I struggle with professionalism.

I really do.

And now that I’m an “adult” and am “living my life” in a state of “self-guided independence,” I feel like my lack of professionalism is coming to a head. It’s boiling over like a hot pot waiting for spaghetti.

I don’t know why I’m so bad at being professional. As is the case for nearly everything wrong with me, it’s probably because of the way I was raised (Just kidding, Mom and Dad. I love you. You did great.). 

My parents were very loving. Almost too loving? Their love smothered us like syrup on hotcakes. It just kind of melted into the fabric of our being and made my brother and I sweeter, richer, heavier, sloppier people. Because of that, because of their ebullient and unending warmth, we’re both terrible adults. We are like children trapped in adult bodies. Help. Let us out. It smells in here.

After twenty-seven years, I still haven’t learned how to not wear my heart on my sleeve. I still can’t quite stop dreaming out loud or being stupidly optimistic or wanting things to be good and safe and warm for everybody everywhere at all times. The very adult game of politics, even after all these years, is still totally foreign to me. I’ve never once won. Ever. I don’t even know the rules. Whose team am I playing on, anyway? How is that guy over there winning?

I find political correctness nauseating. I find dishonesty disgusting. I think fake smiles are the ugliest most heinous thing to exist on earth, even more despicable than shower spiders and nutria – and those are just awful, terrible, terrible creatures. Here, I’ll show you:

Image(Image courtesy markmaynard.com.)

I tell people the truth when they ask me. Even when they ask “How are you today?” or “Are you upset with me?” My fear of conflict overpowers my intimacy whoring most of the time: if people don’t ask me how I’m feeling, I don’t fold; but when they do, I become a total confessional, an empathic piñata who spills its contents with just a few gentle pokes.

Living life without pretention and with an unceasing heart has its perks.

I am happier than many people I know. I am not a bystander in my life. I have very rewarding and rich relationships. I am aware of my feelings and I express them with as much propriety as I can muster.

But there are so many downfalls to life this way.

First and foremost is my arch-nemesis, professionalism.

When you have the heart of a child, you will be perceived as being childish. It is inevitable. The human mind is only capable of drawing so many lines and looking beneath so many surfaces; more often than not, people will take shortcuts and someone who has big dreams and dewy-eyed optimism will become an irrational, hapless fool in the eyes of professionals.

Likewise, it will be assumed that you are incompetent. Your mistakes will be larger, more all-encompassing and detrimental than those of others. Instead of indicators of your human frailty, they will be a sign of your incapacity to think things through and make logical, careful decisions. They will be identification markers, labeling you as unreliable and disorganized.

Your opinions will be discarded. You will be perceived as the “cheerful one,” the one who “always looks on the bright side,” while your more hopeless colleagues will be the “rational, sensible” ones. When adult problems are being discussed, you will not be asked to offer an opinion. And if you do, you will be overlooked with a degree of coldness so fierce it will remind you immediately of that time your pants didn’t quite finish drying in the dryer but you had to wear them anyway because you were going to be late and you didn’t have any other pants to wear and it was past sunset on a January night.

Being open and affectionate will indicate your instability. You are a boundary crosser, a personal bubble buster. You will offend four out of every twenty people you try to hug.

And most importantly, you will not ever, not even for a second, not once be labeled with the moniker, “professional.” In fact, you, my heart-filled, warm and fuzzy friend will be labeled with its opposite, ugly warted step sister: unprofessional.

It’s a label that doesn’t wash off easily, kind of like “slut” in high school. Once one person deems you deserving of the seal of unprofessionalism, you will wear it like a scarlet letter, forever emblazoned on your adult self. It will influence the way everyone sees you for the rest of your professional life. It will follow you from job to job, colleague to colleague. You’ll be passed for promotions involving leadership roles. You’ll be talked about piteously in meetings of important people.

The only way to rid yourself of the curse of unprofessionalism is to change. Change your level of honesty, change your overt optimism, change your instincts for kindness and unveiled compliments. You’ll have to learn the rules of politics, and there are many. And then you’ll have to play – first just a little, but then more and more because politics have a way of multiplying infinitely once embraced, kind of like mold spreading in a dark, dank place. You might even start to like politics. You’re actually really good at it – you’re no dummy. You’ll stop hugging people when their family members die or when their daughter has a baby. You won’t tell anyone when your house gets foreclosed on or when your sister moves to Montana. You won’t make jokes. You won’t get distracted. You’ll check over your work, once, twice, one more time just in case to avoid making a mistake – they’ll smell the fallibility on you elsewise. And you’ll watch yourself rise, rise to the top of the heap, pitying gravely the poor, unprofessional, unkempt beings at the bottom of your pile. You’ll talk about them during your meetings of important people.

You’ll succeed. You’ll be professional. People will respect and admire you from afar because you look good, because you do the right things, and because you never upset anybody. They will ask for your advice on business matters. They will believe your opinion is correct because it comes from you. They will sit silently when you speak. Because you are professional.

And when you die, they will come to your wake because that’s the respectful thing to do. They won’t go to your funeral – that’s too much, they’ve got other stuff to do – but they’ll at least give you a proper send off. And when they kneel at your casket and look inside, they’ll think, “What a nice suit” and, “Wow, he looks puffier than I remember him.” And they’ll pray, asking God to bless your soul while they simultaneously try to remember what their plans for dinner are and whether or not they remembered to turn off the television that morning.

And while I guess none of this really matters – why would you care how inattentive your mourners are? You’re dead – maybe in some small way it does.

Maybe it is important that social niceties not be our first human priority. Maybe it does matter that we live with heart and choose to feel the wrath of vanilla people. Maybe it’s better to be looked upon a stupid and fickle than to isolate our humanity and freeze dry ourselves into a state of rigor mortis.

Maybe some people are just going to think you suck and you’re wrong no matter what you do.

If being unprofessional is my greatest failure in life, I can live with that. Because there’s a difference between being childish and being child-like.

The former is annoying.

The latter is sacred.

 

So here’s to all the unprofessionals, like myself. May our lives be full of uninhibited zeal, innumerable mistakes and genuine honesty.

Mountain Day

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We have a tradition at my alma mater, Mt. Holyoke College, called Mountain Day.

The campus is located right near the base of some gorgeous New England climbers (including Mount Holyoke — you see what they did there?), and every year during the fall semester, the college’s president rings the school bells at the crack of dawn and announces to everyone via email and the subsequent shouts and hedonistic squeals of celebratory undergrads that all classes are cancelled. The entire student body and faculty have the day off with only one condition: you must climb Mount Holyoke.

It’s kind of a symbolic venture. I mean, the school and the mountain share a name for Christ’s sakes.

Likewise, it’s no coincidence that climbing itself is the universal metaphor for progression and growth – the very purpose of a college education.

By climbing the mountain we were in essence climbing to some greater good and embracing a tradition of female bonding that had preceded us for nearly two centuries. We were exercising our strength via the bonds of fellowship. We were pronouncing ourselves conquerors of life’s many obstacles, sounding the trumpet of success at the tip of Mount Holyoke and hearing its tinny bellow in the valleys below.

Yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea.

The problem is I never climbed the mountain.

Not once.

Throughout the entirety of my four years of undergraduate education, Mountain Day stood for one purpose and one purpose only: it was for work.

It was a God given gift of extra time, with which I could squeeze in the necessary reading and writing and ‘rithmetic I’d need to succeed at college life. It was my insurance policy, my debtor’s haven, my leap year. It was the way I could guarantee my GPA wouldn’t float below its sacred 4.0 stature.

Really, it was a tomb.

And one in which I could gleefully wallow and ignore my shameless perfectionism and unflinching standards.

When I look back on it, Mountain Day was nothing other than the beauty and light heartedness of the universe, mocking me for my inability to dive in and enjoy it while it playfully frolicked in the October sun.

There are few things more important in life than Mountain Days. I know that now.

My 4.0* GPA means nothing in the scheme of things. (*Truth be told, it slipped from its mark due to a B+ in Cultural Anthropology, quite possibly the easiest course I took in my undergraduate years. Ironic, right? Totally.)

But it means so very much to me at the time.

Why?

Because I didn’t understand Mountain Day.

I had no idea how important it was to play, to sprint away from work and adulthood and responsibilities, my heart pounding and lungs expanding and deflating in rabbit-paced fury. I thought to be an adult was to strap on the satchel of gravitas. I thought it meant to strive and succeed. I thought it meant to work and be hard and be cold and get shit done.

But it doesn’t. Those things – working and being hard and getting shit done – are just what we do so that we can survive. Real life exists beyond them, in the childish hearts we once had and still do have if we dig deep enough to find them. The ones we were told to break and break repeatedly before the glare of the real world could snatch them up. The ones we rung dry until they became atrophied and taut and mechanical. The one’s we put away because “That’s not how adults act.”

I was doing what I thought I was supposed to, but I was wrong. I hadn’t reached the top of my own inner mountain yet, the one whose view would show me how very small I was and how very meaningless my achievements would be; where I would learn that I was so much more and so much less than I had come to think; where I at last figured out the only thing I really ever needed to know: that love, generosity, kindness, and laughter are really, really important. And everything else is kind of not.

I should’ve climbed the mountain. If I could do it again, I would. I’d climb it every day. (Well, maybe not every day. I’m still kind of anal and freakishly over-responsible.) But I’d do it because that’s what you should do when you’re alive.

Climb things.

***

I got into Harvard Graduate School last year and remember the feeling that came with my emailed acceptance. “Yes, the hard work: it’s paid off.”

But it still hadn’t. And it never will.

So I turned down my admission offer.

Why?

Because I want to climb mountains.

Happy Mountain Day!

Financial solvency, financial solvency, Wherefore art thou, financial solvency?

Stack Of Cash

When my husband and I were engaged, we met for several pre-marital sessions of analysis and enrichment with the man who would eventually marry us. He wouldn’t marry us, he said, if we weren’t ready, and these meetings were his chance to gauge our level of preparedness. It was like a weird, endearing and beautifully challenging form of wedding boot camp.

We passed the tests, obviously; if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t refer to my husband as “my husband,” unless I was delusional and crazy. Which, well, I might be at times, but in this regard I’m flying straight.

Anyway, I was just thinking about our wedding boot camp because my husband and I, while we’re happy as little clams and otters holding hands, are going through a rough patch. This particular rough patch is caused solely and completely by one single source: money.

That’s right. The dreaded five-letter word that causes millennial college graduates to cringe and baby-boomer conservatives to salivate.

The problem is this: we’re broke. Broker than broke. We’re so broke, the possibility of foreseeing the fixing to our brokenness is so far off it is nearly unthinkable.

Part of the reason is this: I went to a very expensive, fancy-pants liberal arts college to earn my undergraduate degree. As do all young women who are in love with learning, I threw caution to the wind when it came time to declare a major. I would pursue my passions, I told myself, and devil may care where that led me! I would pursue scholarship for scholarships sake and be damned all thought of pensions and 401k’s and unemployment rates! I would major in the most obscure thing I could possibly major in:

Latin.

That’s right.

Latin.

I spent approximately $200,000 and four years of my life in pursuit of a language that no one even speaks.

But I couldn’t help it.

I really loved it.

And I still do – there will always be that part of me that gets the tingles when I see Cicero’s point, or feels giddy over Livy.

But that part is so wildly overshadowed by the part of me that wants to be able to buy new sheets and rent a movie every once in a while. The part that doesn’t want to have to plan car trips based on whether or not I’ve gotten paid that week. The part that wants a house, and kids, and a farm, and a bunch of foster puppies running around, licking my face and tripping over each other.

And the older I’ve gotten, the bigger that part of me has become and the smaller the Livy-loving piece has grown.

I would be perfectly happy and whole if I never translated a line of Latin ever again.

I can’t, however, imagine being perfectly happy and whole if I never share a home with my beloved. Or raise a family with him. Or enjoy another date night.

You see where I’m going with this: despite the fact that money is the root of all evil and love conquers all and money can’t buy happiness – despite all of that, which is decidedly and undoubtedly true – I really, really, really want more money.

I want to live like Scrooge McDuck and have a big vault of it where I can swan dive and splash around, the bills and coins popping out and wafting through the air as I wade in them. I want to be so rich that I actually have to make charitable donations in exorbitant amounts just to avoid taxation rape. I want to be so rich that I don’t have to decide what’s more important, face wash or tampons? Socks or shaving cream? Electricity or food?

I was thinking about our wedding boot camp because in our blissfully unaware and financially “okay” days as fiancés, my husband and I had no inkling of the amount of financial trouble we would face a couple of years down the road. So when the man who would eventually marry us told us that every married couple faces at least one Achille’s heel weak spot, and that the most common ones are debates over money, in-laws, sex and children, we laughed gleefully and haughtily, our blind optimism speaking for us, saying, “We get along with each other’s families perfectly, we have a lovely sex life, and we already know we want children, lots of them, whom we’ll raise with a balance of toughness but warmth. That only leaves money …”

Let me first interrupt my husband and I in the past to offer this token of experience-based insight: we were totally wrong about family being a piece of cake (it’s tough sometimes – families can be really weird), were wrong about sex being a non-issue (passing out on the couch at 7:00 pm and drooling on a throw pillow are some of the least sexy things a woman can do, I’ve learned), and we’re most likely set to be wrong about children (I can already foresee the many quibbles we’ll have over too-strict punishments or too-soft leniencies). So our lack of concern for money was at least naïve and at most stupidly arrogant.

Nonetheless, in our pre-marital Zen-state, we wisely and sedately resided to the fact that bills would always be our enemy. But money, we thought, would never be a problem because we won’t have any; and as any astute 90’s generation adolescent knows, in the words of Puff Daddy, Ma$e and the Notorious B.I.G., “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

I remember being very impressed with us at the time. We were so smart, so united, so full of love and joy and hopefulness. And we still are, I think. We’re just a bit more jaded now.

Because it turns out, “Mo Money, Mo Problems” is only the credo of Walter White and crack addicts. For the rest of us, for the most part, the more money we have, the fewer problems. Because with money comes freedom, opportunity, peace of mind, flexibility, and the capital it takes to invest in the beauty of your dreams.

So where does that leave us?

We have no money, still. Writing this has not changed our situation one lick.

Maybe the only good thing that can come of this whole moneyless mess is that we learn to prioritize our lives. When we have so few resources, we must decide what is most worthy of our investment.

And that’s a hard decision sometimes, but in a way it’s liberating.

We’ll learn to live without much of what we thought we needed to live, my husband and I, and we’ll learn to be happy with very little.

At least I hope.

In the meantime, though, all charitable donations are welcome.

🙂

Baby Squirrels

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So we found squirrels, my husband and I. Two of them.

We were walking in the woods with our dog, Tess – as woodsy as any area can be in an urban town, set to the backdrop of a dwindling economy and wildly outdated mall whose stores have titles like “Poe’s Oriental Delights” and “We Buy Gold!”

And there they were. Just lying there.

Well, I should tell the story right if I’m going to tell it at all.

First we found one. Actually, we didn’t find it, Tess did. She hungrily sniffed at it and about .25 seconds before she loaded it up in her mouth and ran off with it to do god knows what we shouted, “Tess! No! Down!” and she backed off.

I’m going to be honest, I thought it was wild animal poop.

Tess has a bit of a fetish for exotic defecation and has been known to scoop it up and salivate all over it before committing to the act of swallowing. It’s disgusting, I know. But hey, she’s a dog.

One time we were in our backyard, which is a legitimate postage stamp of land, and she scooped up something mysterious from the grass. I thought maybe it was a rock or a twig or something, but couldn’t tell because her mouth was closed completely over it. I was a new dog owner at the time. I was worried. Kind of like a new mother whose baby has just snorted a pea up his nose. My panic set in and I knew I had to pry whatever the Christ was in her mouth out before something bad happened.

“Release!” I shouted.

She stared at me, totally understanding what I was asking and completely unobliged to respond with anything other than a face that said, “Huh? What? Who? Me?”

“Release!” I commanded again, trying to muster the best Cesar Milan impression I could possible fake.

Which was a pathetic impression indeed. Because despite my attempts to feign alpha dominance, I’m the kind of person who cuddles in bed with their dog and shares couch space. I hug her and cry on her fur when I need to, which isn’t often but does happen.

I am not an alpha dog. Who was I kidding?

So Tess had this thing in her mouth and I knew, I just knew, that it was something treacherous. What could it be? It didn’t matter – I was going to remove it.

I grabbed her muzzle and pried open her jaw with as little aggression as I possibly could. She shifted and wiggled out of my grasp but I held tight.

“Spit it! Spit it!” I shouted, once again assuming she knew exactly what I was talking about but realizing as I write this now, in clear hindsight, that this must have been a terrifying experience for her, me prying open her jaw and all.

(Cut to Louis C.K.’s description of saving his dog from death-by-chocolate. If you haven’t seen it, you really must:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMeXGE_a8Gg)

She wouldn’t spit it. And kept writhing. So I did what any responsible dog owner would do. I reached my hand in there and grabbed it.

Only it wasn’t the “it” I thought it would be. It wasn’t a rock. It wasn’t a branch. It wasn’t anything but a sloppy, warm pile of mush that I immediately recognized as the living arch nemesis of all curious dog owners: cat shit.

That’s right. Cat shit.

In my hand.

All wet and shit smelling and gross.

It was an experience I will never forget and one which reams through my mind instantly whenever I attempt to grab something out of Tess’ mouth again. Now I’m prepared for the risk I’m taking in doing such; but that day, I had no idea. I was totally uninformed of the canine propensity for fecal consumption.

Well, live and learn.

Anyway, so while we’re walking in the woods, Tess stoops to pick up this “thing” which I immediately assume is her beloved object of affection and desire, other-animal-shit.

That’s when the, “No! Drop it!” flew from my mouth. This time she listened. She’s gotten better at listening (despite the bed and couch sharing and all).

My husband and I moved to see what it was she almost ate and were shocked to find a tiny little rodent, feeble and dead-looking.

“Oh no! What is it?”

“I think it’s a squirrel,” observed my astute, nature-loving husband.

He grew up on a “farm” of sorts – not a real farm, but the classic woodsy New England redneck kind, where chickens and goats and pigs roamed around the back yard and vegetables were harvested for dinner. I always defer to his expertise in all things wildlife.

“You can tell by the tail,” he said, pointing to the scraggly haired tail of this little guy.

“Is it alive, you think?”

“I don’t think so,” he said, and leaned over to gently touch it with his finger.

Which is when, immediately, the little fella rolled over on his back and flailing and prostrate yelped out a noise which I can only describe as, “Mrawh, mrawh!”

It was calling its mother. Almost literally speaking the word, “Mom, mom.”

But she wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere in sight. And neither was the nest.

It was easy to identify with the kind of cosmic abandonment this little guy felt. Just like us in our twenty-something state of mind, he too was alone, motherless and left to survive this crazy world on his own.

Obviously, though, we were much more prepared for the task than he.

“What should we do?” I asked.

My husband always knows what to do. Always.

“Well, we’ve got to take him home. It’s getting cold and dark and I doubt his mom will come back for him. If we leave him here, he’ll likely die overnight. Probably get eaten by something or else freeze to death. He looks really dehydrated, anyway. We should take him home and see what we can do.”

And that was it.

We were now squirrel owners.

My husband picked up the little guy and placed him in the palm of his hand. He was so small, the length of two quarters, tops, his shriveled little body breathing quick and keeping still, very still, obviously out of terror and/or the incredible physical weakness which accompanies malnourishment.

And we were off.

Until we saw another, no more than two yards from the first little guy.

We were certain this one was dead – she was splayed out in the middle of the foot path, just as scrawny as the first but out in plain sight. My husband didn’t even reach down to touch this one with his finger he was so convinced she was dead. Instead, he oh so gently tipped the toe of his boot on her side – a quick dead check.

And immediately, she rolled over on her back just like her brother and screamed with the same howling baby cry of, “Mrawh! Mrawh!”

Holy shit – here was another one, another little tiny nearly lifeless being that so desperately needed warmth and love and fluids. And there was no one, not a living mama in sight to help her. I began to question the divinity of the universe at this point. It seemed cruel and harsh to think of little babies dying alone of malnutrition. It’s funny how easy it is to pretend realities like that don’t exist until you see them. There’s something natural in that, I think: almost like, if we were to be conscious of all the horrors that pertain to existence, we’d be too numbed and paralyzed to do anything worthwhile.

But here were these little babies, crying for help, and here was our dog, trying to eat them, and here we were, passive observers of nature and its hard line truths. So we did the only thing we could possibly do: we took them both home. I carried the little gal, my husband the tyke. And off we went.IMAG0082

(Little scrawny guys.)

We kept them in a small terrarium that had recently suffered the death of several succulents.

I really want to be a gardener and to imagine myself as one of those women who squats down well into her fifties and pulls weeds with a brimmed hat and polka dotted gloves. But for now, at least, confined to our little apartment, I’m relegated to houseplants. Which I kill. In copious amounts.

Luckily, it was empty. I put down a few layers of facecloths and covered those with paper towels. We took our desk lamp from another room and shined it hot and bright on the glass case, and in they went.

We immediately consulted Google for the proper feeding and keeping of baby squirrels. Every link we checked said the same thing, like an ominous bell tolling: DO NOT CARE FOR WILDLIFE YOURSELF! BRING ANY FOUND AND INJURED WILDLIFE TO THE NEAREST WILDLIFE RESCUER. CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF NAMES NEAR YOU.

But that was always followed more optimistically by, “But if you can’t find someone, here’s what you do!”

Pedialyte was first – they needed to be hydrated. And warmth. Lots of warmth. Babies need to stay in 95 degree temps in order to prosper, so keep those little suckers warm! And then formula. Puppy formula would do the trick. But you have to feed them by a syringe. And you have to be very careful because if you feed them too quickly you’ll flood their lungs and they’ll die. Also, if you feed them too little, they’ll suffer seizures and calcium deficiencies and they’ll die. And if you feed them too much they’ll develop diarrhea/vomiting and they’ll die. They may also develop pneumonia, low-blood sugar and/or flesh eating locusts, all of which would likewise result in the same conclusion that it seemed everything resulted in when humans try to raise baby squirrels from scratch: they’ll die.

The truth was clear. Despite our most valiant attempts, we were going to kill these baby squirrels. For no reason other than that this was the simple truth of life. Nature is a hardened bitch. And life is so, so fragile.

It is what it is.

All of us, every single creature on earth, need what we need and if we don’t get those needs met, shit happens. Death happens. We die and it’s over. Plain and simple.

For some reason, I felt more infuriated than despondent after reading the articles. It was like something in me kicked up and said, “Oh yeah? They’re gonna die, huh? Yeah? Well fuck you, nature!”

The instinct to somehow thwart death rose up in me like some kind of spiritual acid reflux and I could do nothing but choke it back down. I drove to CVS that night to buy Pedialyte and PetSmart to buy puppy formula.

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(Tess is not so sure about the squirrels coming home with us.)

It took a while to get the hand of feeding them. The first six times at least I’d be gently squeezing little drops into their tiny toothed mouths and would slip or move or something and a rush of liquid would splash all over their little faces and they’d sneeze and cough and I’d feel my entire heart break in this feeling of OHMYGODIJUSTKILLEDTHEM!

But I didn’t. They were fine.

And they kept being fine.

IMAG0078

(Gettin’ chubby!)

After four days, in fact, they’d gained weight, become more energetic and stopped doing this awful twitching thing that they were doing the second and third day we had them.

And then it happened.

No, not that – I know what you’re thinking, but not that. Not yet, anyway.

They opened their eyes.

Their little tiny heads with their big black squirrel eyes flash open in tiny slits.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Here we were, feeding these scrawny little momma-less rodents out of a plastic syringe every third hour, on the hour – yes, even during the middle of the night. I’d set my alarm to make sure – and it was working. It was actually working. They were living, they were growing, they were meeting developmental stages. We were saving them!

IMAG0090

(Let there be vision!)

It was one of the most quietly exhilarating feelings I’ve ever had. I soaked it up with bread and enjoyed every bite of it. The thought that my husband and I could care for feeble, sick creatures and nurse then back to health warmed my soul in a way few things ever have.

It made me realize that we can do this, really.

We can be parents.

And I got a little bit of a fast forward glimpse of how very much we’d love the task.

After four days, though, things took a turn. And on the fifth day, they passed, one after the other, within twelve hours. That was it.

It crushed me to see them in their death throes, twitching and convulsing and trying so desperately to just sleep.

I’m sure they thought it was sleep, what they were craving.

We buried them in the back yard in two little deep, narrow holes near the shed.

And that was the end of our days raising squirrels.

I ran through my head all of the things we could’ve done to save them. I had tried contacting several wildlife rescuers in our five day span with these little ones, but either didn’t get returned phone calls or was thwarted by the required “donation” fee of $60 per animal charged for their care.

We don’t have $120 to spend on abandoned baby squirrels.

We don’t even have $120 to spend on groceries this week.

Where did we go wrong? Did we feed them too much? Or not enough? Did they have pneumonia? Or calcium deficiencies? Or diabetes? Or hypothermia?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, but the more I run through in my mind the play by play of how we raised these little guys for five days, the more I come to a singular conclusion: they were sick. They may have been sick before we even found them. That may have been why they were abandoned in the first place.

But all of this is only conjecture. The resounding truth pounded softly in my mind: they’re dead.

We did the best we could. We really did. And we loved them with a love so pure and parental that it kind of creeped everyone out. It must have been strange to see the cockle-warmed glint in our eyes when we talked about our little rescued baby squirrels.

I know our parents were kind of bothered by it.

“Really? Why don’t you two just have babies already? Jeez.”

But all in all, the experience taught me a few things. Here they are:

(1)    I cannot wait to be a mother. Like, really, seriously, completely, cannot wait. It’s a role I’m born to play, I know it. If I can muster that much care for a diseased fetal rodent, I can’t even fathom what it will be like to tickle the little toes of a human foot, or poke the tiny nose of a giggling baby.

(2)    Death is not a monster. It is, in fact, a gentle keeper.

The babies were not scared when they died. They weren’t suffering an existential crises or metaphysical anguish. They were calm and ready to rest. Life was a fight for them and it was time for check out. Death was their hospitable host, ushering them to comfort.

(3)    I missed my calling to be a veterinarian, but at the very least I know I want to rescue animals again. I now intend to become a wildlife rehabber or a foster parent or something that puts me in the front line of handling helpless animals and getting them back on their feet. My psychic friend told me so much was true about a year ago and it didn’t mean anything to me. It does now. I love animals, I’ve always known, from the time I was a little kid and covered my bed every night with an allotment of nearly thirty six stuffed animals, none of whom were allowed to fall off of the bed without my deepest remorse in the morning. So yeah, I get it, I love animals: but I love a lot of other things, too. It wasn’t until this experience that I realize the extent of my love, and how necessary it is for me to be doing something with that love.

All in all, it was a beautiful week. Life has a way of consistently surprising me.

Rest well, little buddies. It was a miracle to know you.

P.S.: We did name them. Rad and Tad.

Five Ways to Quit Your Job

Just because you’re not the boss doesn’t mean you can’t be a boss. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Write a Letter

Write a letter to your boss, detailing your reasons for moving on. In your letter, you may chronicle some of your boss’ transgressions, but be sure to do so with professionalism and tact. Be considerate in your reproaches and constructive in your critiques, should you offer them.

When you’ve finished writing your letter, hold it in your hand real tight and then tear that motherfucker to pieces.

You’re not going to give your boss a letter. You’re not a little bitch.

Instead, you’re going to bust into your boss’ office, climb up on his desk and squat down real low so you can look him in the eyes. Then you’ll say this:

“I quit, you slimy piece of shit.”

You can gently pat him on the cheek, too, if you’d like. It’ll ensure your alpha status.

2. Go Esquire

ImageYou’ve hated your job for a long time. Too long. So what’s a little bit longer?

Enroll yourself into law school. That’s right, law school.

Because you don’t play around.

Attend night classes for years in secret. Continue taking your boss’ shit everyday but know every time he blames you for a lost client or says your marketing strategy is a piece of crap (until that douchebag Sampson suggests the exact same one, and it becomes “Brilliant! Great idea, Sampson!”), just know that your time will come. Soon.

And when you’ve passed the bars – which you will, because you’re a bad ass motherfucker – request a meeting with your boss. Make it sound professional. You can do that, you’re a lawyer now. Say you want to discuss profit margins or onshore accounts or some shit.

When your boss shows up for the meeting with that stupid ass smug look on his face that says, “Ugh, you again,” put on your fancy law school graduate hat and tell your boss to screw because you’re a lawyer now and you don’t need his charity.

And then tell him that you’ve been observing his behavior and realized that, In fact, making lewd comments about sexual conquests to interns does constitute sexual harassment, a fire-able offense, and that Peggy from Human Resources has a thing or two to say to him about it. Actually, she’s waiting outside for him right now and he’d better not keep her waiting.

Actually, you’ve already agreed to represent Tiffany, Liana and Desiree, his past three interns, in a joint lawsuit against his creepy old ass.

And then go litigate, you lawyering son of a bitch.

3. Boss Your Boss

Get really good at your job. I mean stellar. Like, off the charts, bottle rocket to greatness good. Get so good that the option to not promote you sends shivers down corporate’s spine. That the thought of losing you as an employee has caused at least three board members to commit suicide. Get that good.

And then get promoted.

And as you climb the ladder, watch your boss as he waits for you, so small and so far below, waving you on with that fake smile he gives to everyone whose ass he kisses, day dreaming about the promotion he’ll be getting in the near future because now he has “contacts in high places.”

You can spit on him if you want. But you probably won’t, because you’re a classy motherfucker.

Instead, you’ll rise to the top like a phoenix from the ashes and your boss will be so far beneath you that he’ll have to schedule time just to send you an interoffice memo. And when he applies for that upper level management job that just opened up, you’ll look at his piece of shit resume, narrating all of the things he says he does but which you know he doesn’t because you actually did those things for years without recognition or monetary compensation, and you’ll laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. Because you’re not hiring that son of a bitch.

No way.

4. The Kill Bill

I’m just kidding.

Don’t kill your boss.

That’s a felony.

5. Just Quit

You heard me. Just do it.

You aren’t happy, pal. You haven’t been, not for a long time.

And although you’ve convinced yourself that the grass is definitely not greener on the other side, that it’s probably brown as shit and unwatered and crispy, you know deep down that you’re just afraid of change. You don’t want to shake things up because there’s a part of you that longs deeply for stability and comfort. And while you may not enjoy your job or your prick of a boss, you ultimately justify not leaving by counting all of the things you do like about your job: the nice benefits package, the paid holidays, the bountiful quantity of windows.

But you know what? That’s not enough. And you know it.

Don’t spend eight-plus hours a day working for inadequate assholes doing a task that’s mundane and boring as fuck. Don’t lie awake at night while your stomach churns up a batch of ravenous heartburn because you’re so completely dreading the commute tomorrow morning. Don’t answer people you’ve just met who ask what you do for a living with,

“Ah, I just work for some company. BUT WHAT DO YOU DO?!?!?!?!”

And even if the grass on the other side is browner than it is here, what about the grass on the other side of that grass? And the other side of that grass? It’s unlikely that all of the grass in all of the world is just disgusting and dried up and dead. There’s got to be some good grass, somewhere. Just keep hopping fences till you find it.

Because you deserve better, my friend. You deserve to be respected and appreciated, to be paid fairly, and to not have to fantasize about very graphic and machismo ways you can quit your job.

You should just do it. Just quit.

Find something else, anything.

Learn a new skill. Transfer to a new department or branch. Shop yourself around to competitors. Start an organic broccoli farm. Sell your plasma. Anything. Just get yourself out of that place because this is your life, god dammit, and you deserve to be happy.

The Day We Conquered Death

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My neighbors’ dog died on Friday.

My husband and I had plans to visit them for dinner. We were going to have dinner, drink wine/beer and have a nice, relaxing evening. We’d bring our dog, Tess, and she’d play with their dog, Sophie, like she always did.

But when we got there, Sophie was not herself.

She didn’t greet us at the door. She didn’t flinch when Tess jumped on top of her in a doggie invitation to play. She just laid there, quiet and panting.

“Is she okay?” I asked my friend, who was busy salting tomatoes and marinating pork chops.

“I don’t know. She’s been like this all day. She hasn’t been eating, either.”

I felt this undeniable summons in my stomach, this foreboding twinge.

Uh oh. She’s lethargic. She’s isn’t eating. This isn’t good.

We went outside and sat at the picnic table while my friend’s husband readied the grill and talked to my husband.

“She was sick last week, too,” they told us. “The vet said to give her boiled hamburger and rice. I guess he thought she was constipated or something. So we boiled it up and she pooped within minutes of eating it. She bounced right back to her normal self.”

Ah, okay. What a relief! That was clearly what this was. Sophie the dog was constipated. The vet had said so herself.

Constipation can be one of the most unpleasant and downright treacherous experiences known amongst members of the animal kingdom. It is what unites us all, our common enemy. It’s enough to make anyone fall on their side panting and not want to eat.

“Why don’t I run to the market and get some hamburger. Let’s try it again. I bet that will work.”

They agreed and off I went.

We boiled it in a pot of water – which I didn’t even know you could do. I just stared as the bright red flesh boiled into gray and dissolved effortlessly while it rolled around in the water, leaving streaks of oil floating on the surface. The whole time I watched it I just kept thinking, Five dollars for raw hamburger is so worth the peace of mind you get when you know your dog is okay, when you know your neighbor’s dog is okay.

By the time we got outside, Sophie was laying in the grass on her side. She looked like the triceratops in Jurassic Park, breathing lethargically while her belly grew and shrank, grew and shrank.

I brought the bowl of boiled hamburger and rice over to her and put a few pieces in my hand. I put my burger-filled hand near her mouth, right under her nose where she could really smell the hot meat.

Nothing.

She didn’t even move.

Shit. This was bad.

I told my friend and a quiet panic began to set in us all at that point.

The burger was our cure all. This was our quick fix. She would be up and running in no time.

But the fact that she didn’t even look at it, couldn’t even lift her head to smell it properly, sent off buzzers in all of our minds.

Dogs don’t not eat hamburger. It’s a rule in canine scripture. Thou shalt not refuse hamburger.

We decided it was best to drive her to the emergency clinic two towns over. My friend asked if I could drive, so that she could sit in the back with Sophie. Our husbands would stay back and get dinner ready for us. They had already threw back a few beers and it was probably best if we took the bull by the horns this time.

It was no big deal, anyway. We’d be back soon, within the hour, probably. We’d eat then.

So off we went.

When it was time to get Sophie out of the car and into the clinic, we could barely entice her to life her head. She just lay there in the back seat, heavy with sickness and tired, so tired. We coaxed her out and eventually she waddled, falling over herself as she made it to the side walk. As soon as she reached the vet tech waiting for her beyond the clinic’s doors, she collapsed back onto her side and lay there, quietly.

It wasn’t until a half hour later that we saw her again.

They ferried her quickly to the back room and did all sorts of scans and tests. They popped a catheter in and gave her an IV with fluids. She was more stable than when she arrived, the vet told us.

Actually, when she arrived, she was at death’s door. He also told us.

They weren’t entirely sure what was going on or the extent of the problem, he said. But what he could tell us was that her belly was swollen. And when they took a syringe of liquid from her swollen belly they found the worst thing you can possibly find in a part of the body that’s supposed to be swollen with water and other clear fluids.

Blood.

Sophie was bleeding internally.

She had a tumor and it had ruptured.

After running more tests, he delivered his final report. We had three options, he said. He kept looking at me as if I was the dog’s owner, too. It didn’t help that I kept nodding, eagerly, desperate to know that Sophie would be okay and this would all end perfectly well. It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t Sophie’s owner.

First, we could send her into surgery to remove the ruptured tumor. In order to do that, though, we’d have to wait until she was stabilized. Which she wasn’t. Not even close. He said there was a chance by morning she’d be ready, but also a chance she wouldn’t. He then told us that even if she was ready for surgery, the tumor was likely to be cancerous, and even more likely to be attached to some vital organs, rendering it far more difficult to remove. But if they removed it and it wasn’t cancerous and it wasn’t attached to vital organs like it most definitely seemed to be, she’d be fine.

This was the option for the valiant. For the haters of death, whose hardened wills were unable to even conceive of giving up the fight against mortality.

The second option was that we could let it go. We could metaphorically fold our hands and see what happened. He could try to shrink the tumor with steroids and we could wait until Sophie stabilized enough to be taken home. Then we’d just have to hope to God it didn’t happen again: that the tumor wouldn’t regrow or rupture or be cancerous. That was the option for optimists. Or really, really stupid people. Or the cheap. Or the uncaring.

The third option was the hardest, he said, but at times it was the kindest.

We could put her down.

The mere mention of that phrase, “Put her down” send shivers down our spines and pulled the tears right out of our eyes. We gasped. We moaned. We put our hands over our mouths and we cried. Cried because life was cruel and unfair, and because death didn’t play by the rules. It was supposed to give a warning before it came. Give us time to prepare ourselves. This was wrong, all wrong. I felt suddenly inspired to write a scathing letter of complaint. But who would I send it to? The vet? The cancer? The universe?

There was no one to blame and no vindication to gain. So we just cried. And cried and cried and cried.

My friend phoned her grown sons and asked their advice; I called her husband when she was too worked up to deliver the news to him. They all agreed, they all said the same thing.

“Put her down. Put her down.”

Each time I heard the words my heart winced again. I never got comfortable with the words. It was just as painful to hear it the fourth time as it was the first.

Put her down.

We went in to say our goodbyes to Sophie. She was lying in a kennel in the back room.

There were other animals in other crates, including one dog whose plaintive moans stirred me deep within.

God that dog must be suffering so much, I kept thinking. His cries and mournful howls just rang right through my bones. I wanted to hug him. To comfort him. To make it stop. To put him down.

But that wasn’t the priority. The priority was Sophie. And here she was. On her side, belly breathing deeply again. I could see where the IV was attached to her leg, and where the catheter strung out.

She didn’t look scared. She didn’t look sad. She didn’t look like anything except okay.

We hugged her and hugged her and soaked her with our tears. She didn’t mind. She didn’t fidget. She didn’t cry. She just let us do this. It was like she understood that this is just what humans need to do when they face death. They need to hug, and cry and wet the earth with their tears. So she let us.

After a while we started to forget what we came back here to do. Everything would be fine if we just stayed here and hugged her again and again. We wouldn’t need to give the nod to the vet to do the unthinkable.

To put her down.

But then her breathing quickened. She started to gasp for air. The vet handed us a thin plastic tube that ferried oxygen to her and said if we held it to her nose, she’d be more comfortable.

But we couldn’t do that. We couldn’t see her suffer. I asked my friend if it was time and she said, Yes. It’s time.

I nodded to the vet and he gave the injection.

And that was it. She went quiet and still. Her belly stopped breathing deep but her fur was still soaked with our tears. She was gone.

We wailed over our lost friend, still. Completely unembarrassed at what some might think of as an overreaction to the death of “Just a dog” because we knew this wasn’t just a dog. She would never be just a dog. She was our family.

We blew our noses and gathered ourselves together enough to say our last goodbyes.

As my friend stooped to say farewell once more, I couldn’t help but notice the moaning dog, still at it. I hadn’t realized he was still lowing over in his cage, depressed and ready to die any moment.

Suddenly it was all too much. Everything. All of the death and pain and sadness, trapped together in this sterile room. Life suddenly felt cheap, flimsy and stupid. How would we move on? How would we ever conquer death again? The answer seemed wildly unoptimistic while I listened to the baying of the hound in the corner.

It was time to go. We grabbed our things and wiped our eyes one last time.

We were two steps away from the door when my friend stopped and looked at the vet. Her face was red with crying and wet with tears. Everything seemed to freeze in time as she spoke.

“I’m sorry, I know this is a strange thing to ask, but I just have to know. That dog over there, the one whose been crying this whole time, is he okay? Is he dying?”

The vet smiled.

“No. Actually, he’s getting better. I think he’s just lonely.”

And that was it. All we needed to know.

 

We drank enough to kill several Christian villages that night. We just sat around the table and talked about Sophie: how much we’d miss her and how good she was and how there’d never be another dog quite like her.

We talked, too, about how much she taught Tess. How Tess was such a strange, alien creature when we first adopted her. How she almost didn’t know how to be a dog, how to interact with other dogs, or how to play without fear. We acknowledged the fact that it wasn’t until meeting Sophie that Tess really became strong, confident, playful.

While we talked about all of these things, Tess was lying at our feet under the table on her side just like Sophie was before she passed. I was rubbing her belly with my foot, calmly but terrified I’d find swelling, another ruptured tumor, another sign that death was laughing at us.

But she was fine. Strong, healthy. At least for now.

That night, while we sat around the table talking and drinking and crying, we unknowingly acknowledged the fact that not one of us will ever really conquer death, that it will take us all, each and every one of us, and perhaps when we least expect it.

But still, here we are. We are alive.

We’ve already conquered death.

ImageRIP Sophie. We love you.

To The Men I’ve Loved

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Thank you.

Thank you for not being the person I thought you were. I needed to break myself over you so that I could put myself back together. I never would have been able to do that if you really were the person I wanted you to be.

Thank you for the nights you called when I didn’t expect it and the times you didn’t call when I did. That was very confusing and exhilarating. I appreciated every second of it, even the awful ones. I felt alive.

Thank you for going for walks that I thought were much more romantic than you did. And thank you for letting me think that, for playing dumb. You were kind of a dick sometimes, walking five paces ahead of me, but then you realized you were being a dick and slowed down to walk beside me again. Those were the most and least alone moments of my life at the time.

Thank you for being clingy and distant, for thinking I was Great and then hating me, and for wanting to just be friends even though you knew there was no way in Christ’s hell that we could do that. What were you thinking? You were funny.

I appreciated the gesture, though. I still do.

Thank you for not being my soul mate. God, we would’ve ruined each other! It is so much better this way, isn’t it?

 

And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for being messy. For not respecting your boundaries and for enjoying picking at your scabs. That was rude. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was.

I’m sorry that I loved you and didn’t love you at all. That must have been very confusing for you. I loved the you I thought you were, but that you was not really you. I’m most sorry for that. If you realized I was doing this, you must have felt this big:

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I never, ever meant to make you feel this big:

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And I hope you are happy.

I really do.

I’m not just saying that in a creepy, passive aggressive way, or because I feel like that’s the thing you’re supposed to say to the person you used to love. I used to say it for that reason. I used to not mean it. But that’s not true anymore. I mean it now.

I hope you’ve found a person who makes you enjoy cuddling and laughs when you fart and ties your ties for you. I want you to be with someone who gives you that face that tells you, “I’m not buying your bullshit,” and when you see that face you make your own face that says, “Okay, I’m sorry.”

I want you to climb out of yourself every once in a while and see who you are from far away – I don’t know if you’ll be able to do that without this person in your life, whoever he or she is. I know I wasn’t able to.

I want you to sit on the couch and climb mountains and go dancing with this person. I want you to be still. I know you don’t like to be still very much, but with this person you will. It will feel very different with them. When they’re being still next to you you’ll feel complete and quiet and warm inside. Your foot will not tap anxiously. You’ll like it.

And I guess it all makes sense to me now, why we didn’t work. I mean, we did work, just not very well.

And I’m so glad for that. For all of it.

I hope you are, too.