Jenny’s World

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6 a.m.

Time to rouse my mistress.

She’s been stirring around long enough this morning — teasing me twice by getting out of bed to go do her business. Enough is enough! I’m hungry.

Pouncing on her belly, I stride across her breast, and lick her face. A slight wince, an irritated groan, aaand she wakes. Mission accomplished.

She lumbers down the stairs, slowly sloughing off the night’s slumber. I’ve come to realize breakfast is always better after she ingests her daily dose of caffeine. Without it, she’s liable to forget to top my kibble with a healthy dollop of yogurt. Why humans need liquid stimulants to jumpstart their morning is lost on me. Isn’t sunshine and the promise of a good day’s frolic enough? But I need me some probiotics (I can be quite the flatulent pooch without them), so I can’t begrudge her cup of coffee.

Eating makes me drowsy, hence my quick nap on her lap. She watches the morning shows. I heard her tell her human friends she is striving to shed a few pounds. I’m guessing she can’t just simply shake them off like last season’s winter coat. Sounds like a loathsome process judging by the excuses she spouts. Hope she doesn’t lose too many. Her squishy thighs make a comfy pillow.

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8:30 rolls around — walk time!! I chase my tail to demonstrate how excited I am to go outside. Deftly catching it, I perform the aerial whirly jig that makes her giggle. It’s gratifying to see her smile.

She has to brush her teeth first. Apparently, humans don’t like to broadcast what they have just eaten. I think it proves they are well-fed, but there’s no stopping her. It’s challenging to be patient when she takes so long to primp. I snatch a sock she left on the bathroom floor and skedaddle up and down the stairs. Come on already!

At long last, she grabs the harness. I’m frisky with anticipation. Doing my best to move things along, I try to thread my paws through the loops just like I’ve seen her don her human clothes. But I can barely contain my composure, zigging when she zags. It takes forever!

Out the door we go. I enjoy walking my person, tugging at the leash so she will quicken her step. Her mother hopes she will meet a nice male human on these excursions. Don’t think that will happen though; I bark at almost anyone passing by— whatever their species. They need to keep away. I covet all her attention.

I lift my leg like a boy when I urinate. No princess squats for me. With a whiz and a kick I declare, “This bitch has been here!”

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Thankfully, my mistress doesn’t attempt to dress me up like a doll. The only clothing for me is my yellow rain slicker. With el Nino and all, it’s good to be prepared. Most of the time, I am au natural. I’d hate it if she puffed my fur like one of those teddy bear Pomeranians. You’re a dog, not a stuffed child’s toy. Own your canine self!

My lineage is maltipoo, one of the older, more established designer breeds. My kind were cultivating their human companions long before nouveau breeds like the labradoodle and puggle came along.

After 30 minutes, we return. I’m all tuckered out and make a beeline for my water bowl. When she was feeling especially ill, our outings were 15 minutes — tops — before she began panting more than me. I think she endeavors to make our walks longer. I’m going to have to start building up my endurance.

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Sometimes my mistress leaves for while — sometimes almost the entire day. I don’t like being left alone, but I try to make the best of it. She counts on me to stay on guard to protect our domicile. When she returns, I do my customary hippy hop dance greeting. She says I prance like a circus dog. Then, I present her with every toy in my bucket. More often than not, I can guilt her into playing with me.

When I’m feeling a little aggressive, I like to play with the tug o’ war rope. I grimace and growl as my human yanks it side-to-side and tries wrangling it from my vicious grip. Most of the time, she fails, because I am just that powerful. My mistress even growls back at me. She’s cool like that.

The little yellow tennis ball is my favorite. If thrown properly, I can catch it high in the air. That’s my primo trick. Usually, it bounces across the floor and I must scamper quickly to get it before it rolls under the ottoman. Ugh! Then I have to wait for her to retrieve it. She is not always prompt and I need to whine and bark for her to come. Patience isn’t my virtue.

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My human has littered two misters. They are off “getting their education” the majority of the time. Honestly, I don’t know what you need to learn besides don’t poop where you eat and what’s the best spot in the house to sneak a snooze. I’m only permitted in their rooms when they are home. Still looking out for a chance to investigate behind those forbidden doors.

Occasionally, I can tell my mistress is unsettled, heartsick even. I think she is pining for her lost mate. I’ve seen him in photographs, but he hasn’t been back to the house since before I was adopted. He must not have been microchipped or maybe he has gone to forever sleep.

On her troublesome days, I’ll catch her sobbing in the shower. Hefty people tears slither down her face and harmonize with the faucet’s cascade. Thankfully, these episodes are becoming less frequent. Other days, she’ll weep gently as we watch TV. Drip drops of sorrow plop on my back and curl my fur before she caresses them away. She’s especially melancholy after the misters leave. I do my best to cheer her up. Snuggling seems to distract her from her distress. If she scratches under my chin, I gaze back at her with tender eyes that telegraph my devotion.

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6:00 p.m. Dinner time! WooHoo! I know better than to beg for people scraps, so by this time, I’d consume the fuzz off my tennis ball. Sometimes, I get a midday treat for sitting up like a proper lady. I can also cajole a spoonful of peanut butter from my mistress if I play the cuteness card.

Periodically, my human will entertain some of her female friends. They slurp colored drinks out of clear, slender-stemmed glasses and laugh. Munching on assorted nibbles and treats, they discuss their litters and the things that occur beyond our neighborhood. Once in a while, they plot to find a mate for my mistress. This again! As long as he realizes that I take priority in her affections, I might agree to it.

A while later, we take a brief jaunt outside so I can drain my bladder before bed. Our abode has a little patio, but no grass. My human knows I will only relieve myself on concrete when highly necessary. She calls me a prima donna. What can I say? A girl has to have certain standards.

Once abed, I nestle up in the crook of her legs and drift off to sleep. I dream about chasing the neighbor’s cat, bacon, and peeing on the cable guy’s ladder. I don’t know what my mistress’ dreams are about. I hope they include me.

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My Bucket List of Gratitude

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I’m creating my own kind of bucket list. Not the usual listing of things I wish to do before I leave this earth, but an accounting of the gracious drops of kindness that have filled my pail to the brim. Whether the contribution was a single drip from an eyedropper or gallons upon gallons of generosity, all have buoyed my soul, washed away hours of pain, and carried me through turbulent trials.

And so I have decided to make a conscious effort to recognize these not-so-random acts. Some were as temporary as the morning dew, but equaling as cooling. Others have been like IVs, injecting nourishment continually. A few were summer storms: electrifying, powerful, and brief. Whether their perpetrators knew it or not, each and every one made a significant impact. They quenched my drought in spirit and left me flooded with gratitude.


Item Number 1: Clean House – Warm Heart

My first story takes place when I was a young mother of two toddlers: Albert, age two-and-a-half and Nicholas, just past one. Our family of four was living in Washington State, about 1,000 miles away from most of our family in Southern California. In the 18 months since we had moved there, we had entered into a lovely circle of friends. We were in the early stages of a close, tight-knit relationship. Only time would tell if the stitches would unravel or interweave for a lifetime.

Albert had become very sick with what seemed to be the flu. We soon learned his rapid decline was due to Type 1 diabetes (T1D). He was initially admitted to the hospital for 10 days. Within 24 hours of returning home, he acquired the stomach flu again – a very dangerous situation for any T1D let alone a newly-diagnosed toddler. He returned to the hospital for nearly another week to get him stabilized.

During both hospital stays, my husband, Matt, and I took turns sleeping by Albert’s side. We would both spend our days there, alternating who would remain with him at night and who would go home to take care of Nicholas. Thankfully, one of our friends offered to watch Nicholas while we were at the hospital. Her youngest daughter was his same age and they were like two peas in a pod. While we were learning the perils of over or under dosing insulin, our younger son was enjoying an extended play date.

Needless to say, Matt and I were frazzled. Lack of sleep and worry were leaching away our composure. Fear shrieked through our minds as we relearned how to care for our first-born child. Not to mention we had a one-year-old confused by the prolonged absence of his parents. And the house – oh the house! It was one more thing not receiving a clean bill of health. Gazing at this noise and confusion was only ramping up my anxiety. I felt utterly inadequate and completely unable to do anything about it.

In between hospital visits, another member of our group dropped by to bring us dinner and see how we were doing. This particular friend was the meticulous one in our circle. You know the type – the person whose home is pristine – spic and span – downright gleaming. No dust bunny is ever allowed to propagate in her abode. You’d think the envy would evolve to hate, but it never does, because she is just that nice and charming.

When she arrived, I was perched among piles of laundry that hoarded every square inch of my sofa. Additional mounds of clothing engulfed my feet. Mortified, I shoved the heaps aside so she could sit alongside me. We chitchatted. She asked if there was anything else she could do. What little was left of my mental capabilities silently screamed: PLEASE – HELP ME CLEAN MY HOUSE!!! Still, I was appalled by the vision of her viewing the expanding black rings crowning my toilet bowls. “No, but thank you. We’re doing OK,” I lied.

She didn’t let on, but she didn’t believe a word I said.

The second hospital stay re-initiated the child care round robin. One morning, when Matt dropped off Nicholas, our babysitting friend asked him for a key to our house. “In case Nicholas needs some extra diapers,” she explained. Not realizing that I would be humiliated if anyone saw just how wretched a pigsty we were living in, he handed it over readily. The moment he left, our group commenced their latest escapade of kindness.

Up to this point in this particular trial, I hadn’t really cried. To me, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Honestly, I was afraid if I started I would lose any ability to function. So, I corked my tears and kept going.

It was my turn to stay home with Nicholas. The moment I unlocked the door, I knew something was amiss. Instead of the dirt and mildew aroma that usually wafted a greeting, I was welcomed by the delicate scent of pine sol. The disheveled cache of clothing was neatly sorted and folded. The soiled apparel that had overflowed every bedroom hamper was now Downy-fresh and stacked alongside. Everything sparkled – including the toilets! Right in the middle of my kitchen table was a vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. I took one look at that arrangement, collapsed to the floor, and sobbed.

That moment of release is forever tattooed in my memory. It is the point in time I cling to when I am overwhelmed; when I suppose I am alone. Without waiting for me to ask, my friends sensed what I needed and went into action. They saw through my desperate bravado. They cut through the grime and the grit of the situation. By cleaning my house, they wiped away part of the chaos and polished my sanity. I am forever and for all eternity, grateful.

Fairy Tale Restoration: Pondering my Compulsion to Write

She waited a little longer than usual to ask the question:

“Are you… OK?”

The question was laden with parental concern. She desperately wanted to understand, to help. But the hurts were not for a mother’s hug and kiss to fix.

It happens each time I publish a story. The first time it was almost immediate, accusatory. How could I leave her out of my recovery process? Why couldn’t I confide in her? I recognized the maternal urgency to enact a quick remedy.

Garnering the courage to publish was excruciating, but the words played through my thoughts on an endless loop. Like relentless children pestering their mother for attention, they wouldn’t cease until I acknowledged them.

The night before I posted my first story, I tossed and turned with apprehension and nausea. What if it was received with disdain? Thought of as hackneyed? What if no one read it at all?

The expected troupe of friends and family gave their accolades. When it comes to my writing, they view me through a thick lens of empathy and thus their assessment is skewed. But then there were the recommendations of strangers, known only by their avatars. Each one is intensely validating and rehabilitative. I wonder if they recognize their curative powers.

I find it easier to reveal my troubles through the written word, rather than face-to-face. The blank page reflects what I tell it and nothing more. People, on the other hand, are compassionate; their faces exhibit the emotional nerve ignited when you disclose your troubles. I end up comforting their distress and stifling my own. Every countenance is permanently lithographed into my memory.

I’m selfish and spent. I can’t take those faces anymore.

And so I made the leap. My first two pieces did fairly well, but the third burst through thanks to a tweet from Medium. Still in twitter infancy, I was enthralled by the endless streams of alerts in my inbox. It was the closest I’ve come to viral and I was burning with fever. I checked and rechecked the Referrers page to investigate where my readers (MY READERS!) were coming from: Sweden, Zimbabwe, Australia, Greece. I was punch drunk by the global locales. To be honest, I keep a list of every country on my desk. It’s becoming dogeared and smudged, but to me it’s the Stanley Cup.

I’ve now become dually addicted to self-expression and avatar validation. The necessity to quench both has made me manic. It’s a fair trade for lament, I suppose. But there are colorful strands of addiction and mental illness in my family pattern that have me worried. Like snags in a delicate fabric, will tugging at my threads smooth out the imperfection? Or cause the entire cloth to unravel? Perhaps I should just snip it away. Or will that enlarge the defect?

Are my words simply letting off steam or producing a tidal wave of angst that will eventually drag me back to the abyss? I only know that the gratification of writing is a soothing balm for the aches in my persona. Personal transcription has become my cerebral masseuse—easing the tensions of turmoil.

Is the euphoria of writing only a temporary placation? Should I really care? Putting pen to paper (or text to screen) has given me a separate identity. I’m not regarded as a mother, a daughter, a friend—a widow. To the avatar collective, I am a writer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

At the risk of being repetitive, I have referred to my rediscovered enthusiasm in prior posts. I’m like a new convert, attempting to explain an indescribable fervor. Can you comprehend the magnitude of release? Can you feel its vibration? Some will never truly understand unless they experience the turbulence of a life-altering upheaval. I hope no one will reach that level of chaos — or the resulting compulsion to expel their clusterfuck of emotions. A few are already there.

Sometimes, I feel my collection of essays resemble an episode of Concentration. I choose which fragments of my personality to expose, and contestants (Readers? Family? Friends? Me?) unlock the secrets of my identity by deciphering the revealed rebus puzzle. Other times, I liken them to squares on a Rubik’s Cube – continually manipulating the segments of my life in search of a pattern. As a teen, I became frustrated with the length of time it took to unscramble the toy. Impatient for perfection, I removed the jumbled stickers, replacing them back in their “proper” location. It initially looked appealing, but soon the colors began to peel and drop off. My cheating had only led to temporary symmetry.

With each written piece, I leach out a bit of the distress that grieves my soul. It is the paint for my self-portraits. Some still life — some abstract — an occasional cartoon. Many have been benevolently curated and displayed alongside other personal canvases in an internet gallery of human emotion. I feel unworthy to be included among such masterpieces and fear the moment when I might be discovered and discarded.

I wonder if I will ever be able to honestly answer my mother’s question. She wanted the happily ever after for her daughter. She still does. It’s just different now. The magic mirror reflecting an unspoiled fairy tale has shattered, but the shards are slowly coming back into place. The emerging mosaic is creating its own rhyme, a new reason. Some of the pieces still shimmer and sparkle. Others are clouded and chipped. A few are gone forever, leaving a hypnotically black void that I must be careful not to gaze into for too long.

My story is still unfinished; the so-called perfect ending may or may not be composed. For now, my writing grants me permission to wail, bitch, laugh, ponder, and cry through my heart’s discontent. It coerces me to chronicle the chapters of my spirit — the episodes of my humanity.

Staying silent just doesn’t work anymore.


Originally published @Medium.com

Beware the Locksmith: A Tale from Home Security

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I opened the door for the locksmith. Possibly mid-sixties. Lint-colored spirals protruding out from under his snapped-brimmed cap. Trach tube in his neck. He inhaled deeply and put a finger to his esophagus. “I’m here to open your safe,” he garbled. Self-satisfied with benevolence, I allowed him into my home.

Graciously, I introduced to him my twenty-year-old son on the couch. We approached the staircase and the locksmith remarked, “You don’t look old enough to have a son that age.” The ease of which the comment slipped from his throat led me to believe this was his customary compliment, burnished to a glassy slipperiness from years of smooth talking. My kindheartedness was now mixed with a marginal depression over my apparent elderly allure. Arm candy at the senior center was not how I pictured my reentry into the dating realm.

The locksmith and I continued up the stairs, through my bedroom, and into the closet to my safe. He assessed my vain attempt at security and slowly revealed his tools. They were wrapped in a leather pouch, similar to a set of chef’s knives. “Why don’t you sit down beside me?” he asked. I obliged, anticipating the innocuous gestures of a man penetrating senile territory. He took another copious breath and plugged the medicinal hole in his gullet.“Are you single?” he inquired. His lack of conventionality was unexpected. Men customarily demonstrate their exceptional endowments and household worth as a prelude to the courtship dance: “See how virile I am? I just fixed your dishwasher, painted your bathroom, laid a floor! Any pipes needing unclogging?” His presentation of implements reminded me of the dentist in “Marathon Man.

“Is this the safe?” he rasped, startling me. I said yes and explained I had lost the key and needed it opened. The locksmith probed about my marital status once more and I announced I was widowed. He mumbled with mock empathy that I was too young to be alone and needed to enjoy the companionship of men. The tone of his guttural cajoling unnerved me and episodes hoarded in the alcoves of my memory flooded in: The trip when I was twelve, alone on a Greyhound bus and the oily man sat beside me, trapping me by the window. He left his hand on my thigh for the entire ninety-minute ride as he queried me with calm eeriness. The incident that happened in my early twenties as I strolled alone down a residential side street. A gentleman in a parked car asked for directions and I naively strode over to answer. He was midway through his jack off.

Treading through my rip current of alarm, I informed the locksmith I wasn’t ready to date and the conversation was making me uncomfortable. He put forth a counterfeit apology. The safe had yet to be inspected.

When he finally displayed his expertise and cracked the safe, I requested a pair of keys. He went outside to get the supplementary mechanisms needed to craft the small devices. “I could take him,” I calculated. He’s slighter than me and obviously unwell. Plus, my college athlete son was just in the next room. Weapons, however, would alter the dynamic. Channeling my finest Olivia Benson, I peered out my door to commit his van to memory: boxy, white, plain, no markings. Archetypal abduction vehicle.

I contemplated the consequences of ending the service at that moment, weighing the acceptable balance of necessity to trepidation. The imprudent desire to have my valuables secure tipped the scales. We proceeded upstairs once more, taking my son with us.

My unsuspecting child and I reviewed the contents of the safe while the locksmith crafted the keys. My son later confessed he thought I requested his company to protect our family fortune: birth certificates, jewelry, spare cash and his father’s most precious baseball cards. He still viewed me with elementary innocence and wasn’t accustomed to observing his mother fend off suitors. The keys were completed without further incident and we escorted the locksmith down the stairs.

He went out to his utility van to get the invoice. “What was the price I was willing to pay to secure his departure?” I wondered. He reentered, presented the bill for his indecorous service, and asked to see me again. I marveled that he could completely disregard the stench of anxiety spewing from my every pore. Or maybe he perceived it as a pheromone? “Ballsy,” I silently diagnosed and then expounded once more that I wasn’t inclined to begin dating. He continued the inquisition undaunted, requesting a favorable Yelp review. “Absolutely no f’n’ way,” I pronounced privately. I informed the locksmith I would. The gentleman relentlessly advanced his offensive surge as I compensated him for my afternoon of apprehension: “Can I call you in a couple weeks? Will you be ready then?”

The trembling surfaced as I secured the door.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com