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Friday, March 31, 2017


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    A week ago a medium shared a vision that I have an arrow impaling my heart. When she told me about it I visualized it as one of those that if it were pulled out in the opposite direction as it went in, it would shred my tissue on the ragged edges of its iron scales.
     Too much Game of Thrones and not enough cartoons.
     When I describe the arrow to a therapist I see for EMDR (Eye Motioning Desensitization and Reprocessing), his eyes roll unconsciously. Dr. Ben and I have an honest and supportive relationship, one where I’m honest and he tries not to let me know that I’m the weirdest patient he’s ever known. He’s not always successful.
     We’ve been working together on a long-term project. I came in with PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder), which sprang up in an MRI tube a couple of years ago. Since then we’ve been on and off regularly seeing if there is an end to my wounding. The last few weeks our focus has been on pain.
     Pain isn’t easy for me to remember. There are events that I know happened, but they don’t give a “zing” response. I see them as having occurred in a vacuum. In fact, when I think of them I hear the white noise drone of a machine operating. I am convinced that to heal I must feel or remember feeling the pain that I experienced. With this type of therapy that wouldn’t be the objective. EMDR is about taking what isn’t working in a life and reshaping how someone thinks about the why that something isn’t working. In relation to the pain I have a belief that if a tribe member must suffer evisceration, I would be the best candidate to take that on. As I discuss this with Dr. Ben he is attempting to hide his horror as he comments.
     “Yeah. Like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.”
     “Why do you think you would be the ‘right’ person to be eviscerated?”
     As usual when Dr. Ben repeats my words I see the outrageous nature of what they convey.
     “Not necessarily ‘right’ but ‘better suited’.”
     Even that sounds like something no one should ever say out loud. I keep going to try to bring clarity.
     “Look. We both know that I’ve had my share of pain. I know I’m not the only person who has ever experienced pain. But at this point, I see that in some ways being able to handle pain is a mad skill. It didn’t break me and I don’t see it ever breaking me in the future. So if someone is going to be eviscerated, why not have it be a person who could handle it?”
     “How about no one gets eviscerated.”
     When I laugh it again highlights how weird I am. When the session ends I’ve remembered a few more occurrences when the vacuum noise is primary and whatever pain that I experienced is non-existent. At home, I remember something else the medium said in regards to the arrow in my heart
     “When people come to see you for bodywork, you help them heal. Do for yourself what you do for your clients.”
     This isn’t an original concept to me. When I have experienced a muscle cramp or had difficulty with lung congestion, I use the techniques I learned from excellent teachers on my body. The same facial and energetic pulls that I feel on clients I can feel on myself. A decade ago I first learned about my “broken heart chakra” from an aura reader and yet I never thought to use the tools in my toolbox to heal my heart. I set to do what I’ve never done.
     Both hands over my heart I sit and wait until the tissue shows me what it knows. The intrinsic motion of a heart (apart from the rhythmic beat), is a diagonal motion from the midline to the left lower quadrant of the ribcage. It is generally a slow, methodical and repetitive track that is easily followed. Mine presents instead laterally, left to right, with no downward motion. I wait for it to change. After five minutes there is a gradual shift to the desired motion, another five and my heart is moving normally.
     Wow. That was easy-peasy.
     Figuring that there is most definitely an energetic element to the arrow in my heart, I meditate on filling the hole an arrow would create with light and love. As a mostly rational person for most of my life, I tend to smirk when doing things that would make most rational people smirk or freak. Dusting off my hands I let the matter go.
     At the next Dr. Ben session I have an interesting reaction to an old event. The vacuum sound disappears and I feel a swish of a vibration that rides from my belly and up my spine, a snake slithering from the past. It isn’t a new sensation. If I were to think of a time that I badly stubbed my toe or smacked my elbow, this same feeling would arrive spontaneously. Dr. Ben and I aren’t sure what it means and the appointment ends.
     A day later my left shoulder girdle front to back is in pain. It begins as an “Oh I must’ve slept wrong” quickly escalating to “A buffalo tunneled in with the arrow and has now come out the other side.” Bending down causes a swift intake of breath as pain echoes throughout the area. I wear ice as an accessory for most of three days. Throughout that time more memories come up with a slither of snakes. After a conversation about pain and how releasing it doesn’t carry what would be the expected reward, but instead the betterment of a human life and subsequently the lives of all people; the pain fades like a wave tucking back into the ocean.
     What I thought I needed had happened but not as anyone would’ve expected. Most people would imagine that to access pain that has never been witnessed means feeling it as it happened in the moment that it happened. Shocking, excruciating, and filled with tears and horror, like when Mel Gibson’s intestines were slowly wrenched from his body in Braveheart. But that isn’t how our bodies or our minds work. We’re not a replay of a movie.
     We heal from the inside out.
     Over the decades, while I’ve been engaged in other aspects of healing, my heart has been solidifying around old wounds. Scar tissue formed as a protective measure to keep me upright. The arrow marked the spot, as a divining rod to where I would need to place my hands. The stages I went through were,

See things as they were.
Breathe life into them so they become real.
Go to the source where hurt rests.
And finally, at long last, heal.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Woo-Doo and a Wedge of Lime

     Photo owned by author

     Beliefs are not hard-wired. They seem like they are because by the time anyone notices something has been made "true" it's already been tattooed in black ink. But once upon an unlined time, our skin was blemish and idea-free, rosy with hope and endless possibility. That’s why every once in a while I do things that are completely the opposite of having an imprint, scaring the rigidity out of me for at least a few minutes and reintroducing myself to the blank page.
     Going to see a medium or someone who "reads" a life is unnerving. If one is already wobbling, it can be a method of humorous distraction or a complete upending of the status quo. For me, like with many of my loonier enterprises, it is both.
     Tequila shooters all around.
     At fifty-six, I question when someone presents themselves as having abilities mere mortals aren't born with. This makes me the perfect person to pay someone to read my spiritual margarita. I'm also my own oppositional twin, so at the same time, I'm the worst person to hear what a reader says. This is the case today.
     While a medium recounts what guides, angels, and the Easter Bunny have to say, I frantically write notes and make snarky comments to myself.
     "Did you know there is a whole tribe of Indians following you around?"
     Oh yeah, we carpool all the time.
     The fortune teller is a middle-aged woman dressed appropriately in bangles, scarves, and flowing material. Her voice is not what I would expect, the pitch a cackle high C, a sound that is disconcerting when she laughs. She does this often in weird places and tosses asides about Brad Pitt and winning the lotto.
     I shrug a non-committal affirmative. I'd been told a gang of invisible Natives trot beside me on numerous occasions. Apparently, this is something new for this medium, as her excitement increases as she describes them to me.
     "Wow. There’s at least a dozen. Holy cow, they're all dancing and drumming. This is amazing. They’re saying you're a healer and have been for many lifetimes. They're telling me that you can feel and hear spirits."
     Then they ought to talk louder.
     The medium laughs.
      "Oh, and you smell them."
      The Bonni poop aroma.
     Abruptly she switches topics.
     "You have two women here, your deceased grandmothers. The paternal one is distant, but the maternal grandma wants to kiss and smoosh you close. She keeps repeating 'my little darling'."
     I'm flung backward in time, with my four-year-old face buried in Grandma's breast, the smell of bacon grease and roses wafting around me. Grandma is whispering in Spanish "Mi pequenita".
     "She loves you and says that she's always watching over you. Grandma also wants you to know that someone who hurt you is going to show up in your life again."
     Dread pools in my belly.
     "Grandma keeps repeating 'you choose'. She says that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. There's nothing to be afraid of."
     Instantly and miraculously I am not fearful. My mouth open in wonder, drool nearly drips on my t-shirt.
     "Okay. Everyone is saying that you've got to stop burning the candle at both ends. You need to sleep. They want you to take better care of yourself and meditate."
     No shit.
     Immediately, the medium pounces on my thought.
     "Hey. They're not fooling around. They know you aren't doing what you ask others to do. They want you to do this before getting burnt out. They keep saying "walk softly, stay balanced, be grounded."
     Slightly chagrined, I remind myself to keep my snark volume on mute.
     "Oh. This isn’t good."
     The medium's hand is clutched over her left breast.
     "You've got an arrow coming out of your heart. This is pain that isn't resolved."
     Unintentionally I roll my eyes, remembering the aura reading and the broken heart chakra.
     Here we go again.
     "This isn't something to mess around with. You need to heal your heart."
     I clench my teeth so I don't say something that she'll regret.
     "You help people heal wounds all the time. Now you have to do this for yourself."
     How about some instructions?
     The reader switches gears as another spirit enters the room. Her face softens noticeably.
     "Oh hello there. It's a boy, he's a little boy but has the spirit of an adult. He's your son. You had a miscarriage or did he die young?"
     "He was one of a set of triplets. I lost him before the third month of pregnancy. His name is..."
     "Michael. He says his name is Michael."
     Tears well up as I nod my head.
     "Michael says that he's always with you. He's telling me that he used to play with his brother and sister when they were little, like an imaginary friend."
     The woman's head moves as she converses with what I can't see. Suddenly staring at me dead on, she speaks with resolve.
     "You've got to let it go."
     "You've got to let this anger go. It's sitting there draining you. I know you have issues with forgiveness, they're showing me that, but you've got to figure out a way to move on."
     I stare back without an answer.
     "Is it worth losing a breast? Having a heart attack or a stroke? Is the anger more important than your health?"
     I remain silent. After waiting expectantly, she accepts that I have nothing to say.
     "It's better to be kind than right."
     I sigh heavily. As the session ends, the medium offers me some advice.
     "Look, letting anger go isn't easy. For me, it helped to think of the people who hurt me as having something like dementia or Autism. I suggest seeing them as not being able to do any better and move on."
     Later in the day, I read my notes, allowing the messages to become Deb-ified. It's what I do after an interpreter downloads information for me. There's always a thin veil of someone else's stuff that needs to be dusted off so that I can see what is mine to keep.
     Let go of pain.
     We’re not alone.
     Walk softly.
     Drum loudly.

     Being right is fun but being kind is better.
Yeah. Toss that last one back with a lime chaser.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Itty-Bitty Questioner

  When I was “told,” by the Voice to “get a massage” I played with the idea that the owner of the directive, that same voice I remembered from when I nearly drowned at fourteen, was God. But in actuality, I had no idea if there was a Chief of Everything. At times, especially during childhood, it seemed like no one was in charge of anything. The odd decree at forty-two to be slathered in oil, jump-started my questioning and Bonni and then Bella’s death sends me into my own version of Truth or Consequences. It begins with an investigation into capitalization.
     Do I believe in god?
     It is mere moments before my thought-question is bombarded with every “Believe or ye shall repent!” I remember from bombastic ministers in black and white films.
     Does wondering whether God exists, make me god-less? 
     It has been my hypothesis that a “god” wouldn’t create humans with the ability to reason about everything except whether he exists or not. Today I’m not feeling very rational.
     Will I be blackballed if the H isn’t capitalized when “him” is typed in reference to HIM? 
     As my thoughts whirl in agitation driven by old fears of being struck by lightning for blasphemy—for this I thank priests telling me stories of hellfire and damnation, my logical-self sputters up more questions.
     Is this experience nothing more than a mathematical equation? A blend of cells that accidentally showed up in the same Petri dish swamp?
     I’ve experienced my life as filled with co-winky-dinks, (coincidences in Webster’s Dictionary), random, yet not random events that have tested my logic-meter. Times like when an old friend called that I dreamed about the night before, an eagle feather fell from the sky and landed at my feet, and the song Calling All Angels played on the radio just as I reached the end of my ability to cope. The Voice is another good example of this.
      When the Voice tosses an idea, they are piercingly relative to my quest to heal. The Voice doesn’t give a hoot if I win the Lotto or remember to pick up eggs at the grocery store. The Voice only focuses on my having a healthy existence, which is a good thing if the objective is a life of possibility in place of pain. But that single “mindedness” doesn’t always feel like a free will gift. Each time I have ignored an important Voice message, it has become more insistent, knocking on the front door of my mind growing loud, louder, loudest. Voice missives seem not to take no for an answer, which comes across to me as a sentient being messing with my resistance to being told what to do. Sentient beings care whether or not someone cleans their room after being asked. The Voice appears to mind if a request (read demand), is acted upon, even if I’m not positive he exists. This lobs an omnificent and ever-present why me question.
     If the Voice is the god, why would it be talking to me? Who am I anyway? Just some doodad human with a history of pain. There’s plenty of those people to go around. Are we all noticing a voice and not saying anything because we’d look crazy or not noticing and I’m picking up the weirdo frequency? Should I be checking myself into 101 for loonies?
     Not that again.
     Oh look you showed up when I was thinking about you. Hmmm. That’s either a point for loony or a point for God. Well. I prefer not to be loony. Notice the G capitalized. This must be my form of a capitulation albeit not necessarily convincing.
     Not knowing whether it’s important or not, I decide to stave off lightning bolts as a precaution.
     God, the Supreme Being, The Master of All That Is, The Creator exists!
     Surely He/She/It is somewhere breathing a sigh of relief that one itty-bitty questioner in the Midwest has something she construes as proof or perhaps just enough ancient have to's imprinting her with a fear of being damned. Feeling somewhat (I’m a questioner, somewhat is an accomplishment), resolved on the God issue, I consider heaven, hell, and ghosts.
     Throughout childhood, I was dreamily told that heaven is full of angels, harps, and clouds while hell, usually discussed in terrified whispers, is a dreadful place of fire, brimstone, and a hideous deviant called the Devil (for some reason his name is also capitalized). Good children would be sent to heaven, that’s how angels got their wings. If one is good (a definition that mercurially changed depending upon which adult was in the room), one’s last breath carries them to the magic kingdom, where a benevolent old white man on a throne allows children to play and laugh for all eternity. In the same seemingly endless rambling paragraph, I was also taught that if I didn’t get a handle on what good meant and was wicked, a description that included back-talking mother, stealing plastic fangs from the dime store, and calling my sibling stupid, I would be sent straight to hell if I inopportunely died before being cleansed with Hail Mary’s (also capitalized for obvious reasons). Based on that premise, most of the kids I grew up with would if not already, then one day surely are going to hell, a place where bad children work day and night on the Devil’s chore list and are whipped, beaten and denied food and water.
     If the hell thing is true, it’s in a sick way comforting to know that I will discover familiar faces when the elevator door opens in the basement if I haven’t purged the dinge of my lengthy list of faults. As it is unlikely if I were to accidentally take Willy Wonka’s magic elevator to the sky that I will recognize any of the perfect kids, the ones who made it home before the street lights came on and did their chores without being asked.
     By age five I clearly understood that being good isn’t easy and the heaven carrot and the hell stick are strong methods for keeping people in line.
     What about doing things for others without the promise of heaven? That sounds like unconditional love, but what do I know?  I’m just one of those who mucks with the rule book, the one given to me in a childhood littered with pain and harm by people who insisted that I behave.  But not behaving is why I’m still here. Saying “no” without pause is how I made it out of my childhood without turning into a sick freak. And since I’m the boss of me I get to decide what I believe.
     Heaven, hell, and an eraser for bad deeds sounds like a figment of an indulgent imagination. They worked to scare the crap out of me for decades, making them damn good stories, but after a dousing it in the deep end of my awareness pool, no way. This leaves one big dude in an empty basement.
     Do I believe in the Devil?
     If big Mr. Red doesn’t have a place to live, he’s on thin ice. The Voice has come forth as slim evidence that someone or something encapsulates God or my perception of God, but not one single item on the devil (no more capitalized theatrics), list feels true. Especially those things I was told by clergy and people who wanted me to follow the rules.
     “The devil reached in and took her soul.”
     “The devil will take people and make them “bad”.
     And pigs can fly.
      “The devil made me do it!”
      Sounds like an attempt to disavow responsibility for an action taken.
     “Demon alcohol took over and did the deed.”
     Creating a jail to house degenerates at the end of a long life of ugly behavior and a princess castle for do-gooding sounds like the milk and cookies before bedtime. The tales that are told to keep life encapsulated in a nice neat little box. Break the rules then go to hell, follow the rules go to heaven. And if someone gets caught or their conscience talks back after doing something bad, talking to a robed gentleman behind a mesh screen is a Get Out of Jail Free Card. With or without the pass, no one is sending me anywhere. I’m responsible for me and my actions.
     Okay Miss Know-It-All-For-Herself, what about the poop smell? What about ghosts and the hereafter?
      My son helps me consider our body-to-spirit transition.
     “You know Mom, it doesn’t make sense for people to live once and die. How many new souls can there be anyway? Trees and flowers don’t live once and die. Every winter they sorta die and are reborn in the spring. I think we’re like plants. What would you call being born again after dying?”
     My young philosopher looks expectant, waiting for facts to be spoken.
     Moms tell you what to believe.
     There had to be a way to convey my thoughts with words, as well as suggest he not take my ramblings as gospel, but continue learning with an open mind.
     “Well bud, what you’re talking about is called reincarnation. Some people think that when you die, you’re recycled and get born again to do it all over.”
     He gazes over my shoulder.
     “Mom, do you believe in heaven or reincarnation?”
     A comforting wave of calm envelopes me.
     “Your description sounds pretty good to me, but I’m still trying to figure it out.”
     He leans in against me to continue some-posing.
     “Yeah me too, but if I believe in reincarnation, it doesn’t make sense for people to spend a bunch of money on the funeral and casket. Dead people aren’t even in their body anymore. Why does everyone do that?”
     “I guess so friends and family can honor the person who died and it makes them feel better.”
     He sits up looking irritated and impatient.
     “Well, that’s just stupid. I bet the person would rather everyone thought about them once in a while or planted a tree or something instead of spending money on a grave.”
     A week later we have an even more esoteric conversation over a television show on prodigal kids. Our words ripple excitedly over one another.
     “What if they played the piano in their past life and remembered?”
     “Or used to be Albert Einstein?”
     “What about people who are gay?”
       “Maybe they were once the opposite sex and that lifetime made an imprint, but were born into a different body?” 
      My son finishes our other-worldly discussion with a statement.
      “Dying just isn’t the end Mom.”
     Whatever is on the other side of this life has an endless possibility and before I get to know what that means, this side is liberally sprinkled with coincidences, guidance from an insistent voice, and maybe a ghost dog.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Belly Lessons

     When Bonni dies there is a spontaneous unraveling of a thickened and scarred over encasement of my heart. The exposure of my emotions feels icy sharp, and overwhelming. Grief from her loss is incomprehensibly what I expect and surprising. I had assumed it would be hard to lose her, but I also stubbornly clung to our bond and believed it had the ability to fill the yawning gap her death would create. It doesn’t. Either my beliefs are stupid or my unraveled emotions block the connection. In addition, I think I failed her at the end and this compounds my mourning.
     I wish I could have let her go with an open heart.
     The silence of being dog-less is deafening to our entire family. The kids want another dog right away. After deciding that with canine companionship we’ll be able to deal with our grief better, we visit a local animal shelter to begin our search.
     Each dog desperately reaches for our attention, though none jumps into the void left by Bonni. 
     Where are you girl?
     Finished walking a long line of cages, a volunteer takes us to meet a dog that was left at the shelter very recently. Outside, in a fenced area alone, a white sheep-dog lies with her enormous head resting on front paws. She does not move at our approach, nor when the attendant speaks. 
     “Her name is Sandy. The owners moved out of state.”
     Sandy, sighs deeply offering an explanation point on her circumstances. Sadness wells between us.
     My daughter wraps her arms around the dog’s wide middle.
     “Ohhhh, she’s so sad. We need to take her home! And her name isn’t Sandy, it’s Bella.”
     I expel my breath heavily, this dog and I are reflexively similar.
     Perhaps we will heal together
     A few weeks after her entry, the new dog displays glimmers of personality. Bella never jumps on the furniture when anyone is around, but when she is left unattended, we find her snoring loudly, stretched end to end on the couch, or watching us intently when we notice deep noticeable imprints on our beds. Nightly, once I’m in bed, the stairs to the bedroom creak ominously as Bella trods up, pausing at the top ostensibly to consider her options. When she lingers indecisively, I take to mind-talking her as I once did Bonni.
     This is your home now. 
     Without ever responding, Bella moves to the foot of the bed, dropping none too gracefully on the floor with a heavy expulsion of air. Squeezing myself between her and an edge of the mattress, I stroke her enormous belly repetitively. Our communal sadness communicates skin to fur. As we settle into this odd routine, a sign comes that perhaps my relationship with Bonni did not end at her death.
     Waiting for a client one evening, I stare at a picture of my shaggy friend. Her brown eyes jump from the photo, challenging me to see her.
     Where are you?
     As the mind words leave me, a frequent client named Laura arrives for her session. Closing the treatment door to begin working, something tickles at the back of my nose. 
     Dog poop? Is it on my clothes?
     Breaking into a light, panic driven sweat, I frantically but quietly begin sniffing every square inch of myself. Laura lays with her eyes closed on the table. The woman has to be near gagging, yet she appears deeply relaxed.
     Maybe Laura stepped in a pile?
     This I rule out after surreptitiously checking her shoes. Army crawling around the floor, I latch onto the scent, trying to hound its source. Though unpleasant, the fragrance seems familiar.
     Around dogs for most of my life, I’ve smelled many different leavings. No doo-doo is exactly the same. I have learned that it may be distinguished by what an animal eats, the type of breed, or species. Dogs have a completely different perspective on poop than humans. We wipe, flush our remnants down the drain and then spray room deodorizer with a flourish. In opposition, canines enjoy droppings immensely. They use them to determine a scope of an animal’s territory, the general state of their health, and temperament. Though not equipped with these skills, my brain must have categorized while shoveling up a mound.
     My ghost dog is in the massage room. The smell crests as I open the closed heart of possibility. Throughout Laura’s session, Bonni and I dance together. Our reunion is bittersweet; moments of overwhelming joy, crash against a familiar deep well of sadness. Sixty minutes pass in one broad leap. As I walk out of the room, Bonni’s scent evaporates into nothingness.
     Laura has to this point only met the normal out-in-the-world-Deb (barring she didn’t see me crawling around on the floor). Not wanting to bombard her with me losing it over my ghost dog, I latch onto my backpack of comfortable resilience, understanding that if I hunker down for a few minutes I’ll be able to fall apart soon. Laura speaks when she sees me.
    “You’re dog died recently right?”
     Warily, I nod mutely. We lock eyes as she continues.
     “I sensed her in the room with us. She said she enjoys helping you with your work and that she misses you but wants you to know that she is okay and happy.” 
     Huh. Laura is a mind reader or maybe a witch.
     With nothing more to say, she quickly hugs me and leaves the office.
     The poop smell continues to show up regularly, often combined with the Train song “Hey, Soul Sister”. I determined this after an oddly illuminating and pungent experience in a grocery store. I can’t explain it more than to accept that I don’t know what happens on the other side of tomorrow.
     As grief healing hunkers in, Bella behaves like a visitor who isn’t sure she will stay. The kids attempt to sweeten the deal, circumventing a “mom-designed” restricted diet. Bella gains seven pounds. Sharing the appalling number the vet stares at me somberly.
     “I recommend diet pills. You know obesity isn’t a lifestyle it’s a disease.”
     I stare back but do not speak.  
      So it’s a disease when I eat a bag of Oreos.
     A longer pause as his words sink past my new found doctor-love.
     Is he referring to Phen-phen? Eighty-seven pounds of dog, amped with amphetamines, and leashed to my Oreo-made dumpling would not be pretty.
     Bella and I look at each other in complete agreement. 
     No pills. 
     On the ride home, Bella and I have a vibrant chat about learning to say “no thank you” when the kids offer scraps from their plates and choosing to avoid the fast food joint called the kitchen floor. Post-Bonni life settles, becoming a series of habit-filled surprises.
     Wanting Bella to live similarly as Bonni once had, I decide that she should be free to meander the yard while I garden. This conclusion I derive without the consultation of family, friends, Bella, or dog professionals. When I unhook the leash outside the front door, my son holds a treat in case she moves quickly, which isn’t likely. Bella never uses jet fuel, not even to steal food.
     Bella takes off like a shot for freedom. My son and I stand stunned while swallowing the amazing sight of a waddling, big belly dog running as though competing for an Olympic Gold Medal. My son tries to cut off her trajectory aimed at a busy street and a steady stream of cars. With every move he makes to trap her, Bella arc’s further away. He screams for her attention.
      “Bella, please don’t go.  Bella come back!”
     I send an APB for help from The Universe while running at a pace magnificently uncomfortable for a woman with a leaky bladder.
     Hey! Whoever’s paying attention up there, Help! 
     If the neighbors are drawn to their windows by our frantic exclamations and the large white dog heading to her death, they also catch sight of an equally ungainly woman lumbering toward a heart attack with a giant pee stain. All at once I see that my son is going to follow Bella into heavy traffic. My SOS becomes a screech into the unknown.
     Stop this. Not this. Please help us! 
     And then an out loud, pained, sobbing whisper.
     “Bonni please.”
     As if synchronized, both dog and boy head onto the highway just as my husband, drawn by the screaming, whips our car onto the road to protect them. Gasping for air, I finally reach the scene to see one lone vehicle slowly heading our way, apparently having noticed something amiss. Everything stands still as Bella stops just past the middle of the street and looks over her shoulder at us. Ahead of her is an extended wooded area. Possible freedom is at hand, yet something stays Bella to turn. Reversing direction, the slow-moving dog walks in front of the now several stopped cars to stand before me. Hands shaking, I manage to snap her leash into place.
     On the walk back to the house Bella has a cheerful jaunty swagger. If she could mind-speak it would be to say this,
     “Again! Again! Again!”
     My children used to carol this during a splash fight. We’d all be half-drowned when it came time to end the play, leaving me to respond,
     “That’s enough guys; everyone out of the water.”
     Today, I clench my teeth to keep them from chattering and tighten a fist around the leash.
      “Over my dead body Missy.”
     After copious amounts of hot chocolate, our family rehashes the experience of Bella’s run, while she sleeps obliviously on the floor. Something needs to be made clear to my hero-son.
     “Buddy, I know you love Bella. But don’t run into the street to save her if she does this again.”
     “I know Mom.  I wasn’t thinking.”
     We both breathe for a moment until he asks what we all are wondering.
     “Why did Bella stop running to come back to us?” 
     I answer what feels true.
     “Bonni might have told her to come back. I’m pretty sure a lot of spirits kept you both safe.”
     After learning this hard lesson, a new routine settles in. Not owning a fence high or strong enough to pen Bella, our lazy family needs to take the beefy and now vividly aware and hell-bent on escape dog for frequent strolls.  Each episode begins with a heavy sigh from an appointed victim, followed by whining and lengthy discussions over whose turn it is to “walk the dog”. Bella loses her name during these negotiations. Rain produces more heated pleas. As she grows more comfortable and driven, Bella becomes increasingly difficult on a leash, taking off with a kid in tow. More often than not, walkers return with the human fuming in anger and yelling for help while the canine sits obstinately at the end of the driveway. It is at this pivotal point that our family has planned a vacation in Mexico. I’ve hired a professional to take care of Bella at the start and end of each day, but require a kind soul to drop by at noon to mitigate the outrageous cost, leaving a few pesos for a margarita. The softie in question is a relative who would help most anyone out.
     The warm sands of Cancun are becoming familiar when I receive an email entitled “Run Bella Run”. In seconds I am back in pee laden pants, panic constricting my chest and the white chunk dog streaking into traffic. Slowly rational thought takes over as I realize that only a sick freak would title an email about a prison break if it ends badly.
     The email recounts a tale of the male relative struggling with our mutinous dog when she displays a new technique, which he names “The Duck and Roll Method”. Brilliant, sly Bella had pulled in an opposing direction on the leash creating a taut line, moving her ungainly form with the lithe motions of a ballerina. Ducking her head, she twisted quickly and elegantly removing her neck from the collar in a nimble maneuver. One moment Bella stubbornly refused to head back to the house and the next she streaked across the neighbor’s yard. Our kind-hearted relative shouted curse words at the white spot quickly fading from sight. He then wondered what hideous torture I’d provide if he were responsible for Bella being lost or killed. 
     In similar form to my previous pursuit, the plus-sized man jogged and now also slid up the street with an additional impediment of snow and ice. While this time Bella, headed away from the busy road, instead moving to higher elevation and into the woods behind the houses lining the street. Sweating profusely, the relative became insanely aware that it felt like thousands of eyes were watching him lumber after the stupid dog. The same neighbors amused by my ungraceful dash to save Bella were now camped at windows, waiting for what new compilation of four letter words was to be thrown at the dog dashing out of reach. At one point Bella stops and turns to look back as though considering obeying, but the relative believes she actually was toying with his emotions. It finally dawns on him that anything I’d do would pale next to the hideous experience. Giving up he heads back to our house to gather friends for a search party. Trudging through mud and snow, clawing through the underbrush, he mentally gives the finger to the neighbors surely giggling behind curtains. A few feet from our house he spies a familiar white form sitting on our front step. He swears she spoke.
     “What took you so long fat ass?”
     Laughing while reading the email, I wonder if it will be necessary to give up margaritas to pay the professional since he will surely quit. The next day another email arrives, this one with a picture and a made up patent application. Not trusting Bella, the relative devised an ingenious two leash method; combining a car harness and collar, he used a leash on each as though navigating a kite. The accompanying photo is of a man with the jaunty look of one who has conquered a beast, while our Bella wears the grudging mulish look of a canine contained.
     When spring arrives Bella shows herself to be enraptured with nature. Her giant nose snorts and huffs around tree bases, smelling features to distinguish flora and fauna from one another. Chipmunks are her favorite, little rodent fur balls running maniacally as soon as her thundering approach gives them a red alert, they learning quickly that this particular dog is passionate about unearthing them from their dens.
     At first, we are happy Bella appears interested in something other than running. Like Snow White in her natural wood setting, she and I wander, yet at a significantly more intent pace. But over a couple of weeks, it becomes obvious that obsessive compulsive disorder is not only found in humans. Digging may be good, harmless exercise for a normal dog, but Bella is a crazed, frothing lunatic drowning in dirt. As she tunnels, we are fearful of a mine cave in. Frantically prying her from a deep trench, her mouth foams a blend of spit and mud, teeth, and gums covered in muck while she forcefully attempts to pull back to the hole, coughing and snorting dirt from her nose. In those moments, I envision a tiny rodent bent over laughing in glee. After a particularly difficult extraction, a Mom Decree is ordered that Bella is forever denied access to dig sites.
     A few days later my son draws the short straw and is out being dragged for a walk. The enabler takes the dog heavily in dig withdrawal, past her favorite mine shaft. Madness ensues (the boy later maintains that he was never told Bella had been cut off from chipmunk heroin). Down nearly two feet, she passionately ingests copious amounts of dirt. At this point, my son becomes concerned and yells for help. It should be noted he is mere feet from the house, but I am making dinner as rock and roll blares in the background. He hollers for hours (his words not mine), hysterically wondering if he will be strapped to the crazy dog for the entire night. He imagines himself as a starving anchor keeping Bella from running away, while everyone is blissfully unaware of his plight. Terrified, my son reluctantly unclenches the leash, to dash into the house. The sweaty, disheveled young man runs into the kitchen screaming for help.
     Picturing blood, torn limbs, and an ambulance, my manic hold on cooking dinner is released. The boy is mad as hell no one has come to his rescue after several torturous minutes of yelling.
     “Hurrrrrry, Bella’s going to RUN AWAY!”
     Gathering the story in bits from the gasping boy I run around outside to find a deep pit with the tip of a white tail and leash sticking out. The tail is moving rhythmically while a rain of dirt softly mounds at my feet. I think of drug addicts who don’t run when police raid their hiding place, instead frantically shooting up a drug of choice. 
     “Dude, that dog isn’t going anywhere but China.”
     The holes in our yard are filled and Bella’s walks evolve into a monotonous exercise up and down the street. Our rock hard refusal to build a fence large enough to contain a tank starts to melt in everyone’s boredom as September brings an end to a complete year since Bonni’s death.
     It is impossible to believe I have survived that long without her, while it also feels like decades since her last moments on the sunroom floor. The pain is intensely reignited by the death anniversary. Bella though loved, has become a constant reminder of all that has been lost. The quick unraveling around my heart caused all manner of upheaval, including a disquieting sense that there are damn good reasons for a gnarled ball of yarn encasing emotions. Left naked and exposed has brought an equal and reactive desire to drive to a knitting shop for an extremely large purchase. 
     Ready or not here I come! Come out; come out, wherever you are! Ollie, Ollie Oxen Free!
     The distraction of mourning Bonni while caring for Bella has slowed my healing process. There are days super-glued to each other that push me back to the miasma of “to do” lists, enabling me to lose what was a newly gained awakened perspective after graduating from massage school. Apparently, it will require another seismic event to kick me back into excavation mode.
    A week after the anniversary of Bonni’s death Bella skips her meals, which for a dog driven to eat or escape, is unusual. I ask our home visit vet to stop by. His words shock me into alertness.
     “She’s crashing. I’ve got to rush a blood sample for testing. I’ll give her steroids, but this doesn’t look good.”
     Suddenly I am very awake, the most awake I’ve been in twelve months. When the vet calls it’s to inform us that Bella has an immune system disorder and is dying. The circumstances most likely due to a genetic mutation triggered by an unknown event. The vet continues describing while a vacuum noise fills my ears.
     “Aside from some costly and not very effective treatments, I recommend letting her choose to live or die. If she grows too uncomfortable there is the euthanasia option.”
     Our family is in a state of disbelief over the news. None of us can imagine slamming back to this place so soon. Considered a relatively young-old-dog, not much thought has been given to the possibility of her death. The vet, who we secretly nickname Dr. Death, offers us little solace, stating that there are a few known cases of spontaneous reversal of symptoms. For two days our family takes turns lying next to Bella, willing her to live.
     I attempt making pictures with her but she only sighs and shifts a little further away. Her movements become slower and breathing more restricted until the only thing left to do is hold her giant head in my lap and stroke her silky nose while she ponders “in or out”. I wonder with the Voice about the “whys”.
     She’s dying nearly on the other death anniversary. Coincidence?
     “What is a coincidence?”
     I don’t fucking know. YOU tell ME.
     “Pay attention there is something to learn.”
     You need new material.
     “Not everyone chooses in.”
     The sound of her labored breathing has torn open the wound of Bonni’s loss for my husband. He decides to mow the lawn to get away for a while. The kids are in school. I cry tears I thought were used up. 
     How is it possible to grieve for so long? 
     No answers come, but I feel Bonni Blue. A whisper smell of dog poop wanders by, caressing me with her memory. 
     It’s time to let her go.
     Wide open heart, right?
     I sigh with resignation. Letting go isn’t my strong suit. To me it’s quitting on purpose. Yet even I know when the rules of existence overcome sheer tenacity. Gravity versus freefall.
     Bella, Bella, Bella.  I love you. Goodbye, dear girl.
     A short minute passes and Bella’s breathing stops. I hold her as the exhale fades, feeling the struggle end. I hold nothing but pain and the loss of another dear friend.
     Over the next hour, I witness Bill’s and subsequently our daughter’s grief. The girl looks at me with sad, horrified eyes. Incongruently I remember her big bright happy baby smile on her first Christmas morning. It seems like such a long time ago. Late in coming home our son is unaware of Bella’s death.  As we wait for him, something shouts at me.
     A tingling, buzzing essence still percolates in Bella’s body, I feel it with my hands. Bonni left us with a quick zip. This experience with Bella is different. When our son arrives, he lays beside me to hold Bella and simultaneously that tingling essence evaporates. As this happens, I recall a story about a dying woman who asked that no one do anything with her body until three hours after she passed. She felt it may take that long to be completely gone. Sharing this with my family, Bella is given the three hours she may have needed, allowing time for her death to become real for all of us.
     Dear, dear Bella was a teacher for facing death in the same manner as facing love. To truly experience love, full unconditional love, look deeply into another soul’s eyes, with a wide open heart. To truly experience death, treasure the love while releasing the soul, with a heart wide open.
     Three nights after Bella’s death, lying in bed I hear a creak of the stair. A weighty ghost foot plods slowly up to our room, pausing at the top for a soft moment of consideration, before continuing over to thump with a heavy sigh on the floor at the foot of the bed. Bella does this each night for a few weeks and then is gone.

Friday, March 3, 2017


     Having lived for upwards of four decades, I should stop myself before obnoxious and declarative intentions. It isn’t news that when I muck with the status quo, my tectonic plates shift until what once was never looks the same again. As I quake in the once-upon-a-time-was-a-glacier-water of Lake Superior, I blame hypothermia rather than insanity for my ridiculous demand to the Universe. Stumbling up the path to the rental property, I torture myself warm.
      Bring it on? What was I thinking? Oh that’s right I don’t think before something insane pops from my mouth. Maybe I should run away from home so the Universe can’t find me.
     The air feels frighteningly turbulent, causing my breath to come in sips and my teeth to chatter.
     What the hell has been done or undone?
     The Universe has no trouble locating me and delivers in the form of a monolithic eruption shortly after our family gets home from Madeline Island.
     Walking into our house I find a one perfectly consistent thing amiss. Our family’s almost sixteen-year old dog Bonni Blue isn’t at the door with a rambunctious and emotional hello. A tribe member since she was a puppy, this dog means much more to me.
     As a survivor of a traumatic upbringing, I arrived at adulthood without a relationship manual. Intimacy isn’t a byproduct of dysfunction. It has taken me years of counseling to remain married, have children and stay somewhat connected. My natural inclination is to be alone. Bonni managed to wriggle through my layers of scar tissue and over the years our relationship has helped me learn how to let people inch a little closer.
     Very early on she and I discovered a way to communicate by human-to-dog shortwave radio. I will think sentences and somehow Bonni receives them. If I think her name, she shows up or if I’m hurt or sad she sends words to make me feel better. It’s difficult to describe, but her responses come in the form of action and sentences. But not today.
     Where are you?
     Trotting through the house my alertness turns from wary concern to flat out panic as I pass through room after room, searching for Bonni. I come upon her lying on a couch, head nestled between front paws. The vibration of my feet hitting the floor having finally registered, she shoots onto the floor bleary-eyed and agitated. Whispering even though her hearing is nearly gone, I speak aloud more for me than her.
     “Hi girl. It’s me. We’re home.”
     Her tail laying limply close to the ground begins to wag minimally. Until she had a viral illness at eleven, it curled magnificently behind her, a proud plume that waved as she pranced past less opulent dogs. Remembering the way she used to toss me a dog grin as though to say “Ha! Look at me!” my heart spontaneously aches, as though a blow torch has begun dissecting it from deep inside. Sixteen is a long time in dog years and for a forty-pound dog it’s even longer. Having her live beyond the norm should bring me comfort but it doesn’t. I have vehemently resisted what has been happening, but today I suddenly realize that we’re entering Bonni’s leave-taking.
     Don’t go, you are my only friend.
     Over the next few days my repeated pleas seem to hasten her progression as her body mass shrinks quickly, the color of her coat dims, and she begins avoiding all contact. Dr. Bob, a home-visit vet calmly lists options. 
     “A planned euthanasia will give you all a measure of control. Waiting for her to go, leaves the possibility that she dies alone if everyone happens to be away.”
     Unable to decide the time of Bonni’s death, the vet is quickly ushered to the door. I want her to live a miracle dog’s life, dying with me simultaneously, decades in the future.    
     Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Booooonnnnnni.
     Her answer is not one I want to hear.
     “It is time.”
     But I’m scared. Please don’t leave me.
     Over the next few days when Bonni will allow it, we spoon on the floor while playing a picture game, a slide show created in my mind’s eye of her running in the yard after sticks. Then late one night, the picture in my mind inexplicably changes. In it Bonni maneuvers to the bottom of a hill in our backyard, pausing for a moment to look back at me, then continuing into the woods until no she is longer in sight. The next morning on our walk, escaping me she stumbles to the hill, half falling, making her way to the base. Turning toward me, she clearly wants what I don’t want to give.
     I know. I’m sorry. I can’t.
     After carrying her back inside, her physical distress becomes increasingly pronounced. When Dr. Bob arrives he reminds my husband Bill and I to be responsible. 
     “If her heart won’t let go and she’s physically unable to die without help, you need to step in out of love. The connection between all of you is strong. She may have difficulty knowing when to let go.” 
     While he speaks, Bonni presses into my leg.
     “Let me go.”
     What she wants has to be more important than what I want. This furry person has brought me from the dark-wherever place that I grew up in to where I am now. Hoping that I’ll know how to handle it when we get there, I sigh.
     Okay, but part of you will stay with me.
     I have chosen to believe that she will lose her body, then hang around as a ghost dog. I’d heard about people whose pets stay connected with them after they die. This love between us surely has to be strong enough to defy her not being physically present.
     I can’t do this without you.
     Stubbornly I grip onto our energetic love for each other, a feeling of warm caramel beneath my breast bone when she lays at the back of my knees as we nap on Sunday mornings.
     The vet starts the IV. As the minutes pass, Bonni grows agitated and instead of dying peacefully, Dr. Bob finds it necessary to put a lethal injection into her heart. A ripping sound shatters in my head as she wrenches herself away from here to whatever is next.    
     It feels as though a sharp knife has severed a power line.
     Swiping uncontrollably at painful tears, I see that Bonni’s body, side-lying on the floor is without life, yet this fabulous, amazing dog manages a leave-taking gift. Her tail softly curls back up to its rightful spot. 
     Beautiful, beautiful girl.
     Itty bitty stars slowly cascade away from her body, floating toward the ceiling, fading, fading, until nothing.
     Our house echoes in silence. This one heartbeat filled our home with warmth. Death has now made it appear as though she never existed. Along with the rhythm of energy, her distinctive smell evaporates. Feeling naked and raw I lurch up. My daughter and I race through the house, both collapsing on a couch Bonni favored, burying our faces in the cushions frantically trying to find her scent. Sucking in great swaths of old furniture air, we find a distant memory of what may have been.       
     Never have I experienced a more profound and complete end to anything. Pictures in my head go dark, making it difficult to remember how she felt or acted, as though a great sinkhole has swallowed her existence, leaving inky black silence behind.
     Great seismic change does not occur all by itself. Molten lava swirls beneath a hardened crust until the power generated cannot be contained. Gigantic mountains shift, long hidden crevices suddenly reach daylight.
     To survive, a life must adapt to the new terrain.