As a computer programmer I have wrapped my brain around a certain logic…if (this) then (this). But here’s the thing, real life doesn’t work that way. There is no logic.
Maybe that’s why we invented computers to begin with, to make something work the way we want (read ‘expect’) things to work. I remember some wise people telling me once that the things that make us unhappy are our ‘expectations’. I’m thinking it’s time to write all my ‘expectations’ down on little slips of paper then crumple them up and throw then in a garbage can, because that’s really about how valuable they are.
Life, people, love…it’s all just a big roulette wheel, a roller coaster, a ride you take with eyes closed, gasping for air, and hoping you come out wanting to go again instead of throwing up. If (this), then (this). Nope. That’s not human, it’s silicon and solder, not flesh and blood. We are not computers; we are not robots. We build those and even they can break, just like our hearts.
I’ll just take the “E” ticket please… and maybe a Dramamine. The ride isn’t over until we die and I’m still breathing, laughing and sometimes, yeah, even getting sick, but still strapped in, watching as the next big hill looms in front of me.
A few weeks ago, my daughter and I embarked on a new venture as licensed pet sitters. To market our new business, we marched door to door in the early summer heat in a few of the nicer neighborhoods in town, passing out fliers and introducing ourselves, hoping to drum up a new customer or two. Surprisingly, we found that a good percentage of the people we visited didn’t have any pet at all! As people who have had dozens over the years, this was a shocking revelation. I’m not sure how someone can live without the company of non-human creatures, especially since, at least to me, they are the only source of uncompromising, unconditional love.
All my life I have had pets, pets of all kinds: turtles and frogs liberated from piney forest streams, crabs harvested from marshy banks carried home in dixie cups full of sand and salt water, goldfish won playing ring toss games at school fun fairs, kittens rescued from dirty ditches and dogs brought home in the backseats of cars. Each and every one was lavished with love, toys and leftover bologna, given names and all my good intentions. Some stayed only a little while, some stayed a lifetime, all were gifts from heaven for me to practice my stewardship of God’s love.
According to my mother, my first word uttered during my diaper years was not mama or dada, but Bo. Bo was the name of the Cocker Spaniel puppy my family owned from shortly before my birth until years later when he died of old age, still carrying his favorite squeaky rubber duck around like a captured flag. He was the first animal I knew and I was immediately certain where my heart belonged. He was the first of many dogs in my life, but there have been two that I truly called my own good dogs.
The first was Laddie. Laddie was a registered full-sized standard Collie, complete with a lion’s mane of white and a tail that swept coffee tables clean. He wasn’t mine at the start, but as my siblings grew up and moved away, he became mine by default and was my best company during those tough middle school years. He had a needle-nose capped with short spiky whiskers that he would push into my face for hugs after long days at school. He was my constant company during the Florida summers under the scuppernong vines in our backyard, sharing the warm sweet fruit with me endlessly. I would squeeze the sweet bulbs of those grapes between the tiny teeth in the front of his snout, one for you, one for me. I’m surprised I didn’t make him sick. More importantly, he was my therapist. Every time I had an adolescent cry, Laddie was there, leaning into my side and crying along with me. He had an empathy that went beyond words, one that still makes me wonder if God’s angels don’t have wings at all, but rather have fur coats and fleas.
For my children, Sheila was that good dog. My ex-husband brought her home one day in the car, trembling and tucked under the driver’s seat so tight I had to drag her out. It took weeks for her to decide that we were trustworthy, but when she did, she proved herself to be the best friend a house full of girls could ever have. With few exceptions, Sheila hated men, and after I separated from my husband, she made it her business to be our house protector. No man could come in our house without her say so, and even then they were suspect. We didn’t have to fear any intruders, Sheila was on the job. We knew she would have laid her life down for us. My daughter had her for a friend and circus performer, teaching her tricks and advanced rope jumping in the front yard. She mothered countless kittens and reared a stray puppy or two. None were her own, but she didn’t care much about origin, only that her charges were well behaved and lived up to her standards. She had no bad habits, made the perfect toe-warmer, and had the tolerance of Job. Again, God’s angels don’t have wings.
So now, even as we are trying to find housing in another city, we are doing so with certain standards. If they won’t accept our pets, then we won’t accept the place. There is no place for us that won’t allow us our angels. They are our hearts on four legs, fuzzy, drippy hearts that we can’t have broken for very long. Our dog Linus is waiting for us now while we live temporarily in a small apartment looking for a house to rent with a yard and a pet-friendly policy. Someday soon, we hope to bring him home, another good dog with a furry-faced grin to grace us after these long, hard times. I can’t wait for that day, when our dog days are over and our days include a good dog again. Everyone should have at least one.
The sun came out today and the sky is that perfect blinding blue, the one that everyone wants to be the backdrop to their photos and memories. As I was driving, listening to the radio and woolgathering, my mind went back to a long past yesterday where I was little and guarded, and sick on Halloween with the chicken pox.
I remember my mother, harried with four youngsters, three on the cusp of teendom, looking at me with squinted eyes. She spied some suspicious dots of red on my face and quickly had me shedding my skivvies to make a diagnosis. Chicken pox, oh joy.
I was five years old and looking forward with enthusiasm to the next night, roaming the dark with my brother and sisters, a ghoul with the gift of gab. “Trick or Treat!” I had practiced night and day, even in my sleep, and was so ready for that free candy. Now, dreams dashed, I was sent to bed without the prize. Little did I know what was in store.
I watched with disappointment as my siblings left. They laughed at each others costumes, rushing out the front door in anticipation of the night’s haul. I cried because I couldn’t join them. I drifted through the door of my room like a ghost, haunted by dreams of lollipops and gumdrops and the anguish of a sugar rush denied. A few hours later, I heard the front door open, but I didn’t stir. Fresh water rose up under my eyes, a flood of ennui running a gusher. I heard the merry voices of the returning journeymen, fresh from their candy haul, and then my mother called to me.
Slowly I rolled off the blanket, left the damp divot in my pillow and headed toward the living room where I was certain to view the others rolling in candied contentment, counting tootsie rolls and comparing chocolates. Reluctant but resigned, I walked in.
There before me stood my sisters and my brother, beaming with pride. They held out a sack, a pillow case, full to the brim and spilling over with every sort of confection, but most of all affection, for their sick little sister. They scoured the neighborhood, telling a tale between “Tricks” and “Treats” of their sister, unable to come our because of the pox, andthe neighbors had been generous. Eagerly, they presented their booty to me, all for me, their love evident in each and every unwrapped goody.
This was love. This was family. This was every good memory I will ever have. Three teenagers who gave up their night and their avarice for sweets for the sister who couldn’t go with them on the best night of a child’s year. They gave it all to me, every ounce- pounds probably- of candy and chocolate and goodness. In a few days, I was sated and sharing it all. The day as bright as this one, the Puerto Rican sky as blue as the sea and my love for them as just as wide. I will never forget it.
You know, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Is there any wonder why?