Mud Mask

This shit started when this friend I’ll call W was coming to visit with their new SO. The last time we saw W, they were at the end of a relationship, and it was rocky and bad;  words were exchanged, disappointments voiced, phone calls avoided and emails unreturned. Breakups are ugly, I get it, but seriously, people, you know the rest of us can see you? 

So ok W was coming and bringing the new SO and we were getting floors vacuumed and the sheets changed when W texted me to say the new SO was sick and they weren’t coming after all. Which meant we could stop vacuuming. Which was, despite the disappointment, sorta ok. We had agreed to take care of The Graduate’s GF’s fuzzy little dog for the weekend. He’d be our houseguest. Something else to do.

GqFHGW58TSu0aDUz2z34uAI was out in the yard with all the dogs when I got a text from my brother asking about an article that the Search Engine Monopoly suggested to him, written by J, one of my internet friends. My brother was like don’t you know this person and I was all sure that’s J. Is that a real friend my brother asked and I did not hesitate to say yes. 

I never like set out to have internet friends. I had them before I realized, really. When I moved from Seattle I felt disconnected from most of the people I saw every day. It was like we were dead to them. Of course, no one warned me. I just set off on my adventure with all my family, pets, and possessions, and no one wondered whatever happened to us. And that first year, we lived in North Dreadful, which had its downs and downers. And then we lived in the city, and there was a hurricane. But somewhere in there I made a Twitter for my cat, and ended up with some pocket friends.

J was one of the first people I talked to regularly on Twitter. Back in 2012, he caught me at peak cussing-on-the-internet, and RTed me as @HamsterRelish “what kind of twat says “va-jay-jay?” it’s VAGINA.” We go way back. 

I talk to J on three platforms, I told my brother. I’m looking forward to having lunch with him. (Not because we had plans to have lunch, but because I always imagined I would have a reason to go to J-ville and we would have lunch. Maybe get a mani-pedi. You know, friend things.)

But then standing in the yard watching three dogs run around I got to thinking about J and wondered why I hadn’t seen a post in about a week, which was unusual given that we were connected on three platforms.

And it was a Facebook post, to J’s wall, from J’s longtime SO, that said something about J being gone and that sure as shit didn’t make any sense.

So I looked up J’s mother. And she had a post saying that J’s last words were “Just love each other.” 

J could tell me which peanut butter cookie recipe to use and follow it up with a hilarious 80s song reference. J wrote beautifully about being a therapist, and had a plush vagina pillow on the couch at work. J encouraged my revolting and fanciful ideas about cat-milk-cheese. J tried on all the funny hats at Target. J could take down a Twitter troll and make them cry uncle. J called bullshit on homophobia, on racism, on sexism. J knew what Bundt cakes to make. J had names and numbers for mental health specialists. J took selfies with a mud mask on his face. J knew more about suicide than anyone I know. J knew when people’s husband’s employers were in the news and that not all news that seemed good actually is good. J knew how to DM me on three platforms, and did.

Your internet friends are pocket friends. They live in your phone. They know your pet peeves and your enthusiasms. They are real friends you see all the time. They go everywhere with you.

So where the fuck was J.

I checked all three platforms.

It didn’t make any sense. He was just there the other day, when the truck full of axe body spray exploded in Texas. When he walked his dog. 

I’ve had other friends disappear on social media. Sometimes they come back with another name. Sometimes they don’t. I’ve even had an acquaintance in Australia die. But this.

I hearted the posts from his SO and his mother.

And within minutes the algorithm was showing the posts to our mutual friends. And by the end of the day I was juggling DMs from mutual friends on three platforms. 

What happened.

Are you ok.

I am ok. Are you ok. I am gutted. I don’t understand. No, me either.

Luckily, in my weird little privileged world, there are always dogs to walk and horses to ride, and I kept going. Horses demanded my attention. Dogs, dogs, dogs. I was a little out of it, and had to tell my horse trainer, but we got to work, because I had regionals to prepare for. My new horse and I qualified for the championships, ok sure only at training level but it was coming up. An important horse show seems stupid and strange when you’re upset about someone who died, but also good and simple and true. We worked to get there. We were ready.

But then right after I’d left the barn my mare spooked and got a big cut on her hip. The barn manager texted me right away. She called for the vet and sent me a photo. It looked like a clean slice. Not too deep.

We got home and headed out to walk the dogs. Eggi was too excited for words and kept licking my face and bumping into Captain. The Houseguest looked fuzzily nonplussed, but I fitted him with his little blue collar and leash. I handed the Houseguest’s leash to the Bacon Provider, and took our two dogs myself. We were doing the short loop, through the woods. We were about a half-mile from home when I heard the Bacon Provider make a sort of hiccuping noise. I turned around to see him holding a leash, attached to a little blue  collar, buckled into a neat round loop with no fuzzy dog in it. The Houseguest was booking it back down the trail towards our house. Now the Bacon Provider is not accustomed to fuck-ups, and takes things v seriously, and he took off running after the fuzzy little punk, despite my attempts to explain that he really should not chase the dog. DON’T I shouted CHASE HIM to the empty woods.

Then I was alone in the woods with my two dogs, and my phone rang and it was the vet. She had sewn up the hole in the horse. I asked about the upcoming show. “Well,” said the vet, “if it were on her leg, I’d say no. and if it were on her face I’d say no problem. You should stick to light work for the next few days and we’ll see.”

Sticking to light work.

What happened. 

Horses are stupid.

But what happened.

There was a guy, fixing a thing, with a power tool. It made a noise. The horse scooted.

Is she ok.

She’ll be ok. 

Don’t you have a show coming up.

Back at the house, the Bacon Provider and the Houseguest looked like nothing had happened. I thought about posting something about how naughty the Houseguest was on one or three platforms but thought his owner might be sad to learn he was being a pain while she was away.  

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A couple days passed and the Bacon Provider left for a business trip. My horse and I stuck to light work. By Tuesday it was clear the stitches were holding nicely. But the stitches are right on her hip, and if she stood the wrong way on the trailer ride she might open it again. I made the decision to keep my horse home from the show. Even though it was the championships. Even though we worked so hard to get there. Even though.

I got a text from my husband sitting on his plane where he saw W’s ex who boarded after he did. Had W and the new SO made it for the weekend, they would have very likely all run into each other at the airport. JFC people the rest of us can see you. Be good to each other, even if you have to let someone go.

I walked all three dogs by myself.

I got in bed early and put a mud mask on my stupid sad face.

I got a text around 10 from my neighbor. She was away and the person who was supposed to do barn check hadn’t. Could I go over and throw the horses a flake of hay? Of course I could. I washed off the mud mask. Real life friends and neighbors are important. I went in my pajamas. Her horses were fine.

But

Dammit 

I miss you, J.

Little E at the Big E

When Cherry died in late November, we were still in the middle of remodeling our house. Captain was pretty lonely, but my plan was to get a puppy the following summer, after we would be you know airquotes-finished. But kitchens and bathrooms take frickin forever, and in March when a third person told me I had to go see S about a vizsla puppy, I did. 

I didn’t say yes, definitely on that day; I waited for the Bacon Provider to have the same experience lifting a perfect ten week old out of the puppy pen and snugging the little squirmulator because why waste words telling him about it? The litter was born between Xmas and New Years, and they were all named for toasts, so we named ours Egészségedre (Hungarian for Cheers!), and we call her Eggi.

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We’ve owned vizslas since 1992, but never shown one. Eggi looks exactly as I think a vizsla should, and is happy and eager and clever as clever and somehow because of these things it seemed reasonable and not ridiculous to show her. In addition to puppy class, Eggi and I did a few weeks of practicing dog show skills with a trainer (stopping and standing instead of sitting, trotting, being stacked, letting a person peel back her lips to show her teeth). Eggi thought it was fine, if a little boring compared to agility. I tripped over my own feet.

We went up to Massachusetts on a Thursday night on account of the early start at her first dog show on the next day. Eggi is a bit awkward about getting into the car, but once she’s in her kennel, she is a good traveller. Through the creepy intensity of dark Connecticut and late-night Massachusetts, we listened to Jack London’s White Fang. At the hotel, the hallway smelled of bleach. A solitary woman in the gym next to our room walked quietly on the treadmill until the midnight closing time. I gave Eggi a bath in the hotel tub.

Staying in a hotel with a young, reactive dog, you sneak in and out, peering into the hall and checking both ways before you leave your room.  It’s not because the dog isn’t allowed but because you don’t know what weirdness you’re going to run into. It could be another dog. It could be the housekeeping cart. It could be people with a lot of luggage. All of these things are frightening and/or exciting to an almost-8-month-old dog. The worst encounter we had was in the hall outside our room as we were coming in; someone’s tall, beefy nephew had the airquotes-hilarious idea of pretending to be very, very afraid of my dog. He shrieked and waved his hands in agitation above his head. Someone’s uncle needs to explain to this guy why he shouldn’t do this, to any dog, ever again. Not me, though. I gotta get up early.

West Springfield, Massachusetts has a giant fairgrounds surrounded by chainlink and barbed wire, called like the Great Enormous Northern American States Super Exposition Center or some-such-something, but anyway folks call it the Big E. You pay five dollars to go in, and then you drive all over the acres of pavement around many huge barns, past the midway, over on the other side of the apparently actual New England town this thing grew up around, and then circumnavigate seven huge buildings, each bigger than the last, looking for the Country Life Pavilion, or the Better Living Complex, or some such building. It was flanked by a several rows of RVs.

I looked for dogs, and Door Number 7.

I was instructed to arrive at 7:15, and I made it, despite my circuitous route inside the Big E. I parked and walked Eggi around for about 15 minutes, begging her to pee.  She would prefer not to.

Inside, it’s as big an indoor space as they make and had eight show rings surrounded by row upon row of dog crates and grooming tables.  It had the noisy quality of something big happening a block away, but you couldn’t hear anyone until they were right next to you.

Our handler T was easy enough to find (she saw me and waved wildly). I was told to go sit by the ring and wait. I got myself a large coffee and found a bench.

At 8 am, they played the national anthem. Folks turned and faced the American flag painted on the wall above the snack bar. I held my coffee in my hand. I watched one guy with his hand on his heart try to make eye-contact with another man so he’d see his take-off-your-hat-you-disrespectful-goon gesture. 

I wanted to yell play ball afterwards but I didn’t. I sat back down.

Tell folks you’re going to a dog show and they’ll say how much they loved that movie. You know the one. Yeah, yeah, the busy bee. The only people who don’t wanna tell you all about their favorite scene are the people who actually go to dog shows; I’ve never heard them talk about that movie.

Right away the handlers started bringing the vizslas that had gathered into the ring, and doing the trotting, and the stacking, and the bite-revealing thing I had tried to learn. In other rings there were other people with other kinds of dogs like beagles and French bulldogs, and spaniels and boxers and mastiffs. All the flavors of dogs. The people consisted of the judges and handlers all dressed in business attire, and a few straggling owners, some of whom looked like they just rolled out of their Winnebago in the sweats they slept in.

Each little group of competing dogs was in and out quickly, and the winners chosen rapidly. I kept my opinions about which vizslas I liked to myself. Some of the handlers were fun to watch because they moved well. The dogs lined up, the dogs trotting alone. The judge running her hands over a dog. The dogs trotting in a group. The judge pointing at one dog, and then another. You could look away and miss it. They go out, and the winning dogs come back in to compete with other winners.

Just like that movie.

Anyway, after some dogs there was Eggi’s group.

She is still a puppy and she was pretty wiggly but T made her look elegant and spirited instead of goofy and wild and of course I beamed at her and clapped when she won. Because of course she won!

Then T had to rush to another ring to go show some other kind of dog and she handed Eggi off to another handler who showed her in the next group and I guess she won again and then T came back and showed her a third time and I really don’t know what happened other than we came out with three ribbons and a lot of people being very excited.

“Do you know what she won?” T asked.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Best of Winners for a major.” 

Dog shows are pretty stinking fun when you win. The handler even gets to take a picture with the dog and the judge. It’s validation that your dog, who is the best dog in the entire world, is known and admired for being the best.

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After that you go back to the hotel and have a nap.

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Dog shows are weird and boring when you don’t win. Some other dog who is not nearly as adorable or good as your own dog gets the blue ribbon from the judge the next day, and you go home feeling like you drove two hours to the casino and lost everything on a bad bet in the first five minutes. Fortunately, on the days that Eggi didn’t win, her sister did extremely well, so we can keep hoping about next time. 

Thursday Schooling

 

I arrive at the horse show in Vermont just before the horses do. It is raining vigorously. There are just two client horses coming with the commercial shipper, and I watch from inside the barn as they are unloaded. I lend a hand stretching a tarp over our hay. I step in to help carry a big box of tack.  I unwrap my horse’s legs.  The show groom tells me where I can find scissors to cut the twine that holds a bale of hay and asks me to give a couple of horses a flake each. She also confides that this is her last show with our barn because she is giving notice on Monday and moving to a new job. I don’t want it to be true, so I quickly decide I must have misunderstood her. I want to wait for my trainer to show up with his horses before I get on, but I can lunge. Gidget stands quietly for a quick grooming and I walk her to the lungeing ring.  

She reacts to the new place, giving the rain-gorged creek her most crooked parrot-eye, answering the whinny of another horse, letting a passing tractor blow the wind up her skirt. The show facility has a new lungeing area, shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. I’m clumsy with the gate latch. I walk Gidget into the center of the lungeing ring, into the bend in the bean, and stop her to adjust the side reins, which are new, so I’m guessing at what hole they should be on. I remember to walk with her in a large circle, showing her the situation counterclockwise and then clockwise. Gidget settles into working on a circle, trotting and then cantering, with me in the center. A big truck blasts by on Route 106, and my mare celebrates with a buck and a fart and a surge of galloping with her tail straight up. I hold on. I get her back to trotting, and then ask her to walk. I stop her and adjust the side reins again and take Gidget over to the other side of the ring shaped like a rectangle on three sides and a bean on the fourth,  making room for our trainer who has arrived with his horse.

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Didn’t it rain?

A friendly staff member of the facility comes and asks how the new footing is. We tell him it’s good. He explains how the lungeing area ended up shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. We both finish and go back to our barn to take off the side reins. 

We get on and ride into one of the show rings, because this is what everyone does on arrival day at a show. The same friendly staff member comes, shouting and shaking his fist at us, saying that the ring isn’t open, and we’re gonna ruin the footing, what with the rain. I go tour the property instead, letting my horse see everything I can. She snorts like a crocodile at the dairy cows at the farm across the street. When it’s time to put the horses away, I think about when the friendly staff member had almost finished the new lungeing ring and had three straight sides of fencing up and someone came along and told him that people want a curved shape for lungeing. I wish I could picture him farting and running or snorting like a crocodile, but I can only see him raising his eyebrows or shaking his fist.

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I think Vermont is still one of those places that we’re supposed to write poems about. You’ve got time to, if you live there, because mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and high speed internet is a rare and prized luxury.  I lived there in the eighties, before I cared about the internet and I still wrote poems regularly. My poems were about the biting black flies in the mountains and the crabby yankees who were my neighbors in the city and no one ever read them. Then I got a paying job, and threw myself at adulthood, and (mostly) stopped writing (but especially poems).

Gidget marched around the show ring six times over the next few days, and by the last trip had mostly gotten over the creek, and the tractors, and the too-fast trucks. The cows will still be there next year. I did not misunderstand the show groom, and I will miss her.

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Wednesday on the Road

I can’t find a to-go cup for my coffee. I’m juggling my car keys and my phone, and I say goodbye to the dogs. “Be good,” I say. They look at me like they won’t.

It’s 75F at 7 am and raining in bursts like a car wash. I keep trying to turn the wipers up, and they don’t go any faster. I spill a couple of spoonfuls of coffee out of my cup  and three long trails traverse the dashboard. I plug in my phone and it plays that one Clem Snide song (1989) instead of the book I’m trying to read. A Toyota pulls up to the red light ahead of me, pauses to look without stopping completely and runs the red. 

I fight with the phone-car interface and get another song, Billie Holiday singing “You Go to my Head.” On the way to the barn it plays five, six times. I sing along for parts of it. It is my car’s second favorite song.

At the barn my arm gets soaked punching the buttons at the locked gate. I am there to put sport tape on my horse for her trip up to Vermont. Staff ask me what it is and why I’m doing it and what it’s supposed to do.  I run out of explanations and say simply that it can’t hurt and might help.

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Equi-Tape

I stop for breakfast at a diner where a handwritten sign on the door says they don’t take credit cards. I order eggs. The waitress calls me hon when I ask for the restroom. There is no mobile coverage here. The music asks do you like piña coladas and says she’s a rich girl but it’s gone too far. Sweet home Alabama and my coffee cup is refilled three times.

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She brings the check during desperado and it’s for $10.31.

Gimme the beat boys that frees my soul I wanna get lost in your rock and roll when I put my raincoat back on.

I have cash and I’m out of here, but I do buy the five flavors roll of Lifesavers at the register, and this is the ticket to 1972, when the rainbow roll of Lifesavers was my favorite.

Despite the three cups of diner coffee, I’m feeling a little sleepy when I get in the car.

The navigation software has failed to hold onto the route I picked and tries to send me to the big boring interstate, back down the Taconic the way I came. I pull a U-ey and head north without anything but a vague sense that it’s the right way to go. 

Every Book I finished in 2017, in order

This year I had a goal to read books by female authors. I read 58 different books, including 29 novels and 17 memoirs; I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. There are many books on this list I would recommend and there is exactly one book on this list that I hated and struggled to finish.  Looking back on this list, I see that 18 of this year’s books had death as a primary theme, including the stand-out, “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs. If you have the courage to read a book written by a woman who is dying from cancer, give it a go. It was one of the highlights of my list. 

January

Hannah Arendt’s classic, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson

Kate DiCamillo’s “The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses”

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

Issa Rae’s “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”

Magda Szabó’s exquisite novel “The Door”

February 

Blair Braverman’s “Welcome to the Goddam Ice Cube”

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

March

Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Sons”

bell hooks’s “Bone Black”

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See

“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang

“The Story of My Teeth” by Valeria Luiselli

“The Conservationist” by Nadine Gordimer

“Down City” by Leah Carroll

“Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

“Word by Word” by Kory Stamper

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

“Working Stiff” by  Judy Melinik MD and TJ Mitchell

“The Lovely Bones,” by Alice Sebold

April

“West with the Night” by Beryl Markham

“West with the Night” by Beryl Markham (yes, twice in a row)

Joy Fielding’s “She’s Not There”

Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”

Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”

“Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout” by Laura Jane Grace

May

Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”

Anita Brookner’s “Rules of Engagement”

Madeleine Eagle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”

Chrissie Hynde’s “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender”

“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Sarah Hepola’s “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget”

June

“The Problem with Forever” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

TIna Fey’s “Bossypants”

“The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir” by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

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Janet Benton’s “Lilli De Jong”

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson

“The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffnegger

August

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot

Joan Aiken’s “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”

“Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution,” by Ji-li Jiang

“An Unsuitable Job for a Woman,” by P.D. James

“Cover Her Face,” by P.D. James

September

“The Skull Beneath the Skin” by P.D. James

“We Were Feminists Once” by Andi Zeisler

“News of the World” by Paulette Jiles

“Shrill” by Lindy West

October

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “What Happened”

Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer’s excellent memoir “The Farm in the Green Mountains”

November

“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor

“Never Caught: the Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge,” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

December

“The Children of Men,” by P.D. James

“Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” by Zeynep Tufekci

“You & a Bike & a Road” by Eleanor Davis

Myriam Gurba’s “Mean”

My goal for 2018 is to keep reading books by women. 

I got more x-rays

What I saw: x-rays of my foot, six weeks and two days after surgery

What TV shows did I watch beforehand: Bojack Horseman, all of Breaking Bad, all of Better Call Saul, seasons 7 and 8 of Doctor Who, 10 episodes of the Magicians, two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, all of Alias Grace, all three seasons of Broadchurch, season one of the Crown (three times), 13th, two episodes of Godless, Mudbound, half an episode of Rake, two episodes of the Indian Doctor, all of the Handmaid’s Tale, 6 episodes of Brooklyn 99, one episode of Gravity Falls, and probably some other stuff.

Something I ate: fries and bubble tea and hot and sour soup that we can get delivered.

What I wore: the bear sweater. Did I tell you about it?

How I got the bear sweater: I don’t like shopping, but I do like tigers. I was looking for something with a tiger on it when I found the bear sweater (and also a unicorn sweater). Panicked, I reached out to a friend to ask which one to get, and she wisely advised that I get both. She is a good friend who understands what is important to me. I got her a plain sweater for X-mas. I hope she isn’t reading this.

Why I saw so much TV: I am too exhausted to say.

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What the hell is wrong with me: three weeks after getting my walking cast, I had a follow-up appointment with the doctor. I had to drive the Connecticut to see him, even though I am allergic to Connecticut, and lose all hope for humanity as I pass through the border. You can tell when you’ve left New York because the stacked stone walls along the way go from charmingly tumbled and to obsessively tended. A Connecticut stone wall is tall and set in mortar. I don’t know what they’re so afraid of in Connecticut, but they are prepared to defend themselves against the invasion when it comes. The other way you know is that the pavement in Connecticut is a smooth as the glossy pink bottom of an Episcopalian’s first-born daughter.

Things that were not funny: there was ample parking, though some of the luxury SUVs were parked like the driver skidded in sideways at great speed and leapt from the driver’s seat. One might have asked, “Where’s the fire?”

But we know the answer to that these days (Sorry, California).

The staff wear uniforms and are efficient and polite, which is to say that they are humorless but at least they don’t ask me about the weather (I have missed all the weather these past two months, what with the foot surgery and the walking cast and all, and I do so love fall weather, leaving the house, doing exercise, alas). I was shown to exam room 6 and told to take off both shoes and socks. My plastic cast landed with a cracking plastic thud.

Who should see it: next the nurse whose name is like Penny or Jerry or Patsy or something came in and told me I was going to x-ray. I am disgusted with myself that I can’t remember her name because I can learn the names of 50 people over lunch (this is actually true because I did it once). Nurse Penn/Jerr/Patsy asked if I was weight-bearing yet. I said I wasn’t. So I had to climb down and pick up the walking cast and put it back on and limp down the hall in the crooked way that I do when I don’t have a shoe on to balance the height of the cast. I arrived at x-ray and was passed off to an x-ray technician with a practiced instructional patter that was eerily sing-song but also in this monotone that was hard to understand. It reminded me of that thing, you know, where you see a bunch of words for colors like it says red but it’s actually yellow? There was a question in there about whether there was any possibility that I was pregnant and I didn’t so much say no as say no?

Anyway, she didn’t have a prepared speech for telling me to take off my cast so she said nothing and went to get an x-ray plate. Alone in the room, I sat in the only available chair and took off my walking cast in silence. Then she came back and resumed with the uninflected  lie down and I realized once the instructions filtered down from the air into my ears and through my brain comprehension matrix that I was supposed to get up from the chair and go over to the table using the naked foot that is not weight-bearing and lie down.  I did some unsupported lurching and flopping. Drone Voice put an X-ray plate under my foot and had me adjust three ways and then, at the last possible second, handed me big square lead apron. I knew what to do with it and it was a good thing I did because she didn’t say anything about how to hold it or where. Drone Voice said now tilt your leg and I tried to and she said more and just at the point where she goes perfect it was the moment where it actually hurt to be in that position and I was about to grunt.

Next I had to walk across the room and stand like the gold medalist on the top of the three squishy foam-covered stairs and Drone Voice moved the table closer because she could and while she explained what she was doing and why the words went up and around and flew some circles in the room and slipped out past the illuminated red EXIT sign.

I took my steps up the balance-destroying squishy foam steps and stood for more angles, holding the apron awkwardly around myself, hoping to hide my delicate innards from the horrors of repeated x-rays.

Things that were sad: when I was in high school my physics teacher gave this one oral exam where we each had to walk in and answer one question and then go sit down and wait for the next person and hear them give a better answer. I was asked to tell everything I knew about x-rays. I studied in high school, although the thing then was to be too cool to admit to it, but I remember nothing about x-rays.

What I can tell you about x-rays: they go in a straight line. There was this German guy experimenting with electrical currents through glass cathode-ray tubes, and instead of inventing the computer monitor fifty years before anyone needed one, Röntgen discovered a mystery radiation and punted on finding a good name.

Something I made up about x-rays:  because of the different densities of materials, your malevolence, your damaged soul, your biases, your mistaken preconceptions, and your failures will all show up brightly on an x-ray.

Something else I made up about x-rays:  x-rays are also known as longevity rays and especially good for you and you should get them as often as you can.

Things that were funny: while I was standing on the squishy foam-covered stairs and holding the apron in front of my delicate innards, Drone Voice made a face at me and exclaimed in her perfectly flat voice It’s your bear. It’s peeking out at me. That made my day.

Drone Voice showed me her teeth. I think she took smiling lessons from Sarah “Aunt Lydia” Huckabee Sanders. The bear on my sweater made her day.

After the X-ray I strapped my plastic boot/trap/cast back on and limped down the hall to wait in room 6.  The doctor came in, looked at my latest foot x-ray and said, meh, he couldn’t actually see from an x-ray if the damned airplane parts they’ve screwed into the joint have actually fused at this point, so, uh, just wear the cast for about 4 more weeks.

I smiled and acted all cheery and agreeable and ha, ha, ha, I couldn’t tell the difference between this x-ray and the one they took in October but on the inside the words were bouncing around and flying in circles and looking for the red illuminated EXIT sign.

After two weeks, suggested the doctor (maybe because my eyes weren’t smiling), I could experiment with little walking in a shoe. And did I want to go to PT? I told him I’d think about PT (I should have told him that the last time I went to PT the therapist made rape jokes and I hope to never go back to any PT ever).

But anyway I guess in a couple weeks I get to experiment with my foot without the plastic walking cast.

What is the inverse square law: stand back from the source of the x-ray and hold your square apron upside down.

What I saw on the way home: the mortar fell out of the stone walls and I went back to my charmingly tumbled life.

 

Too Much

 

What I wore: four weeks after the foot surgery, I finally got an air-cast. It is a two piece plastic walking-boot/contraption that you wear over a giant white tube sock and secure in place with three enormous velcro straps. The nurse fitted it to me and said “This will be a transition week. You’ll still need your scooter for distances. But do what you can. Your body will let you know what is too much.”

How I got red eyes and a blotchy nose: I couldn’t actually stand in the air-cast at first, and used my knee-scooter to get to the car.

I went to my room and got into bed, bitching to no one in particular about not being able to walk in the walking cast. I took it off and had a long, self-pitying cry.

Who went with me: a couple of hours later FedEx wanted a signature so I strapped the medical-device-gray ski boot back on.  To my surprise I found that I actually could take some steps unassisted. Yes, I was wobbly. Yes, it was stompy. But I got up the killer three stairs and to the front door and realized I was walking. 20 and I went for a short dog walk with the knee scooter just in case. 20 took Captain and I took our 15 year old dog Cherry.

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It was not too bright, not too cold, and there weren’t any cars on our road. The feeling of liberation was real.

What I did beforehand: as Cherry has been disintegrating in her advancing age, I have been throwing remedies at her which seemed necessary and reasonable. It started with joint supplements. Next I got her dog hoodies and a pressure-sensitive electrically-heated dog bed.  After that it was laser treatments for her ear infections and acupuncture for her weak hind-end.  I got her some toenail covers to help with traction, and some Doggles (dog goggles) for when the sun was too bright. And when she started being picky about her food, I started cooking for her. Over the course of two years she went from an old dog to a reason we couldn’t travel.

Where I sat: the next morning I went to the barn and went for a walk on horseback. Staff were divided between the folks who thought it was awesome that I would get on a horse in a plastic walking cast and the folks who thought I was completely, certifiably, nuts. One person actually told me he thought I was crazy to get on a horse with a cast on my foot. The rest of them just looked at me with what appeared to be bemused alarm. The ones who thought it was awesome said so. I was so happy to be there and not just standing around answering questions about my progress that I didn’t care. I rode about 20 minutes and got off.

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Why I saw this show: I wanted a dog almost as much as I wanted a pony as a kid, and I have loved having them in my life, even when they do embarrassing things, or annoy the neighbors, or have violent diarrhea.

Why my sun-room is now a questionable shade of yellow: the next day was Saturday and the Bacon Provider left for a week-long business trip.  I have been very sad about the pace of travel in his job this fall,  and never more so than on this weekend. Also, the painters showed up and took over several rooms. I made some impulsive choices about paint colors.

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How I got wet: the following day it was warm enough to give the dogs a bath. Cherry loved a bath even though she needs help getting in and out, but afterward she wouldn’t settle down on the pile of towels I spread on the bathroom floor and ended up wandering around the bathroom and got stuck in the shower.

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Things that were not funny: the day after that Cherry went outside to go potty and never came back in. I found her collapsed in the grass. I stood her up and got her to follow me in. She was not alarmed. I was.

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Things that were sad: two days later she could not stand, even with help. She was covered in pee and didn’t want to be wiped off, so after cleaning her, I pulled out an old bottle of dog massage oil and after a few minutes of my attention, I settled her back down. I used up the oil and went online and ordered several essential oils.

Then: I called the vet and explained that I needed to bring my dog in but that I was in a walking cast and would need help getting her out of the car. The receptionist gave me the names of three vets who do house calls in my area. I called the first name on the list and left a message. I think he was a vet I had seen in the past. After about an hour I got anxious from not hearing from him and I looked up the other two vets online. The last one seemed to specialize in end-of-life veterinary care, including hospice and euthanasia. She also had online booking. I was able to make an appointment for the next morning without having to burst into tears again on the phone.

Cherry started screaming again and I changed the house-training pads under her.  The supply of pads was down to a half dozen and I had to go to Petco for more. I found that when I lived in North Dreadful visits to Petco could be very sad and lonely for no reason I can easily explain, and this quick trip felt especially echo-y and poorly lit.  I bought pee pads and a pink stuffed pig toy with a good squeaker in it for Captain.

Who should see it: the next day the painters arrived early. From her heated bed, Cherry drank a mouthful of water and a bite of food but no more. The vet came in one of those Mini Coopers that looks like a mini hearse. She wore scrubs and brought in a big old-fashioned black leather doctor’s case and sat down on the floor with me and Cherry. She asked a lot of questions. Captain brought her his Kong toy and made a nuisance of himself. Her opinion was that the dog was pretty far gone already. I got 20 to come down and hear the vet say that again. “If she isn’t drinking,” she said, “She won’t last more than three more days.”

I think I’ve been getting ready for her to be put down for a few months. I don’t remember when she last wagged her tail. 20 had to get ready over the course of a few days.

Anyway somehow in the middle of this difficult conversation the electrician showed up and I had to get up from the kitchen floor and stomp with my plastic cast up the stairs and show him which fixtures we didn’t have yet and which we did and where they went.

Then I stomped back to the kitchen and sat down on the floor and tried to convey to the vet that despite the flood of tears that had suddenly burst out of my face I was in fact ready to do this very hard thing. I announced to the room that there was no treatment at this point that was going to make her strong or well enough to stand and walk again, like it needed to be said. It didn’t.

I stroked Cherry’s face.

What I saw: Cherry’s last four breaths.

What else I saw: Captain sat on his big new monogrammed Orvis ™ bed and saw the whole thing. He stood and came over an checked her out before she was wheeled away.

And: The vet made a print of Cherry’s paw in clay, and left it on the kitchen counter. I said goodbye to the vet on the driveway, thanking her for doing a hard and important job. She gave me one of the nicest hugs I’ve had in a while. Certainly the best hug Ive ever had from someone I’d just met.

I went in and put Cherry’s bedding the wash, unplugged her heating pad and folded it up, wiped the floor, and moved Captain’s bed to conceal the hole left by Cherry’s departure. I texted the Bacon Provider with the news and a picture or two. I did not know he was sitting at his boss’s keynote speech, between two board members.

The very next thing that happened was someone came from the kitchen cabinet shop to measure.

And: a fancy box containing Cherry’s remains were returned to us by the vet a few days later. And a few days after that a bunch of essential oils arrived which I had little memory of ordering. I mixed up a small bottle of oil with lavender and bergamot and gave Captain a little massage. He loved every bit of it, but he loves everything.

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What I saw at home: I am looking at some of the new paint colors with suspicion, but I’m avoiding it by getting back in bed. My body has let me know that it is too much.