Happy Father’s Day, In Two Memories

Happy Father’s Day, In Two Memories

 And why should I expect anyone to be interested in this piece of writing, when we all have memories of our own, plenty to keep us busy for a lifetime? I shouldn’t. And I don’t. But if I let that question stop me, I wouldn’t have this blog at all. This is, after all, a practice in not stopping… xo

My father was a funny guy. When I think of him, it is with a Camel unfiltered cigarette in his mouth, and auburn hair falling across his forehead.

In what was a typical 1970s custody arrangement, my sisters and I lived with our mother and spent Sundays with Daddy. Sometimes he’d take us to Moon’s Drugstore for hamburgers and sometimes to visit my sister’s horse, at a small family farm way out Hwy 70. The farm was in the country and, while my older sister rode, I wandered the property, smelling the hay and oats, tasting the salt lick and whistling the way Daddy taught me, by blowing through sharp blades of grass I held between my thumbs.

There was a big shady tree on the property, and one Sunday I noticed it was covered in what looked like a bristling black carpet. Holding my hand up to the tree, I let one of what turned out to be thousands of caterpillars crawl onto my palm, where I pet it with one finger. I played with the little thing the rest of the afternoon, letting it explore my hand and wrist, venture up my arm and, when it was time to leave, I kept it because it was just so dear, and in need of love.

Daddy drove us home at the end of the day and as I stepped out of the car, he told me to put the caterpillar down on the ground outside, to set him free. I stared at my father and then at the tiny creature in my hand, realizing what I had done by removing it from it’s home, knowing that I could not, as my father had suggested, just “put him in the grass.”

“He won’t know where he is,” I said. “He’ll be all alone.” But even though I was only six or seven at the time, life with my mother had already taught me the survival skills needed in my particular habitat: Do not ask for anything. Do not inconvenience anyone. Do not, under any circumstances, upset the grown-ups.

Still, I couldn’t stop my eyes from filling with tears. And then somehow, looking down at my muddy white sandals, I managed to ask, “Can we take him back where he came from?”

Daddy started the engine. In utter shock that he had agreed, I slid into the front seat next to him and together we drove in awkward silence back to the tree. I don’t think we had ever been alone before and the silence was scary, only because it was new. Daddy unrolled the window and we listened to Mac Davis on the radio until our wheels hit the gravel road leading to the dirt driveway and, finally, to the wet grass by the tree. In the pitch black, he lit a cigarette and walked with me, as I felt a scratchy tickle between the palms of my cupped hands. When we reached the tree, I returned the caterpillar to where it belonged, to its rightful place among the other caterpillars, to its family and friends and the daily toil of the insect kingdom.

On the way back to my mother’s apartment, we were silent again. Daddy wasn’t a big talker and I was shy around grown-ups, even the ones I loved. He parked and, before I stepped out of the car, our eyes met. “You’re a good egg, Moonbeam,” he said, patting my knee.

“You too,” was my response.

My mother would be awake and waiting, he knew this. She would be angry that we had taken so long. He knew that too. And he knew that she may be drinking, or packing to leave, screaming as she tossed nighties into a suitcase. Then he did the thing that he did every Sunday. The thing that I understand now, a little, but didn’t then, at all. He opened his cupped hands, and left me in the grass, alone.

 

Years later, when I was a junior in high school, my father and I lived together in an oddly shaped condominium, up a steep flight of stairs. It was actually part of a larger place where my mother, sisters and I had lived until I was thirteen, at which point everyone, for their own reasons, hit the road but me. After that, a wall was built while I was at school one day, separating the condo back into the original two units, one to be sold and one to house the leftover person, me.

Eventually, my father moved in and by eventually, I mean that what happened in the years after my mother left and before he moved in is a whole other story, but this is about my father, not about being left behind. This is about my father who, eventually, moved in with me at a time when I wanted nothing to do with him.

We rarely saw each other. We left notes: Daddy, I have rehearsal tonight. Be home at 10:00. Mag, I have a meeting tonight, D. We shared chores and grocery shopping, living on Kroger’s chicken salad, peanut butter and pickles. He was a plastic surgeon, one of the first to practice in Nashville, but there never seemed to be much money. I was a kid who grew up drinking powdered milk, but going to private school. I don’t know why we lived the way we did, and even after my father died and my sisters and I got a look at all the history and paperwork, it never added up. This isn’t about that, either.

There wasn’t much furniture in our place, but there was a low round coffee table in front of the television, where the two of us ate dinner off paper plates and left our scribbled correspondence. On the table, next to an overflowing ashtray, there was also a Folger’s coffee can filled with scissors, pens and surgical instruments he sometimes used for what he called “chores around the house.”

My junior year, the year Daddy moved in, I had a steady boyfriend, Steve. Daddy knew Steve, but not well because I never let friends up the dark wooden stairs to where we lived. I was embarrassed of the used office furniture, the old linoleum and the smoke stained walls, but the bigger reason was that I didn’t want to give my father even the slightest glimpse into my life. Daddy was all I had, so I was afraid to be angry with him but, at sixteen, I was also afraid not to be. So on Friday and Saturday nights, I would stand watch for Steve at my bedroom window, running down to meet him when his VW bug pulled into the parking lot.

On prom night that year, I got dressed in the tuxedo I had rented for the evening, black tie and tails, to match Steve’s. I was late and groping around under my bed for the high heels I’d borrowed from a friend, when I heard my boyfriend bounding up the stairs. I put on red lipstick, ran a comb through my shoulder length hair and raced out to catch my worlds colliding.

In the hallway, near the wall (yes, that wall), Steve and my father had already said hello. My date, a boy well loved and impeccably coached by his mother, had brought a corsage for me, a cluster of white sweetheart roses that he tried, and failed, to pin on the lapel of my jacket.

“Want me to give that a shot?” My father asked.

Steve might have been embarrassed, but I don’t think so. Daddy had a way of putting himself in your shoes, of offering help without judging you for needing it.

And then my father did the best thing. He went to the coffee can and got his magnifying headset with the light, the one he used for operating, taking out stitches and checking incisions. Lowering the magnifying visor over his eyes, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he pinned the flower in the proper spot, on the tuxedo jacket of his sixteen-year old daughter. I stood rooted, enduring the confusing wave of emotions, blushing beneath my collar and tie.

We made it through the moment, and with a quick hug, said good-bye. I imagine Daddy sitting down afterwards, at the coffee table, to have a peanut butter sandwich that he cuts in half with a scalpel.

That scene in the hallway with the corsage was the corniest moment in my life, and though at the time I would have denied it, I was a girl sorely in need of corny moments. My Dad needed them too, I think. And while it’s true that my relationship with him continued to exist in the realm of the painfully awkward until his death, when I was thirty-three, there are a few memories, like the corsage and the tree of caterpillars, that I have held onto for years. I’m putting them down, not in the grass alone, but here, with others like them, because they are so dear, and in need of love.

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He accepted the daily drudge of writing…

In her book Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg writes about a poetry reading she went to where one of the poets, Peter Orlovsky, instead of performing a finished work of poetry, simply read aloud from his own personal journal. In doing so, Natalie said that he showed the audience of writers that “he accepted the unacceptable, the daily drudge of writing.” And while she shared that his standing up there, reading from his journal while the other poets, like Allen Ginsgerg, read their best works, had pissed her off at the time, it had also impressed her. Years later, she says it is the only reading of that night that she remembers at all.

Maybe it made such an impact because Orlovsky got up there and had the nerve to pull back the curtain and expose what goes into making art. Not the drugs, traumatic memories or the bed-wetting, but the plain old drudgery, the grind of doing The Thing. I am saying that just anyone should be getting up and reading from his journal and calling it art. My journal, for example, is filled with a lot of lists of things I want to accomplish, musings on the nature of God and a lot of whining about how I need to get off Facebook.

But, whereas I used to have a standing promise from my friend JoDee that, upon my death, she would get a hold of all my journals and dispose of them immediately, now I’m ok with them being saved and passed on. In fact, I demand that they be passed on and, not only that, but I want my kids to read those bad boys, if for no other reason than I’d like at least two witnesses to the drudgery that went into me trying to say something interesting. It is hard, and clumsy and I am aware that in the end, I will probably fail, but I Gave It My Best Shot and, hey, if that went on my tombstone tomorrow, I’d be ok with it.

And now, poor you, you are an audience to my journey when I’m sure have your own drudgery to contend with. Is it the daily grind of feigning interest in your girlfriend’s Arbonne business? Is it the drag of kicking the habit of drinking wine while you make dinner every night, although now you’re drinking the whole bottle before you sit down with the kids? That’s some drudgery right there. (And maybe some art, too, underneath, or way down in the cracks and around the edges. Especially, the edges).

When I read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, one reason I loved it so much is that I felt like I got a window into her creative process or, more accurately, her process of becoming an artist. Don’t we all want to know how a person finds her voice? Or maybe it’s just me.

(It’s never just me.)

So, although I don’t pretend to have any followers (actually, I have four! Four whole people who want to know when I post something! Hi guys—you rule!) I would love it so much if you, whoever is reading this, would just post a line or two from your journal, if you keep one. Open to any page and give it a go.

Look, it’s easy:

Oct. 17 2015. Am I having difficulty creatively because I won’t write about the hard things? Because I waste so much time? Because I can’t spell or use commas correctly. I can’t do a cartwheel and I can’t dance in pointe shoes. The list of what I can’t do is endless.

Give me a little taste of your own personal drudgery. Not everything has to be a Vanity Fair cover, you know. If I get no responses, which is entirely possible, it’s ok. Sometimes I imagine that my friends worry about me, with this blog. They worry about the haters (kisses, haters!) and, worse, the silence, that might echo through my computer screen as I stare at it in the dark.

I can take it.

I have performed for audiences of two, while acting (badly) in Chicago, delivered a singing telegram in a sausage factory, and loved someone who didn’t love me back. I eat silence for breakfast.

Why keep pretending that what we create just blooms from thin air like a magical flower, while we demure, “What? This old thing?” Even the loveliest flower has to first fight it’s way through the plain old dirt of planet Earth. That’s the pure drudgery of becoming.

Man Power

(Another piece of fiction here. Five bucks for anyone who can suggest a name for this character. Has that ever happened to you? Where you can imagine all kinds of things about a person you’ve made up, but can’t come up with the right name?? Anyway, five bucks is five bucks!)

 

 

Marcia Trimble is still missing. It’s Saturday and I’m at The Hair Loom with Mama, getting her perm and frosted tips. I read all about Marcia Trimble in one of those magazines they have. The lady who sweeps up the hair told me I didn’t want to read that trash and tried to give me a puzzle book for babies instead, but I said I like trash and could I have another one of their Krispy Kremes please.

Nashville Magazine says Marcia Trimble’s parents put posters up like crazy and have even quit their jobs to spend all day and night looking for her because they only have one daughter and “she was so full of life.” In the middle of the page is her fourth grade picture where she has pierced ears.

Marcia Trimble is a Girl Scout, like me, so I have been hearing a lot about the tragic thing of her being missing and how they all blame it on her selling cookies door to door. But the story in the magazine isn’t just about her. It’s about unsolved crimes around town and how a whole bunch of kids and people have disappeared and no one has ever figured out what happened to them.

Also, it seems like lots of people’s heads have been chopped off. One girl was killed with a fork while she slept and the police still don’t know who did it. Every page has a picture of a regular person, smiling away like Christmas, and then you read about whatever terrible thing happened to them, like murder by strangulation, and you just can’t believe it! The magazine says they just don’t have “the man power” to solve every case.

Mama smiles all the way home from the beauty parlor, which is always a relief. On the way, we stop at the liquor store and I lie down on the back seat, watch the giant mechanical horse in the parking lot lift his hoof over and over and wonder about all the stranglers and fork killers running around out there. One of Nashville’s many criminals could reach in this car any minute and grab me and I would never be seen again. My class picture would go in the paper, the one where my bangs are too short. Mama would never pay the money to get all those posters made though, and it would probably just end right there.

I don’t know why I think about things like blood and mysteries as much as I do. It seems like the trashier something is, the more I want to know about it.

Driving home, Mama talks to herself and has the radio tuned to the WMAK news. “The state supreme court ruled today that paddling of unruly students is acceptable under the law.” I wonder if Marcia Trimble was unruly. I also wonder how come she got to have her ears pierced and I have to wait until I’m thirteen, which, in a town full of crazed maniacs, I may never live to see.

Sometimes, you get an idea.

When we get home, I go straight to my room and get my Girl Scout jumper with the white shirt for underneath and the green socks that match but are so tight you like to die. I put it all on, along with the sash that has my cooking badge glued on with Elmer’s and the beanie, which takes me forever to find. In the mirror, I am Pepper Anderson from Police Woman. I will trap Girl Scout killers by posing undercover, screaming my head off until the police come with man power to catch them.

Mama’s asleep in front of the television. Before I leave, I take the cigarette from between her fingers and run some water on it over the sink so we don’t burn to death, for crying out loud.

Slowly, I walk through all the front yards on our street, trying to look “full of life.” That is something kidnappers and murderers can’t get enough of. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue where I think I’ll sit for a minute because another thing they love is to give people rides. A lady with a sequin jacket sits next to me and makes clicking sounds with her tongue until I’m ready for the funny farm, as Mama always says. I leave there and walk all by myself toward the highway, which, as everyone knows, is practically like begging to be kidnapped. I stand in the gravel and smile as cars whiz by. No one even looks, so I stick my thumb out.

On TV, Pepper, who is actually an actress named Angie Dickinson, never has to wait very long to trap killers. That’s how you can tell it’s fake because, in real life, it’s the most boring thing in the world and you could walk around ‘til you’re a hundred getting blisters and never seeing one maniac. The police were right— we just don’t have the man power.

I’m burning up in my stupid jumper. I get a rocket pop and sit in the ditch by Rose’s Department Store, watching all the people lined up in the parking lot to see the sperm whale. You pay fifty cents and they let you go into this air-conditioned trailer that’s longer than a school bus, where they have him frozen in a gigantic block of ice. The whale has only been parked here a week, but I’ve seen it twice. The first time I stayed in the trailer so long my lips turned blue and I had bad dreams after. The trick is to just look at it just long enough to get your fifty cents worth, but not so long that you start thinking about what it’s like for the whale.

Rose’s is closed, but I can see from across the highway that there’s still some people waiting by the trailer. Here’s a rule I just made up: when I find a four-leaf clover, I can go home. Sometimes, I make rules like this up for fun, but just as often they end up not being fun at all. Like now— I’ve found a million four leaf clovers here before, but tonight I haven’t seen one and it’s getting darker and I need to hurry. Murray’s law, as they say.

I pick through clovers, three, three, three, four! No, three, three… I wonder how they got that whale to sit still long enough to freeze it? Three, three…

A truck pulls up to the curb in front of where I’m sitting in the ditch, hits the curb and keeps rolling. It’s a blue truck. Loud, with black smoke coming out the tailpipe. There’s a man inside with a baseball cap on. I wish I’d find that clover, I really do, but they only show up when you’re not looking. The man in the cap yells something from the open window of his truck.

“What?” I say, looking up at him. He doesn’t have a shirt on.

“Come over here so you can hear me, darlin’ “ He’s smiling and when I get up, brushing the grass from my knees, something hanging from his mirror catches my eye. It looks like yellow feathers and something shiny, like a hook.

“Where’s Rose’s Department Store?” I think I hear him ask. No other cars are passing. I’m standing in his black cloud thinking he must be blind. I point past him, over to the shopping center.

“It’s right there!” I have to yell over the rattle of locusts and his truck engine and the quiet of Hwy 70, at dinner time.

“How’s that? Now come on, I ain’t fixin to bite. Come close so I can hear.” He’s smiling a chipped tooth at me.

When I move closer, I see his hand in his lap. At first I figure he’s got shorts on, but then I get that he does not have shorts on, or anything at all. It feels like being stuck under water, when you don’t hear anything except the blood in your heart, pumping. His hand, in a fist, is holding his thing and moving so fast the hook on the mirror is shaking, catching orange from the sky.

“You getting’ in?” He says, smiling away but not stopping what he’s doing down there, not stopping at all. A car zooms by, not stopping, and I start to feel like the whole world is never going to stop for me, even if I scream and scream.

I back away, through the gravel and clover until I feel the line snap between us, and I’m free. I turn and run faster than anything, across Hwy 70, through the church parking lot and all the back yards with their clotheslines and chained up dogs. My heart is like a cartoon in my chest and my whole body is on fire when I make it home. The back screen door is open and I dive inside, where it’s blue from the television and Mama’s still asleep.

I make up another rule: I will never tell a living soul what happened to me tonight. I will freeze it in a solid block of ice, and only people who stand in line and pay will hear the story of the man with the chipped tooth, and the hook, and the trap that I set.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Getting a dog was a huge mistake.

My husband knew it and was adamant that he wanted nothing to do with this latest obsession of mine.

“Listen to me,” he said, one night in bed. “I do not want a dog. Never.”

My eyes were glued to a dog rescue website on my laptop. So many adorable little creatures, some wearing little bandanas! “I know, sweetie,” I replied, in my husband’s general direction.

“Are you hearing me? I won’t change my mind. I don’t want any part of this.”

“Uh-huh.” I had moved on to the puppies section, furry darlings staring from playpens and the laps of volunteers.

I was warned. The woman who was helping me design a drought tolerant landscape in our front yard tried to talk some sense into me. She pointed out the time and care a dog requires and, when I changed the subject to perhaps getting a flock of chickens, she was decidedly against that, too.

“Don’t do it,” she declared, shoving a razor sharp agave plant into the dirt. “You’ll have crap everywhere. A mess. You’ll hate it.”

I took the advice to heart, at least when it came to the chickens.

But a dog was different, I reasoned to myself. Looking around my urban neighborhood, it seemed like everyone had a dog and, judging from the number of dog parks, dog boutiques and even dog bakeries that were cropping up all around the San Fernando Valley, they downright worshiped them.

I remember a friend of mine confiding to me that, as she was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, she began to see pregnant women everywhere, imagining their lives to be perfect and her own to be sorely lacking. I experienced a less painful, but vaguely similar feeling. Those people with dogs must be more loving, more laid back (bring on the crap!) and just plain happier, in general.

Of course, there was also the matter of my two young sons who, if I didn’t do something quick, would miss out on the requisite “boy and his dog” experience.Though most of my friends smiled and agreed when I suggested my kids would love a dog, they cautioned me about my expectations.

“You’ll end up being the only one who walks it,” they said.

“I’m ok with that. I could use the exercise anyway,” I countered.

“Your kids will be grown and gone and you’ll still have to take care of that animal.”

“I’m not getting it for the kids. This will be my dog,” I assured them.

“It’s like having another child.”

Ok, I had to give this last one some thought. My kids were just getting to the point where they could do for themselves a little more and I’ll admit, I was loving it.

Eventually, I shook it off. “If it was that hard, no one would do it! Everyone I know has a dog, so it can’t be that much of a pain in the ass.”

Oh, the hubris.

It turned out that having a dog was a gigantic pain in the ass and that everything I had been told was true. It was also true that my dear husband, always so willing to do his part with the house and the kids, really meant it when he said he wanted zero part of my grand plan to become a dog owner. On this issue, he was crystal clear. I was on my own.

Except now, I had company. Constant company.

During our first week, Jackson, our new two year old terrier mix, followed me everywhere, and when he couldn’t follow me (on the advice of the trainer at Pet Orphans, we were crate training the little darling), his oddly human-ish eyes were pinned on me with a kind of psychic Velcro. I was reminded of those early days of parenting when all my senses were heightened in response to my baby’s needs. But whereas that had been a fulfilling and exciting time, aided by bonding hormones and the knowledge that I was doing an important job that would one day result in a grown up who might, god willing, at least take me to lunch, caring for this dog, this “orphan”, drained me.

Within the first few days, I noticed that I smelled like dog. I asked my husband if he noticed and he said yes, in fact our whole house now smelled like dog. He wasn’t happy about it and, predictably, this made me feel guilty since, through no fault of his own, he was now forced to live my nightmare. I bought lavender candles and opened the windows as often as possible.

Although quiet during the day, Jackson barked all night long. All. Night. Long. I moved the crate next to my bed and that did the trick but then, instead of the barking, we had what amounted to an elderly fat man with an adenoid problem sleeping with us. My husband moved into the guest room and told me he’d return when I “figured everything out.”

We relocated the crate into my son’s room, who willingly agreed to keep the pooch company during the night. I thought this very sweet, especially since Jackson had taken to “hearding” my boy through the house, nipping at his backside and staring him down. This sleeping arrangement worked at first, but eventually he started having nightmares, waking in tears and asking to sleep with us. I’m referring to the dog, of course.

Finally, after a few weeks of my sleeping on the couch nearby, Jackson acclimated to the family room and I cheerfully remarked to my husband, over a third cup of coffee (I wasn’t yet used to the six a.m. wake up that was to be my new normal), how great it is that dogs sleep at night, unlike cats, who prowl around and walk on your head.

“And it’s so sweet how he just goes right to bed at night, just like a little person!” I intoned, adding up all the ways I could think of that dog ownership didn’t suck. “Also, he really seems to want to please me. Cats don’t care what you think,” I heard myself say. This was a pro-canine argument I had long heard dog people make, and the minute I said it I looked at my husband, sipping his coffee under the ever-watchful eye of Jackson. Did I detect a look of betrayal?

Chris and I were cat people when we met. We each brought two with us when we moved in together and one, at twenty years old and counting, was still hanging on.

“I think there’s something in a dog person that needs to be adored,” he would say, on those lazy Sundays early in our relationship.

“I think all people like to be adored.” Sometimes I just liked to be contrary. The truth was, I thought he had a point.

“But there is a personality type that needs someone waiting for them when they get home. That needs all the slobbering and tail wagging.” I’d nod in agreement as our black cat walked over the morning paper, situating himself dead center on the Style section.

So there I sat, fourteen years later, with a new dog I desperately wished I had never brought home.

Though I loved the exercise I was getting on our twice daily walks, I soon developed plantar fasciitis and a bunion. And no one warned me about the cost of grooming, food, vet bills and, if you planned on having any life whatsoever, occasional doggy daycare. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had, of course. I was hell bent on trying it out for myself and would never have listened.

Late one night, I found myself trolling the internet looking for how I might deactivate his chip, the little homing device that all rescue places insist on putting in your animal before you take them home, so that I could bring him to a shelter anonymously. It had been a month at that point, I was exhausted and depressed and had come to the conclusion that a royal mistake had been made. I wanted to turn back the clock and take it all back. The memory of my life before Jackson had a rosy glow about it: the mornings spent making pancakes with my boys instead of tying on running shoes and being pulled out the front door with a fist full of biodegradable poop bags ($5.00 for a box of thirty), the long days at the beach without dashing home in the hope that he hadn’t, once again, peed on our bedroom curtains. God, the simplicity of it all!

A word of warning to anyone who recognizes themselves in my story. Do not go online and say that you want to get rid of your dog. Forget flaming, you will be incinerated. Just an innocent question about, say, finding your dog a new home will bring down onto you such holy hell as cannot be described here.

Pet Orphans, agrees to take any animal you adopt from them back, no questions asked and I considered doing it, telling the kids that he bolted away from me on our walk (never mind that he wouldn’t let me out of his sight for even a minute, much less take off on his own), but I couldn’t imagine the shame of returning him to the disapproving volunteer, tail between my legs, so to speak. Besides how is one, in this day of Social Media (status update: introducing the newest member of the family!!! J 63 Likes) supposed to explain to friends and relatives that no, there was nothing technically wrong with the dog, other than his being one? No one would understand. I would have not a friend in the world.

“Just do it. Who cares what people think?” My best friend JoDee lives a thousand miles away, but because the dog walks were long and boring I started calling her to chat twice a day.

“I can’t. I’ll feel terrible,” I admitted. “Can’t I get someone to do it for me?” I thought of all the people I knew who might like to earn fifty bucks for a half hour of work.

“You could totally pay someone to take him back for you. Get a teenager to do it. Just don’t let the boys find out.”

I thought of my boys and how Jackson licked them head to toe as we snuggled on the couch to read at night. My own mother had a habit of bringing animals home and then giving up on them, sending them “to the farm,” or sometimes just cutting to the chase and releasing them into the night. Most of these animals weren’t around long enough for me to feel close to and, as you can probably guess, I’ve never been a real animal person, exactly. But still, those are sad memories and I refused to recreate those in the minds and hearts of my own kids.

And my husband— would I have to lie about it to him too? As much as he maintained his position on my decision to get a dog, I knew he was a softie at heart. He was the one always putting ice cubes in the cat’s water. The one who insisted on keeping the porch light off when we discovered a bird’s nest on top, with three little blue eggs inside. He talked a good game, but he would never look at me the same if I gave Jackson back and made him an orphan again.

In her TED talk on regret, Kathryn Schulz said, “the point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them.”

If I could turn back time and, as with he chickens, heed the warnings of friends and not get a dog, would I? Absolutely. Jackson is now four years old and, thanks to a few sessions with a trainer ($50.00 an hour x2), he no longer snaps at my son’s rear, but he’s developed a neurotic habit of licking our couch and we will have to order new bedroom curtains soon. Nothing about this experience turned out like I’d planned, but seeing as how we’ve all made it through four years at this point, it’s safe to say that Jackson will live out his days as a permanent member of our family.

Tonight I’ll take him for a long walk he loves down the block with the purple Jacarandas and the white cat who sneers at us as we pass her yard. I’m almost fifty years old, and I’ve never dreamed of living my life free of screw-ups. I do dream of owning my mistakes with humor and, if I can manage it, compassion. The cat’s tail doubles in size and she lets out a hiss. “Come on, buddy,” I say, Jackson strains at his leash, always ready to make a friend. “You’ll never win her over.”

Maybe not but, just like a dog, that won’t stop him from trying.