photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Big Gaping Hole Where My Heart Used to Be

I hate dogs.

I hate that they worm their way into our hearts and become so much a part of us that losing them is as painful as an amputation.

And it's not "if" we lose them, it's 100% guaranteed "when" we lose them. Because they live a mere fraction of the time we do.

Sometimes a fraction of THAT.

Beau was a gimme dog. We'd been looking for "back up muscle" for our aging Great Pyrenees and our friend Jonathan said, "You need this dog- he's gorgeous AND a good livestock guard dog". In the middle of our new house build, I told him to try to find the dog a different home, but IF he still had him once the house was up and we were all moved in, we'd take him. That took 6 months.

He did, and we did.

Beau was part Anatolian Shepard and part Great Pyrenees. I generally am not fond of the Anatolians because they can be more aggressive than the Pyrs- and while we need a guard dog, we don't want an aggressive dog- we have too many tiny animals and people around here.

Beau was quiet. And calm. And gorgeous. He had that, "Don't worry, mom- I've got everything under control" look a really outstanding guardian dog has from the time its eyes open.

He was fluffy but not white or badger-marked like a pyr- he was lion-tan with a black mask...also very lion-like. I worried that some night a hunter would encounter him and think he was running into a cougar and shoot before realizing he wasn't.

Beau was a character, but never a clown. He floated across the pasture silently. His head was bigger than mine but he'd appear suddenly at my side out of nowhere...gently bumping my hand with his enormous bear-nose.

Like most of this type of dog, he required a very light hand- they know what they're doing and have been bred to do it without direction. Even a slight reproach would cause him to tip over onto his side in shame. A lion's heart, a tender heart.

He took his job as livestock guardian very seriously. While our older guardian made a cursory check of the livestock before retiring to the (actual iron double sized)bed on our porch, Beau was rarely on the 'house side' of the creek- preferring to stay with his charges, and seeming to commune more with the horse than the other dogs- the two of them would amble around the pasture in the afternoons together, Shar grazing and Beau just hanging out...ever vigilant.

At dusk every night, the three guardians would line up as if on cue at our property line- facing across the road to the hundreds of acres of bottoms and forest.

He never was a hearty eater. He'd wait till you weren't looking before he ate, or bury his food for later. I was surprised when I first got him and took him to the vet that he only weighed 85 pounds- because his frame was bigger than our pyr and she weighs right at 100 pounds.

When it started getting hot this year, Beau stopped eating. I didn't think too much about it since most of the Anatolians I know get damn near anorexic in the summertime. And his attitude was still good- bright and happy.

I tried to tempt him by soaking his food in broth. Nothing.
I scrambled him eggs. No thank you.
I gave him leftovers of all kinds that the other dogs would (really) kill for. Nada.

A week ago today, Ward called me while I was driving home from work. Beau had walked up to him stiff-legged and slow, head down. When he got to Ward, he tipped over not in shame, but weakness. Or injury. Ward couldn't tell.

When I got home, he was still down.

He rallied when we put him into the car and I took him back to work with me (I manage an Animal Emergency After-hours clinic).

He walked into the clinic.

His blood work showed kidney failure, and he was put on IV fluids.

He walked out of the clinic the next morning and into the regular vet clinic.

They ran tests that ruled out anything that could be treated or that pointed to an outside cause- parasitic disease or poison. Nothing.

That meant something congenital- bad kidneys or cancer. He was only 3 years old.

I told the boys that I'd assess his progress or lack thereof, and had the vet re-run the blood work to see if he was holding steady or declining. IF he were no worse, I'd bring him home, see if I could get him to eat, and make his last days comfortable.

When I got to the vet clinic he couldn't get up. His tail didn't wag or even twitch in greeting, and his eyes were already turned inward in thought, and concentration. In leaving.

His blood work was much worse.

I sat on the cold hard floor of the concrete block kennel, dogs all around us barking, echoing sharply and repeatedly. I cradled his big head in my lap, covered his ears and thought hard at him of Home- the creek running, wind in the trees, the constant undertone of poultry conversations.

I asked him if he wanted to go home. He looked up at me, apologetically. "I'm very happy to see you, and I'd love to, but I'm sorry, Mom- I just don't think I can".

Our eyes locked. I told him, "Next time,stick around longer." Clear as a bell I felt his response, "Next time pick me up sooner".

So I stroked his head while the vet gave him the final injection, and told him it was OK- he'd done a very good job protecting us all and we loved him- to go on and just let go and I'll see him again soon.

And I believe with all my heart that I will.

My handsome boy

Beau, Sugarbearmarshmallowdog and Wendy the Beagle on a cool winter morning. Narrated by Ward.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why I'm a Liberal

I'm a Liberal. Treehugging, flaming, completely unapologetic Liberal.

Being a Liberal means, of course, that I'm totally squishy and want a world filled with flowers and unicorns farting rainbows...all viewed through my rose-colored glasses.

Being a Liberal means, of course, that I don't have the slightest idea of how the Real World is- being all starry-eyed and all I just have no concept of things like budgets, and statistics, and the seedier side of things.

Yep, I just float through life wishing and dreaming of a utopian Shangri La because I don't know the score, haven't been knocked around by reality, just cruising through on my blissful ignorance of how Things Really Work.

Except that's bullshit.

I keep hearing about 'shared sacrifices' when what is really being called for is no sacrifice at all for those who could afford to give just a bit more (or at all), and huge life-changing (or ending) demands for those who are already precariously on the edge of security.

Non-liberals cluck, and shake their heads and roll their eyeballs- clearly convinced that I'll never understand the Sensible Things because I live in a sheltered padded little fluff of a dream world- they and I are clearly not on The Same Page.


Lemme take a few minutes to explain exactly why I feel the way I do about things, and some of this is seeing light of day for the first time- but I'm sick of people thinking I'm a Liberal because I "just don't know anything about the Hard Facts of Life".

When I was 15, I took myself to Planned Parenthood and got on the Pill. Not because I was promiscuous and wanted to sleep around, but because I had suddenly and unexpectedly learned several things- adults who are in positions of teaching morality are not always trustworthy, and sexual assault has really nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with control and dominance. Also that shame is a wonderful tool for bullies, in fact it takes sometimes almost 40 years to overcome it.

Wow. Can you SEE the unicorns?

Planned Parenthood was also my only source for routine physical health care- not just "girlie stuff"- for years when I didn't have the luxury of spendy private insurance because I was working 2 minimum wage no-benifits-offered full time jobs just to afford my roach-filled rental mobile home in the drug-infested trailer park.

Hey, look- is that a rainbow?

Anyone who knows us even a little bit knows what our family has been through with the medical industry, specifically the cancer and heart disease facets. Because of that, we know firsthand how the system treats those with private insurance, those with Medicare and those without any insurance at all. We've seen it, lived it, survived it- our decade+ embroiled in this mess isn't just 'something we heard that our sister's husband's mechanic's mother had happen' and it boggles my mind that when we tell people who know us some of the things that have happened to us, they look at us skeptically, incredulously, suspiciously. Like we're lying to them and the talking heads on TV are not.

Things like if you don't have the money to pay for stuff, you will die. It happens to regular, educated, worthy people every single day and it's not a tragic fluke. It's literally the law of the land. If you can't pay, you can't play with the life-saving stuff, no hard feelings- just the rules. So yes- Death Panels are very real, but not in some far-off scary future if (fill in the blank with 'the other guy's' name) wins the election- Death Panels are the private insurance companies who own the hospitals that deny people care all the that would let them live. Denied. Want to see the best doctor for whatever you have but he's not 'in your group'? Denied. Death Panels- here, and real, and we've seen 'em.


Recently, I discovered that if you are aged and can't live in your home by yourself anymore, moving into assisted living will cost you about $4,000 per month- no Medicare coverage- out of pocket. So, if you have money you've saved up your entire life- money you were probably hoping to leave to your grandchildren, perhaps- that's gone. That will be all used up well before you die and then they'll determine whether or not you even NEED to be there.

Yes, if you can go to the bathroom (mostly) by yourself and feed yourself without (mostly) setting anything on fire, they can kick you right out of the nursing home but HEY! you won't have any trouble finding an apartment with no savings and on what social security pays you every month. Eating and utilities are over-rated.

If you're very 'lucky' you'll qualify for Medicaid and be allowed to stay in a designated Medicaid facility. That's not squalor you smell- it's efficiency.

Here- borrow my rose-colored glasses, it'll all look better...

So, ya. I get a little worked up about things like women's rights and patient's rights and Seniors' rights- but not for the reasons generally thought of- not because I'm just looking for the Nanny State to take care of everyone.

Maybe I'm just sick of the Corporate State literally rolling over actual people, paving the path to the bank with the blood of the weakest members of Society- the elderly, the disabled, the young, the female- not because I'm a squishy Liberal, but because those categories define MY family, exactly, and it scares the hell out of me that the 'social safety net' is considered so expendable...that WE are considered so expendable.

Maybe I CAN'T get on 'the same page' (shit- same PAGE? Not even the same book, the same shelf, the same fucking LIBRARY) with people who declare, "I'm a Constitutionalist- anything not expressly called for in the Constitution has no business being run by the government", especially when those same people

- are women (Founding FATHERS, gals- it wasn't that long ago we couldn't even VOTE)
- cherry pick the Constitution so that the 1st Amendment only pertains to THEIR religion and the 2nd Amendment doesn't 'really' include the words REGULATED MILITIA
- are so goddamn selfish that they are a-OK with letting someone who really needs help DIE as long as one 'undeserving' person doesn't get some of THEIR hard-earned tax dollars

Maybe I'm a Liberal because I can't define a civilized society by how fiscally in order its finances are- by declaring that you've 'got to break a few eggs to make an omelet' when those eggs are living, breathing people. By declaring that the number one important thing is to balance the checkbook, no matter how desperate your citizens are, or how much worse your 'fiscal fix' will make their lives.

Guess I'm just a Definitionist-

civ·i·lized   [siv-uh-lahyzd]
having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc.
polite; well-bred; refined.
of or pertaining to civilized people: The civilized world must fight ignorance.

so·ci·e·ty   [suh-sahy-i-tee] noun, plural so·ci·e·ties, adjective
an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.
a body of individuals living as members of a community; community.
the body of human beings generally, associated or viewed as members of a community: the evolution of human society.
a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members: American society.

I am a Liberal, and I'm damn proud to be one.

I earned it- it's not just some ideal or rhetoric spewed by anyone- famous or powerful or otherwise.

It's woven into the timeline of my life experience by experience, each thread of fear, helplessness, worry, rejection strengthening the whole, giving me the voice and determination to say, "NO- this is NOT right. No one should go through this and be dismissed, trivialized, marginalized, ignored."

Don't dare tell me I don't know how the Real World Works, what the underbelly looks like, how the poorer half lives.

Don't dare tell me I'm a dreamer, a wishful-thinker, an idealist.

Come on into my head and heart- meet the terrified teenager, the battered woman, the full-time employee still so poor she's faced with living in her car, the wife fighting for her husband's care- all of them pissed as hell, baby.

Those aren't stars in my eyes.

That's fire.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I've Been Assimilated...Sort Of

I've resisted buying an e-reader. Resisted violently, as a matter of fact.

I was not going to cheapen the reading experience by giving into the craze.

Because reading is so much more than words.

Reading is holding a book- a book- a magical collection of pages bound together, every one of them covered with seemingly senseless symbols unless

you know the magic code. Reading.

Reading is the transfer of someone else's ideas. Thoughts that formed inside of a brain, detoured through a heart to add emotion and filtered through that person's eyes to fill it out and breathe life into it with the essence of personal experience.

Reading is tangible, and real, and solid. Like a book.

Reading from a book is a visceral experience, not just a mental exercise.

A book has weight, and heft- as if the very words themselves carry a poundage value.

Turning pages uses sight, and touch, and even hearing- the quiet whisper of, "Yes- keep going, there are more words to come."

Very new books have a 'new book smell' and very old books have an 'old book smell'.

The best books are signed, not just by the author, but by previous owners and those who may have gifted them with this- a solid mass of thought. Conjuring up a way to fossilize a rainbow wouldn't be any more amazing.

So I refused to give in. I disdained the argument of, "I don't have room for books and I only read a book once and then am done with it- I hate piles of books cluttering up the place." Our home is more books than walls, more words than windows, more descriptive images than roof. And we love it.

So why do I have books for sale on Kindle and Lulu? Because the way *I* feel isn't necessarily the way everyone else does.

So why did I buy Ward a Kindle Fire for Christmas? Because he can use it to read in bed without a reading light and it silently goes to sleep on its own when he does.

So why do I read downloaded books on my PHONE (Ha! See? I haven't bought an e-reader...LOOPHOLE) Because I carry my phone anyway and it's a portable way to fill time when waiting when I'm not at home, or the few minutes before I fall asleep at night- the phone plugged into our headboard socket.

And why do I spend so much time typing words on a screen and sending them out willy nilly through cyberspace, transient as snowflakes- flocks of word birds taking wing and disappearing with one click- solid in front of me one instant, then gone leaving not even a comma feather behind?

Yanno, you're just lucky this ISN'T a real book, because I'd smack you upside the head with it.

Kindle- the safer way to ingest words.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Excerpt "CancerDance- a love story"

Yep, I did one of these before, but that was BEFORE I re-did this book and added onto it.

The first version was before.

Before we knew that the worst of "it" was yet to come.

Before we were stretched to the limits of our patience and endurance, but not our love and devotion...because that is limitless.

Before I added some stuff to the beginning to define just a bit who we are for those who don't know us.

Before the madness.

Before the recovery.

Before it was up on Kindle.

To say I like this version better than the one before sounds flip and stupid. Because there's nothing about our tiptoe through the cancerous tulips of the medical industry that I like(d). I do feel very strongly that this version is...more.

More complete in its portrayal of us as a family.

More horrifying.

More heartening.

The other version finished very open-ended, knowingly and admittedly at a point where there was no doubt that "it" was not over.

This ending feels better.

We feel better.

No, we don't know what tomorrow will bring. Anyone anywhere who thinks they know that is a fool of the worst sort.

We do know this, without a doubt.

Ward is stronger and more courageous than anyone I've ever known, ever.

As a couple, Ward and I are more in love than we were the day we first realized we were more than best friends. I fully intend to love him even more than that tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day...

As a family, we are a single unit of bullheaded indomitable power.

Our friends are true, and legion, and stalwart.

So maybe I feel better about this version because I feel better about where we are now.

Well after Before.

The Kindle version is available now, and the paper version will be available as soon as I iron out a few pesky publishing details.

And remember- it's not a book about cancer. It's a book about life.

And living.

And love.

10 April 2010 at 1:49pm

I'm back at the hotel after spending the night at the hospital. I had to get a little sleep, a shower, do the laundry since we're officially out of underwear right now, and have something to eat since the last thing I had was 8pm last night. And that was Sunchips and the head of a chocolate rabbit.

Ward's doing better. He's a lot better as of last night.

I walked in the room and there was Ward looking back at me for the first time since surgery over five days ago. No restraints. No growling. No cursing.

I spent the night with him, along with the sitter he's assigned since he still wants to get up and wander and forgets about his drains and IV, and though he rested a bit, he hasn't had any good, sound sleep since surgery—he's exhausted.

He ate a few bites of pudding last night and one bite of eggs this morning, but otherwise hasn't had anything to eat since before surgery, so he's gotta be lightheaded.

At 3am he HAD to get up and walk, so the nurse (last night's nurse and sitter were both angels pure and truly) let him get up and helped him walk for the first time since surgery. He did two laps around the floor holding onto his IV stand and was able to work off some nervous energy. Then they got him a bath and tucked him in and he was able to relax for about an hour before starting to fidget again.

In a spectacular display of dexterity, right at shift change at 7am, he went from lying flat on his back "reading," to on all fours to standing upright ON THE BED. Then did a very passable hostage-taker impression of hollering to the (ya think?) many concerned hands on him trying to keep him from falling, "EVERYBODY JUST BACK OFF. STOP PUSHING ME!"

He finally heard my voice through it saying, "Dear, just sit on the bed there right where you are." He said he wanted to sit on the chair I'd been in. I said,"Ok, but you must sit on the bed first". He asked why. I said, "Because you can't FLY."

He thought about it for a minute...then, "Oh. OK". And sat down.

My guess is that set his "ready for discharge" time back a good 12 hours or so...

He's still fuzzy, still foggy, still seeing things not visible to those of us not in the same plane of reality that he's in—ants on the floor, worms on the page of his book, and thinking the bed is tilting—still not sure of where he is or why he's there or why he can't go home, but for the most part he's sweet funny Ward again.

Golly I've missed him