It’s Been a Year and I Need to Apologize

It’s been a year since it happened.
And it’s taken a year for me to apologize.

It was the beginning of last summer, Memorial Day weekend, and I was at Lake Martin, near Auburn, Alabama, probably my favorite place on earth. This is where my family goes to slow down, catch up, and put a flame to that green egg. We’ve been lake people for fifteen years and it feels like home. But one year ago, something curious happened while we were there.

Leelee got sick.

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Allow me to back up. Ten years ago, my youngest son asked for a dog. I was not surprised, all little boys want a puppy, don’t they? No worries, I thought, I knew how to handle this. He was my third son and I was an expert on boys. We’d get a fish or a turtle or a hermit crab and all would be well. I was strong. I could say no, or so I thought. But I thought wrong. I couldn’t resist this time, and I couldn’t resist this son. He was convinced, he was persistent, and he was perfectly relentless—he still is, by the way–and he wore me down like an old tire.  He won.

Enter Leelee.

Let me tell you about Leelee. She was a nine-year-old (my husband says she was eight, but that’s not important) miniature schnauzer. At eleven pounds, eight inches tall, she wasn’t the cutest dog ever (yes, schnauzers are the ones with the beard/mustache combo), or the smartest dog ever (sit and shake-yes, rollover-not on your life), but we thought she was the best dog ever. She was a tiny, black ball of soft, furry love.

Leelee was a survivor.

She lived in five different houses with us-we’ve moved an awful lot-and somehow survived the doggy perils that came with each. She survived the ground-shaking wrestling matches of three small boys and one large dad. She survived falling off a Sea-Doo before she could swim. She survived Dobermans and German Shepherds and a Rottweiler. She survived a face-to-face confrontation with a snake, thanks to my uncle in Mobile. She survived the ALLIGATORS IN DOG RIVER (also in Mobile), and most recently, she survived the COYOTES THAT LURK AROUND THE CHATTAHOOCHEE. And her good fortune was not because I was a good doggy mom. I probably was not. But I always made sure my cellphone number was attached to her person in case of emergency. That’s something, right? So you see, Leelee was a survivor. She was a soft bundle of needy love who somehow, for nine years (eight?) trotted away from danger unconcerned and unscathed. All she required was food, a round bed, and love. And that was what she got.

But then Leelee got sick.

To be clear, it was not unusual for Leelee, to get sick. From the moment she joined our family, she would get car sick, she would eat things out of the yard and get sick, and she would especially get sick if we fed her off the table. So when Leelee became sick at the lake last May, I thought nothing of it. Just put her on the hardwoods if she starts to throw up, I constantly reminded my family. Cleanup is much easier that way, am I right? But one day of sick stretched into several and I was concerned. We came back to Atlanta and I took her to the vet where they performed test after test after expensive test, none of which showed any IMG_0523type of problem. She was perfectly healthy. There was nothing wrong and no explanation for her illness. Long, painful story short, less than a week later she died. Just like that, she was gone. And I was a wreck. Talk about an ugly cry. I’d watched her suffer, unable to help her, unable to fix her, and it crushed me. It was, in a word, excruciating. For Leelee, and for me.

Fast-forward a full year, and here’s where the apology comes in. I had no idea that losing a pet was so painful. That’s crazy, right? Definitely. I’ve actually wondered in the past how someone could get so upset over a dog passing away. It’s just an animal, not a person, correct? Incorrect, and as I now know, completely and totally wrong. I know that precious pup is a living, breathing creature that becomes part of your family and your life, and that has intelligence and emotion and can love and be loved. I didn’t before, but I realize all of this now. So, I’m sorry I didn’t understand the importance of a beloved pet, and I’m sorry I didn’t get the pain of losing one. Believe me, I get it now. And to all you dog lovers out there, I get you now. And I love that you love your dogs. And mostly I love that you are brave and optimistic enough to adopt another dog after the former one is gone. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.

What really happened to Leelee?

Here’s my best I’m-no-veterinarian guess: I believe she swallowed a shard of glass that tasted good to her and that didn’t show on the x-rays or scans, and it perforated her esophagus/trachea. At first she couldn’t eat, then she couldn’t drink, and finally she couldn’t breathe. It was pitiful, brutally so and it still hurts to revisit what she went through. But thankfully, time does heal, at least with the loss of a dog, and after twelve months I feel better.cardinal-perched-on-branch-pc-wallpaper

Now, exactly one year later, I sit watching a bright red cardinal outside my window and I have to wonder if the legend is true, the one that says this striking bird represents the spirit of a lost loved one. Who really knows, but if nothing else, it’s a lovely coincidence that makes me smile. So today, I send respect out to all you dog lovers, and I hope you’re enjoying those sand-papery or slobbery licks to the face, because as I now understand, dogs are loved ones too.

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Worth the Read two

If you love to read, or want to love to read, this recurring section of my blog is for you.

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Here’s how it works:  I’ll recommend five books that contain something unique, interesting, or worthwhile.  In short, each book was worth the time it took to read.  Then you decide which ones interest you.  In a read it forward kind of way, I’m hoping you’ll benefit, as I have, from one or more of these suggestions.

So prop up your feet and enjoy this spring pollen weather.  But more importantly, pick up a book, open your mind to something new, and enjoy.

 

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STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova

Gallery Books 2007

Contemporary fiction

It is no secret that Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. This is a fact we all know. But in STILL ALICE, Lisa Genova depicts the disease from the inside, from the patient’s perspective. Genova, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, unfolds a beautiful yet haunting story about a psychology professor who discovers, at age fifty, that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alice’s discovery is jolting and the creeping progression of the disease is heartbreaking. Books don’t typically make my cry, but this one, because the disease is so cruel and so slow and so much a possibility for all of us, this one made me weep. If I could, I would require everyone I know to read this eye-opening novel before turning thirty. We would all do well to gain a greater understanding and empathy for the victim’s of this brutal disease to which there is currently no prevention or cure. And no matter how much spinach or how many blueberries we eat, every one of us is still at risk. This is not a lighthearted beach read by any means, but it is fascinating, enjoyable, and important in an inspirational sort of way.

 

 

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DRY by Augusten Burroughs

St. Martin’s Press 2003

Memoir

With a name like Augusten Burroughs, I knew this writer had to be interesting. And I was correct. Burroughs is not only interesting, but he is hilarious, magnetic and extremely entertaining. And his story is powerful; I’m talking how is he still alive powerful. Burroughs (RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) is a master of memoir and storytelling extraordinaire and he wastes no time drawing the reader into the world of a downward spiraling alcoholic. Coupling raw, honest writing with a fascinating, horrifying story of his ten-year road to sobriety, the result is a memoir that is as engaging as any I’ve ever read. In the words of Burrough’s agent (and husband) Christopher Schelling after he read the first draft, “It’s funny and sad and effed-up and crazy and completely riveting.” What he said, and more. If you are of the opinion that alcoholism is a personality flaw that can be fixed with a little self-control, I urge you to read this memoir, reconsider your position, and see me after class. The CDC defines alcoholism as a chronic disease, and health professionals agree that alcoholics may require a lifetime of ongoing treatment. This one is not for the kids, but if you are looking to be fully enveloped in a book while gaining insight on a very real and debilitating disease, DRY is well worth the read.

 

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BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS by Emily Carpenter

Lake Union Publishing, 2016

Psychological thriller, Southern Gothic suspense

Buckle up, buttercup, and hang on tight because this story is going to take you on a ride like you’ve never experienced. From page one, the plot twists and turns are surprising at least, jarring and haunting at most. Carpenter pulls the reader toward questions surrounding her main character Althea’s ominous 30th birthday, but the more answers Althea gets, the more questions she has. This multi-generational mystery races around the state of Alabama toward a weighty resolution that will leave you both exhausted and relieved. But don’t think you’ll be able to guess the ending; you won’t even be able to predict what’s going to happen on the next page. This treasure hunt for the truth has a GONE GIRL type of urgency sprinkled with a ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST kind of crazy. Carpenter’s debut novel couples a fresh, smart voice with a unique, multi-layered story and the result is nothing less than startling. Something tells me we’ll be hearing more from this inventive author and her gloriously wild imagination in the future.

 

 

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UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer

Anchor Books, 2004

Nonfiction

When a friend of my husband’s, a lawyer and former district attorney, recommended this book to me, I should have known. I should’ve known it would be literary, I should’ve known it would be historical, and I should’ve known it would be a book that would require me to put on my proverbial thinking cap and pull it down tight. And it was. In his wildly popular memoir turned movie, INTO THIN AIR, Krakauer writes about extreme physical adventure, but in UTBOH, he turns to the extreme religious practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the book’s heart is a double murder carried out by two members of the FLDS church who claim that God has instructed them to kill. And kill they do. Krakauer uses the murders as a thread which weaves its way through his study of the history of the FLDS church. And let me tell you, his revelations ain’t pretty. From sexual and emotional abuse to murderous violence to a special strain of religious crazy, this book reveals atrocities you’ll wish you’d never known had taken place anywhere, much less in the US of A. That said, the church of LDS’s response to this book is, as you might imagine, harsh. It includes phrases like full-frontal assault on the veracity of the modern church, poor command of the subject matter, and a disservice to his readers. So it would be appropriate to consider the church’s response when deciding about the accuracy of the information presented. But if you are interested in learning one author’s fascinating take on America’s fastest growing religion–albeit a challenge–this one is worth the read.

 

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1984 by George Orwell

Secker and Warburg, 1949

Dystopian fiction, political fiction

I am uncomfortably aware how very late I am to the Big Brother party, but at least I made it. I finally picked up this novel because my good friend told me it was her son’s favorite book, EVER. And from what I gather, her twenty-something year old son is of Zuckerberg-level intelligence. So that was it, the gauntlet was laid. I was forced to read this once futuristic, modern classic that somehow I had managed to avoid. And what I found was surprising. The premise is simple, the characters and dystopian setting are intriguing, and the end is wonderfully creepy. The themes of control, manipulation, and governmental totalitarianism are ingeniously addressed in Orwell’s fast-moving story. Some might even feel his ideas translate to today’s world–I won’t be commenting on that. But I will say, if you’ve missed this one, read it for yourself and draw parallels if you dare. Either way, it’s quick, significant, and worth the read.

Turning Fifty-Here’s the Catch

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Like many of my family members and friends before me, I recently turned fifty. I was a big girl: I put on a smile, covered my wrinkles fine lines with makeup, and partied like it was 1999. Well, sort of. In reality, my family took me out to a nice dinner and gave me a beautiful necklace, which I love. It was a wonderful and special evening, but after the celebration was over it was time to face reality.

There are a number of realities a person must face upon turning fifty. Among them is a medical procedure called a colonoscopy which is a diagnostic measure used in the early detection of colorectal cancer. The first time I heard about a colonoscopy, I was thirty-something and watched a very brave Katie Couric undergo the procedure on live national television. What a trooper she was. So I knew a little about the test, I knew my time was coming, and I knew it would be awful, however, I didn’t understand the full scale of the upcoming awfulness. I mean there would be propofol involved, how bad could it be? But the reality of that pesky cancer issue was lingering, so I really had no choice but to move forward. And so I did.

The first order of business was to choose my physician. I chose my doctor in part because she’s good, and in part because she’s a woman. I love female doctors, but good women gastroenterologists are hard to find. So after some checking around coupled with advice from my husband who works in healthcare, I found her. After meeting with her, I liked her and I trusted her and she agreed to perform my colonoscopy.

Next it was time for my prep work, as they call it. Now let me tell you, although I’m sure you’ve already heard, preparing for a colonoscopy is UNPLEASANT. I knew about the clear liquid diet, I’d heard about the way-too-many fluids I would have to drink, and I dreaded the ensuing cleansing of the colon. But if Katie Couric could do it, then so could I. And with some difficulty, I’m proud to say, I made it through all the unpleasantness.

On the morning of the big day, I got to the outpatient surgery center as scheduled. I felt like hell, I looked like hell, and I had been through twelve hours of hell. I just wanted to do this thing and have it behind me. The nice receptionist called my name and I proceeded, in my emptied-out state, to complete the paperwork and sign the forms. Next, the kind insurance clerk called my name and we filled out more paperwork and signed more forms. Finally, a wonderfully compassionate nurse called me back to the room where I put on a hospital gown, answered a few more questions, and signed a few more forms. And frantically ran to the restroom a hundred more times.

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Now it was go-time. I was lying on the table weak and scared. “Are you nervous?” the CRNA asked. “Unreasonably,” I responded. She went on to promise they would take good care of me and not to worry, it would all be over soon. But still, I continued my fretting. I mean there was a scope about to be inserted into a place the sun will never shine, a slight risk of colon perforation, a chance they might find cancer. Not to mention the horrifying possibility that I would blurt out something wildly inappropriate while I was under anesthesia. But all that didn’t matter now, this thing was happening. My doctor came in the room and I signed one last form. I said a quick prayer and thought about my husband and kids. And then, there it was—hypnotic bliss. I was out.

But three seconds later I was awake and it was over. Whether it was good, bad, or God-forbid ugly, the procedure was over. Whatever happened in that room, happened.  And it happened fast. The staff rolled me down the hall to recovery and I wondered. I wondered how the procedure went, I wondered if I had said anything crazy, and of course I wondered if I had cancer.

The answer to that last question took me by surprise. My doctor told me she had removed a large polyp from my colon, which had likely been there for some time. After the lab work came back, she further explained the polyp was the type that would have turned into cancer. Gulp. Cancer. That was not the news I had expected. But it was indeed the news I got. “Thank you,” I told my doctor, “Thank you for getting that thing out of me.”

So, in three short years, I will again face the same uncomfortable, unpredictable, and downright unpleasant procedure. The large precancerous polyp my doctor removed from my colon that day has ensured it. I will go back as instructed and have another colonoscopy and trust those kind, amazing, wonderful people to save my life again if necessary.

Consider for a moment your own health. If you’ve turned fifty, it’s time to be brave and schedule that horrible, wonderful, life-saving colonoscopy. If I can do it and Katie Couric can do it, then so can you. It may seem too unpleasant to face, but I assure you, the alternative could be worse. In my case, it most certainly would have been worse. I’m encouraging you (begging you really) to make the call, because although this procedure may be inconvenient and difficult, it’s truly about so much more than that. It’s about people, and lives, and saving people’s lives. And I, for one, am grateful to my doctor and her team of professionals for saving mine.

Worth The Read

“You read too much!” I hear this at least once a week from a certain someone who shall remain unnamed. The thing is, it could be true. I love to read. And I do read all the time. I’ll read anywhere, and just about anything. I’m open to all genres, fiction or non. Because the thing is, I just love a good book.

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I’d like to say I’ve always been a reader, but that wouldn’t be true. To be honest, I didn’t want to have anything to do with books as a child. Or a teenager. Or a young adult. Growing up, I’d always felt my life was full, why would I want to read about someone else’s? But then came my early thirties. A stay-at-home-mom ready for some intellectual stimulation, I began my journey into the world of books. And what a wonderful journey it has been. Now, twenty years later, I’m every bit as hungry for the next book as I was the first.

“Have you read anything good lately?” I hear this a lot. If you are a reader, you probably do, too. And my answer is always an emphatic YES. Most of the books I read are “good” in some way.  It might be the unique characters, it might be the intriguing plot, or it might be the beautiful prose. But usually there is something specific that makes a book worth the time it takes to read.

With this in mind, below are five books I’ve read recently that made an impact on me.  Each one might not be the best book I’ve ever read, but all of them contain something that is unique, interesting, or worthwhile.

So go ahead, pick up a book, open your mind to something new, and most of all enjoy. And please, never let anyone tell you that you read too much.

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THE DANISH GIRL by David Ebershoff

Viking Penguin 2000

literary fiction

“Set against the glitz and decadence of 1920’s Copenhagen, Dresden, and Paris, this stunning first novel explores the boundaries of sex and gender, love and marriage.”

Elegantly written, this novel loosely based on the life of artist Einar Wegener and his wife “Greta” exposes the dilemma of a woman who has been born in a man’s body. Set in the early 1900’s, Ebershoff’s characters gently invite the reader into a marriage where the love is real but the pain is intense. His careful and respectful handling of the subject of life as a transgender is both eye opening and intriguing. If you know little about the transgender condition, and watching I Am Cait doesn’t count for much, this book serves as an effective guide to understanding the community of people who are faced with a very real struggle everyday of their lives. Kudos to Ebershoff who helped open a conversation many have been reluctant to join. When Hollywood picks you up, you know you’ve written something special.

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DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight

Transworld Publishers 2015

psychological thriller, domestic noir

“What if you realized the terrifying book you were reading was all about you?”

 

The premise of this debut novel is one of the best I’ve heard.  Ever. The main character finds a book in her home and after she begins to read it realizes it’s based on a deep, dark secret she’s been hiding for twenty years. Now that’s downright awesome. I had to know more. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of books in this genre because I either figure out the end before I get to it, or I’m disappointed in it, but this book surprised me. I’ll leave it at that, but if you’re a fan of GONE GIRL or THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, you will most certainly like this book. For the unexpected twist and the excellent premise, DISCLAIMER is worth the read.

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BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

Berkley Books 2014

contemporary women’s fiction, suburban noir, psychological suspense

“Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal.”

 

“A hell of a good book. Funny and scary.” The great Stephen King’s quote on the front cover of this book convinced me to pick it up. I mean talk about an endorsement. And I was not disappointed. Moriarty creates the surprising juxtaposition (I love that word) of a murder set against the backdrop of a kindergarten. Who would do that? But she does and it works well to create a satirical feel of humor slapping danger in the face. The characters in this small Australian town are flawed yet likable, and respected yet despicable. Moriarty completes a story filled with love and hate, courage and fear, truth and lies. For the unique way she sets light against darkness while building intriguing suspense, BIG LITTLE LIES is worth the read.

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BRONNER A JOURNEY TO UNDERSTANDING by Sherri Burgess

New Hope Publishers 2016

Non-fiction, inspirational, religious

“God teaches and refines us through pain and suffering.”

 

Okay, I’ll admit, I was not looking forward to reading this book like I look forward to a juicy novel. I knew it would be heavy, I knew it would be sad, and I knew it would be difficult to process. Burgess has written a heartbreaking, heart-healing book about losing her two-year-old son. The book’s purpose, Burgess explains, is to provide a biblical explanation for pain and suffering. Bronner, the toddler her husband nicknamed “Cornbread” tragically drowned in the family’s backyard swimming pool on a cold January night in 2008. This book chronicles Burgess’s struggle to come to terms with the age-old question of why God would allow something as unthinkable as this to happen. The answer comes in the form of another question: why are we put here on earth? The conclusion: life is not about us, it is about God. Burgess and her family have resolutely set themselves to be about the business of God in the face of their pain and they have determined not to let Satan keep them from living their lives accordingly. Reading like a Bible-study at times, BRONNER is filled with scripture passages that guide the reader to discover his/her role on earth as a follower of Christ. For anyone struggling with loss, this book is worth the read.

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Dr. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson

Longmans, Green, & Co. 1886

Victorian gothic novella

“Good. Evil. Together.”

 

STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, the original title of this long, short story, is a quick but fascinating read. Stevenson is said to have written the first draft in less than a week while in poor health, and was thought to have been under the influence of some pretty heavy “medication” at the time. The result of his outpouring is an intense character study of a terribly tortured individual. Although the language is difficult (I had to read a number of those nineteenth century sentences more than once), and the setting is dark, the characters exude an irresistible angst and pull you into their impossible predicaments. Stevenson had me at: “My devil had long been caged; he came out roaring.” Whoa, I feel you, Dr. Jekyll.  Stevenson’s tale is summed up in his revelation that “all humans are commingled out of good and evil,” and he pushes this concept to its furthest limits. If you’ve somehow missed this classic, for its originality and timelessness, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is still after all these years, worth the read.

 

 

 

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How Do You See It?

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“What do you see when you look at the water?” I asked my sister during Spring Break in Cocoa Beach.

“Sharks,” she said without hesitation. “And maybe some other toothy, scary creatures of the deep. Why, what do you see?”

“Water,” I said. “When I look at the water, I see water. Sparkling, sunlit waves of water, rolling peacefully toward the shore.”

“Hmm,” she said.

“Hmm,” I said.

There we were, two sisters from an identical gene pool, with two completely different ways of seeing the same thing. Continue reading How Do You See It?