A celebration of life was held in our backyard this morning. It was attended by Sister and I, as well as animal representatives Luna and Django. Luna, the ADHD-addled teenager, was all over the place, not understanding what was going on but having a great time helping. “We’re digging holes in the back yard?” Luna loves the dirt, and she loves rootballs that resemble human hearts. With her all-black coloring and demon-eyes, watching her rip and tear makes me proud, and a bit nervous.
I would use a three-pronged prospector’s pick to loosen the clay, until Luna would get nosy. Then I’d shovel some dirt out, toss an empty plastic bottle across the yard and shovel some more, before Luna would come dashing back to the top of the dirt-pile, knocking a bunch of dirt back into the hole. At one point I would pick with my left hand while she attacked the shovel in my right. Some days this might make me cranky and impatient, but today I was enjoying her insolent distractions.
The time had come to bury Sandy.
With all the upheaval in our pet world, I am happy to report that things are settling down. I think everyone is getting used to each other.
The one who’s had issues the longest is the patriarch cat, our furry leader of leaders in the great outdoors, Django.
Man, you don’t know the half of it.
Luna is the newest addition to the family. She came from a home in the country, a crow’s flight from where Sister and I grew up. Luna had several puppy-brothers and sisters, and a Mama dog, so her move to the big city was probably a scary thing. (“All of a sudden, there I was, surrounded by colorful humans, a grouchy Mama-dog, and a bunch of cats that hate me!”) Luna won the humans over immediately. Sandy the Auntie-dog is adapting well. Django? Well, he’s working on it…
Say hello to my leetle frenn. This is Venus. (Or Luna. Jury is still out, but I prefer Venus.) She is part boxer, part Labrador. A Blab.
She’s cute and tiny and sturdy for a puppy. She’s taken to Sandy, who is proud as a new mother. She’s showing Venus the ropes, including the pecking order. If you don’t want your own carrot, Venus, don’t try to take Sandy’s. Sandy takes her carrots seriously. If the Guinea pigs get a carrot, so does Sandy. Interlopers will have their face eaten off. Venus learned this right out of the gate. Yipe yipe yipe!
Venus has learned to use the yard already; only one household mishap. She seems to sleep a lot. I wonder if she’s been eating green scraps off the floor in Sister’s room? Not the case. Apparently she keeps quite busy during the swing-shift hours, a doggie after my own heart.
It was a happy Sunday for me. I had a visit from a very special friend or two, who walked the city with me during lunch hour, and brought gifts of clothing and weed. (A really nice glass promo pipe and a gram or two of some fine icky. They don’t smoke much.) I found an airtight comtainer, and upon arriving home I took said pipe and icky into the front yard for the Perseid meteor shower show. I saw nussing. Nussing! But I had a wonderful time playing the harmonica and cuddling with Django, who decided for the first time ever that he wanted to curl up on my lap. He was most gentle, but his claws got to my leg eventually and I had to send him walking. Still, I could feel the love.
In all, a wonderful day. And now I have Monday and Tuesday off, to find some kind of amusement and get rid of all the pent-ups before Wednesday. That’s Next Call for responsibility.
Besides the little dog outside my door, that is.
“Neptune’s not doing so good.” Sister met me at the door. I went down the hallway and saw an all-too-familiar sight in the bathroom. One of our animals, curled up on the floor under a blanket.
“What happened?” Nobody seemed to know. He was old, at least ten. He’d been getting skinny, to the point where Sis would buy him canned cat food, but mostly he mooched human food. The last few months he wanted a taste of everything. He’d be underfoot to the point of irritation, but so lovable about it I couldn’t just boot him out of the way.
We shared many moments in the hallway, or late at night in the kitchen, when he’d be on-point, waiting for a flicker of movement, then a pounce! He’d come out with a ball of fur and a tail, and after a couple hard bites, if the mouse was small enough, it would disappear. If it was too big? It ended up on Sister’s pillow as a token of affection.
I’m going to miss my buddy. When I saw him on the floor, I knew I couldn’t just hang out and watch. “I’ll see you around, buddy.” I stroked behind his ears the way he liked. He raised his head a little, gave me a mew, and laid back down. I walked under the overpass as nightfall approached, and the lights dimmed briefly. At that point I knew. When I got back home, Sister again met me at the door. “Neptune has moved on to greener pastures.” I didn’t need to hear more.
I got up at dawn. My niece was crying quietly. My sister was in the backyard, adding another stone to the Pet Sematary. I am grateful she took care of this one. I would have taken care of it, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
It’s just gonna be weird not seeing him outside my door every night.
And the hits just keep on coming.
Over the past few years I’ve been in several relationships with women. Some more serious than others, but none too serious. It seems as though the seasons of love are changing again, and Fall is approaching.
Rain moved out around Thanksgiving, and hasn’t been back to visit once. She comes to my work, and I see her at her place, or downtown, but she doesn’t come to the house. We aren’t fighting or ‘separated’, but we aren’t as cozy as we used to be. Drifting apart.
Meg grew intolerable over time. I don’t know if it was a change in medication, ongoing meth use or plain ol’ insanity, but she turned on me and lit bridges on fire. She was a best-of friend and occasional discreet lover. She had delusions, and even tried filing a police report. (The police never came.) I miss her, and think of her every day, but I don’t contact her. I had to step away.
I’ve made friends with a couple women, but have been wary of pursuing anything further than bong-hit-buddies. I just ain’t ready to jump feet-first into the water; I need to lay by the side of the pool for a minute.
But there’s always Angel!
For the past decade Angel and I have had a flirtatious ongoing friendship. I always assumed we’d hook up some day, if we were both single at the same time. (It almost happened, but only for about a month, and simply didn’t take off.) We’ve maintained contact via text message. The other day when I was by her landlord’s office, I used it as an excuse to text her. The tone of her returning text seemed different. Cooler.
Then she texted, “Is it cheating to talk just talk with someone when you’re in a relationship?”
My heart sank, then something came over me. An enlightenment. I was even more free. I have never been able to let go of a woman until I know she’s going to be okay. It sounded like Angel was most okay. Good for her.
I texted back, “If it feels like cheating it probably is, they say. I understand, and if that’s what’s going on I wish you the best. I’m right over here, and always will be. Maybe I’ll let you instigate the texting from now on.” I tacked on a smily-face emoticon to remove any perceived snark, and sent.
I followed up almost immediately with, “But don’t mistake my quiet for lack of interest. I will always have a crush on you.” I hit send.
“Aw, you rock. Thanks.” There they were, Angel’s last words.
I brought up all messages for deletion: 200 exactly. Wow. It seemed like there would be more.
After a seven-day stretch, I needed time away from work. The public was getting to me. I texted Dr T. “Would you mind some company? I have a pressing urge to smoke a joint on your balcony.”
He texted back, “Sure. Hell, we can go onto the roof!”
I’d been to the balcony, but not into Dr T’s apartment. Access to a rooftop in the Pearl?
I rolled two joints.
I told him I was traveling on ‘Rain-time,’ meaning I’d get there when I get there. But the punctual white-boy in me won’t keep people waiting, and I managed to be only an hour later than planned. Dr T assured me the only thing I was missing were South Park reruns. I enjoyed the summer sunset, and arrived as the sky started to darken.
I could tell by the look on her face that things weren’t right. My usually happy-go-lucky sister had been blue. If I could get her talking, I could figure out what was wrong.
There have been lots of major life obstacles and changes the past couple years. My sister, who is stoic in the worst of times, was beginning to wear down. If it’s showing, it must be bad. She and my Bro-in-law took a mini-vacation to the beach, but at the last minute the kids decided they didn’t want to go. When Bro-in-law drives, it comes with a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that sounds like stating things aloud to see if they make sense. I avoid car rides with my Bro-in-law for just such reasons. A four-hour car ride? That’s a lot of vitriol. Without the kids to soften the dialogue, I imagine it was a lot of intense psychotherapy for my sister to have to absorb.
And absorb she does. She is the one who takes all the hits for the family. She’s the last one to eat. She’s the one who gets up out of a sound sleep to fetch my niece a glass of water, because that’s just who she is. So when I asked “What’s up?” in a certain way as we stood in the hallway of our home for the past fifteen years, she started to crack.
“Remember when I almost drowned? I was about nine or so, and got taken out to sea? I was out a couple hundred yards, and thought I was a goner, then a bright light came from above. It was like God cast his eye upon me, looked down and said, ‘Hey Jackass, stop that. Your mother needs you.’ I didn’t know if it was god or Mom, but I took it as a sign, and at that moment the tide pushed me back in.”
“Mom would be proud you confused her for God, but would probably have slapped you for blasphemy.”
That got a laugh. She took a deep breath. “I haven’t drank for about six months now. I don’t want to, hate the thought, but STILL it calls to me. The last night I worked, someone left an almost-full half-gallon jug of vodka in a room. If we’d gone back to the beach that night, I’d have drank that bottle and gone for a long swim in the ocean. I just got to where I…don’t… give…a…fuck.”
By now tears were streaming down her face. “I love my life, I love my kids, I love you, I love it all, but lately I’ve been so goddamned depressed! And as I am thinking about jumping in the ocean for that final swim, the sky out the window to the backyard lit up, like the eye in the sky. God or Mom was looking down, then a hummingbird popped up in my face. It was just so random and beautiful, and just when I needed it most. It was like getting a hug from Mom.”
Mom gave spectacular hugs, and I knew better than to compare, but if anyone needed a hug at that moment, it was us. We held each other like the two scared kids we once were. The world is coming to an end, but not the way we’d been told. This wasn’t Armageddon. This was nature’s way. People and things are born, and then they die. We can only hope our time here is pleasant. I flashed back to times in hospital waiting rooms when we waited for word on mom or dad. Of course, we didn’t hug or show emotion. I was a tough Irish kid, and Sister followed my example. It’s not pussyish to cry, unless you’re in public. We sat there stone-faced and waited. We still do, in a way.
After a moment of reassurances, and about a five-minute mopdown period, we were back to normal. I think just getting it out of her system helped a lot. The look of frustration she’d been carrying is gone, and the smiles are genuine again. Bro-in-law has been in a better mood. He’s about done with vacation, and while we love him, he needs to be out of the house more. We do best when we are ships that pass in the night, but we are still there for each other, because that’s who WE are. WE are family.
And we still have Mom watching over us. Thanks for the hug, Mom. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Update: After I wrote this piece, and was walking to work, the sky parted for a minute and the sun shone down on me. It may have been a meteorological coincidence, but it felt like a hug to me. Thanks, Mom.
The Fourth of July isn’t my favorite holiday, but I try to make the best of it.
I don’t care for fireworks. I like pretty lights, but the smoke, noise and PTSD from neighborhood beefs isn’t worth the payoff.
I made plans to visit Dr T and Jem for the fireworks display. They live on the edge of the Pearl, up the street from Rain. Their view from the terrace is a sight to behold. It looks over the back side of the main post office toward the whole of downtown. The fireworks would backlight the city from that angle. It sounded lovely.
We’d talked of getting together as couples, maybe a dinner out? I liked the sound of it, but questioned the likelihood. I know what it’s like to get Rain to show up for something just involving me. Before planning something grand, perhaps a small test. Would she be able to be ready and down the street by nightfall?
Short answer, no.
Plans changed, from meeting downtown at 7 PM, to come to my house, to be right there, to me on the sofa waiting. I’d timed my drugs for nightfall, so I was having fun, but getting bluer by the minute. My visit with Rain was nice enough, everything was friendly. Salty came and went, I gave him a good luck joint, which I’m sure he’s promptly lost. As 9 PM approached, I began to feel claustrophobic. The room collapsed inward when Rain said, “Well, let’s hurry this up so I can go kick it with my friend.”
I deflated. She said “friend” in a way that made my heart sink and my balls ascend. I have tried not to be jealous when she flirts or talks with other guys. I don’t get jealous of the past, at least not anymore. This particular friend is an old buddy of her ex-boyfriend’s, and has had his prostate and a lung removed, so he’s not a threat. I’m proud of Rain in a way.
But there’s my cost.
I don’t want to have to wait until I’m damn near dead to feel her love and admiration. Good old Joe was a saint and a lovely guy and she misses him and they were soul mates and shit, but she left him for me and he didn’t start getting her attention until he had six feet of real estate to call his own forever. I don’t want to spend a lot of time regretting not doing more because I was waiting for someone to come with me. And… I want someone who wants to be there with me, not just to accommodate me once in a while and claim the memories.
So I gave Rain one of the joints, and told her I had to go. “Okay… Well, Imma just gonna go over to my friend’s house then. See ya Charlie Brown!”
I closed the door behind me, feeling a lot different about Rain. I still loved her, but there was a shift in the tectonic plate. It was time to start walking away. I pulled out the other joint meant for the rooftop, and smoked it as I walked down the streets of the Pearl. I caught a trolley eventually, which dropped me on Burnside. A five-block dash got me on an eastbound Green Line MAX. I texted apologies to Dr and Mrs T. I will make other plans soon, maybe without Rain next time.
The joint relaxed me to the point of nods, I drifted in and out until suddenly it was my stop. I felt so sorry for the Belmont Goats. It was like a psychedelic war zone in Felony Flats. I had been carrying a $2 pack of day-old cookies from the Upscale Mall in my vest all day. I untied them and ate all four as I meandered home, flinching under the explosions. It sounded like cannon fire outside my house, backed by Mariachi music. Hispanic men in cowboy hats chugged Coronas, and a fat kid almost shot himself in the face with a bottle rocket. (“How does this work?”) I went inside, chugged some milk and went to bed. Fuck the world.
This morning, I wake up one step closer to freedom, just like our forefathers. I have to set free the past, and move into the future.
And I have to go now.
“Are you guys cleaning again?” It was the neighbor across the street. We rarely speak, just keep our heads down and pretend the other doesn’t exist. It’s the great Southeast Portland way. Everyone behaves like it’s prison.
“Yeah, we do it every ten years, whether it needs it or not.” I smiled and tossed another load of yard debris into the construction dumpster. Bro-in-law had just come to help. It was last day of spring cleaning before they take the dumpster away.
We’ve been buying the same house in Lents for fifteen years now. It’s better now than it was when we bought it, mostly. We’ve replaced bathroom floors, hell, we replaced the bathroom. We’ve been through a couple bug infestations, and I’ve had a couple of girlfriend infestations as well. Her stuff has been harder to get rid of than the bugs.
In order to buy the house, all the adults have to work part-time as much as allowed to make bills. My sister has been throwing newspapers and working in a stable for years until recently. A cancer scare and some time to breathe showed her (with my encouragement) that there are easier ways to get through life than working yourself to death for nothing. She loves working with horses, but their attached humans can be the worst, so I helped her get a job cleaning human stables. (She’s a hotel room attendant now, in one of the mid-range downtown hotels.) It’s showing her the prettier side of Portland, and she can pop in to the Waterfront Store on her way home and drop off the daily newspaper. The Oregonian no longer gives her a free delivery paper, but the hotel put her in charge of recycling the dailies comped to the rooms. I get better Oregonian service from the Hotel!
So Sis is tired, and bro-in-law works until Tuesday, so it’s up to me to get this springtime yard clean-up rolling…