Warning: Some People Suck

November 28th, 2011

Warning number two – this one won’t be fun to read. This post is about a recent situation of animal cruelty. Please skip it if you aren’t up for it.

Seriously.

My girlfriend called me yesterday afternoon. I could tell immediately, from her voice, that something was wrong. It was the same voice she used when the tornado hit North Minneapolis this last spring. It was the same voice when her daughter witnessed gunshots outside their window. I asked her if she was OK. She said no.

I didn’t hesitate. I stood up and got my coat on. I headed to her house. Fortunately, I can make it there in about four minutes. I remained on the phone with her as I sped over there.

I don’t remember what she said first. I don’t remember if she gave me the story in order or if she started with telling me that she had a cat in her back porch that had been burnt and she didn’t know what to do with it. I know she asked what would happen if we called the Animal Control unit. I know she wanted to know what would happen if we took the cat to the shelter.

I walked into her back porch and I swear to you this kitten about broke my heart. I knew by then that he was burnt, but not super badly. I didn’t know, until that moment, that the smell was enough to make anyone want to vomit. It wasn’t just the smell of his burnt fur (and possibly flesh in spots). It was burnt fur and pee and poo all wrapped up in a furry little package.

He was mostly white, naturally, but he had a huge patch of fur on his right hind end area and lower back area that was a rust color where his fur had clearly been burnt. His whiskers were all “melted”. I say melted, because it didn’t seem like they were singed, like his fur. It seemed more like they had perhaps partially burnt off and then curled up in the heat. Who am I to know though? I have never seen a cat that had been set on fire before. I hope I never have to again either.

I called a friend who was a vet tech for many years. She helped me process our choices. It was Sunday, so the Animal Control unit would not be open. The only option was seeing if we could get him to a shelter or take him in ourselves. All of us wanted to keep him. Well, all of us humans. We kept our existing pets in mind and knew that it wasn’t fair to them if we took on another animal under an emergency situation like that.

This cat was in her garbage can. Along with a ripped up paper bag. And some pee and poo.

Someone had lit this cat on fire and left it in her garbage can.

One would think that a cat, having been tortured like that, would be a bit frantic, crazed and mean even. Not this cat.

This cat was so frickin’ sweet, it was painful.

He purred. He nudged up against us. He meowed playfully.

It was heartbreaking to assimilate what had somehow happened to him. Who does something like that? Oh, yeah, a serial killer in training does that. It is so very disturbing.

We called the closest Animal Humane Society (Golden Valley) and left a message on their scheduling line. I called the main number back, knowing this was not a situation that warranted following the rules. I told the woman who answered that we left a message. I know she was going to try and get me to follow procedure initially. Until I told her we just found a cat in a garbage can that had been lit on fire. She immediately transferred me to someone else. “Can you get him here in 15 minutes?”

I said yes, as we walked out the door with him. I completed more of the intake questions over the phone while driving to the shelter.

We only had to wait a few minutes until someone helped us and we were back in the exam room with the cat and the vet tech within 5 minutes I think. She agreed with our assessment, that he didn’t seem to have deep burns anywhere and he seemed alright. He sneezed every few minutes though. She said that they will have to monitor him, that sometimes it is as late as two weeks later when potential lung damage from these situations shows up. These situations. Seriously?!? Who are these people and who are their kids that do things like this to an innocent animal?

The vet tech was great. She talked with us for a long time. We were super sad to leave him, but knew that he needed medical attention and that neither of us could afford to take him home with us. We know that, if they determine his lungs are too damaged, that they will euthanize him. And that if he checks out medically he will likely be adopted quickly.

Did I mention how sweet he was? I have had a fair number of cats over the years. And I have known countless cats. I love cats. I am the first to admit though that not all cats are super friendly or warm and cuddly. This cat. This cat was amazing. So precious.

It horrifies me to know that someone tortured him like that.

And I can still smell that sickening smell.

We are all a bit traumatized too.

I was so grateful to see his photo posted today on the website – to visually see that he had been cleaned up. You can bet I will continue to monitor what’s up with this little cat as much as possible. I did a bit of Animal Communication with him last night. It was super hard for me to do it though, I had held it together most of the day and then couldn’t stop crying when I talked with him. He promised that he is going to be just fine. I apologized on behalf of humankind and whoever did that to him.

He said they will get their due.

Maybe I will do some volunteer work at the animal shelter? If I had money to donate, I certainly would. They do some amazing work there.

My Dog Went to Law School Recently

November 28th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Sofia took on a special Therapy Dog gig. We went to the University of Minnesota Law School for four hours and she did her magic on law students. As part of what they call “Life Balance Week” they enlist volunteer Therapy Dog teams to work with the students for a chunk of time. We did this last spring too. Therefore, we were much more prepared going into this situation for the second time. Neither of us was as anxious as the previous round.

I arrived in plenty of time and we made our way down to the basement, where they have vending machines as well as numerous classrooms. A handful of other Therapy Dog teams had already arrived. I didn’t even try to introduce her to the other dogs. I knew her focus needed to be the students and I wanted her to be on top of her game. I grabbed two nearby chairs and pulled them up in the hallway area, next to a podium of sorts. I put Sofia’s little dog bed on the seat of a chair and my chair next to her.

She sat on that chair like a princess and did an amazing job. For the next several hours, hundreds of law students went back and forth to classes. Sometimes there would be four or five students at one time stopped, petting Sofia, asking questions about her, and telling me stories about their dogs.

I would assume that there were about 15 other Therapy Dog teams before the day was over. Most of the other dogs were bigger. We lined up both sides of the hallway area. Not every student stopped for every dog, but most couldn’t help themselves once they laid eyes on Sofia.

Once again, it was amazing for me to witness her being a rock star as a Therapy Dog.

The looks on the students’ faces were precious when they would see her. Many of the students have had dogs in their lives and they were all happy to stop and get some dog love in the middle of their busy day. I can’t tell you how many of them talked about how sad they are, away at school, missing their dogs that live at home with their parents. A fair number of students were not dog lovers. They were cat lovers, or not animal lovers at all. But, they would still stop, mesmerized by Sofia. They were much more tentative reaching out to pet her, but they didn’t seem able to resist and were pleasantly surprised each time.

It was pretty precious too, to notice students that seem to prefer to be left alone. They were walking alone and some of them even seemed somewhat annoyed that they had to bother getting around all of the commotion with students and dogs stopped everywhere. But, again, they’d see Sofia and slowly work their way over to us. Some of them didn’t even say a word. It was clear however, that they were grateful for her energy.

The professors and faculty tend to stop by and take advantage of the day as well. One woman was petting Sofia and shared with me that they had just euthanized their 14 year old dog the week before. She held back her tears and talked about whether or not they will get another dog, someday. Another man knelt down on the ground and Sofia began to lick his hands. Someone else commented about how she seems to be a “licker”. I said that I had noticed all day that she did not lick everyone, only a select few actually. “She knows my hands hurt” he said, and then shared that he had been typing for hours and his hands ached all day. She continued to lick him.

Many students returned after going to class. “Can I pet your dog again, please?”

I think it is pretty awesome that the Law School puts so much effort into helping their students gain self-care knowledge and even more awesome that they arrange for Therapy Dogs to come in once a semester to help out. You can bet me and Sofia will do this again.

“Dog” Spelled Backwards

November 9th, 2011

My little dog and I recently started a new volunteer gig at a nursing home. It is not our first Therapy Dog job, nor are we the only Therapy Dog team working at this facility. I am pretty pleased with the results thus far though.

We started out October 19th. I resisted the urge to have her wear her little black bandana with the Candy Corn pattern in the material. She got it on one of her visits to the Hound Dog Pet Hotel. I debated with myself whether it was too early, or perfect, to flash a bit of Halloween energy. I decided I couldn’t do that to her, or me, on our very first visit. Funny thing, someone asked me that day if I “dress her up” often.

“She wears sweaters when it is cold.”

The beauty of working with Sofia at my side is that she takes on the majority of the attention. She shines even more than I do. People have plenty of questions for or about her.

I was super anxious that first day. The Volunteer Coordinator was absolutely lovely to talk with on the phone. I went as mentally prepared as possible for that chance that she was one of those people. One of those people who see me and have an immediate negative reaction. I was anxious that the residents would have difficulty processing me.

It turned out that the Volunteer Coordinator is as wonderful and genuine in person as she was on the phone. She was super sweet to both me and Sofia. It is apparent that she loves dogs. She is great with the residents. Consistently respectful.

We were scheduled for ten in the morning, which turned out to be not the best timing. They have breakfast, or brunch, or some meal at that time. We managed to make it to each of the three floors and be seen by the majority of folks. Most of the residents, from my observations thus far, are in wheelchairs. Sofia is too short for them to pet her when she is on the ground. When the Volunteer Coordinator directed us to a specific person, I would kneel down in front of them and prop Sofia up on one of my knees. Smiles. They all smiled. Most reached out to pet her. Some giggled and encouraged her to lick their fingers. Some immediately started talking about their dog from whatever time frame in their life. Each and every one of them “lit up” though. I don’t remember having such a vivid example of this phrase before. I didn’t know any of these people, but, their reactions to seeing Sofia were more than obvious and always good.

It was all sort of a whirlwind. Our hour time frame was up. It felt like we saw 100 people. I left there feeling good about the energy of the space in general, as well as the residents. I am grateful that the Volunteer Coordinator stays with us and steers us away from the handful of residents that do not like dogs (translation – are afraid of them, perhaps previously traumatized by). I was happy to realize that not many people looked at me, hardly at all. They were keenly focused on Sofia – straining their eyesight and hearing, trying to soak up as much of her as possible.

Our second visit was on November 2nd. I have intentionally wanted to work with Sofia on Wednesday morning, so the actual date is a coincidence. I was pleased with it though. November 2nd is the death anniversary of my sweet cat Bubba, who died in 2009. I figured Bubba would be proud of me – taking special care of Sofia and doing some volunteer work, spreading the love…

We were less anxious. We were more excited. We were again arriving just in time for their meal. It was again a bit of a whirlwind. Some of the faces looked familiar to me. I was still disoriented as to where we were and grateful that the Volunteer Coordinator was with us the entire time. Again, the reactions to Sofia were precious. I watched one woman, sitting at a table, seemingly in some sort of “catatonic” state. She was not paying attention, if you will, to anyone else at the table. She didn’t seem to notice anything. It would have been easy enough to assume she could not see or hear. That whole hour was again so many folks that I don’t remember enough details. I do remember this woman reaching out for Sofia. I do remember this woman smiling.

It wasn’t until we walked away from that area that it started to hit me how serious Sofia’s impact could be. The Volunteer Coordinator said something to me about how amazing that reaction from that woman was. She proceeded to mention that particular interaction, incredulously, to her co-workers as we moved on to other areas, each expressing some level of impression hearing that report. She told me later that week on the phone that she had worked there for seven years and never seen a reaction like that out of that particular resident.

Again, it was all fun enough, but somewhat overwhelming with so many people in such a short amount of time. And I can’t say that they all look alike of course. Although, they are almost all white, they are all fairly old, they are mostly women, and they all have a familiar feeling to me. When I did my initial phone interview, the Volunteer Coordinator at one point said that it is “sort of like visiting your grandparents.” She is right. None of these people really, truly “look like” any of my grandparents. However, they all have a sense of familiarity about them.

I couldn’t tell you one of their names. Overwhelming. Good, but overwhelming. I wish I could remember which one looked up at me and said “You know what dog spelled backwards is, don’t ya?” winking at me as she said it. I wish I would have counted how many times I heard “She’s soft as silk.” I couldn’t tell you one of their names. And their faces were mostly a blur.

Today was our third visit. It was wonderful. I sucked it up, and agreed to go at nine in the morning rather than ten. Makes a big difference in a nursing home. The Volunteer Coordinator was with us the whole time again. We didn’t even leave the first floor; previously, we hit all three floors. She walked around with us, helping us decide whose room we could visit or what activities we could bare witness to and join the energy of. I had thought ahead, thank goodness, of bringing one of Sofia’s blankets along – knowing we might go into rooms this visit. I was glad I did. The first room we went to there was a woman who loves dogs and was thrilled when we walked into the room. She was confined to her bed, on her back, so she could not see Sofia or pet her. She wanted to though. I got permission and then put the blanket on this woman’s belly, basically, and then Sofia onto the blanket. I periodically asked if Sofia’s weight (all 13.2 pounds of her) was too much or if she was OK with Sofia still. The grin from ear-to-ear and the stories about her own dogs were pretty good evidence that this woman was just fine with Sofia sitting on top of her.

Another woman was sitting up in a chair, reading the newspaper when we walked in. She wanted Sofia on her lap. This woman reminded me most of my grandma Winnie by the way. Similar hairdo. Higher pitched voice. It was just a fleeting reminder. And then I focused on paying attention to Sofia and this woman and facilitating their interaction. Precious.

We joined a group sitting in an open area that were all “parked” in their wheelchairs (except two, I think, who had arrived with the assistance of walkers and were sitting on regular chairs) facing another staff member who was reading the newspaper to them. Cute. Sofia had excellent interactions with four or five of those folks, and got random smiles from the others.

We moved on to an area where some of them were gathering for their next meal. The Volunteer Coordinator directed me to a woman sitting at the table already. She smiled and was pleasant and happy, but I could tell she was hesitant to take her eyes off of Sofia in a different way than most. She was nervous. She could not stop talking about how pretty Sofia was though. I pulled up a chair and sat Sofia on the chair next to this woman. Eventually, she reached out one of her hands and touched Sofia’s fur. She smiled bigger.

“Will she bite me?”

“Well, any dog could bite, but I am watching her. That is my job, to pay attention to her and make sure she is OK. She likes you. Her ears are up. She has a little smile on her face.”

I think she appreciated my blatant honesty. Seriously, though, any dog could bite. And I have seen Sofia have negative reactions to some people, although not while officially on-duty and always when caught off-guard.

It was super fun then to watch this woman continue to gently pet Sofia and see her anxiety melt away. Soon, she was trying to get the attention of anyone coming by us – pointing to Sofia. “I don’t even like dogs. I like this dog. I’d keep this dog.” Pretty fun.

I’m pretty grateful for Sofia. She brings consistent joy and love into my own life. I’m real grateful that she is willing to help me spread that love and joy elsewhere too.

Now, if I could just get her a paying gig. Just kidding. Mostly. I’m not too proud to accept donations to help support our work. Dog food isn’t free, ya know.

Dearest Christopher,

February 25th, 2011

Well, I am not sure what inspired me to open up my drafts today, but I did. I wondered if I could handle this one. I opened it. I am not sorry that I did. But, it saddens me. I had written this letter to him near the end of January 2009, about a month before he died. I fucking miss him. I miss being able to call him and hear his sexy voice, his infectious laugh, his empathy for whatever I was dealing with. I am so grateful though, knowing that I can now ‘call’ him anytime, any day. I know he is with me when I need to feel support and love, to not feel so alone, to feel courage to do what needs to be done. So, in posting this, I also send out a prayer to everyone who knew him and was blessed to have him in their lives, for whatever amount of time. And a reminder…

Do what you need to do. Say what you need to say. Death happens, every day. Appreciate life in the meantime, yours and those around you.

Dearest Christopher,

I would have to admit that it was ‘love at first sight’ for me. You struck me instantly with your platinum blonde hair and fancy self heading down the stairs at rehab when we first met. Thank God for the established boundaries that we abided by – keeping the intensity of ‘us’ at a pace we were both able to handle. Thank God we didn’t meet as teenagers. Surely we would have destroyed one another with the intensity.

Are we twins separated at birth? Were we married in previous lives? What is it that connected our hearts instantly that day on the stairs?

And what kept us connected even when we weren’t speaking to one another. Neither of us able to handle the level of love and anger that was sparked by the confusion of addiction and harm reduction.

You are so precious to me that there really aren’t words. Telling people that you are my ‘best friend’ seems so cheesy, so not even close to touching the level of our relationship. I am blessed with countless friends and special people in my life. Something is different with you though. And, I know, is different about you with your other friends too. I know full well that I am not the only one to love you from the start. Your heart, your intensity, your laughter, your smile, your grace and humility. You, my dear, you touch people in ways that not many have the ability to do.

And you do so effortlessly.

I can’t ignore the pain we have grown though either. You have seen me at my worst. I have seen you at your worst. We have picked one another up off of the floor, barely dressed, and helped one another walk again.

I so wish that I could be there with you right this moment, to hold you, to cry with you, to laugh with you, to feed you and pray with you.

You are the only person on this planet who fully and instantly understands me. You know how I feel, how I think, how I process the world around me. You are not afraid of my rage, my sadness, my grief, or my anything.

I remind myself regularly these days that I will have more access to you once you have died than I do now…

The White Stuff

February 16th, 2011

It really bums me out that I haven’t bothered to post anything since before the snow flew. And, here it is melting today, when I finally get around to addressing it. It’s not like winter is over though, not by a long shot I suppose. It is still February, in Minnesota for God’s sake. It certainly isn’t over.

One year, it snowed almost every day in March. That will likely make me cry if it happens again this year. My snow-shoveling muscles are tired and sore.

This was a tough one. Beautiful mostly. I mean, we didn’t really have that gross, dirty look much since it kept snowing, and snowing, and snowing this winter. The white stuff covered most everything more often than not, since November. November 13th to be exact. My parents drove up in a snow storm to visit me. We ended up with eleven inches of snow that day. It made the task of parking my camper extra challenging…

It was shocking, to say the least, to have that much snow so soon. It didn’t melt either. The temperatures started to drop and remain low, pretty much for the duration. We kept getting more snow. I think that following weekend, we had another snow storm adding 6-7 inches.

The news about the 12/11/10 Blizzard (that’s what I am calling it) spread all over the place. It started on Friday night, the 10th, and was still snowing into Sunday the 12th. But Saturday is what I remember most. I believe that twenty inches was the final toll by the end of that one storm. Twenty inches. Give or take, still, that is a fuck of a lot of snow. Seriously. Blinding snow everywhere. It shut the city down. And this city knows how to handle snow storms and blizzards. Not this one though. Bare in mind, that twenty inches was on top of an already ungodly amount for that time of year. The metrodome collapsed, trains and busses were stopped, firetrucks and ambulances weren’t able to get where they needed to go.

We have pretty much been buried in it since then.

More snow many more times coupled with well below freezing and oftentimes below zero temperatures, we have been buried in it.

Ever since the big blizzard, whenever it snows, I have to lift the shovel up, carry it, and throw the load of snow up over my head. There has not been anywhere else to put it, since November. The snow banks at one point were above the roof of my car. They were up to my shoulder. During the thick of it, it reminded me of being in a corn field – not being able to see anything but the path ahead of you.

We have been buried in it this year. White stuff everywhere.

Until this week. The temperatures have finally risen enough, for enough days in a row, that the snow is and has been melting, for days now. And, the crazy thing? There is still a ton of it! It is still tricky to see around most intersections, from the piled up “snow-crete” along the roads. I heard on the news yesterday or the day before that at least five inches had melted. I imagine that has doubled by now. We will survive this winter.

I know, I know, it isn’t spring yet, officially or unofficially. The temperatures will drop again here and there. It will snow again, likely more than once. But we are on the downhill slide. In fact, it is a bit of a slippery slope right now… I need to remind myself to walk and drive more carefully than ever. Spring is slippery. I need to remind myself that it is still winter. Who knows? Maybe I can even enjoy it now.

As long as it stays above zero… I can handle the white stuff in February ;)

Time to get outside for a real walk…

Autumn

September 28th, 2010

Change of seasons sucks. I mean, OK, I admit that I love living where we get a change of seasons. I think it would be odd in some way, and certainly a major adjustment for me given I have lived this entire life in the Mid-West, to live somewhere that the weather is the same-ish year round. But, appreciating having different seasons isn’t the same as enjoying the actual change of said seasons.

I love summer. It is my favorite season, hands down, my entire life. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t mind anything in the summer. I can hardly think about the “w” season without a panic attack. Spring is easy enough – surviving the “w” season and having summer on its way. I can do that.

Autumn though, it’s a tricky one for me. I struggle with knowing what is coming next and all of the fear and panic that comes along with knowing in my core that “w” is again coming. I struggle with letting go of my summer. I struggle.

Not unlike other events or issues in my life – writing about it, mindfulness, and gratitude are of the utmost help in dealing with the change of seasons in general, and in particular dealing with the two trickier ones for me.

I have been gently reminding myself (and sometimes those around me) since mid-August to appreciate every moment of summer. The surprise factor is what can fuck me up the most. It is difficult for me to now imagine that there were many years in my life that I was so busy and so not paying attention to things beyond whatever job/relationship/crisis that I was in at the time – that I didn’t notice the change of season happening until it was all up on us. Paying attention and mindfully noticing the subtle changes on a day to day basis makes the change of season oh so much easier to accept. Walking outside into frigid air and seeing your breathe, still wearing shorts and not expecting it – not fun. Paying attention to the weather and what is happening to the earth around me – much easier to take. It, the change of seasons, really does happen gradually. It just seems to come on fast when not paying attention.

Hence, I am mindful of it all happening. Every day at some point, I stopped to appreciate yet another summer day or night. Every day I expressed gratitude and love for summer. Not unlike having the opportunity to gradually accept the death of a loved one from a long-term illness (versus a tragic accident or something crazy that takes someone out immediately), being present, mindful, and grateful of a summer day helps me in eventually letting go of it as it passes.

It is technically official now, the summer of 2010 is done. The recent autumnal equinox is indeed my marker of acceptance into autumn.

It is time now to accept autumn, figure out how to appreciate as much as possible of it, and somehow gently allow the idea of the next season to begin to be known. There have already been moments of jarring reminders. Sitting around a fire pit this past weekend, someone talked about how much they loved autumn. Someone else mentioned the “w” season immediately and was even bold enough to through in the four-letter word (in my world) “snow”. I was not the only one that was a bit shocked at the mention of the white stuff.

My mindfulness that autumn was coming has helped me maintain sanity and keep the moments of panic in their place.

And here it is… and it is time to truly accept and embrace this season. When I think about the things I really dislike about autumn, I acknowledge them and move on. I shift my focus onto what I do indeed appreciate. I don’t want to sound all Pollyanna here. I don’t feel like I can explain this without sounding that way though. I just shift my focus.

Last night, a friend and her two dogs joined me and Sofia Lolita on our walk. I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it had the tone of annoyance at the very least about the season change. It had something to do with feeling sad that summer was over. I told her that summer is my favorite season and that I was bummed too but that my survival technique was to focus on what I like about autumn. I started mentioning things I appreciate…

I like wearing ‘cords’ for instance, and sweatshirts are fun. I do love watching the leaves change color. The bugs are all going away and are much less annoying. My friend added some of the things she appreciates about autumn as well. We could have continued on our walk, swearing and complaining about losing summer. Instead, we both moved in to acceptance and gratitude. Seriously, a much better head space. It was a lovely walk.

So, here I sit, noticing the leaves outside of my window, some still green and fully alive. The rest turning shades of orange, yellow, and red. I can feel the heat coming through my window from the mid-day sunshine today, and yet, need to wear a sweatshirt inside of my house. I picked out my favorite one for today. And, I do appreciate that I can walk my little dog in the afternoon without worrying about her being too hot.

I probably should have started this, or at least mentioned it earlier somewhere, but one of the things I like to do is call this season autumn, instead of fall. I have far too many sad memories of previous falls in my life. Changing what I call it on a regular basis has also made this season more appealing. Something about autumn seems fancy or serious or something.

Here’s to a safe, productive, and joyful autumn…

Twenty Years

July 28th, 2010

I have been planning this annual trip for twenty years now. For twenty years I have dreamt about, planned for, saved up money, packed and re-packed, shopped, and shared the anticipation for this one week in August. This year, I am more prepared than ever.

I am prepared to get there, be there, and do what needs to be done.

I know that this will be the most important week of my life.

It is every year.

Instant Coffee

May 13th, 2010

One of my “Facebook friends” updated her status this morning to “Instant Coffee”. I laughed, but not out loud. I read through the handful of comments, mildly amused by most and impressed by one. I wasn’t prepared for where my brain would go though. It does that, wonders off to memories. And then I attempt to write the story in my head.

Dr. Carrie tells me I need to write about happy things, funny things, more joyful experiences. I think she is on to something. I think, moving forward, I am able to manifest more and more joy in my life. I have been on that path for years and continue to make progress. But, the material I have to write about now tends to be on the tragic side. The stuff that bubbles to the surface each and every day is not all fun and games. I have witnessed and lived, a lot.

The thing is, I can make it funny. I can tell a tragically sad story in a way that my friends can laugh. I wonder if I can start to learn how to translate that story telling ability into the written form. I wonder if half of my successful “in person” story telling isn’t directly related to my facial expressions and hand gestures, my body language.

How can I communicate that?

I worry about discounting the tragedy with the humor. In person, I don’t worry. My friends know me. They know that I have already survived a story if I am sitting there telling them about it.

I am sitting here listening to Bitch’s newest album, Blasted. It is my latest addiction in the music world. I have played it nearly non-stop since her concert over a month ago. It is raining and chilly outside. I would say cold, but, come on now – it is above zero. I have vowed not to complain unless it is below zero. I am drinking coffee out of a Folgers cup. No, I am not kidding. “The best part of wakin’ up…” Normally I drink out of a cup from Hazelton, which makes me laugh. But, today, I picked the Folgers one.

Get to the story Wollner… I had been working as a Case Manager at Minnesota AIDS Project for less than a year. It was in the fall of 1998. I went on a home visit early in the morning. My client’s name was Randy. I was not looking forward to the visit. He was particularly challenging to work with. He was angry, all of the time. For years, his doctors, nurses, social workers, previous case managers, family and friends had been trying to intervene on his alcoholism. He was instantly furious and defensive if anyone dared mention his drinking. He did not have a problem.

My only expectation was to get to know him better, perhaps develop some more trust. I had only spoken to him over the phone thus far.

I got to his apartment at nine in the morning.

It was rigged. He showed me the booby traps he had set up around the perimeter of his apartment. I saw the doll hanging on the wall, the noose around its neck. He had been a rocket scientist, for real. My creep factor rose. I knew I needed to stay on his good side.

He offered me coffee. I had come prepared. I had my own water bottle with me. Thank God. He proceeded to get out a ‘ginormous’ coffee mug. Seriously. It was three times the size of a ‘normal, old school coffee cup’. He reached for what I soon recognized was a large bottle of vodka. He poured and poured, until the cup was dangerously full. Next, he scooped instant coffee into his vodka. He put the cup into the microwave for however many minutes it took to come out steaming hot. He situated himself at the kitchen table next to me.

He was in no way remotely capable of even considering that this sort of behavior might appear odd, at best, to someone else.

No clue.

It was the most precise example of how someone’s alcoholism can present itself I had witnessed in action.

Nine in the morning and more vodka than I would drink if I were seriously partying all night long.

Do you want some coffee? Are you serious?

No clue. He had no clue how alcohol was destroying his life. He would die of alcoholism, not AIDS. I mean, really. I suppose it could be argued that his AIDS diagnosis and symptoms and medications with such lovely side affects could have been, on some level, an excuse to continue to destroy his life with drinking. I suppose. But, really, which came first? I imagine his alcoholism had something to do with his HIV infection in the first place. Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that we all get dealt shit we have to deal with. And we all have to figure out how to take care of ourselves one way or another. He was angry and abusive. He refused any help. He drank from morning until night.

I wish I could say that I somehow broke through with this one. I wish I could say that he eventually decreased or even stopped his drinking, got some good counseling, repaired his family relationships, made new friends, and had significant improvement in his health. Instead, he got more and more angry at the system and everyone involved. He eventually left threatening voicemail messages in the middle of the night, proclaiming he planned to blow up the building. He disappeared soon after that. I assume he has died by now. I sometimes think about him, like today, reading that status update, and fantasize that he moved away and got his shit together. He was sure smart. Unfortunately, he was also truly lost.

Seriously though, can you see it? Early in the morning? A skinny white man with dark hair, his frail, shaking hands lifting up a mug bigger than his face and sipping on his “instant coffee”. I still wonder, had I said yes to his offer, if he would have just made me a vodka instant coffee drink automatically too, or if he would have made mine with water.

Godspeed Randy.

Unemployment

May 12th, 2010

I have been on unemployment now since later September 2009, eight months basically. I have heard it referred to as “funemployment”. I cannot say that I have this same sentiment. I would not call it fun. Do not get me wrong, I am completely and utterly grateful that I have had this source of income. I am also indebted to Obama for doing whatever it is that he did to allow me to get an extension.

This isn’t fun though. Survival yes, fun no.

I am, in no way, getting rich. I am, however, able to pay my mortgage, my utilities, and take care of my basic needs. I mean basic too. I don’t feel like I have enough breathing room to spend money on things like a dentist appointment or an eye exam for instance, even though I am well overdue for both of these. Having the breathing room to pay the basics is good, real good, and I am full aware that my situation is much better than a lot of other people.

The anxiety attached to not knowing what my next source of income will be for sure is a bit too much on any given day. My, as of yet, lack of confidence in my ability to ever have a ‘real’ job again is tricky on any given day too. I wonder if I am crazy thinking I can start and successfully run my own business and make a living doing what I love to do. I wonder if I need to give up, suck it up, and get a job again. As much as I hate working on someone else’s time and only doing things the way they are ‘supposed’ to be done, there is clearly something to be said for a regular pay check. If I am ever legitimately employed again, I will be even more grateful about that privilege.

The Access Works job nearly killed me, physically and emotionally. It continued to be a hurdle until this April when I mailed off the taxes for 2009. In fact, I thought I was done then. I changed my job status on my Facebook page. I changed my outgoing voicemail on my phone. I have felt a great deal of relief in this last month, feeling like I was finally done. I jumped the gun, again. I got a bill in the mail for a late fee, ironically, to the unemployment office. Seriously? If it were a bill for anything else, I would probably ignore it. I am supposed to be done with that job, that hasn’t paid me since last August. But, what happens if it somehow impacts me getting paid unemployment? I need to handle this situation, sooner rather than later. I am counting on the unemployment payments still.

I needed a break. I needed a break from life, from work, from working to save people’s lives. I have over twenty years now, amazing, of seriously difficult jobs that have taken their toll on me. It isn’t exactly like my personal life was free of ‘situations’ to handle either.

Without unemployment, I would have easily used up my savings by now. I am truly grateful. I will maintain faith that I will figure out what is next, that my needs will continue to be met and the answers will come. In the meantime, I am continuing to work on my health and sanity, regaining my confidence one day at a time and making progress…

Ahhh, Mother’s Day…

May 9th, 2010

I had a difficult time trying to decide on a status update for my Facebook account today. I was tempted to just say ‘happy mother’s day’ or ‘shout out to all of my mama friends’ or something along those lines. I couldn’t do it though. I was way too mindful of the fact that I have a number of friends whose mothers have died. It felt rude, on my part, to proclaim happiness on what is likely a rather painful and sad day. It reminded me of having to be careful about wishing someone Merry Christmas in the event that they may be Jewish or anything but Christian. At the same time, I didn’t really feel like mentioning dead mother’s in my wishes to my friends either.

It would have been easy to proclaim love towards my own mother. She barely does email though and isn’t anywhere near a Facebook page. It would be wasted words. I am so grateful for her presence in my life. There were certainly years that things were not cool, not one bit. There were a number of Mother’s Days that I sat and cried, unwilling to contact her and unable to reconcile our differences. This year, it was easy to pick up the phone and wish her well. I had remembered to send her a card too. I picked it out and mailed it a few days ago. It was a tad bit painful to hang out in Target and scan what felt like thousands of cards. I finally found one that simply had the word ‘love’ on the cover. I do love her. I am grateful for all that she has done for me. I am so happy that I can call her any given day and tell her what is going on and check in on her. It has only been in this last year or so too that I began to think about her dying before me. I have said many times that my best gift for my parents will be to outlive them. Hopefully, I will manage that. Hopefully too, I will have many more years before having that loss.

I need to be clear quickly that I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that some of my friends did post ‘happy mother’s day’ on their Facebook wall. I was able to read it and hear their good intentions.

I was just overwhelmed to some degree today with picking up on how the day potentially impacted any given friend of mine. Later on, I felt sad for one friend in particular who posted something along the lines of being willing to give anything if he could hug his mama today. I know of others though that didn’t post anything. I wonder if they had a difficult day.

I feel guilty that I didn’t call Christopher’s mom. It is too late at night now. I did think of her and send my love. I thought of a lot of my friends who are moms. I didn’t end up sending text messages or calling.

I think I was just a bit overwhelmed myself. I am overwhelmed in the good sense with the love I have with my mother and the relationship we have managed to develop. Beyond that though, being aware of the enormous loss that some have had with their mother’s death, and the tumultuous relationships that some of my friends still have with their mothers, it was just too much emotion for me to process today.

Oh, and I suppose the fact that I am involved with a mom now has changed things, enormously. I had already fallen in love with her well before realizing that the fact that she had a teenage daughter meant, in essence, that I am in the position of being a step-mom. And, if I can avoid the bigger topic any longer, can I just say that picking out a card for her was way trickier than I anticipated. I mean, the majority of the mother’s day cards say mom or mother or some variation. Nearly all of the rest say ‘to my wife’. Clearly, none of those would work. You would think that Hallmark or someone would recognize or assume that people just want to send a card to a friend even, if not a same-sex partner for crying out loud. Maybe not. I would have appreciated some more choices.

I don’t know what this whole step-mom title means yet, or is supposed to mean even. I was fortunate enough to have my bio-parents married, to this day still. I have never dated anyone with kids. I didn’t even really have close friends growing up with step-parents. My experience is limited. Once again, life has thrown me a curve ball. Good thing I enjoy a challenge.

Enough rambling… I love my mama and wish her the best every day. I am so very proud and grateful for all of my friends who are mamas and look forward to seeing their kids grow up. I wish for all of my friends who struggle with their relationships with their mamas, that they may feel their mother’s love despite the challenges. I am sending much love to all of my friends who have lost their mothers. Much love to all of my friends who have chosen to not have human children and, instead, treat their furry friends like kings and queens of the house.

Ahhh, mother’s day…