Birthdays and dogs: Missing Emma

Today, as I turn 23, I am musing on dogs. Of course.

My dog obsession has reached nearly unsustainable levels. Just ask my sweet, patient husband. I talk about dogs all the time. I dream about them. Dogs are the first and last thing on my mind every day. It’s embarrassing and bordering on psychological mania, but I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. (My boss, a fellow dog enthusiast, and I talked about it and mutually agreed that it would be in our company’s best interests if they blocked PetFinder for both of us.) We can’t have dogs in our current apartment and we’ve committed to living here until May 2012. I may not make it that long, but I am going to undergo a Year of Patience and Character-Building while I wait for my own dog.

I think a lot about our childhood dog, Emma. I picked her out of the litter, around my birthday, and I was responsible for choosing the breed (Australian Shepherd). We loved her a lot, but we also didn’t give her everything she needed. I have regrets. I was young and I didn’t give her enough attention. I also underestimated an Aussie’s need to have a job. I was too busy being 15 and worrying about boys and stuff. Her barking and herding were natural expressions of her breed heritage, but we saw these traits as nuisances and weren’t caring enough to give her appropriate channels for her energy. When we moved to our new house, my parents gave her away to family friends who lived on a farm. Emma, however, was allowed run around unchecked and was soon killed by a truck she was chasing. I wish she were still alive so I could re-adopt her now. In many ways, she was an exceptional dog. Her intelligence was remarkable and I still subjectively believe I haven’t seen a more beautiful dog in my life. She deserved better, and today, I just want her back.

So, please excuse me while I mull over my regrets and tear up at the last remaining pictures I have of her. I know. I have a problem. But look at her face! My sweet, crazy birthday dog.

Emma as a puppy.
Kelsey and Emma at our grandparent's house.
Sam and Emma were primarily family rivals for the position of the youngest child.
Dad was responsible for undoing all of the obedience training I had done with her.
She was really terrible about riding in the car. She started drooling and foaming and we had to give her Dramamine.
She was very happy, though.
Pride Week.
She did love family camping trips.
I always felt like she was one step ahead of me.
I named her Emma after the Austen novel. They were both unbelievably pretty and arrogant.
On squirrel patrol. Miss you, Em.

OK. Done with the self-indulgence. But I do miss her often. Anyone have any tips on how to stave off dog mania? I can’t keep living like this. Just ask Guion.

On my grandfather and grapefruit

A grapefruit I ate back in 2008, I think.

In my universe, there is nothing quite like a perfect grapefruit. I had one yesterday at lunch and was rushed to a very specific–and yet seemingly random–prayer for a person: my paternal grandfather.

I have only seen him a few times in my life. Papa John now lives in Indianapolis with his third wife. He suffers from rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s. Despite only having seen him a dozen or so times, the recollection of his voice is very clear to me. Recalling the mischievous twinkle in his eyes is not difficult, because I see it so often in my own father’s eyes.

Since I was young, I have always reflected upon what a strange thing it is to be a stranger to your own grandfather. He knows my name, but I imagine he does not even know that anymore. He is the man of mystery, the significant relative cloaked in shadow. He never called, never wrote. We had to trek out to the bleak and yet beautiful landscape of Indiana countryside if we wanted to see him at all.

Most of what I know about Papa John is wrapped up in late-night fables from Dad about his mythical childhood in the Midwest. I know that he owned a small airport in a great big field. I know that he was a bodybuilder, a used car salesman with a weakness for younger women. I know that he was probably a difficult father to have, and yet I have never doubted the love my father had for him when he spoke about Papa John. And I know that he loved grapefruit.

I have loved grapefruit since I was a child and I will always remember the morning that Dad told me one simple fact: “Your Papa John loved grapefruit, too. He ate it all the time.” I was young and I clung to this one fact about my distant grandfather. It was the only connection I had with him: We both loved grapefruit.

Since then, I think of him whenever I eat it. I don’t ever put sugar on it, just like him. I eat it with an impatient eagerness. (Mrs. Whitman knew of my love for grapefruit and she gave me a beautiful set of silver grapefruit spoons when I was only 16. She told me to save them for when I got married, but I used them anyway). So, I keep eating grapefruit and thinking of him. I wonder how he is and I say a short prayer right before a jet of grapefruit juice shoots me in the eye.

The landscape of my father's childhood: Ladoga, Indiana

Themes in tears

Humility time!

Today, I am thinking about crying, but not because I am sad. I’m thinking about crying on a purely objective, philosophical, memory-induced basis. In the quieter hours of the day, I’ve been replaying the still shots from the many times I’ve cried in front of strangers. Yes. In front of strangers. Many times.

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that while I might not cry that often, I cry VERY easily. I’ve often tried to reassure myself that it’s only because I am an incredibly well-balanced person emotionally (crying releases stress and toxins. I love this line from that article: “Emotional tears are common among people who see Bambi’s mother die or who suffer personal losses.” No kidding!).

But, honestly, I think it’s just because I hate being wrong. The common theme in my ridiculous flow of tears has to do with reprimand from figures in authority. Being the eldest child and homeschooled means that I can probably count on my fingers the number of times an adult was angry with me as a child; I lived to be the good girl, the front-row student, the teacher’s pet. In other words, I was the type of little girl that Guion hated in elementary school.

I still have a visceral memory of the first time a teacher rebuked me in front of a class. I was probably 8 or 9, and attending ballet class at Miss Vicki’s (which was a bunch of pink girls running in circles and trying to learn the positions). We were rehearsing some flower dance for our upcoming performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” and I spent my time during the rehearsal telling all of my fellow ballerinas what they were doing wrong. Finally, Miss Vicki had had it with me, and brought our merry little circle to a grinding halt. “ABBY. IF YOU TELL SOMEONE WHAT TO DO ONE MORE TIME, YOU ARE GOING HOME.” I fell apart. I started sobbing–weeping, like I would have done if someone had killed my sweet velvet-eared bunny in front of me. I sat in a corner for the rest of the lesson and was inconsolable, even when Mom came to get me. I don’t think I spoke for the duration of the year in that class. I was stone-faced during our actual performance, terrified into submission.

More recently? I’m not a wilted ballerina anymore, but I still cry at really stupid, inopportune moments when I’m in the wrong, such as in…

… News editing class. My professor stood over my chair and yelled at me for opening a file in the wrong directory. Tears welled up in my eyes, but did not actually fall. I looked upward and hoped that they would seep back into my eyeballs and that my classmates would not notice.

… The Denver Post newsroom. I missed a misspelling of the Chinese province (the “x” and the “i” were swapped) where the earthquakes during the summer of 2009 were wreaking havoc. My editing mentor caught it and yelled at me for missing something so elementary and critical. I listened to him, corrected my error, and then went into the bathroom and cried silently with my hand over my mouth. But it was midnight, and I missed Guion, so it might have been for other things, too.

… The Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Guion and I were going to get our marriage license. We were in the wrong building, and had to go through this intense security scan. My camera was in my purse, as it usually is, and the police officer grumbled at me to take it out and told me I could not reenter the building. Commence tears! Guion fixed it, though.

… The Charlottesville DMV. We barely made it there in time to get my new license and change my name, and then when we get to the counter, I realize I don’t have the proper paperwork to prove that we live in Charlottesville. The lady at the counter considers this as she’s holding my hand, admiring my wedding and engagement rings. She even called a coworker over to look at them. Meanwhile, I start to well up. Guion comes to the rescue again and dashes home to get the paperwork, and she decides to give me a ticket to wait anyway. I think the only reason she let me through was out of pity, and admiration for Mary Windley’s rings. Many thanks, Grandmother Tillman! I knew I could count on you.

… Our car, listening to NPR. OK, so this time I wasn’t in the wrong. But I cried yesterday in the car listening to this story about Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about inner-city kids trying to get into charter schools. The interviewer recounts this scene in the film about Daisy, the Los Angeles 5th-grader, going to the charter school lottery with her dad. Her dad tells her to cross her fingers, because he has a good feeling about it, and Daisy sits there for two hours, tightly crossing her fingers, hoping and praying for her future. I LOST IT.

Hope this post made you feel better about yourself. At least you’re not as pathetic as I am! But, that’s the way it is.

What about you? Do you cry? If so, why? If not, why?

(Also, according to this poll, one in five Americans believe Obama is a cactus.)