Saturday, March 25, 2017


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