The date was May 25, 2009.
It was approximately five months since I had met the man I loved. (He certainly wasn’t the first, although I hesitate on whether or not I hope he’ll be the last.)
When we met on Christmas, I quite liked him, right away. Nonetheless, I didn’t go home from the bar with him to “watch South Park” as he insisted – I like relationships, not one night stands. Somewhere in January, we got together again. We kept colliding. Finally, I fell quite fantastically hard for him one night as he played chess and talked to my friend (also named David) for six hours. We had quite a bit in common – and what we didn’t have in common, I wagered, were traits I wish I had the strength to have. Or so I thought.
Once we had slept together, his true colors began to show. He wasn’t interested in a relationship and no longer had an interest in either spending time with my friends or answering most of my texts or calls. If he did answer, it was because he wanted one thing. I found myself catering to that want, but at the same time in an odd way, I walled him off from my life. I didn’t want him to get to know me, potentially love me, then blame me for “trapping” him somewhere down the road. I didn’t let him in my apartment (which was covered in personality and housed close to 500 books that would easily give me away), I always went to his house. When we were together, we might watch a movie or show, read to each other, laugh, have fun… But I wasn’t as intimate with him as I could be. I often not only spent the night but was there well into the next afternoon… But then came the dreadful waiting game, again. I asked him if he’d just text me once a week: “we’re cool.” I could be so much happier, then, but of course he didn’t oblige. After thinking I’d never seen him again and a decidedly cathartic night with friends at an Avett Brothers concert, I’d kicked myself for seeing David again.
I had slid into an obscure place in life. I was living on my own in Tennessee, in a gorgeous 1,200 square foot, 2 bedroom apartment with my 2 cats and 2 ferrets. I had many friends, but I missed California. My heart had been run through the mill with David, and I knew that things would never really work out, between us. As was a typical Monday night with such things heavy in the air, I was drinking.
And it was an epic night for drinking, at that! I had not only had wine and beer to the point of near delerium, but my bartender gave me a free shot of Crown. I was in a positive stupor, and my dear friend Red was acting as a proper leaning post. Not even I know why the next two events happened, but had they not, the night’s conclusion would be decidedly different, and five tiny lives would have been snuffed out of existence.
For one, I refused a ride home from Red. I only lived about a mile from him, but for whatever reason, despite being insanely drunk, I decided to walk. (Now, this in and of itself isn’t as strange as it may sound – I’ve refused to drive all my life and began drinking when I was 23, so walking home drunk on seven years’ practice was hardly a feat.) Then, as I was walking, I decided not to put on headphones. I pretty much never walk without listening to music, so your guess is as good as mine, as to why that night was the exception.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is remarkably sidewalk and crosswalk free unless you live downtown, which I most certainly did not. I walked along a gravel road with perhaps a foot of space between road and divider. To the right of the divider was a hill covered in various scrub brush that led down to the freeway. As I was stumbling along, I heard a sound in the bushes off to the side that was decidedly like kittens crying.
If you don’t know anything about me, you should know that I am an animal lover. Any kind of animal will do. And I am certified in their care and science – I’m that big of an animal nerd. I’ve even raised a wild baby bunny a friend’s cat brought her and a few wild birds – most notably a sassy little sparrow named Suzume who refused to go free and lived with me her entire life.
I figured the situation I was in was dire – if I was hearing kittens in the brush, they were likely feral and their insistent cries meant their mom was probably dead somewhere, struck by a car, and they wouldn’t likely let me close enough to catch them, despite starvation – but, hey, it was worth a shot! So before you know it, my drunk ass had climbed the divide and I’m wandering through brush, wondering why the cries sounded all together and weren’t moving away from me.
Finally, I was at what seemed the source of the cries. They were fiercely loud and yet, even with my BlackBerry shining surprising little light, I was just staring at a black mass. My alcohol addled brain seemed unable to wrap around this concept, so my hand reached out and grabbed… Plastic. Sobriety hit me like a freight train with the realization that what I was holding was a large garbage bag, tied near the top.
As I headed back toward the main road (and, thus, better lighting) and ripped the bag open, my thoughts were only on hoping I wasn’t going to be pulling out any dead bodies. And then I pulled out the first animal and held up what was not a kitten at all, but a newborn puppy. There were 5 of them, total, and I was tearily on the phone in seconds.
The first person I called was David. He was one of the few people I knew who’d be awake at 3:30 a.m., and I knew Red was going to be continuing drinking with friends. But I also knew David was an asshole who wouldn’t answer his phone or respond to a call that required even the tiniest amount of some commitment to anything but him getting laid, so almost as soon as I hung up, I dialed Red, anyway.
Somehow he managed to calm me down and get to the point: I needed him to go to the store. The pups were already starving, and nothing I had would help. As much as I hated Wal-Mart, they were open 24 hours, and they’d have formula for newborn pups. So at 4 in the morning, Red and his friend Tim were loudly and drunkenly wandering the store and I cleaned the pee and feces-covered pups up and bundled them in a small basket with warm bedding.
tiny baby pups!
Over the next six weeks, puppies consumed most of my life. I switched to a homemade formula of goat’s milk, plain yogurt, vegetable oil, egg yolks, water, and karo syrup (at certain points, I also added beneficial bacteria that they were deprived of; having not had their mother’s first milk) and fed them almost constantly – they took so long to eat that I’d often have to reheat formula mid-feeding for four of them. (I called the fifth Powerhouse, because he always plowed through his bottle in record speed.)
By the time I was done feeding and burping them, it was pretty much time to feed them, again! And, despite stimulating them to go to the bathroom afterward with a wet wash cloth, someone would always end up going in their container and they’d all be covered in poop or pee in a manner of seconds, so sink baths were a daily occurrence. (They’d get one bath and a couple of cleanings with bath wipes a day, as well as their container cleaned out a few times, so they moved from their normal storage container to a laundry hamper.) I got hardly any sleep. Sleeping in my bed proved impossible because I slept too comfortably to wake to their cries, even with their large container close to bedside. Instead, I slept on the couch, uncomfortably and not often. Despite buying tons of hand towels and wash cloths and having 6 throw blankets, I couldn’t even go two days without having to do laundry, again.
I also went through major trials. Despite being the only pup to open both eyes at once (the others were permanently “winking” for a day or two) and eating the same amount, the runt never really grew. One day she only ate about a half ounce of formula when all the others were eating an ounce and a half. I planned immediately to get her to the vet. My friend Phil drove me to the 24 hour emergency clinic because the other places were closed. They assured me she’d survive the night, but that the panel of tests they’d do on her to see what was wrong alone would cost $500 and that price would be cut to only about a third if I just waited out the night and went to my vet. I overrode my instinct that she wouldn’t survive the night. I bundled her up at home and, after feeding the pups (and trying unsuccessfully to get her to eat), held her in my arms. I wanted to stay up, but I fell asleep briefly and when I woke up, she was dead.
Despite the fact that it’d only been a few weeks, losing one of the pups was devastating. I had poured so much work and so many hours into their survival! All of the emotion caught up with me and threatened to destroy me. When I put the remaining pups down for the night, I went out for a drink. Despite Red trying to cheer me up (and yes, he was right, it was better that she died, having known love than the way she would have died, had I never found her), I needed something else. I called David, despite not hearing from him for three weeks, which was the second longest amount of time I’d not heard from him since we met. Surprisingly, he answered his phone. He said he’d moved and I could come over to the new place. I was almost home and checked on the puppies, first. His new place was closer than the last. I don’t think I ever even told him the runt had died, but perhaps because he hadn’t seen me in a while, he was surprisingly gentle and sweet that night. He was what I needed, without even knowing it. I loved David, after all, whether he loved me back or not!
But, back at home, the largest pup was now was refusing to eat, and I wasn’t about to lose another one. I walked him over to the vet. They gave him sub-q fluids and prepped some additional syringes to send home with me, in case any of the others seemed sick. The treatment seemed to work wonders; he started gobbling from his bottle as soon as I got back!
the largest of the pups
At this point, the pups resembled Labrador Retrievers more than anything else, but I knew better. The runt had been an orange and black brindle, and so was one other. (The other three were black; and all had white chests and some white on their feet. One female and the brindle male also had white stripes on their face.) Very few breeds carry brindle coloration, so I knew I was looking at a possible mix of Great Dane or a bully breed.
my little terror!
Whatever they were, they were cute, but no longer content to stay put. The four pups followed me all around the house; to the sheer outrage of the cats and curious delight to the ferrets, who happily trailed behind them. Powerhouse (the brindle) was making it quite clear that he was my pup. The others were content to sleep together, but he sat apart and cried until I held him. He hammed it up when my friends Michael and Carlie came over; sucking his thumb and otherwise proving to them that he was the one I should keep. (They would have taken one, but they already had seven dogs!)
- smaller male (my dog)
- bigger female (back)
- small female
In fact, I had homes lined up for all of the other pups, and every one of them flaked out, when it came time to give them homes. I put an ad on craigslist and a woman and her husband came to look at them. She was looking for her sister who was still at work and when she confirmed on the phone that they were, indeed, adorable, her sister said to get her the biggest one. But while looking, the woman managed to talk her husband into letting her get a pup, too. He was a trucker for a living and she spent quite a bit of time, alone. So that day, she left with two pups.
I had purposely left Powerhouse upstairs. He was my pup and there was no point in letting them see him. He has been barking indignantly away, but imagine his reaction to me coming back with just one pup! His frustration that only one sibling returned led to her sleeping with us and I began to wonder if she’d ever find a home or I’d end up with two dogs! I kept running ads on craigslist and ignoring some of the flakier people that responded. Finally a home that seemed almost too good to be true came up – a newlywed couple with a few acres of land and a duck pond. The wife was a nurse, and the couple both came to look at the pup and quickly fell in love with her.
This time when I came back empty-handed, Powerhouse seemed to understand.
And so did I.
Over the course of three years, I’d spent my life, far from home. I was fueled to leave California by a broken heart but now, a broken heart was calling me back. I loved a man who didn’t love me. He was the only unmarried atheist in Chattanooga I knew. Other men close to my age that were single there seemed geared toward finding a partner for marriage – which I wasn’t particularly interested in. I’d recently met a really interesting guy, but he was steadfastly in love with a friend, despite the fact that she’d never love him back. (Hey. I could relate!) I knew that, as long as David was calling me whenever the hell he felt like it and not often enough, I’d keep answering. And in between, my life would be a living hell, feeling worthless and not knowing if that next call would ever come or if I’d finally been replaced. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to just refuse to answer, even if it was what I wanted. (The one time I said no to coming over, he said he’d been hit by a car and I came running – only to be more hurt by the realization he’d got hit on his bike almost a week earlier and hadn’t felt a need to notify me, sooner!) I needed the age old fixall: I needed distance. I didn’t really like Tennessee, and some of my closest friends there would be leaving soon, to the west coast, anyway.
Moving would mean enormous sacrifices. I’d have to give up living on my own in my giant apartment to live with my mom, who is borderline psychotic. I’d have to give up my ferrets because it’s illegal to keep them in California and risking their death because I wanted them around would be more selfish than I was capable of. And, of course, I would probably never see the man I loved there, again.
I found comfort in my decision in a place where one might not expect it. A friend of mine online had recommended the book Solipsist by Henry Rollins to me, months before. He knew me well and found the book very “me”. I hadn’t been able to backorder it at the bookstore I worked at, but one day some friends took me to the used bookstore as part of an outing, and I came across it quite on accident! The book (from which this entry is titled) was dark and full of loneliness and heartache – but it was indeed, me. I enjoy loneliness on many levels, I walk the streets at night, and I will always carry feelings for my big love in life, Eddie. (Our story is epic and may be told, someday… I’m not sure if this is the place, though!) Most importantly, the words gave me strength in recognizing that these things about myself gave me a kind of comfort and resiliency. I would be okay.
Walking my puppy in the crisp morning hours of October, I’d made up my mind. Before he ever experienced the freezing cold of a Tennessee winter or the brutal humidity of a Tennessee summer, I would take my new love home to California with me and start my life over again.
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