Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ozzy is sprawled on his back with his legs like chicken wings jutting up from his body. He snores.

Words rush to the surface like carbonated bubbles and jam up at the bottle's top, which never twists all the way open. Under the plastic they burst and scream and shake but no one hears them.

This afternoon at my computer where the words tingle in my fingertips and a few make it onto the keyboard, my eyes pop open when I see Ozzy's belly soar over my head and out of view. Once I lose sight, I think he is actually gone. Never there at all. Unless dreams are three dimensional, even dreams as I nod off at work, everything is temporary and without weight or substance. If you are in my dream and I see you walking toward me, you are gone if you pass from sight.

I watch Lily dream. With most of her body on the pillow, which is slightly deflated with tufts of stuffing missing, her head and legs drop off the edges. Her legs jerk a little and she snorts like she is sniffing in the woods. Whatever she sees now will disappear. She will wake up whole.

When I wake in the mornings I pray for the illusion of reprieve. I wish I were waking at 3 a.m. and welcomed by the promise of a few hours more to sleep.

I only write the news, and I am feeling adrift, like If I walk past you while you're dreaming…

I need to feel like I mean something. Jerry means something. He is a dad, and what is a more looming and perpetual responsibility than raising a child? Dragging her through the pits of adolescence and intense drama of young adulthood is a hill much too high for some, with its peek shrouded in clouds. Will things turn out OK at the top? Will we, the parents and children, be able to slip through this grueling keyhole without damage? Anyway, I am not a mom but I can tell you that parenting is so much more than lots of baby snot.

I need to do something with Lily that matters. Maybe I can see if there are any volunteer citizen's programs for a search and rescue dog. Something to put us both to work at something useful and helpful.

She puked tonight. That moosh came out like a garden hose. I hear her tummy squish and gurgle a few times, then went back to the laundry. She was moaning and groaning.

What's that noise? Jerry asks. I think something outside is bothering her, she was just out barking, I answer. With underwear and shirts in a pile I head up to the bedroom. When I get back down I see gallons and oceans and seas of vomit.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lily lily lily. Lily. Stop lunging and barking at cars Lily.


I need to take a week off from work and go to a dog and owner training camp.

Instead Lily and I put a couple miles on our shoes in the afternoons, then run through the woods with everybody else.

Rather than dealing with my life, I close the door on it, literally, and walk down to the truck to go to work.

That night a budget referendum finds me in the middle school gymnasium with thick varnish sitting like years and years of honey over a wooden floor. I remember eighth grade and the smell of the first day of school, when the halls and floors and gym all glistened and My hands and face were damp with fright.

Back in the middle school as the polls closed I learned the budget failed by 51 votes. Sorry I left you home for this one Lily! What's 51 votes? Not a margin or a sweep, not a gap. It's not even big enough to fit a piece of paper through it.

Lily, if we can scare up 52 friends and explain to them that for roughly the price of a large pizza per household, and maybe a large bottle of cola, we could have afforded the budget. Taxes hurt less than cuts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I would write, but I'm tired. I would talk about Lily, but I am tired.

I run a lot with the dogs and hardly dream at night as I yank cold covers over worn out legs and knees and a stupid twist in one ankle. Just a few steps past sleep, a heavy curtain crashes down inside my head and my imagination doesn't even struggle. It stays there like a motionless lump. Even the curved baked bean shape of it is boring.

At home after Lily and I jog down the road, then run in the woods with the other guys, Jerry calls from Long Island. The hotel is crappy, just like anywhere, he said.

Do we have oil? I ask. That's my favorite question in the last few weeks. I am too wimpy to shine a light on the oil tank and see how close we are to E. Well, if you run out, just get a few gallons of diesel. I'll be home tomorrow, he said.

The vet took $100 bucks off the cost of our 12 ounce bottle of enzyme stuff for Lily, I tell him.


Who knows? I say. I didn't ask them to do it, but initially the girl sounded surprised and sort of sympathetic when she asked if I knew the cost.

It's, like, $320, she said in a voice saved for phrases like, Oh, my God!

How much was it then? Jerry asked me. $220.

I wonder why they did that, he answered.

My vet Marc Reynolds in Oxford is a great guy. We drag our mutts screaming and slobbering through his little lobby too often. He has at times just waived the whole visit for us. Oh, that lump on Lily's belly? One peek and squeeze and the vet tech there knew it was a harmless, but herniated something or other. Don't worry about it, he said as I tried to pay. Oh, He knows my diminishing wallet and I will return. Often.

Anyway, I tell Jerry that the vet's office is decent to us. Maybe they know we'll be buying this stuff forever, I tell him. We say goodnight.

A few minutes later as I glance past the flashlight's wimpy yellow beam into the oil tank I see the gauge. It's floating at a least whole millimeter above E.

I am not washing any dishes tonight. I want warm feet in the shower tomorrow after trudging through the early morning rainy forest with Lily while tree limbs toss chilly drops down my back.

In case I have not thanked everyone including Jerry mom dad aunt neighbors friends….thank you. Unlike fear or apprehension, worry or frustration, motivation is one of those things you've gotta muster.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am driving the Bronco and the road's green fields of spring grass and flowering borders become steep gorges as I round a corner. Shifting or slowing down are impossible. I feel like pillows are stuck under the pedals and rubber bands keep wiggling the steering wheel away from me. I peer over the familiar curved hood with one rust spot flaking away and wait for that roller coaster twinge to grip my stomach.

Just a dream. Anxiety dream?Yes.

A friend asked if I would want to give Lily away to another home where the family can love her and I can have my life back and a little peace and maybe snap back to normal, except the line of scrimmage is gone. The announcers went home and the cheerleaders have not shouted my name in a long time.

Lily gives me purpose. I have no children or spouse or car payments. Aren't all adults issued at least one of each immediately after they see their first tax bill? I am not working to send anyone to college or keep a child happy. Car payments are a $200 expense that I was never able to afford, and after a peek inside a new car you can't talk me into that sheath of plastic and electronics.

I am not being cheep, I am being picky.

Spousespousespouse. Jerry and I live together, but if I call him SPOUSE! he may greedily gasp his last. He knows enough not to marry someone unbalanced who takes pity on random scrawny dogs, plants, and worms trying to struggle free from puddling rainwater. I also veer wildly into another emotional octave where everything is intense and I cry get angry rant rant rant and question my job life future past and everything that I can drag into it right then. I smash and throw things. I am blowing up miserable unhappy and really just drained and determined to find an exit. There has to be better stuff out there, I think. Why can't I see it? Then the blame. I start blaming myself because Jerry says, DON'T BLAME ME!

I fix air conditioning, Kendra.

Oh. Uh oh.

I have Lily. She is too much work and worry. She needs to be out and running or at all times occupied. She needs a companion and to be a companion. She needs to think.

My friend asked me, why do you think she needs a job to do?

It's her expression. She looks at me like an empty vase waiting for me to fill her with her own purpose. She wants to learn. I can tell by the amount of energy she spends on her curiosity. It has infused her posture and habits. Despite her questions or my answers, we still speak different languages.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why do people stare at train wrecks behave badly in cars shout unimaginative profanities out passing windows and in general behave like it's a game of musical chairs in parking lots? Would they act this way in line for coffee, or do they reach into the back seat and dust off the rumpled cloak of common courtesy for a trip into the store?

In other words, my neighbor called the police because my wheelbarrow was in the road where I have parked it for the last five years when I rake up by the street. Thanks neighbor, I appreciated all the nice shiny and colorful lights. Are you the homeowner, he asks.


Wanna move that wheelbarrow, I mean, if someone hits it … the liability, you don't want that …

I wonder to myself if my neighbor called 911 for this. I would love to send copies of that call to my friends for Christmas. What a criminal.

Why am I telling that story? Isn't this about a dog?

I just needed to sweep the heaps of cluttered thoughts out of the way first so I could get to Lily. Everything I do think work shop drive see hear pretty much has Lily etched on it somewhere. She may be blazing or faint, but I always see her.

Since December 26 everything about my days is different, beginning with the moment my eyes open.

I am tired and have not been to work for 8 AM in almost four months. My head promptly turns to stone where I sit at my desk and is just too heavy to hold up. I am a train wreck. Why do people stare at train wrecks?

Because they feel relief. The person sprawled on the tracks with a Game Over sign flashing in the background isn't them. They are somehow absolved from disaster by proximity. They can look on from safety, since this isn't something that can touch them. Nope. Are they responsible for their good fortune? Nope nope nope. They just arrived a bit too late and will have to wait for the next train.

I hang on as Lily gets better and more animated and clumsy and eager to burst through the door for a walk.

Plotting the next hour and struggling to drag myself from bed, I stop. I open a drawer in my imagination where all the necessary things are and I stuff in the earplugs. I just don't want to hear it coming.

Lily is lots of work and I hate to leave her without a job to do. She needs a task. She is supercharged now and needs to focus on a lesson or a tennis ball, stick, other dogs. Considering the way she tilts her head sideways I am sure she was bred for brains. Nothing on earth can mime confusion the way an intelligent animal can. Her ears perk and her head twists as her posture sets -- rigid and still. I can hear her ask, What the hell did you say?

Good girl Lily.

Saturday I saw the trainer that I had called in February. I promised to call again and one day I'll be less derailed.

We're looking for cheaper enzyme treatments to feed her since $100-ish bucks a week is stiff. It's either that or pancreas straight form the pig. Think about that for a bit.

Ask me another time about Lily's little early morning dash on Tuesday. All I can say is thank you to my neighbor for recognizing that the dog in the woods behind her house was Lily.

Monday, April 19, 2010

At times the words are gone. Writing about Lily has somehow turned my stash of clever self-expression into a deflating balloon. Where once a mesh of thoughts and emotion nestled in a tightly wound ball, I now have this unraveling frayed string reaching off into nowhere.

My sleep is not restful and dreams remain just too far into the fog to discern.

Today Lily and I ran down the street practicing our Hold It! We stop. We wait. I say, Come! We'll do a few rounds of that before returning home where Ozzy's barking awaits us.

This weekend we trekked to Stratford to try enzyme supplements that produced only diarrhea. Oh well.

Confessions confessions, such tiresome and lead-weighted confessions. I tell Jerry that I think it's too much. I am having one of those moments where I realize I have been missing the spring's buds-turned-blooms and aromas of flower-scented mornings. I am tired and I pray that Lily is getting what she needs from me. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I remember days years vacations holidays birthdays by the bad mood I was in when we got on I 95 headed for Maine, Florida, Wherever. A meltdown on Christmas Eve left me silent and withdrawn on Christmas day, or Easter was not pastels and light but tears where nobody could see me hiding in the basement bathroom.
Stress. It’s a funny thing and sinks in like a stain that permeates thoughts and heartbeats and words that stumble and jam up rather than coming out in pure expressions. Between my brain and my mouth the evenly spaced letters fall over a cliff and are rearranged in a demented heap of nonsense at the bottom.
How in the world will I take care of Lily? I have not yet felt that relief of knowing she’ll survive. That bright face with its glistening eyes and eager panting are a challenge rather than signs of happiness. In my mind is a voice: can you run enough to make her happy? Can you teach her enough to satisfy her intelligence and need for a task? Is she happy in the basement with Hershey and Bandit but Bandit scares her?Am I worrying too much? Why can’t it be like the bar where you fix a bad day with a beer?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everyone slows down to look at Lily as I run along with her down the street.

Where are your other two, one neighbor asks.

Can't do all three, I tell him. The little pug always gets his own special walk meant for dogs with short legs.

In the woods, however, we all run with recklessness and laughter while racing our shadows that scatter with the leaves. I have my footholds where I skip from one large smooth stone to the jagged peek of another, across a fallen and crumbling tree and beneath hemlock bows where I crouch and trip on a root.

This morning my right hand slapped at the ground and saved me from a hard landing.

My ankles hate me, and I have twice picked and picked and sweat over slivers in my fingers lodged there with force when I tossed a stick.

She sleeps under the stairs where shadows cool her and the spiral steps wind over her head.

Tomorrow as I rush to favorite spots in the woods where I glimpse light reflecting off Lake Zoar reaching through the forest, I think of the strange impish and elusive things that folklore casts into the woods. Fairies and gnomes lurk behind trees and under stones. Why does a relaxed mind create unlikely things? Late Thursday as I close the bar I'll say goodnight to my own inventions. As I set the alarm I return the bar to the spirits.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Since bludgeoning something is satisfying, but not a solution, Jerry starts swearing. Something peed on the couch.

Had he come home, poured a bowl of cereal, and walked past the couch, talked to it, looked at it, or just admired its welcoming shadows, things would have been fine Tuesday night. Instead, he sat on the couch with his cereal balanced in one hand and a drink in the other. The welcoming shadows were pee stains.

Jesus, she drinks half the toilet and then does this, he said. He means Lily. I am apologetic, but how do we fix this? I know dogs are not scheming conniving things, but to choose the couch requires whatever snippet of rudimentary planning tools that dogs may have. The couch. When nobody is looking. Squat and pee. A LOT of pee. A whole toilet worth of pee. That inventive sequence is designed for something, but what? Are we not letting you out enough? Do you want the couch for yourself? Do you want to mark your territory? Does the upholstery offend you?

In the last few weeks one of the dogs has been sneaking in a bathroom visit there on the cushions, and we don't know who. We have theories. Is it Lily? Hershey and Bandit have never before enjoyed the warm sharp aroma of their own urine soaking the spot where they rest their heads. Ozzy? We doubt it since he reigns like a heavyweight in one corner and snarls if anyone wants his spot. But why would Lily suddenly begin peeing on the couch, soaking through the fabric and under layers right down to the foam?

Her ass is finally cleared up and without the incontinence she feels adrift? Poor dog needs an ailment to feel normal?

At 10:32 at night I abandon a freelance project for a load of laundry. After reading snippets of one friend's adventure from state to state, I leave him on the streets of New York to narrate without me listening anymore as I trade in his words for a tumbling rusty colored heap in the washing machine. I am waiting for the pee to rinse out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Running my hands down Lily’s sides is like trailing my fingertips through sand. Her fur is thick and catches gently underneath my nails as my hands travel a smooth path from her shoulders back, no longer skipping like a stone across prominent ribs.
Her neck has filled out and we don’t call her Big Head anymore, which is what Jerry’s daughter Erica named her. Poor Lily was so scrawny that her width and height came from bone alone. Her skull beneath withered flesh looked huge stuck at the end of her flattened sides. She doesn’t lay down with a succession of thumps as her knees elbows hips and head drop to the floor to rest. Now I hear a sigh and the tinkle of her tag resting on the floor tiles
She has added 20 pounds, and enough energy to go on and on, long after I have stopped throwing the stick and turned around to go home.
Still getting up and out early. Still trying to burn the energy she accumulates from sleep and full meals. Still trying to run the puppy out of her when I get home from work. We both put a couple miles on our shoes then go with Hershey and Bandit into the woods after sticks and to drop on our bellies in the vernal pool. Ozzy explained to me recently that, as a pug, he is not interested in long walks in the woods, on the beach, or anywhere else that involves taking lots and lots of steps. My legs are really short, he seemed to convey by standing still on the back patio, then turning his stubby little body and returning to his corner of the couch.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sitting down Tuesday I see the messy tableau of a coffee cup markers notes and scraps and an instruction book all at rest where I left them scattered Saturday. Feeling like a layered image I am at once here now overlapping myself where I sat Saturday, shuffling the same junk around to make room to think about Lily.

What I see out here is the same as the tumbleweeds of thought stumbling around inside my skull. I go through moods the same way. When I was angry last time, all those characters were in there and waiting to rouse and dust off their dirty clothes and resume the argument. Same rants and gripes and worries, just as intense and unresolved as I had left them.

Good for me. But Lily is better. I can rush around my life skipping from one mood to the next like they're bus stops, but Lily is getting better.

Outside this morning before work she drags a chewed up stick and drops it near my feet. Looking down I see my own scrawny ankles surrounded by the gaping slippers that Jerry leaves by the chair. I am standing in two tan corduroy rowboats. Reminds me of the time my brother and I rowed out and somehow lost the oar locks. Heavy as hell they sunk fast and the wooden oars floated off. I got in the scary water with tree limbs hidden in the murky weeds waiting to snag and drown me. I jumped in the water filed with slithering monsters and kicked like a frog to push us back to the dock. Years later in a canoe I would step toward the shore and dump my date in the shallows. Oops. We drove toward home and saw the campfire across the lake. I knew my brother and his friends were there. I thought I could manage the canoe.

I thought I could manage standing outside in the early sunlight while Lily squatted somewhere, but when I dragged my hair out of my eyes I saw she was gone. I heard her over the hill, leaves rustling. Lily! Nothing.

Without panicking I ran inside and grabbed my hiking boots.

Hair up and boots on I ran into the forest and Lily was already headed back home. Wow! We were going to end up in the woods anyway. Hershey came with us and 20 minutes later I was home again and on the phone to work. Her food won't be ready for 20 minutes, I explain.

Mixing the enzymes and stashing her dish, I feed the other guys. Good morning Ozzy Hershey Bandit and cats I hate you, you rotten noisy smelly cats. Stop waking me UP!

It's warmer out now and with the windows open the cats jump up and down from the sill and meow meow MEOW.

After work we're back in the woods again with all of us this time. Bandit is tethered to me with his old leash. No more running off and making me frantic. I turn to look for Ozzy and he is gone. Sticks and snarling and Bandit tugging then Hershey running into me from behind we eventually get back home.

Is Ozzy with you? Yes, Jerry says.

Back to the paths and stones and shadow of a hawk rippling across craggy earth. Lily Lily Lily likes to flop on her side, twist onto her back with her legs sticking out and look up at you with giant white teeth and her tongue out.

Thank you mom and dad and aunt for contributing to the Lily Fund.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lily flops on her back and where her legs and belly meet I can see her skin is withered like an empty, crumpled plastic bag. She is still reassembling herself into complete flesh and bone and I pet her happily.

You must feel great! How do you feel? You saved her! My parents and friends have said with so much excitement. But I am the party pooper and feel like the beast who takes hope and joy like marshmallows and blows them up in the microwave. I am like the messenger of terrible news for the three-year-old who comes downstairs on December 26 and sees remaining gifts beneath the tree: sorry bud, Christmas is over…

Now the task of insurmountable work unfurls. I need to get a grip on a dog finally waking each day with a body pleading for exercise and a chance to run chase jump surge and dash in zig zags across the uneven and tricky forest floor. From the leaves today jumped out a branch like a finger to stab my boot as I rushed downward and really needed a sure step to catch myself. Close. Really close.

Thank God for my forearms, elbows and right hip. Without them to break my fall I might have hit the ground. Those scrapes and bruises are fine. It's the stupid ones that wake a sleeping rage and urge to smash whatever I can reach. As in, I really hate hitting my head on a cabinet that I left open. I think Jerry hates it more than I do, because he did not leave the cabinet open. Thank God again, that people can't die from blame.

Jogging Saturday and I hear a really little girl's really squeaky voice say Doggy! Her hair catches sunlight from the side and shimmers, while creases of shadow streak the other. She sees Lily trotting along and sticky little fingers wiggle. Dog!

Ask if you can pet her honey…her father crouches down and reminds her.

Oh, she loves everyone! I tell him. Mom crouches down too and I squat behind Lily so I can see the little girl who loves the big funny furry thing with a giant black nose. Little fists clutch fur.

The bar. Bless these dollars dipped in whiskey and flavored with brandy and beer. I need them. How many times can I thank the owner for the extra work and the chance it provides to pay Lily's bills?

She needs her enzyme powder mixed with every meal. Is there any other way, a coworker asks. No. Well, yes. I can chase down a fleeing pig and tear out its pancreas for Lily to eat. Everyday.

I have stood at this place before where I am smaller than the looming blades of grass beside me, staring up the rocky climb where the Emerald City of promise and fulfillment at its top is so far away it's like the green light miles in the distance. No chance you'll make it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Memories drip from my hands like egg whites. Walking down a fluorescent hall at work as the public address bellows a name, I strain for balance.

Lily went from 43 pounds to 60 pounds. Seventeen pounds in two weeks. I strain for balance.

Easter tomorrow. We'll be in the woods.