Yesterday, Shadow greeted me at the fence of his corral when I pulled up the car. I’d been out marketing. Instead of unloading the car immediately, I walked over to say hi. It’s so nice when someone is happy to see you!
We hung out for a while, and I reached up to scratch around his ears and forehead, removed the sleepers from his eyes, smoothed the fur under his chin. He put his long soft nose very gently next to my cheek and breathed me in. It’s been a long time since I allowed anyone that close to me. It felt like peace. It felt like love.
Last night, after unpacking and bathing and cooking and eating and cleaning and meditating, I started crying. I don’t want to love because I don’t want to lose. I shouldn’t love Shadow because he isn’t “mine.” I’m bound to lose him.
But when I turned that sentence around, I started laughing: Shadow shouldn’t love me because I’m not “his.” Ridiculous! We love who we love, whether they are “ours” or not, whether they live for three years, six years, or 90. Whether we have one day or one minute together.
I remember sitting next to Emmett under the pine tree in our front yard in Olympia one balmy evening. My neighbor was visiting and I was petting Emmett’s thick Malamute fur, scratching behind his floppy ears, massaging his ruff. I started crying. I thought my heart would burst, unable to contain the pure quantity of love I felt. “I love him so much,” I told her, and she nodded.
Sometimes it seems as though I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I don’t want to subject myself to that pain again.
Ha! Good luck with that, my darling! We are all terminal, every single one of us. So why not love along the way? Why turn away from the soft nose against the cheek? The kind word? The gentle rain of love falling on you right this minute?
Besides, I don’t really have a choice. I love who I love when I love. The so-called rational mind has nothing to do with it. It’s all heart.
Today marks the ninth anniversary of Emmett’s death. Time is indeed a bizarre, weird, fluid concept.
We met the day after a winter solstice party. I was in no mood to socialize let alone make new friends.
Knock knock knock.
Knock knock knock.
I drag myself away from The Prairie Home Companion and go to the door, trying to plaster a semblance of a smile on my snoot.
It’s Llyn, my then-girlfriend. Did she lose her key? “I’ve brought company,” she says, with a real smile.
I look down. And there he is: big, black, and beautiful. He wags his plumy tail. “It’s you!” cries my heart. “Hello!” says my mouth. And that was it: love at first sight.
The next six years completely changed the direction of my life. I made time for play, for fun. For adventure. We went almost everywhere together, even the movies. Therapy, even!
One time, at the beach, he found a particularly noxious-smelling salmon carcass. He rolled in it, of course, which didn’t worry me too much at the time. He was always rolling in interesting smells. I knew it’d wear off. But when we were in the car heading home, my eyes began to stream with tears. The stench! I stopped to roll every window down; it didn’t help. And when I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, there he was, proud as could be, tongue hanging out. “I am a badass,” said his expression. “I rule.”
He was also kind. Once we were walking back from the library when a young man and a very young dog approached us. “Do you mind if they play?” asked the guy. “I’m trying to help him socialize.”
“Sure,” I said. By this time Emmett was a full grown Malamute mix. He was easily ten times the size of the little dog. Nonetheless, he began to play with him, very carefully. He threw himself to the ground, pretending the puppy had knocked him over, and let the puppy climb all over him.
This is the same wolfy dog that killed a chicken, and took down a young deer.
After Emmett died, I felt him near me, especially when I walked one of our familiar routes. We often walked at night, so I was used to not seeing him for long periods; his black coat blended into the shadows. He’d run ahead, or lollygag behind. But we were always connected. And one whistle — his special whistle — usually brought him to my side.
In the hardest times after the evacuation, when I didn’t know where I was going or how or if I was going to live, I’d feel him again: walking with me in the dark. My quiet, strong, kind companion. Emmett Ocean Shé. I am loving you.
“We should have a party,” I said to two of my neighbors a couple of weeks before Halloween. “We’ll dress up a la Dia de los Muertos, have live music, a fire. I’ll paint the horses.”
They laughed. But come October 30, my vision came to fruition. Despite the rain earlier in the day, 50+ humans showed up, most in costume. Another neighbor invited her face-painting friend, so when I looked across the fire on the patio that evening, I saw singing calaveras and flowers, and even a pirate crab.
I started painting the horses in the morning. First I brushed Magic, which he’s used to. Then I let him smell the little tub of white paint. Neither of us liked it much, but we tolerated it in the name of Art.
Once he was decorated on both sides, I took a break. These canvases could bite or kick you! Plus, they move. I needed to keep it simple.
Next was Jetson. I didn’t even have to halter him. He seemed to enjoy being a muse.
Kady was okay, too, despite the fact that she charged me in the pasture the week before. Both she and Cisko got handprints.
I ended up painting four horses: all had spots on one side so they were a cohesive herd; then a heart for Jetson, hands on Kady and Cisko, and Magic’s stars. I painted a heart on my chest so I was part of the tribe. My porch pumpkin sported spots.
I used non-toxic washable tempera paint, as recommended by another horse painter (!). “I buy the big container at Michael’s and cut it with shampoo so it’s easier to hose off,” wrote Melanie, who runs an equestrian therapy program in Atascadero. Evidently the kids like to paint their ponies.
The Polka Dot Herd were a big hit at the party, even after dark. People went down to the corrals with flashlights to see them.
“You’re pregnant,” says the nurse, relaying the results of the blood test over the phone.
I’m not surprised. I just bought a lemon at the grocery store for a scratch and sniff remedy; the citrus scent keeps me from vomiting.
Montaña de Oro, October 2016 …
A blustery day. It rained the night before, and will do so again. In California, this is cause for celebration. I feed Cisko just after a cloudy gold and pink sunrise, then go back to bed. Around 9:30 I pack my rucksack and hike down to the ocean.
Highest tide I’ve seen here. The sea rushes all the way up to snowy plover land. About six weeks ago I saw a baby snowy plover — tee-niny! About the size of a ping-pong ball, and probably the same weight. Cute, of course, as all babies are.
I walk north for a while, after stowing my purple boots high on a dune. Lotta kelp washed ashore, the waves still big from the storm. The water is way too turbulent to swim in.
As I walk farther north, I process thoughts and feelings out loud, as is my habit. Nobody’s around, and I find it helpful. Eventually, I sit on a hillock and drink rose-hibiscus tea from my beat up green thermos. Watch the curlews and whimbrels and pelicans.
“I’m not dying!” I yell to a buzzard circling high overhead. And then laugh. It’s true! Three years ago it wasn’t, but today it is. Such beautiful flyers, turkey vultures, just cruising the currents, with barely a wing flap.
When I drove into town last Friday, I passed baby black cows in a field on the south side of the road. Cute! ‘Tis the season. For some.
On the beach, I remember the abortions I subjected myself to. And then a shift occurs. Instead of the familiar rut of beliefs that usually pop up — I shouldn’t want a baby, I’d be a terrible mother, the men were unfit for fatherhood — after decades of lying to myself, I finally speak the truth on this windswept shore: I wanted a baby. I begin to weep.
You see, I had talked myself out of it. Three times. I believed, deeply, that I would be a terrible mother. I did not trust that I would not hurt my baby. I did not trust that I could be different from my parents.
I did not have a baby because I thought I would not be able to control my anger, my impatience, my mean streak. And I thought I needed to be in love with the father. And I thought I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do it alone.
But the reality? What I did not allow myself to know? I wanted a baby. The third abortion, in 1995, was wretched. My body reacted badly, and I could not stop crying. For hours. I wanted to die, and fell into a deep depression soon after.
Eventually I hike back to the apartment, and make a smoothie with strawberries, banana, soymilk, and spinach. It tastes great, despite the fact that I’ve run out of dates. Smoothies are a treat I look forward to after hikes, so this is good news.
“I don’t need dates,” I sing, and dance around the studio. “I don’t need dates.” Which is when I realize that I didn’t need a father either.
Most of my long life I’ve believed that I’ve been missing out on a “regular” dad, whatever that is. Someone who’s always around the house. Two parents, not divorced. Two happy-with-each-other parents.
But that’s not what I got. I got a three-times-a-year dad, a vacation dad. And, despite a lifetime of pining, that has been perfectly fine. Absolutely, incredibly okay. Another truth, bubbling up. Hunh.
And if I didn’t need a dad, perhaps my baby wouldn’t have missed one either. Because that’s the other way I talked myself out of having the baby. The men were not father material, by ANY stretch of the imagination. One was a violent alcoholic druggie, the other was a passive-agressive Beavis-and-Butthead-watching geek. I did not want us to be tied to either of them. I trusted them even less than I trusted myself.
But deep down inside, hidden from me by so-called “rational” thinking, I wanted a baby.
Which also explains my distraught reaction to menopause, sobbing over the clots of blood in the toilet.
Now, despite the tears, or maybe because of them, it is a relief to finally — deep e-x-h-a-l-e — know the truth.
After spending a scary, sleepless night in a tiny cottage by the ocean in Westport, I drove slowly down the coast, trying to reach my father in northern California.
Pumped up on synthetic adrenaline (prescribed by a could-barely-breathe-herself doctor who diagnosed me with toxic-mold-induced asthma), full-body hot flashes surged through me on an hourly basis. Sweating, crying, praying, driving, I continued south as best I could.
The Interstate was not an option — way too much traffic and speed. I ended up on winding coastal roads, late at night. Cold. Still wearing the cotton pants and cambric shirt a neighbor had given me, and hot pink Crocs, no socks. Every time I stopped to check out a hotel or motel, the industrial cleaners they used in the rooms nauseated me. My senses — all of them — were in overdrive.
Exhausted and terrified in Florence, Oregon, I called 911, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” The EMT’s arrived quickly. One kind-faced man held my hand while others attached monitors to various parts of my body. Another advised me to stop taking the Albuterol. I had already done so, but it would take awhile for it to work its way out of my system. Their machines said that my heart was fine, just battered. Yeah.
After my breathing and pulse returned to a more normal rhythm, the patiently efficient EMT’s bid me goodbye. I started the car, turned it around, and headed into town. It was morning.
A huge Fred Meyer sign rose up on the right. A familiar sight! I had a Fred Meyer card! A chain store throughout the Pacific Northwest, I shopped there regularly for food and sundries. I turned into the parking lot.
Once inside, I headed for the clothing department. I needed warm shoes, and clothes that fit my swollen body. Long-time Queen of the FreeStore, for the first time in years I bought brand-new clothes: a pink and black sports cami, a hot pink cotton t-shirt, a long black stretchy skirt, grey fake sheepskin boots, rainbow colored socks, a lime green knee-length raincoat. I tried everything on in a stinky fitting room, and threw away the clothes I came in with.
“Lip balm?” I asked the compassionately helpful saleslady. She led me to another area, health and beauty, and found a tinted balm in a pretty pinky-brown shade.
“This will look good on you,” she said. I put it in the shopping basket.
On the way to the check-out stand, a flash of turquoise caught my eye: a small sequined purse, with a heart-shaped clasp. Perfect for the credit cards I’d been carrying in a brown paper bag. (Unsure what was moldy and what was not, I left everything behind except my computer. I was hoping to keep my job.)
The turquoise said, “You are still an ARTIST.”
The sequins said, “You are NOT DEAD.”
The heart said, “You are LOVABLE.”
I slung it over my shoulder. Let the healing begin.