there are moments when you are overcome with a sadness so complete so all encompassing and unidentifiable and powerful there is nothing that you can do but to sit inside of it and let it wash over you and encompass you and fill every part of you until you can no longer breathe and it flows through your blood stream and out through your finger tips and your hair and your eyes and you wonder why do you feel so completely and utterly sad you have no idea but you can’t help it you fight back against it with everything inside of you that says no no no i don’t want to feel this thing it is too painful it hurts too much and I am tired of fighting but the sadness is stronger than you and it tells you all that you should be afraid of and all that you have done wrong and continue to do wrong and it lists off your failures one by one and tells you that your heart will never find peace and to be very fearful of what is to come next that you will forever be stuck in this darkness and no one can help you not even god because god has left you and your loved ones have left you except god and your loved ones don’t even know they have left you they did not make a decision to leave you they just sort of drifted from you and have not thought about you since because you are no longer important to anyone you are not the one true love to anyone or to anything and you will never be and this is a very good reason to be afraid because soon that dread will be all that you will feel and then you will feel nothing at all and no one will notice that either because you are the only one left and then you go too
I would like to say that JC traveling so much does not have an effect on me. But it does. I think about all the things that can go wrong.
On the drive home tonight a deer ran out in front of my car. The deer was young, maybe a year old. The road was covered in snowpack. The deer saw my headlights and scrambled to get out of my way. I hit the brakes but my tires skid and my vehicle did not slow, I was sliding towards the deer. I thought, this is it, I’m going to kill this animal in my headlights. As the deer scrambled and I pumped the brakes and turned the wheel, the deer made a final leap as my tires rolled over where its hooves last met the road. We did not collide. And then the deer was gone.
Who would I have called if I had hit the animal? Who would come and help me? Who would help me get home to feed the dog and let him outside. The dog does not do well with strangers. These are things that I think about.
There’s also, when JC goes on these long trips, he is without phone service or internet for extended periods. He is at the mercy of the elements and the weather and the world.
I know I’m not alone. There are people who go through this for much longer periods of time. Spouses left at home with jobs to go to and children to care for. If military families can do it for months and years or longer, then I can certainly go a week. Why do I feel so frightened? Why do I feel so fragile? Why do I feel so forgotten? Why do I worry so much? What would happen to me and the dog if JC never came home? Where would the dog and I go? What would we do? Would I have to give the dog away? Would I have to pack up my stuff and put it somewhere and search for another place to live? Would I be forced to forget this home? As if it never, ever existed.
A soul disappearing with each tick of the clock.
Tonight over the phone JC said, I was missing you today. Something gurgled in my heart. Something forgotten.
Like what about me?
Just hanging out with you.
It’s been so long since I’ve heard romantic words, genuine intimate words about how I’m loved and why. I didn’t exactly get that tonight but it was close. I often wonder why everything is so perfunctory between us now. I’d given up on anything more, really. Hearing him speak that way made the heart skip but also sink in remembering something that is lost, maybe lost for good. I do not know. He leaves tomorrow for an 8 day voyage. 8 days of radio silence. 10 tens before my birthday.
Since there is nothing more I can do to fix the dog chained to a tree down the road, I suppose I should focus on fixing myself. There is something that is not right in my heart and my head. It is two weeks from my 49th birthday. I feel disconnected from my siblings, my long-time friends, even my partner. I wake up early and go to work. At the end of the day, I head home. I always head straight home after work. I’m eating healthy. I’m not drinking. I go to bed early. Laundry is not piling up; homemade soup is in the fridge and ready for reheating.
So, WTF is the problem?
Before bed, I walk the dog along the snow-packed road under the stars. Sometimes, when the moon is waning, I wear a headlamp. There’s a spotlight from a barn down the road that casts shadows through the trees and over the winter night. I look for animal tracks. A red light clipped to the dog’s collar winks at me from the dark as he dashes in and out. He keeps a finite distance between us as he follows where his nose takes him. Only he knows the true measurement of that distance–when it’s time to turn back–only he knows. If he gets too far ahead or behind, he catches up and bumps my hand. The cold nose between my gloved fingers says, there you are. I’m glad you’re here.
These walks in the dark are the highlight of my day. No words are exchanged; no glow from the screen of a phone. I work on a computer all day. Sometimes I wear headphones. Sometimes I will go an entire day without speaking with another human being. Sometimes longer. I know I could get up and start a conversation with the person next to me. I am surrounded by people, an office full of people. But most times I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to start a conversation. I’m uninterested in giving voice to kids, politics, plans for the weekend. In many ways, it feels like the same thing over and over and over again. It is becoming difficult to find things of interest. It is becoming difficult to find things in common with other people.
You find what you are looking for. Maybe I’ve stopped trying. I’ve stopped trying to connect. So then, I’ve found what I want: disconnection. But, why?
“You can be lonely even when you are loved by many people, since you are still not anybody’s one and only.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
The deliberate disconnect may be because I’m not sure I know who I am. Not anymore anyway. Am I a student? A sister? A friend? A lone wolf? I already know what I am not. But, what AM I? I am a writer. I am someone who would like to be a vegetarian. But what else… I have no fckn clue. I am someone who likes to go for walks. I am a reader. I am someone who likes animals. I want to rescue animals, but I am not an animal rescuer. So, who am I right now? I am a caregiver to a dog. I am tall. I am a brunette. I am….
I finally coughed up the nerve and dialed the local animal control. Voice mail. I left my first name and my phone number, explaining that there was a dog chained to a tree on my road and I was concerned about him.
Three hours later a woman returned my call.
What’s the address for the house? she asked.
I gave her the house number and the name of the road but then said I’m not sure I could remember the name of the road. Hang on, let me look it up on google maps.
I think I already know the house, the woman said. You’re not the first to call. I’ve been by a few times to talk to the owner and he said he would consider a dog house for the dog to provide some shelter.
There’s no dog house, I said. The dog is just outside tied to a tree with a chain heavy enough to haul an SUV.
I’ve left the owner a couple voice mails, but have not heard back from him.
Can you stop by again? I asked.
I can, she said. The woman went on to explain the law and the lack of county resources. I’ll get off my soap box now. You’ve probably heard enough.
I get it, I said.
Sometimes an animal can freeze to the ground.
I wish there was something that I could do.
Just know, she said, that dog is not a puppy. It’s an adult male and it’s pretty aggressive.
I’d be aggressive too, I said, if I was chained to a tree.
There’s a dog chained up to a tree outside of a house down the road from where I live. He’s not tethered by a rope, but by a heavy chain-link steel chain, something with enough girth to pull in an anchor. Why does a dog need a chain?
I first noticed him this summer. I should have done something sooner. But what? I’m afraid. Afraid of what? I have no idea. Last week, sub-zero temperatures blanketed the are for days and days. That dog was still chained up outside to his tree. Yesterday I drove by and all I could see of him was the puff of black fur of his back. He was curled up and lying in the snow, still tied to his tree. I thought about stopping and knocking on the door and talking to the people that live there. But who am I to do such a thing? From the looks of the property—the abandoned trailers, falling down sheds, and piles of household items that clutter the lawn—these folks are probably not interested in my opinion on how they treat their dog. But I cannot stop thinking about this dog.
Yesterday afternoon, I took my dog for a walk through the woods and imagined what it would be like to have that chained up dog along with us. How would he feel being free to walk about? To sniff the ground and exercise his legs. Would he be full of fear, aggression, both? Would he come back when called or would he disappear into the woods forever? Who would blame him. I wouldn’t come when called by a human either, if being chained to a tree is all that I knew.
I emailed the local shelter and asked for advice. They suggested that I call the local animal control, and included the number. I wrote the number down on a sticky note. I’m staring at the phone number now, still fearful of making the call. What the hell am I afraid of? It’s as if making the call will be stepping over some invisible line that I will never be able to come back from. As if there will be some repercussion for making the call.
I must do something. I cannot do nothing.
The story of the dog must be told. He’s young and he’s smart. He loves to load up into the truck but then whines on the drive.
He prefers to be home. He likes to go for long walks. He loves to jump into snow banks. He’s fearful of new people. When let off leash to walk down the road, one must keep a 360-degree lookout. He comes when called, Here! Ears flopping, legs bounding, tail wagging, he’s at your side. But he does not want you to leave and he does not want anyone to come over. He just wants to be with you and that’s it. With food, lots of food.
When a guest comes into the house I keep the dog on a leash and by my side “Just ignore him if you don’t mind,” I say. “He’s so handsome,” they offer nicely. “Yes, yes he is, but don’t try to pet him.”
When the dog is uncertain with a new person he stops panting. He locks eyes on the intruder, his mouth closes, and it’s as if he’s stopped breathing. The trainer told me to get his attention when he does this, say his name and offer a treat. It’s as if he’s so deep into the stare that he can’t get out, he can’t release himself, “and that’s where you come in,” the trainer said. “Redirect his focus with something positive, eyes on you and a treat.” Luckily the dog is very food motivated.
Sometimes if he’s left too long in that locked-in state, not even a biscuit or my saying his name will set him free. It is at this point that he will cock his head and watch the stranger from the corner of his eye. He never loses eye contact, but with this gesture, it’s as if he’s watching from a hiding place, like a predator. This is when I get nervous. I’ve seen this behavior in him maybe three times, I’m still holding the leash—he can’t go anywhere—but anyone in the room can instinctually recognize the place where he has gone in his animal-mind.
“There, that’s it!” I say. The trainer nods in understanding agreement. “We want to stay away from that place.”
I understand where the dog is coming from.
When you stop drinking wine you start craving sugar like a crazy person. And it’s only been forty-eight hours. It’s sorta like when people quit drinking and start smoking like a crazy person, except with heaping spoonfuls of Skippy creamy peanut butter direct from the jar with the occasional topper of strawberry jam for added sweetness.
Between the 8.5 hours in the office and 1-hour total commute, there are not a lot of hours left over in the 24-hour day. I feel trapped. I get up to go to work I come home I walk the dog I go to bed. I need to do more. Because the dog is left alone at home for so many hours, I am limited in what I can do before/after work.
By the time I get home in the evening the dog has been alone inside for almost 9 hours. He always seems so happy, like nbd. To his credit, the dog does not go into the garbage or counter surf or leave presents. I imagine he sleeps all day. In fact, when I get ready to leave in the morning, he knows I’m on my way out for the duration of the day, he does not follow me to the door or push to go outside with me. Instead, he lies down on his dog bed in the kitchen and watches as I go.
I’ve said it before, he is a good dog. Intelligent, loving, adorable floppy ears. But there are some red flags, his fear aggression being the biggest hurdle. We did not discover it when we first brought him home from the rescue, but in the days and weeks that followed, as he grew more comfortable in his new home and with us, he started to exhibit nervous signs when strangers approached. We have been working with a trainer, getting him to focus on us, not the stranger. This works for a bit, until someone moves about the room, then the staring, the absolute attention on the unknown, clicks back into gear in his brain. He stops panting when he locks into the stare, it’s hard to get him to look away. He loves to eat, but during some of his more intense staring moments he ignores the treats I put in front of his nose.
This dog is very quick to learn, he goes to his ‘place’ and will ‘stay.’ He will ‘walk’ beside you on a leash, he will come when called ‘here.’ There is an exception of course, he has disappeared into the woods after a deer. But we’re working on that. We started with electric collar training, small taps on the lowest level. We are almost to the point, if a deer emerges from the woods he will look at me if I ask him to.
So, what to do about the nervousness and the fear?
I can’t give up on this dog. Although sometimes I want to. I get tired, anxiety-ridden. Not being able to trust him around new people leaves me feeling isolated. Don’t want to invite people to the house, can’t bring him to work to play with the other dogs. He does not board well, he repeatedly slams up against his kennel door. “Barrier frustration” the trainer called it. She’s been working on it with him.
What am I going to do with this dog? Because it is just him and me, day after day after day, I am beginning to resent how much of my focus he requires. I don’t want to feel that way. I want him to succeed, I want us to succeed.
I started watching e-collar training videos on the web. One trainer made a point of saying, “The opposite of adrenaline is focus.” And, “The default position [for the nervous dog] is to worry about everything.”
Sounds like this dog. Sounds like this dog’s owner too.
More to follow.
I spend a lot of time, too much time, thinking about all the things that I am not.
I am not thin.
I am not pretty.
I do not fit into airline seats.
I am not a mother or a wife.
I am no longer a daughter.
I was a sister to my sister, but I am no longer a sister to her.
I am a sister to five brothers, and to a sister who was killed. Increasingly over the last few years, the time spent with those that are left in my immediate family, my brothers, has become more and more hostile. I am the youngest, I am the only girl now: these are all things that I am. But I am not a confidant, I am not given equal seating at the table. I am asked to clear the dishes while the men talk. I am consistently left out of their conversations. I am not invited on ski trips, “he wants to spend time with his brother.” I have never heard, “he wants to spend time with his sister.”
Some things that I am: full of melancholy. Hollow of heart. Family-less. Dear God how I miss a family. I am alone. I am without parents. I am without my sister. I am not part of a tribe. This morning I woke up to a text from my brother that read: “U need a new boyfriend.” Interactions with family have become increasingly combative, aggressive like I am being baited, here… take a bite of this shit sandwich. Now react.
I am all reactions: indifferent, rage, a limp stab at humor. All of these feeble attempts to connect lead into something else that I am: failure. I am an epic failure. These are the things that I tell myself often.
When I look in the mirror I see ugliness, fat, old, disheveled, sloppy, dirty, whore. No one would ever want to be with me. Even my boyfriend doesn’t really want to be with me, but he stays, because he is afraid. Afraid of what I do not know.
I don’t even want to be with me. Often times I look out at the days, years ahead and think, there is no point to my being a part of any of it. Another thing I am not: something that matters.
I read stories about the pets left outside to freeze to death. I want to drive to that house and punch those people in the face and then kick them repeatedly in the head after they fall to the ground. I am a person filled with rage at the injustices of this world, the way women have been treated since the beginning of time by men, men, men. I try to imagine what it must be like to lie next to your captor every night, knowing that you will never be able to leave, ever… eventually accepting that death is the only escape. My heart breaks for the beaten, starved, neglected, thrown-away, pillaged, and sentenced to servitude. Animals in particular. I am a meat eater who longs to be a vegetarian. What is wrong with me that I cannot make this decision?
What is wrong with me that I cannot do the many things that I want to do. That I know I should do. Here’s a sampling:
- Stop being a victim.
- Stop eating meat if you love animals so much.
- Stop buying useless crap online.
- Stop littering the earth with your useless crap and the overdone, overstuffed, over-wrapped packaging that it arrives in.
- Stop accumulating debt.
- Stop drinking so much. You’re turning into a functioning alcoholic (“functioning” questionable).
- Stop watching so much useless TV.
- Stop watching violence on TV.
- Stop being such an asshole, especially to yourself.
- Get out of your fucking head.
Start there, with yourself, that’s a good place to start. Stop being such an asshole to yourself.
Something else that I am not, kind to myself. Not today, anyway. Not today.