Just like that my house smells like dog again.
I brought him home from the orphanage on the first day of my last week of cancer radiation treatments. It was an added sixth week of radiation, thrown in at the last minute. They called it a “boost.” But I was already right at the edge of my ability to bear it, and a boost, I thought, could quite possible become a “push” right over the precipice into a very dark hole. And so, just like that, I decided it was time to adopt another dog. more “Just like that.”
The terror comes undeniably and entirely from within myself.
There is no pain during the radiation treatments for my cancer. No stinging sharpness, no thundering jolts, no stifling enclosures. I’m even allowed to listen to music that I choose, and a nearby fan creates a soft breeze across my body. Everyone is polite and compassionate.
But I am excrusiatingly claustrophobic. And the room is dark and hard-metal grey. And I must lie perfectly still, completly alone, on the stiff and narrow, unforgiving table, with my feet sometimes bound together.
And there is – for my particular treatment – a specially fitted mask fastened very, very tightly across my face and head. It is made of a hard wire mesh that has been shaped to encase my face exactly. The technicians have kindly cut slits in it across my mouth and eyelids and throat. Yet it is utterly unmoving when attached to the end of the table, holding my head perfectly immobile – critical for the radiation to be focused with absolute precision on the place to be healed.
I understand. My intellect understands. But my terror still overwhelms me. It fills my body with ice and lead; it bleeds and blanches into my head and heart and arms and legs and belly and back with a surging desire to plead for it to stop, to lash out, to run. more “Tying terror into knots.”
It was the first morning after my cancer diagnosis. It rather intrigues me how we tend to say “my cancer,” as if we are claiming it personally, rather than “the flu” or “a cold,” which we happily share with the universe. Cancer is personal.
It was that first morning, not quite a month ago now. Still early. Quiet. No traffic. Not even any dog-walkers in sight. Nothing to remind me that the world itself had not changed. But my place in it had shifted significantly. more “The grace of yellow gladiolus.”
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau
There is a reason I sleep in one particular bedroom throughout the warm-weather months. The bed in that room is level with two old side-by-side oversized windows that take up most of one wall, and it is so near their threshold as to be almost touching them. With the windows wide open, it’s rather like sleeping outdoors. Stars are visible from my pillow. Trees and night creatures rustle and whisper small secrets. Old roses lean against the screens. The night itself literally breathes across me, scented with lavender plants and damp moss.
I have been purposely and purposefully living primarily with open-wide widows instead of air conditioning – although I do use overhead fans with abandon in every room. I think I started to do this in an effort to live more “green” as well as more cost-efficiently. But what I discovered was the hidden joy of living in season. Not just with the seasons … but in them.
more “Living in Season”
Looking back on it, I rather suspect that when I signed the animal shelter adoption papers for Quincy the dog on that cold December day in 2017, Quincy would have viewed it more as a “pre-nup” – or a sort of roommate agreement. From the day we found each other until the day we said goodbye a few weeks ago, Quincy always believed it was all about the relationship.
Perhaps it’s because I live without any other human beings. Or that Q. and I went through the Covid shut-down together. Or perhaps because he was already eight years old when we met. But, to him, that relationship dynamic was one of absolute commitment … and one of absolute equality. Not long into it, even I had to admit that it had evolved into a bond where we repeatedly experienced embarrassingly human “old-married-couple” syndrome. A sort of dependent independence. more “Quincy: The relationship.”
I think I have Egyptian feet. Although my sister says we’re mostly Scottish. And Irish. And she ought to know; she’s the one who took the DNA test. But my feet certainly look Egyptian to me – according to the old, strange, highly unscientific, theory and drawings developed back in the 1800s to define one’s genealogy and ancestry by foot shape. So perhaps the top part of me is Scottish, and my feet were just left on their own to seek out a shape that was comfortable, with toes that aligned whichever way they wanted.
There were actual charts produced back then to example this theory of foot genealogy – with up to a dozen categories of shapes, and hand-sketched examples for comparison. The first outline on the chart was of an “Egyptian” right foot, and it looks very much like my own. And yet, farther down the chart, the drawing of the “Celtic” foot looks nothing like mine. Interestingly, I also found some personal similarities with the “African” foot. And the “Norwegian.” And possibly the “Greek.” more “When we were barefoot in the woods.”
There was no doubt about it. The bees were staring at me. Looking at me straight in the face. Half a dozen of them at least. Hovering – as bees do – like tiny fuzzy helicopters.
They maintained a respectful distance, maybe 10 inches or so away. Not threatening, but definitely trying to get my attention. Moving as I moved. Turning as I turned. Focused on my face and eyes. Watching me, telling me … something.
I had just started to fill up an old cement birdbath in my front yard with fresh water. Its current level was low, not much more than a small puddle of leftover rain. And it took me a minute to even notice: But there, lined up side-by-side, all along its crusty cement-rough edges, was a neat row of small yellow bees, drinking. Or at least they were trying to drink. Until I and my big splashy hose began disrupting everything, stirring things up, flooding the basin, slooshing them over the edge.
And thus the bees sought out my face … staring at me … communicating with me. Asking me to notice them, please. Asking me to pay attention, please. Asking me to stop and just come into their moment with them, if I would be so kind. more “Bees in my birdbath.”
Quincy the dog is an avid puddle walker. He’ll purposely cross a street or double back down a road just to take advantage of every puddle possibility. He values all sizes and depths, in all seasons and weather, regardless of time of day or temperature. He splashes and slooshes and glides his feet along their bottoms. And then he holds his ears straight out from his head and grins up at me for the pure joy of it. It fills my own heart with a sense of joy just to watch him.
Not long ago, heavy rains had left behind great pools of fresh invitations for him. But the spring pollen had thickened the compelling puddles, clouding their surfaces like heavy cream in cold coffee. And yet Quincy never hesitated to slide through them all the same – perhaps with extra care and lingering. And with his slow, deliberate steps, the pollen broke apart and altered its sluggish, clinging nature and released its hold on the water. I watched, with fascination, his subtle yet undeniable impact on the puddle – and it stirred within me random thoughts and suppositions, just as it stirred the pollen within the water.
more “Please DO disturb.”
Jolene likes warm summer rain, being read to under a tree in the shade, old movies, slow dancing, soft dog noses, and good conversation. Perhaps I ought to tell you that Jolene is a potted plant. But a potted plant with a definite personality.
Jolene was a gift to me from a human friend. It was about a year ago. The human friend did not know that I have never been very good with raising potted plants. And Jolene is a succulent. A plant that confounds me even more than usual. more “Consider Jolene.”
“Secondhand books are wild books, homeless books; they have a charm which domesticated volumes lack.” – Virginia Woolf
Wild books, homeless books, charming books … used books are the best sort of books, I think. I even tend to judge a town or place by the quality of its used book stores. And this morning, I began to suspect that Quincy the dog may have a similar type of cataloging for local corners and walking paths. more “Dog corners and secondhand bookstores.”