I Still Believe In Love

I climbed up the step-stool to reach the cabinet above the sink, grabbing a box to fill with the medley of cold medicine, antacids and allergy pills. A handful of bottles was too much and two of them fell to the floor below, rattling and popping open, throwing their contents across the tile. I sighed and climbed down the steps and began gathering the small pills. I rolled the bottle over in my hand after retrieving it from the floor. “Patient: May Normand Johnson. Give half a pill with food 2x a day.” My breath caught in my throat, and I leaned back onto the step, eyes immediately tearing up. I was jarred from my manic cleaning by the reminder of my most recent loss and the continuing grief I’d been fighting.

Dearest readers, I have had a truly black case of writer’s block since Sunday, August 6th, 2017. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, but something broke in me as I held my dog as she took her last gasping breaths, her heart finally failing her. Failing us. In a short month and half, she had gone from the most energetic and obnoxious dog to a shadow of her former self, unable to play ball due to her shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. She would hold the ball in her mouth, breathing heavy around it, in an act of greatest defiance. She could no longer move around and would frequently pass out, losing control of all of her functions and gagging in a most frightening manner.

On a warm, sunny afternoon playing ball in the backyard, she’d passed out suddenly. Panicked, I grabbed her and took her inside where she came to and looked at me as if I were being silly. She was fine, she said. I took her to the animal ER and her breathing was stabilized with oxygen as she underwent imaging and tests. A couple of grand later, we learned that she had a congenital heart defect that had suddenly worsened. That, for a relatively youthful eight-year-old terrier, she had a bad prognosis of at most two to three months and that there was nothing we could do for her. I spent the next month not sleeping much and spending every moment I could with her, rushing home from work anxiously praying that I wouldn’t open the door to find her gone already. Praying that she wait to go till I could be with her.

And so, on another warm, sunny afternoon in the backyard, it happened. She’d been up all night, unable to get comfortable, so I’d slept on the floor with her, holding her. As the sun came through the blinds the next morning, I had a sad feeling. She looked at me and, though her breathing was still labored, she seemed different. As if she were distant, not present anymore. I opened the back door and took her out to lay in the cool morning grass. She loved laying in the grass, so we lie there together, the sky painfully blue above us. She labored for what seemed like forever. I had coolly thought that, after a month mentally preparing myself for it, that somehow it would be less painful or awful. I’d seen animals die before, but this was quite different. This was my best friend, the love of my life. Save for my parents, no one had loved me more than Normand and, likely, no one ever will again. As anyone who knew us would attest to, she and I were beyond inseparable.

It was awful. It was ugly. I held her in my arms, unable to maintain any composure. She went quickly, but it was death. The whole eyes-dilating, body-seizing, foam-out-the-mouth ugly, ugly face of death. I felt her fighting it, and I held her till she was still. I don’t know how long I sat out in the grass holding her. I’d lost track of all time. Eventually, I picked her up and took her inside to lay her on her blanket. I felt tremendous shame at the feeling of relief that washed over me. So much shame. I took her to be cremated that morning, still consumed with shame and guilt at being able to take a breath in the now overwhelming silence of the house.

By far the greatest casualty of Normand’s death was my other dog’s severe concern and anxiety about what had occurred. I had been dedicating all of my energy for the past two months in the constant care of Norm, which he seemed not to mind. But this event was too much for him. All that he knew was that she was different and then that she was gone, taken away by me. He’d pace for hours at the front door, eager for me to go get her. In my grief, I did not know how to respond to him other than to try to console him through my own tears. He was despondent almost immediately after her death, lacking her constant leadership and guidance. I had work to distract me, but, when I’d get home, he’d be sleeping in her bed. He stopped responding to me and he’d stopped eating by the end of the week. Luckily, he loves my parents’ dog pack and has sense regained his sense of joy since going to stay with them.

I tell you all of this awfulness, dear reader, to tell you this — that I still believe in love. Though my heart is broken and I am changed, I still believe in love because a dog showed me and taught me such an awesome love. She came into my life during a separation and divorce, helped me survive grad school, moved multiple times with me, and braved the cold winters of Maine by my side before making the journey back to North Carolina this year. She had the most enthusiastic and purest love for everyone around her. She packed in so many good memories in her short eight years. I miss her the most when I am driving. Her place was always riding shotgun, Guns N’ Roses blaring on the radio, happy to go anywhere with me so long as we were together. Thousands of miles we’d ride together. Sometimes I see something out of the corner of my sunglasses, and, for a split second, I swear I catch a glimpse of black and white next to me. I guess, in some way, she’ll always be riding shotgun with me.

I know that this is a seemingly dreary post to start off 2018, but I feel that part of my healing will come through sharing my grief. I count myself so very lucky to have been loved by a dog and, as I write more about the other changes going on in my life, I hope to be more of the person she thought me to be. It’s a lot to live up to, but that is my simple goal for 2018.

 

“You’ve been gone for a long long time
You’ve been in the wind, you’ve been on my mind
You are the purest soul I’ve ever known in my life

Take your time, let the rivers guide you in
You know where you can find me again
I’ll be waiting here ’til the stars fall out of the sky
When you left I was far too young
To know you’re worth more than the moon and the sun
You are still alive when I look to the sky in the night
I would wait for a thousand years
I would sit right here by the lake, my dear
You just let me know that you’re coming home
And I’ll wait for you
Years have gone but the pain is the same
I have passed my days by the sound of your name
Well they say that you’re gone and that I should move on
I wonder: how do they know, baby?
Death is a wall but it can’t be the end
You are my protector and my best friend
Well they say that you’re gone and that I should move on
I wonder: how do they know, baby?
How do they know? Well, they don’t”

“Yes I know that love is like ghosts

Oh, few have seen it, but everybody talks
Spirits follow everywhere I go
Oh they sing all day and they haunt me in the night
Oh they sing all day and they haunt me in the night
Yes I know that love is like ghosts
Oh, and what ain’t living can never really die
You don’t want me baby please don’t lie
Oh but if you’re leaving, I gotta know why
I said if you’re leaving, I gotta know whyOh I sing all day and I love you through the night
Yes I know that love is like ghosts
Oh and the moonlight baby shows you whats real
There ain’t a language for the things I feel
And if I can’t have you then no one ever will
Oh, if I can’t have you then no one ever will
I don’t feel it till it hurts sometimes
Oh go on baby, hurt me tonight
I want ours to be an endless song
Baby in my eyes you do no wrong
I don’t feel it till it hurts sometimes
So go on baby hurt me tonight
All the spirits that I know I saw
Do you see no ghost in me at all
Oh I sing all day and I love you through the night”

Sweet Child O’ Mine

I’ve been on a brief hiatus. Partly because I’m working on a set of short stories for submission to a contest this fall. Partly because I’ve been nursing a sick puppy, who recently passed away. Between a lot of changes at work and taking time to enjoy my Normand, it’s been a tumultuous few months, but I am using music, writing and friends to help me get through. I’ll post an actual entry sometime, but the other project will likely take precedence since I’ve been able to break through some of my writer’s block.

In the meantime, here are some of the songs from my most recent playlist. Most remind me of Normand.

 

 

“You’ve got your ball
you’ve got your chain
tied to me tight tie me up again
who’s got their claws
in you my friend
Into your heart I’ll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock
and sweet you roll
Lost for you I’m so lost for you”

 

 

“And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass”

 

 

“Oh, I thought the world of you
I thought nothing could go wrong
But I was wrong, I was wrong
If you, if you could get by
Trying not to lie
Things wouldn’t be so confused
And I wouldn’t feel so used
But you always really knew
I just want to be with you
And I’m in so deep
You know I’m such a fool for you
You’ve got me wrapped around your finger
Do have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do have to let it linger?”

 

 

“Don’t leave me high
Don’t leave me dry
Don’t leave me high
Don’t leave me dry

Drying up in conversation
You will be the one who cannot talk
All your insides fall to pieces
You just sit there wishing you could still make love”
“So long ago, I don’t remember when

That’s when they say I lost my only friend
Well they said she died easy of a broken heart disease
As I listened through the cemetery trees
I seen the sun comin’ up at the funeral at dawn
The long broken arm of human law
Now it always seemed such a waste, she always had a pretty face
So I wondered how she hung around this place
Hey, come on try a little
Nothing is forever
There’s got to be something better than
In the middle
But me and Cinderella
We put it all together
We can drive it home
With one headlight”
“So I’ll start a revolution from my bed

Cause you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside, summertime’s in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out
And so, Sally can wait
She knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away
But don’t look back in anger
I heard you say”
“Backbeat, the word was on the street

That the fire in your heart is out
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now
And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how
Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall”
“You’re falling back to me
The star that I can see
I know you’re out there somewhere out there
You’re falling out of reach
Defying gravity
I know you’re out there
Somewhere out there

You’re falling back to me
The star that I can see
I know you’re out there”

“And it’s been awhile
Since I could say
That I wasn’t addicted
It’s been awhile
Since I could say
I loved myself as well
And it’s been awhile
Since I’ve gone and
Fucked things up
Just like I always do
And it’s been awhile
But all that shit
Seems to disappear
When I’m with you”
“Here’s a toast

To all those who hear me all too well
Here’s to the nights
We felt alive
Here’s to the tears
You knew you’d cry
Here’s to goodbye
Tomorrow’s gonna come too soon”
“Moving forward using all my breath

Making love to you was never second best
I saw the world crashing all around your face
Never really knowing it was always mesh and lace
I’ll stop the world and melt with you
You’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time
There’s nothing you and I won’t do
I’ll stop the world and melt with you”
“i try to remember a kiss
and i only get sorrow
and yesterday’s faded away
now there’s only tomorrow
and everything passes and changes
and comes to an end i know
but nothing is written but old news
again and again
i know that it’s true
there’s too many tears
but angels don’t cry”
“I miss you, I miss you

I miss you I miss you
Where are you?
And I’m so sorry
I cannot sleep I cannot dream tonight
I need somebody and always”
“She’s got a smile it seems to me

Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry
Oh, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine”
“But the space between where you’re smilin’ high
Is where you’ll find me if I get to go
The space between the bullets in our firefight
Is where I’ll be hiding, waiting for you

The rain that falls splash in your heart
Ran like sadness down the window into your room
The space between our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from pain

Take my hand ’cause we’re walking out of here
Oh, right out of here, love is all we need, dear”

My Own Light

Recently, I decided to get a Fitbit and start tracking my steps. This also synced with my work’s health program, so I saw it as a double perk–I’d be able to quantify my steps AND have it count towards points and rewards. I thought that it was a great way to get motivated, and, initially, I was right. I started walking 8,000 steps a day and gradually worked up to 10k. I found myself getting a mini-high as soon as my little Fitbit buzzed to let me know I’d met the next step goal. I would salivate and awkwardly walk in manic circles in my cube to finish off the next goal. I would check my progress on my phone and laptop constantly, the task almost becoming a reflex every few minutes. I had also been doing this with Facebook, as it served as my main social connection to lots of people and interesting news.

Then, one night I realized that I’d gotten home, fed the dogs, and spent the next 45 minutes pacing and switching back and forth between my step counter and Facebook. I hadn’t played with the dogs. I hadn’t gotten dinner. I hadn’t started my laundry or emptied another box to get closer to completing my unpacking. I hadn’t even noticed the time going by. I lost 45 minutes and hadn’t even noticed. I stopped and looked down at my dog beasts, both of whom had patiently sat down on their pillows watching me with great concern. They sighed and looked at me with big, sad eyes.

I had a small epiphany. I have felt stressed lately without really understanding why–I finished moving and I am enjoy my new job and my new coworkers. But I still felt panicky at the end of the day. My chest was always tight and sometimes I’d get heart palpitations, all well-known prequels to a panic attack (I have those once in a while). I realized as I stood there, desperately clutching my phone, that I had gotten lost in comparing my steps with friends. And constantly comparing myself with people on FB. So many of my friends have kids now and others are out conquering the world in science and the arts, making my successes pale in comparison. So, on top of my anxieties from a constant stream of stressful news stories being injected into my eyeballs every five seconds, I had added anxiety from constantly wanting to match my step-measuring buddies.

I realized that I’d taken a walk around our campus at work on a beautiful day and all I could remember was how many steps I’d done. Not the birds I saw. Not the other people out walking. Not the newly budding trees moving in the wind. Not the lovely symmetry of the long line of oak trees along the boulevard.  Not the way the sun hit the stones in the cemetery across the road, making beautiful tapestries of shadows on the hill behind. All the things I’d previously delighted in observing were now obscured by my obsession with counting and quantifying how much I’d done. How many steps. How many steps. Gotta catch em all. I’d forgotten how to enjoy my walk.

I think that the step trackers work well for a lot of people, but I decided, in that moment, that my addictions both to being constantly connected (FB) and to quantifying (obsessive step-counting) were too much. I needed to disconnect to reconnect, so to speak. I thought about how much time I could get back by removing some of the noise from my daily life. Time to work on writing I’ve been desperate to get back to. Time to spend with my dogs and  friends. Time to finally unpack and get my house in order. Time to focus on getting healthier while still being able to enjoy, truly enjoy a walk in the park. Being aware and present so I can focus on all the blessings in my life. That is what I desire most.

I think technology is ultimately a good thing, but I am disconnecting from FB and social media for a while (other than this blog). I still check the news once or twice a day via the interwebs, but I’ve turned off all notifications on my phone and uninstalled most apps. Suddenly, I can breathe again. I can focus. Just since Tuesday, my last day on FB and Fitbit, I’ve spent more time with the dogs, more time enjoying my walks and more time connecting with friends. I’ve also managed to unpack more boxes and finish my taxes. Most importantly, I have slept better. I no longer have a knot in my chest throughout the day. No more pacing or forgetting dinner. More music. More love. Less noise.

This isn’t to say I won’t try it again sometime. Or that I’ll be off FB indefinitely. But, in future, I will use it with intention and not as a time-killer. Cause we don’t get much of that on this big rock, so we gotta be thoughtful about our souls’ investments.

As I write this, I’m sitting on my back patio watching the willow tree fronds rise and fall in the crisp breeze, dogs all akimbo in my lap and I’m happy. This is it.

 

“Yes I be speaking my peace up in my seventies
Ain’t worry bout ya threatening me, I’m just being honest
I ain’t buying fear just because it’s all you got left
We just want to make love ’til we wake up
I believe whoever made us envisioned greatness
And you know they want to paint us with the same brush
Wanna enterchain us ’til we fill our grave up
Alright okay but when it’s all said and it’s all done
And I look back at the trophies I won
I will only count one
I’m using my heart for what hearts are for

“You’re the only one that I want
I wanna be around
I wanna be around you girl
I wanna be around
Ooh I wanna be around”

“I know it’s hard
Only you and I
Is it all for me?
Because I know it’s all for you
And I guess, I guess
It is only, you are the only thing I’ve ever truly known
So, I hesitate, if I can act the same for you
And my darlin’, I’ll be rooting for you
And my darlin’, I’ll be rooting for you

“Love, what did you do to me?
My only hope is to let life stretch out before me
And break me on this lonely road
I’m made of many things, but I’m not what you are made of

Only now do I see the big picture
But I swear that these scars are fine
Only you could’ve hurt me in this perfect way tonight
I might be blind, but you’ve told me the difference
Between mistakes and what you just meant for me”