Not Alone

After twenty-four days of visiting, I finally had a day all to myself today yesterday two days ago. I’m not complaining; I’m just surprised that it’s taken me a minute to find my own rhythm. For 3 ½ weeks I moved to a beat that wasn’t entirely mine, and although I wouldn’t trade a single minute of any of it, at the end of it I’m tired. And as evidenced by the strikethroughs above, it took more than one good night of sleep for me to catch up. And then there was that full moon, but I’ll leave her out of it…

Between the beginning of January and the end of June I spent much more time alone than not, but then BAM!…there I was…surrounded by people and love and activity. Silence and solitude were subtracted from my equation, and a schedule was inserted. Even my plans started making plans. I crafted an excel spreadsheet titled “Summer 2013” as a guide for mapping my visits and so I wouldn’t have to remember so (damn) much.

Along the way I’ve Facebooked and Instragramed my whereabouts, and in the process have received more (very welcomed) requests to pop by here or there, and I really hope I can squeeze it all in. These New England travels aren’t taking into consideration my desire to see what Asheville, NC is all about or to visit Southern friends in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Or the West Coast peeps who are saying come here, stay, live. Stay.

It’s an absolute joy to be able to reconnect on a physical level with old, long-missed friends, and it’s a surprise blessing to be invited to the homes of folks whose voices I haven’t heard in twenty years but who are suggesting it might behoove me to explore the Concord, Massachusetts stomping grounds of the Transcendentalists or do a cannonball in the Berkshires. These people are offering much more than a pillow for my head; they’re offering connection. It’s amazing.

It requires a lot of planning, which battles with the fact is that I’m not a huge fan of committing to events more than a week in advance. But because my present life is all about visiting other people I have to take their schedules and timelines into consideration. Sometimes even a lunch or a quick overnight requires weeks of advance planning. And because I embrace contradiction: I dig this too. But lately I can’t really plan much more; I’m simply planned out. I have to just trust that it’ll all work out as it should.

Like my TODO lists that get slightly updated titles (“End of May TODO” becomes “End of June TODO” becomes “End of July TODO” and so on…), so too will my travel spreadsheet. I mean, it’s not even August and I’m already thinking about September. Truth be told, I’m thinking about October too.

I’ve visited people whose lives I’ve mostly popped in and out of over the past dozen years I’ve lived away, and it’s been an incredible luxury to stay more than one night. One of the great treats was to see my friend Taylor and her kids at her dad’s place in Little Compton, Rhode Island which is a slice of heaven if there ever was one. Taylor is a fellow East Coaster, but a Missoula friend and it was awesome to see her though bizarre to say goodbye knowing I won’t see her soon. “At home.” Of all the plans I have, returning to Missoula (even for a visit) is not on the current list. (Insert approximately 5,000 words on this.)

Image{Little Compton sunset}

Most of the people I’ve visited are parents of multiple children and it’s been years since they’ve had the luxury of making their own schedules, reading a book without feeling guilty, not feeling responsible every second of every day to hearts beating outside their own bodies. So I feel a little selfish spoiled indulgent for feeling off kilter because I’m operating outside of my “own” schedule.

These stretched and exhausted mothers encourage me to sleep in, but their children have different ideas. Whether it’s the squeals and shrieks of a baby saying yes or no (the sound, to me, is almost the same) or sweet voices attempting to whisper outside mydoor or little bodies crawling into bed with me as they admit with giggles, “We snuck up here….” one thing is fairly certain: there’s not been a lot of sleeping in.

“She has a dog, doesn’t she?” Yes, yes I do, and in more ways than one I’ve hit the dog jackpot. Lucky sleeps as late as I want/need him too, and only wakes me up if there’s an emergency which is a few times/year after a particularly successful dumpster raid.

Throughout my ten years working as a massage therapist we’ve very rarely had a regular schedule, and I’ve usually only had to work early once or twice a week, so our mornings have been more likely to begin with coffee and a walk. It’s civilized. There were times during the winters in Montana that I’d actually have to wake him up in the morning so he could go potty before I left for work. I’d be showered, dressed and fed, but the thing that would hold me up was getting my dog out of bed. It’s an understatement to say that he’s an easy going, adaptable dog.

We’ve been so aggressively visiting friends and traveling around New England that Lucky has become a master at making himself at home. In the beginning he’d tentatively walk around and give me a look as if to say, “Is this it, Ma?” Now he walks right in and drinks from the toilet, scores the shadiest spot on the porch, and (gulp) gets up in beds.

Image {He was shooting for a long face, but couldn’t do a thing about the wagging tail! Busted!}

Aside from our time in NYC, I’ve allowed Lucky to explore his new, temporary terrain. Most of the friends we’ve visited have electric fences for their dogs, which means the absence of a perimeter securing fence. I decided that policing or leashing Luck would be lame for both of us, so I’ve trusted him to have reasonable boundaries as he explores uncharted territory. Sometimes it works better than others.

The other night Ady, Blue and I concluded a long, fun day by sitting on the patio. It had been an oppressively hot day, the sun so blazing that even this sun-lover covered her shoulders with a towel as we cruised back from surfing at the river mouth in the boat…true story. But after the kids went to sleep the adults sunk into the comfy outdoor living room furniture with cool drinks and forgot that we’d also wanted to go to bed by sundown.

We talked and stretched and laughed and even got a little serious until the mosquitos almost drove us inside, but then Ady remember the New York Times article and we decided to test the efficacy of its claim that a simple house fan can deter mosquitos. Prior to the introduction of the fan on the patio we were getting chowed; after: not at all. If you missed the article read it HERE. It works!

Lucky spent most of the evening stretched out on the patio, though toward the end he hit the grass to munch on a prehistoric looking bone he’d scored from a neighbor’s garbage pile. (He spied it one morning on a leash walk and I didn’t let him take it, so he went back on his own time. Smart boy.)

When we realized it was close to eleven (dang, we’re old) I went down with Ady to put the chickens to bed, and Lucky followed us to the coop. We watched him streak across the lawn to chase a bunny into the hedges but didn’t think much of it.

And therein lies one of life’s riddles: nothing is a big deal until it is.

I felt a twinge of nervousness, but talked myself out of it. When I was in New Mexico and this happened I panicked because I was alone. I’d run through my usual list of things to do while waiting for the dog to get back from gallivanting—make fire, sweep, boil water for tea, run bath—and then if he didn’t return I’d start the car and wait a minute. If the sound of the car didn’t bring him running then I’d drive back and forth on the ¼ mile driveway. Only twice in New Mexico did I have to drive a horseshoe around the neighborhood, and only once did I have to drive out on the highway to complete the loop.

Ady and I whistled and called his name as we walked back to the house. “Do you want me to stay with you?” she asked, and I said, “Nah…He’s fine. If I need to I’ll start the car; he runs back like a baby when he hears it.” Even as the words came out of my mouth I regretted them. Jinx.

I wanted Ady’s presence, but didn’t need her; what I really wanted was for her to get some sleep. She goes nonstop all day and must walk at least 30,000 steps, or three times the daily goal for a healthy person. “I got it,” I said, and at the same time I thought about how tired I am of doing it all, being so capable, having such a bitch of a time asking for help.

Ady gave me a flashlight and I walked up and down her section of the street. So confident that my presence would bring Lucky back I didn’t make much noise except an occasional tweet of a whistle and I tried to just enjoy walking among the maples and pines and ferns. But then I became desperate and started to enunciate each syllable of his name. LUCK-y. C’mon, LUCK. Dude…luck-Y. Come back. LUCK?

I didn’t have my phone on me, so went back to get it. I prayed for a message from a cross neighbor asking me to come get my dog or even one from Animal Control, but I had no messages and no missed calls.

Ady and Blue’s neighborhood is small and idyllic. Everyone knows everyone, and when one of the neighbors saw Lucky a few days earlier in front of Ady and Blue’s house he called the number on the tag. “I have a thing for old black dogs with white faces,” Locke told me, “I just wanted to make sure he’s where he’s supposed to be.”

He wasn’t—he was supposed to be inside the house—but he was close enough. Our group was at the farmers’ market and Luck was supposed to be with Bailey (who has an electric fence) but he’d gone rogue. The next day we thought we’d sufficiently battened down the hatches, but he snuck out again. A few days later, in New Hampshire, he moved a piece of furniture that blocked the doggie door and met us on the driveway when we got home. Like a mother I felt simultaneously proud and afraid.

The dogs that live at these houses have “freedom” with doggie doors and electric fences, but there was nothing to contain my boy within the margins. I could hope that he’d follow the other dogs’ lead, but I know my dog better than that and wind up doing a lot of praying and bargaining.

I’m glad I told Ady to go to bed—she’s a busy mother of two—and I felt secure knowing that if Lucky showed up injured or if he didn’t show up at all that I wouldn’t have to endure that reality alone. I thought back to the winter when I was alone in New Mexico’s northern mountains with twenty minutes between me and a cell phone signal and how alone I felt when Lucky was missing on sub-zero nights. How I knew the satellite Internet wouldn’t reset until midnight, and how even then the connection would be unreliable. I thought about the washboard roads and steep ridgelines separating me from friends who wouldn’t mind being woken up.

But Rhode Island in July is different. As I walked the small loop on foot and drove the bigger loops in the car I felt nervous and desperate, but I also knew there were people in the house I could wake up if I found a dead or dismembered dog, there was a phone I could pick up and dozens of people who’d talk me down from the tree. And everything feels a lot less desperate when you’re wearing flip-flops and bugspray instead of a parka and snowboots with yaktrax.

But then I edged my car onto the main road and looked for a black lump. I visited some of the bad neighborhoods in my brain. I planned for the worst. And then the phone rang. I expected it to be a local telling me “We have your dog….”, but it was Emily, from Montana, just calling to check in. I was glad to hear from my fellow thirty-niner-do-it-all-myself friend, but I couldn’t focus on either talking or listening though I really tried and was desperate for something to take my mind off the current situation, or my exhaustion, or the fact that my life could possibly be on the brink of a major change. The fact I could be on the actual edge that I usually only speak about metaphorically. I needed to hear something other than the voices in my head telling me that maybe I trust too much or that he’s a dog not a homing pigeon. I was cruel to myself, “How can you be so careless with something you love so much….?”

It was comforting to hear Em’s voice, but frustrating because I was unable to focus on either the conversation or my searching so I stayed in limbo, which Emily told me a few months ago “is not a destination.”

We stayed on the phone for a little while—and it was an enormous help as I continued my physical and mental looping—but at midnight I finally said, “I have to give up. I have to go to bed. I’m so tired. I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I’m going to go to bed without Lucky. I’ve never done this before.” Em told me it was okay. She told me he’d be back. She said it was okay to put my head down. I needed that permission, and it felt good to receive it without asking. Really: I’d done everything I could.

I’d spoken to two neighbors walking their own dogs (responsibly, on leashes) and asked them to keep an eye out for my renegade. “He’s wearing a tag,” I said, “Please call if you see him.” I’d startled a group of teenagers with my headlights as they scooted around the yacht club gate to drink on the dock. Most of the group picked up the pace when they saw an unknown car, though one kid stopped to talk and promised to call if he saw my dog.

Nobody called, and I fell asleep just after midnight with my phone in the bed. I woke up within the hour and remembered instantly that I was alone, so I grabbed a flashlight to go downstairs where I hoped Luck was waiting to be let inside. I shined the light up and down the leafy corridor next to the house and he didn’t appear. I did that two more times during the night, and then at 6:30 I woke up again, guilty that I’d slept an hour past sunrise, and suited up for a run. I said to myself, “I’m going to find this fucking dog.”

I walked across the street to get my running shoes from my car/mobile closet and he very quietly slinked up to me. All of the adrenaline I’d possessed to run like a crazy person disappeared and I immediately wanted to fall back asleep, as the few Zs I’d gotten during the night had been bloated with guilt and fear.

I turned the fan on and blew cool morning air into my room. I put my arm around my boy—with whom I’m never actually alone—and thought about how to proceed. I slept for a little while, but it was bright. It was time to be awake, regardless of sleep or lack of. Lucky seemed drained, exhausted, and a little hung-over. He didn’t want his breakfast, and became a rug on a rug on a rug for a few hours.

Image

I caught up on some reading, and came across the news that Schoep had died. Schoep is the dog that became famous last summer as a result of the photo that showed his owner, John, holding his arthritic body in Lake Superior. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to share the photo or if this is the proper way to do it, but am crediting Hannah Stonehouse with this shot:

Image

Schoep lived a month past his twentieth birthday. I also couldn’t help but resist stealing this picture off Schoep and John’s Facebook page. He had fish and ice cream.

Image

If you need a good cry, take a look at THIS.

I wasn’t sure how to proceed once my naughty dog slept off the previous night’s bender. Trust him? Leash him? I decided to trust, but also to keep a closer eye on him after dark. Luck and I are usually pretty good about trusting that the other will come back, but we’re both human alive and sometimes we panic and do things like move furniture with our heads or walk circles thinking it’ll get us somewhere new.

But in a way I did get somewhere new. I feared the worst-case scenario the other night, but I also knew that somehow I’d survive it, which wasn’t something I was capable of a few months ago.

This love is scary, but it’s also impossible and inspiring. It is big and often debilitating, and its strength sometimes feels like an internal natural disaster, but at the same time it affords me a way to access the courage I didn’t know I had.

And so I’m sitting still, gathering my thoughts, and writing again as I enter the next phase of book writing and (hopefully) publishing. Ady and Blue have gone to the Adirondacks and I’m alone at their house staying in the sweetest apartment over the garage. I have a view of the Narragansett Bay and a dog heart beating by my feet. I’m the farthest thing from alone.

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7 thoughts on “Not Alone

  1. Of course I cried and cried. Love this. Next to last paragraph is amazing. Miss you. Checking out fan article next so my children don’t get carried away by Mosquitos before the summer ends.

    • If I go to the West Coast it’ll likely be to CA only, and I’m going to give myself as wide a berth around MT as possible…..I’m still in danger of a relapse! a huge part of my heart lives there…..But…where are you exactly? I love you photos, especially the recent rodeo shots!

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