Tuesday, January 7, 2014

long in time

Dora did not have school again today, so I made up some little math word problems for her. If Oscar has two trucks, and daddy gives him three more trucks, how many trucks does Oscar have? She spent a good part of the day working on these. I have to remember this the next time she says to me, in her whiniest, teenager voice, "I don't know what to dooooooo!"

So, here's a word problem for you: 

Oscar is 2 and a half. Dora is 6 and a half. 2.5 + 6.5 = 9. I have 9 years of kid between the two of them. 

You know what else I have 9 years of? Missing my mother, who died 9 years ago today. 

At first when I realized this today I thought this would be true forever, that every year my children's ages would add up to the number of years since my mother's death. But in doing the math on a piece of paper now, it doesn't. Next year, if I don't include the half years, it does add up (3+7 = 10). But the following year, 4+8 = 12. Someone smarter than I, a mathematician or a statistician, could tell me what, if anything, this means. I guess it's just a little coincidence, a little oddity that happens when stars (or something) align. I'm not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved. It seemed like a morbid, freak-show kind of thing at first, and then it seemed like a bit of a comforting oddity, like the cowlick at the base of Dora's neck that she inherited directly from me. 

Regardless, I guess it's me trying to find some pattern, order, or level of understanding in this chaotic and desolate landscape of grief I find myself 9 years into. It's this crazy, elastic, unpredictable space that comes and goes, waxes and wanes, and evolves in ways I didn't know possible. Nine years later and I still have days where it feels like it happened THIS MORNING. I have days where I can still feel exactly how much dread I felt driving down the driveway away from my parent's house, knowing I would never again return to that place with my mother alive. I have days where my jealousy that my kids don't get to know their grandma is alive like another person in the room, standing in the corner up against the wall, a bit out of sight but there just the same. 

Dora, in her old age, has become increasingly perceptive about my feelings about my mom. Simultaneously she is also very curious about death, I think, and talks a lot about Grandma Carol in heaven, about how much I miss my mommy, about how sad she is not to meet her, and about how sad she will be when I die. She has even suggested that, when I die, I'll get to see my mother again. I know much of that is her mirroring my emotions - after all, she has seen me cry openly about my mother on many occasions - but I also have to believe that, in some way, this open dialogue she and I share about grief and love between mothers and daughters is influencing her own understanding of love and it's power. I want, I need, her to believe that our love lasts forever. 

I believe that it does and, also, I struggle to believe that the love between my mom and I lasts forever. I know mine is still going strong, but I don't always feel whether or not that love is getting picked up on the other end, or that it's being returned. I have faith and I'm a Christian and all that jazz, but when you lose someone you love like this - well, you WANT to believe they're on the other end of the love you send to them. You WANT to feel them watching over you, you WANT to sense their presence. But, my friends, it isn't that simple - at least not for me. She's no Casper on my shoulder. She's in my heart, yes, but I seldom - if ever - feel the love coming back to me. I want to believe that she's out there in the universe or in heaven or in God reflecting that light back to me, but, honestly, the signal ain't coming through. 

And here I am in that rubbery landscape of grief and I've found a whole new area I didn't know existed. That's what's so shitty about death - the person still living simply has no proof of whether the deceased still loves them. We want to believe it, we really do, but the flow of love from that other person feels like it ends when they do. 

So, I want and need my little Dora - and Oscar, when he's old enough to talk about it - to know that MY LOVE for them lasts forever. That our love will keep us connected no matter what. That when we are separated by death, our hearts remain fused, our love goes on into eternity, our light shines between us forever. My own mother, though she had many great qualities, never talked about her own death - even when she was terminally ill. This was a conversation we never could have had. As a mother myself, I know how much she loved me, but she never said, "Carrie, even when I die, our love lasts forever." I really wish she had. 

Grief is a rubbery landscape and also a place where we continue to look for answers, even when we know there are none. We look for something to make sense of, even if it's that our kid's ages somehow mysteriously add up to the number of years of loss we've experienced. I keep turning over the rocks, keep looking around for some clue. I cannot make sense of this, but at least I keep asking. At least I keep feeling it, at least I can still cry about it. If I lose that, well, then she would be even more lost to me. If I ever stopped exploring this landscape at least a little, it feels like I'd be closing the door on my relationship with my mother forever. Feeling the sadness, at least, feels a little like life, and a lot like love. 

9=long in time

May my connection to you, mama, be long in time...

Always, your girl 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

It was a perfect fall afternoon here - cool but sunny, windy with a bright blue sky. We're in that space where Mother Nature straddles two seasons, where the leaves skitter by on the pavement while the orange Mexican sunflowers continue to bloom in my garden. It was cool enough tonight for a warming meal, and warm enough to grab handfuls of fresh herbs from the garden after walking the dog. 

If I were Italian, I could call these Nona's Meatballs. But, I come from a line of skinny German, Welsh, and Irish people, with a bit of Cherokee tossed in. Nonetheless, these are the best meatballs I've ever made, good enough to write down. 

For this recipe, I use my mini-food-processor several times. You can do this stuff by hand, of course, but I love that little food processor - I use it all the time to shortcut chopping onions, for example. A knife works fine too! 


Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

1 pack plain Melba toast (4-5 crackers)
a few sprigs each of fresh thyme, oregano, and basil 
1 small onion
4 small garlic cloves
grated Pecorino Romano
1 egg
1 pound ground beef 
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree 
1 28 ounce can tomato sauce 
1 pound spaghetti 

1. Toss the Melba toast into the mini-food-processor and pulse until crumby. Or, smash with a heavy rolling pin. If you don't want to do this, substitute bread crumbs (I didn't have any on hand, and found the Melba toast to be really delicious). 

2. Pull all of the leaves off the herbs and toss together in a small bowl. It's fine to leave the basil leaves whole for now. Using the mini-food-processor, finely chop the onion and garlic. Scoop out half of the onion/garlic mixture from the food processor and set aside in another bowl. Toss in half the whole fresh herbs, and pulse again to make a finely chopped mixture of deliciousness (garlic+onion+herbs). Set aside the leftover chopped onion/garlic and remaining whole herbs for the sauce. 

Put up a pot of salted water to boil. 

3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Then, stir in the garlic/onion/herb mixture, about half of the melba toast crumbs (or a little more) and a small handful of grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beef and smash it up with your hands until mixed. Meatball recipes always say "don't overmix!" and I have overlistened to this advice. Take it easy, but don't be afraid either. Divide into 16 or so evenly-sized meatballs. 

4. Heat a few Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Sautee the remaining chopped onion/garlic for a few minutes until fragrant, then add all of the crushed tomatoes in puree and about half the tomato sauce (or more, if you like it really saucy). Season with salt and pepper, tear up the remaining basil leaves, and toss the fresh herbs into the pasta. Totally fine if they are just torn up and uneven. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add meatballs, spoon sauce over, cover, and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through (10-15 minutes). Add a bit more of the tomato sauce if you feel like it needs it.

5. Cook the spaghetti while the meatballs are simmering. When all is ready, toss together, top with some more cheese, and enjoy! Tastes especially good when the kids ask for seconds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

light of my life

There are things in this life that can't be fathomed or understood or even truly seen until you experience them yourself. Swimming in the ocean, falling in love, eating a really great meal, biking a beautiful trail, losing a parent, having a baby. I remember being pregnant the first time, the first day I found out, lying in bed awake that night, terrified by the fact that somehow this baby would have to get out of my body. I devoured birth stories and information for the next nine months, only to have my own unique and completely unexpected (and amazingly beautiful) birth experience - unlike any I had read about. 

Then once you have the baby, you are completely unprepared for how you feel - the intense love, the terror, and the exhaustion. I cried that first week at every meal, thinking that my days of enjoying food without a crying infant in my arms were over. And as every parent knows, there is one comment you will hear over and over and over again once you are out in public with your new little one, your ticket into the parenthood club. "Enjoy it while you can, it goes by so fast!" is helpfully offered to you by every grocery store clerk, elderly man in church, and austere businesswoman on the street. Anyone whose child is at least a week older than yours will offer this advice.

Tonight, 6 years after I first entered the world of parenthood, blinking my eyes as I emerged from the darkness into bright light, while clutching my newborn babe to my chest, I can tell you this is absolutely true. It goes by in the blink of an eye. One day you're trying to get your worn out eyes to focus on the beautiful face of your newborn and the next you're struggling to carry her long, lanky body to bed. One day you're trying out rice cereal and the next day she's trying out make-up. You can't even imagine it until you see it for yourself, until you watch the way it all unfolds in the mere blink of an eye. 

I suspect though that we parents experience the lives of our children in this time-compressed way for a reason. It serves a physiological purpose, for sure - intense growth and development is a normal part of the life of babies of most (if not all) species. But maybe it happens this way to protect our hearts a little, too. There is so much intensity in this love, so much power in it, maybe we have to keep moving through it fast so as not be consumed entirely. Maybe the days have to burn past like rays of the sun so our hearts don't combust, don't catch fire like dry blades of grass. Maybe it's like running across hot coals, where you save your feet (a little) by going as fast as you can. It's just too much for any of us to handle, so we have to get it over fast - like ripping off a bandaid. 

It still hurts like hell, though. My heart breaks a little as I watch both of my kids grow so fast, feel there grip on my hand lessen just a bit each day. I hope I've done a good enough job. I hope I've savored it enough. I hope I've written about it enough and taken enough photographs. I hope I will always remember every detail of the day Dora was born, looking through photos of her birth and remembering what it felt like. I hope I'll always remember how, right before she was delivered, everything seemed to pause. I looked out the window and saw the afternoon sun glowing against the mountains, realizing that the world was still going on outside, even if it felt like time and space had stopped for my little, growing family. I hope I'll always remember the smell of the top of Oscar's head, or the way he sounds when he says "mama". I hope I'll still be happy when all of this is said and done, when the kids are grown and moved away. I hope I'll be the kind of mom they want to come home to, whose cooking they miss, who they call regularly without being reminded. 

I hope, most of all, that these babies know how much I love them. I tell them both every day, over and over and over again. But here's the thing about life - they won't know. They can't, not until they have babies of their own. When my mother died, I called the bookstore where she last worked to tell them. The man who answered the phone, the store manager, said, "you were the light of her life, you know?" I knew that then, but not really. I didn't really understand it, didn't really know what it meant, until August 4, 2007. That day, my heart broke open, and the light of my life arrived. 

Happy 6th birthday, beautiful girl, light of my life. I love you more than you can possibly understand for now.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

in a spring garden

This is the first year I've really felt good about my garden. Now, that being said, I have a few caveats. One is that I've enjoyed many, many small successes in gardening over the years: morning glories that took off at my apartment in Athens, Ohio; potted plants cheering many a front porch and entryway; a thriving peony transplanted from my dad's garden. I've got a few really hardy, flourishing lavender plants (my favorite herb), and my day lilies are pretty spectacular. The other caveat is that, though I'm pretty happy, we have a long way to go. We're reworking all of the landscaping right now, replanting the beds on the side of the house, and converting our backyard to sod and a fruit garden (it is currently gravel). The work appears to be endless. 

The difference this year is that I'm accepting that it's endless. If I do even one small gardening thing each day - even if its just deadheading something or making sure everything is watered - that's enough. All these years I've been frustrated and felt inadequate because I expected too much of myself, thought I'd have results and a full and productive garden in way less time than its taken.

There's a reason I've been so unrealistic. My mom was an exceptional gardener, and my dad still is. I grew up selling vegetables with them at the farmers market, way, way, WAY before selling at the farmers market was the cool thing to do. We sold tomatoes, beans, peppers, lettuce, herbs, and flowers, flowers, flowers. My mother grew many varieties, but some favorites were zinnias, snapdragons, globe amaranth, nicotiana, statice, cosmos, purple coneflower, sweet Annie. She would cut flowers Friday night and early Saturday morning, arranging them in old coffee cans and olive oil tins for sale at market. We would drive the flowers into town in crates in the back of our squeaky red and white Blazer, the whole car filled with the scent of plants, blooms, and earth.

With this as my backdrop, I thought I'd be a natural. After all, I literally grew up in the garden, eating raw green beans straight from the plant.

So when my first vegetable garden was an utter failure - choked with weeds, leggy and unproductive tomato plants, cucumbers and zucchini that cross-pollinated into a mushy, flavorless mess - I felt like I'd lost out, like some gardening gene that my mother surely had was lost in translation. Incidentally, her father was also a master gardener, champion roses still gracing the borders of homes he hasn't tended since well before his death 30 years ago.

Today, though, sitting in the shade, enjoying newly bloomed peonies, day lilies in full leaf, coriopsis covered in buds, I noticed Dora playing in the dirt. It struck me that perhaps gardening skill isn't what's inherited, but instead what we pass down is the desire to garden, the need to put our hands in the soil, the willingness to take a chance. It has never occurred to me before that my mother probably also had gardening failures, that there was probably also a time in her life when she wondered if Carl Brady's gardening prowess has skipped a generation. It was so freeing and forgiving for me to imagine that, to realize that perhaps there was a day, in a spring garden so many years ago, when my mom thought, "I feel good about the garden this year, finally".

It is so easy to see in ourselves only imperfection, while seeing in so many others all of the things we wish we could be and cannot. Consider this for a moment, though. In your chosen field, or in the field of your passions, imagine the master, the one you most admire, the one who appears to have it truly figured out. There was a time when they didn't know what they were doing either. Even the master was once the apprentice.

I don't know why this thought was so surprising to me, but it was. But what 's so great about it is not only that it allows me to forgive myself the garden failures, but it reminds me of my mother's humanity as well. And as I am finding now, as one whose mother has been gone for 8 years, those glimpses of her humanity are a precious and far too rare pathway to reconnection. If I can, for a moment, imagine us having the same shortcomings or uncertainties, then we are together again, even if for only a brief sliver of time. 

The new side garden will be planted soon - cleome, nicotiana, peonies - all things my mother grew. Dora and I will go out in the foggy morning to water our new plants, all of them stretching up to the heavens with spindly green arms and pink flowers. We will tend to them with gentleness and imperfection. We will spell out their names like memories.

Monday, May 6, 2013

on rejection

OK, I'm just gonna come right out and say it. I'm probably taking a risk here, dropping all that positivity we're supposed to exude in the cyber-world. But, here's the thing: I've been getting rejected a lot lately. I don't know what to make of it. It feels so bad. It feels like it could be a sign. It feels...like something I have to deal with, like something I have to figure out. It's like a rash, or a leaky faucet - there's got to be a reason this is happening, and I have to figure out why.

So, the other day, after receiving another "no" email, I posted something in a Facebook group I'm part of, and I asked people in the group what they do when it feels like the doors are closing. What do you take this as - a bump in the road, an obstacle I need to go around, or a sign I'm just on the wrong damn road?

Somewhere between eating a poorly thought-out lunch, ignoring a phone call, and texting with my husband about childcare logistics, it dawned on me. Here's what to do with the rejection. Put it out there. Write it out. Speak it. Just let it go. I mean, we've all seen those inspirational memes with portraits of Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan and Oprah and others, writing about how they got fired, rejected, thrown out. But how many times do you see the average, every day, "just like me" person say, "shit, I just got rejected again"? Well...never, I guess. Because somehow the experience of a regular Jane like myself isn't worth as much as Oprah's? Because little successes in the face of rejection aren't valued as much when from an average person as opposed to the richest woman in TV/guy in basketball/computer nerd? Because nobody has ever told the mortals among us that it's ok to be just that, mortals. Imperfect. Not always smiling and positive. And vulnerable, to the judgment of others, and to ourselves.

I have been trying desperately to find positivity in how things haven't been working out so well for me lately. For one, I have had more time with my kids and with Brian. The house is STILL a major mess, but not as bad. The garden still needs a ton of attention, but I've started this recycled brick edging project that's actually starting to look pretty cool. I've photographed some new and different things that I wouldn't have done otherwise if I'd had more of the jobs I've been seeking, and I've found I love it immensely. I've been there for friends who needed me. And, when my beloved Murphy was dying, I had space and time in my life to care for her, and my grieving daughter, and myself, which I would not have had if some of this rejection hadn't happened.

But I could only think about how rejection has it's positives for so long. The wonderful thing, and also the hard thing, about having little kids is that it forces you back to reality all the time. You can't sit around feeling sorry for yourself and wallow in the latest no. There are little hands to be held, meals to fix, boo-boos to kiss, homework to do. And usually being pulled back out of myself to tend to the needs of my children is, in fact, just what the doctor (or, in this case, the therapist) ordered. Because, though these tasks are great symbols of the mundaneity of life, they are also reminders of life's bottom line, love. To my children, I am perfect, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many dead ends, no matter how many no's. They love me, in their perfect, innocent, ideal, ferocious way. They see beyond my flaws, draw me with a big beaming smile surrounded by hearts, light up when I walk into the room. When there is a boo-boo to be kissed, or a meal to be made, I'm the right woman for the job. 

Part of what makes rejection so painful, at least for me, is that it feels so personal. This is particularly true, I think, when the part of you getting rejected is some creative outlet, some product that represents your vision of the world. It's that double whammy of both your work and your vision, YOU in the truest sense, being turned down. Beyond that, it only adds fuel to any fire of self-doubt already present within. When we're rejected by others, the negativity goes right from the words on the page, through your eyes, into your brain, and jumps into the pool with the other self-doubt party-goers, drinking martinis and doing cannonballs in the afternoon sun. It all gets mixed together, till we're swimming in our own uncertainty, surrounded with every negative sentiment ever directed our way. 

What if, though, instead of letting the pool party get totally out of control, we chose to set aside our own feelings of inadequacy for just a moment? What if instead we allowed ourselves to bask in the warm light of those who love us unconditionally, who see in us perfection (or, at least, lovable imperfection)? What if, when one door closed, the other door that opened let in the warmth and light of our partners, our pets, our friends, our families, our children? Instead of seeing ourselves through the eyes of those who tell us no, why not see ourselves through the eyes of those who would draw us with a big smile, surrounded by hearts?

If for no other reason, do it for those who love you like that. For me, I need to do it for my kids, to show them that turning towards the light is a possibility, to show them that love of oneself, even when things aren't going so well, is ok, is possible. I want them to love themselves as they love me, with innocence, without judgment, with warmth and perfection. I want them to bask in the light of their own love, as well as mine. 

If I can teach them that, then I really am the right woman for this job.

Friday, April 5, 2013

chaos and light


I wonder: do all parents of small children feel like their lives are out of control? Or is it just me? Or is it that we just had a really hard week, and today we had a hard day, and tonight I'm exhausted, the house is a mess, my worries are swirling around my head like bees, and I can't make bedtime happen fast enough? I mean - I have to work on my taxes, tonight, for God's sake, and that actually seems preferable to trying to bring this whirling dervish of a life under control. 

There are two things that make coexisting with young children so difficult. The first is that everything - and I seriously mean everything - is SO intense, dramatic, and extreme. It's not just that you experience a full range of emotions in one day (you do). It's that you experience the full range of human emotions in an hour (and sometimes less). Just this morning, I was telling a friend how good, how wonderful it is to have two kids. And it is, of course. And it is also basically impossible! By this evening I was trying to figure out how to get through the last hour of bedtime preparations without completely losing my mind.

Meanwhile, 90% (or maybe even more) of this extremely intense stuff happens in a vacuum. There are times when I guess this is a blessing - I mean, if you could've seen the simultaneous tantrums that went on today having to do with a (minor) injury from a broken piece of furniture followed by a cancelled trip to gymnastics due to car trouble, all while my husband was trying to get AAA to come out and deal with said car and I was making an attempt to write a business email....lets just say it wasn't pretty. But otherwise the fact that we often undergo the extremes of parenting completely on our own is pretty alienating, and only serves to intensify our feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity.

What forums are there for these moments of great parenting intensity to go from the private to the public sphere? Well, there's social media. Yay! What better way to increase our collective self-disrespect than to endlessly compare ourselves to an unrepresentative and overly positive sample of the population? In all seriousness, I love many things about social media - the new and old connections, the ease of sharing creative expressions that are so meaningful to me like photography, writing, and cooking, and the hybrid public/private sphere it creates where it's (usually) acceptable to share even very intimate details. A week ago today, as I bid tearful goodbye to my beloved dog Murphy, I was able to reach out to a broad and loving community who surrounded my family with warmth and prayer, in a way that previously would have been cumbersome at best, and most likely impossible. But I also know that the propensity - at least within myself - to teeter on the edge of the abyss via ongoing social media comparisons is a dangerous one. True community - in it's most pure form - lifts up and supports, without simply being a space where one's impeccably decorated home/smiling children/baked cake can be compared.

Social media criticism aside, out in the real world, parenting is still often an oh-so-lonely adventure. When you see a mother with a young child melting down at the grocery store or elsewhere, you sympathize, you smile kindly, you might even offer a word of encouragement or more to help out. But, in the end, if its not your kid melting down, well...it's not your kid melting down. I realize this is counter to the whole "it takes a village" concept (which I wholeheartedly believe!) - but who's kidding who here? When it's someone else's kid, there just isn't the angst and anguish you feel when it's yours. It doesn't diminish your empathy, but deep inside you're just thankful it isn't your kid lying on the floor of Earthfare while you try to wrest the opened box of bunnies away from him (not that I know this from experience or anything). 

One good thing about parenting being intense and primal and occurring in, essentially, a dark cave full of sharp rocks, is that the tiniest pinprick of light can often illuminate even the most out-of-control day. At the end of this crazy day I have had, the tantrums were over, dinner was eaten, baths were given, and I put my kids to bed with love. I nursed Oscar to sleep, kissed his slightly damp, clean hair, and laid him down in his crib on his tummy. I snuggled on the couch with Dora to read a few books. After she was asleep, I looked through her school binder. Her report card shows her excelling in Art. She brought home a sweet drawing of "Princess Dora" with "I love mom" written at the bottom. Her teachers sent home 4 "good behavior" notes from the past semester, when she got "star student" stickers for good behavior. One of them says, "cleaned up whole classroom without being asked".  She might have had a wicked-bad temper tantrum earlier today, but guess what? We must be doing something right. She's navigating being 5-years-old, and most of the time she's doing wonderfully and being a sweet, empathetic, funny, and loving little girl. 

Maybe the whole point is that it's supposed to be messy and out-of-control. Maybe the point is that we all need to have the moments of complete chaos and mess against which to compare the moments of light and beauty. It's like needing Lent to prepare for Easter - we need time for contemplation, chaos, winter, darkness, caves full of sharp rocks. Otherwise we'd run right past those Bradford Pears and Weeping Cherries breaking into blossom without even noticing. Food never tasted so good as the first time you're really feeling hungry after an illness. The sun never felt so warm on your face as it does on the first real day of spring. 

And the next time it's cloudy and cold, and I'm feeling all alone in that dark cave full of sharp rocks, I just have to remember that everyone feels that out-of-control now and then. There are other parents (and people) there in the cave, too. It's just SO dark in there, you can't tell there's anyone else there, until that little pinprick of light sneaks in and illuminates the whole place, all of us squinting our eyes and feeling the new warmth of sun on our faces.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

my little dog

My little dog - a heartbeat at my feet. --Edith Wharton

I keep looking for her, thinking I see her out of the corner of my eye. I keep listening for the sound of her nails clicking on the hardwood floor, of her sighs as she settles down into her bed to rest. I keep waiting for her to walk over and curl up at my feet as I sit at the computer and type or edit photos, as she has done night after night for (nearly) as long as I can remember. I baked buttermilk biscuits yesterday, and one fell off the pan when I pulled them out of the oven. I waited for her to swoop in, eat it up, wolfing it down with steam curling up around her whiskers. 

But she isn't here. And she never will be again. 

What is left? A little bag of fur I've been collecting all week, hoping to craft it into some memory of her that's more fitting than a hairball. Memories. Lots of them. And photos. Many, many photos. I am so thankful right now for my love of photography, so thankful that I have spent years documenting every little thing we did. I am so very thankful that a friend suggested I take some photos of her before she died - and that I asked my husband to take some photos of us together. I didn't want to - the house was a mess, my hair was a mess, I'm out of contacts and was wearing my glasses. The kids were barely dressed - Dora was wearing hand-me-down SpiderMan underwear (for boys) and Oscar was wearing a t-shirt and a diaper. The blanket Murphy was lying on had stains on it. But I am now so in love with these photos of our goodbye, so thankful to have them. I will cherish them forever, cherish the memory of how much we loved her, and how much love we showed her and each other even at the very end. 


Murphy came to me so long ago, 16 years ago (give or take). I was single, just returned from studying photography abroad in Scotland. I was about to leave for a photojournalism internship in Michigan. I didn't have any children. In fact, though I knew I wanted to be a parent someday, children were less than a twinkle in my eye. She was one of my first three pets that were mine exclusively (though that would eventually change), and my first dog that I adopted myself, that I chose and took home and made my very own. I had loved and lost countless dogs (and cats, donkeys, hamsters, and bunnies) as a child. But this was my first dog aquired and loved as an "adult". 


She lived with me in a tiny one-room studio in downtown Athens, in a two-bedroom college apartment on the campus of WMU when I worked nights at the Kalamazoo Gazette as a photography intern. She lived with me in a farm house on Vore Ridge Road, where my housemate would get up in the middle of the night and paint the toilet pink, or smoke from a bong made from a teapot. She lived with me at my parent's house, when lack of money or failed relationships sent me home once again. She lived with me in my little house on Lorene Avenue, first with two wonderful roommates, and then with a guy who turned out to love animals as much as I do. She came to the party we had after I married that same guy, snuggling with us on the couch in our formal clothes. 

She actually played a part in picking said husband. Early in our relationship, we went for a hike at Strouds Run. I brought Murphy along, having long ago decided that pets are excellent at helping make decisions about which people to keep in our lives. Not only did they hit it off instantly, when we sat by the edge of the trail about halfway through the hike, my future husband stroked the ears of my little dog and said, "she has the softest ears I've ever petted." He said later he knew then that he wanted to marry me, in part because he just loved my dog so much. 

She slept on my bed - usually under the covers, spooning with me, with her head on my pillow - for years. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep with my face buried in her yellowish-red fur, terrified or sad or just lost, with only the love of my dog (and my two cats) to carry me through. She went on every trip with me, and the one time she did not (our honeymoon), we spent all our time in the car repeatedly looking into the back-seat, forgetting she wasn't there with us. 

She was imperfect, too. She hated kids (except for mine - she tolerated them). She once barked fiercely at an old woman crossing the street with a walker. She terrorized patrons at our yard sales if they didn't suit her taste (meaning basically everyone but us). She and my female cat had an interesting relationship. She loved to clean out the cat box. She got car sick, and always found a way to throw up in the most inconvenient place possible (i.e. down into the gearshift, or into the little slots on either side of the parking brake). She adored rolling in something dead, preferably something old, dried out, and intensely stinky - like a flattened, caramelized frog carcass or a fragment of garbage. She loved to kill innocent little things, including baby birds, moles, and crabs at the beach (earning her the nickname "crab-killer"). In her younger years she rolled over onto her back and peed with excitement when someone new entered the room, or when we came home from work or school. Then she would wag her tail, splashing pee around. She even did this once when being examined by a well-to-do canine orthopedic surgeon, who had the audacity to examine dogs wearing an expensive shirt and tie. We showed him.

I loved her though, intensely, and she loved me back just the same. She was my perfect, loyal, short, blond, beagle-barking, table-scraps-eating, loving, ever-present companion. My life will never be the same without her, but it was (and is) better for having had her in it. 

I love you with my whole heart, Sergeant Murphy, and I shall see you again one day. I shall never forget your cuddles, your unending love for me, your excited frenzies in the backyard, your soft, sweet ears. My love for you goes on and on, and I'll be holding you in my heart forever. Thank you for giving me more than I ever could have given you. Rest in Peace, Murphy girl. 

Visit me in my dreams.