On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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On Love, Simply

The funny thing about relationships is that they’re never what you think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing.

Relationships are a terrifying prospect. Relationships are, for me, a finely tuned machine, something that only works when so many tiny moving parts click into perfect place. Relationships are the result of effort, careful attention to detail, and compromise.

The beginning stages of a relationship can resemble a series of interviews. You are on your best behavior. You are spontaneous, energetic, upbeat, interesting. You are a carefully packaged product, marketed just so. You find someone whose company you enjoy, and you begin a relationship. There are dates, milestones, so many adorable firsts.

Eventually, after months of careful consideration for the other person, you get comfortable. I don’t really do comfortable. For me, being comfortable is a sign that something really bad is about to happen. Comfortable isn’t a state for the long haul; it’s a transient time from which you’ll someday cull happy memories.

But comfortable is a very real state, and eventually, it must be acknowledged and accepted, because sometimes, comfortable is the very best state, with far more potential for permanence than other sorts of emotions.

Letting someone see your weird is another part of this alignment of relationship longevity. You get past the initial interview process, the fun stuff, the activities, the really “deep” conversations about things, and you’re left with the day-to-day stuff. Day-to-day stuff is far deeper than any sort of philosophical debate.

That’s where everything you think you know about your relationship changes. Somewhere in the comfort zone, when you’ve let down your guard, you stop and realize that you’re in it for real, that this is real. You’ve stopped analyzing every text message for clues about love or chances at a fifth date. You’ve stopped panicking over which outfit to wear out (because you don’t have to wear anything but pajamas to stay at home!). You’ve started somehow syncing up your lives, your routines, your meals.

Eventually, it’s “we” and “us” and errands. (Those aren’t the worst things, after all, despite what we’ve heard. Errands are my favorite part of a relationship. If you can run errands with someone, you can be with someone. It’s that simple.) That mindset is a gradual progression, whereas the actions tend to move as swiftly as they please. (Or is it the other way around?) The feelings of “I love you” come long before they are spoken out loud, hesitantly, anxiously.

The best relationship advice I ever got was from a friend of mine who’s been with his girlfriend for three or so years (which, to me, seems like for-ev-er). He said, “You have to wake up every single day and decide to love that person.” It’s an active, ongoing decision. I love that. An active decision to love someone is so much more than that fairy tale happiness we’ve heard so much about (but very rarely see).

When I told boyfriend this yesterday, he scoffed and told me that he hardly wakes up every day and thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll love Katie today, but I’m only doing this for Acorn.” I laughed, then tried to explain to him that how I love him is constant, present always, just a soft hum of normalcy coupled with that deep-seated sense of need for proximity. “It’s just there,” I said. He knows what I meant.

What it is that draws you to someone isn’t what makes you stay with them, but sometimes the pull is unavoidable and the attraction undeniable. That’s when you finally have to accept that there’s something more there, that the questions and the expectations of how you thought you’d fall in love must be thrown to the wind (a pinch of caution should go, too, even though that’s terrible advice). It’s a weird journey. Sometimes it happens overnight but sometimes it takes forever to fall into place.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this internal fear about relationships ending. Maybe everyone does. Maybe that’s a universal fear. Maybe every relationship will end. Columnist Dan Savage once said something about how you date people, you break up with people, you repeat the cycle over and over, until finally, you start dating someone and you never break up. That’s slightly comforting.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been evaluating my relationship, removing myself from the bubble of “us” for assessment (something I’ve also tried to quit doing so much). We’re seven months in (this time), and other than the occasional little bump, we’re doing quite well. When we started dating again this summer, I was determined not to engage in the panic that goes with new relationships (or the resumption of an existing relationship). But I did, a little. The over-analyzing, the careful consideration.

But here we are, months later. I am comfortable now. It caught me off-guard. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know what I was imagining when I started, and perhaps not having any sort of idealistic outcome in mind is the best thing. It’s not all magical, twinkling lights and rose petals and candles, but it’s real. I like that. This is the real. I like it.

I have loved him for a very long time. I realized it this spring. During our first fight, almost six months into dating, I spat out, “I almost told you I loved you last night.” I had been holding onto it for so long, I knew it was only a matter of time before it came rushing out.

When he finally told me, he said, “I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you, but now I realize there was no more perfect time than when we were in the oak bottom with the leaves falling around us. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And I knew he meant it. Now, every time he tells me he loves me, I imagine the day we spent the morning on a hill in the forest in Mississippi, not hunting, but just watching the leaves fall down around us. It was magical.

Life is that weird journey where you have to let go sometimes and hope for the best, or at the very least, a great adventure. Love is, for me, the very best adventure.

On Pushing, Newly

I usually choose a word to live by each year. That word becomes a sort of meditation for me throughout the year, the goal being to incorporate that word’s meaning into my life so much so that it becomes a part of me. That rumination has served me well.

A couple of years ago, I chose “gratitude” and found that to be a very fulfilling challenge for the year. I worked on being better about thank-you notes, appreciating everything I have – friendships, family, relationships, and so on, and on loving the tiny moments that often go overlooked in the chaos of every day life.

Last year, my word was most likely not “survival” at the outset, but unconsciously, that’s what it became. I have heard so many people talk about how 2013 was not a year they’d like to repeat, and I have to agree. 2013 was the worst year of my life. I can say that with absolute certainty. I have never been so close to the edge of despair as I was for much of the year. I have never felt the depths of darkness licking up closer to my heart. I have never wanted so badly not to be alive.

And yet, the light could not be extinguished. “This too shall pass” did come to pass, and time began to wrap me in its healing, consistent progression and I did survive. It sounds melodramatic, but I’m not joking or stretching the truth. I hated to admit it to myself at the time, but looking back, I’m surprised at how low the lowest points were. There were more tears shed in 2013 than I imagined possible, more desperate, hopeless nights than I believed possible, and too many days where getting out of bed was almost more than I could bear.

There is no stopping the light, though. I remember the day when I woke up and said to myself, I will not let this beat me, and I didn’t. I still think about it sometimes. It catches me off-guard at moments when I least expect it. It stops my heart for just a beat, and then I start to breathe again, remembering that I am whole. I am safe. I am away. Distance. Time. Progress. All of those march forward. And so I go, too.

I am not where I thought I’d be.

I think that’s how much of life goes, though. The unexpected has a way of stripping everything unnecessary and bringing to focus the important things, the things you lose sight of so easily. In losing everything, I almost lost myself, but I also found more than I expected.

2014 is a new year. I’m not one to make resolutions, really. But this year, I’m determined to do so much more than survive. My word this year is “push” – yeah, like that. I’m going to do more and be more – getting back on the track that I was on before the unfortunate derailment. I think that was the most frustrating thing, losing the progress that I’d worked so hard to make for myself.

I’m going to push myself – I want to figure out what I want to do with my life, or at least the next few years. I want to think about grad school, about a job that will be fulfilling but also financially worthwhile. I want to work harder to be better – the working out at the gym business, the eating healthy, the organization. All of those areas are areas in which I’m already quite fantastic, but could stand to improve. (If you know me, you’re laughing now because I am anything but fantastic at organization and eating healthy. My therapist often expresses concern that my diet consists mostly of chili cheese dogs and uh, chili cheese dogs.)

I’m going to figure out a better plan. I want to grow professionally (oh dear god, more than anything I want that), personally, and as a human being – I want to spread more kindness into this world. I want to strengthen my relationships, with boyfriend, with my friends, with my family. I want to make more time to play. I want to push myself to calm the fuck down already and learn how to relax. I want to work harder and play harder.

2013 is dead and gone. It will always be a part of my life story, but 2014 offers the chance for a fresh start and a new perspective. I’m thrilled. It’s not a new beginning, but it’s something better: it’s the chance to continue living the life that I’ve always wanted. This year, I don’t have to let the uncontrollable guide me. This year, I am in control. This year is going to be a fantastic year, I can feel it.

On the Hot Dog Man and Austerity, Simply

My cousin was in town last week. He’s quite removed from all things pop culture, as he spends his time living a very simplified life. I find his perspective refreshing, and have so enjoyed being able to spend time with him not once but twice this summer. He was in the car with our grandmother and aunt during his brief visit, and they drove by a movie theater that simply showed “All is Lost” on its marquee. We laughed as he explained that he was quite concerned by this message, but I explained to him that “All is Lost” is the title of a film (which I know absolutely nothing about).

All is not lost.

Speaking of a simplified life (which I speak of as one who is impressed and motivated by the power to directly impact your own experiences with the choices you make), I’ve been spending a lot of time simplifying lately.

It began out of necessity, but somewhere in the frantic rush to cut back on everything (I only somewhat joking refer to it as “austerity measures”), I found myself realizing how blessed I really am and how much there is to simply enjoy. In the darkest hours, I was solely focused on survival. As I grew tired and frustrated, impatient and anxious, I began to assess the positives, to focus on reinforcing the things that make me happy.

Creating happiness and finding the good in the worst of it all is the hardest part, but I firmly believe that it is the most worthwhile endeavor in which I have engaged in quite some time. Sowing the seeds of positivity has led to a bountiful return for me in both my experiences and in my own emotions.

It began when I sat down with now-boyfriend earlier this summer and he told me over dinner that he hadn’t done anything he didn’t want to in months. My cousin’s perspective is quite similar. He travels freely, lives simply, does exactly what he wants, and in turn, has a refreshingly grounded air of contentment about him.

I was so caught up in the struggle to move forward without direction that I neglected myself, first and foremost, but also my own drive. This year may not have been my favorite year, but it’s been rewarding in so many different ways.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch, feet perched on the railing, absorbing the radiant Colorado November sunshine. A steaming mug of tea sits next to me and a very jealous cat sits just on the other side of the front door. This is bliss.

I am looking at the most positive job week I’ve had in a long time. I had my first actual interview last week, rocked it, and was offered the job. I will be turning it down. I am also poised on the brink of creating a position with a company I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade, and am thrilled by the level of respect and honesty I’ve been offered.

“What’s your ideal job?” my boss asked. “Let’s work on creating something that will work for the both of us.” Marketing, administrative work to include payroll, and assistant managing all wrapped up in one package? Perfect.

I am so pleased. I did this. I offered the boss my services, explaining that I’d love to help with the office and the marketing, then handed him my resume to remind him that I’m far more than the sixteen-year old he hired all those years ago. He responded with the offer and we’re all set to sit down and hash out the details.

And even more! I’m meeting with a recruiter for coffee on Friday. Where that will go, I’m not sure, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of reigniting my drive towards a greater future for myself.

But it’s not just on the job front.

I’m finding myself able to appreciate the positives and the beauty all around me.

My strange love of “the hot dog man” and his dog is my favorite example of good in the world. He comes in to work most days and teases me. He’s still upset that I won’t give him my grandmother’s phone number, and we’ve discussed why women are the root of all evil. (According to him, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy was most likely due to a woman. “You know why I was the captain of two destroyers?” he asked me. “I didn’t get distracted by women.”) Sometimes, he tries to give me money and tells me not to spend it on men.

He’s fantastic. Yesterday, he came in and I gave him a free hot dog because it was Veteran’s Day. I found out that he joined the Navy at 17 (in 1937!). He laughed as I gave him his free hot dog, and then told me that I was probably going to charge his dog double. (I give the dog a pup cup of ice cream every time they come in.)

He asked me if I was going to join the Navy when I turn seventeen. I laughed and told him that I’m far older than seventeen and that my boyfriend joined the Marines when he was seventeen. “Is he still in?” he asked. I told him that no, he isn’t. “Well, when you get sick of him, just send him back!” he said.

The hot dog man got a hundred-dollar bill from a random stranger the other day. She had just sold her house and somehow had a bunch of money from the closing, so she handed him the 100 and told him that her kids were grown and that she didn’t need it, and that she wanted to spread some good into the world. We told him that we’re going to start calling him “The Hundred Dollar Man” and he said his typical farewell of “whatever” and gave us a wave before finding his walker (with the dog tied to it) outside and heading off towards home.

He probably has no idea how much I enjoy seeing him. Yesterday, when he was in the store, he was talking to a mother and her young daughter. He doesn’t see well (blind as a bat might be a more accurate description), and at one point, he was gesticulating with his hand out and the little girl reached up and high-fived him. He smiled and asked her if she was going to hold his hand. It was such a sweet moment.

He’s the best. I don’t mean to ramble, but he’s one of those examples of the best parts of the world. They’re the most unexpected. They take you by surprise and uplift you in the strangest ways.

I’m so thrilled. Life has a funny way of handing you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m finding that sometimes, the things you need the most are the things you’ve carried with you all along. (Oh, I know I’m spitting clichés out left and right and I don’t care at all.)

I’m going to make the most of this beautiful life, even though it’s not at all how I expected it would be. I think sometimes it’s the weird randomness of the universe that’s the most beautiful part of it all.

On Silence, Quietly

I slipped away from my blog this summer, which is something I’ve never done before.

I started blogging when I was fifteen or sixteen – back then it was a different, now nearly defunct platform – after my father made the egregious parental error of photocopying my handwritten journal and hauling me in to the pediatrician to discuss the contents, which consisted of nothing but typical fifteen-year old drivel.

I have been keeping journals since I was five. I still have all of them, in a box. I drag them with me every time I move, and I will continue dragging them with me as long as I live. Writing is my way of reflecting, relieving stress, processing events and emotions. Writing is my absolute favorite thing in the world.

This summer, I lost the will to write. I’ve misplaced it before, but I’ve never truly lost it. This summer I nearly lost the will to live, and with it went my words. To be overwhelmed by the horrible pendulum of emotion, swinging from the furthest reaches of numbness to the limits of rage and anguish, is a peculiar and horrifying state of existence.

I have been searching for the answers. I have questioned everything I believe in. I have wondered if resilience is possible, and I have shed enough tears to fill seven salty bathtubs.

I woke up one day, and shortly thereafter, during one of my now frequent random onset crying spells, I decided I was done. Done with all of it. I had to force myself to be light that day. I had to force the smiles, the cheeriness, the radiating of joy. I forced the fuck out of it. That day, I made almost $20 in tips.

That day was the start of the end. I’m not out yet, but instead of free-falling, I’m starting to kick. “Your dreams are not what you thought they’d be,” she said. (One of my all-time favorite quotes, coming from the much-criticized Girls on HBO.) And they’re not. They’re nothing like I thought they’d be.

The silence has been horrible. I wonder, will I have anything to say? Will I still make sense? I still wonder that. But I’m done with the hiding. I’m done caring what anyone thinks about anything, whether it’s what I do for a living, where I’m working, why I’m not happy all the time, or why I have made the decisions I made.

I’ve spent the silence thinking. Thoughts are absolutely terrifying. They are heavy, overwhelming, upsetting. I’ve thought more about the world and the people living in it than I ever thought I would. I’ve thought about the future and the past. I’ve been trying to think about the present, and to actively be present for it. I’ve been embracing the routines I’ve created. I’ve been floating from day-to-day, trying to embrace the weightlessness that is now.

I’ve concluded that everything has an equally relevant opposite. That working for our society’s version of success is no more important than working for happiness. That rude, terrible people can be balanced out by the graceful, hopeful ones. That for all the light in this world, there is much that can never be light. (This, of course, is where super villains find their beginnings – the loss of hope turns to hardened hatred, the bitterness seeps into the deepest recesses of their hearts, and suddenly, they are no longer capable of seeing the light through the dark.)

I’ve spent the past few months removed from most things. I can’t afford to go out anymore – not to eat, not to dance, not to play. Austerity measures have kicked in. I forgot how good I can be on a ridiculously lean budget. I’ve been putting the pieces of my life back together. I joined a gym. I exercise until I don’t feel quite so angry, so sad, so helpless. I’ve gained eight very necessary pounds. I’ve been getting regular sleep.

The boy makes me feel safe. I have a solid, positive relationship with my bosses. I am well-liked, and more importantly, well-respected where I work. I am freelancing for a small publication. I am actively searching for a full-time job that doesn’t involve anything to do with ice cream. I am still a fantastic cat mother. I recently assisted with the coordination of my stepsister’s wedding, and I did better than anyone (even myself) could have anticipated.

I am not what I do. I am more than hourly soft serve. I am going to be okay. I am not going to be silent any more. Even if this year is lost to “emotional pain” tags and miserable posts, I am not going to stop. Because this, much like every journal I’ve ever owned, belongs to me, and no one can take that away (unless of corse I don’t pay my domain registration, or I’m hacked, or…).

The silence was necessary, but it’s over.

On “Smooth Transitions,” Anything But Smoothly

They say that after a traumatic experience, you begin to describe yourself and your life as being “before” and “after.” I finally understand that. 

The me that existed before January 29 was a very different person than the one that exists now. Of course, I’m still me. There are some things that will never change. There are some things the can never change. And there are the things that will never be the same. 

I shut down after I was sexually assaulted. I lost myself. I wandered around for two months, trying as hard as I could to pretend it wasn’t real, to pretend that I was fine. But in the end, I lost. It bubbled up and boiled over, in an instant, and I was caught unaware. I lost a lot when it happened – I lost my first love (my naiveté); I lost much of the ground I’d gained – my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my belief in myself as human being; I lost my  ability to feel happiness. When I let it bubble over, I lost my composure, the one thing I’d worked so hard to keep. 

Strength isn’t something that you can actively seek. It exists inside of you, and it exists in the bonds that you’ve formed with the people who you care about. When you lose your inner strength, you have to rely on the strength of the love you’ve cultivated. Thank god I’d cultivated some strong friendships. I cried on, and relied on, the people who I love the most. They saved me. 

One silly piece of advice I got, the silly piece of advice that has propelled me through the darkest nights and loneliest hours, was that you have to live for your pets. That’s dumb, and I realize that. But honestly, thinking about Carlos was the one thing that pulled me through some nasty spells of despair. Who would feed him wet food if I wasn’t here? Who would he sleep next to? Who would feel that pitter-patter in their heart when they saw him? Only me. There could be no one else. 

When I gave my three weeks notice at work, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. After that day, I didn’t think about New York all the time. My waking moments were no longer consumed with rumination about it: the not knowing, the bitterness, the rage, the sadness, the hopelessness. Instead, I felt nothing. Sometimes feeling nothing is better than feeling everything, all the time. It’s exhausting. 

I was cautioned that this is a roller coaster. I was told that there would be moments of elation, of pure ecstatic joy, of rage, of sadness, of pain, of heartbreak, of grief. 

I forget that sometimes. I am blindsided, still, by the emotions. They overtake me when I least expect it, when I think I am safe. But you’re never safe, not from something that haunts you. That’s the horror story here — you can’t run. I know, because I thought about it. I thought about packing a single bag (I know, I know, a single bag for a new start? In actuality, it would be more like four bags, and the cat. Of course the cat gets to come. He’s the strange salvation) and running. Driving forever, until I ran out of money and ended up anywhere. But you can’t run, because it follows you. And you can’t run out of money, because without money, you are nothing. 

And now, I stand ruined. I doubt I’ll be receiving references based on the two and half years of my life I gave to the company. Instead, I imagine it will be a curt discussion of my failures. And that’s funny, because even though I didn’t manage to come through in the end, I gave them my all when I was breaking down, the seven hours that day spent crying in April to finish a proposal that “he” was responsible for ended in a lucrative contract. And to me, that hurts almost more than all of it. I did that. I packaged it. I prepared it. I shipped it. And he gets the commission. He gets to go home to his wife and children with a huge paycheck, and I have nothing but the job I held in high school, a last resort, a refuge from the constant reminder that I am vulnerable and weak.

“You’re not being fired, but you’re free to leave,” they told me, when the HR investigation came back “inconclusive.” Of course there was no proof. When it happened, I was so worried about my job (the irony here stings) that I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I sat there and wondered how I’d afford a plane ticket home. “You’re not the first woman who didn’t know she had options,” said one of my doctors, when I’d spilled the story to her in a fit of word vomit that I couldn’t contain. 

My boss told me several times throughout the course of the investigation that at worst, it would be a smooth transition, where I would stay there until I found a new job. I choked on those words. Smooth transition, my ass. This is not a smooth transition. This is the part where I live on fucking chili cheese dogs because they’re free. This is the part where I fuck up and don’t finish the last of my semi-contract work. This is the part where I finally break, where my body gives out and my spirit follows. 

This is the part where I realize that there is a cost far greater than you ever imagine. The traumatic experience was not just the assault itself, it was everything that followed. I know I have to go forward, but where do I go from here?

I’m working full time at my high school job. I’ve just started applying for new jobs. I’m paralyzed by the fear that my references will be held over me, my actual work lost in the downward spiral that was the end. 

Here’s to the existential crisis I hoped I’d never find myself in. Here’s to digging myself out of that deep, dark hole. Here’s to the future, in the hopes that there is something left of it. Here’s to the hope that somewhere there is a light that will lead me out of this desolate place. Here’s hoping…..

On Listening, Importantly

Today, I was waiting at the pharmacy for a prescription to be filled. As I sat, I listened to the conversation between a woman and an elderly man. They’d obviously just met and were engaged in the same sort of life exchange – a conversation about everything and nothing, all at once. I smiled to myself as I listened to them talk about animals, overseas travel, even politics.

One rainy night this week, a man came into Dairy Queen for a sundae. He ended up standing at the counter for nearly fifteen minutes, sharing pictures of his mother and grandmother. He told me all about his history, his military service, his family, their small business, his father.

As I found my patience slipping away, I thought of how important a listening ear can be. It wasn’t by any means a sudden realization, but it was a firm reminder of the importance of human interaction, particularly as a significant amount of our population grows older.

I am one of those people who thrives on human interaction. My energy stems from the satisfaction I feel as I communicate and my most basic motivation is understanding and acceptance, meaning derived from experiences both shared and personally discovered.

We don’t talk about growing older much in our society. I believe that we’d prefer to imagine ourselves in a state of eternal youth, hiding crows’ feet and wrinkles with expensive creams and surgeries, replacing degrading joints with robotic ones, striving to stay active and youthful with pills and endless supplements. But it’s a reality that we’ll most likely face one day. Age will happen to us, or to someone we know. The body can’t sustain its seemingly perpetual motion and youth forever, and will eventually begin to decline, the slow march toward obsolescence we swore would never happen to us.

We push our elderly away, ensconcing them in homes and communities created specially for them, out of sight, out of mind. We disregard their opinions, mocking their experience. “In my day…” we’ll chortle and scoff. And yet, they are the very people we should be turning to. Their life experience is a compounded version of our own, far more complex and inherently stronger. Their wisdom has been carefully cultivated; their knowledge of the things we have yet to face is an oft-untapped resource.

I always listen when my grandfather talks about politics. I know that he’s got something valuable to say. I myself fail – I am not nearly the doting grandchild I wish I were. I do not carve out enough time to go and sit with them. I do not make enough time to listen.

I know that I don’t do enough. I need to be better at doing more. More listening, more connecting, more smiling, all of it. With all people. Loneliness is scary. And no one should have to be alone.

I’m rambling.

What I’m trying to share is the importance of interaction. The connections we form with our fellow humans don’t have to be deep friendships (but that never hurts), but individually, we have the power to make the world a more positive place for every single person we encounter. (I have to remind myself of this when I’m in Chicago-road-rage mode…) Your smile could be the smile that makes someone’s day. Your anecdote may fall flat (mine do….all the time), or it may be the thing that someone remembers for a lifetime.

Remind yourself that when you’re stuck in a waiting room and someone wants to show you pictures of their grandkids.

(Even though this post is centered around the very elderly, please feel free to use this unsolicited advice for when people want to show your 800 slides of their vacation to Canada – see that whale? or that whale? or that rock? or that bird? or that great cloud? Oh look, there’s a picture of the shrimp cocktail at the one restaurant in that one town you’re never going to go to – and remember, if you haven’t already, you’re going to be that guy someday, too.)

On Looking Forward, Hesitantly

Time is elusive, something you long for more of, but something you can never quite grab onto, or even really control.  The future seems endless, like today will somehow stretch on forever and next week will never come. Before you know it, all of those tomorrows are yesterdays, and all the things you swore you’d do are yet left undone.

I mowed the front lawn the other day, something that remains an overwhelming task for me. What may be drudgery for some fills the core of my bones with a ringing sense of accomplishment, of certainty, of satisfaction. I even did the strange little hilly part that leads to our neighbor’s driveway. (He’s new – I don’t think he knows it’s his job yet. I guess I could leave it untended and let him figure it out, but I’m concerned that he might not due to the scraggly overgrowth that tends to be comprise my lawn at any given point in time.)

I tackled a few other household chores, but I still have a long list of things that must be handled, dealt with, checked off. They’re not showstoppers, but I will feel more settled once I’ve said good riddance to the mental checklist. (I do know that there is no real end to the lists. I know that as soon as one thing passes out of the conscious concern, another will pop up to take its place.)

I’ve been working, still. Trading one sixty hour week for another. I imagined I would have time to seek the calm I’ve been craving, but alas, that was not to be the case. All I can see is today, this week, the schedules dictated by the Sunday release of the Dairy Queen schedule, all plans left in flux until the message arrives bearing a picture of the week’s schedule. It’s an interesting way to view the world. Months, seemingly endless, are suddenly broken down into seven-day segments, both more manageable and repetitive, unchangingly inflexible without meaning to be.

I’ve been spending time with an old boyfriend, the ever-present romantic antagonist of my mid-twenties. We’ve fallen back into our routine. There are errands (my favorite!), dinners (his attempts to woo me with his culinary prowess delight me), and the quiet hours, where he’s decided that I must learn how to play video games.

After days of wondering why he’d try to teach me – a task far more daunting than he had anticipated – I have finally realized that he’d like to get to the point where we can play together as teammates. I find the notion oddly romantic. And you should know by now how much I hate to lose, therefore this challenge is one I’m not taking lightly.

Seriously though, video games terrify me. I’ve never been one to play them (we weren’t allowed to have them in our house until we were nearly teenagers, and by then my attention drifted elsewhere). I’ve no knowledge of the mastery of strategy, but far more difficult than that is finding my damn character on the screen. And so my character dies. Repeatedly. “I didn’t even see where I was!” I exclaim, before surrendering to laughter at how pathetic I must look. The boys can’t believe it.

Even worse than the finding my character is moving the screen so I can see where my character is in relation to the battles. I’ve been instructed to work on smooth movement instead of just tapping the arrow keys sadly. I’ve been sent home with a tiny Game Boy for homework.

He’s a patient teacher, mostly. I think he’s excited that I’m showing interest in joining him, rather than just watching him play. I think I’m too stubborn to back down. I am determined, but amazed at how difficult this is.

***

By the way, today is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen. $1.50 of your Blizzard purchase goes to the Children’s Miracle Network that supports children’s hospitals across the country. Your donation goes directly to the children’s hospital closest to you. It’s a gloomy day in Denver, so I hope that doesn’t hurt our sales. (I’ll be at my location from 4 until close, so come say hi if you’re craving a Blizzard.)

Yesterday, my first customer asked me if I was full-time or part-time. I gave him a brief overview of my current situation, full-time ice cream queen, part-time legal software marketer, and he was supportive, appreciative, and fantastic. He told me that my cheerfulness was exactly what he’d needed.

But of course, bright things can only linger for so long in this world. A bit later, a man came in and told us that the reason that we work at Dairy Queen is because we voted for Obama. Offended (as I usually am by people who assume I’m unintelligent), I continued the conversation very stiffly and politely. He told me that I had no knowledge of how government works (to which I bit my tongue in order to stem the tide rising inside me), and then proceeded to patronize me. At one point, he told Evan that Dairy Queen is a good job, because he “has a woman” — me — and that my desire to have a career is what’s killing our future as a Christian nation. (Ah, yes. To which I responded that the reason I long for a career is because I fear that the alternative is relegation to domestic tasks for which I am clearly unsuited.)

He concluded with a thought about how the end of marriage and religion were going to be the downfall of our nation. Finally, I’d had enough. I countered, “What I think you’re neglecting, sir, is this question: is it possible to be a good, moral person without religion?” I gave him a brief overview of my belief that it is not religion that drives people to be good, and that community will continue to exist by nature of the human species rather than by the driving force of religion alone. Therefore, I concluded, religion and the end of marriage are not what will doom our society, but rather, our lack of cooperation. He didn’t have a response. I didn’t imagine that he would. He left us a tip and thanked us before he left.

Never a dull moment, I assure you.

On Parenthood, Bittersweetly

When I was younger, I assumed I wanted children. It was a given. I was going to grow up, get a job, get married, have babies. Simple plan, right?

But suddenly, I’m just not so sure. (About any of it, really, not just the babies part.)

I love babies. Babies love me. I’ll never forget the way my heart melted when one of the little kids I babysit learned how to say “babysit.” “Bye Mommy, bye daddy,” she said, waving her little hands. “Kay-ee bayee-sit.” In that moment, I was absolute mush.

The other night, I was babysitting for one of my favorite families.  I played baseball with the little boy in the backyard — I’ve decided that we may need to bring in an umpire because his perception of what constitutes the strike zone is nowhere near mine. The little girl showed me the things that she’d collected and artfully arranged on a tray next to a bear wearing pearls and a wedding dress. We played “amusement park” in the basement. One of the games involves putting stuffed animals on a person (me). It ended with the cutest snuggle pile ever. 

As I was reading them stories before bed (from a Star Wars encyclopedia), I thought about how much I’ve treasured all of these growing-up moments. I thought about the families I sat for in Chicago, how the three boys told me that I reminded them of the beach, and so instead of getting ice cream my last night with them, we went to the beach to put our toes in the water one last time. That night, they asked me why I was crying while I read their stories. 

The other night, as usual, the kids asked me if I would snuggle them after we finished reading about droids, Sith lords, and Jedi masters. As I listened to their stories about their old cat Fred, I realized that they’re not going to be babies forever. And then I imagined what parenthood must be like. 

Parenthood must be the most bittersweet job one could possibly have. They are so dependent on you; without you, there is nothing. But then they grow. They grow into inquisitive, wonderful human beings. They throw tantrums and wear strange clothes and develop habits you don’t approve of. And at some point, you’re not necessary to their survival. You have to let them out into the world. 

Does your heart break into a million pieces every time you let them go a little further? The first day of school? Their first dance? High school graduation? College? (I always used to roll my eyes at my mom because when I would drive from Denver to Chicago, she’d call me every hour, on the hour. I totally get it now.)

Parenthood is frustrating. I feel like after a while, the cute to frustrating ratio tips dangerously into the “Always Frustrating!” zone and the cuteness just dries up. Am I cute now? No. I’m grumpy, and tired, and constantly burdened by things that will someday seem trivial. (This may accurately describe everyone age 10 and over.) 

Is it worth it? 

Everyone says yes, but maybe that’s because they’re hoping enough yeses will lead to grandchildren. And then you can start the cute to frustrating ratio time-lapse all over again. When the cute baby grandchildren smile and do the baby laugh, you totally forget what it must have been like to have teenagers. 

(I think this is a real thing because a while ago, my mom texted us to thank us for not being sullen teenagers. I laughed and texted back something along the lines of, “Do you not remember the three years I spent as a moody, semi-Goth teen?” Her reply was something about how she must have forgotten. I think we can all be grateful for that.) 

On the Pursuit of Happiness, Capitalistically

I was having dinner with a friend the other night when he told me, “I realized something the other day. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I haven’t done anything that I don’t want to in months.”

Such a simple statement and yet such a stunning revelation.

I believe we can all agree that happiness is a mental state of contentment or joy (definition taken from multiple sources, combined into this definition, therefore no sourcing). My purpose in life is to achieve happiness. And yet you’ll notice that it is still a goal, so elusive that it has grown and dwarfed other life goals.

“I want to be happy” is a great statement, but “I am happy” is a better one. The best one.

But how?

One of my biggest quibbles with Eat, Pray, Love was that the author struck me as so vapid and vain. You have everything! my inner voice shrieked at her as I struggled to make it through the Eat section. You’re crying on your bathroom floor and you’re an idiot! I was venting that exact thought about the book to someone a generation older than me, and she commented that most of the people in their twenties who read that book had a similar reaction. And yet, she told me that it all made a great deal of sense to her.

I still don’t sympathize with the author, but I do see that she may have had a point. It’s easy to think that success and good standing and security and stability and all of the trappings of the American Dream will equal bliss, joy, unencumbered happiness.

And yet, the radiant life we’ve been buying into isn’t real. The tattered remnants of the American Dream are still scattered across my hopeful vision of the future, and in buying into the promise that it too might happen to you, if only you work hard enough, or do any number of things, you’ve lost the ability to ever achieve happiness.

It’s the twisted American Dream — you work to get somewhere, something and yet once you arrive, you’re reminded that it’s not enough. If only you do this. Or buy that. Or wear your hair a certain way. Or take these 7 simple suggestions.  It will never be enough.

 

Happiness has become the most salable commodity we’ve got. Trafficking in happiness is about as ridiculous as the rationale behind bottled water, and yet, I bet you’ve purchased bottled water at least a dozen times in your life or purchased something guaranteed to make you happier.

You’re being resold something that was already yours to begin with. Your happiness is not dependent on anything external. And yet, the marketing geniuses have found a way to play into our deepest desires and craft their messages to suit their needs, rather than our own. (Although, I will admit that my happiness levels drastically increase when I’m in possession of fabulous mascara.)

And I bet you’re still trying to buy back your own damn happiness. I know I am. It’s been repackaged, repriced, redesigned. I’m trying to pay it off, slowly accruing interest, never quite reaching the “Paid in Full” designation, but that’s by design.

My friend is onto something. He stopped doing what he didn’t want to do.

Happiness is everywhere you look. It is attainable. Because it’s right there.

Happiness is my front porch after work, a cold beer, a cat on a leash, the sprinkler on, a book in my hand, feet up on the porch railing, an expanse of greening lawn between my toes and the street. That snapshot is what happiness is.

Happiness is the open road, blue skies, low-hanging wisps of clouds, a radio station that actually works (and isn’t playing country music), and no one in front of you.

Happiness is satisfaction after I’ve mowed the front lawn (badly). Happiness is finding out that they’re happy to put extra pineapple in your pineapple curry if you don’t want veggies or chicken. Happiness is house sauce. (Can you tell I had Thai this week? The hostess greeted me so warmly – “We haven’t seen you in so long! Let me take you to the table you like!” and I was embarrassed at not having been there in a few months. I missed them.)

Happiness is itself a reprieve from the struggle for happiness, but it’s hard to see unless you’ve stepped back far enough to see everything. So my advice – to myself, of course – for the now and coming future is to stop buying into the idea that I’m never going to make it to Destination Happy and start making it myself.

(If it’s a business plan that works for Dasani, it’s a life plan that’s going to work for me. I too can take tap water and turn it into millions of happy moments. And/or dollars.)   😉