather.
I haven’t felt great about it, as our cases of virus as well as the deaths have continued climbing. But now, I have this completely insane data (I realize it is anec-data with a plot point of one, but sometimes that’s all you need) that men, who otherwise would be cast as models in adds for a Vanguard retirement fund, are openly pissing on the sidewalk in broad daylight and that tells me that people are NOT OKAY! And it is NOT SAFE to go out there!
Full disclosure, I’m a total introvert and I’m thoroughly enjoying keeping up with people via Zoom from my basement and if things stayed like this for a while I would probably be just fine. But still. That shit is a bad sign.
PS I know you are wondering and the answer is no: he was not wearing a mask.
This is definitely not a blog that will tell you how to get through COVID 19 with grace and ease. There are plenty of those and I don’t have anything original to add. I wish I did.
One thing I implemented in my household that has lasted more than a weekend is the revival of hankies. You know the cloth thing your grandpa always had in his pocket? I have a basket of hankies set out like Easter eggs and you can get a new one each day. Matt and I decided that “big blows” go in disposable tissue but occasional wipes can get the pocket hankie. That made it less weird.
You are judging me as totally gross right now but I am impervious because yesterday, for the first time, the new puppy pushed his way through the bathroom door to discover that I actually “do my business” in The House! No judgment you send will match the intensity of those chocolate eyes. I destroyed his innocence, forever!
This is less gross and more gross at the same time… When I do decide a blow is “Kleenex worthy,” I get a tissue but then I put it in my pocket and I later use it as toilet paper. Yeah, there is a risk of getting boogers on my butt hole, but this is an emergency, people! We MUST conserve!
You can judge me all you want but I grew up poor and if you threw a tissue away without having smeared boogers on each quadrant, my mother’s WRATH would have been upon you! Yes, she checked the trash. With her bare hands. Apparently, she was more concerned about waste than germs. It was a simpler time.
So… that was all an example of how I am making this up as I go along and DO NOT HAVE THIS! We are at week… what? 500? I don’t know. I work from home anyway so I was at a disadvantage at noticing the difference between leading a sad solitary life and living in a pandemic from the get-go. Time is like a cesspool of headlines and vague concerns, all blending together in a impressionist painting of HELL. I have kinda been feeling that since 2016. Y’all are just catching up with me.
This is the one thing I have been doing for the last six weeks or so that I think is actually helpful and I encourage you all to do the same. I have dug out my collection of stationary. You know, those packs of 12 thank you cards or blank note cards you bought when you only needed three, so they pile up endlessly in that drawer you hate to look in? I discovered a box of cards that (I shit you not) I bought in 1996. They are all portraits of Tibetan people and they are so beautiful that I never parted with a single one. Also, what occasion do those suit, really? Happy bat-mitzvah! Here is a photo of an ancient vegetarian! (Maybe that would be acceptable but it certainly wasn’t the perfect fit.)
Point being: I dug out those cards and whenever I feel a longing for connection, I sit down and – here is the important part – before I can over think it, I write to someone and I send it. Who doesn’t love a hand written card? Who isn’t craving connection right now?
I’ve sucked Ethan into it also. Each week he gets a vague assignment from his second grade teachers that says “write X many sentences about whatever you want.” I have converted that into “write to a grandparent using a card from my stash!” He has two bio parents and two step parents, so there are plenty of grandfolks to choose from! And God Almighty, do they need that right now!
I’m not trying to give myself any credit here; it is a simple thing. But if you are reading this, I implore you: make a list of people in your life that you could lift up with a card (or note on scratch paper! It doesn’t need to be a fancy card!), and make that happen this week/weekend. It’s small but it makes a difference.
PS If you are wondering who received the precious Tibetan portraits from the mid nineties, I’m sad to say that I haven’t sent any of those. Apparently, my inner hoarder wants to be buried with those. My inner hoarder is strong willed, so I better start saving up for a super sized casket.
I really didn’t want to write about COVID19. I know it’s impossible to escape right now. But honestly, it is all I think about. Maybe in another week or two this will just be my new life and I’ll be back to worrying about things other than how quickly my household is going through toilet paper.
Because I am lucky enough to have a job, my health, and family, this is an example of how the virus is affecting me:
Last week, I got an email from work which, at first glance, appeared to indicate that I had made a large mistake. Before I could register what I was reading or go back and look into the matter, Matt called to me from the other room in a panic. He needed help tuning Ethan’s violin before his online lesson started in three minutes. I do not know how to tune a violin, but I was needed so I shot off an email to my coworkers, apologizing profusely for being an idiot, and dashed off to learn about tuning pegs. Between Matt and I, we made the violin much worse. But once Ethan’s lesson started, his instructor was able to talk us through it and most of his lesson wasn’t wasted. I returned to my computer, re-read the email and opened up a few files to see what had happened. Turned out that everything was fine. There was no mistake in action on my part, only a small mistake in communication on someone else’s part, and I had leaped onto my sword in my apology email for no reason.
I’m not sure, but I think my blood-pressure broke a record high in that 15 minute interval.
This is what I am going through, because as I said, I am very lucky. My sisters and most of my friends have full time jobs and multiple children to home school, also full time. And I don’t know anyone who is sick! I can’t even imagine what those folks are going through.
I’m just trying to keep on top of things at work and home, but it is tricky. I feel like a big part of living with this pandemic is like playing a multi week long scavenger hunt. I’m finding out what I need to collect just a little too late, however. First it was toilet paper, then paper towels, eggs, flour, then paper towels again. Then, a few days ago, we got the “order” (a gentle request from our Republican governor with zero consequences for ignoring it) to wear homemade masks while in stores.
The homemade part is important because they want to save all the medical supplies for health care workers. I have heard just how important this is multiple times on NPR. And that matters NPR is the closest thing that I have to a religion now. It used to be the second closest but brunch has been cancelled until further notice.
I set about making masks and again, I am very lucky here. I have a sewing machine. I can sew. Not well, but I can. It occurred to me that I was being called to use my least favorite crafting skill for my country and I was a little irritated by this fact. If this were a knitting crisis, I would be kicking ass. I would be the equivalent of the mom in the Incredibles at knitting the country back together. But no. It had to be sewing.
I have plenty of fabric laying around, so that wasn’t a problem. This is when I realized I missed out on another important item from the scavenger hunt list: elastic. I saw people online using hair elastics but I was concerned about making that work if the mask was either a little too big or a little too small. I decided to go to Joann’s Fabric and see what I could find. The only elastic they had was for waistbands, which was much too wide. I found a lot of ribbon though, so I decided to use that and just tie the damn thing.
As I was poking around looking at ribbon and thread, I noticed that everyone else in the store was already wearing a homemade mask, and they were all perfectly executed. Hang on! I said in my mind. I’m working on it!
I heard on NPR that it takes about five minutes to sew one of these masks. I knew that it would take me longer, but it took about one hour and forty five minutes longer. I found a free pattern online and immediately had to start improvising with it because it was so large it would have covered my entire face. You remember that kid from So I Married an Axe Murderer? The one that has a head “like an orange on a toothpick”? I have the opposite problem. I am more of the pin on a tangerine shaped human.
I messed with it and messed with it. I had to add several more pleats than the pattern called for. It did not look like the perfect masks on the ladies of Joann’s. For one thing, it was still too big. But I got it done.
The next time I braved the grocery store, I put on my mask with some pride. I made this for my country! I thought. It’s like a tiny victory garden, right on my face!
But the grocery store patrons were quite different from the serious crafters of Joann’s. First, I was one of the only people wearing a mask, (as I said, it wasn’t required) and second, the other masked people were all wearing the medical looking ones that we weren’t supposed to buy. The feeling that I got at Joann’s was something like shame that I hadn’t done this already. The feeling I got in the deli aisle was something like embarrassment for being the goody-two shoes who listens to NPR and our governor’s gentle suggestions. Both felt like high school, all over again.
Oh well. I made it and I’m wearing it. I may take crack at sewing a new one. I still have a ton of fabric and I found a pattern that might fit on my face (and stay on my nose!) much better. If I’m too busy with work or violin triage, however, then I’ll make do with this.
In that same address, our governor asked everyone to try to help local businesses by getting take-out three times a week. This was the best news I received since this whole thing started. Get take out for my country? Hell yes! I’m suddenly patriotic AF!
If there is a knitting need that arises, by all means let me know. I’m ready to help! Meanwhile, I’ve got some noodles and tacos to attend to. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
If everything had gone according to plan, I would be in southern Utah tonight with all my boys, celebrating Wensley’ fifteenth birthday. But Wensley’s kidneys gave out in February. I kept the trip on the books because I’ve been so sad without him and I thought it would be good to get away. Then last week I experienced both my first pandemic and my first earthquake. It was like a biathlon of terror.
After Wensley died, I had been saying that maybe we would get another dog for Christmas, after a good long grieving break. Then school was canceled and Matt, Ethan, and I have been stuck at home getting on each other’s nerves all day. Then I said that if school was canceled for more than the two weeks they originally announced, we would get a dog for Easter. Something to distract us. Then I woke up to a 5.7 earthquake and stumbled through hours of aftershocks as I tried unsuccessfully to focus on work. I went for a walk to calm my nerves and found myself tempted to steal every dog I saw.
So, yeah. We got a puppy on Friday. Nothing is going according to plan right now so I said “fuck it.”
Meet Murphy, the 10 week old Goldendoodle that I found through a friend. He’s a sweetheart and a good monster and sometimes he makes me cry because I still miss my dog terribly and I feel like an unfaithful A hole for getting a new dog less than six weeks after I lost my Wensleydale.
I told my therapist about it yesterday. He was kind and said he was surprised I lasted this long. Then we talked about Murphy as a new chapter, and not a replacement. That reminded me of something I read in a David Sedalia essay once, about the way the lifespan of our pets put a tidy parentheses around eras in our lives. It’s so true. I like thinking of it that way.
This morning I was sad because I realized that today is Wensley’s birthday. Murphy was being adorable and I was resisting his charm, feeling a longing that is unfair to him but articulated itself as a rebuke that said “you aren’t my dog.”
Then he did something that Wensley used to do that I had completely forgotten about. He ran over to his food bowl which I had just filled, took one bit of kibble in his mouth, then ran back to the carpeted area of the room and ate it there. Then he did it again, and again. I don’t know how common that is with puppies, but I always thought it was hilarious when Wensley did it. “Does it taste better when your paws are cushioned?” I used to ask him.
Wensley was my dog. But Murphy is our dog. This new era is off to a weird and wonky start, but it has begun. And Murphy is not a replacement. He’s a new member of the family that belongs in this era. But if he helps remember some joy from the last era, that’s fine too. It wasn’t the plan, but as I’m learning… nothing goes according to plan.
Today is Friday the 13th and we are now also out of rice, pasta and name-brand frozen pizza. Next week doesn’t have the time change or the other stuff, but I’m not looking forward to it. This COVID19 panic is getting all real n’ shit.
We have been trying not to talk about it around Ethan because he can get a bit anxious and we don’t want him to worry. He knows the basics but he honestly doesn’t seem that interested. He’s seven. He has other things to think about.
This morning, I was trying to rush him out to the car so I could take him to school when he suddenly started dashing around looking for something. “Where’s my coat?” he asked.
I picked it up of the wall hanger and said, “it’s right here!”
“No, not that one. Mom bought me a new one. I KNOW I took it to school yesterday!”
“Oh,” I said. Handing him the one that is suddenly no longer “the new one.” I searched through my memory bank of images from the day before. “You weren’t wearing a coat when you got out of your dad’s car, I remember that. Was it IN the car?”
We got belted in and started toward school. The radio was reporting on The Virus so I quickly turned it off and put on some music. My car is a 2007 Toyota and plays CDs, which Ethan finds a bit fascinating. He was asking me about it and wanted to know how many CDs it held. I told him it holds six. “What is the most a CD player can hold? Like, six hundred?”
“If it had six hundred CDs there wouldn’t be room for the engine!” I said, and he laughed.
We got to school and I noticed right away that there wasn’t the usual throng of people and cars. I’ve heard that a lot of people are keeping their kids home so I didn’t think much about it. I parked and hopped out of the car. Ethan is at that age where he still likes being walked in to class and I like to take advantage while that lasts. I will be the totally uncool stepmom before I know it. “And another thing,” I can almost hear his tweenaged voice telling his future friends. “She still listens to CDs!”
We walked into the school and again I noticed just how empty it was. One of Ethan’s teachers called out to him and said something to that might have been just to him or to both of us, but he was across the corridor and I couldn’t make it out, so we just waved. We walked to the vestibule where the they keep the lost and found items. It was overflowing with coats. It usually is full, but now that the spring weather is cool in the mornings but warm in the afternoons, kids have apparently been forgetting coats left and right. He looked and looked but didn’t find it. Ethan gave me a side hug and started to walk off to class but I decided to walk him all the way to the door so I could check his locker.
As we walked past Ethan’s old first grade classroom, his Spanish teacher from last year said something to us with a somewhat exasperated expression. I couldn’t make it out. I actually wasn’t sure if she had spoken in English or Spanish. I asked Ethan, “what did she say?” He just shrugged. As we walked past I smiled and said, “Hola!”
We were almost to the lockers when Ethan’s current teacher walked toward me and said, “We are asking parents not to enter the school because of the new restrictions. You should just drop him off outside.”
I stopped and looked around again. Yes, that was what was different! I was the only parent in the building! Suddenly I noticed all these little eyes staring at me. Ethan’s school is majority minority and Ethan is one of the whitest students, even though he is one quarter Korean. One little girl in particular was glaring at me and I felt like I could read the thought bubbles above her little head. “There goes one of those white ladies who thinks the rules don’t apply to her!”
“I’m so sorry!” I said, clutching my Kate Spade bag closer to my chest. “I didn’t know…”
“It’s okay,” Ethan’s teacher told me, but she was pointing at the door and it didn’t feel okay.
I bounced so quickly I forgot to ask her about the coat. (Dammit!) I felt like yelling over my shoulder as I left, my germ cloud trailing behind me, “Steps don’t get the emails; it isn’t my fault.”
The worst part is: right before I was stopped by the teacher, I asked Ethan, “what does the coat even looked like?”
“White camo,” he said. What? What even is that? I can’t picture it, but am still certain that if rednecks had a flag (a new flag, I know they have the stars and bars), it would be made of white camouflage.
I’m actually relieved to think that they will probably close the school soon so I won’t have to show my face there in the near future. My white white face with the bright red cheeks. I will be keeping all of those (and my germs) at home.
Ethan (seven) has been having a little trouble at school. He’s bright and motivated and his teachers love him. He has lots of friends. AND (I’m deliberately not saying “but”) he has really big feelings. He gets frustrated when something happens out of the usual order and he doesn’t feel prepared, for instance. We (both our family unit and the family unit of his mother’s and stepfather’s house) have always made sure he knows that it is okay to cry. We set the example; we show our emotions and encourage him to check in with and express his own. Unfortunately, some of his fellow classmates (you couldn’t hear it but I just sneezed and it sounded just like ‘dumb boys.’ It was weird) have started calling him “cry baby.”
We talked about it a lot over the weekend. His school is supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, which seems nice. When I was in school in the 80s, bullying was a perfectly acceptable hobby for a lot of kids, encouraged by parents and gym teachers alike. But really there’s zero-tolerance for bullying that happens directly in front of an un-distracted authority figure, which typically isn’t the setting the these little butt holes choose. So we discussed some strategies that he could try, such as going to a teacher if the issue persists, and gave him some reassurance that he’s fine, just the way he is.
I hate this stuff because it brings up my own childhood crap. But also because I HATE the way school breaks our kids. I see it with my nieces and nephews and my friend’s children. Everyone starts out confident and quirky and excited about school and then they get dumped into the sausage machine and the shitty little kids who need everyone to be the same will appoint themselves the gatekeepers of what is allowed and beat the quirks to a pulp. It makes me so sad.
In response, I did something bad. I knew it was bad, and I did it anyway. I was driving Ethan to school so it was just the two of us and I brought up the situation. I waited so that I could get him to myself and not have his Dad hear me and have to correct me for my terrible advice.
“You know,” I said, stopping at a traffic light. “I was thinking of something you could say to [Kid’s Name].”
“What?” Ethan asked.
“Next time he calls you a crybaby, say ‘yeah, but I can stop crying and you will still be ugly.”
“Oh, Rachel!” Ethan said, his eyes bright with a smile, but shaking his splayed hands in front of him, as if refusing another slice of cake. “I would get in so much trouble!”
This is the problem with zero-tolerance policies. The kids who don’t care about following the rules won’t be dissuaded, but the kids who just want to do the right thing won’t even defend themselves.
“You could tell your teacher that I told you to say it,” I said. “I will take the blame!”
“Actually, I thought of something else I could say,” he said.
“What is that?”
“I’m just going to say, ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ And then they will realize it isn’t nice.”
I made myself say, “Yeah… that’s good… too.” I checked the rear-view mirror. “But you could still think about my response. It might make you laugh.”
I got a good smile and a little chuckle then. “Yeah,” he said. “It is funny.”
We don’t get him again until the weekend so I won’t get to check in with him for a few days. I feel so much pressure to enjoy him now, while he is cute and sweet and small. And as purely him as he will be again. Every day those shitty little dumb-asses change him a little more. This is the price we pay for being social animals, I guess. Now I understand why people choose to home-school. I wouldn’t go that far, however. At the risk of offending someone, I’ve met home-schooled kids and some of them could stand having some weirdness smoothed down in the sausage machine.
I never really allowed myself to believe that my dog might die one day. Wensley always looked like a puppy, so even when he started limping from arthritis and sleeping most of the day I thought we would still have years together. I was wrong.
Wensleydale Danger McDoggiepants, my partner in crime and Netflix binging, passed away on Sunday. No, that’s a lie. I called a veterinarian and asked him to come to my house to give my dog a life ending shot and he died. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Maybe the hardest.
The only kindness in this is that it happened so fast. He lost interest in eating so I made an appointment with the vet. Last Wednesday I got the diagnosis: Chronic Kidney Disease. I read several articles on the internet and thought, “Okay, this is bad, but I don’t know what phase of the disease he is in. We are just learning about it so maybe it is early?”
Nope. I put him in an animal hospital and they tried to flush the toxins that his kidneys were no longer dealing with, but he didn’t respond to treatment. We brought him home on Friday and made him as comfortable as possible. On Saturday he rested but could still walk around outside and even ate a little. But on Sunday he threw up everything he ate the day before and couldn’t even stand when I took him outside. He was shaking as if he were freezing but when I wrapped and spooned him it didn’t let up, which meant that he wasn’t cold, he was in pain. The moment I knew it was over when when I got up to get some pain medication for him and his eyes didn’t follow me as I walked across the room. Matt’s Dad always joked that Wensley was “my shadow” because he padded after me everywhere, and even if he was to tired or sore to follow me on foot he followed me with his eyes.
I’ll spare you the rest. Or rather, I’ll spare myself having to write down the rest. I’m sure you can imagine.
Wensley was a small dog. (Only twelve pounds for most of his life, but significantly less by the last day.) And yet, the hole he has left is unfathomable to me. I’ve always said that we were codependent, but it was more true than I realized. This entire week I’ve been struggling just to feel like I’m still myself without him. I feel pain at every meal because I don’t have the soundtrack of whimpering at my feet, begging for a bite, that I have had at every meal for nearly fifteen years. I don’t have anyone putting their paws on my leg in the morning reminding me to make breakfast because he knew I’d let him lick the bowl of oatmeal glue when I was done. I always remembered to give Wensley his pills, even though I could never remember to take my own. So we took them together. I haven’t had breakfast or my meds all week. Every time I come home, there is no wagging tail or urgent whine of a dog needing to go out to pee. I don’t have a first order of business any more, so I just stand in the kitchen not sure what to do.
Then there is everything else. By which I mean, the crazy thoughts. Like the fact that I feel cheated every time my neighbor’s dog barks because why does she get to be alive? And how is it possible that everything that has eyes reminds me of Wensley? People, birds, stuffed animals – in person or in a two dimensional image – all of it hurts me because I can never gaze in those deep brown eyes again. He would sit at the top of the stairs and I would lay on the steps so we could be eye to eye and we would stare at each other. It made me feel so calm and connected. Everyone, stop having eyes! And then there is the guilt for every bit of human food I gave him. I should never have done that! And also all the guilt for everything – all the Cheetos and fries – I denied him. I should have given him everything he ever asked for!
God fucking damn this hurts. I now understand why people go straight out and buy another dog after a loss like this. The void is crushing. Only I don’t want a new dog. I want a new house. One that doesn’t remind me of Wensley everywhere I look. Part of me keeps waiting for him to walk into every room I am in, his black nails clattering on the wood floor.
I’m not going to buy a new house. If I were obscenely rich, I might not be able to stop myself. Is that why rich people have so many houses? One for every beloved pet they have lost? I wonder.
There is nothing to do but let it hurt. I need to give myself time to grieve, and time to build some post-Wensley memories in this new house. It’s unbearable to think of still, but that is what has to happen.
I’m sure I sound like a crazy person, but Wensley was a once in a lifetime dog. He was with me through the most difficult years of my life. I was only 26 when I got him; it’s crazy to think of that! He was there through a divorce, multiple moves, countless loses and heartbreaks, and stressful shake-ups at work. For more than ten years, it was just Wensley and me, and he got me through. He was a the life raft that delivered me safely through the dangers and into the hands of my new family, Matt and Ethan.
They have been amazingly supportive, by the way. (All of my friends and family have been.) I broke down doing dishes the other night because there was a little chunk of celery left on someone’s plate that Wensley would have LOVED and I couldn’t give it to him. Ethan (who is seven) jumped up from his homework and ran over and wrapped his arms around my waist, telling me how much he loved me and how glad he is that we are a family. That made me cry harder but with gratitude.
I guess that is where I start. There is one new memory I have made in this “after Wensley” period. I guess I’m creating another one right now, as I’m writing in my too quiet house, and I’m feeling grief and gratitude at the same time, and I’m having a big sloppy cry as I get through this entry. Baby steps.
There are few things that have been running through my mind all week. One is this song by Holcombe Waller called Hardliners. Maybe listen, but don’t watch? It’s not a terrible video but I worry that the cheesiness distracts from the lyrics. I’m trying to figure out why it keeps popping into my head, other than the line that goes, “you’re so sad you just might die” which feels apt. I think it is because I need to be reminded that I have permission to feel all of this grief that is washing over me, but I don’t have permission to stop loving. It’s been exhausting to be a member of my family this week when I really wanted to be in bed with the blinds drawn, but my life raft didn’t get me all this way just so I could throw myself back in the rapids and go under.
This is the other brain worm that has been whispering in my ear. It’s a quote from Jamie Anderson (who according to the internet wrote Dr. Who).
That is so spot on, I think. Grief and love are just two sides of the same doggie biscuit, or similar.
This morning I dropped Ethan off and school and turned the car back toward home. My first thought was about going to a Starbucks that I know of near that area, but with a sharp sting I decided not to, because it is so close to Wensley’s Veterinarian’s office. My second thought was about Ethan. I started thinking about his breakfast routine and wondering if he is getting enough protein. I have a few ideas about what he might like, but I want to talk to Matt about it. Then I realized with a smile that I’m transferring my grief for my dog into anxiety for my stepson. Where else is all that worry going to go? So I suppose the healing has begun. Which is painful, but natural.
I don’t have a great ending and I’ve reached that point where I might start singing “The Circle of Life,” and no one needs that. Instead, here are a few favorite pics of Wensley, including one of both of us from 2005 when he was about five months old.
I survived Dry January. Full disclosure: I cheated twice. The first time was a glass of Prosecco at a wake for a family friend. That was a no brainer. Then I went to a writing conference and ended up taking the weekend off of the wagon. I can’t really justify that one except to say writers+social time+a successful agent pitch which resulted in a request for my full manuscript=celebration ÷ wine³. I regret nothing.
The first Sunday of February Matt invited some friends over for the Superbowl. I do not care about football but I was celebrating the end of January (both dry January and January as a broad concept). I was feeling awkward and under pressure, as I always do when people I don’t know well are in my house. I was settling in but then I managed to embarrass myself. It was one of those Superbowl commercials where they get as many famous football players they can on camera and they throw the ball around and create mayhem, and Matt and his friends were excitedly shouting out the names of the people they recognized. They were having a great time. Then, suddenly, I saw someone I thought I recognized and before I could stop myself I said, “Ooh, ohh! That’s Idris Elba!”
Everyone stopped and looked over at me with that expression people give you when they need to tell you that you are an asshole but they don’t actually want to. “No,” Matt said, gently. “That’s [yet another football star I’ve never heard of].”
At first I was still certain I was right. “He looks just like him!” I said.
Then one of Matt’s friends said, “Yeah, he does. Like… he looks like a black man in an expensive suit…”
And I realized I did it again. I was accidentally racist. Goddammit. I hear people (cough, Republicans) on TV and podcasts and such insisting that there is no such thing as “implicit bias” (Richard Lowry, I’m looking at you) and that they DEFINITELY aren’t racist (despite supporting Trump “because of economic reasons; I disagree with him on many things!” [PS: fuck you]). Meanwhile, I genuinely do NOT want to be a racist and I’m accidentally racist ALL THE TIME! It’s the fucking WORST!
Matt was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during the game, so he sweetly set me up with a puzzle of a kitten that I could work on while everyone else watched sportsball. But after my gaffe, I couldn’t sit still and do my adorable puzzle. I was embarrassed and racist and stupid and I needed to DO something. So I went upstairs to work on the dishes. The bad part of that plan was that upstairs was where the booze was. And not just the can of wine that I bought to enjoy for my return to drinking (1 can = two drinks. 1 bottle = five). There were many bottles of whiskey that Matt’s friends brought to sample. And also a large bottle of home-made cider, that Matt’s friends so kindly brought, just for me!
I was cleaning and drinking and had, what seemed in the moment, a very funny thought. “My basement is full of people watching football, but I’m upstairs cleaning. I’m like a real Mormon!” Nothing like whiskey to make one feel hilarious. I shared this thought on Facebook and a former co-worker (also an ex-Mormon) chimed in with a dig at the Mo’s. “Donate your money to a very rich multi-national corporation that doesn’t help the poor and your transformation will be complete!” I realize that if you aren’t Mormon or Mormon adjacent, this will sound like (sorry to mix sportsball metaphors) inside baseball. But suffice it to say, it’s funny. I replied to say as much.
As I was cleaning, however, my phone started sending chimes in rapid succession that said something to the effect of:
[Chime] That super Mormon uncle you never talk to and forgot you were friends with on Facebook as replied to your former coworker.
[Another chime] Your coworker is responding to you your uncle.
[Another chime] Your mother is joining in.
[Another chime] Your coworker has broken into a sweat.
[Another chime] Your uncle has more to say.
[Another chime] Your coworker has sent you an IM asking for some cover fire.
[Another chime] This is the only thing that your Mormon relatives are talking about, other than the half-naked half-time show.
[Internal Monologue] Fuuuuuuuck. (Pours more whiskey.)
Everyone left after the game and Matt was not pleased that I drank as much as I did. It started out well! I had my can of wine and a puzzle and lots of good intentions! But I didn’t stick the landing hopping out of the wagon. I whiffed it into the mud on the side of the road and got multiple pints of sludge on my face.
So… taking a break for Dry January was good but not a cure for anxiety and/or binge drinking tendencies. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I wish I could say that I have a plan for what happens next, but I’m still figuring it out. I’m avoiding Facebook. And Mormons. And people in general. Maybe that will help.
Meanwhile, can we talk about when they will come out with the next season of Luther? It’s been too long. The accidentally racist winos want more Luther! At least, this one does. I’ll be waiting in the basement. Checking my phone for updates.