Category Archives: adversity

Missives from the Mat #17: Thanking the Person who Knocked the Wind Out of You

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Yesterday I attended my husband’s extended family holiday party. In one of the group photos, I tried to count 67 heads. Give or take three, because I didn’t use a sharpie on my computer screen to mark them off, I think 67 is close; it didn’t include the photographer and the toddlers who ran to her side as she was shooting.

After that I attended a smaller version of the same, where my husband’s immediate family gathered for an after-party party. That was nice and we had a good time goofing off.

When we came home, we watched “Planet of the Apes” with Mark Walhberg. I asked my two older sons to watch it and just go with it, to commit to the willing suspension of disbelief that sci-fi cinema so often requires. They were full of comments and questions afterward, mostly directed to the social / racial / political / classist implications of the movie. My older son thought the messages were profound.

We all headed to bed. I tidied up the kitchen for a few minutes.

I encountered my son on my spot on my bed, talking with his father about a recent development in his life; he and his dad were parsing it out, mostly venting and sharing. He’s under a lot of pressure: senior year, college applications, social interests, athletic pursuits, and just a general sense of his growing up, which can weigh heavily on anyone’s shoulders.

I sprayed lavender. We talked about 20 more minutes.

He pushed off for his room.

At 12:14, ten seconds later, I heard my bedroom door open. He had some things on his mind, that just flew back into his awareness, completely uninvited. Stories on Twitter which bothered him. We talked about it, headed downstairs and I gave him some warm milk and a melatonin, which he consumed on the couch next to me.

He asked if meditation would help quiet his mind, help him to focus. Yes, it absolutely would, I said. I didn’t propose anything right there, I just started talking about how placing our hand over our heart, helps us feel a connection to our essential and physical being. How the heart shows our pulse and how when we breathe in, that our chests rise and that how when we exhale, the chest drops, bringing our hand closer once again to the vibration of our heart’s chambers. I talked about how when we breathe in, our bodies have a natural pause, ever so slight, that recalibrate our nervous system, and that when we exhale, if we can count to just one more heart beat, that we’ve begun to elicit the relaxation response our nervous systems so desperately crave. What’s the sign of our craving? When our minds start to spin out of control and we emotionally react. But ego tells us that we just need to think more. A super-active mind, to me, anyhow, is Spirit’s plea to just sit and consciously breathe.

I looked over at him in the dark beside me. The string of Christmas lights behind me gently casting a glow on him. His eyes were closed. His hand was over his heart. His jaw loosened when I suggested he place his tongue behind his upper teeth and release the lower jaw.

So I continued speaking in a modulated tone about the breath, our ability to find it, connect with it or give it a quality of speed, fluidity, or texture, in order to let him sink deeper into his restoration.

I continued for about five more minutes. Talking slowly and quietly, keeping him just in the zone of near sleep, the “twilight” of his consciousness.

He gently opened his eyes and sat up and said he was ready for bed. I followed him upstairs, sprayed lavender in his room and closed his door.

It was 12:42 when I slipped back into my bed. I was ready for sleep too. I had calmed both of us to a somniferous state.

When I woke around 9 this morning, I opened my email and discovered that someone had written to me over night. I am thrilled I turned my phone on Airplane mode (as I always do each night) and did not check my phone before I went to sleep, because if I had waited just 14 minutes more, I would have received the comment to this blog via email.

It wasn’t a nice comment. It was a forceful character assassination based on a post I wrote about my decision to stop teaching yoga on Monday evenings.

Your psychopathic-rant pretty much says everything about your character as a human being. I have attended your classes as well as many of the people you refer to and blame for YOUR issues

I will concede in that post that I wrote at length, so he’s got me at “rant”; (but I don’t think it was psychopathic, it was not violent, nor did it demonstrate a chronic mental disorder). I will concede that I shared some details which maybe weren’t especially necessary. Maybe he meant psychotic? Who knows. But it’s a blog, it’s my blog and it’s my perspective, my memory, my experience. I will also concede that I have issues — have you read my blog? But I really try to work through and learn from them.

When I saw his name, and the attached email address WordPress requires of all commenters, I shuddered a little. This was no troll in Russia. The author is a man who actually continued the balance of his classes with me even though he had started with another teacher entirely (I took over from her mid-session, as she was busy with other pursuits and was eager to move on).

I remember this person. He was kind, polite and mostly appropriate. When I shadowed the departing teacher one winter evening in March, three people, including me and he, attended her class. Snow was gathering on the trees outside the room. She and I had agreed that I would take over the classes, but she hadn’t announced she was leaving. Likewise, she decided to not share my identity. I wanted to attend so I could see how she ran her classes as I had yet to teach an adult yoga class though I’d attended hundreds. The snow was collecting on the branches outside, casting a spectral glow into the dark space during savasana.

Afterward, I said to her, “That was a lovely class, thank you so much,” and then he (the commenter) sort of stepped in and said, “Bipsy Carmichaelango* she’s the best, no one is as good as she is. I love Bipsy. She’s amazing.”

And I thought, Great. She’s leaving. I’m taking over. Shit. 

It was the way he said it though, that I recall felt a little ‘off’ to me. No matter, I let it go. Don’t be weird, I said to myself of myself, maybe he’s known her for years (even though she’s not been teaching this class a full year). Maybe she’s his mom, or aunt. 

I’m guessing that when I showed up on my mat in the teacher’s position two weeks later, after she made the announcement, that seeing me again might’ve caught his breath.

Mrrrp. 

When I took over, there were three weeks until Spring Break. He took at least two classes with me then never came back; a fellow legacy student said he’d moved from the area. But when I taught, he was polite, grateful even, and one time mentioned how my slow and methodical introduction into a pose was very helpful for his low back, which I recall Bipsy saying had been reconstructed or something. He was never unpleasant.

I have no issues with people leaving and not coming back. I was new to adults. I was a little terrified and I’m sure a bit stiff. I was also to their system: I changed the way payments were made, I changed the class time. My appearance changed a lot: I was NOT THE PREVIOUS INSTRUCTOR: I was me. Blame me? No, blame yourself because of expectations.

After reading his attack though, I wrote back, not instantly because I know that yields little in terms of processing. I made a cup of coffee and waited about 30 minutes. My response was likely 5x the length of his comment, and I was sort of a bitch, but I also softened, because in my heart I know it takes a lot to get so riled up at someone you haven’t experienced in a long time to spin out and go to the lengths to register your email address with the blog provider to leave a comment via mobile carrier (they save lots of identification info on WordPress). The email address he left is the same one I have from when I took over the class. When I read his comment, it was like I was hit from behind. I felt instantly and intentionally abused.

I thought, Christ. This guy moved away and almost two years later wants to hunt me from the ether? WTF?

  

People do what they do for all the reasons they do them. Sometimes those reasons are utter mysteries, especially to the person committing them. For me, to wake from a great sleep after a lovely day to the venom this person decided to spew at me, for no reason whatsoever, was jarring.
I can’t comprehend his reason. It’s not mine. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen him. It’s been almost 18 months since the people he knew from yoga took a class from me. After I took over that evening class, the “roll call” changed comPLETEly. The only thing that occurs to me about how or why this man was so obviously hunted me down is that something reignited. Someone talked about me. Someone talked about my blog. Something set off, and that something is HIS.

I’m not stupid: I am a member of this community in which I live. I am actively engaged with it on a handful of fronts: academic, parental, social, outreach, political, and the yoga. I also write. Publicly, as in this here post on this here blog. I am for the most part, an open book: I have no real secrets and most of my crimes are not that fascinating: speeding tickets in my 20s, ill-begotten behavior in my college years… standard stuff. No arrests, no convictions (other than the speeding tickets), no jail time (other than the emotional prison I occasionally place myself in). I worked at a bank during college and my fingerprints have been captured for that, and then for the security clearance job I took as a technical writer after college, and most recently as a yoga teacher for children. My fingerprints are on file.

After I read the comment this morning, I didn’t feel guilt, so much as vulnerability. I felt a little guilty that I’d clearly done something to set this person off, but I know in my heart that it’s his, not mine. I suppose if I’m guilty of anything, it’s trying to live an emotionally healthy life. It’s an attempt at discernment, to learn over time what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. That’s how I teach yoga: I can help you with yoga things… not so much with life things, unless I know you off the mat. And the help has to be an exchange, and it usually is: that’s the value of relationships. When it’s NOT an exchange, then we feel depleted. I try to avoid depletion now, I try — even in shitty situations — to find a silver lining.

I try to be professional, complete and courteous in all I do. Do I get along with everyone? No. Absolutely not. I have a big mouth, and I shoot it off when warranted. But never without cause; I actually have to be provoked. These days, it’s pretty hard to provoke me, as I’ve got a pretty thick skin and some important things lot on the line: my employment as a yoga instructor to children, to adults at health clubs and my commitment to be a kind and nonreactive human being on this planet, which lately has been all too off-kilter.

Only after about six hours of digesting and processing that comment and talking with my husband and kids about it, was I able to come to some sense of gratitude for it. I want to thank him, sort of, for being so abrasive, because as a result of his note, I ran an inventory of all the things I’ve done in my recent life and tried to discern if I did them for glory or if I did them for love.

I’ve determined that for some of those things, sure, I did them for vanity: I wanted to be seen, I wanted to be cheered and thanked — who doesn’t do things for external reward? That helps us keep going. But as I moved into some of those more vainglorious pursuits, I transformed, and I ended up doing all of them because it fed my soul and helped me to better understand my purpose. As a teacher, I have been graced with teaching people who present many measurable neurological conditions ranging from ADHD to epilepsy, or migraine, crippling anxiety, or Tourette’s syndrome. Physically, I was confronted by hypotonia, spinal stenosis and hip replacements and lumbar fusion. Having those students made me a better teacher.

All the legacy people who decided not to stay after I took over the classes did so in reaction to my policy that paying upfront for a certain number of yoga classes within a defined period was a tangible commitment to one’s health. Those who were committed kept coming. In other words: we are adults here, no special exceptions, you pay you play, no free guests without notice (I don’t care how the other teacher ran it, she’s not me) lest the place run amok. Time’s up: I’m damned tired of defending this position. People don’t like change and they like being coddled, but I’m not a coddler. I’ll get in the dirt with you, but I’ll soon encourage you to get out of it.

I have boundaries. People generally don’t like them, I have learned. I have experienced people actually cringe like a vampire from garlic when I mention the word “boundary” or “accountability.” Especially regarding yoga: people like to assume a yoga teacher has no discernment, that we just float and take on peoples’ stuff as though it’s our own, because y’know, yoga and sutras, and goodness, and kumbaya… No.

What today’s nastygram and the pursuant self-examination showed me is that my gut read is usually right and that when things start to feel familiar in an unhealthy way (for me: codependence) that they will continue to feel that way until I carve out some boundaries and self respect. I’m only as strong as my boundaries.

So while my come around from the comment I received is likely NOT the intention of the man who sent it, I’m pretty pleased with it. Years ago, this would have taken a few days or maybe weeks to really get over.

*Bipsy Carmichaelango is not her real name.

Thank you.

Remembering Tuesday, September 11, 2001

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I wrote this on my phone and then shared it on Facebook. 

I want to share it here as well. 

The skies were crazy for days on end. All hours with the F16 scrambles. Thunderous jet engines and their afterburners looming throughout the skies, flying low, shaking the quickly made houses which proliferate so much of Fairfax County.
I remember a candlelight vigil at the end of our street that evening. I remember the resilience of a nation, steeped in rage stemming from fear. Our collective naïveté was shattered that day. The vulnerability from the exposure was crushing.

Yet, the children. They still giggled and ran and hopped. That was more precious, protecting them in the midst of such unfathomable loss and woe.

I live in Northern Virginia. I was in carpool line when I first heard the news, dropping off my oldest son at preschool, hearing a haughty Dennis Owens on WGMS announce “some sort of aerial accident in New York City … Possibly a Cessna crashed into a skyscraper in midtown…” Then I drove home.

Learned more. Watched a second plane burst into flames upon impact into the second tower behind Katie Couric as she was broadcasting a continual feed of the events as they unfolded. Silence. Nothing but silence. Black smoke and orange-red clouds filling an otherwise perfect blue sky. The same cloudless sky above me, 250 miles south.

Then the Pentagon. 11 miles away.

I called my husband. Told him to collect our son. He did. We both hunkered down together, with our eight-month-old second baby. Trying to stay reasonable, rational.

Then I knew fear was sidling up beside me. Here to stay. That was what the terrorists wanted. Fear is their currency.

My older brother lived in and worked in Manhattan. He survived the 1993 attempt. He survived the 2001 attacks; but barely. He was on the approach to the chaos, a drive in him to somehow help, learn more, be present, when the first tower collapsed. A tidal wave of smoke, dust, papers, existence overtook him and other fellow travelers. Covered in dust from the atomization of humans and industrial debris, he crawled to safety (was never in the Towers, but had a meeting scheduled nearby, in his workplace) by entering a familiar building despite the wash of dust all over the town.

I’ll always remember that day. And when he was located around 1pm. Dusted with ash, virtually unrecognizable. In shock. He bumped into a college friend he hadn’t seen in years who was waiting out the madness in a pub with colleagues. His friend was outside the pub on his phone, trying to connect with his own wife. He saw my brother, powdered with immeasurable remains, and took him in and walked him home from Chelsea.

On the following Monday, my brother rode the subway and wore the same suit, he’d had it dry cleaned, in strength and courage to work. He rode the elevator up to his office. He was determined to not give in to fear.

There is much more to say; there always will be. The feelings are ineffable.

Honor those whose memories should never fade. I chafe at the phrase “Never Forget”; it’s so war-like. I prefer “Always Remember.”

… And life goes on. I hear the birds chirping outside. A breeze makes the leaf shadows dance on the floor beneath my feet. The tick of our cheap clock behind me. The air pushing through the vents in my house. The same house I retreated to that day. I feel the rise and fall of my chest with sound of my own breath, today, 14 years later. 

Peace.

Thank you. 

You Can’t Argue with “Okay.” #rights #guns #marriage #America

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Man, what a month.

So much going on.

The prisoners escaped from NY prison

Charleston

Obamacare

Confederate flag debates

Gay marriage protected by the Supreme Court.

Obama singing “Amazing Grace” which was written by a former slave owner, at the funeral for the mass murder in Charleston.

I don’t know of a time in my recent memory when so much has happened of such a magnitude in such a compressed timeframe.

I woke Friday to the terrorism news in France, Tunisia and Kuwait — about 60 people have died as a result of insurgency violence that occurred while we were sleeping. Did you know about these incidents?

Then a couple hours later, the news about Supreme Court and marriage rights.

The night before, I got slammed on Facebook for posting a meme about a bunch of Republicans who bashed a college loan refinance bill. I’ll never share another one of my father’s posts again. Never. That’s the second time I’ve gotten burned — and not just because it was hysterical, but because it was incomplete. 

So I knew the next day was going to be rough, regardless of what was on the SCOTUS docket. I had no clue.

It was like I turned on my computer and the entire world changed.

But it hasn’t, much has it?

I mean, we still live and breathe. We still have to pay taxes. We still love our kids. We still drive cars. We still buy more than we need. We still practice hypocrisy and jealousy and reactivity.

The anti-side of gay rights says that homosexuality is an abomination. They speak of God and Scripture and Jesus and Corinthians and Leviticus and all the words of the Gospel which decry homosexuality. But then they say God will judge in the same sentence that they say gay people will go to hell. But isn’t that God’s decision, if you really believe in Him? You can preach the Gospel, but it’s never your decision to speak for God. Catholic priests think they’re supposed to do that. It’s so funny.
NO, THEY’RE NOT. 
It’s no one’s business, really.
All this hate and fear and arguing and finger pointing feels so very much as though the line demarcating the “other” side is getting fainter and fainter.
 
What we once thought were opposite views, are so radically close to one another in tone that they are almost identical. The two-sided coin is getting very thin from wear and tear.
 
All people want their rights, and the U.S. Constitution says they should have them. I dig that. But the arguments become anemic when one starts denying someone else’s rights.
 
“I want gay marriage but you can’t have your guns.”
 
“I want my guns but you can’t have your healthcare.”
 
“I want my healthcare but you can’t have your birth control.”
 
“I want my flag but you can’t remind me of its history.”
 
It all reminds me of a scene in “Friends” when two characters were yelling at each other for taking the last pieces of bread and they were each accusing the other of being selfish. 
Just because you disagree it doesn’t mean there’s hate. Just because you agree it doesn’t mean you’re OK with everything else.

I don’t really have an opinion on gay marriage other than to say it’s about time. I certainly don’t have a negative opinion of it. If gay Americans pay taxes, then they should be afforded the same rights as anyone else who pays taxes. I wrote the other day, that on that basis, if you decide to exempt gay couples from paying taxes, soon everyone will file as gay. I was trying to be humorous. No one laughed. I wonder if people think that if gay people are allowed to marry then all of a sudden their children will “turn” gay.

Anyway…

Well, no. If one of my kids discovers he is gay, then I will take a deep breath. Not out of shame, not out of hate, but because I know 1) it takes guts to be who you are; 2) regardless of all the rainbows all over the place, the world is hostile; 3) the odds of having a grand baby in our lineage are cut by 50% without an effective and successful sperm donation and fertilization and pregnancy via surrogate from my kids (but I also recognize that the world is overpopulated and that children are children and they all just need loving homes).

So I’m deciding, starting now, to conserve my energy. My oldest son is finally starting to learn how to drive. We go out for 45-minute stints every day, starting in school and commuter parking lots. Today was day 3. He’s getting better. Today he and his dad (my current and first husband) went out in the rain and took our smaller car. He prefers my big SUV because he can see better, but he likes the tighter steering on the smaller car. I need to conserve my energy for him and my other sons and my household and marriage and laundry and my sanity. I’m tired of fighting. None of these changes affect me. I don’t think the country is suddenly going to be alright with matrimonial bestiality and allowing people to marry children. It’s going to be alright, I really believe this.

It’s summer. Let’s chill out, the weather makes things hot enough as it is.

So I’ve decided, that when I don’t agree with someone, I’m just going to take a deep breath, say nothing or just say, “Okay” and I’m going to keep on doing what I was doing before: taking deep breaths and trying to say nothing.

Wish me luck.

Thank you.

Charlie & Murphy — What “Intention” Shows Us

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So I took this photo today of Charlie, our rescue pooch. In it, he’s standing amidst the wreckage of a modest plastic laundry basket that I thought would make a nice dog toy bin, as it had survived in this house for several years before he arrived.

What?

What?

Charlie is about 15 months old now. I realize that makes me sound like a really screwed-up “dog parent” but I mention his age in months because while he’s over a year, physically, he’s still quite a puppy mentally. Or maybe this is who he is.

His adult teeth have been grown in for at least seven months, yet he is a chewer. He is such a chewer that he has shown Murphy, our 7-year-old golden retriever, how it’s done.

Murphy really could not care less about nylabones or rope toys or rubber tug toys or giant knot pulls or a moccasin or a scarf, a chair, a rug fringe, a beach towel, a fire log, a down jacket, a pair of leather boots, a piece of trim on a cabinet, a Jimmy Page DVD box, a remote control, a set of headphones, an uncashed birthday check for $100, an electric guitar cord, a garden hose, a wah-wah pedal, a text book, a yoga book, a set of crayons, a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap, shin guards, a candle, an LL Bean tote bag, flip flops, a few cleats, a BBQ glove, a newspaper, an empty cardboard box, an empty cereal bag, a broom handle, a snow shovel, a volley, soccer, basket, foot, playground -ball, a book by Roz Chast and so much more. Murphy doesn’t care. Murphy couldn’t be bothered.

As you can see, just today, here is Murphy simply not giving a damn about Charlie’s basket.

No. No. No. This is not interesting to me.

No. No. No. This is not interesting to me. I want to see what Mom is doing. Get your hand off my back. 

Why?

“WHY NOT MURPH?!? LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF! C’MONNNNNN!!!” Begs Charlie.

Because Murphy was intended. And Charlie was not.

Murphy’s whole being — from the mounting of his wild, long-haired, as-flaxen-as-wheat father “Kirby” onto his sainted dogly, calm, freckle-nosed, light blonde mother, “Bonnie” — Murphy was intended.

“We’d like a mellow golden. One that is beautiful of course, but that is not too crazy, like Zeus, over there bounding up and down along the gate… And not too dark, because then they start to look like Irish Setters, which are completely insane, and I won’t have that…” I remember thinking, if not actually saying to the breeder, almost seven and a half years ago.

Why? Why did we go to a breeder? Well, it’s simple: our youngest son was still quite little, just four, and every golden retriever rescue we tried didn’t work out.

We had to surrender our first one, “Skipper,” because he was massive, a ton of energy and knocked over my kids constantly. Skipper was gorgeous: he had the big blocky head, and flame-colored eyes. He came to me by way of my Creative Memories (remember those days?) consultant.

My consultants’s neighbor, a recent widower and retired Navy captain who had recently undergone a hip replacement, was given a dog, Skipper, by his children to keep him company. These people, who were clear across the country in California, knew NOTHING about goldens. My consultant friend knew I loved goldens and also knew I would be able to help find a home for Skipper. Our “Maggie” was about nine at the time and she was tender-hipped herself, so I thought a 70-pound puppy might be too much for her.

I was right.

Skipper was seldom walked, because the man had his hip surgery and he told me Skipper mostly lived in the garage when he wasn’t walked by a neighbor kid. He was gorgeous though. I told my friend, “Sure, I’ll meet him. I’m sure someone can help place him…”

The next thing I knew: Skipper and his owner were in my front yard with a crate, leashes, bowls, food, toys, and papers. I looked up to say hello to the man and he was gone. >Poof!< I called my friend / consultant and she was a bit shocked. I wasn’t about to turn over Skipper immediately, but I really didn’t know how to manage it all. My friend later spoke to him and said that he was desperate; I was young (a sucker) and loved dogs and well … yup.

I trained Skipper for about four months. He knocked over my kids, he knocked over poor Maggie, he was very smart, but too much. He had to go. So I contacted our local rescue group and the next day, Skipper was picked up around 10am and I cried my fool head off. The rescue group had a family in mind. They loved that he had been trained in the rudimentary drills and he was showing real promise. I love training dogs. So off he went, to befriend a teenage boy with autism. They were inseparable. I felt so good knowing he was going to be someone’s INSTANT best friend. Our kids were sad, for the most part. But we still had our girl Maggie.

For about a year. Then she died. I won’t go into that here, but it was a very hard day.

I couldn’t really “be” without a dog. So about six months after Mags died, I found another golden. From another rescue group. Ironically, and I didn’t know this at the time, my act of surrendering a “found” dog to the previous rescue group prohibited me from acquiring a dog from them for three years… I didn’t understand it, and when I signed the papers at the time, I of course thought Maggie would live longer, so it wasn’t a big deal.

So I found another golden rescue group.

Why goldens? Because I grew up around them. Because they are wonderful with children. Because I wanted another one. Because.

When we went to meet “King” he was sooooooo very mellow. I thought he was drugged. We didn’t plan on adopting him that day. The rescue lady (INSANE WOMAN, read on) said it was a “site visit” (for us?). He was a sweet boy, about three years old. His story was sad: his original family moved around the world, they tried with a family friend, but that didn’t work out (I SHOULD HAVE ASKED MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT) and no one else could take him, so they gave him up.

He was so mellow, we ended up taking him home that day. Of course we did (I can see my husband rolling his eyes now). All the boys raced back to their seats in our minivan (yes, I did drive one for four years) and in piled King. I knew that name had to go. King belongs to a German Shepherd Dog or a mastiff. We decided to try “Riley.”

Riley worked, he adjusted to the name. But KING… King was still alive and well. You can take the dog out of West Virginia, but you can’t take the West Virginia out of the dog. Riley was calm, sweet and docile in the car. I knew he wasn’t drugged because his eyes were bright and alert, but man, it was like he was in a Zen state.

Until the moment we opened our doors after we pulled into our driveway.

Riley took off. Booked. Bolted. Flew. Freakin’ hauled ass. Tore it up. Burnt rubber. Burnt asphalt. Left us in the dust. Ran. Laughing, if dogs could laugh, Riley was freakin’ howling has ass off.

Riley ran. and ran. and ran. and ran.

Our street is very quiet. But it is an appendage off a side street to a major traffic artery. We’re talking a four-lane-separated-by-a-median-strip artery. A 40mph zone. Riley went for the artery. West. More West. To the sunset.

It was like a scene from a mad-cap Disney pic from the 1970s …

Forget “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!” Everyone is on a zany foot chase after Riley, the new dog, who simply can’t be caught! Don’t miss out on this great, fun, family adventure, where Riley shows everyone, even people he’ll never meet, that he wants to find his original family somewhere halfway around the world…. in ‘Riley Hates the Suburbs’… starring Elizabeth Montgomery as ‘Molly’ and Gavin McLeod as ‘Dan,’ King as ‘Riley’ and Joan Crawford as ‘The Rescue Lady.’

Riley fooled us all. After a 30-minute death-defying jaunt along our parkway and being caught by a really hot guy who looked like Ricky Martin, Riley came home back to our house on a collar and a leash. When Riley had a leash on, or was behind the gate (which he never tried to dig beneath or jump above) he was your man. He was calm, loyal, patient and sweet. The problem was our kids. Keep the dog, get rid of the kids? My youngest was still quite little, maybe three then, and he needed the doors held open a long time as he exited and entered our house. When Thing 3 had to go outside, Riley was waiting. And off went the older boys to catch him. The final bout was when one of the neighborhood boys almost got hit by a car, in hot pursuit. Everyone in our neighborhood knew that if a deep-red golden retriever was running like an idiot through the yards, it was Riley Field. One of the kids is now a track star at the high school. We’d like to think that we had something to do with his training.

So after about nine months, it was determined, quite easily I might add, that Riley/King had to go back to his original rescuer.

MAAAAAAAN did I get my ass handed to me by that madwoman rescuer. When we got him, he was about 10# underweight. His coat was a mess: it was dry, breaking off, and his skin was scaly but not diseased. He’d clearly been malnourished and under attended. He didn’t know any commands, especially not “stay” (obviously). The woman accused me of all sorts of things when I told her he needed to be returned: of breech of contract, of lying, of trying to look good, of being “fancy.” (Ouch.) Of NEGLECT (even though she’d never seen him) and she said that my vet said that I was a horrible owner and that I should be reported. Well, she never called my vet, because if she had she would have seen that Riley put on all his weight, that his muscle tone was restored, that his coat was lustrous and shiny and that he ran like hell. When we returned Riley, we provided a 50-pound bag of high-end food, his coat luster additives, leashes, a bed, a crate, toys and a $100 donation to her rescue league… JUST BECAUSE.

So that’s why I went back to breeders after two rescues. I feared at this point that my name was mud (because I figured these organizations were like interpol cross-referencing owners and all that) and I just couldn’t let that stop me from getting a dog. I love dogs. Desperately YET responsibly.

So last winter, when the chance to get Murphy a pal presented itself, I had to say yes. A puppy. I knew I could handle a puppy. I could train it. I could imprint it (as much as possible) and I could get it to understand that we are the home base. We are the team. Plus, Murphy was so mellow and huge, I figured any new puppy to him would be in good paws because he’s so patient and sweet. (Right now, Murphy is chewing on his rawhide and Charlie is hovering over him –Charlie finished his– and Murphy is ignoring him, but lowly growling, as Charlie gets terribly close to Murphy’s jaw, pressuring him to give up the goods.)

And we were right. To a threshold.

When we acquired Charlie, the vet estimated him to be about 8-10 weeks old. That’s about two weeks longer than most puppies are with their mothers. With a responsible and ethical breeder, 8-10 weeks is not a huge deal because the dog would have been socialized with other humans and other pups. With a dog like Charlie, who was bred near a salt marsh somewhere in South Carolina, whose mother was a stray, whose father was either dead or just clearly uninvolved, and who was likely whelped in a torn-down abandoned house in not the best of neighborhoods, you need to be careful.

Charlie has strange behaviors, whereas Murphy does not. Murphy does not scrape at the wooden floor or decking before lying down. Nor does he try to lick that flooring or bite the planks out of their position. He is interested in the trash, from the concept that it smells like something he’d consider if there were no food, ever, to be had or if the trash fell over and no one was home and he could get away with it… (he’s no angel).

But what I’ve noticed is the subtle distinction between their behaviors: Charlie came from chance and squalor so he’s scrappy and cheerful and game and so very charming, like a vacuum salesman. Murphy came from certainty and plenty so he’s patient, kind, interested in playing but not to the point of chasing you around the house with a sock to tug on it and he’s very loyal and assured; there is no “desperation” with Murphy whereas there is a definite sense of urgency with Charlie. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re both on the make and totally full of shit and just want my hamburger, but it’s a very clear case of nurture versus nature between them.

When Charlie came to us he was wild, insofar that he was not a “dog” as I have come to know them, intentionally. He cried like a crazed hyena in his crate. He ate like a fiend and growled when we came near him while eating. I knew that had to stop immediately. As a babe, and as recently as this morning, Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to lick it to get Murphy to regurgitate his own food. Well, anyone who knows Murphy knows that ain’t happening, so what that did was also establish Murphy’s “alpha” position in their pack, which is constantly being challenged with little fanfare by Murphy.

What this tells me, watching all of it, is that Murphy knows in some way, because his mother was not in a panic, that he is safe and that all his needs will be met; and that Charlie has been conditioned to be more aware (despite their breed differences; goldens are NOT watch dogs) and needy or resourceful. Murphy has confidence, where Charlie simply has gratitude. I know that if I’m ever with Charlie and I feel unsafe around a person, he will go for the throat of whatever is approaching in a hostile way. He’s a sweet boy, but don’t cross him. Whereas Murphy, he’ll offer the person my coat and jewelry and ask for a ride.

At 5:35 every night, I can tell without the clock that it’s time for their dinner because Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to see if anything is there.

You couldn't PAY Murphy to sniff this.

You couldn’t PAY Murphy to sniff this.

When people come to the house to visit, Charlie is beyond thrilled. He can’t wait to sniff them, to kiss them, to inspect their bags or pockets. Charlie does play bows, and wags his tail and smiles. Murphy is, on the other hand, just glad they’re here. He saunters up to them, he lets them pet him, he inspects their crotches and then he moves on. If it’s someone he REALLY loves, he will wag his tail and do a little dance and “wooo-oo-woof” at them. Charlie is silent, but going through their stuff. If he finds something, he shares with Murphy; the same can not be said of Murphy.

He's a charmer. This was after I took my leather gloves from him. He had a great time running around the house with them saying "Catch me!!"

He’s a charmer. This was after I took my leather gloves from him. He had a great time running around the house with them saying “Catch me!!” Is he sorry or just pissed that the game is over?

What’s nice about “knowing” about Charlie’s litter mates is that their owners and I occasionally share pictures or stories about the dogs and it seems that they all have a predilection for digging into established floors. In the case of Charlie, it’s not that he eats what he digs up; but there’s something in him that tells him, “below is security; below is sustenance.” Knowing the story of his exhausting rescue (I shared it here at this link), leaves me barely surprised by his digging and scratching, once I put it all together. It’s part of who he is, just as my telling jokes to cover over a pain or a hurt.

Watching Charlie — a dog by chance who survived by sheer will and the goodness of others, and Murphy — a dog of intention who was spoken for before he was even born, tells me a lot about how I am the way I am. I am scrappy, resourceful, defiant and loyal like Charlie because I grew up in a place that required it in order for me to survive and thrive. Charlie is charming –real and authentic– but there is something that I believe he “knows” about kindness: that when you are safe and secure, that you can give it, without wondering if it will come back to you. And now I can understand Murphy because when I give and live with kindness, I just end up enjoying it.

Possibly my favoritest (that's a word) picture of them yet. Charlie is hugging his "baby" and his head is resting on Murphy's hip.  That "baby" has since been eviscerated to a mere pelt.

Possibly my favoritest (that’s a word) picture of them yet. Charlie is “hugging” his “baby” and his head is resting on Murphy’s hip.
That “baby” has since been eviscerated to a mere pelt.

Thank you.

PS — one more: this is IMMEDIATELY after I washed the glass door:

He has excellent timing.

He has excellent timing.