Penny <3

One of the crazy things about this perpetual lockdown we are experiencing this year has been the isolation and solitude that has impacted many of us. We stay at home, socializing is a fading memory (unless it is one of the Zoom meetings everyone wants to choke down our throats), and though we cannot help being connected by fiber optic filaments and radio signals, in our little boxes, we are starved of that connection we used to have.

Recently, my living situation changed and I have move back to the town where I grew up. It is about 60 miles from the nearest anything, unless you count mountain peaks, rolling sage-covered hills, and the sharpest blue sky you’ll ever see in your life. The place where I have lived for the last six years was a nice little house in a Front Range suburb, but over the years I have lived there, I have soaked nearly $90k into it that I will never see again. This is why you buy instead of renting, kids. With my lease up, and no job prospects in the area, I decided to move back to where I grew up. The ancestral family home was vacant for years and needed just a little TLC to get it back up to being homey again. It needs more work, but that will come gradually. My son makes the sixth generation of my family to live here.

The view from my front door

One of the nice things about moving is in this time of isolation, I no longer have to abide by the requirements of the lease which forbid a pet of any kind. In the weeks when my son is with his mom, it gets lonely. It has for a long time, but this year in particular, I think everyone has felt the tension, the isolation, even more acutely.

In late December, my aunt who lives in Washington told my mom about a yellow lab her son picked up in a field near their home, which has been a notorious dumping ground for unwanted pets. She was up to four dogs herself so when she suggested I take the four month old pup, I didn’t hesitate.

I’ve been a dog person for my whole life and when I left my marriage, I didn’t get any of our dogs in the settlement. Even though both of them were technically my birthday presents from two different years. It would have been a lot of fight over something I couldn’t even have at the house where I was living. I’ve been pet free for six years. There are times when you miss having a dog around. A quiet night at home alone when you just wish you could pet your dog while watching TV and of course when you accidentally drop a fried egg on the floor.

The big question is who the hell abandons puppies during this lockdown? Pure LAB PUPPIES. The animal shelters in Colorado have been on two month waiting lists for adoptions. Everyone is feeling the loneliness and since they are all stuck at home, they figure they should get a dog or something.

So, my mom and I loaded up in the car and drove to meet her sister halfway in Burley, Idaho. When we got there, my aunt had this timid, tiny yellow lab on a leash who barked at me when we walked up. I thought, “Oh, crap. I just drove five hundred miles for a dog that doesn’t even like me.” That night, after the pup had warmed up to me, she slept on my bed at the hotel. And proceeded to puke on the bed in the middle of the night.

She’s getting used to the house, the same as my son and me. She fetches for hours, barks at strangers, until they become friends, and takes herself for walks. If I’m not going fast enough when I take her on a walk, she takes a length of leash in her mouth and pulls me along behind her. Today, I wasn’t paying enough attention when she was asking to go outside, so she pulled my jacket off the hook and dragged it to the front door.

Coat check service now available

“Come on, dad. This is how we do things!”

Yesterday she played with three French Bulldogs my good friends have. It was a mass of dogs just rolling all over the floor. Panting, covered in slobber, having a blast. She slept nearly the whole three hour drive home.

Having Penny has enriched our lives, and as my son says, “We’re a complete family now!” There is something about our animals that brings us together. Just like fire in a hearth or the scent of bread baking. Maybe they connect us to the land again. Maybe they give us what people find almost impossible to give: unconditional, selfless love. It’s worth the middle of the night walks and sometimes a little puke on the bed.

Totally worth it.

Short winter days

These short winter days can be hard. Grey days where the sun rises but little warmth comes from it. Then before you know it, it is dipping down beyond the horizon and night comes. The afternoon is measured out in the number of times the heater kicks on. The roads are icy, the steam and smoke rises from the chimneys of houses up and down the street. Nowadays there isn’t the acrid scent of woodsmoke in the air. The stores are much emptier than they would be less than two weeks from Christmas.

In what used to be a busy season, people are staying home, which is fine. I don’t feel like Peopleing much these days anyway. Winter was never my favorite season, mostly from being a sickly kid and knowing that an auditorium filled with coughing kids for the school Christmas Program would always end with me on antibiotics in less than a week. But I did love skating and sledding and innertubing and trudging through the snow, reinacting the scenes from Hoth in Empire Strikes Back with my husky, Scooter.

Today, I am in the middle of moving things around, cleaning, boxing things up. Getting ready to leave a lot of things behind that I have grown accustomed to over the last twenty years. Today I watched Fiddler on the Roof, and so many of the things of this movie affected me in different ways. Watching your children grow up, losing people you love, and even uprooting yourself from not only the place you have called home, but also your traditions that have kept things for falling apart. Some of those traditions could be called a rut. Who is to say that ahead lies a better way?

What I see in the place I am now is a place where people live in fear. 25 years ago, I first made these observations. I was a kid used to freedom. My hometown was boring, but you could drive for twenty minutes and be in the mountains, hiking in places that people in the Front Range see only in postcards. I was dating a girl at the time who lived in the suburbs of Denver. Her parents (her mother at least) used to refer to me as a bohunk or a hick. The extent of her worldliness was that she hardly ever left the house. They would videotape movies and TV shows to watch in their basement theatre setup. Other than the store (and work for the dad), or school for the girl I was dating, their window into the world was mostly the TV. Yet, I was the hick.

There were always rumors of a train derailment, or crime, or a home intruder, or some sort of external boogieman that kept them locked safely inside their home. Today, I see that on a large scale. The news, the government, little signs all over town telling us to be afraid, be very afraid. And anyone who raises a hand and says “None of this sounds right,” is shouted down. You are trying to kill helpless old people! You need to trust the science! You need to cover your face and bend the knee! It is emotionally exhausting. Between that and the traffic and the fear of gangs and racism and the every-shifting tides of popular opinion, it’s a wonder there is a shred of sanity left in any of us.

It will be good to leave it.

I’m tired of these grey days. The red lights. These days people are filled with a lot more worries and arguments than they are handshakes, hugs, smiles, or laughter. Though I will miss my daily trip to get coffee, I have felt like I am outgrowing that place these days. The smiles and short visits seem hollow anymore. The shine has worn off. The faces and names are all changing. People come and go. And I feel like that tall stone in a field that just watched the seasons pass, the grasses grow fall before the blade and grow again, never growing myself.

I have my work cut out for me, but at least it is honest work. My poetry professor in college used to say “Writing is lying.” I don’t agree with that anymore. I think writing is honesty. Tolerating what we see and hear without comment is lying. As the pictures come down from my walls and the books find their places in boxes, a life built here for the last six years is slowly draining out of this place. On the floor are marks left by heavy furniture which is no longer in the place it stood, closets empty out, the rooms increase in size, inviting the potential of the next resident.

I have finally given myself permission to do this. Something I should have done years ago but didn’t have the opportunity. Instead I kept my head low at work, with my ex-wife, with everything, just letting the world pass me by. It’s time to start moving forward again.

Soon, the days will get longer, the rains will come, the sun will shine. Five. Ten years will pass. Then many more. New friends will be made, old friends will fade away. Painful memories will have dulled and the sharp edges will be filed off with time. Maybe the busy world of the cities will find some peace, because right now, I don’t have much hope for places like this. It’s no place to grow up or wind up. A place where people cannot think for themselves anymore. Just waiting for the next wave to crest and maybe, just maybe if they keep their heads down, they can hold on long enough for the next one, and the next, and so on until the end.

It is best to follow opportunity, which is what I am doing. I don’t need to play mother-may-I anymore while we all sit on a sinking ship. It’s time for something better.

A quiet night at home

Lately I haven’t been feeling like myself. My writing has been put off for over a month now, other than the occasional notes that I feel compelled to put into my phone. Those cannot be helped, since they come upon me suddenly, in traffic, watching TV, at the store. For a few days now, I have struggled to sit down and even put a single word down. This bothers me as I sit and stare at the screen, once again sucked into the triangle of social media, flipping and scrolling: Facebook, Instagram, Email.

The days go by. The things that felt so important to write over a month ago feel like they are fading. The emotions that were driving that have become almost rote. At some point, I got to the point that the things that I have let go of a lot of the things that used to cause so much anguish in my heart. They no longer bother me. And that bothers me.

I have other battles to fight now, other storms to endure on dark choppy seas. I have decided to make a major decision in my life, and unfortunately the last court hearing has taken some wind out of my sails here. One of my posts was used as an exhibit in court. I feel almost violated by this tresspassing. It has caused me to censor what I say here because someone is always watching. You would think that would eventually fade, but it doesn’t. I don’t like being stalked. I don’t like having to suppress my voice because someone can go through a million words and cherry pick what they want and pull something out of context to use against me. My own words, things that I have chosen and put down for others in a writer/reader relationship…it just leaves me feeling dirty inside.

I’m moving. After 20 years (plus another four for college) in the same town, it is time.

So that has been on my mind lately, as are the expected reprecussions of my decision to do so. There is very little holding me here, and if you are somewhere you aren’t valued, then you need to go somewhere you are. So the expense, the ensuing calamity, the timing, and all the work to be done still are weighing heavy on my mind. Am I moving forward or failing? Right now it is hard to tell. In the meantime, I need to be Dad, I need to make money, I need to hold everything together as best I can. This year has been like stress BINGO. At this point I’ve almost got Blackout. Throw in Christmas and of course COV1D, and I’m feeling the weight of things.

Tonight I was visiting with a friend. She echoed my sentiments of how heavy everything was these days. The weight of having to always be strong. Not only for her kids, but for everyone else. It is exhausting and it never stops. We weigh ourselves down with how we are supposed to be to others on the outside that her idea of a perfect day could have been taken as selfish. Just a day to herself, isolated, relaxed.

As parents we are told by other parents how we can’t have a minute to ourselves. If we do, we are judged. Probably because other parents want so desperately to just be left the hell alone for a day or three. To not have to hear “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” or “Dad, can you drive me someplace?” or “Buy me that!”

As single parents, we get no help. We get no sympathy. Our kids get bored with us too because we are tapped out. We don’t want to play the board games, we don’t want to fix the toy. As awful as it sounds, sometimes we don’t have the energy for our friends either. The ones with the relationship problems (at least they have one that is driving them nuts), the others who are just bored and always know we are available to entertain them.

I could relate to her fantasy. Just a day for someone else to take care of her and then leave her alone. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

My fantasy was similar, but echoed one of my own experiences. I wanted a day and a night of just walking around a city I’ve never been to before. It is drizzly, like a Dashiel Hammett novel. I’m warm and dry in my wool coat. I just walk the city and observe. I feel the ideas soaking in. Filling my mental tanks again. I don’t think about moving, money, loss, the future, making meals for my son, uncertainty of the years ahead or the years long gone, sex, death or any of the things that occupy my thoughts these days. I am just taking everything in and being present in the moment. That is selfish too.

As parents, we are expected to be focused on being parents all the damn time. So many of us lose sight of who we are ourselves. I am more than Dad. She is more than Mom. Why then are we made to feel so guilty when we want something for ourselves? When will people learn that we show our children how to take care of themselves by letting them see us take care of ourselves?

When I went to London in 2019, there was a night I got on a double decker bus and just let it take me all over the city. It had been raining, and the raindrops were lit up on the glass with the blues and reds of the city at night. I got off the bus at Marylebone and walked and took the tube back home. I walked all over that city and had never felt more exhilerated, lonely, and even at peace until then. I was forced to think about only THIS moment. That night, the city was mine and everyone else around just dissolved into that damp night. I didn’t think about the relationship that had vexed me, or that I was alone in another country. Or that nobody else would ever want me again. I was nervous about venturing out, but as the night progressed, I felt comfortable in my own skin.

I miss that these days. I hate moving, but I need to. This is a move upwards, instead of just hunkering down and hoping the wrong people forget about me and finally leave me alone. Or that I am right where someone else left me so they can come calling if it suits their whim.

There is so much more to life, and I’m tired of living for other people. I’m tired of not taking chances for the same reason I didn’t for the last twenty years. I didn’t have “permission.”

It’s time to get on that bus and see where it takes us.