When I started this blog a few months ago, my intent was simply to build an audience to support the book I’m writing, so an agent could cyber-stalk me and see that people were interested in what I had to say. Or so I hoped. But as I began to post, a beautiful yet unanticipated outcome emerged…the opportunity to not only give you prose to read, but words to feel. I hadn’t expected that.
When someone tells me my work made them laugh, or cry, or change their mind, or think differently about life than they had before, or feel like they’re not alone, it’s a gift that defies value. It’s incomparable, and for me, a much more important result than my original purpose. Whatever feelings I’m able to generate are doubled, squared, and amplified when they come back. Hearing your thoughts and opinions satisfies my soul in a way I’ve never felt before, and I appreciate it. Every day. So thank you for giving me something so rare. It’s incredible to be surprised by life when you’re halfway through the journey.
People create blogs about everything on the spectrum of anything: cooking, sports, disease, motherhood, death, demons, and gods. I write about my life, and if I had to pick a word to tightly wrap the layers of emotion I’m trying to bind together and deliver, it would be a simple one. Real. Whether I aim to be funny one day or serious the next (remember, I’m a Gemini, and was gifted the right to change my mind by Zeus himself, or the rhythm method, or two x chromosomes, or all of the above), I want to be real, because life is as much about pain as pleasure, and to ignore one in pursuit of the other doesn’t work.
When my husband’s grandfather, Jim, died in February, the only world I knew the day before shifted. Not off its axis and out of control, but a critical element in the chain of my life disappeared. Just like that. Most of us swim with a fairly predictable current every day. We ebb and flow with the tide, catch our breath in shallow water, and brace ourselves when the temperature changes, and colors darken and deepen. But when you’re floating along and suddenly slammed against a rock hidden by a breaking surf? There’s no anticipation, and you’re forced into a position of picking up whatever’s left in the aftermath.
The only thing left alive in the wake of Jim’s death was his dog Brandy. We took her in, largely because we felt an obligation to do what we considered to be the right thing out of respect for someone we loved, partially because I’m an eternal optimist, or so I thought at the time, and lastly, because nobody else volunteered.
I’m a fixer by nature. I believe that if I try hard enough, feel strongly enough, and force my will and resolve, I can change the world, or more specifically, you. I often substitute the reality in front of my face for the vision I see in my head, because I draw pretty pictures up there and the sun often shines.
When we adopted Brandy, I conveniently ignored the fact that we had avoided her for the past couple of years because she bit my youngest, Essa, when she was five. In the face. Luckily the bite was sent as a warning on Brandy’s part. She broke the skin but didn’t go deep.
I also ignored Brandy’s temperament. She was testy, unpredictable, and didn’t like anyone or anything, except Jim. He came over one day last summer wearing the remnant scars of bloody claw marks all the way up his inner arm. Brandy had attacked another dog on a walk, and in trying to pull her off, he’d been caught in the crossfire.
Regardless, in the heat of emotion and the cocoon of denial, I was determined to make Brandy one of us. For Jim. For Scot. For me. Out of a painful longing for yesterday and a life that no longer included someone I desperately wanted back.
And I failed.
Brandy never assimilated into our family. She attacked another dog, tried to bite our next door neighbor, actually bit Scot, growled at my children and their friends, and frightened my mother-in-law so much that she was afraid to walk around her in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, in a multitude of occurrences, and over a succession of days and weeks. In one visit where we had to muzzle Brandy to get her out of my truck and through the door, the vet recommended we give her a huge wake, especially the kids, and a house that was filled with grief became one augmented by an undertow of fear.
With Jim gone, we slowly realized that there was no way to replicate the life she had, and we were forced to make a decision about her future. She couldn’t stay with us anymore. The risk of her hurting a child became too loud to ignore. We researched shelters, but found that her quality of life would be no life at all. Due to her temperament, she would be caged, walked once during the day, and left largely alone.
After days of discussion, debate, denial, and tears, we came to the conclusion that the only humane choice was to put Brandy down. Scot was the person who took her to the vet. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength. How he did is something I will forever question. Jim was the father my husband never had, and the personal sacrifices Scot had to make in doing so say more about his character than my words ever could.
When they got to the office, Brandy was serene. There was no stress. There was no muzzle. There was no fight. Scot laid out her blanket, Brandy jumped on, and he carried her in. As he describes it, she was at peace, having curled up into herself and fallen asleep as he stroked her back and whispered that everything was going to be alright.
Often, in life, everything isn’t alright. It’s ugly, raw, and real. So I have a new definition of optimism. Optimism isn’t waking up to a bright, sunny day where the birds chirp through an open window. Optimism is facing darkness everywhere you turn, choosing the best of equally shitty paths, and believing that the road you took was somehow the right one.