He stops to stare at the large word painted on an old brick building
Steel-blue letters with sharp black edges and gray shadowing
Silent breeze plays with his hair
Rain touches his face
Smiling – he walks on
He stops to stare at the large word painted on an old brick building
Steel-blue letters with sharp black edges and gray shadowing
Silent breeze plays with his hair
Rain touches his face
Smiling – he walks on
Like a cellar dug under an old farm house – this familiar place is dark and dank
Sadness drips down walls near loneliness piled in corners
Tired thoughts and lost moments eat timeless air
He sits on the bottom stair holding a soggy box filled with related questions
How long will he stay?
It came to me that it is not about Closure, it is Freedom, for her.
Perhaps I do not heal like others, or at all.
Heavy words like Loss are supposed to be followed by the equally heavy Closure in some kind of weight transfer on an invisible set of scales.
I cannot embrace Closure, but her Spirit deserves Freedom.
* * *
This is what I wrote early Saturday morning. I then poured some of Sarrah’s Ashes on the paper and carefully folded it.
Saturday March First Two Thousand Fourteen I walked alone down to the beach for a sunny solitary moment with the 0.9 low tide and ocean breeze.
A lone seagull showed up and quietly watched and waited with me for waves to come and wash over.
Sarrah loved it near the dunes so I’d planned to release some of her ashes here and found a surprise (a gift) near our usual trail end. A driftwood bench has appeared since my last visit, so I put some near it.
I sat on the bench to enjoy the view and absorb the moment.
When I got up to leave an Eagle appeared on the beach and stood guard.
Another newer wrinkle of our annual tradition in what has evolved into the month of Christmas, we escaped to the Beach House for the weekend prior to the actual holiday. Just Nissa and I with our pets, went to get away from it all and make peace with the season. This is a nice, quiet, uneventful time to unwind and reflect in our place of refuge, sort of ‘the eye in the storm’ that is December. This last time Sarrah was clingier and wanted to sit in my lap, many times. She wanted to do this often in her early years, but with wiggly youthful restlessness. Now she wanted to be still and press her forehead against me, perhaps bonding in reflection. I wonder if there was a tear in her eye.
From the beginning Sarrah did not like to be alone. She could hear me upstairs working, instead of playing with her, and howled most of the day in a display of what I was told is called “Separation Anxiety”. For such a little being she could make the loudest most heart breaking howls, for hours at a time. She would wail, most of the day, while I tried to ignore her and worked. Creating a habit, I started taking many breaks to spend time a little time with her; she rewarded me with clumsy excitement and delight. Leah eventually tried a prescription for this anxiety, but gave up on it. As like many issues there is not a magic pill cure-all.
Sarrah did not like to be outside, alone. She insisted that I join her! She actually delighted in being outside, but solitude was not a friend to her. When the weather was less than wonderful, she wanted nothing to do with it, alone. She would sit by the door and whine. If joined she would rally a little, at least long enough to take care of business and inspect the grounds. In an effort to make the backyard more suitable for Sarrah I got her a ‘doghouse’, one of those nice modern two-piece molded plastic types resembling those in the monopoly game. It was a larger version of the ‘cat condo’ that was frequently used and greatly appreciated by Tux and Simon. Apparently it never became hers, as Sarrah rarely used the little house, so it was merely a place to store her toys and clutter the deck.
I knew nothing about Dalmatians’ except for that they make a good draw for a children’s story. It turns out that they are a high maintenance, high-energy breed of dog. They require lots of attention and outlets for this energy (or they will destroy whatever they find), at least in the case of Sarrah. She chewed, dug and clawed her way through many material possessions in her youth. Later, I saw part of dog show on television claiming that they were bred to trot under horse drawn carriages ten to fifteen miles per day in defense of the horses and people. This explains a need for exercise, fierce loyalty to chosen humans, intrigue with large animals and aggression toward other threats.
After a few weeks Sarrah discovered a way to preoccupy herself, without howling. At first I was relieved and happy, for both of us. Then I heard a strange digging sound and went downstairs to investigate. The little monster was sitting down while feverishly scratching a hole in the sheetrock, another hole, in a series of them. It became my evening activity to mud the damages of the day, to keep the little beast from digging all the way through the wall. She gave up on this evil obsession, after a few months.
Sarrah had an appetite for destruction. Her first “cute dog bed” lasted less than fifteen unsupervised minutes. Sarrah discovered the delightful white fluff inside made for a good tug-of-war opponent, thru a nipped hole. This synthetic fluffy stuffing was everywhere! I gathered it up and stuffed it back in the hole from which it came. The next morning it was mostly all pulled out again. I reinstalled the filling again, and again. This game lasted a few days until the bed finally gave up holding together and was tossed into the trash.
Leah special ordered a personalized engraved dog tag; it lasted less than eight hours, becoming a mangled bit (leaving what she couldn’t get to) of red and white plastic that now said “—rah”.
Tennis balls were quickly plucked bald, giving way to yet another mess and green fuzzy dog turds. She would go crazy with these balls; grip them with her paws, chew and pull in a mesmerized frenzy that didn’t end until her mission was complete. At least they were intended targets for destruction and easily replaced.
Despite a huge growing collection of toys; balls, bones and things that squeaked (for the approximate ten minutes that it took to tear out ‘the squeaker’) Sarrah seemed to prefer boring, regular everyday ‘around the house’ things to chew on.
For some reason Sarrah discovered a taste, an insatiable appetite, a gnawing fetish for… footwear. She liked all kinds, new and old; chewy flip-flops’, tasty backed sneakers and the delightful tug of war promised by bootlaces. Since we live with the household ‘no shoe’ policy, there is always a plentiful source, by each entrance to the house. She would chew at least one of each pair, before time willing, going back for the second unmolested shoe. The unexplained desire to chew off the back of the heel of sneakers and running shoes, rendering them useless, was exceptionally irritating. Bootlaces are fairly inexpensive, but are not an easily obtained important part of the early morning workday. I recall that she finally gave up her footwear compulsion after a couple of years and could finally be trusted to leave them alone.
One warm day, while taking a break I went into the kitchen to get some water. I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye, and again, and again. Each time I moved closer to see what was going on…it was flying dirt! As I got to the sliding door, all that I could see was her hind end sticking up out of the ground. Her tail wagged in a staccato that would impress a Jazz musician, as it kept time with the small explosions of dirt flying out of the hole in the ground, the current hole in the ground. My once prized backyard looked like old war footage with holes throughout. When she heard me open the sliding door, the dirt covered little terrorist came running over delighted in discovering her new digging skills and the endless supply of nice flat ground to practice on. I filled them in, scolded her and went back to work. I checked on her later and repeated my steps. We did this frequently for days, weeks and months.
Fortunately Sarrah was only out when the weather cooperated and she did not like that I buried her ‘bio-hazard land mines’ that she left, in the new holes and eventually stopped digging. My yard hasn’t been “perfect” (nor will it ever be again) since Sarrah showed me that ‘there is more to life’.
As the clumsy puppy grew more coordinated and discovered her birthright for speed, the backyard became an amusing ‘Speckle-job Speedway’. The little black and white blur made for contrasting excitement. She discovered that running a figure-eight pattern allowed for limitless distance and honed her skills at banking, in either direction. She would hole-shot launch from zero to fifteen plus miles per hour, sometimes after the cats, but often for no apparent reason at all other than perhaps burn off steam or just to show off. If the cause was High Speed pursuit of the cats, they quickly evaded and would taunt her from safe vantage points of the fence, smirking as she went wild with crazy puppy excitement.
Sarrah would instantaneously takeoff running on the deck that runs the length of the house; her gouging toenails would add yet more scars to the wood. As Sarrah got stronger, she began to jump up onto the built-in bench. It seems that Sarrah had learned a few tricks from Tux and Simon; she would sit and lay on the bench for sunshine, view advantage and I think mostly to pose, like a cat. In time, with practice the bench began to serve as a launch platform into the yard, adding to her range for flight and to the collection of toenail scars. Soon after she began to shoot under the bench at full speed, so often that she permanently wore the hair off of a small area on her chest from deck friction. As the scars in wood fade into seasoned marks of character and distinction sealed between coats of stain, they become preserved reminders that ‘Sarrah was here’.
When Sarrah was old enough, Leah enrolled her in an obedience class. She returned after the first class beaming with all kinds of pride because “Sarrah was the best behaved in the class” and everyone was so impressed with her mellow demeanor and cooperation. I could not believe it! After the second class, Leah came home in a huff. Sarrah’s true colors came out and she was a disruptive menace causing many problems with the others, as she never really liked other dogs. I laughed, that’s the Sarrah I knew! The next class was their last. The instructor asked them not to return. Perhaps a lack of practice and homework was a part of the downfall of Sarrah’s school days (Huck Finn would’ve been proud). Sarrah always seemed to be a quite, mellow observer until she knew enough of the situation and was comfortable enough to fly her real colors.
In addition to dealing with behavioral matters, there were other adjustments to my home. Dalmatians have hair, not really much for fur. This hair is like short little pins that they constantly shed, which in turn persistently stick into all things made of fabric and static cling to everything else. The blend of white, black and gray hairs ensures that some will be noticed, regardless of clothing color. I used to say; with a bit of disgust “I’ll be finding her hair, everywhere, for the rest of my life!” Now I say to myself with a tinge of repose “I’ll be finding her hair, everywhere, for the rest of my life”.
Through the times of Mayhem and Destruction, I made a discovery or at least a bit of dark humor. I began to joke, “The reason puppies are so Cute, is so that you don’t kill them!” Sarrah caused many moments of all consuming anger, but I suppose the fault ultimately lies with the humans responsible for the situations. She won me over with affection, made me laugh and earned forgiveness for those issues that became less significant.
Fortunately I salvaged some of the ‘dog bite enhanced’ items (moving blanket, flip-flops, pull start handles, misc. wooden handled tools, extension cords, etc. These “damaged items” are new ‘signs of life’ or souvenirs’ (aka. Gifts) proof that I am able to live with less than perfect material things and am actually a little proud of it.
I live in a damaged body that cannot, will not, forgive the pain. There is an ancient Asian philosophical analogy pertaining to dealing with chronic pain known as “Chasing the Dragon’s Tail”. Basically, as therapy improves one area of a body, the pain moves on to another area (or becomes more noticeable), and another, and… therefore one is chasing the tail of a dragon. The Dragon that followed me home primarily Lingers low in my back, Crawls… along… my spine and occasionally Jumps up, into my neck. Through a few tough turns and some rough life choices, my body had become older than it appeared. Then in the fall of Two Thousand Five, a few weeks before my fortieth birthday, a Car Crash due to the negligence of another became an exclamation point! at the end of that statement. This vehicular fiasco: damaged my spine, jaded my mind and changed life. Fortunately for All, Sarrah was not along.
My daily window for working out in the morning had been broken by another, becoming a dark cold opening for my painful routine that I have referred to as “Slow Dancing with My Bitch” (Bitch as in Dragon, not Dog), turning my basement home gym into a dungeon where I now commune with my Dragon.
Around four in the morning my day slowly starts. Typically consisting of at least one pot of strong coffee, a coating of my new menthol based “signature scent” from my growing collection of varied pain ointments, balms, gels, creams or crème and stretching in attempts to break ‘the rust’ loose and prepare for yet another day. My stretching is an evolving routine from old wrestling and martial arts prep, physical therapy, yoga and some other assorted contortions as recommended from my various therapists’ (often simply laying in repose with my back flat on the floor listening to the old mechanical clock tick, paying homage to my Dragon, while waiting for the mix to ‘kick in’). On my worst days I’d mostly just lay on the floor, Sarrah would often forego her bed and lay next to me in a quiet kind of solidarity. She would lie still on her side, pressing her back up against me as if to share some energy. Whether or not Sarrah knew this would help or if she was simply bonding with me, I believe that these moments were proof that she knew that I needed her. Then around seven o’clock, my work beckons, whether I feel up for it or not.
Shopping for and finding a replacement vehicle, one that met the needs of an injured driver (with a dragon), was not easy. Financially times were good so affording a new Sport Utility Vehicle with a smoother ride was possible and appeared to be the best choice. I got a better one that exceeded all needs and even came with a few luxuries. One of the best sought out and included options being a rear area climate control feature, for Sarrah and passengers. I could now accommodate the back by heating it without breaking a sweat up front or cool her without getting frostbite. I added a remote start with a built in shutoff timer which allowed for bringing Sarrah on the severe weather trips, the kind that she previously couldn’t safely participate in. These options and along with a significantly larger rear cargo area, were immediately noticed and greatly appreciated by my copilot.
Due to the damage, my new inability to sit semi-comfortably for more than an hour requires frequent stops, along the way. When going to the beach, we utilized all of our frequent places and then some. Sarrah unwittingly delighted in this, so I chose to think of it as making these breaks for her.
Through the first year I had three to five sessions of therapy (physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and a variety of torture treatment done by my neurologist) every week. Each typically one hour long, with an average drive time of another hour. In the second and third years I continued with one to three sessions of therapy per week. From the fourth year on I typically feel best if I have one session of therapy per week. All of this displaced work time, which in turn stole from my free time. Sarrah’s presence and daily needs kept me getting out of bed and walking, despite how I felt, which was undoubtedly the best therapy of all.
Sarrah went to all but a few of the nastiest (where I could not drive myself) therapy sessions with me. She was always up for “a ride in the car”; to her they were all just another potential for adventure. My cohort would patiently wait in our vehicle, bark at those who were deemed a threat and mostly just snooze on her fixture ‘car dog bed’. Before or afterward we always found a park, path or grounds worthy of a dog’s curiosity to check out the local ‘hood and walk off the day.
After acupuncture we would walk around Anderson Park, across the street in Redmond. I had visited this park a few times over thirty years ago, as a kid with my Grandparents who lived in Fall City, the next town down the road. This was a sort of hybrid gift: a stroll back in time, a therapy walk off and simply some good sniffing in return for waiting. Now walking this park has another dimension to my mental time travels.
When Johnny Cash covered the song “Hurt” I had an instant connection with much of it, particularly the line “…I hurt myself, today, to see if I still feel…” and the somber vibe that he delivered it with. Soon after, I started playing it on the return trips after acupuncture and any other form of therapy that hurt.
In the third or fourth year after this crash, I wrote something and kept it in my mostly semi-scientific “pain journal” (a record that I keep to track what works, what does not, et cetera), this entry was on a loose undated page. My brain dropping was “When you’re done wrestling with all of the emotions and embrace the reality that you’ll never feel ‘good’ again, clarity returns”. Apparently frustration from unrealistic positive thinking, gave way to acceptance of realistic thinking. Or perhaps accepting my Dragon, instead of trying to kill it, made it become a better companion.
After almost five years of treatments and the best efforts toward “soft tissue” healing the final “Official Medical Evaluation” of my body after this misadventure was “Thirteen Percent Impairment of a Whole Person.” As much as I wished for this to stop, for my body to bounce back, that some trained professional would have the answer, a magical cure. Or that time would befriend me and just lead my dragon away. This was it, the black and white summation of a chapter in my life, with an affected future shadowed between the lines.
Through the first five plus years of this “slow dancing meditation” Sarrah was always there to give me a daily boost with a cold nose and a gentle forehead nudge to my neck as if to say “Come-on Buddy”, which usually worked and eventually we would go for a walk.
Another theft came in the form of diminished energy and tolerance, for almost anything. It consumes a lot of energy to keep pain in check and function, trying to do what you once took for granted. While digging for something positive in all of this and hopefully gain anything to hold onto. I suppose a small seed might be a touch of understanding and more compassion for those who live with relentless pain, like Leah’s grandmother.
It is my casual understanding that meditation comes in a variety of forms in addition to the traditional seated pose. Walking, even cleaning, yard work and gardening are a few. I believe the basic essential components are peaceful surroundings and a stillness of mind. I would like to add (if it is not commonly believed already) spending mellow time with a special animal to the list of accepted forms of meditation. Now, in Sarrah’s physical absence, I find myself drawn more to the other forms in which I participate. My need for quiet time has significantly grown, despite the frequent hollow ache, I seem to crave silence.
My aging Dragon is heavier and cantankerous! It does not like the cold, loathes an erratic barometer and has become a little unpredictable. It can actually be quiet and leave me alone or more often Grab me by the throat. One thing is certain; she is my mine and will be with me, forever… feeding on my Qi.