Friday, September 1, 2017

"I REJECT THAT!"

I know how lucky I am to have survived a near-fatal pregnancy 17 years ago. I know that most women who go as far over the edge as I did with eclampsia-turned-HELLP-Syndrome don’t make it out of the ICU alive.

The ICU Days: Not my best look.
Six weeks and 203 pints of blood after my ordeal began back in 2000, I was discharged from the hospital--a "miracle" by some standards.

But there was a long-term price to pay for beating the medical odds and that bill came due about seven years ago. During all the internal hemorrhaging a decade earlier, a necrotic process had taken root in my major joints—ankles, knees, hips and shoulders—resulting in difficulty walking, chronic pain and several labrum and meniscus surgeries.

I was also diagnosed with an autoimmune illness similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis and began giving myself weekly injections of low-dose chemotherapy to keep my inflammation levels under control. I ate my vegetables, drank my kale juice, and limited my pizza intake. (I’ve had a lifelong love affair with dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella.)

But I was in denial—deep, deep denial—about the inevitable deterioration of my major joints when it was determined that pretty much all of the cartilage was gone from my shoulders…and then ankles…and then knees (the hips are still working hard to hold their own). I made it bone-on-bone for several more years. I swam. I did a gentle-but-restorative form of yoga known as Kaiut. (Most of the positions are done sitting or lying on the floor, so Kaiut was perfect for me.)

I assured myself that my Kaiut yoga practice would save me from having to undergo the 5-8 joint replacements that my orthopedic surgeon warned me I’d eventually need. He said I’d know when it was time. I bet him ten bucks that I’d avoid all replacements through yoga. He said he hoped I was right.

Turns out I was wrong.

George (L) and Mary (R)
In January of this year, I was finally able to admit that I did, indeed, need to begin the process of replacing my major joints one by one or else face the rest of my life in pain and, most likely, in a wheelchair. I began with the knees, six weeks apart, this past spring. It was as (temporarily) hellish as I had been warned. But I am convinced that all that Kaiut yoga—while it didn’t allow me to avoid joint replacements—did, in hindsight, help me prepare for them. And that was good enough for me.

Five weeks after my second total knee replacement, I received a text from Jeff, the owner of my favorite yoga studio, who is also my favorite Kaiut instructor. He offered to give me a free private lesson if my husband could get me there. (I was still unable to bend my newest knee enough to drive myself.)

We arrived three days later for that session. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. Jeff walked me through a series of poses, all of them lying on the floor with my feet on the wall. I was shocked at how much I could do even with the limitations of surgery. Two days later, I was back in class on a regular basis. 


Returning to Kaiut
The sequence of Kaiut poses changes every two days, so I am never quite sure what each class will entail, let alone how much of it I’ll be able to do. But I love being there anyway if only to soak up all the good yoga vibes.

To get on the floor at the beginning of each class, I stack four bolsters against the back wall, sit on them and then slide the rest of the way down. At the end of class, Jeff and someone else hoist me up to standing by my elbows (my shoulders being too deteriorated to be pulled forward by my hands). If there’s a standing pose or a pose done on all fours, I do Legs Up the Wall instead.

Today, sandwiched between my husband and a pal, I heard Jeff give the cue to get on all fours. As I prepared to put my legs up the wall, I began to wonder if I was deluding myself in thinking that I could actually regain full mobility, imagined that I might be headed for a wheelchair regardless of how many joint replacements I get. Almost immediately I heard a very loud, very insistent voice in my head yell, “I REJECT THAT!”

And then I got mad. Mad at my medical circumstances, but madder at my lapse in optimism. And that was the moment I decided to try getting on all fours.

I rolled sideways from the bolster I was sitting on to another bolster as padding for my knees. I wound up diagonally across my mat, my hands on my husband’s mat and my feet on my friend’s mat. The thought of shifting my body and bolster so I was facing forward seemed too difficult, so I stayed put. They didn’t care. They could tell this was something big for me—my first attempt at putting weight on my new knees, now 10 and 16 weeks old. Trembling, I pulled another bolster under my arms and leaned forward, breathing heavily, straining to hold the position, catawampus though it was. My heart raced as if I were sprinting, but I was determined to hold my amended position as long as the others in class were sitting back on their heels.

As soon as Jeff said, “Now come out of the position and stand,” I flopped onto my back as if I’d just finished a marathon, ready to give myself a nice long Legs Up the Wall break. But no sooner did my ass hit the floor than Jeff was over at my side saying, “Nope, I want you standing too, Lauren. You can do this.”

WTF?!

My first three weeks back at yoga class, Jeff had let me do pretty much whatever I wanted, taking breaks as needed and ignoring the poses I couldn’t yet do. Standing poses—I assumed Jeff understood—were off limits given my crappy ankles, but this morning, he decided otherwise. 

I’ve been working with Jeff for just over two years now, so he knows my mobility issues well. He asked my husband to help hoist me to standing and had me—and everyone else in class—move right into a pose facing the wall. That got me breathing even harder, my body having atrophied over the previous three months of recovery and heavy pain medications. At times, I couldn’t even keep my hands on the wall, letting them fall at my side while I leaned against the wall with my head (definitely not part of the pose). When we were finally instructed to release the pose, I was exhausted, but in the best of ways.

I hadn’t strained like that in my 2+ years of having a consistent Kaiut yoga practice, and I have to say IT FELT AWESOME! Not because I had strained, but because I had overcome my own mental block. That one yoga class this morning was more powerful than any of the physical therapy sessions I’ve had to date.

While yoga’s goal is typically inner peace, sometimes the goal should be discovering what you’re capable of by being challenged to go beyond your self-created limitations.

Namaste, Jeff. Namaste!



For any local Boulder folks interested in trying Kaiut yoga, Yoga Loft offers a $30 for 30 days of unlimited classes.
First-timers only. www.yogaloftboulder.com 




Friday, April 21, 2017

Everyone Needs a Lift Sometimes

Today I bought a lift chair.

I’ve been preparing for my upcoming joint replacement surgeries: one shoulder, two knees and, most likely, a new ankle—all before the year’s end. Jeff and I rearranged the TV room, removing a chair and an end table in order to fit my new used stationary bike (for recovery) and my new used lift chair (for recovery from doing the stationary bike).

I had a lift chair once before, following six weeks in the intensive care unit after Clare’s dramatic and near-fatal birth. It was probably the ugliest chair I’d ever had in my possession, boasting an outdated maroon print the likes of which I’d never choose for normal furniture. But damn, I loved that chair. After awaking from a 14-to-16-hour sleep, I would, with Jeff's help, maneuver from the hospital bed in our bedroom to the living room, where I would park my broken ass in that blessed lift chair for a couple hours until I was exhausted and ready for more sleep. But the funny thing was, no matter how high the lift chair would raise me toward being upright, I still needed Jeff to boost me those last five inches to standing. When we finally got rid of that chair, I felt I had accomplished a feat greater than any of the marathons I’d run in the past. I had graduated from needing a lift, so to speak, fully capable of standing by myself.

My new lift chair is, thankfully, not as ugly as the first one. And, being used, I found it on Craigslist for a mere $50. Which is about 1/10th of what I would’ve spent if I’d bought it new. My husband and I were set to pick it up yesterday, but the seller got busy with something else and said he had to cancel. Then my husband left town for a weeklong business trip early this morning, so the seller offered to deliver the chair to my home all the way from its current location 45 minutes away. At first, I was thrilled because these things are heavy as hell and I’m not exactly in lift-chair-lifting shape (see: joint replacements, above), and I really, REALLY wanted to get my in-home recovery area set up well in advance of my first joint replacement surgery on May 9th.

I thought about the seller’s offer to bring the chair right to my home. And then I thought about a new client of mine, a real go-getter of a woman whose only hint of past trauma is the substantial scar peeking out from her neckline. Twenty-four years ago, my client tried selling her car on Craigslist and wound up with a serial killer—a literal serial killer—coming to her home, purportedly to check out the car. At night. In the rain. My client sustained a broken neck and multiple stab wounds before a neighbor heard her screaming and called 911. (My client’s attacker was later caught and charged with the deaths of several other young women and is now serving life in prison.)

So let’s just say I was a bit nervous about having a stranger deliver a used chair to my home. I tried reading into the seller’s text messages. His two young daughters were mentioned. His mother was mentioned. His work and class schedules were mentioned.  All details that indicated he wasn’t a serial killer. Then again, anyone can lie in a text, right?

But I really wanted that chair, wanted to cross one more item off my pre-surgery to-do list. So I said I’d be delighted to have him deliver it. And then I made sure someone was here with me. And I kept RuPaul home from doggie daycare—not that poodles are known for their prowess as bodyguards, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a (not so) menacing dog in my presence.

The seller—Jay—arrived this afternoon with the lift chair in the back of his run-down pickup truck. He walked with a limp, but was strong enough to handle the chair with the help of a neighbor of mine. And then, as I am wont to do, I started asking him questions about his need for the chair. What can I say? I believe everyone has a story and I was curious about his. In other words, I’m nosey.

At 30 years old, Jay began experiencing searing pain in one of his hips. He reported the pain to a doctor, who recommended an MRI. But Jay had no health insurance and couldn’t afford the MRI, so his doctor loaded him up with opioid prescriptions and sent him on his way.

More of Jay’s joints began to deteriorate and his level of pain continued to increase, as did his dependency on the pain medications. When he realized he had a problem with addiction, he worked hard to get off the meds before turning to alcohol for escape.

“Alcohol ruined my life,” he said, humbly. No whining, just a deep sadness within his voice.

“When Obamacare came along, I was finally able to get the surgeries I needed,” Jay said. To date, he has had total joint replacements in both shoulders, both knees and both hips. He still has deep pain in his hips, and his ankles are shot too. I asked if ankle replacements were coming.

“No,” he said, somewhat resigned. “The next stop for me is a wheelchair.”

Jay is only 34 years old. My heart broke when he told me this.

I paid Jay twice the price he was asking for the chair, thanking him profusely for delivering it.

And now, I’m sitting in Jay’s chair—my new used lift chair—with a greater appreciation for the hardships that so many people face, day in, day out, often with no sign of relief on the horizon. Ordinary people with extraordinary challenges. 

Despite the surgery-palooza that I'm in the midst of (1 down, 4 to go), I'm feeling pretty darn grateful about my own situation, about the people in my life who have offered support as I continue my own journey back to mobility and a less painful daily existence. 

And I’m hopeful that one day I can offer assistance to people like Jay, people who are struggling with their own medical burdens. 

Because everyone needs a lift sometimes.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I've Been Zeked!

In the fifth grade, a new girl moved to my hometown of Wenonah, New Jersey. She was tall, like me. She was goofy, like me. She had a pool, unlike me. We were instant BFFs.

Throughout middle school and high school, Mischelle—whose name was misspelled her entire life until she decided to go by “Shelly,”—and I became fairly inseparable. Except, like, that time I told her I’d be over in ten minutes to pick her up for the mall and I completely spaced and went without her. (My mother ended up driving her there when she learned from Shelly that I’d forgotten her.)

After graduating from my MBA program back in (cough, cough, mumble, mumble), I decided to spend the summer before my job started traveling the country to visit friends. I met up with Shelly and her fiancĂ©, Matt, at her parents’ home in Wenonah. After a few days there, we caravanned in two cars to Shelly and Matt’s apartment in Durham, North Carolina. At one point during the drive, Shelly and Matt pulled off the road even though we’d just had a rest stop. I pulled off too and asked them what was up. 

“Weird noise in the back of the car,” Shelly said. “I’m guessing Dad is behind this.”

Sure enough, when we opened their hatchback and unzipped one of their larger suitcases, there was a wind-up alarm clock nestled into their dirty clothes, still making a muffled clanging noise. And next to the clock was this little gem—the head of Zeke, a homemade ragdoll Shelly’s grandmother had sewn back when Shelly was still Mischelle. Time had not been kind to Zeke and he was missing his felt hat, one eye and entire body. 

“What the hell?” I said, as Shelly and Matt laughed.

“We’ve been Zeked!” Shelly exclaimed. 

She then gave me the background on this odd little doll head, telling me how Zeke had lost bits of himself over the years until one day he was nothing more than a bald one-eyed head. As kids, Shelly or one of her two sisters would often discover Zeke’s head tucked into their coat pockets—a favorite prank of their parents, who hoped to give their daughters a bit of levity on their walk to school.

I spent a week or so with Shelly and Matt in North Carolina, doing long training runs for my first marathon and lounging by the apartment complex’s pool all day while they were at work. We got into the routine of “Zeking” each other. I floated Zeke on a Tupperware lid in their toilet and shut the lid. The next morning, I awoke after they were already gone, but I found Zeke in the toe of one of my running shoes. Shortly after we went to bed one evening, I heard laughter from their bedroom. Clearly, they had just discovered Zeke tacked to the ceiling over their bed.

When I left Shelly and Matt’s to drive to New York for my new job, I stole Zeke. (Wouldn’t you?) When Shelly called me a few days later to accuse me of theft, I had my story ready. I told her I had put Zeke in an empty bag of Goldfish crackers on top of the refrigerator as my farewell Zeking. Neither could find the bag (because I’d already thrown it out), so they assumed they’d accidentally tossed it. Sadly, Zeke was gone for good. So they thought. 
 
Shelly and Matt’s wedding was scheduled for several months later. In speaking about the details with her a few weeks before the big event, she mentioned that they would be honeymooning in Aruba, but given the mischievous tendencies of Matt’s friends, they weren’t telling anyone where they would be staying.  

I expressed concern about no one knowing their whereabouts and promised to keep it a secret if she told me, that I’d feel better knowing that at least one of us knew where to find them in the unlikely event of an emergency. Shelly acquiesced and gave me the name of the resort. 

The day Shelly and Matt left for Aruba, I was giddy with joy over the devious plan I had hatched with the staff at their hotel. I had FedEx-ed a small box to the concierge so she could have it waiting in their room upon arrival. Zeke was tucked safely inside and the lid of the box was inscribed with a little rhyme: 

                          You tried to keep it a secret, 
                          But the locale of your honeymoon leaked.
                          Then a mysterious box arrives in your room.
                          Hey, honeymooners—you've been Zeked!

Remember, this was pre-email-and-texting days, and international telephone rates were high, so I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear from Shelly that day (though in hindsight, I'm sure she'd been dying to call me given the sheer awesomeness of this particular Zeking). Unbeknownst to me, she had her own plans.  When Shelly and Matt returned home, I phoned her immediately. 

"Well?!" I said, exasperated. 

"Well, what?" she replied, giving an Oscar-worthy performance of feigned ignorance.

When I asked her to detail every moment upon arriving at the hotel, she told me they had reserved a nice suite, but when they opened the door to their room the smell of cigarettes was so overpowering, they shut the door and demanded different accommodations. They never even set foot inside their original room according to her. I was crestfallen. And Shelly had me completely fooled. Now it was I who thought Zeke was lost for good. 

Two months later, my boyfriend decided it was time I met his parents. We both flew to Albuquerque, where we rented a car and drove to his folks’ home in Los Alamos, arriving after midnight. His mother had waited up for us and after an introductory hug, she immediately guided me to the Christmas tree to admire it. Ok, a tad weird, but what the hell. I admired the tree. But one compliment wasn’t enough apparently, and she insisted I continue to take in the tree’s beauty, her hands on my shoulders as if to hold me in place. I complied. And then--I screamed. 

Right in front of me, in a glistening hand-blown bulb, was Zeke, staring out at me through his glass confines. Shelly's dad had taken up glass blowing and she had obviously decided to put his talents to good use. Well done, Shelly. Well. Done. 

It took me years to bring myself to smash the bulb, freeing Zeke from his glass prison, but as they say in show-biz: the Zeke must go on! (or something like that). And what better time to do so than the occasion of Shelly’s first pregnancy. 

I was living in Los Angeles by then and had a good pal who worked in character licensing at Disney (read: had access to more Disney-character crap than should be legal). I bummed a half dozen miniature Winnie-the Pooh stuffed animals from her, as Shelly had already told me the baby's nursery would be decorated in Pooh motif. I then savagely cut off the face of one of the mini-Poohs, inserting Zeke in the gaping hole and stitching him in place, in effect creating a sort of FrankenPooh—cuddly body, creepy face. I stacked the Poohs in a tight box, three facing up, three facing down. FrankenPooh was facing down. I giftwrapped the box and mailed it to Shelly’s parents’ home, where she and Matt would be spending the holidays. Then, I waited. 

Unable to sleep for long stretches at that point in her pregnancy, Shelly woke up early on Christmas morning and sat in the living room killing time until the rest of the family got around. She scanned the gifts under the tree and found mine. Seeing no harm in opening a non-family gift without the rest of the gang present, she opened the package. And then--she screamed. Suffice it to say, the rest of the family was now wide awake as well. 

Um, thanks for the hat?
As the Zekings increased over the years, so too did the level of creativity involved. Zeke had been stowed inside a thick book entitled, appropriately, Zeke (the pages within having been carved out to fit his head), sewn onto a hat that was presented to me at a class reunion, and even baked into cranberry bread (a feat which required constantly pushing his head back to the bottom of the bread pan with a fork throughout the baking process, as it kept rising to the surface). 

Not even a death in the family was reason enough to put the Zeke-centric shenanigans on hold. Shortly after Shelly left town following my step-dad's memorial service, I found Zeke lurking in my refrigerator. 


Perhaps the greatest Zekecomplishment came to fruition the day Jeff and I picked up the developed photos from the thirty or so disposable cameras we’d left on the tables at our wedding reception—again, we’re talking pre-smart-phone-camera days. 

Aside from the 40 or so throw-away pictures of the ground and the sky that my four-year-old nephew had taken, there were loads of nice shots of our friends and family members. 

We flipped through hundreds of photos until we got to them—the photos of various wedding guests, each holding or kissing or cuddling Zeke. One of Zeke at the hors d’oeuvres table. One of Zeke at the urinal in the restroom. Even one of Zeke hovering over Jeff’s and my heads as we cut the nontraditional wedding pie!  

I still have no idea how Shelly pulled that one off, bringing Zeke to my own wedding without my knowledge. I'm perhaps even more impressed that none of my friends ruined the surprise. I tend to hang out with people who are as incapable of keeping a secret as I am. Bravo!

Me and Shelly's Mini-Me, Mary
When Shelly’s second child stayed with us last summer during a post-college road trip, I accused her of having Zeke with her, as surely her mother had put her up to something and we’d find him in the cupboards or dirty laundry when she left. 

I was on high alert for days after she departed, certain I’d discover him hiding in the next drawer I opened. But Zeke never materialized. 

Recently, I was thrilled to learn that Shelly and Matt themselves would be visiting. 

They showed up for a couple days last week, a stopover on a road trip from Utah back to North Carolina. I threatened Shelly that Zeke had better not be in her luggage. She swore he wasn’t with her. And she was telling the truth. Sort of.

Two days after she and Matt left, a box arrived in the mail. It was addressed to me, though now that the dog has a monthly subscription to Bark Box, he believes every package that shows up is for him. 

I tend to do a lot of online shopping, so boxes arriving are commonplace. I opened it thinking it contained vitamins or books, two things I order online with regularity. Nope. It was a red water bottle, the type I don’t use. I wondered if Amazon had made an error. I handed the bottle to my daughter, figuring she could have it. She unscrewed the lid and then--she screamed. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Tucked inside the bottle was, of course, Zeke. 

And so the burden of Zeking Shelly rests at my feet once more, and I take this responsibility with great pleasure. Ideas? Send ‘em my way! 

And down the road, when my body is old and giving out, I will likely request an open-casket viewing at my own funeral...just to give my childhood BFF the opportunity to pull off the ultimate Zeking: tucking a creepy little doll head into my cold dead hands. I mean, come on—what are friends for, right? 


Zeke Buddies for Life




Saturday, March 25, 2017

Asshat

Something happened five months ago and I still can’t shake it. And I still haven’t resolved it. Not to my satisfaction anyway.

A newer local friend of my daughter’s—let’s call her Jane for the sake of anonymity—told her she should connect with a summer camp pal of hers through Snapchat because “he’s really cool.”

Mr. Cool—let’s call him Dick—lives in an affluent town in central New Jersey and had been going to the same summer camp as Jane for several years.

My daughter, who’s outgoing and goofy and loves meeting people from all over, asked me what I thought. I said, “Wouldn’t be something I’d recommend since you don’t know him. On the other hand, he’s a friend of Jane’s, and she’s nice so it probably wouldn’t be a problem.”

Big Motherhood Mistake #1: Ignoring your own rule about your kid connecting online with people she doesn’t know. I’d made that rule when Clare was much younger and needed greater guidance with online activity. At 16, I figured she could make that call. Plus, he was a friend of a friend. Stupid me.

Clare accepted Dick's request to connect on Snapchat. Then they, well, chatted. Simple stuff, pretty benign. She read most of their exchange to me as it was unfolding—admittedly, with me rolling my eyes inside because I could think of about a thousand things I’d rather do than carry on an inane conversation with someone I didn’t know, like read a book, clean the refrigerator, or stick a knitting needle through my eye.

Eventually, the conversation wound down and Dick sent a message something along the lines of “I’m bored.” Clare read that one to me and I repeated my oft-expressed belief that only boring people get bored. She messaged back to Dick, with the slightest touch of irreverence, that maybe he ought to download a new video game if he’s bored and “might I suggest one of my favorites, Plants vs. Zombies?”

His reply? Send me some nude pictures of yourself.

Seriously, dude? This is your idea of wooing a girl? What kind of warped mind is in that pea-brained head of yours, anyway?

Jeff and I had already had this discussion with Clare before—the one about never sending nudes and never being coerced into doing something you don’t want to do, and how asshats who pressure you to do something unscrupulous or unsafe are just that: asshats. And no one likes hanging out with asshats.

I knew Clare wouldn’t allow herself to be pressured into complying with Dick's demand, but she asked my advice on how to reply. I suggested she drop the conversation and ignore him. She did.

Apparently, Dick—ah screw it; let’s just call him Asshat, shall we?—doesn’t like being ignored.

The next morning, Asshat sent an ugly follow-up message. And the thing about Snapchat is, unless the recipient quickly captures a screenshot, the message disappears in a matter of seconds after being opened. But the thing about Clare is, she has a quick mind and quicker fingers. She grabbed a screenshot. Here’s what this little d-bag from my home state had to say (with the real name of "Jane" whited-out):


Clare ignored the message, but Asshat couldn’t leave well enough alone. Twenty-one minutes later he sent another Snapchat to her:


Wow. Just fucking wow.

I was volunteering at school that day, so Clare found me in the office of her theater instructor and showed me the screenshots of Asshat’s messages, seeking guidance on how to deal with them. I told her to immediately block him from her Snapchat account. She already had (smart girl).

Clare had also already approached her friend Jane and showed her the messages, telling her that she planned to address the issue because Asshat’s remarks were nasty, uncalled for, and bordering on verbal assault. Jane apologized, but then begged Clare to “just drop it,” stating that Asshat was an important friend to Jane and she couldn’t stand the thought of losing him. WTF?!  

Clare’s theater teacher, a kind-hearted and easy-going mid-westerner, was also in the office with us, and to say he was pissed about Asshat’s behavior was an understatement. He suggested we meet with the high school’s assigned police officer to get input on how best to handle the situation. In my mind, Asshat didn’t need to be arrested, but did need a parental intervention lest he grow up to be an adult asshat, or worse. Sometimes, as kids—or even as adults—just being confronted about our stupid shit is enough to prevent us from repeating it.

We set up an appointment with the on-campus cop to review all the details of what had occurred in the last 24 hours. It was extremely helpful and we learned several things:

(1) Asshat’s messages, while vile, are not illegal.
(2) Asshat is a “predator”—this is the term used by the police officer, who had seen more of this sort of ugly bullying bullshit than he cared to. 
(3) If Asshat moved so quickly to demanding nudes from my daughter, then it’s fairly certain he’s doing the same with other girls. And if he was quick to become a bullying d-bag when Clare wouldn’t comply, it’s fairly certain he’s responding the same way to other non-complying girls.
(4) If left unchecked, Asshat will likely assume he can continue getting away with this douchebaggary. And at some point, the thrill of online verbal abuse would wear off and he might want to take his dickishness up a notch. So what comes next? It’s a slippery slope, this propensity to denigrate others.   
(5) If we confront him via his parents (I’d already done a bit of googling and know his parents’ names, address, occupations, and phone numbers.), there is a slight chance of retribution by Asshat—or hell, even by his parents. After all, we don’t know much about this little prick—or his parents—beyond the basic details.
(6) We should contact Jane’s parents and let them know that their daughter is communicating with a predator. For her safety.
(7) Clare should not communicate directly with Asshat in the future. (No chance of that, My kid prefers kind people.)

It was a lot to take in and both Clare and I left unsure of our next steps.

And now, it’s five months later and this little creepozoid still pops into my mind here and there. Because I never contacted his parents. Because I allowed fear to keep me rooted in non-action. Because I want to believe the best in others, yet have been around long enough to know that not everyone is a basically decent person. Some people are simply messed up, mean, cruel, violent and dangerous. Because I don’t want to take the chance that this kid could be the type to seek revenge on my daughter.

What would you do? I genuinely want to know. Because I don’t know.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Unfinished Portraits


There was a woman. 

Her name was Eileen.

Duke by Eileen Potts Dawson
She sent me an unsolicited portrait of my sweet four-legged boy, Duke, shortly after his passing two years ago this month (see: The Kindness of Strangers). 

No request for money. Not even reimbursement for the matting or postage to ship it to me. 

Her only motivation: make the world a better place by sharing her art. 

Eileen’s art consisted of countless pet portraits that managed to capture each subject’s unique trait—their imploring eyes, that crooked smile, whatever it was that made each of them so loveable to their humans. 

Months after hanging Duke’s portrait in our home, our ornery rescue Dachshund, Jack, equal parts decrepit and endearing, passed. Without Duke as his guide dog, our blind, deaf and incontinent little guy had lost his way. And by way I mean marbles.

We gave Jack the best transition to the Great Beyond that we could: a five-egg cheese omelet, a fireside nap despite August temperatures in the 80s, and a home-visit from the Dr. Kevorkian of the pet world, Home to Heaven, who, with great tenderness and compassion, helped him cross the portal into life’s next big adventure.  

A week or so later, another unsolicited portrait by Eileen arrived. Jack—sans cataracts—looking every bit the 12-pound badass that he was.

Jack-Jack by Eileen Potts Dawson

Eileen and I developed a friendship, albeit from a distance. I sent her clients for her art. She sent me edits for my latest novel manuscript that features a dog as its protagonist (and even gave me a much better title, which I’ve since adopted). We both sent each other comedic election memes that kept us laughing instead of crying over the political climate of our country. And inspiring dog rescue videos when the political memes weren't enough.

Not All Projects Come to Completion
In December, when the Great Dane belonging to family friends passed away, I sent Eileen a check and a photo and asked her to work her magic. Because Eileen had already gifted me two portraits, I insisted she accept payment for this one. 

A month later, when the check still hadn’t been cashed, I emailed her, playfully chiding her for being so stubborn about accepting payment. The response I got stunned me.

"The truth is I'm not doing so well. Rose will be here on the 12th and I'm hoping she will get me going so I can do one more portrait."

Eileen had already shared her recent ALS diagnosis with me and I knew she’d left her 9-to-5 with the Madison public school system to focus on health. But it never occurred to me how swiftly ALS could fuck a person up. I insisted she forget about the portrait for my friends, but she said it brought her joy to do her art and so she was hoping she could complete this one for me.

A couple weeks later, Eileen’s sister, Rose, with whom I’d also become online friends, flew to Wisconsin to help her. She found Eileen so weak she had to be carried from her bed to her couch and back to her bed each day. She could no longer speak at all. With Rose's encouragement, Eileen managed to eat one piece of bacon and a bit of baby food—the most she’d eaten in days. 

Twenty-four hours later, Valentine’s Day, Eileen was gone.

It didn’t take long before people began posting their pets’ portraits, compliments of Eileen, on her Facebook page, a makeshift memorial to a talented artist and a generous soul.

It’s likely that Eileen donated and gifted more portraits than she sold because her heart was far stronger than her capitalistic instincts. If she was touched by the story of a cat or dog—usually a rescue animal—she poured that emotion into her art. And then sent that art to the humans associated with each portrait subject, regardless of whether or not she knew them.

I believe this was Eileen’s way of confirming that these pets had touched more lives than their humans knew.

And by doing what she did best—sharing her talent and compassion with the world—Eileen herself touched more lives than she knew.

You will be missed, friend. Woof!

Eileen Potts Dawson
1947 - 2017