Month: November 2017

Butterdog: On My Broken Heart.

I can’t keep anything down, and my throat hurts like there’s something stuck in it– like I can’t breathe.  I texted my friend Bryan.  I’m not unaware that these are the same symptoms she had before she passed.  But I can’t get my mind over matter.

Grief is a bitch, he wrote back.

Yeah.  Grief is a big brown 83 pound bitch named Butter.

In these days following the day that Butter died, the world became a wash of rain and clouds.  I’ve been grateful to have the world mourning with me– or at least Western Washington.  We huddled in and lit a candle we named for her.  We checked our phones for signs of her popping up in pictures and texts and phone calls.  I became used to our little camper being down to one dog, and then not used to it, then more crying, then used to it again, while not losing the feeling that she is still here.  I wrapped her collar around my arm so I wouldn’t forget for a second that she was gone– so that I wouldn’t have to remember again.  But it didn’t stop me from thinking I heard her moving around this morning on the floor, and it didn’t stop me from mistaking a sheep for her.

Anyone can handle grief except the one in it.  Shakespeare or someone said something like that.  This flashes among the sitting straight up in the night in the middle of long, twelve hour sleeps. It’s like the movies in that the symptoms are all the same– easily Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep could be playing this role.  But I am not watching myself from far away.  I am uncomfortably and inescapably inside.

I took to writing down her names.  I took to zoning out.  I took to watching movies.  I took to forgetting to eat.  I took to holding my littlest dog for long hours.  I took to sleeping.  And somehow, in just six days, this tiny home of ours became nearly bearable.  If we lit the candle in the morning and blew it out at night (Good morning, Butter.  Good night, Butter.), if we laid her blanket at the foot of the bed, if I jangled her collar when the tension was building, I could see how someone might be able to actually live through this.

I became ill two days after I realized she was really gone.

Everybody knows I have a broken heart.

Yesterday we wandered out of our tiny Butter shrine.  We needed food.  We needed fresh vegetables.  We needed air.  We went to the farmers market in Olympia like normal people whose dog didn’t just die and tried to buy things with money that means nothing to us for vegetables that we aren’t hungry for.  I cried when we saw a bin of apples (she always ate my core).  I cried at the stand that sold dog treats.  I bought two because I couldn’t stand the thought of only one, and I cried again.

And that’s when I realized how much work was still ahead of me.  If it took a week to make these small four walls only bearable, cushioning the world was impossible.  I’ll never make it.  I’ll never survive.  All these sharp edges will puncture me.  All these soft memories will suffocate me.

“I can see it now,” I told my Someone, “I can see how people say ‘No more dogs.'”

“They just can’t do it again,” my Someone echoed.

“I just can’t do it again,” I said.

I’ve made a terrible mistake in love.  It’s split me wide open– no safety net, no fall back, no plan B.  I am a cautionary tale.

All of my defenses against this grief amount to nothing but a dimly lit candle almost burnt down, and a blanket that smells less like her by the day.  I was a fool for love, and now love has made a fool of me.  Now everyone knows I have a broken heart.

And I think of this–

A little more than seven years ago, we spotted each other from across the room.  She was coming in from another failed home experiment, I was leaving from a failed attempt to find the one.  When we made eye contact, she pulled my way and I walked hers.  And then she leaned on me.  I looked her soul in the face and hugged her and whispered– You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

When I looked at my to-be-first-husband, he replied, “What choice do we have?”

And I think of this–

A little less than seven days ago, I laid my head on her gurney on the floor next to hers.  She pulled toward me, I leaned on her.  Head-to-head while the fluids dropped into her, I told her the story of how we came to be.  Of how two misfit, gawky, graceless creatures found each other and stayed together.  It’s the same story I tell her every year on her birthday.  It’s the same story I tell her after she’s been hit by a truck or gored by a javelina.  It’s the same story I tell her when we’ve become homeless or when we move into a little camper with a new Someone.  You’re mine.  I’m yours.  I am going to keep you to the end.

And I think this–

I would do it all again.

________: On Only One Day Deep.

Tell me what it is I need to do.  Tell me which altar to kneel at, which confessional I need to be in.  Tell me which way to face when I pray five times a day and under what conditions of sunlight.  Tell me who to be good to and where to place ten percent of my income– I’ll pay them double.  Give me every inch of the sacred text with the stipulation of a pilgrimage and thirty unnecessary dietary restrictions.  I’ll study by candlelight and be silent if I have to or stand up when I know I shouldn’t if it’s asked of me.  I’ll fight through every wrung and caste with a glowing goddamn halo and never use the work goddamn again.

If you can promise me in no uncertain terms– no theological possibility, but a real promise, certain as you’ve seen it with your own eyes– that I will see that damn dog again, it shall all be done.

Mystery Songs and Tactless Jokes: On Listening (For Better and Worse).

I fell in love with a song I didn’t know back in July.  It was when we found ourselves at The House on the Rock in Wisconsin– a rich man’s ploy to turn his home into a stage.  It’s packed with the largest carousel in the United States and a creepy doll museum and self playing instruments you spend your tokens to play songs from the 1920’s through the 1970’s.  It is the Disney of the underground.  The epic, disastrous playground for the lovers of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, roadside stands, and kitsch.

It took us three hours to get through– and we glided quickly through the circus section and skipped the history of flight museum entirely.  And we were euphoric.

But before our heads exploded and our senses retreated from the over-stimulation, we listened to a player piano play the loveliest song I could imagine.  We hummed it the rest of the way through the House– past the larger than life sized squid fighting a whale, through the displays of hot air balloons, past the calliope and the recreation of an early 1900’s village.  The song persisted.

We sang it that night over dinner as we sat staring into the woods, trying to process all that we’d seen that day.  We sang it the next morning when we woke up.  I took to the internet a couple weeks later when it still hadn’t left my mind.  I asked my social media for answers.  I got, in return, several pretty songs and a couple of voicemails with my Someone’s mom and another friend’s mom singing me their guess.  They were all wrong.

But it was so nice to be listening again.

With all of my flashing screens and passing highways, it had been a long time since I had been enamored.  It had been a long time since I called out a question and waited for an answer.  It had been a long time since I sat, waiting to listen.

I have been working lately to put down my flashing screens.  I have been working lately to sit still breathing while I wait for food in restaurants and for my gas to pump at gas stations.  I am failing.  But when I do remember, it’s as if a small part of my life is returned to me.  The part of my life when a radio song can make or break the ride to school.  The part of me when the sound of a V-8 engine rolling up the driveway could make my stomach rumble, because it meant that dad was home and dinner was ready.  When I can remember to listen, I remember to live.

It’s a little like praying.  Except I am not sweaty and scared of not getting an answer from whatever still-small-voice everyone else hears.  The sound of the gas pump clicking off is answer enough or a plate clinking down on the table is answer enough.

The first problem with listening, though, is that it also causes me to fall in love.  Like when I am stirring a sweet-and-sour sauce on the stove before our show, and the whisk rushes around the bottom of the pot.  I am willing myself to not touch my phone.  I am willing myself to not look out the window for my Someone.  I am willing myself to only stir.  And then, the thin swirling sound suddenly changes.  I look at the sauce, and it is amazing.  The whisk is resisting.  The sound becomes deeper.  The sauce thickens.  And that is when I fall in love.  By merely staying still and listening, I have heard transformation.  I have heard ingredients become sustenance.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this miracle?  How does the sound of a whisk in a thickening sauce pot not push out a hundred other sonic memories?  And all this before dinner.

It tasted pretty good, too.

I had been calling House on the Rock for months, getting voicemails once a week from Jenny, who had the list of the songs the piano played, who just needed to get in touch with me to give them to me so we could be done with this ordeal.  But then Jenny was out sick.  Then I was in a show.  Then the phone lines weren’t really working.  Then dozens of flashing screen reminders to call.  Then frustration.  Then almost giving up.

Here is the other problem with listening.  It leads you to a lifestyle of persistence.  Once you let that song in, you also let in the sound of the trains going by at night that suddenly feel like they are about to drive right through your camper.  You also let in the joke that didn’t feel like a joke by your Someone.  And then, you let in the small talk of a cashier in Boise, who is taking your exact change for four postcards.

“Actually, I don’t need a bag,” I said, pulling out a penny to complete the transaction, “Or a receipt.”

“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, “but you’re easy.”

The other woman behind the counter laughed.  I looked down.  What’s confusing is that, once you start listening, you start listening to all of it.  You listen to the man behind the counter, you listen to his smirk, you listen to his unnecessary qualifier, and you listen to the pulse of blood that sounds like embarrassment come to your ears.  You stop laughing at the jokes that didn’t need to be jokes because you listened to the jokes– and they are an echo of a long line of jokes made to make someone else laugh at the expense of pointing out something about you that may not be true.  You listen to all the laughs that happened in your whole 31 years about your sexuality.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this heartache?  How does the sound of an tactless joke not conglomerate with the hundred others and swallow you up into a burping, sloppy mass of despair?

I decided I was done listening for a while.

But then this.

Jenny called.  I called her back.  She gave me the list– the list!– of all of the songs.  Some of them were already familiar.  But I put them all in my own list, downloaded on my flashing screen device, and kept them there for a couple of weeks.  The mystery was nearly over.

We left Boise.  We drove for a few hours to Oregon.  I looked at my flashing screen instead of the sunset.  I closed my eyes instead of opening my ears.  I holed up in the misery that listening makes.  Forty minutes outside of Pendleton, my Someone asked for music to keep his own eyes open.  I put on the list– the list!– and sat back.  I wasn’t really listening.

“I don’t think it’s on here,” I told my Someone vaguely.  “I think she gave me the list from the wrong player piano.”

“Yeah,” my Someone said.  We were mostly through the list, and the rest looked mostly familiar.  I closed my ears further.  I watched the dark mountain range get taller.  I sunk lower.

“What?” I said, not really listening.

“The song!” my Someone said.

“What?” I couldn’t remember what we had been talking about.  So I sat up.  I opened my ears again.  I saw the light of the town come into view from the top of the bypass.  And I heard Gladys Knight croon out the fluttering second verse of the Song.  I had nearly missed it!

“It’s my Song!” I said.

“It’s your Song!” he said.

We listened to The Song.  We listened to a second version of The Song.  We kept listening in disbelief that we had finally, after nearly four months, found The Song.

It was over.  The search was over.  The mystery was done.

How does anyone have room for all of this?  How does anyone manage to carry around all of this happy and sad?  How do we keep on living when every memory has to, at every new memory, be pushed and carried to another place to make room?

“Help Me Make it Through the Night.”  That’s the name of the song.