Monday, October 12, 2009

True Love is An Hallucination

I don't feel like working on my head today. I'm way behind editing my book of plays. I'm organizing my neighborhood to protest an exterior liquor serving license at the corner bar. I went to yoga. I rode my bike. I walked my dog. I did my ouchercises. I've had it with being responsible today. Here's a story I wrote to submit to an anthology.

I did not date in high school. I did not like any of the boys well enough to want to spend time with them in school, let alone after school. Shortly after high school graduation, my friend Eloise and I decided to go to a folk dance café. Since these types of cafe’s don’t exist any more, I’ll explain that in addition to serving food and drinks, a folk dance café had leaders who taught folk dancing (dances from many countries). These were mostly circle dances in which everybody participated without partners. It was a relaxed place to meet people without having to spend the evening with somebody if you didn’t want to.

That night, I SAW a young man who appeared to be wearing a green neon sign that read, “Whatever you do, do not hurt this man.”

In high school biology class, the most interesting thing the teacher said was, “You can only know things through your senses. All your senses can hallucinate. Therefore, you can never be sure you know things.”

Even if the young man’s glowing green sign was an hallucinaton, I figured – okay, I’ll just stay away from him. That way I can’t hurt him.

He had other ideas. He squeezed his way through the crowd to dance next to me. He completely ignored Eloise who was considered to be a beauty. I on the other hand wore no make-up and dress I’d made from curtain remainders (No, nothing like Scarlet O’Hara’s). He held my hand. He insisted on a date the next night. My initial plan, was clearly not going to work. It’s much harder to avoid hurting someone when you spend time with them.

Up close, he was no longer wearing the green neon sign. He was a Caltech student. He was capable of making such a sign. It would be years before I had the courage to ask him about it, and when I did, he found a polite way to tell me I must have been hallucinating.

If it was an hallucination, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under injunction NOT to hurt him, I could not refuse a date. And I discovered he was worth spending time with.

We went to a movie that neither of us liked. He was willing to walk out. Talk about a way to earn points on a first date!

When we decided to marry, he had no interest in the wedding I had pictured – turquoise dress, barefoot in the park. As I told everybody at the wedding, “The only thing I got that I wanted was my choice of husband. And that’s the only thing that really matters.”

His parents, and my parents and grandparents were all pleased by the traditional wedding. And I learned a lesson that my children appreciated. When they decided to marry, I did not interfere with their wedding plans – they got to have the weddings they wanted.

That hallucinatory sign has saved my marriage many times.

My most difficult struggle began when our younger daughter carried an eleven pound mutt, crawling with fleas, into our house. She took him straight to the tub and scrubbed him with flea soap. He had no collar, and he had obviously been abused. His throat was healing from a knife slash, and his neck was scarred where a collar had grown into the skin. His ears had that chewed look of a street fighter. He had an eye infection and he was hungry.

After his bath, my daughter and I took him around the block, asking any of our neighbors if they had lost a dog. Nobody recognized him. He was thin, bug-eyed and cuddly. He looked like a miniature black Doberman, down to the little brown markings where his eyebrows should be. We took him home again, and arranged a vet appointment.

He reminded me of the Pooh story about the woozle and the wizzle who left tiny footprints in the snow when Pooh and piglet followed them around the tree. But this dog was even smaller than a wizzle; he was a miniature wizzle, so I named him Miniwiz.

We left him overnight at the vet’s to treat the eye infection, and get his shots and license.. Miniwiz didn't seem to recognize me when I came to pick him up at the vet's, but he came home willingly. He made friends with our older dog, and ate another big bowl of food.

When we let him out into the yard, and turned our backs, he promptly burrowed his way under our fence and went out to explore the neighborhood.

Our older dog loved my husband best. Miniwiz liked me. He cuddled me when I felt sad. He jumped to see me when I came home. I loved him as much as if he were one of my human children.

My husband was thrilled when he returned from his trip to find that we now were a two-dog family. He loves dogs. I grew up without dogs and he had to teach me how to play with them. I had never noticed all the dogs in our neighborhood. Now that we had Miniwiz, I saw them all. And I especially noticed Fifi, a 19 year old brown 9 lb dog that looked a lot like Miniwiz. Miniwiz instantly fell in love with her.

I bought cement blocks and buried them in the dirt under our fence. For a few weeks, Miniwiz stayed put. Then he learned to climb the fence. All the neighbors got to know our dog, as they kept putting him back into our yard. We took him back to the vet to get him fixed, but that didn't stop his roaming.

I bought Miniwiz a chain and harness. It took him about an hour to get out of the harness. Then he ran to the elementary school to play with the children. The cook brought him home to play with her six children, but she gave him back when she saw our Lost Dog poster. Miniwiz was not happy about leaving all those children. I'd heard of children asking their parents for a dog. This was the first dog that I knew of to ask his people for children.

I tried a stronger harness. Miniwiz dug up the stake that held his chain, and dragged the chain and stake over two fences to get to his girlfriend's house. Fifi was arthritic and usually walked unsteadily. But when Miniwiz came to visit, she perked up, and ran like a young dog.
I knew how she felt. I still feel that way about my husband. We took him to visit her twice a day.
But Miniwiz did not think that was often enough.

I bought a different stake – one that twisted into the ground. Miniwiz broke his chain. I bought a chain designed for a 20 pound dog. Miniwiz broke that. I bought a chain designed for a 50 pound dog, and he broke his new harness. Finally, I found a combination that held him, and my husband started complaining that he didn't like to see a dog chained. He was going to train Miniwiz to stay in the yard without a chain.

A friend suggested we buy a fence with slanted spikes on it that couldn't be climbed. My husband persisted that he could teach Miniwiz to stay home. For a few days it worked. Then our daughter caught him out front again. And my husband promised to always chain Miniwiz when he put him in the yard.

Our daughter went off to college, and for a week, my husband remembered to chain Miniwiz when he was the last one to leave. Then one night, he was only going to be gone two hours. He was sure Miniwiz would stay in the yard that long. But when he got home Miniwiz was gone. He looked in all of Miniwiz's favorite haunts, including at Fifi’s house, where we'd always found him before when he went exploring. When I got back from my meeting, I too scoured the neighborhood.

When we came inside, the answering machine was blinking. The call was from our vet's. Miniwiz had been hit by a car. I could tell from her voice that he was dead, but her message just said to come down in the morning.

My husband only said, “He was supposed to stay in the yard.”

I thought about leaving my husband because he couldn't take care of my dog. I thought about never having a dog again because it hurt too much to lose him. I cried into the night, "I want my dog!"

My husband didn’t care enough about me or my dog to keep his word and put my dog on a chain when he let him outside. Plus he did not know how to apologize. He kept blaming Miniwiz for leaving the yard, for going into the street, for wanting to be with Fifi.

But his actions, and my pain did not nullify the injunction. I had to find a way to forgive him.

I’d have broken out of my parents home if they forbade me to visit my husband whenever I wanted. And I know that when I’m upset, I’m not the best driver. Miniwiz was upset. His humans only took him to see Fifi twice a day. His humans didn’t give him any young children to play with.

And my husband imagined that he’d taught Miniwiz to stay in the yard. He was wrong. He made a mistake.

I was still furious and miserable. And then a miracle happened. My husband apologized. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

I cried again, this time because I could forgive him. And a few months after we buried Miniwiz, we got Buffy, who loved us, loved our older dog, and was not an escape-artist.

I have always felt that I am an alien. The fact that we were able to have children together indicates that he is an alien, too. After 42 years I am happy to see him beside me when I wake up in the morning, happy to receive calls from him during the day, happy that he comes home for dinner. I love it that he reads stories to me and does the voices for the characters. I love it that he eats cutely, which makes cooking worthwhile. I love it that he has a different perspective from me and his ideas help me shape my own.

I’m also glad I saw that sign (hallucination or not).

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