In loving memory . . .

IMG_1639 On June 10, 2015 Bear “Puppy Chow” Haley passed away peacefully, surrounded by people she loved. She was twelve-years-old in human years, but around ninety in dog years.

Bear was born on July 1, 2002 in Flora Vista, New Mexico to a Blue Heeler and a Beagle. Her parents were unable to take care of a litter of five puppies, so Bear and her siblings were put up for adoption when they were two months old.

Though her first three siblings quickly found homes, the days came and went, and Bear still waited. That’s when Jason and Laura Haley came into her life, welcoming her into the family she would be part of for the remainder of her nearly thirteen years on this earth.

Bear developed an early taste for fashion, with a particular affinity for Laura’s shoes. She also loved the written word, once attempting to devour a hardback copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE in a single day.

Though she never graduated from obedience school (despite her parents’ regular threats to send her there), Bear knew every trick in the book. Except stay. And heel. Oh, and she wasn’t very good at drop it. And she only came when wanted to. Other than that, she quickly learned shake, roll over, play dead, and speak. She could also count to ten. She loved food, walks, food, playing fetch, food, her people and mostly food. She hated fireworks and swimming. And cats.

As she got older, Bear settled into a routine with her family. She loved to hike and camp, and her family always slept better knowing Bear was on guard. She enjoyed the company of other dogs, as long as they went home when she was done playing.

Bear eventually welcomed several siblings into her home: two human children named Vince and Shelby who she loved dearly. She was less welcoming of her canine sibling Kona, and her feline sibling, Sprocket. In fact, she probably would have eaten them given the opportunity.

For most of her life, Bear held down several careers, including, but not limited to guard dog, river dog, obnoxious dog panting and whining in the back seat because she hated car rides, cat and rabbit chaser, lizard de-tailer, and eater of all things, even broccoli, but especially New York strip steaks that were left on the floor by unexpecting grandparents.

During her last few years, after a leg injury received while bravely defending her backyard from the yappy dog on the other side of the privacy fence, she slowed down, taking up residence mostly as a doormat, and an obstacle to trip over in the kitchen. She remained an eater of all things until her final days.

After a brief illness, compounded with severe arthritis, Bear’s family made the painful decision to let her go. Her last few days of life were full of laughter, love and plenty of tears. In fitting style, Bear’s final meal consisted of ice cream and waffles.

Bear is survived by her human parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and siblings, as well as Kona and Sprocket. She was preceded in death by dozens of squeaky toys, countless plastic bottles, several pairs of shoes, and a couch that she swore had a squeaker buried somewhere deep within its stuffing.

Bear will be greatly missed by all who knew her. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to your local animal shelter. Or better yet, go take a dog for a walk.

We love you Bear. And you will never be far from our thoughts.

Knowing When to Say Good-bye

I’ve often heard that the hardest part of having a pet is saying good-bye. Dogs and cats become part of our families. Part of our lives. Yet they have tragically short life spans, and all too often, we are forced to say good-bye to those animals that have worked their way into the deepest, softest parts of our hearts.

And while saying good-bye is awful, in some ways, knowing when it’s time to say it, having to make that decision, can be much, much more difficult.

My husband and I got Bear when she was only eleven weeks old. We had both had dogs while growing up, but she was the first dog to join us in our new lives as a family. After receiving word from our landlord that we were cleared to have a dog, we both played hookie from our college classes and set out to find the perfect dog for us.

We spent the entire day on the hunt, visiting multiple animal shelters. We were about to give up when we came across an ad for Beagle/Blue Heeler mix puppies. My husband had his mind set on a beagle, so we called the number in the ad. The puppies were nearly fifty miles away, in a town we’d already visited once that day. But we jumped back into the car and made the drive anyway. An hour later, we were dog owners.

Bear's first night home

As young — and admittedly naive — college students, we made our share of mistakes when it came to raising a puppy. She chewed up more than one pen, leaving the carpets of our rented apartment spotted with black and neon pink. She chewed up several pairs of shoes. Always mine, and always only one from each pair. And on what was probably her worst day, she chewed up a newly released, hardback copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE.

But despite the hiccups, Bear grew into an amazing dog. She loved to play fetch and go hiking. She learned tricks as quickly as we could teach them. And when we brought our firstborn son into our home, she watched over him, made him laugh, and cleaned up his messes.

It’s been twelve years since Bear came into our lives, and sadly, the time is coming when she will have to leave us. As we get closer to her thirteenth birthday, her arthritis gets worse and worse. We’ve known for some time that her days are numbered, but it’s a hard decision to make.

Last summer, Bear tore her ACL. She was never quite the same. Her hips have gotten weak, and she falls down frequently. But she is otherwise healthy and there are days where I still see a flash of the puppy she used to be. Days like this morning, when she rolled onto her side, and playfully tried to grab my hand as I brushed her. While I don’t want her to suffer, I also don’t want to take her from this world before she is ready to go.

I’ve spent a lot of days and nights lying awake, and I’ve already shed gallons of tears in anticipation of losing Bear. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m crying now as I write this, while she sleeps peacefully at my feet. All I can hope is that when that day comes, when she reaches the point that it’s harder to be here with us than to be without us, we will recognize it for what it is. And we will be strong enough to let her go.

Bear and our new puppy Kona

Black and White

I have a new short story for everyone today. Check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

Black and White

The dress. It was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. The dress that my sister and mom had picked out for me. The one they’d spent hours squabbling over. I didn’t care. I would have shown up to the church in rags if they’d let me, but they wouldn’t have that. So that overpriced dress had been hanging in my bedroom for the last two days waiting for its turn.

There was nothing wrong with the dress in theory. It was beautiful. Maybe even elegant. But I had a feeling that once I put it on, I would never truly take it off. It would graft itself to my skin. My life. It would become part of who I was, and who I always would be. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

When the shriek of the alarm filled my quiet bedroom, I rolled over and willed it into silence with the press of a button. I hadn’t been sleeping. Wasn’t sure I’d slept at all. How could I? My stomach was a writhing mass of nerves. A live electric wire.

I crawled out of bed and headed into the kitchen. My mom and sister were already there. The smell of coffee permeated the house. But it wasn’t Brian’s. Mom had brought her own. She smiled at me, her eyes shining. She tried to convince me to eat, but I just shook my head. Not now. Maybe later. She furrowed her brow, but didn’t argue.

My mom and sister insisted on doing my hair and makeup. They wanted to pamper me. I wanted to escape. But I let them. While they tried to tease my matted rats nest into something beautiful, I closed my eyes and started checking items off the list. Flowers: check. Music: check. Priest: check.

I tried to picture Brian in the suit I’d picked out for him. I’d chosen black. He looked amazing in black. With a royal blue tie that he loved because it brought out his eyes. I wondered if he was already wearing it.

Then it was time. I headed back to my bedroom where my mom and sister helped me pull down the dress and climb into it. Their incessant chatter was giving me a headache. I could have done this alone, but they’d flown a thousand miles to be there with me. So I kept my mouth shut and let myself disappear into the deep folds of fabric.

We headed out front to wait for the car to pick us up. It pulled up to the driveway, and my dad opened the door. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready. I knew everyone expected me to be there, but it was too much. That damn dress was making it hard to breathe. I bent over, trying to catch my breath, the electric wire in my stomach shocking everything it touched.

My parents crouched beside me whispering encouragement, but I couldn’t move. What if I just didn’t go? What if I tore the dress off and ran away? Never looked back? People would understand, wouldn’t they? 

But Brian deserved better than that.

“We’re going to be late,” Mom whispered, her voice urgent. She didn’t want to push. Didn’t want to scare me away. But we couldn’t be late.

I finally stood up, carefully wiping tears from my eyes, and Dad helped me climb into the back of the long, black car.

The church was already full when we arrived. Brian was at the front. Waiting. But the tie was wrong. Where was the one I had picked? Where was the royal blue tie? I took a deep shuddering breath. It didn’t matter what tie he had on. The blue one wasn’t going to make this any easier.

Dad took one of my arms; his touch soft and comforting. He offered a small smile, that flitted across his lips so quickly I wondered if I’d imagined it. Unrecognized tears sparkled in his eyes. I’d never seen my father cry.

He opened his mouth to say something, and my breath caught. It hung open for a moment, the words hiding inside a cavernous abyss. Then he snapped it shut and patted my hand. Sometimes silence was better than words.

He walked me through the door into the church. Everyone fell silent, twisting in their pews to get a glimpse of me. Women were already dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. The familiar strains of a string quartet followed my halting steps to the spot where Brian was waiting.

The priest smiled gently at me, but Brian’s face was fixed. As still as stone. I placed the single rose I’d brought beside him in the casket. “Til death do us part,” I whispered, a tear tracing its way down my cheek.

First Time

After talking with an online writing group, I was inspired to try my hand at a short story, something I haven’t done since I was in college. And those were terrible. So here is the result of my first short story attempt in a decade.

*Trigger Warning*

Potentially abusive, explicit sexual content.

The First Time

Janie lowered herself onto the thin, lumpy pieces of fabric that served as a mattress and wondered how the hell anyone ever slept on these things. Her back was straight, and her hands were folded tightly in her lap. Fear nibbled at the back of her brain. She shouldn’t have sneaked out of the house. If her parents found out, she’d be grounded until she died. But it was worth it to see him.

Gage sat down next to her, smiling. “I missed you.”

Her heart ached. “I missed you too.” It had been almost a week since his dad had grounded him for being five minutes late for curfew. It was so unfair. She leaned into him, kissing him. The pressure of his lips on hers made her heart race. She never wanted it to end, but she couldn’t ignore the way her hands were shaking.

“You okay?” Gage asked. He threaded his fingers through her hair, then ran his thumbs lightly along her cheeks.

Janie nodded. She couldn’t tell him she was nervous. She knew what he wanted. Why she was there. But she wasn’t sure she was ready.

Gage’s mouth found hers again, and suddenly he was pushing her down onto the mattress. Caught up in the moment, Janie let his hands explore her skin, touching places that had never felt a stranger’s touch. His mouth broke away as he moved lower, trailing kisses down her neck and along her collarbone.

He pulled her shirt down, moving lower until his tongue was touching her nipple. She sat up, nearly knocking him backward.

“Jesus Janie. What the hell?”

“I’m sorry. I just . . .” What was she supposed to say? She’d told him dozens of times that she wasn’t ready. She loved him. She wanted him. But she wanted to wait. She was too young.

“Did I do something wrong?”

A nervous feeling rumbled in her stomach. “No. Of course not. I’m just scared.”

He leaned in close so that his lips were right beside her ear. “You don’t have to be scared. I would never hurt you.”

But she was. She was scared that if he kept pushing, she’d give in.

She pushed herself off the mattress and paced the floor of the small cabin that stood at the edge of the property Gage’s family owned. The floorboards squeaked under her feet, and moonlight shone through the dirty windows. It was the only light they had, making everything blend into hues of blue. And purple. And black.

She bent down and looked out the window. There were no lights on in any of the houses.

“I should go home.”

“C’mon Janie. Don’t be like that.”

She turned to look at him. There was just enough light to make out the way his lips turned down. The creases in his forehead. She’d upset him.

“I’m sorry.”

He stood up and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her in that one spot on her neck that always drove her crazy.

“If you don’t want to, we won’t. Okay? I’m sorry. I just got caught up.”

She nodded, chewing on her lip. He’d gotten caught up a lot recently. It was her fault though. “It’s okay.”

He tugged her hand so she was sitting beside him on the mattress again. His kisses deepened, increasing in speed and intensity. “Let’s take our pants off.”

“I don’t think . . .”

“I won’t let anything happen. I just want to feel your skin against mine.”

A lump formed in her throat making it impossible to say anything, but she nodded. It didn’t matter. He was already tugging at the button of her jeans, sliding them down her legs. Then he was straddling her again, kissing her.

A shock ran through her as his thickening bulge pushed against her, only separated by a few thin layers of cotton. Despite her nerves, a part of her was almost proud that her body, with her thick thighs, her unnaturally pale skin, and her face covered in acne, was able to make him respond like that.

“I want you Janie. I want to be your first.” His voice was a low, guttural growl

Her lip trembled. “I want that too, but I don’t think . . .”

“It’ll be okay. I promise.” Janie didn’t respond. “Please baby. I want you so bad.” He hesitated. “I love you.”

Her breath caught in her throat. She loved him too. She loved him in a way she had never known existed until that moment, but . . .

“Let’s just try. If you change your mind, we can stop. For me?”

She nodded her head, just enough for him to see. Then they were lying next to each other naked. Janie shivered and tried to cover her chest with her arms.

“You’re so beautiful,” he told her, and some of the fear ebbed away.

“Be gentle.”

“I will.” He moved over her, forcing his way between her legs that she couldn’t seem to move. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, but she inhaled sharply when she felt him press against her.

“Stop.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Maybe he didn’t hear her because he kept pushing, and pain radiated through her body. “It hurts. Please stop.”

“It only hurts at first. Once it’s in, it won’t be as bad.” She didn’t want it to stop hurting because it was in. She wanted it to stop.

Before she could say anything, he pushed forward one more time. And that was it. There was nothing left to fight for. She took a shuddering breath and bit her lip, waiting for it to be over.

When Gage was done, he rolled over and kissed her tenderly. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It hurt.” The area between Janie’s legs was throbbing. Why did anyone ever do that? It had been miserable.

“It won’t hurt as much next time. I promise.”

Next time? She hadn’t even had a chance to process this one. How was she supposed to think about next time?

Gage yawned, stretching his arms up high. Then he gathered up his clothes. “I’ve gotta get to work early. I should probably head in.”

Janie wanted to say no. To tell him they needed to talk. To say she didn’t want to be alone. “Okay.”

He kissed her goodbye and headed into the house where his parents were sleeping. Janie walked alone across the open field, her head hanging, her hands shoved deep in her pockets. There were no streetlights. Just the moon and the stars shining down to light her way.

It’ll be okay, Janie told herself, trying to ignore the pain. He loves me. We’ll always be together. The night air was filled with the sound of a thousand crickets laughing.