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Friday, September 30, 2022

The Dangers of Internet Dating: A Love Story

It all started back in 2008. While cruising the internet, Mark came across her picture and was smitten. He didn't make a move for a few months, but checked to see if her picture was still posted once in a while. He couldn't get her off his mind.

Our hometown has a parade every May, and every May we walk downtown with our lawn chairs and dutifully line up to watch the floats and marching bands and cheer the firetrucks and hometown heroes as they pass by. That year as we waved at our favorites and cheered for the local veterans, Mark suddenly stood up and yelled "There she is! There's that girl I saw online!"

After the parade we packed up and met some friends for lunch. I could tell Mark was distracted, and it takes a lot to distract this man from a meal. "Is it her again?" I asked. He just nodded with a slight smile. I could tell I was in trouble. 

Walking out of the restaurant fate would be sealed: there she was, right across the street. "You should go say hi!" our no good, rotten friends urged Mark. "You should just see what she's like, you know you want to." He watched her shyly from across the street then we walked home. I thought I had dodged a bullet.

It didn't take long after arriving home that day before Mark was pacing around the house. "Let's go downtown again. I just want to meet her, that's all. I just want to meet her and maybe take a walk with her."

After eighteen years of marriage, I thought I knew when to indulge my husband and when to draw the line. Apparently, I was only fooling myself. "I'm not sure we're ready for this commitment but fine, we can go talk to her."

Against my better judgement, we talked to her, walked with her, then brought her home to live with us. That's when the excitement began.

She was completely wild. A terrible houseguest, she would spread her possessions around the house, spill food without cleaning it up and verbally attack us if we didn't do her bidding. Her bathroom habits were too horrible to describe and her people skills were just a step above those. It was almost as if she had never shared a house with roommates before.

Incredibly, Mark and I kept trying to make something of this relationship. It seemed wrong to cast her back out on the street with all the other homeless and after a few years things settled down a bit. It was still like living with the Tasmanian Devil, but we learned a few tricks to get her to act like a lady. She was a complete nut for peanut butter, so we kept that on hand at all times in case we needed a bribe. We bought her toys, took long walks with her, bought her fancy treats. We changed our lives to fit her schedule and everyone was happier for it.

With all the special attention you'd think she'd be grateful. Instead, she acted like an unwilling hostage. True, we wouldn't allow her to leave the house by herself, we didn't trust her to go out unescorted. She resented that and plotted her escapes carefully. Leave the door unlocked and expect to spend the rest of the afternoon searching the streets and alleys around the neighborhood. Open the gate to take out the garbage can and she'd bolt straight down the street in the blink of an eye. She was a keen listener, but only to alert her to our presence so she could run faster in the opposite direction. 

She did have her redeeming features. She loved to have visitors and ruthlessly reminded us she'd gladly go home with them if only we'd let her. She loved to run and play, and once tired out liked to spend time with us on the couch in the evenings. She was ever watchful and didn't hesitate to confront strangers that wandered into our yard.

What finally slowed her down was a horrific accident during one of her escapes. Hip dislocated, legs torn and bleeding, she finally allowed me to catch up to her and carry her home. I called Mark at work and he rushed home to take her to the ER. She spent a week in the hospital, refusing to eat or pee until we showed up to help her. She was grateful after all, but only on her own terms.

We roomed with her for fourteen years until this week. Arthritis from her old hip injury severely limiting her activities over the last year, she contracted a kidney infection she couldn't beat. We tried several rounds of antibiotics and pain medications to no avail. It came time for her to make a choice, and we helped her make it. She died a dignified death, an independent old lady finally ready to rest.

It's really quiet around here now. The toys are in the basket where they belong, the bed is empty, the floor is clean where the crumbs always gathered. A green leash is hanging unused on the back of the closet door, swinging out every time we open it to grab a coat. 

I was an unwilling partner in this threesome at first, but eventually I came to respect this other woman in my life. She had a mind of her own and was never unwilling to share her thoughts with us. She did as she pleased and occasionally let us know she appreciated our service. She was neither loyal or polite, but she was ours and we miss her terribly. I'm pretty sure she is now terrorizing another family somewhere out there, first luring them with her good looks then forcing them to bend to her will. 

Rest in peace Tiga. You taught me the benefits of deep breathing and puzzle toys with peanut butter and how to deal with unimaginable annoyance. You also showed me how to age gracefully with few complaints and how I should never, ever let anyone stand in the way of what I really want.

Tiga: May 2007(?) - September 2022

NOTE: If you are thinking of adopting an animal, please check with your local shelter first. They are a wonderful resource for not only finding the right animal to fit your lifestyle, but helping to make the transition from a wild stray to a loving companion for life.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Stories in Place: The Old Guard

 We pulled into our campsite and found them sitting at our picnic bench, the two of them with their backs turned to each other, gazing over opposite ends of the campground. As we got out of the truck they turned to face us with big grins.

"Hey, we were just making sure no one messed with the roadrunner nest. Where you guys been? Out sight seeing today?"

Neither Mark or I were new to camping on our first trip to Death Valley in 1995, but being the youngest couple in the campground was a new experience for us. Death Valley in the spring attracts the Snowbird population, those ubiquitous retired traveling couples roaming the US and Mexico in their gigantic "rigs". On our first visit to the Furnace Creek campground, the entire place was packed with large RVs and trailers, almost invariably maneuvered by the husband while the wives stayed squirreled away in the rig, presumably cooking up dinner, knitting, or otherwise occupied. It was hard to tell, we rarely saw the wives. This arrangement left the old guys free to futz around the RV, adjusting this, fixing that, and keeping an eye out for interesting activity in the campground. The minute we pulled into our site, their attention turned to us.

When we arrived, the campground host showed us to the spot and explained there was a roadrunner's nest in the tree behind our site. She asked us to please move carefully around the tree and to not let anyone harass the parents as they delivered special treats like lizard tails and bugs to their fledglings. It was an honor to be trusted and a thrill to see the birds so bold as to build their home in a bustling campground. Problem was, the old guys found out.

Every time we left to explore the valley, they would saunter over to our picnic table, shooting the breeze and watching the other campers. I'm sure there was a running commentary on what old George was doing with his rig or how Jerry was terrible at backing his trailer or how Bob seemed to be letting maintenance go on that generator. Some good natured ribbing seemed to be a requirement for these old birds. The tribe traveled the same roads, visited the same places, and they all seemed to either know each other or know someone who knew the others.

Our particular Old Guards consisted mainly of two codgers: Wendell and Berkeley. Wendell was camped right across the road from us in his huge fifth wheel trailer. He often spoke of his wife, but in the 7 days we were there we never actually saw her. His hobbies included weaving new webbing onto old camp chair frames, wiping dust off his shining impeccable trailer and telling bad jokes. Berkeley was sort of the odd man out. He was traveling in a homemade wooden camper affixed to the back of a decrepit Mazda truck. Each night when he prepared his can of Dinty Moore stew he'd fire up his one burner stove, huge flames shooting to the ceiling. It's a miracle he didn't burn his entire rig to the ground. He dressed like the old college professor that he was, leather elbow patches and all. His hobbies included complaining about his ex-wife and expounding on the virtues of the road. What most excited him though, was a really good deal. 

Since they spent their waking hours hanging around the campground, they seemed to be starved for news. Each day when we returned, we'd find them at our table hungry to talk about where we'd been and give us advice about where we should have gone. It was hard to tell if they had actually ever been themselves, the stories were at times...suspect.

It got so bad sometimes we'd drift past the campground on the main road and if we saw them at our spot we'd go into the village and park there for awhile, not ready to face another grilling yet. We felt a little bad about it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to keep your sanity.

By the end of the week we had heard all the stories (some of them twice) and as we packed to leave they hung out and made helpful suggestions about our route home. Berkeley thought it was about time to mosey too, and spent the better part of two hours trying to convince us to join him in Las Vegas. "Found a great deal at Fitzgeralds! Gonna catch me a girly show!" Sounds great Berkeley, maybe next time.

I think about those guys a lot nowadays. They were annoying, funny and helpful. They did have some good pointers about places in the valley to visit, and tips about camping spots. We provided entertainment and a new ear to listen to those stories.

Thinking back on those days it's hard to believe we are drifting into "old guard" territory ourselves now. We're not quite traditional retirement age, but we've decided to quit the working world and start checking off our bucket list a bit early. When we pull into a new campground we sometimes see those young couples in their small truck or tent and have to check ourselves. Let the young folks explore on their own, they'll figure it out. And only tell those stories once, but only if they ask.