Made for TV: On Cures.

We were watching TV again, something we do when we are trying to think of how our camper roof is not falling off and our family unit is not missing a piece.  That’s when the commercial, for the billionth time, about fibromyalgia came on.

On the outside, I look normal.  But inside, the pain is real.

The lady in the commercial turns transparent, and the pain is marked and moving with red lines through her muscular blue skeleton body.

“On the outside, I look normal, because my pain is only in my head,” I say.

“What?” my Someone asks.

“My pain,” I explain, “it is only in my head.”

My Someone pauses.

“In your head?”

“In my head.”

“In your head,” he says definitively, “That’s still a real place.”

Plane Crashes and Murder Mysteries: On Loving Again (and Again).

“You think I baby her,” I said.

“I don’t think that,” my Someone said.

“Yes, you do,” I said.

“No,” he continued. “I know that you do.  She’s even more spoiled than the last one.”

“That’s because I have all this stretched out love leftover to share.”  Then, I gave my dog her third big treat of the day at 11AM.

“I killed my dog,” Charlie said.

The room erupted.

“Stop saying that!”

“No you didn’t!”

“It wasn’t like that!”

Daughters and son-in-laws and a wife all patted down the abrupt declaration.  The Iowa living room quieted again.

“But I did,” Charlie said again. “I killed my dog.”

The room erupted a second time.

“How do you mean?” I asked, when the shushes had cleared.

“I mean it was too hot out,” he said. “I kept pushing her.  She died of a heat stroke. And it’s my fault. I killed my dog.”

“That’s tough,” I said.  Something clarified in me.  

I had killed my dog, too.

My Someone and I were driving through Dayton, Ohio early in our touring days playing radio scan to keep us awake from an early Nashville departure.  We landed on a story of a stunt plane at the air show, which had crashed and killed both people on board.

The man driving the plane had years of experience.  It was all very sad. But the peculiar part was the woman who was doing acrobatics on the wing when the whole thing went down.  The woman was the man’s ex-wife. And they were set to be remarried after years apart just the next week.

I couldn’t navigate whether I was happy or sad for the couple– to end things before they had a chance to crash again, or to have it all go down in flames just after it had gone down in flames.  It was a difficult thing to hold in my head–whether they saved themselves from another failure or lost their chance at a second chance.

“Do you think he did it on purpose?” he said.

We paused.

“Maybe they both did.  Maybe it was their death love pact.  Like the last thing they said before they split up was, ‘We will get together over my dead body!’  And then they did it.”

This was easier.  To believe in the world as an elaborate, deliberate joke made by consenting parties is easier than the world of accidental fiery deaths or last minute revenges.  Or maybe it’s not.

“But I really did!” I told my Someone.  Our roof was coming off the camper again, and we were waiting overnight in a parking lot for someone in Omaha to fix it.  “I killed our dog.”

“I don’t see how that helps you to think that,” my Someone said.

“Because,” I continued, “all of this wondering– all this talk of a freak accident, that can turn circles in my head forever.  But I felt weird about that stupid bone she choked on. I had a weird vision of leading her to her death as we walked away with it.  We both felt a chill when you wanted to take it away from her in that hotel room. But we persisted. I persisted. I kept letting her have it against my better judgment.  And it killed her.”

“So where does that leave you?”

“It leaves me wanting to do better next time,” I said, looking at my other, alive dog.

“Margo is the platinum child,” Erin said.  Erin is Charlie’s step-daughter. Margo is Charlie’s 2-year-old golden retriever.  Charlie just smiled. He called the dog to him. He slipped her more treats and sat back.

“Our first dog, man, I thought– ‘This dog is the favorite child.’  Then, after she died, they got Sierra. Sierra was a yellow lab. And she got even more than the last dog!  Treats and rides in the car and walks. And I told them, I said, ‘She’s the golden child!’ Not even just a favorite, but really golden.  I thought no one would be greater than Sierra.  And now there’s Margo. She’s platinum. She gets on the bed and the front seat.  Margo is the platinum child,” Erin finished, feigning jealousy.

“Well,” Charlie said, “it only gets bigger.”

Love, he meant.  You can only love bigger with the next one.  Even if the last one nearly killed you with all the stretching it made you do.  And it’s more than the guilt of having not done enough. It’s the inevitable accumulation of love.  And you keep taking the risk, even if you will inevitably go down in flames.

And it only gets bigger.

Alternative Timelines: On Presently Dealing.

I wish I could step into the other timeline, now.  The one that carries on in movies– the one that comic books are making a killing on.  Where even if the hero dies, in a decade or so, a new timeline will emerge.  The one where your hero is more like you thought he would be, and overcomes the obstacle with less than a scratch.  And the first timeline?  The one where he died?  Well, that’s just the other timeline, now.  It’s not real life.  Not anymore.

“We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost…”

The really wonderful thing about grief is also the part that makes you wonder if you are losing your mind.  Suddenly, the possibility of alternate timelines seems almost tangible.  Afterlife.  Resurrection.  Marvel.  Undoing.  Jesus Christ in Hollywood.  It would make so much sense.  If I could just tap into the pattern, the prayer, the meditation, the loophole that would take me to the secret portal that would drop me into the video game that I could play to get my dead undead again.

I had a friend who loved La-La-Land— the kind of movie where it doesn’t work out, but with a little pluck and a little reframing, the other timeline– the one where the romantic relationship thrived– still somehow endured.  Even if in real life it didn’t.  Maybe I was a cynic or maybe I was a realist, but I didn’t love the lack of finality.  I’m exhausted by options and open doors and maybe’s and what-if’s.  I wanted to live my life now.  To love what I had.

What I didn’t understand was that my friend, at the time, did not.  Stuck in a place of indecision, working back and forth with a woman he wouldn’t love but didn’t want anyone else to love, either, he wanted the option of never having to make a real decision with real lives and real hearts and maybe even real love.  Multiple timelines meant no one was ever at fault.  And you never really have to choose.  Like in the movies.

I was annoyed with my friend at the time.  I was angry with his fantasy option while his real life option was treated so carelessly.  But I get it now.  Grief makes for the most wonderful fantasies.  And there are occasional real life casualties.

“…Sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost, and sometimes we take it upon ourselves to burn them to ashes.” —Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk.

My grief timeline is continuing, lately in circles.  I’ve exhausted alternate timelines, and my brain is piecing itself back together.  But with magic portals closing, I have stepped back into a timeline I’ve already lived.  My tiny, beat up heart is roused by songs from my childhood, Bible verses, and stuffed animals that remind me of something younger and older than I am.  I am resolutely in the present tense, just like a kid again.  I think that my curiosity of things that happened in my childhood is me trying to go somewhere far back enough where she wasn’t there, but I was still happy.  Full.  Interested in life.  Where every moment wasn’t a bleak underside of my life without her.

Time is moving so slowly and so quickly, like as a kid, that I am forced to take things on one at a time again– to be single minded.  To introduce new sensations slowly and to linger in them for fear that removing my focus on them will make me lose them altogether.  I am treating my senses as though the world is a mystery– as though this coffee cup in front of me has an entire history that I don’t know, and has somehow miraculously made it’s way to my table.  Who is to say it won’t be lost as quickly as it appeared?

I involuntarily apply this to everything.  Like reading.  Or hugging.  Or looking at the sky.  Or breathing long cool evening air.  I can’t even imagine the next part– writing.  Sex.  Daylight.  Summer.  It’s all a faint memory and a dark future at once.  And if I try to cram in the next with the now, it tips my already sensory overloaded heart– the one so full already– and the acid pus of grief spills to the rest of my body, burning.  And then my eyes leak again.  My throat burns.  So I am forced to stay in the very much now.

This is the wonderful and terrible thing about grief.  I am a child.  And a child can never comprehend how much growing up is left to do.  Only the long and short of right now.  Like a kid, even when presented with the next, if it’s too soon, I can’t hear it.  I can’t see it.  I resent it, or I block it out.  I cringe.  I turn my head.  I recoil.  I can’t embrace what I’m not ready for.

But then this.  It is daylight again.  I am watching my fingers type on a keyboard.  It is raining in Tulsa and I ordered coffee without crying.  I thought of her yesterday and didn’t feel the pang, anymore.  And she was not in an alternate timeline of resurrection, romping over a rainbow bridge.  Neither was she slumped on a gurney while I signed a paper with euthanasia in the title.  It was just a regular memory of her.  I didn’t feel her close or far away.  I must be growing up.  The timeline, it seems, has started again.

Corpse Pose: On Unashamed Public Grief.

“It’s embarrassing,” I told Danielle.  I was sitting in a parking lot in Albuquerque, my Someone inside the laundromat so I could have a couple of lone hours in our camper to talk to someone outside of ourselves.  “This is the embarrassing part of grief.  The kind that’s still there.  It’s embarrassing that I am still so sad,” I said.

I am still sleeping with that stupid dog’s smelly blanket in my bed.  I am still jangling her collar on harder days.  I am full to the brim with tears, and the wrong swing of my head erupts my eyes with them.  There’s a big brown dead dog sized pressure in my throat.  And now, I am angry, too.  This isn’t the cute and cuddly sort of sad that has me wrapping myself hungrily in my Someone’s arms.  It’s not the kind with Ben & Jerry’s new vegan ice cream in my lap watching Old Yeller or Megan Leavey.  This is the brutal part where the amount of shit on his side of the bed is suddenly unmanageable and taking over all of the space in the entire camper and MY ENTIRE LIFE.  It’s the kind of grieving that strikes a match on a gasoline trail toward my Someone.  A trail I leaked myself.  It’s the kind of grieving that is eating its own tail becoming angrier that I am still so angry.

“It’s been three months!” I said.

“It’s only been three months,” Danielle said.

It’s only been three months.

“After seven years,” she added.

I felt my anger subside.  Tears again.  This old hat.

Two weeks before, I was on the winning side of my losing cycle.  I had answers.  They looked like this:

  1. eating.
  2. doing yoga.
  3. breathing.
  4. petting my dog.
  5. drinking water.
  6. no thinking.

Armed with these forces, I was prepared to finally let go.  I was going to stop my crying.  I was going to be happy.  I was going to forget my dead dog.  I was going to take a yoga class.

I found one in Alamagordo, New Mexico.  This is a town of in betweens, a dusty monologue between the exclamation of high rolling mountains on one side and White Sands National Monument on the other– where the dunes are a perpetual hot winter snowscape.  And in the middle of the town, we found a perfect Walmart parking lot spot where our front door opened to a makeshift backyard,  just over the fence from a yoga studio.

Hannah was warm and welcoming and curious and calm.  In a small room of strangers, she instructed us to breathe.  She instructed us to find space somewhere.  She instructed us to think of a place we need space, and to breathe space there.  I placed Butter in my mind.  And then, I told her goodbye.  Go on, get out of here, I willed her, I don’t need you anymore.  My best attempts at White Fanging her weren’t working, but I was persistent through the practice.  I was going to let this dog go.

By the time we hit savasana an hour later, that damn dog was panting in the front of my mind.  And it was in savasana, also known as corpse pose, that it occurred to me for the first time: it’s only been three months.  Hannah reminded us to breathe again– to evaluate the place we needed space, and to accept the space.

“Spend time every day breathing space in.  Be intentional,” Hannah coaxed.

Every day.  Every.  Day.

Maybe in living with grief, just like living with people, it would get easier to co-exist if I just acknowledged it was there.  At the very least, it would make it less awkward.  Less shuffling and pretending and more eye contact.

I began breathing life into my grief instead of around it.  I let myself be sad.  I started crying onto my mat.  I didn’t flinch.  And then I felt something move in me that hadn’t been there before.  I felt the claws of this grief roommate untangle and uproot.  It felt less stagnant.  It seemed to be transforming from a heavy oak bureau in the middle of my chest to a floating ball of mud.  More messy, but less mysterious.

What was I thinking?  I didn’t want to be separated from Butter.  I wanted to be closer.  And I can’t be closer to her if every time I think of her I cry.  I can’t breathe life– I can hardly breathe at all– into our relationship if I’m always pushing it down or crying out the window quietly while we drive through a dark New Mexico sky.  It’ll rot my insides.  And she didn’t rot me at all.  Why would I have her do that to me now?  Why would I make her the villain?

It happens the same time every night.  And it was time to engage with it.  The grief.  Otherwise the sadness leaks into dreams which leak into mornings which soon will take over not just my days, but weeks.  Then years.  Then my life.  I began rolling up my mat.  There is no end in sight.  No goal.  Just breathing.  Just trying not to rot.

But the first step is to not be ashamed that I am so fucking sad.

“Mallory?  Can I show you something real quick?” Hannah said, “I think you are maybe hyper-extending your Downward Dog.”

You don’t know the half of it, lady.

It’s working, but it’s also not working.  Which makes me think that I am recovering at exactly the speed that I am recovering.  That’s the thing about grieving.  You can’t hurry it.

But I am also learning that while I can’t stop grieving, I can say that I’m sorry to my Someone after I lash out.  And now, sometimes, I can even keep from lashing out.  I can call my friend and tell her “I am so sad” and not have to add “still.” I can even, on some nights, talk to the night sky and almost catch the feeling of that missing big brown dog nearby.  The floating mud ball of grief keeps rotating and splattering around, but it might be getting smaller to make space for her.  She was never one to keep her paws clean, anyway.  So I think she feels welcome here.

Library Days: On Natural Disasters.

“We’ve gotta hurry, the librarians are going to miss me!” I say to my someone, cramming my To Return Books and my To Renew Books in the same bag. “And I don’t want to miss him!  He leaves by 10:30, usually,” I add with urgency.

My Someone laughs, but he knows I’m not kidding.  In fact, today my Someone is going to escort me in to fact check my ritual.  He’s not disappointed.  My guy is there, in his regular attire, clicking video after video.

I knew you’d be here! I thought.  I smiled at my Someone, pleased with my accuracy.

Consistency makes the heart grow fonder.

It’s Library Season, which usually means logging my calendar full of due dates and renewals, with a stack of books beside by borrowed room’s bed that dwindles slowly as the time for us to hit the road again approaches.  But this winter is different.  I am not only in a borrowed room, but also with a borrowed library card.  The stack of books is still the same, but the town is different.  I am taking Library Season to a new level of stillness, and have been spending every Tuesday morning here, in a small central California town’s library.  I sit at the same table in the same chair at the same time each week.

I’m not the only regular, though.  Aside from my friendly local librarians, there’s a man in a green track suit with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack who beats me here every Tuesday.  The first week, from my deliberately chosen chair, I had a full view of his public computer screen.  At first, I went about my business.  Public library time is sacred time, I believe, and everyone has a right to explore in the peace of 1970’s carpet and thick wooden chairs without snoops over your shoulder.

Except that he was murmuring to himself.  And then he was laughing.  I glanced up.  This man was watching natural disasters on Youtube.  Landslides.  Earthquakes.  River floods.  Tsunamis.  Again and again, the man clicked, watched, and then murmured.  Back to landslides, and he laughed.

I froze.  I felt sick.  I made involuntary associations with his skin color and terrorism.  And then, I realized, the only act of terror this man was watching was Mother Nature’s.  God’s.  Climate Change’s (ours).  I felt sick again.  You racist asshole, I murmured to myself.  I went back to writing.  Then, with my presumptions out of the way, my curiosity was pure.  I couldn’t resist.

Why does he only laugh at the landslides?

“I can’t believe you two like reading the same things,” my librarian said.  “I’ve been married for 43 years, and we don’t read anything alike.”

My Someone helped me load up my bag of Renewals.  We delighted in the perceived compliment, agreeably.

“And music,” she continued, “you have the music that you share!  All he listens to is classical, and that’s a no go.  I’m really a rock’n’roll gal, sometimes folk– always stuck in the 60’s.”

“That’s a good place to be stuck,” my Someone and I said in unison.  You can’t make this cute shit up.  We all laughed.

While my new Hold books were being located, I nodded my Someone across the room.  My Natural Disasters Guy was finishing up his free hour on the computer.  I was disappointed to not see actual natural disasters on the screen, but instead a close second of horror movie previews, one after another.

I like your friends, my Someone texted me a few minutes after he left me here.

“I try to exercise every day,” my librarian said.  I stopped my pen to listen.  “He hasn’t exercised except after his heart surgery, but then he stopped.  I just think, well, that’s your problem, then.  I can’t make him do what I do.  We are just different, and now he’s paying for it– or at least he will.”

That’s a toughie, I thought, stretching my legs under the table.  My Someone and I walk every morning together, sometimes in the afternoon, too.  We take hikes and sometimes he’ll do yoga with me when he complains too much about an ache in his neck or shoulder.  I kept listening, feeling smug, feeling better, and feeling disappointed when she finished talking to her friend and went to recategorize the New Books section.

Truthfully, my Someone and I have had a tough couple of weeks.  I’ve been slopping through my grief and self medicating with working too much, while he has been haggardly aware, darting, and stressing to deal with his own and mine.  Only in the last couple days have we settled into some sort of lovebird normalcy.  But even in the worst of it, we’ve walked side-by-side every morning, throwing sticks for our pup and taking note of the progress of fruit rotting into the ground in the orchards.

How fortunate.  How lucky.  How much better I have it.

This is crazy, I realized.

These are my natural disaster videos.  These are my replays.  These are my sensors that sit on alert, craving someone else’s story of a life I don’t want so I can appreciate the one I have.  It’s a fear in the brain, a lift from the drudgery of the usual mountains I am climbing to watch the mountain next to mine shake with an avalanche.  I sit and I watch and I am taken somewhere I’m not.  Then I sit back to see my own mountain.  Still a climb, but at least it’s sturdy.  And I laugh.  Maybe it’s relief or maybe it’s malice.  With something of that scale, so unexpected, I don’t know how to distinguish fear from empathy from joy.  I do know that at any minute, though, my Someone is coming to pick me up again.  He’ll see me looking like a normal person, typing at my own computer with a few new books to take home.  But I’m actually just a guy in a green track suit who sits here every week at the same time in the same chair, hitting replay on a two minute clip of an earthquake in a Central California library.

Howling at the Moon: On Coyote.

Okay.  Okay.  Here we go.

I think God might be a Coyote.

In the middle of the summer, I was reading a book that talked about a Native American tradition in which the earth was created, somewhat inadvertently, by Coyote.  This wasn’t my first time reading myths and legends.  This wasn’t my first time discovering a new religion.  But this was the first time, without being told what is true or not, that the information was presented to me and I sat back, warm and cold at once, and thought–

Oh, my god.  This might be God.

In the days and weeks following, I found myself naturally praying to Coyote.  A small miracle, praying naturally.  Or rather, praying at all.

Coyote was floating along on his raft.  He came across a few ducks and called to them–

“Is there only water here?” he asked.

“As far as we know,” they said.

“We’ve gotta do something about that.  You mind to dip to the bottom and see if you can get me something I can work with?” he said.  Of course, the ducks agreed.

Three duck went down and found nothing.  The fourth came back with a pile of mud in its beak.

“This I can work with,” said Coyote.  “And for your efforts, there will be four trials before success in this new land.  Sound good?”

“Sounds great!”

And then Coyote took the mud and created the world.  Trials and all.

You can dig around the internet or the public library for bits of Coyote’s tale, swishing around in matters of making mates from mud for lonely ducks, or being disobedient to his call from the Great Creator and accidentally making Earth and all that’s in it.  He is the great imitator, the great trickster, the protector of humanity and the curator of life after death.  He is all of the things in between, too.  He is likely both responsible for the unexpected house guest you didn’t want and the moment you were glad to have company that same night when you were tossed a bit of bad news by way of a telephone call.

But at the heart of it all, Coyote is in love.  He is in love with you and me, he is in love with the world working itself out, and he is in love with interjecting to make it both harder and easier to become better.

Coyote sounds a bit like Loki.  And a bit like me.  Because the way he loves is by laughing.  Some of his jokes go too far.  And most of his jokes take a while to get.

Coyote is the favorite of the Great Magician/Creator, even if he almost never acts right.  Maybe the Creator knows this and uses Coyote.  If that’s true, then I think that must mean that Coyote’s joy in causing a ruckus is woven into everything he accidentally creates.  Like people.  When The Creator stuffed humans into a bag to be dropped at the far corner of the earth, he asked Coyote to take the bag to its destination.

“But whatever you do,” he instructed Coyote, “do NOT open the bag until you get there.”

“What’s in the bag?” Coyote asked.

“It doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, don’t open the bag.”

“But, what’s in the bag?”

“Coyote!”

“Oh-KAY!”

Coyote opened the bag.  He barely made it beyond the first hill.  People went everywhere.  He couldn’t get them back in again– it was too late.  And now here we are, not confined to the cliff of time, but scattered in this wild, watery world.  Misfits and escapees, every one of us, thanks to Coyote.

The Creator didn’t seem to mind.  He delights in us with the help of Coyote by his side.  Coyote, our intercessor, reminds the Creator that we are wonderful, lovable creatures.

What I know to be true of Coyote, as best as I can gather it:

  1. that the world was created by accident, imperfectly, and that every day we are alive, we are making it better.  This is in direct contrast to the idea that we ruined a perfect world and are every day trying to dolefully get back what we lost.
  2. that perhaps we were not made in Coyote’s image, but as a friend of his image– and we, in turn, make friends of his image (or, man’s best friend [does this further explain the extreme reaction of humans to cats?  To worship or to hate?  I digress…]).
  3. that the funniest solution is the chosen solution, should you be brave enough to laugh and let Coyote laugh with you.
  4. That to pray to Coyote is not to first say, “I am not worthy/I am sorry,” but rather… “Guess what just happened!” usually followed by, “How do you think we are going to get out of this one?”  Coyote already knows we are worthy.  That’s why he created us as friends.

I was a fool for him, a regular Jesus Freak of Coyote’s world.  I hesitated at first, but then I found myself leaking my newfound Coyote to my friend Bryan on his lunch break.  My Pad Thai got cold with the love of sharing the Good News–

“And, did you know, that we are not slovenly assholes who messed up a perfect world?  Did you know that we are actually loved?  Did you know that there is hope because there is still a joke to be told?”

I knew it sounded crazy as I was saying it.  I knew that I was reverting back to my days of carrying my thickest Bible around the halls of high school in case someone asked me to defend what I believe.

Except, that it wasn’t like that at all.  I wasn’t on the losing side of a God to make amends with through his dead son (be grateful, you hellbound sinner!) while simultaneously on the losing side of a world I should hate (in it but not of it, of course).  I was on the winning side of a tricky dog who loves without bounds and makes change without stipulations and who was inviting everyone (even me) to come alongside.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Oh boy,” said Bryan, “I do like this Coyote of yours.”

He may have been my first willing convert.

“Heya, Coyote!” the ducks called.

Coyote was on his regular trek through earth, fighting off monsters that we can’t combat on our own, accidentally killing someone from a joke gone too far, and fascinating himself with the movements of creation, imitating as he went.

“Yeah-ho!” he called back.

“We’ve been thinking,” the ducks said, “and talking to the rest of the gang, and it seems like we are feeling like there’s still something missing.  Any chance we could have something else?”

“Oh, this will be fun,” said Coyote, “Whatever you want!”

“Gentleman ducks,” said the ducks.

“Makes sense,” said Coyote, twirling his paws.

“And dancing,” said the humans sunning themselves on the rocks.

“I’ll do you one better,” said Coyote, “let’s make music.”

For the rest of the day, the ducks and lady ducks, the humans, Coyote, and the rest of living creation danced to the sound of music.  Even the plants swayed.

Since our trip to the west this year, Coyote has been everywhere, howling from Pennsylvania to lurking in daylight by our South Dakota campsite to yipping and barking in the California night.  I have been unable to escape him.  The reminder is welcome.

I’ve good naturedly scolded Coyote for his tricks to get the hecklers out of a room.  I’ve yelled at him while my dog laid in my arms, limp with death.  And by the end, he keeps emerging with a joke, with a laugh.  And never a joke at my expense.  It’s the elevated laugh of a creature who always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, who always knows, these things work out if we let them.  Coyote doesn’t fail.  He just has a few hiccups first.  Often four.

While the loss of my own living Spirit Animal roils through me, I keep a small figure of a pink stone Coyote in my pocket.  Maybe it’s my rosary. Maybe it’s my idol.  But the palm sized consolation presses somewhere in the hopeful part of my heart, the part that says he was there waiting for my dog-gone the moment she left me.  Somehow, he’s the only one I’d trust with her.

I sent my friend Bryan a little Coyote of his own.  He doesn’t need it to know we are connected, but it’s nice to know these little Coyote figures are casting a laugh in the distance, connecting their howls miles apart.  Quietly, of course.  Coyote has a way of sneaking in the silence to make it less lonely.

Coyote watched the hawks flying from their trees, swooping to catch the mice below.  He was so taken by the freedom of the wingspan, the sound of their feathers cutting the air, that he climbed an oak up to the highest limb.

Then, Coyote jumped.  Flying was not what he thought it would feel like.  In fact, it felt more like dying.

Coyote lay on the ground, flat with gravity and breathed his last breath.  The birds, seeing Coyote dead on the ground, notified the fox, and they gathered around his body.  They worked their beaks and paw over his body until he sputtered and sat up.

“Come on, Coyote!” the fox said, exasperated.

“I had to try!” said Coyote.

“You always have to try,” said the birds.

“Worth it,” said Coyote.

The fox and the birds like to say they are tired of bringing Coyote back to life every time, but they always leave him with a smile.

“A Coyote who thinks he can fly,” the bluebird shook her head.

“This was easier than the time he drowned for imitating the whales,” said the seagull.

I woke up wide eyed and excited, straight back and peaking out my window blinds.  We were in Nashville, then, and Coyote had been on my mind now for two weeks.

“What are you doing?” my Someone asked.

“I can’t sleep, anymore,” I said.  “I’m too excited to see what Coyote will bring me today.”

My Someone stands with Coyote, but I know he still had a Book of Common Prayer stashed somewhere in the back of his closet.  Coyote doesn’t care, though.  There aren’t any One-Door-and-Only-Ones– there are just those who are laughing and those who are not.  There isn’t even just two sides to the door.  It’s a perpetually revolving door, welcoming anyone to step inside.  You can bring any sacred texts along– anything you can’t part with can come.  In fact, bring all of it.  We have time and time and time again to sort through with a deep curiosity and a smirk.

But then, we are to step outside, eyes wide and mouths open, and send our howls of joy and despair and confusion and delight up to the moon.  The world is a complicated place, where your friends are your enemies and your enemies your partners-in-crime.  When the sun comes up in the morning, we can leave those contradicting matters to nestle in the dark while we see what Coyote has in store for us in the new day.  Because likely, whether you’ve chosen to or not, the revolving door of Coyote has you swooped in.  It’s easier to walk with it and laugh along.

Puppy Love: On Falling Again.

It goes like this:

Every moment is still a grieving moment.  Every moment is still the carrying of what is lost, compounded by what is found, and makes less sense as the time passes.  And then, I find myself on the floor of a hotel room with my pup, throwing a ragged squeaking toy duck across the slick fake wooden floors.  She brings it back in a half retrieve, half cuddle, and I am laughing at her and the pain is easing.

And then the dread seeps in.  I don’t recognize it’s source, but I recognize the feeling.

“Oh no,” I say to my Someone, “it’s happening again.”

“I know,” he says.

Love without a safety net.  Love even though you know it’s going to be ripped from your arms faster than the squeaker from a toy duck in the jaws of an 83 pound puppy.

The sick feeling passes.

“You are going to shred me one day,” I say to my puppy, “But it’ll be worth it.”

She puddles up on my lap.

Love is a bitch.

Burial: On Rotting Love

Mike told me to put all of the love I had for Butter on to my other little pup– the one still living.  I’ve tried this.  But the strange thing about love is, it’s not one size fits all.  Even for two 85-pound dogs, the transference isn’t negotiable.  For the love of all things Butter was the remembering of her fear of plastic bags and that eye contact from across the room could soften to a slow stroll toward each other– or a wink that could have us barreling down a beach.  These looks to my other pup mean something different.  My love for my second pup is only ever growing, but it isn’t the same love.

These days, I wonder what is to become of that love of Butter.  85 pounds of love sitting inside with nowhere to go.  Most days, it feels like it is rotting in there– decaying me from the inside out, unable to be revitalized by the brown eyes of that bullmastiff.  All this love, and I have nowhere to put it.  The grave in the ground mimics the grave of our hearts– the deep holes we labor to create only to house the rotting lot of love we had.  And it is only a hole of bones and skin and memories.  Until something grows again.  But the growing, it takes so long.

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.