It is the Monday after the Third Sunday of Easter, and my dog, Roo, has gotten into a playful scrap with another dog. The damage at first seems minor (a bloodied ear, maybe) but by Tuesday morning, the dog is incapacitated and screaming, so I rush him to the vet.

Roo has never been seriously ill or hurt in all his seven years of life – an occasional gross stomach bug, but otherwise, nothing – and watching him in pain is excruciating. Once we arrive at the vet’s office, the doctor takes him out of the exam room, still screaming, to take a closer look at his injuries, and I fall backward into the chair, rubbing my temples, furious and terrified at my Inability To Do Anything Useful.

The depth of my Aloneness in this moment is nearly unbearable to me. Since my divorce from Andrew was final seven years ago, Roo has been my one constant companion. He has survived every crisis with me; celebrated every triumph. He has faithfully given me purpose when I felt I Could Not Go On. He sat beside me through all my surgeries; my injuries; my heartaches. He is a dog, and in his dogness has always known exactly what to do to help me when the going gets tough.

I, however, am human, and I rarely know what to do.

A prime example of my Chronic Inability To Know What To Do came early in my marriage to Andrew, when we had had to put my beloved terrier Lilly to sleep. When the critical moment came and the vet prepared to administer the permanent drugs, instead of holding on to my dog, or taking my husband’s hand, I ran from the room like a crazy person. I dashed out on to Lispenard Street; paced the block until it was all over, leaving Andrew alone with Lilly as she died.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of her dying – Lilly had been in kidney failure for months so I knew it was coming. At the Animal Medical Center, where they’d cared for her throughout the last days of her kidney failure, they had taught me to give her fluids under the skin so we’d have just a few more precious days together. In a spectacular display of desperation or denial, I had even gotten her groomed before we put her to sleep so she’d look pretty as she went to meet her maker. I think it was that I was afraid of something bigger; something emptier. I think I was afraid of grief itself.

And now here I am, with my dog who is screaming in pain, and I want to run away but I can’t because it is only me – he has only me – and I have never felt so alone in my entire life. The vet comes back and she gives me drugs for the dog, and tells me his neck is badly injured but he will recover. But it will be hard. It will take time. Everything will take time.

Later, RHJ says to me, It’s ok, I know that going through something like this with a beloved dog is hard…

And I try to explain, It’s not about the dog…but the words don’t come.

It is not about the dog at all. It is about remembering running from the vet’s office and into the street, terrified. It is about how, a week after Lilly died, the hospice called from Florida to say my grandmother was dying and my mother and I left a wedding in California; packing up and flying out the next morning to be by her bed to do the work that women do – bringing lives into the world, and shepherding them out of it.

It is about the fact that on the last night of my grandmother’s life, that Nat King Cole song, Unforgettable, was playing in the background, and I hadn’t been able to listen to it since, but inexplicably, as Paul was being fitted for his wedding suit, the Muzak screeched to a halt, and Unforgettable began to play. I took it as a sign that despite my doubts, Paul was the Right One, because I am always desperate for signs. But maybe that was the wrong sign.

I realise, as Roo recovers, that I have been waiting for signs to tell me how to be Helpful, or Right, or How to Do Things Correctly, like I am Steve Martin in L.A. Story. Symbols that indicate: How to Be Married to One Person for a Long Period of Time. How to Put the Dog Down and Not Run From the Room. How Not to Destroy Your Own Life in 200 Easy Steps.

After three weeks, Roo is walking again; acting like himself again. As I watch him lounge comfortably as I write, I am suddenly confident that there is no playbook for this. We are all just fumbling around, all of the time, blind like newborn kittens, mewling and suckling, with no earthly clue what we are doing. This revelation doesn’t make me feel any better about leaving my ex-husband alone with our dead dog in Tribeca Animal Hospital in 2006, but it at least gives me the sense that I am not nearly as alone as it sometimes feels. That everyone else is just as clueless and afraid as I am; just as prone to running screaming from the risk of loss.

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

When you are mixing
Drinks
Lives
Households
Politics
Religions
There are some days when even the most
Mundane of things
Seem Remarkable.

For instance:
He is a vodka drinker;
I am Gin.
But by some Divine Intervention
Some Holy Miracle
Our many households always seem to have both.
But then there are other days
Like today
When
By grace and willpower
I manage to speak in the strange patois
Of loving other people’s children
And everyone and thing is accounted for
And then I look down
And realise
I am wearing socks
That are not mine
That are not yours
That were probably your ex wife’s

And I think God must be laughing at us.
And all of our plans
And of this mixing
Of drinks
Of lives
Of the mundane and the divine.
(April, 2017)

(This is the third in a short series of posts)

I drink gin by myself on Christmas and Boxing Day in Brazil – touring Iguazu Falls and doing some yoga before heading back to Buenos Aires later in the week after Christmas. I am in the muggy, jungle-y part of Brazil, and each day, I dutifully slather myself head-to-toe in mosquito repellent, because the State Department’s website has warned of Zika in this part of the world, and I am notoriously sweet to insects.

You’re not family orientated, Paul’s words echo in my head like a mantra.

Each night, I sleep with a mosquito repellent band on each of my wrists and ankles, and one to tie my long, blonde hair up on my head.

You wrap your hair? Mr. A remarked when he came to blow it out on the morning of my company Christmas party.

Of course I do, I rolled my eyes and gestured down to the coil hair-tie on my wrist; pointed at the folded satin pillowcase set out to be put on the bed when the housekeeper changed the sheets later that day.

I don’t know any white girls who do that, he laughed.

You need to spend more time with Scandi girls, I said, Austrians; German-extraction types. Our Bottle-blonde hair breaks!

And here, in Brazil, I am sleeping in a haze of gin and DEET; desperately fending off a teratogenic virus for the benefit of an imaginary marriage-wrecking child; putting up my goldilocks with mosquito bands instead of invisibobble ties. In the mornings, I kayak in rapids with a tour guide who takes me too close to the belly of the Falls, and the spray soaks me; chokes me. It reminds me of being across the border in Chile – whitewater rafting in the rapids of the Maipo River when my first divorce was being finalised.

I got sucked under, then, and thought for one terrifying second that I would drown before I remembered how to put my feet out and float downstream until the guide could fish me out of the river with a lifeline. At the end of that journey, I’d crouched over our campfire, soaked and lonely, stinking of silty water and a fire made with wet wood that was too weak to dry me out.

I do not drown, and I do not get bit, and I will not let myself be sucked under again. I fly back from Brazil to Buenos Aires where I meet friends and I laugh like a woman unchained. We fly to Mendoza where we drink wine in burning hot vineyards where the sun glints off the snow in the Andes and everything looks like Southern California.

We hire a driver and drive the road between Argentina and Chile, hugging but not crossing the border, next to the narrow-gauge railroad where the tracks are rusting and the trains have not operated since the 1970s. We stop in the valley where Aconcagua rises in the distance, and I remember that my friend PG climbed that once, because I’m the sort of woman with friends Who Do That Kind of Thing.

Everything is deja vu, even here in the middle of the Andes.

I FaceTime my parents again on New Year’s Eve, and it’s a quick and sweet call because they are with my aunts and uncles at the lake. I tell them I am in Mendoza; they ask about Pete this time, because they have read between the lines about Paul. Pete is still in hospital, I say, and I give them specifics. My dad is worried about Lady H; JRA; Pete himself. They ask me what I am doing; they are curious about who I am with – who my friends are – but I say nothing more.

On New Year’s Day, I fly back to Buenos Aires, and take a taxi to our hotel where we are promptly robbed. I can’t even be mad about this – there’s a gentle buzz of chaos all around me – few streetlights or stoplights; seemingly no rhyme or reason at intersections; invisible lane lines on roads – and being robbed in a gentlemanly way through an alleyway park job, a switcheroo scam, and some money clearly printed on a laser printer, seems rather low-stakes in the overall scheme of things.

Everything’s fine. At this point, casual lawlessness seems almost comic relief after the rigidity of Dublin 4.

I spend a few days taking in the delights of Buenos Aires; basking in the gardens of the hotel. It looks like the set of Evita. I practice my godawful Spanish, which has improved since my trip to Chile in 2010, and all the other business and pleasure trips to Spain, but is still comically bad for someone whose heritage is largely Iberian.

Argentina is a joy. I feel like myself again for a few days; or at least, like my head is above water.

And then, on the last day, my flight back to New York is late, and checkout is mid-day so we decide to go to the spa to kill a few hours of time. I get a massage and I shower off the oils and it is only as I am putting on my leggings for the long flight back to JFK that I finally notice the first swellings of a single, massive mosquito bite on my upper thigh. It all comes back to me suddenly – the river, and the spray, and the choking feeling, and the loneliness, and the wet wood, and the longing, and the two divorces, and the monsters in my genetic code, and I remember that I am not family oriented, and I feel like the water is holding me down once again.

 

Here is a list of things that people say that make me crazy:

1) I’m writing a book

2) I think I have a book in me

3) I really think I could write a book if I just had the discipline

4) NaNoWriMo is just my favourite holiday

5) I am shopping my NaNoWriMo Novel but I’m not getting any bites so far

6) You can buy my (self-published) novel on Amazon.

7) Why haven’t you downloaded my book, it’s only $0.99 on the Kindle store this week

8) Will you read my book?

9) You used to be so much more prolific – what happened?

10) You should write a book.

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s August’s prompt. 

Nostalgia // Tell us about your favourite summer memories. As the summer winds down, tell us about your favourite summer memories from this year (or any year). We want to see your freckled faces and tanned skin. Show us your summer.

I had to retire my favourite summer dress recently.

It was a strapless dress, and I’d had it for over a decade, so it was beyond salvaging. It was just an old brown dress from Ron Herman that I’d picked up on a trip back to LA after I’d sat for the Bar. I’d taken it all over the world with me; worn it to all sorts of major life events.

I’m not sure it was even attractive, but I felt good in it.

There is something special about a favourite summer dress – mine; anyone’s. It seemed to absorb the smells of salt and sand and sunscreen over the years. The dress was constructed of a simple t-shirt fabric, and had resisted a decade-plus of spills, and tears, and subway grit, and New York City grime. I had used the dress’s length to cover up the nasty case of shingles I’d been surprised with one hot, late summer five years ago. I had sunburned the hell out of my chest while wearing it to my ex sister-in-law’s graduation. It was a sword; a shield. If you know me in person, you probably wouldn’t remember the dress offhand, but you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of me in it.

It had come with me to explore all of China, and jump fully clothed into the sea in Thailand; had travelled all over Chile and New Zealand. We had rung in the New Year in Australia together in 2012, and soaked in blue English nights over warm beer with good company.  I had worn it back to LA one warm late-winter to console my best friend after her house burned down. The dress had been my one constant over my whole tumultuous time in NYC – through husbands, and jobs; change and upheaval. No matter the circumstances or the hemisphere, I could count on slipping into my brown summer dress and feeling like myself.

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(After the fire)

A few weeks ago, I found it in the bottom of a drawer. I hadn’t been able to find it all summer, but I knew I had put somewhere last year to remind me to take it to the tailor to have the elastic around the top replaced. I obviously had tucked it away so well, it had avoided notice. The dress was getting on in years and it needed to be repaired; probably replaced, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with it just yet. I slipped it on anyway – wrinkled and sagging – on my way between running Summer Streets (my first outdoor run of the season!) and a hair appointment.

During the colouring process, the gown covering me slipped open, and my colourist dripped bleach on my dress. In all my years of being a bottle blonde, that has never happened. But it did, and I knew that it was the universe’s way of telling me that The Dress Was Done.

There is something funny about living in the past; about not merely breathing in the sweet summer smell of a t-shirt dress every year, but clinging to it. There’s something silly and maybe a little sad about patching up a dress that is clearly falling off your body and smells permanently of sunblock, perfume, and faintly of sweat. So when I arrived home from my hair appointment, I changed out of my dress and slipped into a different outfit before meeting some friends for Mostly Mozart that night.

I looked like myself, but different. Older, maybe.

Before I went out, I found my kitchen scissors and I quickly cut two swatches from the bottom of the dress, then binned it. I penned a letter to Jade in California, reminiscing on the night that I’d come to her house after the fire; wearing my off-season summer dress. Then I popped the note in the mail with a scrap of dress; headed off to Lincoln Center and never looked back.

In California, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship with fire. Every year, the wildfires rage and they burn the canyons near my parents’ old house; sometimes hopping the eight lanes of freeway and lapping dangerously near the pink stucco expanse of tract-homes on winding cul-de-sacs. The droughts and the ever-growing brush make this a constant threat. But farther north, the coniferous forests also need the fire to reproduce – some of the old-growth trees, like the Giant Sequoias, need fire to release their seeds from their cones. Fire is part of the renewal process. Other trees depend on periodic fires to clear the choking brush so they can grow.

Jade almost died in a fire about a decade ago; escaping at the last minute, woken up by her cat. A few years after, I dragged her into a brush fire in Yosemite Valley, deep into the Sequoia forests, to climb above the treeline; away from but still inside the inferno.

So it seemed like the right thing to do – to take the dress you wear to the water and you wore to the fire and send it back to where it came from in California.

Being a grown-up is funny, sometimes, isn’t it.

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A few weeks ago, I was running late coming back from my riding lesson. My lesson had run long, and the traffic had been bad, and it was the one day I’d ever scheduled something for after. I’d dropped my car at the garage and grabbed a taxi and gone immediately to a hair appointment in my sweaty riding togs. For someone like me, part of the attraction to horseback riding was the outfits. I like leggings and oxfords and little blazers and fuzzy velvet hats and boots. (I am a Hat Person – but that is a topic for another post). Excepting the helmet, I literally wear that exact outfit to the office, frequently.

But that particular weekend was the hottest weekend of the year-to-date. So I was racing to a hair appointment in sweaty skintight clothing, smelling like a horse, helmet in tow.

My stylist tolerated me, managed to detangle my mop, and eventually sent me on my way. By then, the evening had cooled down slightly, and since I had a helmet with me anyway, I thought I should just Citibike home! I was coming from all the Flatiron district and heading to the Upper East Side, so this was a ride of more than 50 blocks. It was just me and the delivery boys out on bikes – it was still a blistering evening; the “cooldown” was relative.

After a few blocks on the bike, I noticed that people were hooting and whistling as I rode past. I checked, quickly, to make sure that I hadn’t split my breeches; that nothing was hanging out. I was riding a Citibike in what was obviously a horseback riding helmet; wearing what were clearly horseback riding clothes. I had strapped my monogrammed boat n’ tote to the front basket and was riding up Third Avenue, looking like I’d commandeered a hulking cerulean steed, mistaking it for the horse I’d rode in on. I rode another few blocks before I crossed the Rubicon of awareness and realised why people were trying to get my attention: I looked like an idiot.

Around Murray Hill, a middle-aged man on the corner screamed Fuck you, Ann Romney! at me, and cackled with delight at his own cleverness.

I finally made it over to the bike lane on First Avenue, and turned on to my street, awash in a mix of embarrassment, amusement, and adrenaline. As I rode down my street, a pizza delivery guy whistled at me long and loud. I made a rude gesture as I locked the Citibike into place; snapped a photo of the bike for posterity (because if you don’t take a picture, it didn’t happen); and headed into my building.

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(Predictably, that same delivery man was delivering pizza to someone in my building and I had to suffer through a mildly humiliating, interminable elevator ride with him.)

I learned a lot that day. For instance, merely because one can ride two things in one day using the same equipment does not mean that one should endeavour to be quite so foolish/ambitious. Maybe sometimes I try to do too much and wind up looking ridiculous, even if I do have some fun in the process.

This is the eighth (and final) piece in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifthsixth, and seventh.

By mid-June, I am feeling crazed by Not Knowing whether I have the type of EDS that will make my organs rupture without warning, and also by Not Being Able to run now, or potentially ever again.

There is nothing that makes a woman feel less attractive than spending a summer recovering from surgery. My skin and stomach are both taking a beating from the constant onslaught of anti-inflammatories. I have been nauseous for weeks; constantly dissolving Zofran tablets on my tongue. I sleep in long, monogrammed PJs even as the temperature rises because I am sick of looking at the scabby holes in my leg. I’m walking on my own, but my gait is like that of a baby giraffe and I cannot walk for too long without epic fatigue.

These are First World Problems, so I try to power through. I focus on how quickly I am healing; I talk about my progress with physical therapy. I take pictures of the scars and I post them on Instagram because when you are full of holes, you only want people to see the supernova of your body on your terms. I have two constellations of incisions – one on each hip – and a whole galaxy of scars on my right knee from repeated, failed arthroscopies during my days of competitive sports. There is also a several inches-long vapour trail running down the inside of my right leg from my running accident last summer.

I have to do something. I search for any activity that I can participate in that will Take The Edge Off and will not require more medication and that will not bore me. Under the influence of the last of my narcotics and Royal Ascot, I decide horseback riding is the way forward. I ask my physical therapist whether equitation is permissible, and he tells me that it is possible, but not advisable because Meredith, squeezing a piece of horsemeat between your legs could irritate your hip flexor.

I love making dirty jokes, but I do not take his bait because the last time I did that, I wound up announcing to the entire gym that I eat boxes for breakfast! I was talking about my prowess in conquering the eight inch riser they were having me step-up and step-down to prove my quad strength before they’d let me in the anti-gravity treadmill. But I got a few looks that morning.

I spend the next few days scouring the internet for barns that are not too stuffy, that are close to the city, and that accommodate adult beginners.

The last time I rode a horse was when I was leaving my first husband. Jade told me that when I was ready to leave Andrew, I should come home. When I knew it was time, I called my parents to come pick me up at a wedding in Las Vegas and take me back to LA. I had had several moments where I knew my first marriage was over, but that wedding where Andrew had dragged us to Vegas insisting he was the best man in a wedding in which he was not even in the wedding party provided a particular moment of clarity as to the direness of my circumstances.

Once I arrived in LA towards the end of that particular shitshow, Jade took me to her mother’s house. Jade’s mother, Das, is an accomplished equestrienne, and was one of the only divorcees I knew intimately at the time. Das took me out on the trail and we rode for hours and hours. It had inspired me to write a poem about Frederic, and horses, and divorces, which I had shared with him, and which he had praised in that way that made clear he thought it was stupid.

And that was that.

Within months Frederic was legally separated, and so was I and I thought things might go somewhere, sometime. But then he surprised me by telling me that he’d been seeing the Danish girl all that time, and what was I doing, still writing him letters? Didn’t I know that I’d caused a terrible flap between him and his girlfriend because they’d moved in together and one of my letters had been forwarded to their shared abode?

I shrunk back in a special kind of shame, then, when I realised I had left a man who couldn’t handle rejection to the point of refusing to admit he wasn’t the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding, only to find myself sending poems to a man I failed to notice was living with another woman.

I sign up for riding lessons at a farm in Pleasantville, NY near where Paul and I were married. My instructor wears concert t-shirts and has turquoise hair and tells me that I need to feel things; that I will suck at this a little to start; that feeling is first. I cry the first time I get on the horse – a giant gelding called, of all things, Bill – not out of fear, but because I am certain I haven’t felt much of anything in years.

I don’t suck at horseback riding, but I am not instantly good at it, which is exactly what I need. I need something to take my mind off of the EDS; and the whole of my lower extremities.

Hold the reigns up, like an ice cream cone! Tamara the instructor shouts from the centre of the ring, and I apologise for not doing it right. Why are you saying you’re sorry? she asks me, truly baffled, You’ve done this like three times in your life!

With that, I begin to realise how far off the rails I have gone. Literally. Figuratively.

At the end of my first lesson, I sign up for many more because even if I never master the sport, I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing will be the same again, and the future, whatever it is, will be entirely different and wholly Okay.