Happy

07/01/2020

My mother had a dog.

Do I say had or has?

The dog doesn’t live with her anymore.

I’m struggling with that.

Baby Happy

Happy on homecoming day with mom

Around 2007

A little white Cockapoo was born in November of 2005. She entered my mom’s life in January of 2006, nine months after my dad died of a massive coronary at the age of 80. My mom, then 78, had married at 18 years old and had never lived alone, and the vacuum created by her husband’s death needed filling.

By love.

My siblings thought a puppy was a terrible idea, too much work, and hassle. But my mom and I were on a mission. It was that or a human roommate which was incomprehensible.

So when this little white floof showed up on a petfinder website, and her mama’s name was Molly — the same name as a beloved Yorkshire terrier my parents had had previously — and her litter name was Happy, the name of my dad’s childhood dog, it seemed like the universe was saying yes.

At the time, my mother was living in Florida and I was about an hour away. Happy’s birth owner was located in South Carolina. So off my mom and I went one weekend, to pick her up. We met the guy in a Burger King parking lot. It felt like an illicit puppy drug deal. I held her first, which would be significant later, while my mother signed papers and talked to the man about what the pup was eating etc. On the drive home — I can’t remember how long it was — Happy curled up on my mom’s lap. And we laughed and giggled and agreed she was keeping her litter name. It was too perfect a fit.

I confess it wasn’t easy. When we first got her home, she was oddly grey underneath her white fluff and so we put her in the bathtub. We scrubbed away at her dark skin, thinking why is she so dirty, when we realized — this is a white dog who came from to dark-haired parents. Of course her skin is dark. (Her daddy was a brown cocker spaniel, and her mama a black poodle.)

Initially, as puppies do, Happy wanted to eat everything: thumbtacks, paper clips, pillows, of course spilled food, but chair legs and soap? But she potty trained fast and, as a Cockapoo, was pretty smart.

Happy became my mother’s constant companion — she even went to the supermarket, much to our consternation. She was spoiled with a seemingly endless supply of toys and treats and lots of walks and even slept in mom’s bed with her. My mom needed somebody to come home to and happy more than fit the bill. That dog loved her.

And whenever I came to visit the dog went crazy. We called it the zoomies. She would run around the house crying and crying and crying and yapping and yapping and yapping with her little wiggle butt going the entire time. I think she thought I was her littermate — and I’d been the first to hold her. It probably helped that I had worn the same perfume since 1987.

When my mom moved to Maine in 2008, one of her favorite places in the world, Happy came along. She adapted to the cold with a supply of colorful warm doggy jackets. And she loved snow! Mom enrolled Happy in doggy daycare so that when she volunteered at a library the dog wasn’t alone. The people at the daycare loved her so much they put her in their annual wall calendar.

When my mom had to move from Maine to Texas in 2010, to be closer to family as she aged, Happy came along, and they lived in a cute little red house in the woods near one of my brothers. The dog went grocery shopping with her and became a beloved neighborhood resident.

And then, mom’s age started to make itself known.

First, she had a bout with breast cancer at the age of 89. Until then, she took nearly zero medications, had tons of friends, was mountain-goat steady and had little memory lapses, but nothing really alarming. After surgery things got scary, with her forgetting names, dates, places, and not remembering how to start her car. The side mirrors on her car started disappearing and she couldn’t recall how. My siblings and I knew it was time for her to have more help. We found somebody to come to the house for a couple hours during the week just to be with her, take her grocery shopping, and make sure she was at least slightly supervised.

But when she reached her 90th birthday we knew things were going to have to change again .

We took away her wheels. She didn’t go to many places alone anymore and she lived in the middle of nowhere so I bought her car for my son.

Mom’s little yellow house went up for sale and sold in a month. Soon after this, halfway into her 92nd year we had her all moved into a independent living facility near my older brother in Missouri – Happy with her. I flew out to help mom get settled in, and the dog well.. enter zoomies.

But…A couple months after this move, her memory was getting so bad she was hallucinating, and leaving the stove on.. And then her gallbladder quit. More surgery. She didn’t know what day it was. And she’d call me or my siblings at 2 am frantic.

At that point we knew she was going to have to be moved yet again. And this time, Happy couldn’t go with her. Around this time, that dog started acting very strangely. It was almost as if Happy didn’t know who my mom was any more, and she’d hide from her.

It saddened me so much to watch this happen. I think because I always thought that one of the two of them would die before we got here. After all, mom is 93 and the dog is 14.

And I wasn’t sure whether to feel good or bad about the fact that neither one of them had done that.

Instead it was a cleaving.

My mother initially thought about putting Happy down, saying she felt the dog was in pain, and didn’t want to eat, and things like that. But it turned out there was nothing wrong with the dog. Happy was actually recognizing that my mother was not the same person. She didn’t like this new stranger she lived with — who smelled like my mom but wasn’t her — and wasn’t sure where my mother had gone. My brother who lived in Texas, nearby where my mother used to live, and had been around Happy for many, many years, volunteered to take the dog. He had quite a menagerie of two cats and two other dogs and a giant fenced yard, so the fit was there. My mom was cognizant enough to think this was a wonderful idea. So he drove out to Missouri and picked up the dog.

A few weeks later, mom was moved into a one room memory care unit with no phone. She has caregivers all around her and her now diagnosed vascular dementia worsens weekly.

And I don’t know that she remembers Happy at all.

I am not going to ask. I know the answer.

Happy is living with my brother and deaf as a post, but healthy.

I’ll probably never see her again.


07/22/20. Update from when I wrote this.

Happy died last night.

And there’s no one to mourn her with me because my mom can’t. And only she and I shared this.

Another part of our mingled history….and no where to put it.

1306 miles.

A memory today.

I shiver as I realize that the history my mom and I share in life will end soon. And when she dies, the unique memories we have together will only be owned by me.

I will no longer be able to say to her, “Remember when we…” In fact, much of our history is already fading as she does. And those memories will grow fainter in me as well with no reinforcement from someone who was there.

I somehow need to document everything we shared.

But my brain has no USB port, and there’s not a flash drive large enough to do that anyway.

Only writing…

*******

2006

I moved to Florida from New Hampshire in 2001 and my parents moved from Maine to Florida six months later. My mom never liked Florida. She agreed to the move because my dad wanted to get out of the cold and she knew she’d be closer to me and my kids.

In 2006 my mom was living in a lovely rental house in Florida about a hour from me. My dad had passed away eight months prior and she longed to return to her soul-home: Maine. So my sister and I helped it happen. We found her a lovely rental apartment, reconnected her with friends, and hired a moving company. Then mom and I, and her small white cockapoo, set out on the 1306 mile drive. These were the days of Trip Tix from AAA – no GPS, no Waze.

She was 80 and I was 42.

The first day we drove from Palm Coast, Florida to Florence, South Carolina. She had requested that we get out of Florida the first night. The drive along route 95 was full of tourist traps like South of the Border, fast food signs catering to the sugar, salt and caffeine needs of every driver, and sporadic pieces of tire all over the road. Her car, which was fairly new, had a fairly complicated radio. So while I drove, she took out the manual and started reading about how to use the DIC (Driver Information Center). “Insert the CD into the Dick,” she read. I started laughing so hard I cried, pulled over, and she joined me. My dad would have chastised us for the giggles and threatened to leave us on the side of the road. That night we stayed in a Red Roof Inn that allowed dogs and split lamb chops at an Outback for dinner. As we sipped our Lemon Drop Martinis, she told me that she missed my dad terribly, and knew she was leaving me and my kids but she needed to go home.

The next day we drove to Virginia to stay with one of my best friends for the night. This was where the landscape really shifted and I saw fall starting to happen. The air wasn’t heavy and wet anymore and the leaves were changing color. With all my time in Florida I had almost forgotten about seasons. I’d lived in Virginia for a time and loved it. We had a lovely dinner with my friend and her family.

The third day we drove to my sister’s in Connecticut. This is when the traffic got squirrely . Around New Jersey it was stop and go. I drove most of this leg as my mom was intimidated by the throng. I was glad I’d driven in Boston for years prior — the traffic wasn’t for amateurs and involved frequent use of horns, and hand gestures but not turn signals. By the time we got to my older sister’s I was exhausted and near tears. I was going to miss her terribly. It was starting to hit me: my new reality was my mom even further away than this.

The last day was Connecticut to Maine and things got really gorgeous. Swooping hills and red, orange and yellow trees lined 95. We stopped at Reins Deli in Connecticut on the way out and had Reubens the size of my head and insanely large pickles that were lip-searing sour, but so delicious and crunchy you couldn’t stop crunching.

We arrived at her apartment in Portland prior to the moving truck. My brother lived a town away and had gained entrance and put plastic chairs, air mattresses and kitchen stuff in it so she could live sparsely a few days while her stuff caught up to her.

I flew home the next day, triumphant, bereft, and tire.

She ended up living there – happy, involved and independent- till 2010.

She’s now 92 and lives independently in Missouri near my other brother. The dog is still with her. My mom longs to go home – for her that’s Wisconsin now — the home of her childhood.

As I watch her memory fade I think: Dad. It’s time to come get her.

Fading

I’m in a bit of a zombie state today. Exhausted and regrouping. My mother has been relocated from her sweet remote house in the woods (For sale) to an apartment in a retirement community that offers full care when she requires it.

She’s scared. Panicked. OCD. Cannot remember how do do things. She has twenty yellow tablets on her kitchen table because, “writing things down helps me.” In fact I watch her and writing things down makes it worse. She picks up the tablets later and has no idea what she wrote or why. The context is gone with the moment.

I’ve labeled her cupboards with their contents and put instructions on the shower door and the coffee pot. She’s surrounded by familiar things. Her sweet dog is there and already knows where she lives.

Worrying and fussing won’t help my mum. All I can do is support my brother and his wife (who are local) as they navigate her adjustment and her decline. But man this is hard.

My mother is fading and yet still appears “as she was” after good sleep. This is a brief open window in which I sit and revel in until it slams shut and is replace by a dark room full of fear and shadow…

In her dreams at night she forgets me and panics. And doesn’t remember frantically waking me, the next morning.

I can only hope she adjusts… or peacefully dies in her sleep.

Attaching meaning

My 92-year-old mom needs to be downsized and moved into a place that requires less care and has fewer worries. She fusses and writes lists that she then loses or cannot remember what they are for. I suggested she bring to her new, smaller place only things that have meaning. Good memories. Things that feel like home to her.

Yet. As I watch her struggle with remembering names, dates, and places I started thinking.

We all attach meaning to things, dates, times, things that happen, people, places, and ideas. They are part of our individual histories and are as unique as we are. When a terrible event happens we even say things like, “It was before the day my life changed forever.” War survivors, abuse survivors, and accident survivors carry with them dates that they cannot escape and must learn to “put them somewhere” in a way that allows them to lessen the burden.

I realized that as we travel our paths and age, new meanings arrive. We buy things, travel if we are lucky, and there they appear. “I bought this book on a business trip in Boston. It was so snowy.” “That trip to Palm Springs was so peaceful .” “I bought this mug at a coffee shop with a good friend and we had a conversation about God.” “This painting my dad gave me. Oh I miss him.” Memories become attached to things and places. And when we pick up or look at things, or think about places, we are transported.

And then there are dates.

Dates in particular are striking as we all accumulate birthdates and anniversaries of people important to us. And then there’s the tough ones: Death dates. As we get older we accumulate those, faster and faster. And I wonder: What new meaning will be assigned to a day on a calendar for me, that I don’t yet know? Will today be a day I add to my list? The day my mother dies, my brothers, and my sister. Pets. Friends. My calendar will fill up as I start to accumulate death dates faster than birthdates and anniversaries.

When I listen to my husband speak to his parents on the phone, I realize our lives will shift dramatically in the next ten years. He and I will feel the absence of our parents, as others before us. Like aging, I always thought somehow I would dodge this. Or perhaps in the day-to-day life of raising my children and working, I forgot that as I age, so does everyone else in my life. Losing my dad when I was 41 seems so long ago and part of the life I’ve left behind. But now at the age of 55, my heart knows what is coming for me and for my husband. I remember the lost sadness of my dad’s passing and I am so thankful we will have each other to lean on in these years.

And I also know that eventually, many will add my death date to their story.

The tree

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This morning the neighbors behind us cut down a tree in their yard that overhangs our fence. It was home to many hummingbirds.

It wasn’t ill. Just messy. Periodically it filled our yard with tiny, holly-like leaves that crunched under my feet when I walked over them to water my plants.

I felt physically sick when I watched it start to happen this morning. The sounds of the chainsaws cut into my attempt at a quiet coffee reverie. It sounded like violent environmental murder. “STOPSTOPSTOP!!” rattled my brain.

I had to get into the shower to get away.  When I came out, she was gone. I don’t know why it was a she.

And now the view out my kitchen window is jarring, too bright, and unfamiliar in a way that makes me feel like I am in someone else’s house. Standing at somebody else’s window. Because the giant tree is gone and now suddenly I see a stark tile roof  and a wide expanse of sky.

And the hummingbirds are already arriving and are navigationally off kilter.

Just like me.

Why on earth did this affect me so deeply?
It’s a damn tree.

Synchronicity or just weirdness?

It’s 3AM and I’m just now starting to wind down after flying home to California from Texas. My 91-year-old mom lives there. How a liberal democrat wound up in a Texas county that was dry (no alcohol sold in it) until a few years ago, is another story entirely.

Right now, I need to document the weird coincidences that happen in my life with absurd regularity.

I arrived in Dallas via Southwest Airlines and then picked up my rental car. After getting up at 4:15AM/ aka “0’dark stupid” to catch my flight, a 2.25 hour drive lay in front of me, through some of the poorest areas of Texas (look up Wood County). I had a huge iced coffee and decent music so the trip wouldn’t be too bad. In the last eight years I’d come to know where to stop for any reason along the way, although many miles still contained a whole lotta nothing ( and roof antennas on trailers). I swear every time I’d do the drive Waze sends me on a new route out of Dallas. This time it was through an area that was very un-typical Texas like: Tattoo parlors, vegan restaurants, new apartment buildings, and funky rehabbed Victorian cottages lined the two-lane road. But the five lefts and six rights still led me to the familiar highway and car traffic thinned out as trucks multiplied as I headed east.

When I arrived at my mom’s winsome, cottage-like yellow ranch house, she and her sweet little white dog Happy, (who is now 12 and more like Grumpy) were very glad to see me. For 91, my mom is doing exceptionally well (still lives alone), but hugging her, I was aware of how she’d aged in the nine months since I’d seen her.

I wanted to cook her dinner a few times while I was there, so one morning we headed to the “local” grocery store.

A.

Twenty.

Minute.

Drive.

I am not kidding. She lives in a gated, heavily-wooded, and narrow-roaded, community where there’s a definite divide between vacation home owners, retirees, and lower income people. Some residents ride around in golf carts (even ones who don’t play), there’s a lake, a pool, a weight room, and a clubhouse/restaurant that’s had a series of owners and managers all of whom simply couldn’t make the business viable because the HOA refuses to open it to the public and most residents can’t afford to eat there. Despite all the amenities, most people here have shallow pockets, a handful of retirees, and a few mansion dwellers/golf players being the exception. There’s even what mom calls “the rich section”.

Said grocery store is the closest one to her (?!?) and has a selection of BBQ/barbecue/barbeque sauces that takes up nearly half an aisle, but no Paul Newman Dressing, cuts of pork I’ve never heard of, but no lamb, nine brands of white bread and five brands of wheat, but no pumpernickel, a five-pound bag of gold potatoes, but you can’t buy just six, salsa, salsa and more salsa, and ice cream prices as high as a 7-11.

We collected what we needed and arrived at the checkout where my mom was on a first name basis with nearly everyone and they were very glad to see her. The man bagging (plastic!) our dinner-to-be looked to be in his sixties.

And here’s where it gets really weird.

He grinned at me, “You’re from California!”

I looked at him, dumbfounded. How in the hell would he possibly know that?

“I am. But how…”

“The license plate on your car!” He said, “I saw you pull in.”

God as my witness, I never noticed what state the car was from when I picked it up at the car rental lot. After all I was in Texas, I didn’t give it a second thought.

“So where are you from in California? He asked with slightly too much interest for this introvert, as he continued to bag our purchases.

(No one recognizes the name of my town when I say it, so I always just say “San Diego”).

“Where in San Diego?” He pressed.

I named the town and his grin widened “My kids went to that high school!” He exclaimed. “I used to live in R.” (The the town right next to me.)

An tingle-like shiver went over the top of my head. My younger son goes to that high school RIGHT NOW. I laughed out loud nervously and he joined in as he pushed our cart to the car. (Everyone gets this service here, whether you want it or not. It’s southern hospitality and wanting to visit/chat. I’ve actually seen a cart tug-of-war between a customer and an employee and immediately assumed the customer has never been in the store before).

We chatted more as he put bags in the trunk, as he hadn’t been back to my town in several years, and wanted to know if some things hadn’t changed.

After pleasant goodbyes, my mom and I got into the car and closed the doors. I looked at her as I started it up. “And this is my synchronistic life.” She smiled.

Coincidence?

I say no.

You see: Two months prior I was in Las Vegas on business and my Uber driver on the way to the airport struck up the usual conversation:

Driver: “Where are you headed?”

“San Diego”

Driver: “Really? I used to live in MY TOWN.”

Me: “Seriously? That’s where I live.”

Driver: “I was a teacher at ‘THE HIGH SCHOOL MY SON GOES TO’. I retired four years ago and moved here.”

I decided I have to start writing these down. It happens so often I nearly question my sanity. I need witnesses and documentation.

Because the next book I write will have the title Synchonicities: My Life is Weird.

Back to my back

In 2012 MRIs and X-rays show I have spondyliothesis at L5 vertebrae, an arthritic facet joint, and disk compression at L5. I’ve tried chiropractors, acupuncture, disc traction and decompression machines, prolotherapy, and physical therapy. And easily spent $5k.

Physical Therapy worked for me two years ago, but then menopause and sitting at a desk all day started and I gained 20# and it got bad again. I am back in PT now and hoping… I come from a line of scoliosis and bad backs, birthed babies that were 11 and 10 pounds and that’s when it started.

Everyone is different and as my orthopedist says “you have so much going on there I cannot tell you what is causing the pain. And I won’t operate.” Next step for me is block injections ….

I cannot believe I am destined to ache and hurt every day. I have so much I want to do…

The Arrival of Zen

 

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This is the photo that told me I needed a third cat.  That old soul sweet face. I had two: Mocha who has an Instagram with 600+ followers and is a person in a cat suit. And Ming, the gorgeous but vacant girl who hides under things unless it’s dinner time.  I had to put Luna my polydactyl down a year ago last May. She was only six. It was horrible.

And then I started sporadically visiting the Facebook page of the rescue I got Mocha from. Nothing. Still nothing. Then…

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I know. Right?  She’s black. No Grey. No… well. She was three weeks old here and had been bottle fed. She loved people. I just knew. My gut was peaceful, my lips in a soft smile and I shook my head.

This one. 

So we waited till she was 12 weeks old and went to pick her up.  Brought one of those pet store pet carriers that’s really just a cardboard box with holes in it and a handle.  We got into the car and that little kit would have NONE of it. Panting. Scrambling. Trying to chew her way out. And we had a 1.5 hour ride home. I knew even though I wasn’t driving, letting her out was a bad idea. But she was FRANTIC.

And so.  l Let her out.

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And this is what she did. Climbed up on my shoulder and fell asleep. In bumper-to-bumper highway traffic. She’d look around every so often and go right back to sleep.

I said to my driver/husband. “She’s so Zen!”

Name stuck.  She still is. She’s smart and the other two cats find her balsy. She plays with Mocha and stalks poor Ming who has no idea what playing is (we think Ming had a kittenhood trauma, we got her late).

And now…

She is growing up and nine months old. She sucks on fingers when she can and still plops down on my left shoulder when she can. And is learning a human vocabulary (Dinner, Hungry, Play, Toy, Zen, Out – we have a small netted tent outside she and Mocha go in when I am out on the patio.)

The only issue – she’s so dark I trip or sit on her sometimes.

And in the sun, I am not really sure what color she is.

We are smitten. Even when she snores. And even when she steals food off the table.

One Small Year

image-66570Shameful. How long it has been since I have been here.  I read old posts and marvel that I wrote them. And I remember. Where I was. What was going on? The feelings attached.

So much is different. I got a job. A job that was okay. I met great people. It was too chaotic, too unstructured, too much, OMYGODIAMNEVERGOINGTOGETALLTHISDONEANDALSOBETHECEOSADMINBECAUSEHEWILLNEVERHIREONE.  And when you tangle with a truly toxic, weird place like that you think you are incompetent. But then everyone around you does and suddenly you realize it’s not you. It’s the place.

I made a difference in spite of it. I wrote. A ton. Boring technical things. I learned enough about cybersecurity to never want a smart fridge and to be suspicious of my Echo.

And enough to get another job in cybersecurity two weeks ago.  And here I am. Working at home.

With HOTFLASHES, and a BADBACK. And oh I just need to shut up and feel blessed and lucky. Good Lord. What is WRONGWITHME that I see holes, not donuts? I want to be a LIFE LOVER. I know them when I see them and have a few out the outskirts of my life. Is that something you are born with or learn? I am 54 and stumbling around in the dark of life and want more bliss and sun. Things are SO GOOD right now overall and I just can’t seem to get it. To wallow in the goodness that is having enough money, and decent health, and love, and good kids, and sweet cats, and cars that run, and air, water, and food…

First world problems.  The water in my glass shudders as an F18 flies overhead.

How my mind works…

And I succeeded in capturing my thoughts this time.

I just figured out why our government spends so much money and has mountains of debt.

It’s all hush money to keep those that know about the fake moon landing, the contrails that are poisoning us, the fact that Obama is a Muslim, that 911 was an inside job, that JFK was an inside job, the existence of Area 51, the cure for cancer that the government is hiding, that secret societies rule the world….

……all of the conspiracy theories you can google require hush money.