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Ok, so, let me just throw out the hook right off the bat and you can decide if you want to keep reading: This story will get to a point where my stepmother is packing heat (yes, a fucking gun) in the middle of the night with her 60 year old, pot smoking, Grateful Dead lovin’ neighbor friend to kidnap a puppy from a different nearby neighbor that is known in the area simply as “that crazy motherfucker.” So, if that doesn’t interest you, I got nothing.
You’re on your own now.
My stepmother. I’ve never mentioned her here before because she and I have little contact and when we do it is either slightly awkward to somewhere around full blown THIS IS SO AWKWARD, awkward. She and I just don’t click. We have nothing in common but my dad… and our deep and sometimes mocked and sometimes (admittedly, but with no shame or apology) over-the-top passion for all things alive. But mostly, we are just so very different in every single other way. The first time we hung out she took me to get our nails done. I am a lesbian… with no nails to be “done” really, but whatever. She is a wonderful woman, we’re just not a match. But she is perfect for my dad and makes him remarkably happy, in a way that rests me assured that he has found the one. She is beautiful too. Quite beautiful. My dad is a fine lookin’ dude himself, don’t get me wrong, but if someone was to whisper “trophy wife” behind their back, I wouldn’t be surprised nor would I defend this.
So, a few weeks ago my stepmother, Marsha, was on a walk with a friend of hers when this adorable little yellow lab puppy came running into the street, her whole body wiggling, tail a-flappin, to say hello.
My dad and Marsha live out in the boonies, so by “street”, I mean a semi-paved area where cars, although very rarely, can go to get from place to place.
Also to note, Marsha is not an animal lover, she is a fanatic. She has three horses, 4 cats, several fish, a few birds and a little dog. She also has an unheard of relationships with the local deer, skunks (you heard me), snakes, birds and other wildlife in the area. And by relationships, I mean, she knows and cares for them, as individuals, and they know her, as a safe place in a way that is totally appropriate in that they are still totally wild, but that just doesn’t happen with wild animals and humans.
So, this little wiggly puppy comes running into the dirt road and Marsha and she go into that crazy frenzy where the dog is rolling all over the ground while Marsha is squeaking all of these sounds about how she is “da cewtest widdle puppy baby ever ever ever!” when all of a sudden the neighbor, lovingly known as “that crazy motherfucker” comes to the edge of his property, still behind a fence and says, “Sorry ladies, that little shit spends her whole day trying to get out of here. Can you grab her for me?”
Marsha grabs the little yellow lab and hands her over the fence while commenting on how adorable she is. When “that crazy motherfucker” got his dog back he said, “It’s all looks so far” and as Marsha and her friend start to walk away Marsha turns back to see “that crazy motherfucker” on the ground, tackling the baby dog to the ground, choking her neck with his hands to where the puppy is coughing only to then stick a running water hose down her throat. And as the puppy is gasping and gagging he is chanting, “You don’t dig holes! You don’t leave the yard!”
Here’s the obvious piece: My stepmother freaks out. She is so freaked out that she can’t speak. She runs home, leaving her friend on the road to find her own way and shuts herself into her bedroom and sobs uncontrollably for hours. Later that night she calls the police. She tells them that the puppy is being seriously abused and that she will file this complaint as a witness.
The police pretend to listen, say they’ll come by and eventually it is obvious that they are going to do nothing.
Days go by and my stepmother is a wreck. My dad tells me that what she saw has turned into the only thing she can think about.
Dad tells her it bothers him too but he doesn’t know what they can do but to continue calling the police when they see incidents.
So, here’s the awesome part, the reason I’m writing this story.
Dad is out of town on business for a few days. Marsha has told a few close friends in the area what happened and to let her know if they see or hear anything about this poor little puppy so that she can file more complaints.
One night last week, Tuesday, one of her neighbors calls, “Marsha! The puppy is out in the yard… alone.” Marsha told this friend, the 60 year old pot smoking hippy, to meet her at the south side of their property (they have several acres) in 10 minutes.
Marsha has a plan. A plan that she had built and rebuilt in her head more than 20 times in the last few days. She already knew what she was going to do. So, when the adrenaline took over it didn’t matter, she was ready to go.
To start, she grabbed a gun.
Like I mentioned, they live out in the middle of nowhere and my dad travels, plus, my stepmother is a badass cowgirl. She triple checked that the safety was on and tucked it into the back of her pants. She grabbed a leash, checked one more time that the safety was on and she left the house at 11:30 at night.
She met her neighbor right where they had planned. Marsha figured this was a quick bedtime pee break for the puppy and knew she needed to act fast. She knew the dog’s name because the “crazy motherfucker” had called the dog, “Danny” a few times as he shoved the water hose down her little puppy throat that day.
With her right hand resting on the gun in the back of her jeans, she whispered, “Danny! Danny come!” And she and her neighbor friend waited.
Nothing. They couldn’t see anything either. It was a particularly dark night.
“Danny!” She exclaimed. Sounding a bit more serious and with some panic, “Danny come here!”
They waited. Minutes went by.
Her friend looked to her with a face that read, “this is over” when all of a sudden a little blond baby dog came bounding towards them in a pitch black night with that run that new puppies have, where all of their legs are there and working, but definitely not yet in sync. She ran so hard and so fast in the dark that Danny slammed her head into the fence right in front of Marsha.
Marsha, in a single bound, hopped the fence, grabbed Danny and handed her to her neighbor. She hopped back over the fence, took Danny back and said, “At this point we’re in trouble. You should just go home. Thank you so much for the phone call.”
The next morning, around 7 a.m., my dad got back from his trip. He travels a lot so his return is standard: his little dog greets him, Marsha gives him a hug and a kiss and makes him a latte (or dinner or whatever), the cats rub up against his leg and then he and Marsha go and tend to the horses or watch a movie or whatever.
This particular morning he came home, walked inside his house, put his suitcase down, only to find the most adorable little yellow puppy bulldozing towards him, who then jumped up on her hind legs, putting her paws on his thighs and started licking the air profusely until he finally picked her up so that she could attack his face with her tongue. He was amused and he admitted this to me when he told me this story, but he was also very concerned and very mad.
Here’s what happened next:
Dad: “MARRRRRSHAAAAA!” (this was far from the first time he came home to a new animal in the house)
Marsha: “Oh you’re home a bit early. Hey baby, want a latte!?!”
Dad: “Don’t do that. What the hell is the crazy neighbor’s dog doing in our house!?”
They talked it through, Marsha told him what had happened and after he calmed down he very begrudedly agreed to participate in what I call “saving a dog’s life” but what could also be legally recognized as “grand theft puppy”.
So, the little puppy lived with them for a few days before they could figure out what to do. She was quite thin for her size so Marsha spent most of her time feeding her and rubbing her and kissing her widdle face all over.
If they could, they both agreed they would adopt Danny, but with the “crazy motherfucker” less than a quarter of a mile away this was not an option, so, Marsha did her research and found an adoption agency that specifically deals with abused animals needing to relocate. She explained the situation, minus the fact that she was packing heat at the time of the kidnapping and they agreed to take the puppy and find her a home. Two days later Marsha brought Danny to this agency where they then took her to her new home.
Danny’s new home is big, with a lot of land to run free, which clearly she needs. There are three young kids and two parents. So far Danny has not attempted any great escapes, making people feel even more confident that this is a good fit for Danny. Marsha said she’ll keep up with them every now and then, making sure Danny is ok and the family invited this idea.
My advice to the family: Best of luck with your new little wiggly baby dog! But also, check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you don’t do right by little Danny don’t get all surprised when a pretty good looking shy-by-day-but-don’t-fuck-with-animal-rights-by-night fanatic ends up in your backyard with a gun and an older stoned hippy lady sidekick, all sorts of ready to do right at any cost.
Seriously. It’s happened before.
My new thing is to download the most recent This American Life onto my IPod and listen to it during my commutes to and from work. This new trend started because 1. I am sick of every single song I own and 2. It’s just a great show and the stories make my ride to work so very enjoyable.
So, last week’s show was titled “A Little Bit of Knowledge” and the theme was how people (everyone, at some point) will talk like experts about things they don’t know much, if anything about. The prologue covers several people’s stories of what and how they found out too late in life that they had false information about something they had been spouting about all of their lives.
Listening to this show this morning had me laughing hard enough to look like that crazy person on the bus and have mentioned it to several people since – who then offered up their own examples, which have been hilarious.
Mine you ask? Two have come to mind today:
1. When I was little my dad told me that the foam in the ocean was whale pee and it seemed more than believable at the time and so I never questioned this until my early twenties, while at the beach, running away from a very foamy wave, yelling to my friends “AAAAH, WATCH OUT FOR THE WHALE PEE!”
2. Until two years ago I thought it was “for all intensive purposes” (rather than intents and purposes)
Two of the best I’ve heard so far today:
“Flash in the pants” (instead of pan, of course)
“Cufflings” (as in little baby cuffs, instead of cuff links)
Now it’s your turn.
I’m both, really. Ever since my cornered conversation with my grandma I’ve been reviewing my own personal relationship status with people/ friends/ family. That quick little back and forth last weekend really upset me and I feel like I need to do something, but none of my natural reactions feel right.
My usual response is to first fight a bit and then flee to whatever degree I deem necessary. Really, Violet is the first person in my life where the impulse to flee has diminished so greatly that sometimes it just takes stepping into the next room for a minute so that my rational brain can reattach to my body before my mouth opens again. But besides my relationship with Violet, if you corner me into feeling defensive I will usually bite back some and then get the hell out.
When I was 19 and found out my first love, my high school sweetheart, had cheated on me I booked a flight from Oregon to Vermont in the middle of January. It was a bold and cold (weather-wise) move bought and sold entirely by a first-time broken heart. I fled the scene in hopes of my aches staying behind, and that taking me away from her would hurt her. My plan was to go far, far away from the chaotic cloud of a break up and dance in the streets on a different coast, any street, free. And so I left. And what I thought would be a few months wandering aimlessly to pick up the pieces and come home ended up in my landing and living in Atlanta, Georgia for a few years (where my heart finally healed enough to get by and I ended up meeting my next great love. I never did move back to Oregon).
Another relationship’s end, in my mid-twenties, resulted in a one way ticket to Croatia, where I traveled most of Eastern Europe by myself for several months (Dubrovnik – go there!)
I think I must have learned this fight and flight technique from my dad, or at least that’s where it was introduced to me. When I was little, he and I got into it all of the time, over anything and sometimes everything. I’m have vague memories of spatting angry words back and forth over a two-by-four I loved, or something just as pointless, until eventually we’d both mutually retreat to somewhere away from the other, until later (the time frame that ‘later’ refers to varied depending on the individual level of injury due to insult).
When I would storm off, usually to my bedroom before he could tell me to go to my room, I would hide in the closet (yes, literally) and make and hang signs on my door that read things like, “Anyone can come in this room unless you have a mustache” or “All welcome, except for guys named William”. He thought this was cute, but it was my anger finding a way out. If I couldn’t leave I would keep him from coming in.
The first time I really upped my ability of flight was after a big blow out with dad. I can’t remember how old I was exactly, maybe 8. We were yelling aimlessly at each other and I remember it originated with a fight I was having with my brother and my dad taking his side. I stormed off yelling, “Fine. I don’t want to live here then! I’m running away!”
There was no response from dad, which was typical, meaning he was pissed, which was exactly what I was looking for. I packed a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, a yoyo, my rubik’s cube, a few marbles, a little notebook and a small pencil into a handkerchief, that I would later tie to the end of a stick, just like in the movies, and walked out of my room, nervous and prepared for more battle.
“Ok, I’m leaving now!” I yelled, kind of wondering why he wasn’t right outside of my door.
“Wait. Here.” Dad said, coming out of the kitchen holding two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut diagonally, the way I liked.
And I left, right out the front door. I walked down several blocks in our subdivision until I got to a point where I would have to cross a pretty busy road. I stopped and stared. I was so torn. I wasn’t allowed to cross that road without an adult… but I needed to run away to prove a point… but I really didn’t want to break that rule and the road kind of scared me.
So, I stood there until finally I sat down there, at the edge of that busy road. I ate one of the sandwiches dad had made for me and then became really thirsty – too much peanut butter like always! I stared at that road and started to obsess over the idea of a cold glass of milk. Eventually, the milk won and I turned around to go home.
I walked back in the house, having been gone all of 45 minutes and went back to my room to unpack. Dad came inside from the garage and said with a surprised voice, “You’re back, huh?” which made it all feel worth it to me for some reason. (He told me years later that he had secretly followed me, just in case, and when I came back he acted like he was in the garage doing something).
Later that evening we were all watching TV, Scarecrow and Mrs. King to be exact, and I asked my dad if I could sit on his lap. He patted his legs and said, “Get up here,” and that was that.
There’s no point to this I guess, except that I am realizing that I need to learn how not to leave, or I need to pay more attention to my intentions for leaving. When I’m arguing with Violet I usually leave so that I don’t say things I don’t mean. The other night when my grandma cornered me I left with Dog for a walk and when that didn’t work I left by drinking my way out of the situation so that I wouldn’t have to accept what she said as something she really said.
But thus far, every conflict I’ve ever been in with someone I love has either worked its way out or it hasn’t – and that’s just the way things go and will go whether I’m there to see it through or not. So, my grandma is going to be here this weekend, and in every way I can figure out how to, I’m going to try to be too. We’ll see.
As a kid, my animistic behavior and attitude towards everything was rather active. I invented a personality for everything and could empathize with anything: frustration for trees trying to grow through cement sidewalks, burning muscle aches for cars going faster than they wanted to, stomach aches listening to baby birds squawk and squawk because they didn’t know exactly where their mom was, and disdain for the doorway that bumped my funny bone.
As a kid, after seeing the movie, The Red Balloon, I made it my duty to rescue all less than fully inflated helium balloons from restaurants. When the server would ask me if I wanted a balloon I would say, of course, and then deny the big healthy one being offered and ask if I could have all of the sagging, drooping, or nearly dead ones, please. I would take them home and put them in our hall bathroom. The hall bathroom was the warmest room in the house and usually the sagging balloons would perk back up again for a day or two. This was enough for me to feel as though they were getting a fair second chance at life.
I had way too many stuffed animals as a kid. They all had names, of course, a family history and an awesome adventure story as to how they became a part of my life (I got busted for “lying” in Kindergarten over one of these stories… another post for a different day). At one point I had so many stuffed animals that I started sleeping on the floor so that they could all fit on the bed at night. Eventually my dad caught me, asked me what the hell I was doing sleeping on the floor and I explained. Our compromise was that either some of the animals had to go (not an option!) or that I had to find a way to make room for myself in my own bed. I worked out a pretty simple rotation for my animals and not one of them got any more time than any other. Teddy Ruxpin carried no priority over the Gremlin or that little Red Bear I got from my grandma on Valentine ’s Day. They were all loved and equally important to me, and this was obvious to them, I was sure.
And then there was the time I screamed bloody murder so loudly that the neighbors came running over and busted the door in to see if they should call the police when I caught my dad carving my 2 week old Halloween pumpkin.
I remember the night my dad finally drew the line with my affection towards everything. That night he came to tuck me in only to find a four foot tall two-by-four under the covers with his daughter. The wood’s name was Charlie and he was cool because he was just as tall as me. Charlie had 3 big knots: one was an eye (the other was closed so you couldn’t see it), one was a belly button, and one was a bruise on his knee. Dad found me in bed with Charlie only a few weeks after he had caught me sleeping on the floor next to a pile of teddy bears sleeping soundly all over my bed. He stayed pretty calm and simply asked, “Jesse, sweetie, why is there a large piece of lumber in your bed?”
I said, “Dad, it’s Charlie! He’s as tall as me! He’s fine, he fits. Pleeeease let me keep him. We all fit, see.”
The next morning I woke up and Charlie was gone, never to be seen again. I wasn’t terribly invested in Charlie and never really dwelled on his disappearance. Plus, with my new rock, Sylvester, weighing in at 16 pounds, covered in little petrified shells, I was all, Charlie who?
I mention all of this because I was thinking about it on Sunday while I was watching my fish swim around and around… and around, waiting for my raccoon to show up, and worrying about my avocado plant’s loss of leaves lately. I realized how much of that part of me I still carry around. With my head hanging over the pond, all of a sudden it dawned on me that Fraidy probably doesn’t even care about me. And this is most likely BECAUSE HE IS A FISH. And for a moment Fraidy became just a gold fish and that’s it. Chances are he doesn’t even have enough conscious ability to have feelings about anything, let alone me in particular. It didn’t really hurt to realize this, it was just a bummer. Like when you think you’ve made a new friend in a college class and then the class ends and you never hang out again. Well, no, it’s not really like that at all, but that sucks too. I guess the bummer is that I’m too old now to be able to re-convince myself that everything matters and that everything knows that everything matters, like I believed as a kid. Fraidy matters to me but besides the fish flakes I have to offer, it’s likely that I’m just another big object that blocks his sunlight every now and then.
Or maybe not. Maybe when he sees me his little fish heart flutters and his fish face smiles and his little fish brain thinks, “Jesse! Damn, it’s good to see you again.”