REPORT A PROBLEM
The last day of our reunion we had lunch downtown. I had hosted the weekend; our plan was to save money and visit each of our homes, before any Real Trips. Driving home before my girlfriends left for the airport, we stopped at a light. Someone noticed a guy with a tiny puppy at the corner. I turned, disinterested. Double take. Ray stood on the corner waving at us. The dog destined to change my life, sat at his feet clumsily. Lease slack, furry, awkward creature shaking, searching.
He borrowed a dog, certainly.
The corner of Dumbstruck and New. Immersion.
We realized, at that light, my boyfriend had probably NOT borrowed a dog; laughter quickly silenced into a deafening gasp. Spewing threatening guttural remarks under my breath, heart beginning to race, I turned the corner, then into our driveway. I sat in my car after my friends ran to see the new puppy, slamming doors. I was digging for…organization… calmness to get up and see my Future. Walking into the yard, Ray and I exchanged a glance that has rarely since occurred. His eyes told me more than I was able to foretell. Solution?
On the front lawn, my friends gathered around the tiny dog cowering at Ray’s feet. It seemed more nervous than stunned, like me. I felt a deafening silence from the sky as I crunched on gravel to the scene. Standing back, I felt lightheaded, realizing I would determine the tone of that evening, thinking over and over about soon to be spoken words. White noise… then… “what did you do?” left my lips. Ray held a “terrified/Yes OK? Yes!” look on his face; I’d seen it before, it read “temporary buzz.” “is it a boy or a girl?” I sneered.
I sat on the grass, trying to feel indifference; to prove a point: how can this be? What did I miss? The dog was scrawny, golden, shy, observing, observing…panicking. I don’t know what was being said around me. Too bad he got a defect dog. What kind of dog acts like this? “She” came over to me, sniffing. I heard from conversation I hadn’t taken part of, she was a Golden Retriever. Fat chance, what’s wrong with her snake-like tail? Gross. My shock morphed into silence, preparing to discuss the possibility of a mature way out of This One. …burden.
We came inside; my friends gathered luggage for carpools, trains and planes. They knew me; Know me, knew what they Knew, but their cautiousness both grounded me and worried me: had I become immune to surprises, regrouping, shifting for meaning, purpose, need? No, this was different. Ray and I acted on two separate limbs, for a bit. The circus animal in the room was not gray, she was yellow and aware of her uncertain response. Beers were opened. My friend from Colorado stayed with us that night. What’ll you call her? she asked. We decided to go shoot some pool.
Of course, the logical thing to do was to name the dog, rather than discussing if we should get a dog. But, steady and calm, I figured it was the fastest way to eventual sense, even if we hadn’t started there. Ray, Beth and I shot a few games of pool, had a few rounds. Every name was problematic. He didn’t want a “person” name; I didn’t want a Stupid name. I don’t remember who said “Grace” first. I will give credit where it’s due, but I know it felt right immediately. Little did we know what it actually meant.
Later we returned home to let the little yellow creature out of the bathroom, safest place we had at the moment. She’d enjoyed a hand towel, but other than that, things looked untouched. For the first time, I Looked at her: biggish feet, yellow-white body, oversized ears, and a long, odd, skinny tail. She sniffed and sniffed and ran into things and got scared, pulled back, sniffed more. Took her outside, waited, waited. Back inside, we sat together in front of the TV. No warnings from the road ahead. Just a fluffy head, resting on my thigh. I held her.
Recommending a “regular” restaurant was hard, While they’d all grown up in the area, her friends now lived in Denver, Brooklyn, Boston, D.C; finding activities was made more difficult. A girls’ weekend was yearly at best. They’d grown apart, obvious to some more than others, yet there was an underlying emphasis on this, one of perhaps few, original group. The car came to a stop: someone yelped . Some guy with his back turned had a tiny dog. Ack! Look at the puppy, someone shouted. She felt tired from the weekend, no matter, what? Turning, take control into the driveway.
She pulled to a stop and the girls climbed out of the hatchback. “are you OK?” someone yelled. Yeah! Yes. She took the key out of the ignition and bit down hard on her left thumbnail. After everything--- No. Be easygoing, be rough? Which will get you to where you want to be/what is this new element that’s been introduced/how to feel vs. how to act. Pulling herself out of the car, she could already hear the joyous cries from the yard. How the hell am I going to navigate this? She knew, already, she had a tremendous path; onward.
Uncomfortable situations pan out in one of two ways: the Things are addressed, no matter who does the work, or, things are left unsaid for long, really long, sometimes undocumented periods of time. She stood, watching the man she strove to understand, playing with this dog, who brought out a weird motherly love-ish thing from her un-mother-d (?) friends. Something deep inside grabbed an opportunity. The worst is yet to come. Who the hell wants to hear that? Of course. Grabbing on to her fast forward, she knelt down. A loose fluffy chin torpedoed into her lap. Eyes squinting, asking.
Mid-July was at its best. Late afternoon was not too hot; hadn’t been humid in a while. There were so many emotions on the front yard, the permanent ones were probably envisioning an escape, right from the beginning. She wanted to more than anything to be alone with him. Introduction to a life change is not idea among observers, no matter how much good they intend. He played it well; didn’t show the acid rising in his stomach. For him, it was like bungee jumping into a well of uncertainty; yet it held some promise. She glanced at him; resilient.
It must be a boy, she said quietly. That’s not a girl part. Too weird looking. He reassured her it was a girl and everyone found some level of humor in it. The dog was so…un-formed…it didn’t resemble its breed, or so she thought, having only had family mutts growing up. They spent that late afternoon in the front yard. The partially fenced-in front grass was near the busy street; the whole back yard sat empty, safe, odd. The ache in her chest questioned... She wondered what tomorrow would be like: girl and four-foot creature on their own; who knew?
Everyone gathered their stuff; weekend at a close, with an odd twist this time; a topic that would have been of great discussion, now relegated to follow up conversations over phone or email. Touchy subjects generally lent themselves to surfacing mid-way through their visits, each of them knowing, from experience, that there Is a
way to address a recent event or development. The friends hugged goodbye in the driveway, except for Beth, who would leave the next morning and become, by default, the Most Informed. Jenny felt a pang of panic, seeing them get into cars. Don’t leave yet.
In typical Sunday night denial mode, Jenny, Ray and Beth, leaving for Colorado in the morning, decided it would be best to shoot some pool; maybe think up a name for the puppy. Fun to get out of the house as always, but the little yellow thing in the bathroom at home was at once troubling and exciting. Debating names, they came up with “Grace.” Arriving home, he scooped the compliant fur ball up off the bathroom tiles. He set her in her lap. Is this for real? Responsibility assigned. Respond to circumstances. She strongly held her, gently. Learn fast.
I wasn’t hungry but we’d decided to head downtown for a late lunch. Everyone but me was leaving that night; I’d thought the weekend would have been be longer and arranged for Monday off. No matter. Jenny looked troubled, but said nothing of it. She’d alluded to some stuff that none of us asked; I don’t invade, generally. The lost art of thinking before speaking. Driving home, we named dates for our next reunion. Conflict abounded; everyone was so busy. Suddenly Kristen shouted, Look at that tiny puppy! We all looked to our left. Jenny’s pause in breathing was audible.
The car pulled into the driveway; the mood changed. I guess he got a dog. How’d he do that? I generally default to waiting and listening. It was awkward, but not half as much as we’d all been through…I settled. Maybe I could be a voice of reason, or, at least, another solid opinion if needed. Actually—I wanted to go home. The rest of Us grabbed at her, petting and pulling; luring, trying to communicate in some fastfood way. My experience with a new puppy proved valuable. She was cute, needed plenty of training; that was for sure. Challenge.
There’s such a thing as overstaying one’s welcome. I don’t think that was my case…I think she wanted me to never leave that night, but really they needed was to be alone and dissect what just happened. I’ve known people who bought a puppy or kitten for a significant other, and, well, the poor animal ended up with someone’s parents. Sitting in their front yard jabbering loosely of this fun furry creature seemed to make too much light of it. She was obviously caught off guard, as an understatement, and I wondered if this was out of the ordinary. Tolerance?
Their neighborhood was lively. A fence blocked some of the traffic, but it was loud nonetheless. The dog liked me; maybe she smelled my dog. Either way, she immediately seemed smart. From what I heard, she had Papers; maybe he
research. But from her reaction, we exchanged glances, asking silently if there was anything we hadn’t thought of that we could do, say. Beautiful young pets command our attention, putting other things on the side. That’s why those mall pet stores stay in business. A quick fix. Distraction. I wanted to believe they would make the best of this.
He placed her in Jenny’s lap belly side up; Jenny squirmed. The dog mashed around, wagging her tail but skittishly flopping. It was a clear case of: what the hell are you. Why are you here? It was clearly not a case of someone receiving their dream present. We all tried; lighthearted comments, delicate but easy, “oh, where will she sleep? Will you get a crate? How fun to have a dog to walk!” My heart sank; the timing just didn’t seem right, but don’t listen to me; I don’t know the whole story and don’t need to, still. Loyalty.
In other words, they seemed to have pulled through unusual circumstances before; they’dd be able to handle this. The dynamics were interesting, and I was just a fly on the wall. After all the girls left, we agreed to kill some time playing pool at a nearby bar. I’m pretty much up for anything, I didn’t want to impose, and my flight didn’t leave until the next morning. It was more relaxing than I’d expected; the laughter led me to believe things were ultimately OK. They agreed Grace was the name; interesting choice and seemed like something they could use.
We spent a while at the pool hall; it was fun and the place was huge. Green carpets met dark grey walls. Girls in stupidly short skirts. The attempt at making it a large sports-bar-poolhall complex was ill intentioned. But, different than home; Boulder, so I was entertained anyhow. Funny thing to be involved in a decision that won’t seemingly impact you. But, if your input is needed, what’s to do? My dog’s name is Sullivan; Sully for short. We discussed tons of names. Grace is my niece’s name. I’m sure the two won’t meet any time soon. New ingredient.
Things had been hard…since 2006. I didn’t realize; a project manager at heart, problem solver, planner; One Who Finds Solutions… Our past is long. Fall 2006 lay deflated in the dust. The impact hadn’t hit me yet. Partially, yes, I hadn’t been myself, yet blindsided and robbed of true explanations, feeling like we were starting to look behind at an evereroding hill of sand… Look, I’m not looking for anyone to feel bad, feel sorry, I’m over it – rather—beyond it. That afternoon, after nights of visiting homeless furbags; I bought Us a puppy. It made sense. Makes sense.
I forgot her friends were visiting. A car pulled up. I heard shouting, realized. My stomach flipped; this could go any way. The car plowed home. The puppy shook.
“What did you Do.”
“I got a dog” I smiled, half. The sun was too bright for afternoon. Feeling like I was falling backwards. She looked into my eyes.
“No—“ Lying through my teeth. Too easy, comforting for now. Files sat in the dining room. She doesn’t waste any time. As if the first of several rash decisions, it based on deserving based on circumstance.
“You can hold her,” I offered, through the arms that reached towards the dog I grasped against my chest.
She ran her fingers through her ponytail, then took the elastic out, ran her other hand through her hair, and turned around, heading back to the cars.
Her friends gravitated towards me cautiously. It’s easy to talk about how cute any sort of baby animal is, so it was easy. They had a million, polite (mostly) questions. The only one I sidestepped was the one about us planning on a puppy, now.
She’d eventually find out; I’d tell her of course.
She came from the front door, kneeling nearby. With everyone leaving it felt hurried but I wanted to be alone anyhow. Not willing to climb into the conversation on what led to Now;
I didn’t just buy a dog at random.
Too much. Conversation was perfunctory. The only thing that mattered was the feeling of fur.
“I’ll take care of her” I said, my right eye tearing from the brightness of sky. I’d like to take care of her. We both will. It will be okay. She didn’t even touch her. She eyed. Me.
“How old is it” she stated.
Inside, she seemed annoyed that I had used her hairbrush for the puppy. I didn’t think it was a big deal; live a little. I had kept the little squeaker in the bathroom for a couple hours that afternoon; gave it a salad bowl of water. The friends said goodbye except Beth, with whom I particularly felt a connection. There was more silence than not. We decided to go to the pool hall and relax a little. I never thought something I cared about so much would be such a problem. No one understands me. Maybe this will help. Relief.
She’d loosened up a bit at the pool hall; obviously. Even picked up the dog and held her before we left. I wasn’t sure what she was made of. I’ve done some majorly stupid things in my life, but as an adult, I wasn’t at fault for where we’d come to. Circumstance. I had a dog growing up, Whiskey. It was easy then—why should anything be different?
Everything should be different. Repeating the past would be suicide.
A sense of silence covered me as I sipped my third Guinness. And a bit of fear. Could we pull this off?
Miraculously, we’d agreed on the name Grace. Good sign? At home, we ran around. Grace was an elf, hopping from sniffs here and there. Scattered, curious, sliding on the wood floor, bumping into bookcases, legs, knocking into salad bowl of water.
“Will you get a fence?” asked Beth.
“Probably an invisible fence,” I replied, proud of the future in mind.
“No invisible fence” her voice came from behind the couch. Jenny cradled the sack of fur; ears flopped over her bare arms.
“We’ll need a book. To do this right,” her face inches away from the tiny black twitchy nose.
We sat alone that night, guests gone, Grace snoring quietly on a towel.
“Are you mad?” I asked, nearly inaudibly. She turned from her dent on the couch.
“You’re the one who’s mad,” she smiled. But before I could feel the small bit of relief, she bounced up from our comfort, stern.
“No time to respond,” she considered, looking past me, pillow folded under her arm.
I want to tell you everything, but I can’t.
“Why not together?” The term “piercing eyes” made for that moment.
My chest tightened, a visceral response to potential conflict or imminent threat.
The most difficult week was the last, from his perspective. Call it too close to home, too recent. Or, “this is going on a public website.” Nonetheless I took the “assignment” seriously, maybe being the first of several processes.
I know more, I know more. It’s not cooked yet. It would spooge off the pan in an embarrassing manner.
As writers, we figure out time and distance from hurt, learning. But humans take longer to understand without faking it.
You’ve always had: my stupid love, my undoubting enthusiasm, my hunger to interpret and understand. What will you make of it?
Write what you know, right? I guess it was an important subject to begin. I emphasize begin, because I was fully aware I wasn’t scratching the surface of Ray and Jenny, in 100 words a day. Nor will all of it land on a website…but. Writing about an event that had several points of view is inherently challenging, frustrating, and necessary. We only know what the Other person is thinking and feeling based on surfaces; convincing explanations.
A valuable experience. Anchors exist in life, but only if we see through the muck. My goggles are imperfect but I’ve headed in.
The Tip Jar