Shelter Animal

Wanted:  Good, loving, caring home for older female.  Has some idiosyncrasies and anomalous behavior as a result of early abusive treatment, worsened by continued rejection by prior owner.  In spite of the past cruelty, she is  loyal, faithful, and eager to please, though she has trust and fear issues that require consistent love and a strong commitment.  Doesn’t do many tricks, but is grateful for attention and has been housebroken.  Hates baths.  Affectionate.  If interested, please call. 

You may or may not have guessed…the older female in need of rescue is…me.

I remember as a young girl begging my parents for a dog.  I loved animals; dogs in particular.  I was the child with a tender, compassionate heart who brought home all the strays.  Cats, dogs, baby rabbits, even baby mice.  I couldn’t bear to see a defenseless, innocent animal alone, with no one to protect and nurture them.  I couldn’t turn away from their need.

But I never got to keep them.  My father was a hunter.  He didn’t value animals, other than for the food they provided.  I, on the other hand, often revived the fish he caught and brought home for dinner by placing them in the bathtub filled with water. Took sick woodpeckers to the vet.  To me, all animals were worthy of care (except snakes).   I did, however, feel a special connection with dogs. So, after having yet another stray taken away (and likely killed by my father), I started a campaign to win his permission to get a dog I could keep and call my own.

It took a long time to convince my parents.  I had to prove that I would be responsible for caring for a pet and that I wouldn’t tire of it after the novelty wore off.  I had almost given up when they finally and unexpectedly relented.  I was filled with joy and excitement the beautiful Saturday morning we set off for the animal shelter to look at the dogs that were waiting for adoption.  I was wiggling almost as much as they were as I went from pen to pen.  The dogs jumped and danced.  They licked my fingers and stuck their noses through the wire fenced cage gates.  I wanted all of them! 

And then, I saw Lady.

She was curled up in the back of her pen, tail tucked, looking sad and forlorn.  So sure was she of being rejected, she had given up all hope and stopped trying to gain attention.  I almost didn’t see her.

They let me in the pen with her because she wouldn’t come up to the gate.  I sat on the cold concrete floor and coaxed her onto my lap.  And I knew she was the one.  She needed me.  She needed my love, approval, and acceptance.  She was at least part Cairn Terrier, a wheat color with thick, wiry fur.  And she was a smaller dog, sweet, and affectionate, just the right size for cuddling and holding on my lap.  I was sold.  Hooked.  She was mine.

Lady was fairly young when she came home with me…they estimated her to be 1 to 2 years old.  She lived a long life.  I kept my promise and took care of her.  I loved her.  I even got into trouble occasionally because I couldn’t bear to stop petting her before school, which made me late.  She had such a great need for affection and I had a great need for her unconditional love.  Though she was an outside dog, I spent hours playing with her and showering her with attention.  I had to leave her behind when I left home, which broke my heart.  But by then, even my father had accepted her into the family.  She finally found a place where she was loved and wanted.

My story doesn’t have such a happy ending.

I feel very much like a shelter animal, hiding in the corner, no longer able to muster any hope of someone  discovering me and finding value there.  I long for someone to offer me a place in their heart.  To give me love and acceptance.  Make me theirs.  But I know it isn’t going to happen.  Time is no longer on my side.

I want to be able to open my heart to someone.  To feel safe for the first time in my life.  To give them the unconditional love I have coveted.

I have waited a very long time. 

Again and again, I am passed over.  Ignored.  Unnoticed.  Rejected.  Again and again, someone cuter, better, more wonderful, whole, healthier, and “easier,” with far less baggage, is removed from their pitiful cage and set free.  Taken home.  Loved.  I watch it happen.  I’m happy for them.  The others.  But I am so alone it hurts.  I stay in my corner.  I know this thing called love is not for me.  Acceptance is never to be mine.

Lady found love.  A home.  She was cherished, cared for and wanted.  She led a full life, in spite of her harsh, abusive beginning.

It seems that I am not so fortunate.  I fear I will die a shelter animal.  In my cage.   Alone.   Waiting for tenderness and affection.  Waiting for someone to see me, yet still want me.  Waiting for their love to rescue me.  To set me free.

 

Braced for Impact

When I manage to pull memories from the black hole in my mind where flashes of my childhood are deeply lodged, those few I can retrieve are not typically painted by the vision of a moment in time.  The details and images of those childhood events are lost, buried deep, sealed away.  I cannot recall most of them with any specificity.  The scenes themselves are shrouded in fog and blurred by the things that were hiding there, waiting to devour me.

No, what I recall with great clarity is the waiting and watching.  Being frozen in petrified silence.  The tension in my neck and shoulders, even as I played, trying to appear to have fun as would a “normal” child.  I may not see much of the memory in my mind, but I feel what I felt.  The terror.  The dread.  Trying to be invisible.  Being unable to breathe.  I remember the feeling of never knowing when the experience would disintegrate into something so ugly, I utterly lacked words to describe what was happening to me.  I have, in fact, spent my life since escaping the claws of that childhood darkness and fog, trying to explain, define, understand and recover from what happened to me in that ominous gloom.

I was ripped apart one mouthful at a time during that period of darkness.  I was the prey.  My parents were the monsters who hid within the fog and shadows.  I knew they were hunting me.  All I could do was brace for the impact as best I could.

My defenses were not born of my ability to intimidate my attackers.  I couldn’t protect myself with my fists.  The shield I constructed about myself was invisible, a trick of the mind.  I blamed myself for the actions of those monsters, shifting my logic and perspectives, distorting my thoughts and feelings, accepting their abuse as what was due me.  Believing it was what I deserved.

As a result of the soil in which I grew, the thing I remember most about that time is my hypervigilant watchfulness.  Anticipating what was sure to come.  Knowing the worst would soon unfold and slam me to the ground at any moment.

I always had one eye ever on my surroundings.  My antenna was continuously extended, listening for the things not said out loud.  For the things brewing inside my parents’ dangerous minds and twisted souls.  Tapping into what they were feeling, trying to prepare for the blast; the eruption.  Nothing was ever as it seemed.  So I listened, adrenaline coursing, always on high alert.  I waited.  But I never had to wait long.

Even though I braced for the impact, the pain, shame and terror still took me by surprise.  Every single time.

I watched.   I tried to anticipate their actions.  Tried to calculate the moment when the mask would be ripped away and my world would fall apart. When they would turn to devour their prey.  But they were unpredictable.  So I remained in a state of fearful anticipation.  As prepared as I could be, with my mind shield working overtime to deflect their obscene attack.

I was braced for impact, but somehow was never prepared.  I felt it coming, but I could not soften the blow.

This is how I have spent my life.  In a state of hypervigilance.   Neck and shoulder muscles taunt and aching.  Always waiting.  Knowing destructive, dreadful, hurtful things were coming, but never knowing when they would hit me or how much damage they would do.

I have had the lofty goal of surviving the next ghastly event.  And I have survived, for the most part, but not without losing some key and critical parts of my heart.  Yes, I have survived, but there has been an enormous price to pay.  For to survive, I have had to forego living.  And though I have survived, I have never escaped the darkness.   I have never learned how to relax, to let go, to believe something good could happen.  I have never been able to believe I deserved more than the pain and rejection, the abuse and disdain.

I have never been able to let down my guard.  My antenna remains extended and probing.  I am clenched tight and hardened, waiting for the next cruel clash, muscles constricted and painful, no matter how weary my soul has become.

Braced for impact.  Praying I can survive yet another blow.

 

Clouds & Shadows

We all come from a place of utter darkness.  A womb, warm and nurturing, but black as the blackest night.  We are born into the light.   A world of brightness, noise and chaos.  Confusion.  And cold.  It is a shocking experience, one we aren’t equipped to comprehend.  Suddenly, we are alone in a strange and frightening place, no longer embraced, required to exist on our own, though without the skill to survive unless we are provided with care and sustenance.

Care and sustenance are rare commodities.

I was born at 10:03 a.m. on a cloudy day beneath a sky that was normally clear and deep blue.  I was born into the light, but it was filled with shadows. Thrust into that murky daylight where sound was no longer muffled and all nurturing abruptly ended.

I cried.

My parents said they wanted me, or thought they did.  But their reasons centered around themselves and their needs.  They wanted the experience of having a child, for they had been told it would bring them fulfillment and great joy.  It was what married people did back then.  They fantasized that a tiny baby would suddenly give meaning to their life and fill every void they had ever felt in their heart and soul.  I was intended to be the rainbow after the storm.  I was meant to make all their dreams come true, like a magic wand in a fairy tale with a happy ending.

Thus, they didn’t know what to do with me when reality and I finally arrived.  I wasn’t supposed to be a burden.  I was created to lighten their load, to make them blissful and content.  But they didn’t feel bliss, or even happiness as they held me that first day shortly after birth.  They felt overwhelmed.  I was tiny and demanding and they didn’t even know how to pick me up or hold me without my head flopping about.  They quickly put me back in the incubator and stood staring at me, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.  As I lay helplessly screaming and kicking tiny fists and feet, they began to consider that they had made a mistake.  I needed them.  Needed things from them.  This was not at all what they had expected.  This was not what they had planned.

No wonder it took a couple of weeks for them to name me.  They were probably trying to decide if they wanted to give me back.

In a flash, with my birth, the shadows came.  Shadows and clouds covering the light.  They blamed me for the clouds.  For not chasing them away.  For not bringing sunshine and rainbows.  And perhaps they were right to hold me responsible.  For shadows have certainly followed and haunted me throughout my life.  They have trailed me wherever I have traveled.  I have never been able to leave myself…or them…behind.

I was born to be used, and use me they did, again and again, in every way and in every form possible.  By the time I was in grade school, the shadows no longer wrapped themselves around me.  They covered me like skin.  They were inside of me.  Part of me.  Cells and molecules.   My DNA.

They ate me for breakfast.  Became one with the air I breathed.  The inky, obscure blackness I lived in became the blood that pulsed through my veins.  It was all I knew.  It became who I was.

I grew in the darkness; was raised in the shadows.  Not the darkness of a loving womb.  Not even that of a womb done with its job, spitting me out because this is how life begins.  This darkness left me cold, empty and defenseless, having to find my way as best I could.  This darkness damaged me deeply.  Hid the sun and stole all of my hope.  I lived very small.  Cloaked in silence, wrapped in gloom.  Doing my best to survive in a hostile, lonely and dangerous world.

I was born into the arms of the shadows, suckled at their inky breast.  They fed me emptiness, pain and sadness.  Laughed when I was abused.  I have lived in their gloom and there I remain.  Still longing for warmth, for light, for love, but lost in the darkness waiting for a happy ending, just as my parents foolishly did.  A happy ending that, like me, will never come to see the light of day.

 

The Day My Father Died

pexels-photo-296234.jpegThe day my father died, the day they removed the ventilator that was keeping him alive, I left work early, even though I wasn’t sure why.  It just seemed as if I should, considering.  He was lying in a hospital bed 3-1/2 hours away and I could have made the trip back to see him off.  But I didn’t want to be there at the end.  It felt too hypocritical.  I couldn’t make myself wear the “good daughter” mask even one more time.

He had died to me so long ago, I didn’t think it mattered if I was at his bedside.  I didn’t want to hold his hand.  I didn’t need to say goodbye.  There were no words that could change our lack of connection or mend our relationship…not at that point.  Years of abuse had culminated in the construction of layers of walls meant to protect me from more damage than I could survive.

I sat in the sunshine that unusually warm October day, staring at the incredibly blue sky, knowing he would not experience the next beautiful day.   Nor would he see the leaves turn and fall from the trees or smell the lovely scent of flowers in the springtime.  For he would never see or smell anything ever again.  He would not wade the creek with fishing rod in hand or haunt his favorite fishing hole.  He would not mow another yard or drive his car, write a check, go out to eat, putter in the garage or breathe fresh air while gazing at the star strewn sky.  His tomorrows had all been spent.  So, I sat that magnificent day, thinking about the end of his life, waiting.  Knowing he was likely taking his last breath that very moment, the final second slipping from his hand as the air silently left his lungs.

But I felt nothing.  Nothing at all.

I knew I should be grieving, yet the emotions weren’t there.  I knew I should at least feel sorry that I would never see him again.  But the only sadness I could muster was over the reverberations of his life, the damage he did, the opportunities he missed to connect with a daughter who used to adore him.  All because he chose his lust instead of his child.  I felt an emptiness only because he left nothing worthwhile or cherished behind with me.  Only pain.  Suffering.

I sat beneath the vast cerulean sky as the warm air caressed my skin with a gentle breeze.  I wondered if it was over.  And when I couldn’t make myself feel sorrow, I retreated inside and waited for the call telling me he was gone.

I did feel a little guilt over my lack of distress.  But even guilt could not goad me to produce a tear or two.

The next day, I went back to work.  I went on as if nothing had happened.

I thought perhaps it would hit me at some point.  I assumed there would come a moment in time when I would feel some level of misery because of his death.  It didn’t happen at his funeral, which I did attend.  It didn’t suddenly roll over me like a wave of sorrow at any time during that first year after he was gone.   In fact, this coming October will mark 20 years since his passing and I have yet to shed a tear.

The only thing I have felt is relief.

I sat in the sun the day he died and felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders.  The stress of having to talk to him, to continue to act as if nothing had happened…gone!  The guilt of not going home as often as I “should” because it was so terribly hard to be around my sadistic parents…gone!   The pain of listening to him tell me I “turned out alright,” as if all the horrible things he did to me when I was a defenseless child hadn’t had any impact on who I had become…gone!  I didn’t have to think about him at all.  Or force myself to make that 3+ hour drive to see him ever again.  I was…free.

If only it was as easy to be freed from the destruction he left behind, from all the damage to my heart and soul.  His legacy.

I sat in the chair beneath the vast, blue sky without a tear in my eye.  Then I went inside, closed the door and stepped out of the chains that tied me to him.  Liberated, but wounded.  Relieved, but broken.  I silently closed the door and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Don’t Blink

The days are long.  Endless.  They drag on forever.  Except weekend days.  Weekend days seem to go a little faster.  But work days?  Normal days?  They drag on so long, sometimes I think I will never get through them.  I long to close my eyes and let the time wash over me without my awareness.    I am weary of counting the seconds and minutes.  Weary of doing so many things I have to, but never getting to do the things I want to do.

The years, however, oh my!  The years are short.  They whiz by, time spinning like a ceiling fan on high speed.  They march along, month by month, ripping pages from the calendar and leaving them scattered about in my memory.  A year is quickly spent.  Suddenly evaporated.  Then ten.  Twenty.  Where did the time go?  How did so many years escape so rapidly and without notice…yet when I look back I am startled to find they have gone without leaving a trace.

The days are long.  The clock ticks unhurriedly, second after second after second, painstakingly meandering around the dial.  The minutes accumulate at a snail’s pace.  I feel their weight.  They are a heavy burden, one building upon another.  When I finally lay my head down on my pillow at night, it is with a sigh of relief and a prayer for a better, lighter, less tortured tomorrow.

How is it that seconds seem to pass more slowly than minutes?  That minutes pass more slowly than hours?  That hours pass more slowly than days?  That days pass more slowly than months?  That months pass more slowly than years?  That years pass more slowly than decades?  Yet a life flies by in less than the blink of an eye or the beat of a heart.

I am frightened by how sluggishly the minutes pass and how dawdling are  the days.  I am terrified by how hastily the years have raced by me leaving me with so little time ahead.  I’m stunned by the way the decades have passed at super-sonic speed; they were nothing but a blur.  I have accumulated far too many decades without ever living a moment of them.

The moments were uneventful and unremarkable while I lived within their walls.  They didn’t make an impression.  But I long for them, now that they are almost gone.  I realize how much I missed by not grabbing hold of them with every bit of strength I could muster.

How can a day be so full of things that must be accomplished, but the years so void of progress?

Life is built by minutes that are boulders and decades that are sand.  Boulders that are heavy and hard.  That smash you.  And try you.  Sand that washes from my hand, instantly wiped away without a trace.  I was a girl of 16 who turned her head but once, only to find myself suddenly transformed into a woman of 50.  Sand.  All that sand.   I lived the boulders; they were harsh and painful, filled with difficulties to survive.  But nothing came of them.  And they stole everything from me.  Gone before I even knew they had arrived.   Washed back out to sea.  Lost forever.

I existed through the tedious minutes. One by one by one, until they became an hour and the hour became a day and the day became a month.  I existed, waiting for my life to begin.  Waiting and holding on to a grain of hope.  A grain of sand that slipped through my fingers.  For nothing could restrain the rapidly vanishing years. Years filled with dying stars falling into darkness and disappearing there forevermore.

The days are long.  The years are short.

Life is but a second long. 

Don’t blink.