“Hey there”, she said after our common friend introduced us. I went from sipping a beer and people watching at Doc’s Tavern (minding my normal – alone business) to shaking hands with Christa. A sparkle in her eyes showed me something unexpectedly bright in the otherwise dark familiar place. A couple of rounds and few slow songs later – things changed. The lies that I had told myself about destiny and being alone, walls that time built to lean against and pretend, the words “Not for me” said out loud as if to protect. Dissolved. She stole them all with one kiss.
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In the summer as the sun-sets, bats return to eat their share of mosquitoes and scare the squeamish. The speed and erratic flight of these creatures is part of what I have come to call “Caveman TV”. One evening while sitting in wooden Adirondack chairs next to Sarrah snoozing in the sand by a crackling fire, my childhood friend Andy said “Caveman TV”.
While staring into the fire I replied, “What?”
“Caveman TV is what we are watching” and he went on share this primal-based theory of what is the attraction of sitting around a fire and possibly “the real reason people go camping.”
“Then this is ‘The Remote,’” I concluded while using the fire-scarred chunk of rebar to stoke our TV.
I embraced the expression and have since shared this primal wisdom with all fellow fire enthusiasts.
Front Yard Freedom
Hello! Spring was aptly named-all of a sudden, one day, there it is!
Plants awaken with… birds singing the praises of its arrival. Some years our spring sneaks in early, at the mercy of winter. Bulbs defiantly peek up in various yard borders, returning the favor of past work, giving a hint of color and brighter days to come. If looked at closely enough, buds appear on dormant trees showing signs of waking up, some flashing peaks of pink and white flowers. Soon these trees will make a scented canopy over some sidewalks. Lawns begin to wake up and grow erratically, with some darker green fertilized spots. This growth brings about the noisy season of the obnoxious grass cutting and mechanized yard maintenance machines.
One group of prized plants that live with us in our climate, are those called Rhododendrons. These woody plants have evergreen leaves and at varying times of the spring season, flower. They show off with their choice of vivid colors from a rainbow, multi-colored blends or two-tone combinations. Growing up here and thanks to my avid plant-loving Grandmother, “Rhodys” hold a bright annual connection to landscapes for me, Sarrah just liked to sniff’m as we walked by.
Sarrah loved to stand guard in the front yard, sniff the plants and watch the world go by.
This was another favored place of hers to enjoy a little freedom.
Having spent most of my almost half-century of living in the Pacific Northwest has given me the experience of watching people crowd into an area.
Observing as humans wade through the economic tides and refine the process of developing land, starting with the easiest and taking steps into the more difficult and less desired parcels.
A sort of reckoning takes place. No change goes unpunished. Our natural environment has evolved over time into one that had its way of dealing with rainfall. As human needs replace what was, weather dictates what will be. The more hilly earth becomes smooth and paved, the more concentrated needs become for dealing with excess water when the rains fall.
An evolving complex formula has come about for building water retention sites. These man-made ponds are camouflaged scars to the earth. Displaying some examples of human bargaining with a blend of indigenous “natural plant-life” (cattails, grasses and trees) for wildlife and often some kind of appeal offering to the local payer of taxes (landscaping, trails and/or a park) to gain the right to develop, creating monuments to appease the gods of rain. These places of reckoning are hotly debated for long periods of time, constructed relatively quickly, celebrated briefly and then quietly slide into being largely ignored. Not Sarrah, she always spotted these places of reckoning and insisted that we investigate.
Two of these places evolved nearby in Sarrah’s lifetime.
The first one is located at the low point of a community college campus hidden behind a tennis court; it has a labyrinth of paved trails through trees and a bridge over the fluctuating pond. I recall reading that some college classes were involved in the layout designing and choosing plantings, some studies probably continue.
Another was constructed so that a three-field baseball park could be flat and dry. This park is behind our re-located local Post Office. The land was probably swampy pasture with some scrub trees and blackberry bushes before our International Airport grew making it too noisy for human habitation. This water management creation has a fenced-in small pond, a rocky “dry river bed” and a much larger water retention pond below (we saw it seasonally dry out and fill to the top). At times a choir of frogs fills the air with hypnotic notes. The trails here are simple paths worn in the grass by shortcutting kids and dogs with people.
When Sarrah discovered this place it became part of going to get my mail, the best part.
If it were up to Sarrah we would explore both of these typically quiet places on the same day, when freedom from commitments allowed, we did.
Two or Three Times… Freedom
Years ago I drove by a little pond nestled between an outside bend of the Green River and a busy four-lane road. This little pond surrounded by trees somehow maintains peacefulness despite having another two-lane road beside it cross the other and a small bridge over the river. I drove on these roads to and from work two or three times a day for a few years. Then my job changed and I only drove by two or three times per week, for a few more years. I never stopped at this little pond with a totem pole, fishing docks for kids, couple of picnic tables, some benches and a gravel trail around it.
One day, driving by with a very young Sarrah she looked out the window at it (as I had more than two or three thousand times) and then at me, she began to get excited, we stopped.
Sarrah delighted in what I thought was harassing the ducks and geese that always seemed to be there, sending them swimming from one side to the other, two or three times each visit. Perhaps she was simply intrigued by their freedom.
Salted Air Freedom
We continued to discover and frequent gems of common interest. A favorite was a park, nearby. We became regulars to Salt Water State Park, a nice mile plus round trip walk from home. Here, the small public beach is choked by privately owned beaches, sea walls, rock cliffs, logs and rules. The semi-sandy beach is about forty yards by twenty at high tide. Currently it’s more than half covered by the naturally occurring, growing log pile gifted by storms and kept in place by law. In the summer months the tide recedes further and if lucky enough or planned you can carefully walk out another fifty yards or so on the Barnacle covered rocks amongst the tide pools. Here at an edge of the Puget Sound, where the ocean’s water works its way around the San Juan Islands, the small waves are more like swells. These tired waves sort of heave themselves, splashing, thudding and pounding against the rocks. Despite its shortcomings, Sarrah loved this place instantly. She would often insist on going there by taking a hard right, instead of the left turn on our usual daily trek down Marine View Drive. I am certain that my occasional “giving in” further fueled this action, but making time to enjoy small victories is good for all. We probably hoofed that all terrain trek at least five hundred times over the years, and around one hundred shorter versioned, driven in stops.
Sarrah loved the Puget Sound, especially all of the creatures and smells that come with it. She happily stole bits of clam, crab and mussels from harassed crows and seagulls, who had dropped them onto the paved pathways to break them open. We walked the beach in search of sea glass (to collect) and sand dollars (to throw back), along the gurgling creek looking for fish, around the grounds and trails for less crowded nature.
Sarrah seemed to have an affinity for salted air, in all of its forms: warm and strong, crisp and bright, cold and damp or even the bone soaking driven by wind. She led me to find and appreciate the less popular versions of marine air, which are highly addictive and ultimately better.
* * *
On her last day here I carried her down to the beach, sat on a log and held her so she that could see the view and smell the air one more time.
* * *
Saltwater Park was one of Sarrah’s favorite places to taste some freedom.
A steep winding road drops from our plateau down around an interesting earthen grassy funnel-shaped field and on into the Kent Valley. I drove this cut-off route many times and never stopped, over several years… I never stopped. Until I had a speckled co-pilot, I never stopped to visit this place.
Somehow upon first glance of this site Sarrah knew that we should stop. Pressing her moaning howling head against me and thumping her tail wildly against the truck interior until I laughed, said “OK” slowed down and turned into the lot, then whimpering filled the cab. Excitement exploded out of the bouncing black and white blur of fur, into the sea of green.
This former gravel pit turned into park is an aggressive walk, making it typically less crowded. The steep stairway into the labyrinth of spiraling lateral walkways is a hip grind in and a calf burner out. In youth Sarrah would run up and down the hillsides between the paths and with age mellowed into staying close.
I doubt Sarrah really noticed much of the view as she was typically so excited running and sniffing, perhaps when time slowed her some of the surroundings became more apparent. On clear days Mount Rainier can be viewed to the south, on foggy days the over-developed valley disappears.
This maze of a park became a favorite place to enjoy some freedom.
Every day is a Gift
Spring is a favored time of year, when warmer days grow longer bringing the season of growth. Almost all are re-energized and happier, unless, something is wrong. Time had made Sarrah and I a pair of aged Pals, hanging on to moments, savoring them as they slipped… away…. I figured that one way or another; this would probably be my last summer with Sarrah.
In the winter at the beginning of Two Thousand Ten, I started another prescribed pharmaceutical experiment in my quest to relieve some of the struggle with my dragon. This drug called Gabapentin, in my understanding is supposed to block some nerve pain, was added into my plight to relieve some back pain and hopefully help with the incessant foot irritation that showed up after the car crash.
When I started with this drug the Doctor said that he wanted to draw some of my blood in order to form a base line and check it again, monthly, to “Monitor my liver”. I asked, “Why, does this drug fry the liver?” With a wry look, he said, “No, just want to be thorough”. The drug worked for about a week and then the gains trailed off…. When I returned for blood work and discussion, he doubled my dosage, which achieved the same results. And a month later he again, doubled my dosage, which would probably achieve… This last time I held off and thought it over for a couple of days. I decided “Screw It!” and phased myself off of this drug entirely, over the period of a week, for good.
About a month later I was back to the Doctor at which time I told him that I’d had enough of Gabapentin and had stopped taking it. He replied that was probably good and that “My latest blood test showed an elevation in some liver enzyme numbers” and that he thought it was “Probably nothing, but that an ultra-sound test of my liver would confirm this”. He asked me if I’d like to schedule the test. My facial expression must have portrayed what I was thinking, but I said “Yes” to be certain and he scheduled the test. I did not mention any of this to anyone as I figured it was probably just due to the use of the drug.
A few weeks later I had the test done, which leaves you with a nice coating of slippery stuff on your clothes to enjoy for the rest of the day, to help remind you… that something might be wrong. While the lab tech did the test I saw something a little different on the screen and apparently so did she, as she seemed to revisit that area, a few times. I asked her if she had found something and got the ‘matter of fact’ reply that she “Just does the testing, the Doctor would Interpret the results”. I left semi-reassured with the understanding that “If Anything suspicious was found, they would contact me Immediately”.
Some more weeks passed and I was back to be seen by the Doctor at which time I was told that “Well, I see something in the ultrasound results. But these tests aren’t really very good, that another test, a CT Scan would be much more accurate and conclusive.” What he saw in the ultrasound test “Looks like a 3cm mass, but could be a shadow from a rib or something.” Somebody forgot to call. As always I asked him speak with blunt honesty, using words that anyone could understand. He said, “Well, medicine sometimes speaks with a forked tongue, It could be Nothing or It could be Cancer.” “Would I like to have a CT Scan, to be more conclusive?” To give this smart man the benefit of the doubt, I assume that such stupid questions are borne in the legal ass-end of the vile beast we accept as our insurance industry.
I chose to continue keeping this misadventure to myself, completely, at least until after the test results. While going through the process of having the scan done, one of the two technicians asked, “Why I was having the test done?” With a smile I said “Could be Nothing, or Cancer”. I’m guessing my reply wasn’t normal, from their reactions, but we all agreed and hoped for nothing. Afterward, I walked Sarrah around their beautifully landscaped parking lot in the sunshine. She found a few suitable flowering bushes to sniff and some manicured grass, to pee on.
During the periods of waiting, I did a lot of thinking…. I don’t see how a person could avoid over-thinking and maybe a bit of self-pity in a situation like this, mostly I found my mind racing with it all while trying to keep a chin up, poker face. At times, maybe half a dozen, I would be in a crowd and would sort of drift off watching everyone else scurry around all caught up in the minutia of just another day.
I also did a bit of online research, while most people were busy sleeping. I have heard that you should not surf the Internet searching for possible medical issue information, but come on, really? How can you not?! With the advent of smart phones, a person does not even need to get out of bed. I did a little web surfing and found a few disturbing factoids. Liver Cancer is: in the top five most painful, top three worst odds and does its thing quickly. I don’t remember much else.
I maintained my silence, even as the odds shifted more against me. Not having to talk about It was beneficial in trying to not be consumed by constantly thinking about It. I did not discuss all of this with anyone, other than Todd, my Acupuncturist for an alternate opinion and maybe some educated friendly guidance mostly about how I was handling “the waiting game”, and keeping it to myself. He concurred with how I was handling it, or at least claimed to, which helped a little.
I was betting on the “Could be Nothing” gift horse. Also, I kept believing that there was Nothing to lose by keeping it to myself, except of course the probable eventual backlash for doing so. While many may find fault with me for not sharing, many others do not. I believe the person in the tough spot gets to decide how to play their dealt hand. After all there was a fair, OK slim chance that it was nothing and I didn’t want to freak people out, for nothing. I felt that I needed to spare others from this medicinal test and wait game, at least until there was actual news, for everyone’s sake.
I began keeping a Journal. In one of those ominous clinical looking (until decorated) Black & White speckled composition books. Journalizing seems to be something many want to do, some do and most stop. I wanted to capture my Brain Droppings. Some notes and reflections recorded to see how I dealt with it for short and long-term souvenirs’, something to look back on one day, maybe. I wrote thoughts; some rambling’s, made a list, and kept a few practicing medicinal notes and a couple crappy-sketched doodles. If nothing else, the journal would be left for others to have after, later. I drew great strength, as always, from my speckled friend. Sarrah was happy to do whatever I needed; walk, rest and listen to me think out loud or simply reflect in silence. Not being a practitioner of journalizing (unless assigned or purpose specific), I now felt driven to do it. I found that writing in my journal relieved a little of the pressure, from my mind.
Yep, in my journal I made a ‘life is short list’ page and started on with it, one that if I only had a few months left and needed to squeeze the most from each day. I had watched the movie “The Bucket List” a couple of times before this, as noted in my journal, “Wake up, time is short reminder”. That movie has a different vibe now, but still offers a good message for me, as before. I have always tried to keep ‘my list’ short, by experiencing those things deemed important and seizing many opportunities, as they became available. But now I felt an urge to make a quick short list of some things that I would be grateful for experiencing, before being too far gone, to create some fresh memories for me and others. A favorite one on my list was to eat more Seafood! Kind of a bittersweet goal as I had developed an “Intolerance” around my birthday ten years earlier, to my favorite food making me violently ill. I ate a bunch of it anyway, convinced that I could “Power Through It” and did, mostly.
For whatever reason, I have the recollection of a creative writing assignment (from a class that I did not take) in which the students had to ‘write their own obituary’. This was always a little morbidly interesting to me, but then again, after all who better to sum it up?! This became a little more important to me, but also in an additional, different, evolving way.
About nine months earlier, I had relented to all of the invitations and joined the cult of social networking known as Facebook. I chose to think of it a little as a self-directed montage with my directing of the world, as seen through my eyes. I felt fortunate to have started this in the event that someday, someone, like my Granddaughter Gracey may find it interesting years from now. I still plan to generate an ‘old school’ obit and keep it up to date, in my words. Then again maybe enough has already been written.
I contemplated the possibility that if I did have this insidious disease, spending the last of my time, making the best of it instead of in torturous treatment (to end up essentially the same) would deserve an honest look. In other words, I probably would have gone to a beach instead of a hospital.
At this time I decided upon a park bench for a memorial of sorts, probably somewhere along the Long Beach Peninsula, with the simple words “Bryan Goffe was Here” (in a font resembling a ‘carved with a pocket knife’ look) alongside an embedded paw print. Instead of a tradition marker, I merely want a bench. Leaving something useful in a nice place that’ll possibly evoke and contribute, giving those who wish a place to visit and enjoy a bit of tranquility and maybe even some occasional mischievous debauchery.
This life event also solidified a thought that I’d had prior; to have my ashes launched out of an airplane onto the sleeping volcano Mt. Rainier. I grew up in the once small town of Enumclaw where the plateau meets the foothills with this majestic mountain for a daily view and think this would be a nice place to return to the earth. Maybe half of’m by my bench. I am sure there are rules against such things, but also have faith in my friends’ abilities to overlook minor issues like that. Besides, we try to live with too many… rules. I still want the bench, now. I would like to select the locale and enjoy the view, myself on occasion. Now, I usually spend a moment with each memorial bench that I come across and wonder…
One selfish motive for silence was that I wanted a normal Father’s Day, the kind that should never be taken for granted. I never knew how much I wanted this, until it got closer to actually happening. Perhaps I had lived too long with a touch of mental defense against the perceived improbability. This year’s was to be my first Father’s Day celebration with my daughter, on the actual day, and Possibly my last. The big weekend arrived; my parents, Nissa, Heather, Gracey and of course the cats and Sarrah all gathered at the Beach House. I got what I wanted and needed, for all. Even the weather was on its best seasonal behavior. We had a very nice memorable family weekend, without anyone worrying about me and treating me differently. It was my most special, gifted Father’s Day, Ever.
It was a long tough day, waiting for the afternoon Doctor appointment to learn the results of my CT Scan. As I wrote in my journal the morning of June Twenty Eighth, Two Thousand Ten,
“Yesterday was my toughest, so far. Probably in part because I was alone with Sarrah and the cats, working on things around the house. Of course I meet with Dr. Marinkovich today to see/hear what the CT Scan found, which is “real pressure” not to mention a gihugous distraction of the mind.”
That day my clock went crazy. The ticking sounded off, as if the pendulum was slowed. But when I did look at the clock, the hours were passing quickly, faster than normal. I cannot remember the forty-five minute blur of a drive; I must’ve been on some kind of mental autopilot. I got to the clinic early and soon was taken to one of the rooms, to wait. I sat there watching… their clock. He was running late. I was mentally trading places with him, wondering what ritualistic psych-up things I would have to do, to prepare myself to tell someone “Hey, guess what…” The later he was, the longer the clock ticked off time, the more I was convinced that “I was Doomed”. He finally entered the room, twenty-three minutes later than I did.
The words “Your liver is Healthy” were awesome! We wrapped up the appointment quickly and I got out of there. To celebrate Sarrah and I walked around the parking lot and down the cut-off trail to some other clinical buildings, for the last time. We were never coming back here, to this place, ever again. I also called Nissa at work to give her ‘the news’. It was an odd conversation as she was blindsided and absorbing it all must have been a little overwhelming. I posted a brief comment on Facebook and received several relief-oriented comments and a few remarks of surprise. The residual benefits of making the most of each day could now be even sweeter… I would now continue to focus even more on making the best of Summer time.
I suppose this Scare Dance with Cancer and the possibility of it, was another of life’s unintended hidden gifts. Being forced to focus on the bright side and making the best of each day, while coping with burdensome facts of mortality is something that I do not think I could have done as completely without having gone through this twist of fate. I was deeply compelled for a few weeks to constantly feel that each moment, of each day, Is really a gift (Even the Shitty ones). At least that how is it began appearing to me, in the rear view mirror. Not enough people get the experiences gained from seeing the end of a road, without it ending.
As my friend Jeff’s mom Alice (she was known as Al to friends, many of whom were considered extended family) told me around twenty years ago, “We’re all Dying of Something, Make the Best of the Time you have”. Being the oldest known person living in the United States with Scleroderma for forty two years, made her a torture humbled, overqualified advisor in such matters of perspective. I always remembered her saying this to me, but don’t think that I actually really understood it. Now I think that I do, or at least on a deeper level and will always hear her sharing those thoughts with me, Thank you Al. (Al passed away January Twenty Eight, Two Thousand Eleven. I hope she’s dancing to her heart’s content!)
Time is a Thief
One day at the Beach House while participating in yet another round of Jack-Assory with Roslyn, Mike and Libby’s young dog, Sarrah slipped on the smooth floor and yelped. She got up trembling a bit, favoring her hind leg. In an instant the mood and her life, changed. I massaged her leg and we kept them mostly apart for the rest of the weekend. Sunday afternoon I took her on our last walk to the beach, for the weekend. She was a little wobbly and I sat on a log, held her and wept. I took her leash off (in violation of the law) and let her walk on her own, with a spark of energy from the added freedom. She enjoyed the stroll, but was in pain and dragging her feet. Looking back I was scared, afraid that Sarrah was near the end of her life.
Back home we immediately cut back on the distance of our usual walks from over a mile per day to just few blocks, as Sarrah was dragging her toenails and was (depressingly) happy to do less. I was looking into all options like dogcarts, surgery, and whatever might be a cure or any method of preservation for my friend. I desperately needed to find a cure for what time had done to her, to replace what was Stolen. Around this time Sarrah and I had bodies of approximately the same age and condition.
I decided to try Acupuncture for her, as I’ve found it to bring much relief. In some ways it would be easier for Sarrah to gain from it, as animal’s don’t have to ‘turn off the human preconceived mental junk’ in order to have an open mind. Over the last couple of years I had read a few news articles about the growing practice of animal acupuncture and the successes with it. Fortunately, the progressive culture in the Pacific Northwest is open to many forms of alternative care for people and animals making these treatments readily available. Fortunately, I found a veterinary clinic nearby that offered acupuncture and began the effort to restore what could be, for Sarrah. Initially she was nervous, a little scared and not trusting the surroundings of this new place that had similar sounds and smells of the vet clinic that she absolutely hated. Shortly after arriving we met the acupuncturist. This wonderful veterinarian, Darla Rewers was the first one that I recall meeting who seemed genuinely delighted to be with the patient and openly passionate about caring for them. Sarrah picked up on this faster than I and seemed to trust her. It was determined that hip dysplasia, common for Dalmatians’ and probably a tear of some tissue was the cause of Sarrah’s loss of stability in her leg. The initial treatment of just a few general points and a couple specific for her hindquarters was sort of an easing into treatment with needles.
Sarrah initially trembled and hated the session, but noticed improvement almost immediately and tolerated the treatment. We went frequently and with each session the quantity of treatment points increased, she improved with each visit. Soon she stopped dragging her toenails and regained most of her abilities, with the exception of having a trick hip and a need to avoid slippery surfaces. We both, through error and trial, discovered many little things that Sarrah either needed help with (such as climbing into the back of the car and rug runners for slippery floors) or had to avoid completely (no more beloved games of tug-o-war and going down stairs, so I carried her). I used to whisper in her ear while lifting and carrying her “Us old dogs, Gotta stick together”.
I shared some of Sarrah’s acupuncture experiences with my acupuncturist. We talked about how gains in health and pain relief with animals prove that it is not merely just in human minds. Occasionally, I also ‘stood on my soapbox’ and preached the proof based experiences that I have witnessed with this ancient method of healing, for animals and people. It was a miracle at least to me, that the clock was turned back a bit for Sarrah. A huge gift!
I started playing Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” for her visits, too.