Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Living "The Dream"

Less than three weeks before my younger brother's wedding, I went swimming with my friend, Lizzie. She was house-sitting in a county north of Baltimore. The two of us swam in the in-ground pool in the properly fenced and impeccably landscaped backyard of this house, so naturally I asked for details. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Whose house is this?

Lizzie: My friend’s. We went to college together, she met her husband there, they got married and she’s pregnant with her third kid at thirty years old.

Me: Wow. Three kids, huh? She’s only thirty?

Lizzie: Yup. Three kids, a house with a big yard and a pool, a Labrador retriever and she doesn’t even have to work. Can you believe it?

Me: No – does she really want all those kids? She’s so young.

Lizzie: Yup. She’s only thirty and she’s living the dream.

Me: Whose dream?

Lizzie: Everyone’s; definitely mine.

This is about the time that I realized that Lizzie and I – bless her heart – have absolutely nothing in common. I have tons of dreams. Being a stay-at-home mother of three kids by the time I’m thirty is (thankfully) not one of them. I love labs, but prefer mutts, have never met anyone “forever”-worthy, and have never been keen on yard work. I like to pursue and participate in my dreams: I want my book published; I want to write and travel and swim with the dolphins; I want to be a better teacher every year; I want to write the curriculum for a 12th grade class that examines apathy in the face of history’s horrors; I want to start painting again and to teach myself eight of Chopin’s preludes on the piano; I want to go for a run with my dog while she’s still young, and I want – when this damn disease is cured – to coach track and ride horses on the weekends.

Some of my dreams, I suppose, are just as elusive as finding a rich husband, but they involve my own aspirations and passions; they involve cultivating contentment, happiness and personal success. This does not mean that I want to live my life alone. I want very much to share my achievements and failures with someone who I miss while I’m sleeping. I will not, however, rest the entirety of “my dream” in the hands of someone I have not yet met.

All of this led to a comforting moment of clarity, no wonder I didn’t mind being the single sister at my younger brother’s wedding: his life is closely aligned with Lizzie’s “dream”, but not necessarily mine. This doesn’t mean I successfully avoid occasional bouts of envy - I wish I had met the love of my life in college and I made more money and were as happy and healthy as my brother. Mostly, though, I’m just relieved that out of all the girls he’s dated, my sister-in-law is not only someone I can tolerate, she is someone I genuinely love.

Thankfully I made these revelations a good forty-eight hours prior to the wedding, and had sufficient time to think of a speech for the rehearsal dinner. I stopped thinking about Lizzie’s dream and figured out what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about my uncanny propensity to cry while public speaking, so my sentiments – while genuine and written with the intent to be expressed eloquently - came out as a blithering diatribe about how my brother reminds me of a dog. Below is what I wanted to say. I owe it to my brother to let him –
and anyone else – know that my intentions were good:

Since I’m a member of the bridal party, I guess technically what I’m about to say should pertain strictly to Katie, but – since the best man's in charge of the speech tomorrow – I’d better say something briefly about my brother too. I want to take some of the pressure off of Uber.

The first book I read this summer was Marley and Me. For those of you who haven’t read it or – for the groomsmen who don’t read – the book is about a badly behaved dog and its owner who comes to love him deeply and unconditionally. I bring this up because as I was reading, I saw a scary number of similarities between Marley and my brother. Marley was a little bit, well, outrageous. If he’d been a human, though, I think he’d have lived his life a lot like my brother: I imagine that he’d dress up as teen wolf for Halloween; he’d buy a brand new, enormous, gas-guzzling truck when a tire fell off his old one; he’d visit his sister in Baltimore and decide to walk to her apartment (alone and with a dead cell phone) in the middle of the night. He and his friends would shave each other mohawks in his sister’s bathroom and he would almost certainly run a marathon on the other side of the country less than a month before his wedding.

Much like Marley, my brother needs a special, patient and selfless companion in his life; he needs someone who can receive and reflect the kind of love he gives: loyal, genuine, enduring and unqualified (though absurd) love. He has found that companion in Katie. When circumstances (aka jobs) bring Pat frustration, she brings him compassion; when impulses get him into trouble (or, most recently, marathons); she offers him patience and support. She brings out the best in my brother and – most importantly – she sees and loves him for the outrageously loyal person he is.

I am proud to call you my sister, Katie, and I wish you both years and years of marital bliss.

So, while I’m not entirely sure that the dog-brother/owner-Katie analogy was completely flattering, I do know that I meant it to be. I also know that – in times that I turn into an emotional basket-case – the written word works a hell of a lot better than a tear-infested oratory.

I still remember that years ago, a close friend of mine was in her younger sister’s bridal party. For months before the wedding, I heard of the misery and humiliation that she endured as the older, single, maid of honor. I guess I just assumed that when I found myself in a similar circumstance, I too would experience such horrifying emotions. I thus modified my expectations accordingly: I prepared myself for endless wedding preparations, the inevitability of an awkwardly fitting and generally unflattering bridesmaid dress, and the potential to – gasp – not have a date by the wedding.

Except for the date part, though, none of my fears were realized. And, since I actively abhor crying in front of boyfriends anyway, my younger brother’s wedding weekend was absolutely perfect.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Post-bath day one...

Izzy - Day One

Izzy and Ink Pens


Ironically, less than 24 hours after writing about my small victory in the lake and the cathartic powers of swimming, my dog managed to knock me over from a sitting position on the floor (she can be a little overly exuberant with her greetings). She sent my right arm into a position never successfully attempted by Gumby, and consequently – a good two days later – my right shoulder remains in an unprecedented amount of pain. I have a relatively high threshold for pain, so it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I could still swim. But I can’t.

And though I’m tempted to write about my monumental hatred for a sedentary lifestyle, I think I’ll write instead about adopting my dog. I need to forgive her.

A year ago last May, I had a roommate. He and his girlfriend used to jokingly talk about the three of us “time-sharing” a dog. At that moment, the idea sounded somewhat appealing. I wanted my own dog but thought I might need help. The idea of housebreaking a puppy from inside a high rise apartment seemed daunting. Throw the wheelchair into the equation and it seemed downright impossible. Without any real serious thought into the logistics of any of this, though, my roommate’s girlfriend looked up available dogs at the local SPCA. Naturally, there was one puppy. Her name (this makes me giggle) was Monique, and – as all puppies are – she was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen.

My roommate and I secretly conspired to go see the puppy the following afternoon, so I bolted out of school after my seventh period class, picked up my roommate and headed to the SPCA in north Baltimore. The two of us decided we couldn’t bring his girlfriend because she was too impulsive and irrational, so we went alone. Apparently I’d successfully duped my roommate and myself into thinking I could be a reliable voice of reason. This self-assessment could not have been further from the truth.

The second I saw Monique in her puppy run, I looked at my roommate and said, “Oh my God – I need to have her.” He laughed at me, reminding me of the 700 times within less than 24 hours that I’d listed all the reasons why a puppy was a bad idea. I reminded him that he’d help me, and repeated my completely emotional and not-at-all rational statement: “I need to have her.”

That afternoon, I filled out the adoption application and requested that the SPCA hold little Monique for the next 24 hours. Within that amount of time, two simple things needed to happen: my roommate needed to produce vaccination records for his own dog, and the SPCA needed to contact my apartment in order to confirm that my apartment was “dog friendly”. These two tasks proved far more difficult than either my roommate or I imagined: my roommate had lost his dog’s vaccination records and thus needed to find a vet that would see his dog that day and fax the updated records to the SPCA before it closed (at 4:30), and the manager of my apartment was not allowed to admit a “pit mix” into the building without her supervisor’s consent. I assumed these obstacles could be easily overcome and drove directly to the SPCA after school the next day to begin the interminable wait.

I’m generally a firm believer that time goes by much too quickly. As someone who is habitually late and chronically procrastinating, I could definitely benefit from a few extra hours in each day. Stick me behind a desk in the SPCA and tell me to wait for two things that are entirely out of my control though, and time somehow stops. I sat at the fake wood table for what seemed like at least 6 hours. My roommate had no cell phone, so there was no way to check on his status at the vet, and my landlord – who I called at least 17 times that day – could not get in touch with her supervisor. In my head I tried to convince myself that everything would work out if it were meant to, and that getting a dog – as I’d pointed out before – was a highly illogical idea anyway. I knew, though, that as I sat there waiting for a phone call and a fax, it was far too late for logic; reasonable/rational Kate had been taken hostage by an eight pound puppy the day before. It was doubtful that I’d ever get her back.

Then, at approximately 4:27, as multiple staff members were starting to disappear for the day, my cell phone rang. It was my landlord. I put her on with the adoption coordinator and sat there staring at him, searching for any indication – positive or negative – and finding nothing on his expressionless face. When he hung up, he gave me the news: the supervisor said yes. Seconds later, I heard the fax machine as it printed out copies of my roommate’s dog’s vaccination records. An SPCA volunteer went into the back room to retrieve Monique; I paid my $250, put her on my lap, and headed for the door.

Less than 2 seconds later I realized that propelling a manual wheelchair with a squirming puppy in my lap was, well, impossible. Luckily, a straggling volunteer offered to help, and I clutched the puppy with both hands while the volunteer steered me to my car. It was right around this time that I started second guessing my decision: if the volunteer hadn’t offered to help I’d likely still be sitting in the SPCA waiting room with a dog on my lap. Then I drove home. This too was more difficult than I anticipated. Scared out of her mind, little Monique wanted nothing to do with the passenger seat. She stumbled over the center console and, with her sharp little puppy claws, started to climb me. I was forced to abandon my hand controls while I grasped her tightly with my left hand. With my right hand on the steering wheel and my not-so-dependable right foot on the gas, I slalomed down Route 83, praying that my puppy would stay still and that my foot would work for the next ten minutes. When we finally arrived at my apartment building, I realized that my roommate had both my garage door opener and my access card to the building. I pulled over, put Monique on the floor, and called my landlord for the 18th time that day. I begged her to let me in and invited her down to meet the reason behind my incessant harassment. Moments before she arrived to let me in, cute little Monique peed on the floor of my car – the joys of pet ownership were, once again, looking questionable, and we hadn’t even made it home yet. Eventually – with assistance from my landlord – I parked my car and somehow got the puppy and myself into my apartment. I was sweating and my feet reeked of dog pee, but I was relieved: we were finally home!

Then things got worse. I had completely forgotten that my roommate was dog-sitting for the week, and some stranger’s shepherd mix was there to greet me at the door. The shepherd took one look at Monique and started to drool. Within seconds there were foot-long stretches of frothy dog saliva hanging out of her mouth. Convinced that the potentially rabid Shepherd was going to attack the puppy, I tried to strategically place my wheelchair between the two dogs. Unfazed by the drooling dog or her new surroundings, the puppy then pooped right in front of the door and bolted in furious circles around the dining room table. Sliming everything she touched, the shepherd followed the puppy stealthily but was fortunately too fat to keep up. Convinced that Monique could fend for herself, I grabbed a plastic bag off the nearby kitchen counter and slid out of my wheelchair and onto my knees to scoop the poop. I then returned my attention to the dogs just in time to see Monique dodge the shepherd, jet under my wheelchair and sprint directly toward the bag of poop. Before I could grab her, she had the bag of poop firmly clenched in her jaw and resumed her game of keep away with the shepherd.

Defeated, I collapsed onto the floor and called my friend, Anique. The conversation went something like this:

Anique: Hello?

Me: You need to come over right now.

Anique: What’s wrong? What happened?

Me: I just got a puppy. I’m alone in the apartment with the puppy and a random drooling shepherd mix. I think the Shepherd wants to eat the puppy, and the puppy is running around in circles with a bag of shit.

Anique: (This is one of the million and five reasons I love her) I’ll be right there.

Before Anique arrived, two things happened: my roommate arrived home from the vet bringing the grand total of dogs in my little apartment to three. I also decided that Monique was – as a name – all wrong. Monique is a name best suited for a diva, not a puppy that runs around with bags of poop in her mouth. I’d been thinking of names, and had a list of five – only three of which I remember. Deciding that Chloe was better suited to a purebred, and that Sammy sounded a little too androgynous, I settled on Izzy. Not Isabelle or Isadore, just Izzy. It fit her. Thankfully it still does.

I’ve only owned her now for thirteen months, but the number of Izzy stories I could write would fill a novel. She has grown from an 8 pound firecracker of a puppy, into a beautiful (though overly-excitable) 50 pound mutt. She has knocked me flat on my back in public by leaping out of my car to lick the entirety of my face, she has eaten two brand new ink pens and dyed her fur blue and green, she has run through open doors of restaurants to beg for strangers’ food, she has leapt over 5 foot fences in an effort to rescue me from a friend’s swimming pool, and once – while I was assembling my wheelchair outside of a Pet Smart, she escaped from my car and made a mad dash directly through the store’s automatic doors. Once inside, she brazenly interrupted the store’s weekly puppy obedience class and made her way straight to the squeaky toys.

Not one person or thing, though, has ever made me laugh to the point of tears as often as Izzy.

As it turned out, “time-sharing” a dog proved far more difficult than owning one alone (even with a neurological disease). Especially when certain parties involved in said “time-share” prove as responsible as termites. I am no longer friends with my old roommate or his girlfriend, but Izzy remains a constant source of joy in a world that is far too often dominated by MS-related self-pity. So, despite a shoulder whose function is still severely compromised, getting this dog was the best irrational decision I’ve ever made.