We Don't Deserve Dogs

basstribute.jpg

IMG_2895.jpg

There is never enough time. It doesn’t matter if it’s 87 years, 94 years, 38 years, or six. I have lost loved ones at all of these ages.

Sebastian came into my life when I had just lost my very first dog who was solely mine, Max. Max was a rescue and was a great dog to have around Dakota when he was toddler. He was protective, loving, and regal. I lost him to cancer. I begged him to guide me to another dog when the time was right, and I found my Bassy a week later.

I had no idea at the time how much I would come to depend on him. I had no idea the devastation that was ahead of me and how his spirit would sustain me when my world was pitch black. He always knew how I felt and what I needed.

I discovered early on that he had Epilepsy. I felt assured when the vet told me this was common in full blood Labradors and that it could be maintained with daily medication. And it did just that, for a long time. Every month or so, he would have one but we could manage them.

But on the Sunday of the week he passed, he was having grand mal seizures in rapid succession. Dakota and I rushed him to the veterinary ER and he was admitted and the plan was to put him on a strong I.V. drip of Phenobarbital and Kepra in an attempt to break the cycle. I went to sleep that night missing him but believing he would be okay because we’d had to do this before.

But it didn’t work this time, and he had suffered severe brain damage from the seizures. As with Max, I laid with him while he crossed over, telling him in his ear how much I love him.

Everyone tells me I’m strong, but I certainly don’t always feel that’s true. There are days when I can barely manage to stand up, and losing Bassy who had essentially become my therapy dog, was yet another crippling loss in the past three years.

Again, I asked Bassy to guide me to another dog who needed me and who could help me cope with losing him. Rescuing a dog after losing one is absolutely not an attempt to replace the passed dog. When I got Max, I needed his youthful exuberance to help me be a mama to little Dakota; when I got Bassy I initially needed him to mend my broken heart and then that turned into an even deeper connection as he nurtured and loved me through the loss of Amanda, and my cancer diagnosis.

And now, Finn is here. Finny. A Border Collie/Hound mix rescued from the SPCA, he is calm and grounding, lovable and funny. He shows me that Bassy is here with me still by giving me his paw, standing by the door in the same posture Bassy used when he had to go outside, and his eyes, his eyes. He has Bassy’s eyes. He is so content and is right by my side at all times. I’m so glad we found one another. I am so grateful for all three of my boys.

Bassy, you were the canine love of my life. I will miss you forever. I miss your Frito feet, how you’d bark like a maniac at the church-goers, how you would give me the best hugs whenever I asked for them, how you would stay in bed with me all day if I couldn’t manage to face anything, how you guarded our family with your ferocious exuberance, how you would hold my hand while we slept, our morning cuddles, your precious heart, your pure soul. I will never get over you. You will never be replaced. Wait for me.

wedding bells and memories

I was so delighted to be Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding this past Sunday. It was such a beautifully perfect day and I could not love her husband and his family and her family more. Everyone is so unique, kind, and lovable. 

When I arrived at the venue, I had an odd feeling and I couldn't figure out why. I stepped outside and walked around and when I saw the gazebo, my heart stopped. We were at the same exact location where my best friend Amanda had gotten married, nineteen years ago. I was her Maid of Honor, as well, and nothing about the landscape had changed. I was instantly thrust back into my twenty-one year-old self, walking slowly down the same stone path to join her and thinking to myself how we were both way too young to be doing any of this. Her toddler son, my first nephew, Pierce, squirmed and squealed and grinned during the ceremony. 

The realization that I was Maid of Honor twice, to two best friends, nineteen years apart, in the exact same spot, hit me like a punch in the face. As most of you know I lost my Amanda in 2016 and not a day goes by that I don't talk to her, think about her, ache with missing her.

I managed to keep myself together and focus on my Kristie and the joy of the day. Since my diagnosis, I strive and work as hard as possible to live in the moment. It's as easy as it sounds, ha. 

I have a small altar in my sitting room, aka my zen room. On it is a tiny photo of my nana hugging Amanda at her wedding. I got Kristie and Deb into the exact same spot and made a close replica of that image.

 

mygirls.jpg

I didn't get it exactly, but it's close enough, and the spot where they are both standing is exactly the same. And now as I edit this I am just now noticing that Amanda wore a flower crown, and I too wore a flower crown for Kristie's wedding. I literally did not even put that together until typing this just now.

Believe in what you will. I believe my Amanda is with me always. I believe she was there with me giving me the strength to stand up in front of a large group and declare my love for my Kristie pie. 

Some friends and family members have asked me to give them a copy of the speech I wrote for the wedding (which is so humbling and amazing and I am glad they were touched), so I am including that here:

I met Kristie ten years ago when both of our sons, Dakota and Liam, went to Wise Owl Preschool. I would watch her walking every day with little Quinn in a stroller when she would drop off Liam. Our boys became friends over a fight for a toy truck. Kristie and I would make small talk at the school and I instantly liked her, but it wasn’t until our boys were in first grade that we really became friends.

Coincidentally enough, we both signed up for a program called Picture Person which involved us coming to our boys’ class (they were in the same first grade class) and talking to them about a specific artist and then doing a project with them in the style of that artist. When we both showed up at the same time, we joked about how we had chosen the same volunteer role and we were excited to work together with the kids. 

The first time I went to Kristie’s house, I couldn’t believe how alike we truly were.  Looking around, I saw my own style staring back at me.  We even had several of the exact same pillows, lamps, frames, and blankets, and this is something that would only grow stronger over the next ten years; we often find that we have purchased the same dress, or pottery, or even panties! We joked that we were almost like a singular unit, and that became our name for each other: Singular Unit, only we abbreviate to just SU or “Sue.” 

As our boys became best friends, so did we. Kristie and I are both empaths and we intuitively know when one of us needs the other. She is notorious for leaving love tokens on my porch; some freshly baked cookies, a candle, her famous homemade soup, sometimes even lip gloss and panties from Target. We give each other handmade cards, finish each other’s sentences, and raise our boys to know that we are family because the foundation of love that we share is the essence of all families. 

We have been a flicker of light for each other in our darkest moments. There are no secrets and no veils, only a sense of relief and joy that we have found one another to share our lives and our loves. We laugh until our abs ache, we can cry and wipe away each other’s snot and sadness, we can cuddle and giggle, jump up and down like happy children, make spontaneous trips to IKEA or flea markets, or just sit together in silence. 

Kristie is one of the most intelligent, capable, and driven women I’ve ever known. When life hands her something hard, she uses it to build something stronger. She parents her children with grace and ease, and I love that we are second mamas to our own flock. She never ceases to amaze me with how much she gives to her family and friends, her career, her dogs, and to the world as a whole.

Kristie is also the most supportive friend a woman could ever hope to have. I’m a photographer and one day years ago she took me to see a Herb Ritts (very prominent black and white film portrait artist) photo exhibit at the Cincy Art Museum. I was staring in awe at one of the black and white portraits when she came up next to me, laid her head on my shoulder and after several minutes, whispered, “You can do that.” I’ll never forget that moment. Her belief in me and her steadfast love keep my heart beating.

Hers was the last face I saw before I went into life-saving brain surgery. Her hand only left mine because they pulled my stretcher away and into the operating room.  She would spend days in my hospital bed with me, and we would color, and we would talk, and in those moments I felt a peace and a strong belief that I have way more to do in this life before I go.

One of my favorite movies reminds me so much of our friendship.  It’s called Frances Ha and I want to share a quote from it here that I have always associated with my girl, my Kristie pie, my SU.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes…but not because you’re possessive, but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

That is what we have, and I am so, SO happy that Chris and his family are here and part of our family. I knew immediately when I met him that he would hold my girl’s heart with only the gentlest of hands. He has shown me and my family so much love and support in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as an SU-in-law. I know that their love will endure all struggles and challenges that life throws at them.

In closing, to my Kristie, a poem by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

175A0848.jpg

baby elephant walk | meeting mai thai

Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for elephants. They were my Nana's favorite animal, so as I was growing up I came to also revere their gentle, majestic beauty. I was able to take a short ride on one at a wildlife park near Lake Erie when I was about eleven, and I ended up writing about that experience years later, as it didn't fully register with me emotionally as I was so young. I never thought I would get the chance to be near one of them again.

Fast forward to my 40th birthday a few weeks ago and Deb tells me she has a surprise planned for me on the 23rd. She had managed to keep it quiet since February, and I had no idea what was to happen.

Yesterday, we had a behind the scenes elephant encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! It was like being in a dream. When Mai Thai entered the room, all the wind had been knocked out of me. I got to give her a shower, scrub her with soap, rinse her off, throw some treats to her, pet her ears, and scratch and pet her sides. I took photos but not as many as you would think, as I really just wanted to be in the moment.

She also made a painting for me. Now, I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding this as this is a practice in other countries where they beat and abuse the elephants in order to force them to make detailed, specific paintings for tourists. That is horrific, and I in no way support that, of course. But Mai Thai has been taught, along with basic commands like raising her feet so they can groom her, to take a paint brush from them, wrap her trunk around it, and "paint" onto a canvas. She is not harmed or forced in any way, and she just rubs the brush all over the canvas. They had me choose two colors for this, and I picked blue and yellow. I felt at peace with this as being behind the scenes it is obvious how much these animals are loved, well cared for, and respected. Mai Thai's humans are very humbled to be her caregivers.

I got to spend nearly two hours with her, but it felt like two minutes. At one point, she "kissed" my shoe twice with her trunk. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around her and hug her, but I wasn't allowed to, unfortunately. Just being by her side was enough, though.

Like the elephants and their razor sharp memories, I too will never forget.

 

Mai Thai © jennifer summer 2018

Mai Thai creating my painting | © jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

forty

I had a wonderful 40th birthday. That number used to terrify me, but when you're thrust into facing your own mortality, it becomes a goal and a thing of beauty. I spent quality time with those I love the most, and it was a perfect transition from my thirties. I've loved every age so far, and I still feel twenty (who is actually in charge here?). 

One of my birthday gifts was a reading with a medium at the Psychic Festival the first weekend in April. This was a gift from my very kind stepfather and he also included a reiki session which I've never had, and was wonderful. I'm so grateful.

I am usually hesitant to share publicly about my experiences with those on the other side, because I have many people in my life who firmly deny an afterlife, which I respect. But my experiences have proven otherwise for me, personally.

The person I have always wanted to reach out to in the past for readings was Nana. She was the closest person to me that I had lost during those visits. Now my Amanda is gone, and I wanted to "speak" to her more than anything.

I had my reading done by Rev. Marjorie Rivera, a fellow cancer survivor. I always come to these tables with high amounts of skepticism and a bit of an attitude, even though every reading I've had has been astonishingly accurate. I also give them no information to go on; if they're connected to the other side, they should know why I'm there.

The session began with Rev. Marjorie telling me that an older woman - classy, elegant, a grandmother figure - was immediately trying to come through but a younger person was gently taking her aside and telling her that she needed to talk to me more. Rev. Marjorie told me this person had passed young, and I slightly nodded, still not wanting to give up any information. She said it was sudden. She said, "Tell me about all these tattoos," and, "She's been answering you when you ask, and she knows what's going on with you." And then I couldn't hold back the tears any longer.

She told me she was standing beside me, a pink aura, and that she rarely leaves me unless she is spending time with her children. I told her that the "answering when I ask" was in reference to a few weeks ago when I cried and begged her to give me signs and a photo frame fell over in the middle of the night, a book literally "jumped" off my bookshelf, and a drawer was open when I came home that was definitely not when I left. All these things happened in the same room of my house, the place where I cried and yelled for her to come back, just come back. Rev. Marjorie said, "She's laughing and said she's sorry if that scared you, but she wanted you to know she heard you."

I wear her ring almost every day. Now, the Psychic Festival has many vendors and there are literally thousands upon thousands of pieces of turquoise jewelry. At one point while Rev. Marjorie was talking, I started fiddling with Amanda's ring and she said, "Amanda says stop messing with my ring and pay attention." If Rev. Marjorie was not entirely sure that was Amanda's ring I doubt she would have taken the chance of saying that since I literally could have just purchased it, even if it just reminded me of Amanda. But Amanda told her point blank that it was her ring. Everything she told me was spot on and brought me more comfort than I've felt since I lost my precious girl.

For my birthday, Deb gave me Nana's favorite ring. She was never not wearing it, even if we were just going to a drive-thru. I've always adored its retro clunkiness and it is monetarily valuable, but I don't care about that. She used to let my co-workers try it on when I was a server, and once she was trying to impress someone and didn't realize she had a giant glob of mashed potatoes on the ring. Deb had the stone cleaned and the band dipped in sterling. I adore it so much and I feel empowered and peaceful when I'm wearing them both. I feel their strength from beyond, and that belief is enough to sustain my heart.

 

loverings.jpg

swimming free

So, this post is going to be quite the bummer.

Last Sunday, my mother helped me clean out my fish aquarium. I noticed that my filter was not working, like, at all, so I needed to go buy a new one. I got that and I also got the bottle of stuff you're supposed to put in the tank if you're starting out with a brand new aquarium and you want to add the fish the same day.

We cleaned it out really well, not with any cleansers, but just hot water and paper towels. I cleaned all their little houses and trees and statues, put the new water in, put in fresh gravel, made sure the temperature was right, and then put the fish back inside. We then left the house because Mom and Mike were driving back home, and I had to go back to the pet store because I had bought the wrong size replacement filter.

When I got back, both of my beautiful fish, AnaÏs and Henry, were dead, floating on top of the water like wilted lotus flowers. I screamed and sobbed and kept yelling, "Why? Why? Why?" (Kind of like Nancy Kerrigan did, but this is no time for jokes, dammit). I was truly devastated. I called Deb and was sobbing so hard I could barely get the words out, so she just rushed over. I took some photos of them and cried all over them and kissed them and made them a little casket. 

We went back to the pet store and told them what happened and they said the problem was that I had removed all the bacteria and the cleanliness was too much of a shock on their system. I just kept crying and crying, feeling like the horrific fish murderer I am.

They told me to let the filter run for a week and then the tank would be ready for fish again. June (my sucker fish) survived because they are apparently the cockroaches of the fish world and would survive a nuclear attack.

Anaïs and Henry brought me so much joy, calmness, and beauty. I am so sorry that my ignorance caused their demise. I hope they forgive me. I love you, beauties.

 

Anaïs (top) and Henry | April 15, 2018

daggles

 

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children. - Kahlil Gibran

all images © jennifer summer | 2015

all images © jennifer summer | 2015