I avoid using the L-word in my scientific writing. We talk about exceptional gregariousness. We talk about hypersociability. When we’re doing science, we have to find terms that can be operationalized, or things that can be measured. We can measure whether a dog chooses to go for a bowl of food or its owner when it’s separated from both food and its owner for many hours. We can measure how hormonal levels go up in both dogs and their owners when they look into each other’s eyes.
For my own sanity, I feel that I need to say something about ratings systems and how to rate entertainment fairly. Specifically, rating movies fairly, although the descriptions for the basis of giving a particular rating can be broadly applied to more than just movies. But it’s movies that I’m going to be talking about here.
Full disclosure.The Wife’s latest film project has just been released. It is the fourteenth film she’s worked on, the second that she has produced. The title of the film is Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. No, it is not that kind of movie. It is a horror-comedy with strong female leads, a reasonably well-known director and a reasonably well-known leading actor. I give the film a solid eight out of ten stars on IMDB, four out of five everywhere else.
Why did I give it this rating? There is a logic to it that most people should recognize. First off, I liked the film. When I got to the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, and I didn’t feel like I had been sitting there for too long. If you look on Netflix you can see that logic reflected in their star rating system. For those who don’t have a Netflix account, I’ll go through the generic descriptions using my own language.
Two stars – I didn’t like it. I made it to the end and for whatever reason, the movie didn’t make me feel the way I expected to feel at the end. This is not to be confused with feeling sad when the film is a sad film (See Schindler’s List) paranoid when the film induces paranoia (see the Matrix) Or angry when the film wants you to be angry (pick any work by Michael Moore) If you need happy endings, stick to solid hollywood releases. They are the movie creators that will feel compelled to leave you with a happy ending.
Three stars – It was OK. There was no particular reason why I couldn’t watch the entire film. It didn’t feel too long, it worked the way I think the creators wanted it to work, but it didn’t make me want to recommend it strongly. Most films are going to rate a solid three stars because most films are made by people who want the average moviegoer to feel like they weren’t wasting their time watching the movie.
Four stars – I liked it. The movie spoke to me in a way that was unique to the movie. A four star movie is one you can remember, and you can remember it fondly. A movie you might even watch again with a friend so that they can experience it too. This is perhaps the most unambiguous rating because most people know when they like something. Either they do or they don’t, there isn’t any uncertainty about it.
Five stars – I loved it. The film is near-perfect in execution. The soundtrack adds to the film, the cinematography is beyond reproach, the subject matter is something that people will relate to in later generations. You feel compelled to tell people to watch the movie, because it is just that good. For me, it’s hard to rate a movie five stars that I don’t feel was a singular experience. Few movies will rate five stars in my estimation. The vast majority of them simply do not measure up to that high standard, not even films made by a lifetime companion who could kill me in my sleep if she wanted to.
For a ten star system like IMDB, you double the star rating you would give it on a five star system, with some added granularity. Five instead of six stars because I really did feel like the movie lost me somewhere. Seven instead of eight stars because there were some technical flaws that I just can’t get past (see the duplicate droid scene in the original Star Wars) nine instead of ten stars because you don’t think the film will be that timeless, but it was damn good all the same.
You don’t, for example, give a film a one star rating and then offer a wishy-washy description of why the film was so bad that you felt like you had to gouge your eyes out rather than watch it. Either you hated it, and you can describe why, or you are trashing the film because the mood struck you and you went for it. Or you are simply an idiot that doesn’t understand what the correct star rating for the movie you just watched was. For those of you who made it to the end of this short guide, you can now be excused from the class of idiot that doesn’t understand what the star ratings mean. You are welcome.
I’m just sorry that I wasn’t in time to save the idiots that gave Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains a one star rating and then said I thought it was meh. Meh is three stars, moron.
I half-jokingly tell people that it’s kind of autobiographical. I had written a script called Creature From Blood Canal, which was an entry and official selection at the NoLa film festival screenplay competition, and that’s where I met [director Paulo Biscaia Filho]. Now Creature was a $100 million script, and I couldn’t get anyone to read it, and Hollywood wouldn’t read it, so basically that’s the same thing that Shane says in Virgin Cheerleaders.
A video from the year after I graduated high school, back in the time when Michael Jackson was just a really good dancer and singer. One of two albums of his that I bought and cherished, after listening to his and his families music all through my childhood.
Being depressed is the natural side effect of having a bystander to my own existence perspective on life. How can you take an active interest in something that you are merely a witness to? If that something is your own life? I don’t even know how to describe depression, as I experience it. It is a kind of a funk that clouds up every decision, making even basic self-care hard to achieve.
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”
As Andrew Solomon points out at about the halfway mark in the TED talk above, depression isn’t something that one easily admits to having, even to the people you are closest to. It is perceived as weakness, and one never wants to be seen as weak by others.
But depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a signal of despair. A loss of hope. An individual’s response to external or internal conditions that are beyond the control of the individual. Depression is not the fault of the sufferer, but ending depression does require action on the part of the sufferer.
One thing about depression is that it makes it really difficult to access the parts of your life that are genuinely good. For some people, this takes the form of anhedonia–losing pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. Not necessarily completely or all of the things, but sometimes completely and all of the things. For some people, this can mean that watching their favorite show or playing their favorite game is suddenly not fun anymore. For some, it can mean that trying to socialize with their good friends feels like reading a really boring story and not being able to actually interact with the story in any way. For others, it can mean not perceiving food as tasty anymore.
Losing my interest in almost everything I ever cared about seems to be a huge part of depression for me. The problem is that most of what I was interested in is now different in experience on the one hand (music is muffled or tinny because of hearing loss) or causes stress, bringing on vertigo (just thinking about CAD or Architecture) and so should be avoided. Even my love of creative writing is subject to this intermittent destroyer of hope. This article, for example. I started it five years ago and then abandoned it for no good reason. Why? I don’t want to talk about my depression, also something that Andrew Solomon points out.
For many people, depression causes a pervasive sense of disconnection from the world and from other people. When I’m having a depressive episode, I feel like I’m not part of anything, like I’m just one person and I don’t matter, like I could disappear and nothing would even change, etc. I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and everyone else. I feel like I can’t do “normal” things like laugh at a sitcom or make someone happy or fall in love. I feel like an alien sent here to try to learn how to act like a human being only I’m completely failing.
I have always been disconnected from the world. I have always held myself apart from the crowd. I never wanted to fit in. I never wanted to join a group or a movement. I was like Greta Thunberg as a teenager, just not as motivated as she is. Had I been born in the last decade, with all this information at my fingertips, I’d like to think that I would have acted as she has. But I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d accept the findings of science on climate change, from the perspective that I now occupy, that of a skeptical rationalist and freethinker. But I could just as easily have been hoodwinked by the fakirs who ply the edges of society today looking to preserve their fossil fuel profits. Once you start shutting out legitimate sources of information, it is a short trip to fantasyland from there.
But because I never tried to fit in, never identified with a larger group aside from the work that I did for a living, being alone in the universe wasn’t something I was frightened of. Wasn’t something I could feel depression from perceiving. Being alone in the universe was the nature of existence for me. I am an alien sent here to try to fit in. Failure was a given, on many fronts.
When the Wife started to become disabled, though, that was a different story. I started to see how people (normal people) build up bulwarks of social interaction that kept them engaged with others. How losing the ability to interact with people on a daily basis was in itself enough to cause depression for some (most) people. I don’t pretend to understand this necessity of social bonding that most people feel. I just know that it is crucial for them, and that losing it is tantamount to becoming irrelevant to the world.
I’m truly am happy, generally, just sitting alone in my office typing away. I’m creating something. Hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to keep reading it. Perhaps that is my point of connection with the rest of humanity, through the written word. That makes sense. Reading has always made me feel more alive than anything else has through my long life. To create narratives for others to read? That is contributing to the social interactions that keep this crazy bus of human existence on the road. Writing is bigger than any one person, by its very nature.
So for me, the most helpful thing that someone can do is to help bring me back into connection with others. This is why I find venting mostly useless. When I’m venting, I’m still only talking about my depression, and while the person I’m venting to may be very kind and a very good listener, this isn’t something we can connect over, you know? It’s not the same as a two-sided conversation about difficulties we’ve dealt with in our lives. It’s totally one-sided. It’s just me, talking about the exact thing I need to learn how to stop ruminating over.
Both the Wife and I seem to dig deeper holes these days, when the depression is talking. When two depressives argue. When we met, I was Mister Sunshine. I had been depressed for most of my teenage years, the results of abuse and neglect, and a complete inability of existing social structures to deal with someone with my unique set of challenges. When I got out on my own, I had a plan of action. I knew what I was going to be doing with my life. I was going to be drawing architecture, creating a sense of permanence for other people through structures that were well designed and well documented. I was convinced that I could change the world, not be the sad person I had been when I was younger. I had a plan and I was going to make it happen.
Then I couldn’t do that anymore, and the guy with the plan suddenly didn’t have any plans anymore and also had no idea how to dig himself out of the hole that Meniere’s had put him in. Which is still the hole I’m in now.
The Wife might argue that the Mr. Sunshine image of myself that I painted above is bullshit, and she probably will argue about it (I predict that she will also have a valid point) But in our relationship I could at least pretend to be the Mr. Sunshine to her Little Rain Cloud, at least when she was in her depressive phase. A favor she would reciprocate for me when I would go depressive as well. We both had our cycles (as does everyone. Even you, dear reader) and I always had a plan to fall back on. Until I didn’t. Now we’re both depressed for large segments of time together, and that is a recipe for disaster. Disaster that we both have to actively work to avoid on a regular basis.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
My dad was born on September 11, 1938. On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years. We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.
Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.
Every year. Every goddamn year. Goddamn being one of dad’s most favored curses.
My father did his time in the military. I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve. Dad didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there. As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said. I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, in a nutshell. He never elaborated more, but that view has stuck with me ever since.
Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday. Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant. It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that. It is captured in this sentiment;
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
I’m reclaiming today and every September 11th after this one for my father. Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.
I am reclaiming it for my father and for all the young Americans born since that day. People who deserve more than to be dragged into battles that have been going on since before they were born. I promise to spend more time thinking of him and of them than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans. Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?
I call her a bitch because it is ironical to me that I can call the dog a bitch and be completely honest and non-insulting in using the term bitch properly. Unlike virtually every other usage of the word in common speech. So sue me.
Editors note. I moved this to the day she left us. It was only a month after I first wrote it, so I didn’t see the harm in doing that. Her health was already sliding downhill at that point, but we were ignoring the signs. Such is the way with things. You tell yourself “it’s just something she ate” until the lab tests come back and it is much more serious than that.
I would like to tell her how much I miss her, now. I see you out of the corners of my eyes, you silly little dog. Then I look at the spot where I thought you were, and I remember that you’re gone. I miss you most when I have to clean up food messes on the floor. That is when I know I don’t have a tiny little dustmop/vacuum dog underfoot anymore.
I look to move you over on the bed at night, and then have to remind myself that I can keep my half of the bed without argument from you. The Wife can sleep through the night without being barked awake so that you can be let out to pee, but she still wakes up anyway. I won’t wake in the middle of the night to discover you’ve pushed me to the edge of the bed again, all the hefty twelve pounds of Pomeranian that you were. I can’t believe I miss that, but I do.
May you always have a warm lap to sleep in and all the cuddles you need, my little Sugar.
I had the weirdest dream last night. When I’m having dizzy spells like I’ve been having all summer, I tend to have really strange dreams, and this one was a doozy.
I was in my maternal grandmother’s house. It was exactly how I remembered it. The lime green living room walls. The floral patterned couches that I used to lay on and trace the patterns with my fingers. When I looked up I noticed that grandmother was crying. I asked her what was wrong? Why was she so upset.
“I’m sorry Tony. We left you a world that was so broken and we never knew how badly we had broken it.”
I tried to comfort her. I got her to sit down and I hugged her. But I was only a small boy and so my arms wouldn’t go around her. I couldn’t reach her shoulder to rub it consolingly. I’m thinking to myself “why is she so huge? I’m not a child anymore.” and then I woke up. weird dream.
I’d like to think I won’t owe my children an apology for the world we leave them. Hope springs eternal.
I didn’t find anything that expressed the compulsion to listen to the album well enough to use as a quote. I didn’t find anything because I started with the title track and not the first song on the album, Cannonball. What I did find was a portion of the nearly seventeen minute video that the band released before the album as a promotion for their musical change of course.
Hodgson’s departure placed the burden of delivering new material squarely on Davies, but the absence of a full-time guitarist opened up new opportunities for the band when it came time to record the title track. Although Marty Walsh filled the guitar spot for much of the record, “Brother Where You Bound” featured some major-league pinch-hitting from David Gilmour and Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham.
A quote from 1984 begins the album track, a much better intro to the album and the song than the intro that is part of the above video. Here is the album track,
It starts the second side on the cassette tape that I first heard the album on. When I would plug it into the tape player in my car, I would get to Brother Where you Bound somewhere on the back side of Lake Sweetwater. The album was the perfect length to start at the beginning of an evening ramble because it ended about the time I would get to the highway that either lead me further away from home or back home in Sweetwater, back in 1984 when the album came out. It’s more of an EP than an LP since it only contains six songs. In my searching for the full video version of the song, I stumbled across this mashup of the audio from the song with video segments from Brazil that was was worth watching.
I never did find the full video as I remember seeing it on MTV back in the day. I was bitter about my breakup with my then fiancee who had cheated on me in my absence from Garden City, Kansas where I had attended the middle years of high school. She did me a favor. I should probably thank her, as I should thank Mom or Mr. Polk for allowing me the chance to get past the volcanic rage I felt towards him. She did me a favor because her infidelity lead me to take alternate paths in life, leading me ultimately to the Wife and kids that I still call family.
but this album resonated with me because the first three songs were solidly about getting through a breakup, while I was going through a breakup myself. Cannonball, Still in Love and No Inbetween all continue the theme of the pain of separation. (Like In the Air Tonight does with violent rage) Better Days, the last song on side one of the album/cassette is an intro to the song that takes up most of side two, the title track, Brother Where you Bound.
Rick Davies and his bandmates in Supertramp going through the loss of Roger Hodgson’s input impacted me and my life directly. It is weird how the music you embrace in any given time and place reflects the emotional turmoil of one’s own life. Or maybe that is completely predictable. In any case, the miskey by some of my family on asking them for feedback on Divorce clearly caused me to retreat to music that I was listening to the last time I was spending any real time with them. Or maybe I grieve for the breakup of my extended family in World of Warcraft. Probably the latter, but the music would not have come to me without family not understanding what it was I was driving at.
So it is in all relationships. The question that remains unanswered for me, in retrospect, is what the album that featured both Brother Where you Bound and Had a Dream might have sounded like. It would have been better than Famous Last Words, there is no doubt of that. Breakups are like that.
Had a dream it was war And they couldn’t tell me what it was for But it was something they could lie about Something we could die about, you know
Anytime, anyplace When you look that man in the face Well it is not a face you wanna see Sleeping with the enemy, you know
The inspiration for this post sprang out of the destruction of my World of Warcraft raiding guild a few days previously. A group of friends that I’ve spent six hours a week, minimum, talking to and working closely with to solve problems in a game that we jointly enjoy. A game we couldn’t enjoy if we didn’t have each other to rely on day-in and day-out. It took twenty people to raid successfully in World of Warcraft when I started playing the end-game content during Wrath of the Lich King. Working closely with twenty people to master the mechanics of a battle for weeks on end draws you closer than most casual friendships.
What happens when these groups of closely-knit battle-hardened companions suddenly decide that they can’t play with each other anymore? I don’t know what else to call that situation other than divorce. A bit extreme you say? It’s not that traumatic? Spend ten years reliably sitting down with the same twenty people and experiencing the adrenaline surge of beating a difficult boss fight through precise coordination, and then get back to me after you tell the other nineteen people to kiss your ass. Let me know how that goes.
Divorce. I’ve been to this dance quite a few times. I’ve never been an invited guest, always the chosen onlooker. When intimacies turn to hostilities, the invited guests always look to the involuntary participants to pick sides. As Bartleby said yesterday I prefer not to.
I’ve never been the invited guest to a divorce because that was one of the ground rules I set for myself a long time ago, when I witnessed the first divorce. The divorce of my adopted father and my biological mother. This was the first time I was encouraged to pick sides as an involuntary participant, just a child of fourteen. I had nowhere else to go, so was forced to witness the folly of adults that should have known better than to let things fall apart as far as they did.
It’s easy. No really, it is easy, not the easy thing that really is hard (any kind of group effort in an MMO)Talk to your intimate relations. Don’t keep secrets unless they are secrets the others have already told you they want kept. Don’t betray agreed-to standards of behavior without talking out the changes first. Don’t close off channels of discussion unless you are prepared to never speak to these people again except in the presence of a lawyer.
But it never fails. Someone thinks they can get by without communicating something. Then that something turns to a thing that can’t be spoken of. Turns into a barrier between two people. Turns into a weight around the neck of the relationship. Turns into a wall preventing communication. Then the secret is found out and the accusations of betrayal begin.
These are adults, but they sure don’t act like adults. Adults that understand even the uncomfortable subjects have to be discussed, and discussed endlessly. This is the nature of being humans, like it or not. Talk. Endless talk. Talk that makes you want to cut off your own tongue or gouge out your ears. If you stop talking, you will eventually cease to be intimate with the other in question. That is the point where they become other.
Other rather than same. The outgroup. The other.
Doesn’t matter. It wasn’t done against me, because I fucking talked it out first. I understand ownership and value and don’t take it for granted. I resent being asked to lend weight to one side or the other of a separation when I have no clear understanding of the fault that led to the separation. I will not willingly pick sides when both sides seem to be at fault and there is no clear reason for the separation in the first place aside from childish insistence on having your own way in a relationship.
The closest I have come to divorce is quitting a job, being fired from a job. There are employers that I can’t speak to again because of what transpired between myself and them. Always it was something kept from me that required that separation, not something I failed to tell them. I am what I present myself to be, take it or leave it, warts and all.
I remained Dad’s friend after the divorce despite his actions. Despite the facts of his behavior that I had to drag kicking and screaming out of the woman who expected me to follow her without reason. She was a little bit crazy like that, my mom. A conflict avoided was a win in her book. As if she could avoid the permanent void created in her children’s hearts by simply not talking about the cause of the divorce. It’s not that I had a choice in the matter, dad didn’t want us children, he just wanted things to remain the same in the daylight as they were in the dark. The philandering. The silence. I eventually forgave him, because, what else can you do with family? You will have to see them again. That is a given.
I won’t willingly speak with the employers that betrayed my trust. They earned my enmity by keeping essential facts from me. One day those betrayals may cost them dearly, if that day of judgement comes. Most of them are probably dead already, personally safe from further judgments against them. They are the lucky ones.
Lucky like the stepfather, the Polk in mom’s name, who publicly betrayed everything the word father means. Safe from judgment by being dead by some other hands than mine. Saving me the trouble of having his blood on my hands. I should have thanked him for that, but I never spoke to him after the betrayal of that day. The opportunity to strike or to speak never presented itself. Mercy, after a fashion. Probably a mercy crafted by mom’s hands. She never liked conflict, evaded it at every opportunity. Her unwillingness to engage probably being the the first miscommunication in a long series of misunderstandings. But she’s dead now too. Beyond the reach of judgement.
So here I am asked to take sides in another messy divorce. A smaller, less life-altering conflict than the ones I’ve been in before. If I never log on to World of Warcraft again, a game that for me is like softball or bowling was to my father, it is the social connection that keeps me active among my group of friends. If I never play the game again I won’t have to talk to any of the participants of this messy break-up again.
On the upside, unlike family, I’ll never have to look at any of them again or have to listen to any of their excuses for their inexcusable behavior. So not quite as demeaning as the dissolution of a marriage is to the children of that marriage. The children of our in-game collaboration are the characters that we’ve worked so hard to level, over and over again, just to have the most powerful characters we could construct to bring to the next battle. Those children you can delete and no one will accuse you of murder when you do.
It might be a form of self-mutilation, if self-mutilation can be performed mentally. Investing all that time only to discard it by typing six characters and hitting enter? It ranks up there with self-mutilation in my mind. But it isn’t illegal to delete that part of yourself. That piece of your history. If only all mistakes could be erased that easily.
If I quit playing World of Warcraft I’ll lose those friends. I’ll lose those parts of myself and the parts of themselves that I’ve grown to love as part of the game we play together. I’ll make new friends. I’ll find other games to play, other ways to connect to the outside world. The other games and other friends won’t have fifteen years of history for me to bank on. I’ll have to start over.
So I probably won’t quit World of Warcraft. I probably will log on and play the game. I like the game, even after all this time. Probably because of all this time, not because the game has been mindlessly enjoyable. It wasn’t and it isn’t. It presented challenges, but it offered social connections, connections that are simply not present in most other games. Social connection is why I am still playing the game, and now that very social connection threatens to destroy any remaining pleasure I find in it. I’m tempted to delete all my toons and start over fresh. A fresh start, like I’ve never played the game before. Maybe this week is the week to download and log on to World of Warcraft – Classic. Play a game that I’ve never played before, but sure does seem like what I’ve been playing for the last fifteen years.
At the very least, I will have to log onto the voice chat service and have those discussions that have to be had before either calling it quits or picking a side. I still would prefer not to, but the post-mortem must be performed if I am to have any closure for this latest divorce. I’m beginning to wonder if closure is overrated.
The family asked “why did you go there?” after I wrote this. My guildmates in a game I’ve played for almost as long as my children have been alive, 15 years now, wanted to know why I wouldn’t willingly just pick a side in the diaspora of the guild. This is the explanation for why I try not to pick sides. I’ve been used as a weapon before and I won’t willingly go there again. My insistence on knowing the gory details of a conflict has cost me dearly, many times. I’ll still ask those questions, every time. It is who I am. Take it or leave it. Warts and all.
It is worth noting that both the leader of my former guild as well as members of the diaspora tried to tell me just how wrong the other side was. The guildmaster made it his duty to try to keep me from joining the diaspora by telling me just how bad the people I love and cherish like family really are. It should come as no surprise to anyone that all my Alliance toons are now back in my own guild (Frosty Wyrm Riders) for the time being. I need a bit of a break after that orchestrated trauma to my psyche.
They were found tied up in a bag on the bank of a creek. A litter of mongrel puppies that someone had tried to drown, found by a local shelter volunteer and brought to the animal shelter for evaluation and adoption. Just another unwanted batch of puppies created by pets whose owners were criminally negligent in allowing their animals to breed when the products of that breeding were unwanted.
That’s where we found them, at the shelter. Every child should have their own puppy to raise. Dogs and children go together like sunshine and rainbows. Our geriatric nearly 20-year old Shusky Aurora was blind and deaf and would barely live two years past the day that we went to the shelter to adopt puppies for the children to raise as their own. Old dogs are for old people. Children need puppies.
The Wife and I have been animal shelter volunteers off and on over our many years together. We would take strays that we picked up down to the San Angelo animal shelter, and invariably we’d end up with a rescue that we just couldn’t leave behind coming back home with us. Whether it was a litter of kittens that would starve without our feeding them, or a doofus of a Springer Spaniel that we eventually traded to an acquaintance, the pets would come and go through our involvement with the animal shelter until we moved to Austin.
In Austin the shelter is much more regimented and much more expensive to do business with. Consequently we don’t take strays there like we did in San Angelo. Here we find them homes if we can’t find where their home is. Mostly we fend off feral cats here, and take in the odd parakeet that we find perched on the gutters when we come home.
Aurora truly was of the old guard, she migrated with us to Austin from San Angelo. She never had puppies of her own, and she was the last surviving member of the last litter of puppies we got from Muffin-Puff Chevas (she had a Regal name) and Budweiser, two previous rescues that were probably shepherd-husky crosses themselves. There might have been some recent wolf in Budweiser, he had a ferociousness that isn’t found in most dogs these days. But he was protective to a fault, and he gave his piercing blue eyes to most of his puppies that he sired with Muffin.
Muffin was a dream dog. She liked nothing better than to be where ever you were. If you were swimming across the lake, she was swimming right beside you. If she got ahead of you she would expect you to grab her tale and let her pull you to shore. She loved tug of war and fetching balls. She loved chasing tennis balls so much that she would shove her head through cinder blocks to get them, and ended up getting her head stuck in one once. Undeterred, she managed to lift the block while still holding the ball in her mouth, and stiffly walked back over to us with a cinder block hanging around her neck. We couldn’t take the ball from her when she offered it to us because we were laughing too hard to get up off the ground. I have those pictures around here somewhere. I had to carefully chisel the block off of her head after we took the pictures. She was full of life and play until the day she died. It was complications of an undiagnosed corn allergy that got her, common in dogs. She lost all her hair and had constant skin sores for the last few years of her life. She was the first dog we let sleep with us, we were so concerned for her health those last few years.
But she made beautiful babies with Budweiser, little blue-eyed, white, black and tan and black and white balls of joy that everyone wanted. We never had any trouble giving those puppies away, even charging for a few of them. But she died young, fourteen, and her puppies and Budweiser lived on. Bud made it to eighteen before a stroke took him, Corona the second to last of that last litter made it to seventeen herself. This left poor Aurora alone. We had a lapdog that isn’t part of this story since we didn’t rescue her, but Aurora was alone out in the yard and no dog should be alone just as no child should be alone.
So we took a trip to the Lockhart animal shelter looking for puppies for our growing children to adopt. When asked what kind of breed we were looking for, we said German Shepherd. They took us to the litter that had been brought in, the litter that some soulless human had tried to drown. They did look like German Shepherd mutts. They were a little large, but not overly so. The orange puppy immediately bonded with my daughter, and the brindle-coated one plopped down in my son’s lap and wouldn’t leave. So the puppies picked the children, just as it should be.
On the way home from the shelter the children settled on names. The daughter’s orange and white coated pup would be named Marshmallow, after the color of a marshmallow properly grilled over an open flame. The brindle-coated pup that adopted my son would be called Pearl because of the white overcoat and black undercoat that winked through when she moved.
We discovered within days that these dogs might be shepherds of some kind, but they were definitely not German Shepherds. They were not the six weeks of age that the shelter thought they were. Pearl couldn’t eat solid food and so we had to soak her food in milk for the first couple of weeks of her life. They were probably only four weeks old, making them much larger dogs than we had planned on in the end, but a welcome surprise. They grew up fast, getting larger than Aurora’s measly thirty pounds in a few months. As far as we could ever tell, they were at least partially Anatolian Shepherd, a breed of dog I had never heard of before.
We almost lost Mellow to sarcoptic mange in her first year of life. We only managed to keep her alive by force-feeding her a topical treatment for pests on a veterinarians orders (we thought he was crazy when he gave us instructions to do this) this left her legs scarred with white fur where it had been orange before, and I remain convinced that it made her the epicure she remained throughout her life, eating rocks, bricks, steel and masonite whenever she got bored or agitated.
Muffin used to keep the yard empty of sticks. She would forage around the yard on an hourly basis, looking for a stick to chew on. when she found one she would reduce it to splinters, and then look for another stick. In the same fashion, Mellow would rip the siding off the garage and eat it, leaving no trace of its existence anywhere in the yard. She went through forty linear feet of siding before I gave up and paid to get the garage resided in hardiplank. Apparently concrete was too tough for her to chew through. We caught her chewing on rocks so frequently that we ended up taking all the rocks out of the yard, and I don’t want to talk about what happened to the red clay bricks that used to be stacked up in the back of the yard. We can only find a few of them any more.
They never made a kennel that could hold that dog. She chewed her way out of a steel wire cage more than once. She destroyed so many kennels we finally decided to quit trying to keep her in one. Quit trying to cage her up at all, which was exactly what she wanted in the first place.
In contrast, Pearl was a watcher and a thinker. While her sister blunt forced her way through everything, Pearl studied any situation from a safe distance. She was snappier than Mellow, who could have been an excellent bird dog if I could only have managed to teach her to bring anything back to me. She like her space to be empty unless you were family, and she let everyone know this by raising her hackles and exposing the black fur of her undercoat on her shoulders. I never felt threatened when I was with that dog, and I trusted the children to go play in the park without me as long as they took their dogs with them. It is amazing the respect that a 100 pound dog can command, even if that dog is not visibly threatening. Pearl never bit anyone that wasn’t trying to feed her something, don’t get me wrong. She just never quite could figure out where the food ended and where your fingers began.
It was because of this that I kept unfamiliar people at a distance from Pearl, knowing she would bite, and instead let them pet Mellow who never set her teeth on anyone, ever. But Pearl was a clever dog. She worked out how to open doors and gates when she wanted to. If no one was looking. She would raid the recycling bin and eat the resulting mess on her sister’s bed so that it looked like Mellow had done it. Her favorite prank was going over to the fence and barking at nothing until she got her sister to bark, then she would slink away and leave the idiot Mellow barking by herself to get chastised for making noise for no reason.
She did have the bane of shepherds everywhere, hip dysplasia. It may have been her inability to move as gracefully as her sister, because of her bad hips, that made her think about how to get things done with as little work as possible. The less time standing, the better. For all of her problems moving, though, there was never a dog that liked taking a walk more than Pearl.
I discovered early on that if I wanted to keep Mellow from eating parts of the house she wasn’t supposed to eat, I was going to need to take her on a regular walk. Mellow would always start out fast, pulling on the leash. Pearl would start off slow, setting a slower pace, forcing her sister to slow down. By the time we’d done our mile of walking, Mellow would be dragging behind while Pearl, nearly lame, mincing, almost prancing, Pearl would be leading the way home.
For years we repeated this behavior. Me and my floppy hat, two giant dogs on leashes wandering the neighborhood, sometimes for hours. It was like this when the Daughter was in high school and then went off to college. When the Son started high school. When the Daughter came back from college. When we started looking for colleges for the Son. My dogs and me would be out two or three times a week, depending on the pollen and the weather, walking the neighborhood looking for new smells to smell.
I knew they were starting to get old when they started insisting on taking breaks before we got back to the house. Giving them water didn’t help. It was time to sit and pant. So the walks got shorter. Shorter and farther between. Then the day came that Pearl couldn’t manage to walk anymore. She could get herself up off the floor and out to the yard to pee, but just barely. Then she could barely do it while on enough pain meds to make me sleep for a week. Mellow and I continued to walk without her, but it was torture for her to be left behind. I could see it on her face, that she wanted to come with, but just couldn’t get up to do it.
Last spring, Pearl finally left us, surrounded by the people who loved her. Mellow and I went on even fewer walks after that. Now I’m starting to feel the age along with Mellow. Me pushing sixty, she’s pushing fifteen. The Daughter started taking her on more walks than I did. Exercising indoors means I don’t cough up a lung from allergy irritation. It’s boring as hell, but less life-shortening.
Yesterday we came home from a marathon round of doctor’s visits to find that Mellow didn’t want to drink or eat. Then she started to exhibit signs of pain. Labored breathing. Excessive panting. We tried a pain pill, but it just knocked her out, it didn’t help her breathing. About midnight we bundled her into the car and the Wife and Daughter took her to a 24 hour animal hospital, something else I didn’t know existed. I figured they’d be back in a few hours with some horror story about something Mellow had eaten while we were gone. Something she had eaten that had finally refused to sit in her stomach peacefully. Nothing could kill that dog, in my opinion.
One thing could, and I should have known what it was. Cancer could kill her. Cancer can kill anyone. I should have remembered. A tumor ruptured on her spleen, causing her to bleed out internally. She was gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I really hate that. Mellow joins the long list of pets that I’ve known before her, the only dog the Daughter has ever owned. Joins her sister, the only dog the Son has ever owned. By the time I was their age I had known no fewer than five dogs and countless puppies starting with a chocolate Poodle that founded a line of Poodles that probably still exists somewhere in Kansas, and the last being a Golden Retriever I named Buddy. None of them were mine, although dad told me Buddy was mine. He didn’t fetch birds for me, just for dad. That makes him dad’s dog, and dad mourned his loss when he was gone. Mourned him far more than I did.
Corona was my dog, more than any other dog I’ve ever known. She picked me, and like the Daughter who was born a few years after Corona, I didn’t spend the time I should have spent with her while I had her near me. I only appreciate how much that dog and the Daughter bonded in my absence, in hindsight. It was Corona’s being attacked and killed by a stray that dug its way into our yard that made it imperative to get new dogs to blot out that memory of violation. Not only because children should have puppies, but that because death, especially violent death, should be answered with unashamed hope. A recommitment to the future. A dedication to time, life, continuing unapologetically.
We will be taking a trip to the animal shelter soon, I imagine. Not today and not tomorrow. But soon.