Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A friend once told me, “A dog’s love is the purest love you’ll ever find. A dog loves you unconditionally, without any expectation of getting something in return, without any judgment of what you look like, how much money you have, or what kind of car you drive. The only thing a dog wants is to love you, and if they get love in return, it’s just icing on the cake.” I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken. I know, because I experienced exactly what my friend described during the much-too-brief time my dog, Sam, was in my life.

            Sam was a spunky little white and brown Shih Tzu whose huge personality more than made up for his small stature. His full name, Samson, was bestowed upon him not only because of the adorably poofy and elaborate mane he sported as a puppy, but also because of his strength –- not of physicality, but of will and mind. Sam was the most stubborn and indignant little dog I’ve ever known, and his moniker suited him perfectly. He was also the best dog I’ve ever known and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to have had him in my life for almost 15 years. I’d give just about anything to have him back for even 15 minutes more.

            Sam left this world on February 17, 2013, after a years-long battle with several illnesses that eventually wore his little body down to the point that it was difficult for him to even breathe. I was there with him at the end, at the very last second when he slipped peacefully from this world to the next. I saw, heard, and felt him take his last breath. I held him in my arms as his tired little body just let go and for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t struggling or fighting anymore. It was as peaceful and graceful and quiet and calm as you could ever imagine. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.

            Sam came into my world when I was 18 years old and home from college in the summer of 1998. My childhood dog, Petie, had been gone for about a year and though we all missed him, my family was ready to bring a new dog into our home. My mom had researched different breeds, and finally decided that a Shih Tzu would be a good fit. One day she came across an ad in the newspaper for Shih Tzu puppies who needed good homes. My mom, sister, and I decided to make the hour-long drive to have a look and maybe bring one home. As soon as we arrived and looked at the puppies, one of them came straight over to us and propped himself up on the side of the little enclosure he was corralled in with his brothers and sisters. We bent down to greet the little burst of fur and he excitedly attempted to climb the wire fence that separated us. That was it. It was love at first sight, and we knew this little bundle of energy was meant to join our family. We brought him home, showed him around, and introduced him to my elderly cat Spooky, who wasn’t too thrilled about this fuzzy live wire that had just invaded her tranquil space. But even Spooky came to love Sam eventually.

            Sam’s puppyhood was entertaining, and challenging, for all of us. It didn’t take long for his personality to shine through. He was so dang cute that he could get away with anything. Even his occasional penchant for stealing underwear out of laundry baskets and ripping them to shreds was adorable and elicited more “Awwwwwws” than scolding. Sam was a trouble maker, for sure, but that was part of his charm. And my god, was he spoiled. That dog had more toys than the most spoiled child in the history of the world. And if there were certain toys that he really liked, we got him doubles just to make sure we had a backup and he wouldn’t have to be without one of his favorites. Sam had a habit of destroying his plush toys in a very methodical way. The first thing he did when he got a new stuffed toy was carry it into the family room and examine it for any weaknesses, most of all the eyes. If the eyes were made of little plastic beads, Sam knew it was his starting place for the carnage that was to come. He would chew on those little beady eyes until one or both of them popped out of the stuffed animal’s head. He knew that once those plastic nuisances were out of the way, he could use the small holes that were left to really get down to business. He would sit, holding the toy between his two front paws, his back legs splayed out behind him, and excitedly pull out every piece of stuffing that had once been in the toy. He didn’t stop until A) he was caught in the act or B) nothing was left but a fuzzy shell and the squeaker, and poly fiberfill stuffing was flung across every square inch of the room. It sounds a little barbaric, but I swear watching him in action was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.

            Sam was smart, one of the smartest dogs I’ve known, but he was also stubborn. If he didn’t want to do something, then we could just forget about it because he wasn’t going to do it. There were many battles of will waged over the years, and Sam didn’t lose very many of them. He demanded fresh water when he went to get a drink from his bowl, and soon he would drink only bottled water -– liquid from the tap was unacceptable. If the water in his bowl wasn’t fresh enough, or if the bowl was running low, Sam would sit in the kitchen and quietly growl while staring at his water. If that didn’t get someone’s attention, he would eventually resort to more drastic measures. He’d take his fuzzy little paws and stomp right on the edge of the bowl, flipping it over and sending it careening through the kitchen, spilling its contents in the process. Once that was done, and someone had come running into the room to see what was going on, there Sam would be, prancing around proudly, wagging his tail and beaming to the point that he looked like he was smiling at what he had accomplished. It was so cute that the human’s response was usually to burst out laughing, rush to get Sam the fresh bottled water he was demanding, and then clean up the mess.

The thing Sam was most stubborn about, though, was food. He was the pickiest little dog to ever live, and to him, the thought of eating dog food was akin to putting a plate of cow manure in front of a human. He just didn’t like it, and it didn’t matter what kind –- dry food, canned food, refrigerated food, Iams, Science Diet, Alpo, dog food imported from a tiny bakery in the south of France –- it didn’t matter what it was. If it was meant for a dog, Sam didn’t want to have anything to do with it. On the rare occasions when we wouldn’t give in and feed him human food, he would stage his own little doggie hunger strike and starve himself to the point that his blood sugar got so low he would have a seizure. After experiencing his first seizure, it was terrifying enough for my mom, sister, and me to vow that Sam would never go hungry again, no matter what we had to feed him. He apparently didn’t think it was such a big deal because his hunger strikes continued intermittently throughout his life, despite our best efforts to prevent them. We very quickly learned what a strong-willed little dog we were living with, and about our own weaknesses when it came to enforcing the rules. His sweet, innocent, adorable little face with his toothy underbite and big brown eyes was our Kryptonite.

I have countless wonderful memories of my life with Sam –- the way he snooped through the bags when someone returned home from the grocery store to see if there was anything in there for him; the way he would bulldoze my (current) cat Libby, knocking her over like a bowling ball striking a pin and leaving her sprawled out on the carpet, thoroughly annoyed; the time he climbed under the Christmas tree, finding and pulling out all of HIS presents and proceeding to unwrap every single one; how he jumped up fearlessly anytime a squirrel dared to come near the back patio door, and he barked as ferociously as he could until the critter turned tail and scurried away from HIS house; his trips to the bank drive-through where he would bark into the speaker until the teller sent him a Milkbone through the magic treat-producing machine. This also usually included his gesture we came to call “Sammy want” where he would put his two front paws together and wave them up and down frantically anytime he saw something he wanted. And he always got what he wanted.

One of my favorite memories of Sam is the first time he decided to try swimming. A family friend, who I’ll call “J”, has a plot of land on a small lake out in the country and generously let us bring Sam out there whenever we wanted. On one occasion, when Sam was feeling particularly brave, we let him out of the car for his usual bounding run around the property as we tried to keep up. This time, however, Sam decided he wanted to give that big wet thing out in the middle of the ground a closer look. He took off at full speed down the dock that led straight into the lake, and when he got to the end he took a giant leap, fully extending front and back legs into a proper diving posture, and splashed down spectacularly into the water. My sister and I were there along with J and we all immediately ran as fast as we could to the dock to get to Sam. We could tell he was a little confused at what had just happened, and that it wasn’t quite what he was expecting. But, he quickly swam over to the frantic humans on the edge of the dock waving like crazy people at him and let them pull him out of the water. We knew Sam wasn’t sure it was a good idea to take a flying leap into the lake because he never did it again. He stuck to running around in the weeds and tall grass and fishing out on the boat whenever someone was willing to take him. Sam loved to go fishing. I mean loved it. He would sit and watch as everyone cast their lines into the water, and he eventually learned to watch the bobbers on each line as an indication that a fish was about to come into the boat. If the bobbers weren’t moving fast enough for him, he would stomp his feet and let out a high-pitched, exasperated whine to show his impatience. But when someone finally caught a fish? Holy moly, it was the most exciting thing Sam had ever experienced! He would cry and bark and squeal as the fish was being reeled in and once it was out of the water, he had to inspect it. Carefully. Thoroughly. He checked over every fish that was caught, sniffing and giving them the once over, and finally licking them before the fisherman was allowed to throw the slimy creature back into the water. He had to lick every single one, like he was saying, “Why hello, Mr. Fish. Nice to meet you!” It was the same routine fish after fish, and it was like Sam’s own little heaven on earth. He came home dirty, smelly, and exhausted, just how he liked it.

The older Sam got, the more his health started to deteriorate. He’d had health issues from the time he was a puppy, including severe allergies and stomach problems, and more conditions were added to the list as time went on. Thankfully, we had a fantastic vet who knew how much Sam meant to all of us and was always willing to try whatever he could to make Sam well. Toward the end of his life, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which we were able to manage and control with medication for a while, but there was no cure. Eventually, the congestive heart failure led to chronic kidney failure and liver failure, both of which were treatable but also not curable. Although Sam, ever the fighter, pulled through after every treatment, the problems became more and more frequent and the treatments harder for him to bear. The congestive heart failure caused fluid to build up in his body, sometimes in his stomach, sometimes in or around his lungs making it hard for him to breathe even when he was just lying in his bed. It made him cough, sometimes uncontrollably, until we could see he was at the point of exhaustion, and there was nothing we could do to help him. He was uncomfortable, he was occasionally in pain, he was sick, he was exhausted, and most of all, he was suffering. It was something that was so hard to see and be powerless to help. But we all knew the alternative, and none of us could even fathom losing him.

It took a couple months before my mom, sister, and I knew that we couldn’t let Sam suffer anymore. We couldn’t stand by and watch him struggle to take every single breath. To try and sleep and not even be able to lie down comfortably. It was heartbreaking. We all knew what the next step probably would be, but we hardly ever talked about it. None of us wanted to let Sam go. I know I said a prayer more than once that God would let him pass peacefully in his sleep one night, and sometimes I feel terrible about that. It was partly because I didn’t want him to suffer anymore, but mostly it was out of selfishness because I didn’t want to have to make the choice for him. I didn’t want to have to be the one to say, “It’s time.” Who was I to make a decision like that for another living being? The longer his suffering went on, though, the more I realized it was the only choice we had.

I was with my mom and sister on the night of February 16 and Sam was not well. He was struggling to breathe. He hadn’t been eating and had lost so much weight that we could see his ribs. He was coughing non-stop and couldn’t get comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time. We all looked at each other, and one of us, I don’t remember who, said, “I think we should call the vet in the morning.” I remember being shocked that this was even being brought up. I remember saying, “But tomorrow’s Sunday. The vet won’t even be there on Sunday,” knowing full well that the vet would come in if we called. And I remember knowing in my heart, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind behind all the denial and doubt, that it was time. It was time to let him go. But still, I didn’t want to believe it.  

I laid awake that night, praying that God would miraculously heal Sam. Praying that if he couldn’t heal him, he would take him so we didn’t have to do it. Praying that I could have just one more day with Sam. But that’s not how it turned out. The next day, Sunday afternoon, my mom called the vet’s emergency line. Because the vet clinic wasn’t technically open on Sunday, we didn’t know which vet we would get. It would only be Sam’s regular vet, who he knew and was fairly comfortable with, if that doctor was on call that weekend. As it turned out, it was the clinic’s newest and only female vet who called us back and was waiting for us when we got there. She had never seen Sam before. She didn’t know his history. She didn’t know him. But it was a strange twist, because all his life Sam was always more at ease around women than men, no matter what the situation.

My mom, sister, and I made the 20-minute drive to the clinic, which seemed like it lasted three hours, and parked the car. My sister was holding Sam in his bed on the ride there, and when we arrived, she said, “I can’t do it. I can’t take him in there.” My mom echoed her feelings, and I knew it was up to me. Sam had always hated the vet’s office. He was terrified every time he had to go, and he had to go a lot throughout his life. He would shake, he would cry, he would pant. It was a very stressful event for him. This time, though, he didn’t shake or cry or pant. He just laid in his bed, exhausted. I knew how hard this was going to be for my mom and sister. They both loved Sam every bit as much as I did, if not more. My sister, who is the strongest person I know, had even warned me months before that when the time came, she wasn’t going to be able to take Sam to the vet. I didn’t know if I could do it, either. But I couldn’t let him go in that exam room alone. I couldn’t imagine him being in a place he hated so much, a place he was so scared of, all alone with no one there with him but a stranger. So, in the back seat of my mom’s car I somehow found the strength to say, “I’ll take him.” And I did. I scooped him up still in his bed and walked into the vet’s office, knowing it would be the last time he had to go inside. The whole way in, I just said over and over through the tears streaming down my face, “I love you so much, Sam. You’re the best dog I could ever ask for. I love you, buddy. It’ll be ok.” I don’t know where I found the strength to put one foot in front of the other and go inside. I just knew I had to do it. I had to be there with him when he left this earth. So I was.

The vet met us inside, and took us to the exam room. The medicine that would put Sam to “sleep” was on the table, and the vet told me what to expect when she injected it into his leg. She was calm and patient and gentle and gave me as much time as I needed with Sam before she started. Sam’s little body was so weak that his veins had collapsed and the vet wasn’t able to just use a syringe. She had to call in a tech for help, which prolonged the process by about 20 minutes. But it was 20 more minutes I had with Sam, who just laid in his bed the whole time, peaceful and calm. The vet tech arrived, and both she and the vet did their work while I wrapped my arms around Sam and held him, tears pouring down my face onto his soft fur. I kissed his head and told him how much I loved him over and over. I told him what a good dog he was. I told him what a good friend he had been to me. I just wanted him to know I was there and that he wasn’t alone. I felt him breathe one last, long breath. His eyes closed, his body relaxed completely, and then it was over. It couldn’t have been more quiet. It couldn’t have been more calm. It couldn’t have been more peaceful for him. It was almost like he was giving a sigh of relief. He had fought so hard for so long, and he finally got a break from struggling. I asked the vet if that was it, if he was gone, and she looked at me with tears in her own eyes and said, “Yes. It’s over.” She checked his heart just to be sure, and then leaned down, petted Sam’s head, and whispered to him, “It’s ok, Sam. You can rest now.”

The vet wrapped Sam up in his favorite blanket that he slept with every night and put him back in his bed. He looked so peaceful. He looked like my Sam. But I knew he was gone. J had come to the vet’s office to offer his support, and stood silently in the doorway of the exam room while saying his own goodbye. When it was over, he carried Sam out to his truck and took him out to his farm, where he buried him. It wasn’t easy for J, either. Over the years, J had taken care of Sam when we were all out of town or on vacation, and he grew to love him just as much as we did. You couldn’t know Sam and not love him. I’m so grateful J was there and that he buried Sam with love and dignity in a place Sam loved so much. It’s been five months, and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to visit his grave. I couldn’t go out there and see him buried. For whatever reason, that part seemed too hard to me. Too final, maybe. But I told him goodbye while he could still hear me say it. And for that I will always be grateful.       

I have missed Sam every day since February 17. Coming home without him that day was unbelievably hard. Walking into the house and seeing his things everywhere, knowing he would never be there again was agonizing. I was glad that he wasn’t suffering anymore. But I was overwhelmed by the sadness and grief I felt knowing that he was gone. I loved Sam in a way I don’t think I could ever love a person –- unconditionally, without question, without hesitation, without fear, without reservation, and without regret. The same way he loved me. I know some people might read this and think, “What’s the big deal? He was just a dog.” But he was so much more to me than just a dog. He was a member of my family. He was my friend. He was my companion. He was a comforting, healing force when I was sad or hurt. He made me laugh, he made me forget about my troubles, he made me happy just by being his goofy, adorable self. He was so much more than just a dog. To me, Sam will never, ever be just a dog.

I’m sure that someday I’ll have another dog in my life. I just don’t know when that will be. It still seems too soon. It still feels like I would be trying to replace Sam if I got a dog now. But I know he will never be replaced. There will never be another dog like Sam. I don’t know where he is now, but I hope it’s somewhere that he can run and fish and play. I hope he’s eating whatever he wants. I hope he’s breathing freely and without struggle. I hope he’s happy. And I hope I get to see him again when my time comes. Until that day, though, I’ll hold onto every happy memory I have of him. I’ll remember him as the spunky little dog who was so full of life, and who made my life so full. And I’ll be forever grateful for every single minute he was with me. Some people have said that Sam was lucky to have me as one of his pet parents. But they’ve got it all wrong. I was the lucky one because I got almost 15 years of joy and love from the best dog who has ever walked this earth -– my Sam. 


Monday, April 29, 2013

Whenever I have a rare moment of downtime, when I have nothing to do, understand, comprehend, analyze, or mentally pick apart, my mind tends to wander. And the randomness of the places it mysteriously travels to rarely fails to make me say, “Hmm, why am I even thinking about this?” Like I’ve said before, I have one of those brains that just doesn’t shut off. There is no energy saver mode in my gray or white matter. If I don’t have something I need or have to contemplate and my brain is left to its own devices, it comes up with some strange topics for me to ponder. It often happens after I lay down to go to sleep for the night. There are some evenings when my brain just won’t stop churning no matter how tired I am, and just when I think I’m starting to drift off, a thought pops up and sticks there for a while keeping me awake. A lot of times it even continues after I’ve fallen asleep. If I think to myself after my head hits the pillow, “I’m gonna have waffles for breakfast in the morning,” I guarantee waffles will show up somewhere in my dreams that night. Perhaps a giant Eggo is chasing me down the street squirting maple syrup at me. Or maybe I’m back in high school and instead of finding homework in my backpack, the bag is filled with waffles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work when I try to force it. If I think to myself as I’m falling asleep, “I live in Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World” or “I just married St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott” with the sole purpose of turning those thoughts into dreams, it never happens.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d compile a list of these random thoughts that have been tossed around in my head over the past week or so. A sampling of the weirdness that is my mind and what it manages to conjure up, which is usually light on substance and heavy on sarcasm. So take, if you dare, this glimpse into the inner workings of an overworked brain:

1.) Public restrooms and proper etiquette. I’m sure just about everyone has been in this situation: you’re in a public restroom at a store, airport, restaurant, wherever. There’s hardly anyone inside and a long line of stalls from which to choose. You make your selection in the middle of the row and go about your bizz-nezz when you hear the bathroom door open and someone else comes in. No biggie, there’s lots of available stalls to choose from so you should still be able to maintain some modicum of privacy. And that’s when you hear the door to the stall directly next to yours open and shut with the lock latched behind it. Really? With 50,000 other perfectly acceptable options that person has to choose the stall right next to yours? It just seems weird to me. Like an avoidable invasion of what should be a larger than normal personal space bubble. These are usually the same people who talk on their cell phones while relieving themselves, their conversation about what size shoes to buy little Jimmy echoing off the restroom walls. Maybe they need constant human contact in order to function, or as close as they can get in order to perform their bodily functions. I don’t know. But it’s weird. Weird enough that I believe it warrants “buffer stalls” in every public restroom on the planet. Now, for whatever reason, this phenomenon only bothers me when it involves strangers. It doesn’t bother me to have a next door neighbor in the bathroom at work where I know everyone, or if the ladies I’m shopping with take up residence in the stalls on either side of mine in the Kohl’s bathroom. In fact, I much prefer it that way so as to avoid as much stranger danger as possible while hovering precariously over whatever germ-laden unholiness is lurking below my bum. I mean seriously, there’s enough weirdness that goes on in public restrooms. Let’s not add to it unnecessarily.

2.) Which brings me to the other gender side of the bathroom coin: urinals. I admit my experience with urinals is (thankfully) extremely limited, consisting mostly of accidental glances at them when I happen to pass by an open door to a men’s restroom. From what I’ve seen, these things are bizarre. It’s different for guys, I get that, but they are essentially pissing into a hole in the wall. Not to mention it’s a hole in the wall that’s out in the open for all the world to see, or at least the rest of the bathroom patrons. Who came up with this? Really, who came up with it? And why did they think it was a good idea? When I’m in a public restroom, I don’t even like to use a stall that has open gaps along the door wider than an eighth of an inch for fear that someone will peek in. To have to drop trou and pee into a very shallow basin in front of other people sounds absolutely mortifying to me. Any guy I’ve ever talked to doesn’t seem to realize the absurdity of this concept. I guess it’s what you’re used to, but still the thought of it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. And even when you take the modesty (or lack thereof) issue out of the equation, there are still some serious design flaws to take into account. Splashing, for instance. I’ve never used a urinal, so maybe I’m off the mark here, but isn’t there some splashing involved? Little urine particulates flying all over that hole-riddled wall? And the flushing issues are enough to make me wretch. A guy does what he’s there to do and all that’s involved with it, zips back up, and then reaches out to flush the urinal with his hand, which just seconds before was otherwise occupied in a less than sterile activity. His hand transfers that unpleasantness to the flush handle because there is no handwashing in between, as far as I’m aware. Then the next guy comes along and the process repeats itself. How many disgusting hands have been on that handle by the end of the day? And before anyone argues that women don’t wash their hands before flushing their toilets, need I remind you that women don’t have to hold anything with their hands while relieving themselves? Let’s also not forget about toilet paper, which women have access to in their stalls and men do not at their urinals. Gross. Just gross. Admittedly I’m not familiar with the mechanics of it all because I obviously have a different plumbing system, but I can’t imagine not using toilet paper after peeing and then walking around with pissy panties all day long. Ah, yes, this is one of those times I’m glad to be a girl.

3.) Eyebrows. They’re odd and often look like fuzzy caterpillars attached to someone’s forehead. But have you ever seen someone without eyebrows? They look like aliens. Everything else on their face could be entirely normal, but with no eyebrows they appear to be some other kind of carbon-based life form. It’s pretty amazing how much information is conveyed just through someone’s eyebrows. I mean, think about it: both eyebrows raised means curiosity or surprise. Just one eyebrow cocked higher onto the forehead than the other, coupled with a smirk, equates to skepticism or annoyance, as in “Are you lying to me?” or “I think you’re full of shit.” Some people have incredible eyebrow talent and can make theirs dance like Michael Jackson across their foreheads. I am quite lacking in eyebrow ability, as I only have one independent eyebrow – the left one. I can move it up and down on its own completely separate from the right; however, my right eyebrow is entirely dependent on the left and is too shy to make any daring movements on its own. If I’m going to raise one eyebrow in a show of disdain for someone or something, it’s going to be the left. It obviously is the dominant of the two, and as long as tweezers exist on this earth, my eyebrows will never, ever be a unified front working together to project my innermost thoughts on my face.

4.) Strange-sounding words. I use words a lot, whether I’m speaking or typing them, every day of my life. Every once in a while, a word will strike me as sounding completely weird, even if it’s a word I commonly use. “Purple,” for instance. Say it out loud: Purr-poll. It sounds weird, right? Or how about scissors? Or elbow? Who came up with these words? I know there’s a ton of information out there about word origins and language etiology, but I’m too lazy to delve very deeply into that. I’d rather ponder the sound of the words that happen to hit the oddball button in my brain. Really, who decided that thing protruding off someone’s face would be called a “nose?” Why not a zucchini? Why is a monkey not called a flibberdyjib? Who’s to say that’s not a perfectly acceptable classification of a primate? Some words just make sense, like “bathtub.” It’s a tub. You take a bath in it. Easy enough. But how about “squiggle?” That doesn’t even sound real. Not to mention all of the bizarre language I come across in the medical records I often dissect at work. Even the most basic terms, like “kidney,” can sound funny if you say them over and over. But how about “nodule,” “alveoli,” “duodenum,” “mucosa,” “thalamus,” or even “ankle?” Now that’s a mouthful of strangeness.

5.) Doing things to tell your grandkids about. This, apparently, has become a justifiable reason for people to act like morons. They want to tell their grandkids about the time they did something stupid, weird, or reckless, even though 99% of the people who say this are young and don’t have grandkids. “Hoooeeee, walking around the grocery store wearing panty hose over my head and my skirt tucked into my underpants sure is something I’ll tell my grandkids about!” Just the other day I saw a story on the news about a couple who got married at a White Castle after they entered a contest and “won” the glorious event as their prize. The bride was interviewed after the greasy nuptials took place, and what did she say when asked why in God’s name she wanted to get married in a White Castle? “Well, this is something to tell my grandkids about! *tee-hee!*” No. I’m sorry, but really, it isn’t. Shooting down a Japanese fighter pilot during a dogfight in World War II is something to tell your grandkids about. Rescuing someone from a house fire is something to tell your grandkids about. Finding $8 million in a box buried in the dessert is something to tell your grandkids about. Besides, what if these people never have grandkids? Maybe they’re infertile. Maybe they’ll have kids and their kids are infertile. Maybe their grandkids won’t speak to them because they don’t want to be associated with ridiculous nitwits. Then to whom are they going to tell all their idiocy-laced stories?

6.) Mattress and furniture sales on obscure holidays. Since when did President’s Day mean it was time to replace your mattress? And why does Arbor Day mean it’s time to go shopping for new furniture? (Now there’s a great idea, celebrate the grandeur and environmental benefits of trees by purchasing a solid wood curio cabinet.) It makes no sense to me, but it happens every Columbus Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day, and 4th of July. Signs with “SALE! LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON!” are plastered on furniture stores across the nation. TV commercials with people jumping on beds and a shady-looking salesman talking about their 700-year interest-free financing blare out of every boob tube in the United States. When did this start? Don’t people need mattresses and furniture at other times of the year, too? Perhaps it’s because many Americans have a day off due to these holidays and many spend it wandering around shopping malls and megastores. But don’t at least some of these holidays have an actual, real meaning to them to be observed? I guess those who do choose to observe the holidays can at least do so comfortably from their newly purchased Tempurpedic.

7.) Jeans sizes. More specifically, the disparity of sizing systems between women’s and men’s jeans. Guys have it WAY too easy on this one. Seriously, to buy a pair of guys’ jeans, you have to know two things: your waist size and your inseam length. Done! Find the pair you like, look at the sticker showing the measurements, pick out the pair of 32x36es that you need, and your shopping trip is complete. Women don’t have it that easy. We have to deal with a completely arbitrary sizing system that really makes no sense. You have a 30-inch waist and 38-inch hips? Then you probably wear a size 8. Or it could be a size 10. And that’s only at Eddie Bauer. At Old Navy, you’re a size 16, at the Gap you’re a 12, and don’t even ask me about J.Crew’s sizing because I’m pretty sure it requires a calculator. Then you have to figure out if you’re tall or petite, regular or long, curvy or boxy, slightly curvy or maybe boxy with a hint of muffin top. And there’s the ever perplexing question of stretch or no stretch? Too much and the jeans cut off the circulation to your femoral artery. Too little or none at all and they leave you with baggy butt syndrome. It’s insane. And let me tell you, short people have it harder than just about everyone else. I know because I was blessed with short, stumpy legs for which apparently no retailer on earth makes jeans with the appropriate length. I usually end up walking off the ends of my jeans as they bag over my shoes because they’re four inches too long. And no matter what anyone tells me, I’ll never have my jeans hemmed. They just don’t look right when they’re hemmed. In a world where fairness and justice always prevail, women would have the same or a similar sizing system for jeans as men and we wouldn’t have to try on 47,000 pairs before we can find the ONE pair that actually fits.

8.) The word “really.” I couldn’t lump this one in with No. 4. The word “really” is so complex that it has to have its own entry. You wouldn’t think one little word could have so many different meanings, but it does. And it’s all based on the way it’s said. The location of inflection when saying the word “really” can completely change its definition. For example, saying “really” with your voice going up in pitch on the last syllable turns it into a statement of disbelief or confusion. “I just pulled a six-inch cockroach out of my ear canal,” someone might say to you. If you reply with “really” and put the emphasis and pitch increase on the last syllable, it means, “Are you serious?” or “I had no idea that was possible!” or “I want to get away from you as quickly as I can, but I’m trying soooooo hard to be polite right now.” Change the inflection and “really” takes on a whole new meaning. Someone says, “We’re going to get married and live happily ever after,” and you reply with a “really” that is flat across both syllables with a little bit of gruff emphasis on the “rea,” that means, “Yeah, right” or “You’re a liar.” The message comes across even more clearly if you add one raised eyebrow. When you put some force behind your “really” and say it quickly with a look of disgust on your face, it’s a sure sign that your “really” is an expression of annoyance or exasperation. Like when I stand in front of the copier at work as it eats and mangles the pages I’ve put into the feeder, and I say, “Really, copier? Really? You have to eat every single page and then get a paper jam in your nether regions that I now have to fish out with my bare hands? Really?” In this instance, “really” can also be used interchangeably with the word “seriously.” A furrowed brow and lip snarl can also be added for extra annoying situations. I never realized how often I say “really” until I started thinking about it the other day. I say it a lot. I think I’ve said it about 36 times in this blog. It’s a handy little word. Really.

So there you have it. A brief look at the inner workings of my sometimes exhausted brain. I hope I didn’t scare too many readers away. If I could only harness the energy I expend thinking about useless and random things, maybe I could…oh who am I kidding? I’d still think about useless and random things. That’s just the way it is up there in my head.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Now that my singleton status has surpassed the one-year mark, I’m getting asked the obligatory question “When are you going to start dating again?” more and more. My normal reaction is to cringe slightly, but answer trying to sound as polite as possible with, “Oh, I’m not sure” while looking for a dark hole in which to crawl. It’s the elephant that follows me from room to room that most people seem tired of trying to avoid, instead inviting the pachyderm to sit in my lap and start trumpeting in my face “It’s time to get back out there!”

The idea of dating again quite frankly sends chills down my spine. The last time I went on an actual date, I was 19 years old and a junior in college. I’m 33 now, and after wasting almost 13 years on the wrong person, things are just a tad bit different. I feel like I don’t have the slightest clue how to even go about it, let alone be successful and find that one person meant for me in a sea of seven billion humans currently roaming the planet. I suppose I can knock that number down by at least half, eliminating the female population of the world. Then I can eliminate a couple more billion when I exclude children and the elderly, getting me down to a much more manageable number of around two billion. Take out the marrieds, eliminate geographical extremes, and cross any Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Redwings fans off the list, and I figure I’m looking at about half a billion possibilities. Good thing most of my weekends are free from now until the end of time. It’s not so much the massive number that’s so intimidating; it’s the undeniable fact that so many of the people in the available group are whackjobs, psychos, nutbags, and assholes. How in God’s name do you weed those people out, or better yet, avoid them completely when you re-enter the dating world after a 14-year absence? It makes me long slightly for the days of “The Scarlet Letter” when people could be publicly branded for the whole world to see. I’d definitely be on board for some kind of law that requires jerks and weirdos to wear a light-up flashing button declaring who they really are. This button would be popular: “Hello, ladies! I seem nice, but I’m really a condescending douche bag!” Or how about, “Greetings, single women! I’m a worthless loser who can’t support myself! Can you please make my next car payment?”

I realize there are (probably) genuinely good, nice people out there; however, I’m certain they’re outnumbered by jagweeds, and finding them most likely will require work that can often be frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging. So where and how do I begin? Many people have offered the suggestion of online dating sites. I understand this is the digital age. Computers are the way of the world today and it’s more common to communicate by text messages than actual person-to-person, or at least voice-to-voice conversations. But the idea of creating a profile and posting it online for all the world to see is terrifying to me. I mean, let’s face it. It’s a lot easier for some 400-pound sexual deviant to create a whole different persona and post it online to fool people than it is for him to trick someone in person. I’ve been told repeatedly about couples who met online, are now married, and will live happily ever after for the rest of their lives, so I’m completely aware that it really can happen. But, just last week, I also came across a news article about a woman who is suing Match.com after meeting, *AND DATING*, a psychopath she met on the site. When she tried to break off the fledgling relationship, her creepy “match” came to her home, stabbed her 10 times with a butcher knife and when the blade broke, for good measure he stomped on her skull a few times, eventually leaving her lying on her garage floor near death. When the psycho was arrested, he admitted to murdering another woman that he also met on Match.com. Oh, where do I sign up? Now if that’s not an exciting way to spend a Saturday night, well I don’t know what is! I just don’t think online dating is for me, at least not yet. I admittedly, and somewhat guiltily, hold the notion that online dating carries with it just a whiff of desperation. I know, I know. It’s an unfair stigma, and I’m absolutely not trying to disparage anyone who is or has been a member of an online dating site. Maybe I’ll come around to it eventually, but I’m just not there yet.

I guess one positive aspect of online dating is that it’s a centralized location, so to speak, to meet lots of different people. That’s something I have a hard time with as an adult. When I was in school, I had no problem meeting people and the abundance of them were single and available. Now, my little world has shrunk considerably and consists mostly of the small law office in which I work, home, and the weekly trip to the grocery store or Walmart. (Have you seen the website peopleofwalmart.com? Enough said.) I don’t get out a whole lot. I don’t drink and therefore don’t go to bars. I’m much more of an introverted homebody than an outgoing reveler, and I’m perfectly content to be snuggled on the couch in my PJs watching an episode of “Downton Abbey.” (Side note: I am completely addicted to this show. I could sit and watch it for 10 hours straight every single day if there were enough new episodes. Who knew PBS offered such uh-may-zing greatness besides “Sesame Street” and Ken Burns’ “The Civil War?” Those Brits are onto something.) I don’t often find myself in situations where I’m meeting a large number of new people, and even when I do, I often make myself fade into the background until it’s time to go home. I hate to be the center of attention. I hate to be under a spotlight. I took years of piano lessons as a kid and never did I become comfortable with anyone listening to or watching me play, even my parents. I just don’t put myself out there, and I’m not usually the one to approach someone else. I guess this goes back to my last blog about opening myself up and trying new things, meeting new people. I am going to try, I really am. But there’s 33 years’ worth of shell to get through, so it’s going to be tough.

Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than it really is, but attempting to date again seems like a big mountain to climb. Like trying to scale Mt. Everest wearing flip flops. And to start again at my age seems almost impossible. I’m not saying I’m old, (really, I’m not old!), but I’m in a weird age bracket for dating. Everyone I know who’s in their 30s is either engaged or already married, raising their young families, living in so-called bliss. I’ve already been through dealing with a late 20-something going nutso during a quarter-life crisis, and I’d much prefer not to do that again. Maybe I should just crawl in a cave until my 40s when half of those happily marrieds I know start to get divorced. Ugh, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s just too freaking complicated. Then throw the family, career, financial responsibility factors in there and it’s bordering on nightmarish. I remember when my very first boyfriend asked me out when I was a 14-year-old high school freshman. He literally passed me a note in between periods in the band room that said, “Will you go out with me?” and even had little boxes with “yes” and “no” written above them for me to provide my answer. I checked “yes,” and that was that. Done! Hmpf. I wish it was that simple again.

I do want to date again, and I think I’m ready, although I won’t ever know if I’m really ready until it’s happening. And I will never discourage those around me from asking me repeatedly when it’s going to happen. Those questions just might be the push I need to get me moving forward. Besides, I know that when asked, they’re well-intentioned inquiries from people who just want me to be happy. I’ve been told to make a list of priorities that I want in someone I might date. Right now, there’s only one thing on that list: No Assholes. It’s broad and vague, but it covers a lot of ground. I guess I do have more to add to the list, but I feel like I shouldn’t be too terribly specific. I could definitively add No Smokers because smoking is just an absolute deal breaker for me. They have to be able to take care of themselves and financially support themselves because I’m no one’s mommy, maid, cook, or bank. The amount of money they have doesn’t matter to me, just as long as they’re self-sufficient. I don’t care about social status. I don’t care what kind of car they drive. I have my own preferences when it comes to looks, but honestly physical traits rank much, much lower on the priority list than the way they treat me and treat my family. Which brings me to another important list item – they have to pass my family’s sniff test, which will probably be much more grueling than my own. I guess what matters most to me is that the person I end up dating treats me well, as an equal, with respect and dignity. The rest is mostly superficial (except the smoking thing. Just can’t do it.)

So, maybe dating again is in the cards for me in the near future. Maybe it isn’t. I think I’ll just take things as they come and see what happens. The thought of it certainly makes me nervous. It makes me cautious. The last thing in the world I want is to go through a heartbreak again like I did a year ago. I don’t know if I could withstand it. But I also don’t want to end up a spinster who only has her 45 cats to talk to. And I don’t want to end up like the infamous “Cathy” of comic strip fame, desperately and constantly seeking a date and shouting “ACK!” at everyone. As long as I keep my wits about me and my head on straight and level, I think I’ll be ok. Maybe it’s time I found out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions every time January 1 rolls around. To me, resolutions are little more than exercises in futility, frustration, and disappointment. I start out with the best intentions but rarely follow through with whatever I’ve promised to accomplish by the next December 31. Some of my past resolutions have been as cliché as you can possibly get: lose weight, eat healthier, be more financially responsible, go to bed earlier and get more sleep, at least on work nights. By the end of the year, I’m five pounds heavier, stuffing my face with Christmas cookies, broke, and exhausted from staying up too late every night playing far too many games of Words With Friends. So a while back I made a New Year’s resolution not to make any more New Year’s resolutions. This is one I actually found success with, until this year when I decided to make two. Eh, well, maybe it’s a resolution I’ll actually be glad I broke.

My first resolution is to try and be more open to new things, and the term “things” is all-encompassing. I’m vowing to open myself up to new experiences, new food, new people, new topics to learn about, and anything else new that happens to cross my path. I’m going to try saying “yes” more and stop saying “no” so often. The only exception I’m adding to this is anything that has to do with snakes. If someone asks me if I’d like to hold a Burmese python or make a visit to the reptile house at the local zoo, my answer will be an automatic and emphatic “NO,” as it always has been. I mean I’m not looking to make this a foray into insanity. But at this moment in time, if someone asked me to go sky diving with them, I think I would say yes despite the fact that I have a serious fear of heights, am not particularly fond of flying, and not really interested in testing the possibility of dying by way of crashing to the earth at 120 miles per hour and becoming little more than a splatter on the ground. I would at least consider it, though, and if I’m not given enough time to thoroughly think it through, I’d probably go for it. I won’t know if I don’t like something until I’ve tried it, right? Or until I’m squished onto the ground, flattened like a pancake. But at that point, I most likely won’t know the difference anyway.

I want to try making my palette a little more adventurous, which shouldn’t be that hard considering I’m one of the pickiest eaters to ever live. I’m trying to work up the nerve to eat fish, which I’m sure sounds entirely lame to many of you who have no qualms about consuming the scaly, slimy, creepy creatures. The furthest I’ll go into the pescatarian world is canned tuna or a nice piece of salmon that doesn’t have the slightest hint of fishiness to it. I’d like to figure out how to branch out a little bit, though, if for no other reason than the health benefits of eating fish more often. If I could find a piece of fish that looks, tastes, feels, and smells like chicken, I’d be golden. Chicken I can handle. Maybe it will just be a matter of getting past that first bite and then telling myself, “It’s not so bad…really! Just Swallow! Hurry up, get some water and wash it down!” But God help me if anyone ever puts a plate down in front of me with a fully intact cooked fish on it complete with tail, fins, scales, and eyeballs staring up at me and piercing my soul with its silent cry of “Please don’t eat me!” This part of my resolution will be broken before I even pick up a fork.

I’m also going to try opening myself up to new people as much as possible over this next year, even if it’s something as small as starting a conversation with a stranger in line at Walmart. I’ve kept myself pretty closed off for a long time now, and it might be time to start making some cracks in those walls I’ve spent so much time building up. I consider myself to be an introvert, much happier to be curled up with a book and a blanket than in a room full of people. But that sure can get lonely sometimes. So if the opportunity presents itself to start a new friendship or to rekindle an old one, I’m going to take it. It doesn’t mean I’ll turn into a social butterfly with tons of people around me all the time. That’s something I’ll never be simply because it’s not in my personality. But if I can widen my circle by at least a couple people, well, that might not be so bad.

This resolution is going to be a challenge for me, for sure. I’m a creature of habit. I don’t just have a routine, I thrive on a routine and without one, I turn into a scatterbrained loon. Almost everything I do is part of a routine, all the way down to which shoe I put on first when I’m getting dressed (it’s the right one, just in case you were wondering) and what time I go pee during the day while I’m at work. My weekdays generally consist of getting up, going to work, going to the gym (ok, ok, this isn’t every weekday, only when I can’t come up with a good excuse not to go), going home, feeding the dog and cat, feeding myself, watching some TV, getting ready for work the next day, going to bed, and resting up for the cycle to start all over again when my alarm is screeching and I hit snooze four or five times, just like I do every morning. It’s a routine that I haven’t altered very much over the years, and while it works for me and allows me to function, it can get a little monotonous sometimes. I don’t usually deal all that well when a wrench is thrown in there unexpectedly, kind of like a robot that has Kool-Aid thrown onto its circuit board – lots of squealing and smoke as the components go into full meltdown. So, I’m going to work on being a little more flexible, a little less rigid, and a little more accepting of new and different things even if they might throw off my normal every day routine. The older I get, the more I’ve learned that change isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can have some pretty great consequences if you can just accept it and let it happen.

My second resolution is to listen to my heart more instead of always listening only to my head. I’m a thinker, an analyzer, a researcher, a planner. If a problem presents itself, my first reaction is to find the solution. To figure it out. To break it down piece by piece and analyze every little part of it until I have the answer. I look at it from every possible side until I have a clearer picture of what it is and how to conquer it. I’m not just a thinker, I’m an overthinker. The hamster inside my head rarely gets a break from running on that little wheel of his. There are some days when I’d love nothing more than to shoot that hamster with a tranquilizer dart. I also carry around a healthy dose of skepticism at all times, which I tend to apply to anything and everything, including most people. When someone does or says something – anything, really – my brain goes into overdrive trying to calculate his or her motives, figure out if he or she is being genuine, and detect even the slightest hint of deception. On the surface, it sounds like a serious case of paranoia, but I see it more as a mode of self-preservation. Trust is not something I hand out willy nilly. It most certainly has to be earned, but I realize that not trusting anyone creates an awful lot of isolation. So, I’m trying to find a healthy balance and that’s where listening to my heart comes in.

I have a strong gut instinct, the sixth sense that throws up red flags when something seems off, or sparks a little bit of hope when something seems right. My problem is that oftentimes I don’t listen to my gut, to my heart. My brain kicks in and starts doing its thing, analyzing and over-thinking every little detail and soon enough its whirring gets so loud that my instinct is drown out completely. Not listening to my gut has led me into heartache, disappointment, and frustration more than once. My heart is telling me, “Something isn’t right here, proceed with caution,” while my brain is saying, “I’ve done some quick calculations and it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong here.” I trick myself into believing what my brain says and dismiss completely what my heart says. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve just given in and followed that gut instinct and been let down. Not one. Maybe it’s because I hardly ever do it, so my frame of reference is a little skewed. I need to analyze this, to pick it apart and figure out what the solution is…See? There I go again. I can’t even write a simple blog without that damn hamster running amok.

In any case, that’s my goal, to find the in between and not to overthink everything. Not to think myself out of an opportunity, a chance, or an experience when my gut is telling me to just let go and give it a try. Like the first resolution, this one is definitely going to be a challenge and I have a feeling my skeptical brain won’t back off without a fight. But, I’m going to work on it and I’ll see how it goes. Come December 31, I might be just as frustrated and disappointed as I have been with past resolutions, but for whatever reason, this time my gut is telling me I won’t be. I think I’ll listen to it this time.