Dwelling with Dæmons

Jack at 11 months and 11 years

In 2007, we met at Union Square Park in Manhattan. I saw him across three lanes of traffic, looking terrified, wearing an “Adopt Me” vest. From that moment, I knew he was my dog. It took a few visits, and much discussion (wearing down through constant badgering), to convince my wasband that this dog  was a good idea. We lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn and were away from 10-12 hours a day – but so was everyone else who had a dog in New York (one of my many sane arguments for adopting).

Jack was an 11-month old, 60 pound, pit-plott hound mix, who was born into a rescue shelter and, therefore, had almost no socialization and oodles of anxiety. Having been born blind in one-eye, he also had zero depth perception, but on bright side he had just learned to manage a leash on the day we met. How could he possibly be a difficult dog to raise? Luckily, under all of his problems, was a sweet spirit and eagerness to please.

Since that day, he’s lived with us in two states, six homes. Together we’ve driven thousands of miles on road trips – his every 30 minute vomiting stopped one day into a three day cross country from NY to TX, when I was five months pregnant. In ten years, we’ve experienced childbirth & raising, divorce, meeting hundreds of new people and dogs. He’s survived, with minimal lacerations, ridiculous accidents from tumbling down a 40-foot cliff to slamming into and falling up (he defies physics, just believe) limestone barriers at a full run. Together, we’ve run & hiked hundreds of miles and over the last three years he’s generally been my go-to companion.

I grew up around ranch animals. They were there, but not too close and if something went wrong, that was fate and another would take its place. I never experienced animals as companions and until very recently didn’t accept Jack was mine. I don’t know what I considered him, “just my dog” I suppose. Perhaps, it was wrapped up in the emotional walls I built against losing those that I love. If he remained “just my dog” it would hurt less when he ultimately died. But recently something clicked and I realize he’s deep in my heart, which has caused me to observe other people’s relationships with their animals in a different light.

I recently moved into an apartment that is full of dogs. I sit on my porch and watch folks walk with their dogs. When I walk Jack in the neighborhood, we stop and talk with folks. Jack brings me closer to my community simply by needing to be walked and interacting with other dogs. People share experiences with their dogs and through that a bond is created, a conduit for communication, and it’s that conduit that seems to key animals and their people together. We live side by side with these creatures who take in so much of our world that we will never understand. I am not sure what it all means, but I’ve started listening closer and through my dog I feel like I am learning to hear the world with a little more clarity. I don’t mean the ways of the made world, but the nuances, the pauses, the subtle interactions feel crisper. Jack slows me down and helps me be present. That’s a pretty amazing gift that only took 10 years to recognize.

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9/11/2001

Someone asked, “Where were you?” 

Sixteen years ago, the day the world changed, I was physically safe in Texas. I was working out at the St. Edward’s University student gym before class. I glanced at the television, mounted in the corner and saw the Towers that had directed me when I visited the City. Towers that always let you know south from north in no uncertain fashion. I saw smoke billowing from their windows and took off my headphones to hear Katy Couric going on about how there seemed to be a kitchen fire in the top floor dining room. The camera angle was off, but I had worked in kitchens and that was no kitchen fire. Then the second plane slammed into a Tower. I stumbled to the student union and heard about the Pentagon. The sound tunneled. My mouth was dry. I felt dizzy. 

I was 26 and had been out of the military a couple years. I don’t remember walking home from university, but I sat on my couch and stared at the news, watched people jump to their deaths rather than die of fire and smoke. So many people the cameras couldn’t avoid the images. I couldn’t turn it off. I got angry when my boyfriend got home and asked me to stop watching. I was terrified and saddened to a depth I couldn’t understand. It couldn’t be happening. Everything ached for all the families. All the loss and grief. It was senseless. As I watched I knew we were going to war and I was scared for so many people. 

Over the next few weeks, I seriously considered re-enlisting because the deafening order of the military made more sense than the chaos I was waking to each day. But the propaganda, so much propaganda and anti-Muslim sentiment and hate wouldn’t let me re-enlist. I knew we’d be at war for a very long time. I also knew there was too much oil in the region to morally say it would be just about making things right. Also, somethings can never be made right.

Later, I would work for a law firm and the very new partner I supported had an office overlooking the WTC site. He had been a beat cop, but recently finished his law degree and had just begun practicing law when the Towers came down. He told me that when the firm moved back into the building, no one wanted that office, even though it was a corner spot, “I said, give it to me. I can’t forget that day so I may as well watch it rebuild.”

For accountability

On my calendar, September 8, 2018 I’ve entered “May consider dating and a glass of wine.” 

I’ve made the choice not to date or drink alcohol for a year. I’m working through steps because just hitting pause doesn’t solve problems. I wish I had more eloquent words, but at this early juncture it all just sucks. It will likely suck a lot. It’s painful to open myself up to what’s been shoved into the cabinets of “that’s not important,” “who cares anyway,” “just get over it” for over 30 years. And that’s with having dabbled in therapy for some years!

I realized, I’ve dated or been in relationships virtually continuously since 14. I talk a big game about independence, self awareness, and knowing who I am, but it’s come to light that I am not sure who I am when single, because I’ve never been single for more than a few weeks at a time. The idea of being single makes me anxious and really almost angry, which means I don’t have the tools or strength I proclaim. I need to get to know me. It was painful to say hello to myself and I feel I’ve not been invited in completely, yet.

Drinking is not a problem for me in the classic drunk ways, but it is a problem in that I use it to prove I have control over something in my life. I use it to tell myself I have the power to walk away from a glass of wine or to take a couple days to finish a bottle or to only get drunk when I choose to. But the point is, those behaviors should not be pondered and debated over. For me, those behaviors don’t just happen. I monitor, consider, and – most importantly – always have wine nearby so I can have that second glass if that’s what I have allowed myself. The idea of not drinking makes me agitated and I can’t let it go, so I must give it up.

Apparently, my coping method of fake it til you make shouldn’t be applied to emotional balance. At 42, I’ve got a second life stretched before me so, before I dig myself any deeper, it’s time for me to get straight with me.

discarding life’s accoutrements

As I pulled an empty dresser to the curb, along with unused shelves and a forgotten child-size art easel a deep sadness came over me. I am not attached to those items, or much of anything in my home – save stacks of journals, artwork I’ve collected, and the photographs chronicling my child’s life. The idea of sending almost everything onward is a relief, but the physical act of discarding items is psychologically hard. In their place sits an open space, a blank wall, a future of greater simplicity.

Over the last few months, I have been percolating on selling the home I’ve lived in for almost three years. By selling, I’d pay off all debt and create a nest egg for my daughter’s future. I’d let go of excessive space that I don’t use. Two rooms in my home went untouched for months, I leased out the space rather than let it sit barren. I don’t take up space with things. I have tried – the image of a cozy home filled with memories seems comforting. But the reality, things make me itch and feel overwhelmed. I want experiences and stories, not souvenirs made in China collecting dust. I want time.

I crave time. Time for me. Time to be outdoors, to know my child, to think, to travel, to spend with a future lover, to write, to simply be. I want to be released of the burden of more things that need my attention. But in the wave of letting things go, of resetting, there is a return of grief, dare I say, depression for the abyss of time that will allow me to be alone with myself.

In the last few years, I’ve worked so hard to understand me, what drives me, what I need / want in a partner. I have worked to break down walls and open my heart. I have worked to heal old wounds. I have learned to set boundaries. I have been challenged by new experiences and lovers. I have been tested to come to terms with the work I still must do. On occasion, I feel like I am making great progress. But that progress is simply another layer understood and life rips off layer after layer to reveal more work awaits my attention.

I had to stop cleaning because my mind / heart was racing with overstimulation, confusion. I stopped cleaning to write. In writing I find peace. In writing I work out confusion. As I began to write, more sadness wash over me. I typed through tears.

I am stripping away the nonsense of life. The acquisitions and trinkets discarded. A new wall sits bare and I am reflected back to me. I’m not sure how to say hello.

subconscious musings

As I slowly woke, I felt the warmth of my child’s weight against my upper arm. Her sleeping breath deep against the earliest moments of dawn. I began to turn, but her body felt too comforting to move away. When had she come into my room? My door was still closed. She never closes the door. Odd. Wait. She’s at her dad’s. I was beginning to wake fully. The dog had begun barking madly at midnight. Her dad brought her over? Did I not remember that? Why would he have done that? Now I was wide awake and confused beyond reason. Heart racing. I looked over my nest of pillows, but no child. Heartbeat slowed as I recognized it had been a lucid dream and she was surely safe at her dad’s place. Did she dream of sleeping in my bed? Were we subconsciously together?

+++

“The strangest thing happened. I think I am hearing things,” my girlfriend said as we had brunch. “I was in the back room and heard a Rolling Stones song, but there was no music playing. I checked all my devices and everything was off.”

“Do you think it could have been a neighbor?,” I asked.

“No, I went outside and silence.”

“Perhaps it was just a strong aural memory?”

“I don’t know, but I felt crazy for a moment.”

+++

Often I’ll think of someone, pick up my phone a few minutes later and see they’ve texted me. When I was a kid, I would pick up the landline phone to call a favorite aunt or my grandmother, but the person was already on the line. I’ve dreamt about people I haven’t seen in months and the next day had a chance encounter with that person.

I do not know what to make of such occurrences, but feel there is much beyond what we comprehend in terms of memory, intuition, karma or coincidence, and subconscious connections. We are sharing a planet with physical ecosystems, intertwined on levels, we barely comprehend. How can we begin to comprehend the internal ecosystems of our subconscious? We live through layers of noise, fear, and strange occurrences explained away by reason, but what is that world filled with connections that sit beside and within us? A world that is ours, but connected in moments of silence we have so successfully filled with distraction. A world shrouded by reality, but completely visible to our inner world. An inner world we have been taught to avoid for its brightness and clarity would overshadow the deeds of the physical.

 

art by tangmaelon

What! Why did you stop breastfeeding?

Moms are some of the loudest and most aggressive members of Camp My Opinion Is Best. Folks who haven’t had kids are often louder. While I was nursing my baby, I heard it all. When I mentioned I might wean at six months, I had mothers tell me I would be taking something away from my child (yes, in fact, my boobs). Later, I was told I should have weaned earlier because extended nursing would make her clingy (only til she’s a teenager!). Some said I was selfish for considering not weaning naturally (removing the boob clearly equates hiring a full-time nanny and checking out of my child’s life). Others said my kid wouldn’t thrive if breastfeeding didn’t end naturally (healthy children TOTALLY dive bomb toward malnutrition if supplemental nursing is ended). Before my child was born, I had plans to nurse for six months because that’s about when she would get teeth and no way in hell was I going to let her suck on my boob when she could chew food. Everyone has opinions on how to live your life, including younger you. I am here to say, “Fuck. That. Noise.”

After I gave birth all the parenting wisdom and plans I had preached were humbly destroyed by reality and experience. As six months barreled down the line I came close to a full breakdown over not wanting to wean my baby. I was so stressed over the change in my perspective that my supply rapidly decreased. I read everything I could about increasing supply. I ate fenugreek, nearly waterboarded myself with fluids, and may have tried living off oatmeal cookies, but my milk continued to decrease. In desperation, I called my best girlfriend’s mother who had nursed three babies and has been a NICU nurse for years.

With a firm, gentleness that comes only from years of talking people through stressful situations, she said, “You’ve given your child six months of breastfeeding. You’ve shared all the antibodies and nutrition and so much bonding. No one does it right or wrong. This is your journey. You have done well. Just hold your child close and be there for her. She will eat when she’s hungry. Your milk or something else. Your love is what she needs.” I cried. Within days, my milk was back.

++

Two years later, my Lil’bit was fast approaching 2 1/2 and we were still nursing a few times a day. At the end of a long day, bone tired from work, and another less than stellar night of sleep, I’d walk into daycare and she’d grin so big as to melt my heart. Then, her chubby little fist would raise defiantly into the air and the “milk” symbol would be wielded and she would giggle, “nana” (our word for milk). I had become her cow, my milk was free, and she wanted it all. Soon, I resented daycare pickup and made excuses to work late so her dad would have to deal with our milk tyrant. Of course, when I got home she’d squeal and clap, so happy to see me. And the raise that little demanding fat fist, and yawp “NANA!”

Finally, I was over breastfeeding. I didn’t care if I was selfish, I didn’t want to share my boobs with her anymore. I wanted to go back to being a woman who loved her child without  leaking, tender breasts adding to my daily exhaustion. I picked a date, New Year’s Day seemed poetic, and presented my boob warden with a shopping metaphor. I told her, “Oh wow. It seems “nana” is almost empty, like the orange juice carton. We have three days left.” I made the same declaration with two days. Then, on the final blessed day, January 1st, 2010, after she had black-eyed peas, but before our final nurse, I announced, “Well, this will be all the milk that’s left!”

She nursed, then pulled away and said “Go to store. Get more.”

I told her there are no refills. She looked up at me, sighed, “Read book.”

We read. We snuggled close. It was done.

Two weeks later, she timidly asked if she could nurse. I was so over it when we ended, that I didn’t think I would miss nursing her at all. But within days I missed the primal connection so deeply. I decided we could try a nurse. We cuddled up on the couch. She put her mouth to me, but had lost all instinct of what to do. Her big eyes sought mine. Her mouth rested on my breast. She waited a few moments, then declared, “All gone.” She climbed off my lap and toddled away to harass the cat.

The era was complete.

lost in translation

This morning, while I finished packing for a short visit to New York City, Lil’bit asked if we could please tour the abbey on the island. I was so confused, “What abbey?”

She declared, “Where people lived.”

“I still don’t understand what you are asking.”

“Where people went who were sick and people who worked there were mean and the lady snuck in and wrote about it,” she explained in clear frustration.

“Oh! You mean the asylum grounds on Roosevelt island. Yes. We’ll try to visit.”

“Try hard.”

My child, travel task master.