An open letter to Jean (last name withheld), the person who dumped Cocoa at the pound

Hello.  You don’t know me, and for your sake, you’d best hope and pray that you never have the misfortune to meet me.

How do I know your name?  Because the people at animal control gave me Cocoa’s intake sheet.  You know, the one you filled out.  The one that said Cocoa was 12 years old and you’d had her all those years.  The one that said you were moving to a pet-free apartment and couldn’t take your faithful companion of 12 years.  You know, the one that you said was a “sweet old girl- a wonderful companion.”   The one that said you had limited funds.

Here’s the thing, Jean.  Oh, I didn’t ask if I could call you Jean but I’m going to.  Or I could call you a number of other names, none of which you’d like very much.   When I saw Cocoa’s picture on the animal control website, when I saw that grey muzzle and read the description stating that her people of 12 years, her family, had surrendered her to the pound, it broke my heart.

Jean, I once had a dog that was so ornery she got in trouble for biting a kid on the butt because he’d been tugging her ears.  When the city quarantined my dog for 48 hours, I was fully prepared to leave my home, leave school, leave everything in the dead of night, everything except my dog.  I was going to Thelma and Louise our asses right out of town.  I wasn’t playing.   Because that’s how I roll.  No dog left behind, Jean.

So when I saw that picture of Cocoa, I just couldn’t understand why someone would dump a family member.   And my empathy for that dog consumed me, until I made yet another rash decision and I rushed to the pound to adopt her.

Act in haste, repent in leisure.  That’s my motto, Jean.

When I got Cocoa I had pink eye and a sinus infection.  I was so sick but I went and got her anyway, because I was worried that dog was terrified and was going to be euthanized, alone and scared, looking everywhere for her people.  I couldn’t stand the thought of it, and she wasn’t even my dog.

It took me two days of antibiotics before I finally realized why she might have been dumped at the pound.  Something tells me Cocoa didn’t become highly incontinent over the course of the week between  you dumping her at the pound and me bringing her home.

It took us a few weeks, Jean, but we finally got the right dosage of meds to keep the incontinence mostly in check.   I was happy, Cocoa was happy, and the house was clean again.

But that didn’t last long, Jean.  Just a few weeks after I got her, she came down with acute pancreatitis.  That meant she needed antibiotics and special food, food that cost me $2.25 per can, and she could easily eat two cans in a day.  But that wasn’t even the worst part of that office visit, Jean.  You probably know what I’m going to say next, right?   About the tumors?

They couldn’t be sure whether the tumors were causing the pancreatitis, so we decided the “wait and see” plan was the best course of action.

And I became more and more convinced that you had abandoned your family member because you knew she was sick.  You knew she had cancer, and you couldn’t afford to treat her or to help her.  What upset me so much, Jean, is that you couldn’t be bothered to drive the extra 20 minutes to take her to the Humane Society, a no-kill shelter.   Or to even take her to your own vet and have her humanely euthanized with you there to comfort her.

So every few weeks I had to go buy expensive food for Cocoa, the family member you dumped at the pound.  The dog that you abandoned.  And every few weeks I would buy her “old lady pee pills.”   I found that XL toddler pull-ups worked the best, once I cut a hole in the back for her tail.

And we waited.

In the meantime, Cocoa went to the mountains.  She fell over the side of a small mountain, she saw deer.  She had so much fun.   She would get frisky and try to play with my other dogs right after they ate.  It happened every night.  She was so cute.  My boys loved her and accepted her, like they accept every sad story that comes home with me.   They would even let her have the hammock bed every night if she wanted it.

On Sunday mornings I would sometimes let all the dogs come climb into bed with me for a while.  Cocoa really liked those mornings, Jean.   She liked to be included.  Sometimes I’d have all three dogs and two cats up there.  She loved it.

But all the while, those tumors were still there.  And surgery wasn’t an option.

This week Cocoa’s belly started swelling.  I kept waiting for it to subside but it didn’t, Jean.   Yesterday we went in for x-rays and found that the masses were too big, her belly too full of fluid to even see her organs.   We could try diuretics to remove the fluid, but that was just a Bandaid.  This wasn’t going away.  And I didn’t want Cocoa’s last days to be filled with consternation over having accidents in the house again.  You see, that’s the difference between us, Jean.  I worried about how Cocoa felt.  I could look in her eyes and see the stress when she had accidents.

So we didn’t do the meds.  I brought her home and figured I’d give her a few last good weeks.  I would spoil her and make her feel like the Grand Dame she was.

But it didn’t turn out that way, Jean.   Turns out today was Cocoa’s last day.

Here’s the thing, though.  Instead of dying on a cold floor in a cold building with people who may or may not give a damn how her end happened, she died in my arms.  I held your dog’s head in my arms and I whispered in her ear while she slipped away.  I told her what a pretty girl she was.  I told her how much I loved her as I stroked that spot just above her eye.

I made sure she knew she was loved.  I made sure that my face was the last face she saw, that my voice was the last voice she heard.

You might wonder why I’m telling you all this, Jean.   You might wonder if I just wanted you to know that Cocoa was ok.

I’d like to disabuse you of that notion.  I’m writing this letter to let you know just what a piece of shit I think you are.   If you ever do read this letter, know that I, along with my many animal-loving friends all over this world, think you are the lowest of the low.  You don’t take a 12-year-old dog, a “sweet old girl- a wonderful companion”, and dump  her at a high-kill shelter.  You didn’t even give her a good chance.

She got lucky the day that I saw her picture because let me tell you, Jean, my animals want for nothing.

And to all the people reading this who “knew” Cocoa Loco, all of her friends around the world,  here’s where the story ends.

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Statute of limitations on Daddy issues

Daddy issues. I gots ’em.

Hi, my name is Jamie and I’m the adult daughter of an alcoholic.

That’s my label, my cross to bear.

It’s also become a convenient excuse for a lot of things.

Yes, it was hard growing up with a drunk for a Dad. Sure I experienced some stuff that other kids didn’t. My childhood is littered with drunks and druggies. Our family tree was fertilized with booze and pills.

When I was old enough to leave home, I spent way too much time drinking and carousing, throwing myself at guys who couldn’t have cared much less for me.

Meanwhile, I was the stoic daughter, the one who always picked up the pieces. I was the cleaner-upper, fixer of problems, the one who had to clean up all the messes.

And I did it without a cruel word because make no mistake about it- my Dad loved me. I always knew my Dad loved me. And I knew the booze made him an asshole. But I did love my Dad.

Later, that silence in the face of his alcoholism would manifest itself in ugly ways. Too much drinking, too much partying, too much shopping, too much eating, eating disorder, swallowing and stuffing down my feelings.

Here’s what happens when you stuff and swallow your feelings- they will rear their ugly heads at the most opportune and inopportune moments. You might think you’ve got your stuff under control but that ugly beast will wait….

So you live your life doing things that aren’t good for you, aren’t healthy.

And when you look at yourself objectively, you justify and rationalize all that stuff because “I’m the adult daughter of an alcoholic father”. I spent decades of my life thinking I wasn’t good enough because we weren’t enough to make our Dad stop drinking.

I get that. I understand. That was bound to happen to anyone with dad who drank himself to death at age 53.

Some people develop excellent coping skills. Some people don’t. I fall in the don’t category through nobody’s fault but mine.

But here’s the thing. I turned 45 last Sunday.

My Dad died when I was 32. It’s been almost thirteen years since my Dad died.

Hasn’t the statute of limitations run out on my Daddy issues? At what point do they stop being my “Daddy issues” and then become simply my own issues?

At some point you have to stop looking so far into your past to explain your current behaviors. I think I’m at that point. My Dad and his alcoholism have become a convenient excuse and a crutch for my learned behaviors. Sure, some of these behaviors started way back when as a coping mechanism for dealing with him but he’s dead and gone 13 years.

I feel like at this point I need to man up and take responsibility for my own stuff.

I need to stop blaming him.

It is no longer his fault.

I’m a grown woman. I need to take responsibility for all of me, not just the good parts.

The love lessons Boo taught me

new dog

I knew the moment I laid eyes on Boo Radley that our relationship was destined to be a short one.

I’d been bored one Sunday morning, tooling around on Facebook.  A woman I’d met at the vet’s office when I rescued Biscuit, the run-over kitty,  posted a desperate, last minute plea for a permanent home or even just a foster home for an old dog that was scheduled to be euthanized the next morning.   She posted a sad pic of an old, scared  dog laying in a kennel at the pound.

Because I am unable to control my impetuous and impulsive nature, I offered to foster the old dog until a home could be found.   Then the whole foster application process started to get too complicated, so I said I’d give the dog a home.  I’ve got two dogs that look at every new dog as  friend they haven’t met yet, and I’ve got a big fenced-in yard.   Once you have more than one, a third one doesn’t really make that much of a difference.  Just a little more food, a little more chaos.

She used her rescue contacts to “pull” the dog so that nothing would happen to him before we could pick him up the next day.

I got a call from her as soon as they picked him up.    Turns out he was in much worse shape than the photograph had shown.  He was emaciated almost to the point of starvation.   You could see every bone in his poor body.  He was covered in fatty cysts and had a tumor hanging from  his chin.  She suspected there might be more problems than those that met the eye.   Was I still ok with fostering him, knowing he might be sick?

At that moment a sudden calm and clarity came over me.  Yes, I would still take him.  If he was that old, rickety and sickly, his chances of finding a  home were just about nil.

Imagine my horror when I picked him up later that day.

IMAG2101

I decided to name him Boo Radley.   My two dogs are named Atticus and Scout, so having Boo Radley would complete my “To Kill a Mockingbird” set, since I never did like the name Jem.

As I got acquainted with Boo Radley, I started to notice that he had a weird way of walking, almost as if he was walking on his tippy-toes.   Slowly I began to realize that he had the same problem my Sasha had years ago.  Her vertebra had narrowed until they started closing in on her spine and pinching nerves, causing her to lose sensation in the back half of her body.

So I’d just adopted a dog that suffered from the same problems that led me to humanely euthanize Sasha, my soul dog, just a few years before.

Sadness.

I watched as Boo’s back end would slowly start to fall to the side as he tried to eat.  I would pick him back up and brace his  hips between my knees sometimes, just so he could finish his food.  He had a 50/50 chance of remaining on his feet when he would jump from the deck.  My boys would wander around the  yard with him, almost as if they were checking on him.

My nice, clean little house was no longer as clean.  Because Boo had lost a lot of sensation in his back half, he sometimes had accidents before he could get to the back door.  Sometimes my house would smell a little gamey because of  his ear problems.  I bought baby wipes and used them to gently clean his face and ears.    You know it’s love when you put aside your distaste and use wipes to clean your dog’s tumor because sometimes it drags through his food while he eats.

Boo settled into his life with us and I got used to waking up earlier so that I could clean up his messes before anyone else woke up.   His needs weren’t much.  He’s an old fellow, so he didn’t want to play or fetch things.  I fed him as much as he’d eat, trying to fatten  him up, and I gave him a soft bed upon which to lay.  No matter how much he ate, he was still just a bag of bones.  That had to hurt, laying on a hard floor, so I filled my living room with dog beds so that no matter where he fell, he had a soft spot to land.

He ate when he was hungry and he napped in the sunshine the rest of the day.   He stumbled and wobbled around the joint like he owned it.   I nicknamed him Rickety Bones, to go with Big Bones (Atticus),  Medium Bones (Scout), Little Bones (Daisy the cat) and Baby Broken Bones (Biscuit the run-over kitty I rescued).    My boys accepted him and let him be bossy, even when he snapped at them for trying to give him kisses.

The stumbling got worse.  He’d have good days and bad, but nothing we couldn’t live with.  I knew he wasn’t going to get any better.  We just dealt with it.

No matter how much I fed Boo, his bones still stuck out.  There is a hollow, just above his jawbone that still juts out from the side of his head.  That hollow is the perfect spot for kissing.

The last two days I’ve spent a lot of time on the floor with my lips pressed against that  hollow, whispering sweet nothings in Boo’s ears.

I have known for two days now that my time with Boo is coming quickly to an end.   I’ve been remarkably calm about it for a girl who has spent a large part of her life wearing her emotions on the outside of her, like one big exposed nerve that is constantly touched, bumped and bruised by all the sadness in the world.   And  this is the week of the month that my hormones reach Def Con 1 levels.  This is normally the time of month that I’m not allowed to go anywhere near a Petsmart.  I could leave the house to run an errand and come home with two dogs.  True story.   How do you think I got the Bones Brothers?

It’s weird, knowing that I am holding a life in my hands right now.   I know it’s time.  I have no doubt that I am doing the right thing.   Still, I don’t take this lightly.  I want to make sure that Boo knows the love and respect that he deserves, that we all deserve.   I want to make sure that he knows that he important to me, that his life matters.  Sure, I’m anthropomorphizing.  It’s my house, my rules.

I wanted to share Boo’s story because all too often, the older dogs get overlooked in favor of the cute little puppies.  Often, people see the graying muzzle or the tumors and they don’t want to deal with those problems.  They want a puppy that they can have around for many years.

I get that. I really do.  But I think having Boo for such a short time at the end of his life has made it much easier knowing what I’ll have to do sooner than later.

I don’t know what the majority of Boo’s life was like.  I know at some point he was somebody’s pet, because his teeth are still clean and strong, he’s been neutered and he is no stranger to jumping up on a couch.

I do know how Boo’s story will end.  Today, more than any other day, I am showering Boo with all the love and respect he deserves, sprinkled with lots of tears.   I am sad but no amount of tears will take away the knowledge that I did the right thing.  I took Boo when he ran out of options.

So if you ever run across another Boo, please consider giving him a home, even if it’s only for a short while.   Sure it hurts but it’s worth every last minute.

And now I’m going to go press my lips into that hollow and I’m going to whisper sweet nothings in Boo’s ear unti our time runs out.

 

boo 1

 

Boo 2

 

boo 3

Lightning in a bottle

Last weekend I went to a three day music festival in Pensacola and that was the first time I’d been back to Pensacola since I left in ’96.

Way, way back in 1994, my best friend, Pilar, and another friend, Mike, were sitting at a picnic table at Shadrack’s, partaking in a few frosty beverages.  Midway through the night, we came up with the brilliant idea (as one does while drinking cold beer on the beach) to move to Pensacola.  Pilar’s then boyfriend lived there, so she had motivation.  Mike and I decided we would go to UWF because it was the only school in Florida that didn’t require a Master’s degree in marine biology.  We could do the four year program and run off and work on Jacques Cousteau’s boat.   The plan sounded like a win/win.

Things didn’t quite turn out the way we planned.  Our little group splintered.  Feelings were hurt and we all went our separate ways.

Pensacola wasn’t a good place for me.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the city.  It’s just that Pensacola is home to a naval base and an officers’ flight training school.

Mix in lots of fly boys and lots of bars and you can understand why Pensacola wasn’t the best place for someone like me, someone easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.  And boys.  I was very distracted by boys.

So I moved to Pensacola with my best friend in the world and another good friend but I moved home alone.

Needless to say, Pensacola doesn’t hold the fondest memories for me.  Sure, there were good times, but that was the one and only time in my life that I’ve ever been homeless.    I was lucky enough to sleep on the floor at Stephanie’s, a tiny little girl with naturally white blond hair to her ass, big blue eyes, perfect complexion and the ability to make a man blush with her foul mouth.  Oh, and she could also rattle the rafters with her belches.  I loved that girl.

So last Friday, as we drove into Pensacola, I was excited because I started remembering things and places like the big red clay hills called The Bluffs.  I used to go down to The Bluffs and climb all over those things.  Good times.

After we got to the hotel and checked into our rooms, we all headed down to the beach to see Pearl Jam.  I had seen them way back in ’92 or ’93.  They played here a few years back but I was broke and didn’t get to see them.

I was not missing them this time.

We got down to the beach venue and stopped in at a little bar.  Pilar and I decided to kick it old school, so I ordered a round of Mind Erasers and we did our shots like we used to- through a straw, glass on the bar, hands clasped behind our backs.

Good times.

After a few drinks, we ran down to the beach to catch Pearl Jam.

And it was magical.

We sank out feet into the sand and drank cold beers and watched one of my favorite bands of all time tear it up for two hours.

We sang every word to almost every song and we danced our asses off.  We hugged and sang and swayed with the music.

It was magical.  They say you can’t catch lightning in a bottle but last Friday night I did just that.   It was magical, it was powerful, it was fun, but most of all it was love.

Those nights don’t happen often.

I will cherish the memory and hold onto it until I catch lightning in a bottle again.

lucky day

Yesterday was  a very lucky day for me.  I could have been burned, disfigured, or even worse, died.

I’m writing this now because I read an article on trauma that my lovely friend, Jess, gave me and it suggested one of many ways to deal with trauma is to write about it.   So I’m going to write about it and I’m going to vent and hopefully this will help, because I’m struggling a little.

Yesterday I was scheduled to work audits in St. Pete.  I don’t normally work in St. Pete.  I was filling in for someone else who’d taken vacation.   It was a high bill audit and sometimes those can be really annoying, because the customer is just lying or unwilling to sacrifice any creature comforts to lower their power bills. High bill audits are hated by all of us.

When I got to the home, an old 4-unit apartment building, I met the owner, Tom, and his on-site maintenance man, Jose.   They were both very nice, and the landlord seemed very concerned with his tenant’s bills and seemed willing to do anything he could to help lower them, including paying for any necessary repairs.  That was a nice change from the usual landlord/tenant disputes I witness.

I did my usual thing inside the house, checking air flow from vents, discussing temp settings, appliances, etc.  The landlord then asked if I would go into the crawl space/basement of the house to look at the air handler.

Jose was waiting downstairs and he unlocked the small crawl space door, maybe three feet wide by 3 feet high.  He climbed down into this small room, perhaps 50 square feet.   As I tucked myself through the door and climbed down three tiny steps, I  suddenly smelled a strong gas smell.

This is the part where I have to tell you that I am absolutely terrified of gas.  When I inherited my house it came with one heating system for the house- an old wall heater with propane gas.  The pilot light was always going out.  I was so terrified of gas that every time I tried to turn the heat on, I would light a long stick of incense until it was flaming on the end and I would hide behind a bookshelf and wave the incense in the general direction of the pilot light and hope for the best.

I went cold a lot.

I finally bit the bullet and paid good money to put electric heat in my house because I was tired of that nonsense.

So when I smelled that gas yesterday, I got really scared.  I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of that tiny room filled with gas, but because I once had a customer give me a glowing recommendation but a low “customer service” score because I  didn’t crawl into the crawl space under his house, I stayed long enough to look around quickly and notice a big tear in the return duct going to the air conditioner and a big leak on the supply side.

I made a joke about being scared and I told the homeowner I wasn’t staying.   I scrambled out of there first, banging my clipboard against the walls and bursting out of the room almost comically.   Jose assured me the mattress had only bumped the valve and that he’d closed it and everything should be fine.  I told him I didn’t care, I wasn’t staying down there.

The homeowner and I went back inside to retrieve my digital thermometer I’d left inside.  As soon as I walked into the house I smelled the gas.  The air conditioner was running and pulling all that gas from that room and blowing it right into the house.  I told the owner I wasn’t staying in the house, that we needed to get out quickly.  I ran over to grab my thermometer and ran outside.  At the time I was a little embarrassed by my actions.  I don’t like to seem like a sissy in any way, shape or form, but I wasn’t messing around with gas.

As the owner fumbled with a bag full of keys to lock the front door, I walked down the side of the house and saw Jose talking to a friend who’d just walked up.   I could see the friend walking towards Jose and that basement.  I could see he was carrying a lit cigarette.

I yelled at him to get the hell away from the house, that there was a gas leak and he needed to put the damn cigarette out.  As he walked across the street and appeared to put his cigarette out, I yelled to Jose that the apartment was full of gas and that he needed to tape over that return leak.

I thought the man put his cigarette out.  I picked up my phone to make a call for the homeowner and walked over to my car, which was parked 20 feet away from that basement.  Just as the second man walked back over to the basement to talk to Jose I heard and felt the explosion.

I saw the two men get blown out of the basement.

And then I heard Jose’s screams.   I looked right at him and it took a minute to register that he was still on fire.  And that those strips hanging from his arms, those white strips, that wasn’t his t-shirt.  His t-shirt was black.

That was his skin hanging from him in tatters.  And he was still on fire.

And he screamed.  And screamed.

I hung up and called 911, yelling to Jose to drop and roll.   Sometimes I wonder whether or not all the safety training you hear throughout your life will come to you in a time of crisis.  Thankfully, it did.  I screamed to Jose to drop and roll, drop and roll, you’re on fire, you have to roll.  A man from across the street came running over and helped get Jose on the ground.

I wasn’t sure if the whole house would explode, so I yelled to them we had to get across the street.

Once we got them across the street, the man who’d run across the street to help, Jerry, got Jose to the ground and held his hand.  He’d heard the explosion and grabbed a bucket of water.  He was so good to Jose,yelling to Jose to stay with him.

That’s when all the looky-loos showed up.   One man walked right over to the basement door to look inside as smoke poured out the basement door.  The mattress had caught fire leaning against the gas pipe.

And this jackass was carrying a lit cigarette as he tried to satisfy his curiosity.

I’ve wanted to punch a lot of people in my life, but never so much as I wanted to punch that jackass yesterday.

The fire department and paramedics got there and just in time.  Jose was fading, his eyes rolling in his head, his screams turning to moans.

It wasn’t until later that I realized we’d all been so focused on Jose, but the second guy sat there on the curb, all alone, his skin hanging in shreds, the cigarette butt I thought he’d stubbed out still between his fingers.

And I felt guilty for not realizing nobody was helping him, nobody was comforting him.   It doesn’t matter whether or not his cigarette caused the explosion.  The fact is, he was badly burned, too, and nobody ran over to help him.

I spent another hour talking to the fire department investigator.  The owner had been in the front.   I was the only one who’d seen it, who could tell them just what happened.

I’m safe.  I wasn’t hurt by the explosion.  I was far enough away.  I was lucky, so very lucky.

But that isn’t enough to stop my brain.  You see, I have what I call a looping brain.  It’s like the old reel-to-reel film.  When something happens, I can’t find the “off” switch.

Years ago, I damn near stuck my hand into a nest of pygmy rattlesnakes.  I was so traumatized I had to take sleeping pills every night for weeks, because every time I closed my eyes all I saw was my hand six inches away from 4 or 5 snakes.   The only way I stopped it was to finally force myself to keep my eyes closed and carry through with the images to the worst case scenario.  I had to lie there in bed and imagine me sticking my hand into those snakes, then those snakes all biting me.  I had to focus on all of their stupid little snake teeth biting into my flesh.  Then I had to visualize me getting away from them, calling the hospital, riding in  the ambulance.  I even visualized me being treated in the ER.  Most importantly, I visualized me coming home from the hospital, perfectly fine.

You know what?  Once I just kept my eyes closed and allowed the whole thing to play out, I was fine.

I don’t know how to do that with this one.  I am looping again.

I keep thinking “what if I’d been in that room and I’d banged my metal clipboard against something and caused a spark?  What if he’d had a lighter in his pocket and his jeans had pushed that lighter wheel just the slightest and it caused a spark in his pocket?  What if I had been down there inside that tiny room when the gas exploded?  What if that had been me stumbling around with my skin hanging off my limbs, my hair melted and fused to my skull, still on fire?”

What if that had been me?

What if I had been inside that house and the explosion had been even worse?

Why didn’t I help that poor man as he sat there alone on the curb, his flesh hanging off him?   Why didn’t I tell the 911 person I couldn’t talk to them anymore, that I needed to help him?

What if I had been disfigured?  What if I had third degree burns over all my exposed body part?

I was in that basement just a few short moments before it blew.   Yes, I got out quickly but why did I even step off that bottom stair to turn around and go back out?  I should never even have stepped off that stair.  I should have made an ass of myself and twisted my body around and gotten out of there, no matter how ungainly I looked with my overweight body trying to squeeze through that tiny door.

Yes, I am grateful that it wasn’t me.   Yes, I know luck was on my side yesterday.  Yes, I know it wasn’t me.

I know all of this in my “right mind”.

But it doesn’t stop the looping.  It doesn’t stop the mental image of Jose, it doesn’t take away the sound of his screams.

It was absolutely horrible.

I just hope I can stop the looping.

Soon.

Sigh.

So long, Planet SARK…

I just received an email telling me that the Planet SARK message board will be closing down soon.

At first, I felt a little sad but then that sadness turned to gladness and I felt a rush of gratitude.

I found SARK at a time when I needed her most.  My Dad had just died and I was about 900 songs deep into downloading on Napster.  While my friends were out partying on Friday nights I would stay home in my pajamas and steal music.

Then one day as I shopped for Christmas gifts, I came across a book that had bright colors and big, blocky handwriting.  Now, I am a girl who is very easily distracted by bright and shiny objects.  Some of you may know this about me.  I picked up the book and opened it to a page that really resonated with me.

I bought copies for two of my girlfriends and one for myself.

At the back of her book “Succulent Wild Women,” there was a website address.  I managed to leave Napster long enough to check out her website.

And I found her message board.

It was the first time I’d ever seen one.  I didn’t know what a chat room was, much less a message board.  It took weeks of watching and reading before I decided to dip my toe in the water.

That was over a decade ago.

Since then, I have had bonfires on the beach in California.  I’ve walked through the parking garage of our hotel and stumbled onto a crime scene, all while wearing rainbow toe socks with pink glitter flip flops.  I’ve flown to Oregon to see the Foos and watch naked people stumble around the Country Fair in Eugene.  I’ve sat in a garden on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Encinitas, the place I now consider my “happy place.”  I’ve flown to England and dove headfirst into the Atlantic at St. Ives until my nose felt like it would shatter from the cold.  I’ve run wild down the side of Milton Keynes in London to see the Foos sing Stacked Actor.  I’ve climbed around in tidal pools behind a restaurant in Laguna Beach that has the most amazing rose garden.  I’ve had Canadians come to visit me and skinny dip in my Gulf.  I’ve had people come to visit me from as far away as England and Australia.

Before SARK I had just a few close friends.

Now I have people all over this world that I would do damn near anything for, and I know they’d return that favor.

I won’t really miss the SARK board because I haven’t been there in years.  I have the books, I’ve met the author, I got the message and think I do a damn fine job of living juicy.

I am just so grateful that I found that book all those years ago.   My life is filled with friends and adventures that I never would have known if it wasn’t for SARK.

So thanks for the memories, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy.

A love letter to Big Red

I sat on the porch this morning and heard the woodpecker.  It’s not uncommon to hear woodpeckers around here but hearing a woodpecker first thing on Father’s Day fills my heart with love.

My Dad was a Clearwater Cop for  years.  His nickname was Big Red and he took that nickname very seriously.  He even had a western belt custom made, with the words Big Red burned into the back of it.   I remember he had a Coors Light belt buckle he wore, one he bought while visiting Aunt Genna and Uncle Gary in Colorado.  He was very proud of that belt buckle because it had a bottle opener on the inside.

My dad had a fondness for all things alcohol related.    Actually, he had a fondness for alcohol, which carried over into alcohol memorabilia.  He loved beer signs, beer hats, the collectable tin boxes that housed bottles of liquor.  He was like a frat boy with his booze memorabilia.

He was a lifelong alcoholic.  Oh, I’m sure he didn’t drink as a child but he moved away to college at 18 and, save for one six month stint in AA, he never stopped drinking after that.

My father and I had a complicated relationship before Facebook made that a popular relationship status.   I was his oldest daughter and I was the one living nearby, so it fell upon me to always pick up his pieces.    Girlfriend needed to go?  I was the one who drove to his house and moved every one of her belongings into the front yard while my Dad lay passed out in bed.    One one of his many trips to the ER he forgot where he’d had to pull my car over so the ambulance could pick him up, so I had to drive the streets I knew he traveled to work to try to find my own car.

And then there was the physical cleaning.   My dad was a hoarder and an alcoholic.   I’m sure you’ve seen those Hoarders shows by now.   Hoarding and addiction go hand-in-hand.    I was always trying to clean up his house and his life.

There was a lot of resentment.

But there was also love.

I remember every time we would leave his house, he would fill up grocery bags with canned food and dry goods.  He had no money to give us because it spent it all on alcohol and food.  Because he was born to a poor family that had just come through the depression, he swore he would never go without food and he became a food hoarder.   When he died, it took me years to finish eating all the canned goods in this house.    Because there was always so much food, he made sure to send plenty of it home with us.   If I was broke, I knew I could go shopping in Dad’s kitchen.

My Dad wasn’t big on communicating.  Oh, he’d talk about anything under the sun, just not about his feelings.  Sadly, I got this trait from him and will run away like my tail is on fire if someone wants me to talk about my feeeeeeeelings (and yes, that’s how I hear it in my mind).   But shortly before he died I remember having a long talk with  him.

It was early in the morning and I’d walked over to the convenience store to buy a gallon of milk.   The sun was just barely up but there was a heavy sea fog and you couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead of you.  On my way back, I’d heard a red-headed woodpecker tapping away in a tree right next to the sidewalk.

I slowed down and looked for the bird.    Through the fog, I finally found the redheaded woodpecker.  I watched as he tap-tap-tapped away.  I’d move a little closer and he’d stop, look down, watch me for a moment and then resume tapping.

This went on for ten minutes.  Eventually I was so close I could see all the details on his little face.  I couldn’t believe this little redheaded woodpecker let me get that close to him.   Eventually I grew tired of holding a gallon of milk, so I said goodbye to the little bird and walked home.

My Dad was awake when I got home and sitting on the porch.  I put the milk away and sat down on the stoop and excitedly told him all about my experience with the woodpecker.

I’m not sure how it happened, but that morning the conversation turned to his life and what a mess it was.  I can’t remember the exact conversation but I do remember that it was an emotional conversation.  I remember telling him I loved him.    We were a family that never, ever said goodbye without saying “I love you” but we weren’t spontaneous “I love you” kind of people.  But that morning I remember telling him I loved him.

My Dad died shortly after that conversation.   His death wasn’t unexpected and yet it still caught me by surprise.    I remember going to the hospital that morning.  I don’t remember why we went- he was already gone.  Perhaps we had to sign papers or pick up his things.  As soon as we got home I kicked into “fix it” mode.    I cleaned and I carted trash to the streets.   My dad had three sheds filled floor to ceiling with junk he’d bought and found through the years.

I went through everything.  It’s what I do.  I try to fix things.    There was no time for crying because there was stuff that needed fixing.

Months after my Dad died, months of not dealing with it, I left work early one day and went to the cemetary.  I remember it was cold that day, but it was a beautiful day, bright and clear.

I sat down near his grave and I cried.   For the first time I really cried.  Not the kind of crying you see in the movies when someone visits a grave.  Oh no, this was ugly crying.  This was heaving, sobbing, snot-faced eyes-swollen-shut crying.

I was sad.  I was sad that my dad was dead, I was sad that I’d ever gotten so mad at him that I’d wished him dead.   I was sad that this was the story of our lives and this was how our story ended.

Now I’m not big into woo, but that day I talked to my Dad and I begged him for a sign.  I begged him to show me something that would let me know he was ok.    I think I just needed to know he was finally free from whatever turmoil in his brain that led him to drink himself to death at the ripe old age of 53.

As I sat there crying,  I heard the sound of a woodpecker.    I looked over and saw a redheaded woodpecker in a tree right next to me.  I’d been sitting there for 45 minutes and hadn’t noticed that bird.    Suddenly a bird flew just over my head and landed in another tree nearby and started tapping away.    And then another one.

Within two minutes I was surrounded by redheaded woodpeckers tapping away in trees right next to me.

It’s not uncommon to see redheaded woodpeckers around here but to suddenly be surrounded by them?   Right after asking my Dad to show me a sign that he was ok?

I’ll take that woo.   Those woodpeckers that day brought me the first peace I’d felt since he died.   Those woodpeckers helped me stop crying and get up off the ground.   Those woodpeckers in that cemetary made me laugh out loud.

Those woodpeckers made everything just a little bit better that day.

Through the years, those little redheaded woodpeckers continue to bring a feeling of peace to my heart.    I remember having a particularly rough morning when I was still married but had no business still being married.  I was ironing my clothes and crying.  Suddenly I heard this loud hammering noise.     I stopped ironing and looked outside.

There sat a redheaded woodpecker on the eave of my house.  He wasn’t tapping away in a tree, he was perched on the edge of my house just outside the door a few feet away from me and he was hammering away on the vinyl fascia.  That little redheaded woodpecker was hammering on my  house and he got my attention.

And I stopped crying because I felt like my Dad was there telling me I was ok.

Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of redheaded woodpeckers and each and every one of them reminds me of Big Red.

The years have softened all the hurts.  It’s been 12 years and now it’s easier to remember the good and forget the bad.    I guess that’s just how life goes.

I’m glad I heard the woodpecker this morning.   I miss my Dad and I love my Dad.   And I just want him to be ok.  That’s all I ever wanted for him.

And now I’m off to the park to take a long walk.    Maybe I’ll see more redheaded woodpeckers.

And I’ll remember Big Red with love.