Friday, October 25, 2013

fiercely ever after.

i put my son in bed with me last night. my conscious mind told me it was so i could be close to him in case he needed me. my subconscious knew it was the other way around—that it was i who needed him. in the deep and narrow folds of my brain, the truth of today was there. i slept, poorly, with it all night.

i hoped i would wake up and phaedra would be gone. i wanted her to die in her sleep so i wouldn't have to make them kill her today. but she didn't die. and in a few hours, she will be gone. it will be the end of an era. she and kaiser both will be gone. and nothing will ever be the same.

my boss at the blue moose cafe, molly, found phaedra running around her neighborhood in 2001. as soon as i saw that black-and-white baby come around the corner of the counter that afternoon, wiggling all the way, i knew she'd be mine. and so she was.

kaiser was two. he and phaedra took to each other immediately, as if they had been waiting for each other, and for me, all along. we lived in a basement apartment on willowdale road. it was nicer than your average basement dwelling. considering many of the rental pits in morgantown, it was nice, period.

the landlord, fran, wasn't happy about my new addition. it wasn't a pit bull issue for her but an issue of two dogs and a college kid living in her property. i had taken good care of the place thus far with one dog, and fran had met my dad—and meeting my dad can't be anything but a plus—so maybe that's why she gave in to my pleas to let phaedra stay. and so she did.

my parents weren't pleased with the news, either. another creature to care for was not a good idea, they said. this was an obvious fact, but pragmatism had never been my thing and certainly wasn't on the agenda the day i met my girl. on the day my mom first met phaedra, she had come to town to take my grandma for an appointment and said she'd meet me downtown. when she pulled up at the curb, i walked to greet her with my baby dog on my hip. that's how i carried phaedra in the early days. she didn't seem to mind at all.

phaedra went into heat before i could get her spayed, so off to the pet store i went to figure out what a person does about that sort of thing. at the exotic jungle pet store, i bought her a box of feminine products for dogs and a frilly pair of red-and-white checkered panties to wear on top.

during that period, phaedra's period, that is, kaiser went half-crazy. he wanted nothing in the world—not food nor treats nor my affection—more than he wanted that pretty baby girl-dog in the frilly, checkered panties. i barricaded him in the kitchen and he turned into a woodchuck with a taste for the corner of the farthest cabinet on the left. i couldn't have accounted for a dog-in-heat situation, so i didn't put that incident under the category of Reasons Fran the Landlord Would Say I Told You So. in the days before i moved out, dad had come over and worked some magic with wood putty. all was right in the basement before we went on to our next home. and the next one. and the next.

phaedra was a femme fatale true to her name, which i had taken from greek mythology. she was clearly the boss among my two beasts. although burly and stout (all muscle and teeth, according to one of my many landlords), kaiser easily bowed to the girl with the line of black fur that sat like an eyebrow over one eye.

phaedra was such a beauty. stark white except for that eyebrow, two ears, and one eye colored in blackest black. she had a temper, too. never with me. she didn't care for other animals and was occasionally cranky with people. however, contrary to the lore that says pit bulls give no warning, phaedra gave clear notice when she didn't want to be bothered. and she always wanted to be bothered by me. what a love. near me—in my lap, specifically—was her favorite place to be. she'd snuggle right up to me in bed, and unlike my quirky kaiser, she didn't move until morning.

when we moved to memphis, phaedra and kaiser and i lived in a guesthouse fit for a girl my size. it was tiny and brand new, and we made it our home far away from home. the three of us became known around the neighborhood: the new girl and the two scary-looking dogs. "do they bite?" asked a strange stranger one day. "only the right people," i answered.

we made a life in the south. we sat in spots of sun in my yard with spots of grass. walked along the mississippi river. played at the dog park of our dreams at shelby farms. we even babysat two puppies for a whole day; phaedra was nonplussed, but she turned out to set a fine example for the little ones.

shortly after we moved to felix avenue, our little family grew again: along came joker, another pit bull. a foster who became forever. i knew kaiser, in his infinite oblivion, would barely notice another salivating, gaseous canine in his space. to my surprise, my cranky girl welcomed the newcomer without a hitch as well. in those early months of being the owner of not two but now three big dogs, i was a little frazzled. but there was a thought that would tiptoe around the house at night, when i was in bed and prone to hear the slightest sounds: joker will help you through it when they're gone.

 my family of four, plus one in the oven, moved back to west virginia on a july day in 2011.

not a year later, kaiser would die of lung cancer. another year and a half later, today will bid goodbye to the last of the two companions who saw me through a decade and then some. when phaedra fades away, so will an era of my life.

it's 3:36 p.m. phaedra and i have only 39 minutes left together.

on the way to the vet, phaedra barked at strangers from the window of the car. as old and sick as she was, her voice was yet distinct. short and dense like the thud of a kick drum; round like every bark was accompanied by a mouth full of air.

when the vet said cancer two years ago, the countdown began. how many weeks would i have with her? and then the weeks turned into months. ever so slowly, she grew weaker. never too weak to lose her fire. she fought illness with the fierceness that was phaedra. at the vet this afternoon, the fire was still there. just not enough.

it's 6:11 p.m. my phaedra won't know tomorrow.

next to the hole kaiser left in my heart, another one grows.

goodnight, meanie pants. fay-fay. my pretty girl. i love you with the fierceness that was you, precious you.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

nyc and me.

"you're a go-getter, kid." that's what nick said. this is when i was 22 and lived in new york city. nick was a friend of a doctor i'd worked for in west virginia and he helped me out when my company kicked me out of my free apartment on the upper east side, at 79th and lexington to be exact, above a restaurant/bar called nick's. i was kicked out because i was quitting my job. i had given them notice. they were not as gracious in return. kicked me out the same day, which, as would follow, exponentially sped up my quitting. they sent the girl from the office — who looked like she had a nasal voice but didn't, who was pale in the face and paler in personality, who used her proximity to fame and beauty and power like a tire pump to inflate her sense of self-importance — to make sure i was getting out NOW. anyhow, i've told this story before.

the point is, nick was right about me.

the other point is, what i'm going and getting isn't easily gotten.

the subpoint is, new york city is one of the many sculptors of my life.

before i lived there, i visited new york city for the first time when i was 20. i wish i could re-feel the feeling of that first moment when i exited the metal bullet and walked up those steps onto the city street and was suddenly, gloriously another tiny bug milling around the floor of the forest of sequoia skyscrapers. a speck among millions of specks. i remember not exactly but close enough what it looked like exiting the subway that day.

a few weeks or a month prior, i can't recall, i'd answered an ad in a  magazine, maybe cosmo, recruiting volunteers for fashion week runway shows. i was selected for the job, but i had to pay my own way. before leaving my little hometown for the big city for the first time, i bought a new tube of grape-colored lipstick from the lancome counter at the meadowbrook mall, with matching eyeshadow, and an all-black outfit, including a pair of clunky black loafers, from mode roman on high street in morgantown. i planned to wear my hair straight, too. curls wouldn't suit the severe style i had in mind.

i recruited my brother and my friend traci to come along. we stayed in new jersey and rode the path (the subway system between jersey and nyc) into the city every day. in 1997, the shows were held at chelsea piers in lower manhattan. the building was cold and stark except for buzz of its temporary inhabitants. when the shows weren't there, i bet those rooms sat severe, barren, and resolutely silent. it was a tight-lipped librarian of a building. i rode an unwelcoming freight elevator to get to my floor. one morning i rode along with a model, who could've been every model: skinny. tall. stringy hair. wearing cool boots and a look of boredom. for some shows i helped with seating out front, and for one show (the designer "ghost," i think) i dressed models backstage. one girl was really nice. i'd remember her name if i heard it again, but i've never heard it again. evidently stardom never found her. one girl was not nice, at all, and later she became fairly famous as a model. life, the great perpetrator of irony.

my brother ended up working for the shows, too, as a greeter. he said regis philbin was a jerk. it didn't matter. as i was living out a fantasy, so was my brother: he found the old haunts of jeff buckley, the musician whose music had reached inside and shaken my brother's soul. he even, by movie-like serendipity, came across a bartender who had been a friend of jeff's. we sat at that bar for hours. it was called 2-A, clearly stating its location at avenue a and second street. a practical name for a bar in a city built on a grid. the drunks could easily find it.

i took the city with me when i left. all the exhilaration i felt from the cacophony and the never-ending everything you could imagine, i kept it like a permanently held breath in my mind. i didn't release that breath when i finally moved to new york city, or when i returned months after leaving to gather my belongings, or when i visited another three times with friends. i'm still holding that breath, savoring it. i might hold it forever.

 there was a go-getting girl in me before i met the city, and she undoubtedly flourished after we met. i used to consider moving to the city again. not now. i want my boy to have a front porch, maybe a back one, too, and a yard. i want him to hear crickets on summer nights. i want his childhood to be a little like mine, because mine was really pure and safe and good. and i want his childhood to be a little unlike mine, because i never went anywhere as a child.

one day i'll take my son to the city. maybe once a year, if we can. we'll eat pastries while walking around the west village. we'll go to museums and central park. he'll sit on my lap in the subway car. i'll take him to the city so he can see why being one tiny speck among millions is motivating, even when it's exasperating. i'll tell him that go-getting doesn't mean you always get what you want when you want it. i'll tell him to be a bit more careful than his mother but not so careful that he never experiences the thrill of taking a leap without looking. i'll tell him the absolute wonderfulness and the utter awfulness of it all.

thank you, you crowded, cold, rude, incorrigible island. i look forward to seeing you again.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

the art of shutting up.

last night i dreamed. my dreams are almost exclusively about people from my past. a few days ago it was an ex, promising me great love in the future but not giving it to me in the present. i remember feeling, mid-dream, hopeful, yet wary. hopeful, yet wary. there should be theme music playing as i type ...

last night, it was a girl. in my dream, we were in a restaurant. a small, comfortable place. the only colors were burgundy and off-white. we sat at a round table, she and i and some female members of my family. she wore a constant snarl, one that spoke the unspeakable malevolence that is seething inside her, every day. in real life, not just in my dreams. her nose was bigger and uglier than usual. we argued. my family and i left, then went for cupcakes at a bright, cheerful bakery. strife, then cupcakes.

my dreams, like their owner, aren't hard to read. am i hard to read? some people say so. they don't know me up close. and of the people who know me up close, how many read me well? not many. most skim the pages. i admit, the text of my life does get a bit wordy at times. talk is not always cheap, but it takes that route on occasion.

i've resolved many times to stop talking. this, a result of leaving too many conversations feeling like i was presenting a thesis defense. the thesis titled the ways and means of dee. i need to be more a follower of my own resolutions. i know this: the more you talk, the more convoluted simple concepts become. i follow my instincts. i am not wrong for doing so. these are simple concepts. i find enormous irony in the fact that "sacrifice to get what you want" is upheld as a virtue, yet there are apparently conditions as to what is an acceptable sacrifice. i stay where i am presently, where i don't want to be, with the goal of building a future for my son and me that includes more than shelter and food and clothing: a future with as much peace as i can possibly wrangle. the by-product of sacrifice? i have a happy little boy. i have a precociously intelligent toddler who sometimes cries but never screams and whose "tantrums" over anything last plus or minus 20 seconds. i'm proud of him. proud of me and grateful to my parents, who are also sacrificing, for being part of why he is such a well-adjusted boy. sacrifice, then peace. 

this has struck me lately: it's hard to like up close. the more you get to know someone, the more liking them becomes effort. an unpleasant statement? true nonetheless. we think unconditional love is the thing. the ultimate. it's not. loving unconditionally is a natural inclination (for most of us). liking, however, has conditions. if it didn't, we would like everyone. we do not. we cannot. liking requires tolerance and acceptance of that to which we may not relate and that which we cannot change. these skills of interpersonal harmony aren't easily had. sometimes, they can't be had at all. bonds are broken and bridges are burned. other times, we learn to be better navigators—both of our own inner pathways and of those connecting us to others.

distance can be a great healer. limited communication can, too. even better is assessing boundaries early on, though you may not recognize your boundaries until they've been encroached upon. for me, it's utterly bewildering to decide where to place people within the many circles—concentric if they were to be drawn with a sharpie—making up the interpersonal boundaries of my life. i find myself positioning and repositioning people frequently, be it through action or thought. i would be terrible at chess. or a genius?

this morning on facebook a friend posted this, from an unknown source: be careful whom you let in, and think twice before you let go. sound advice from the internet sages.