Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture vs. Me

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet. ~Colette

When I moved from Portland, my UHaul loaded like a bad ass game of Tetris, I felt less like I was driving and more like I was fleeing. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Portland, I think I had to treat it like the scene of some mass destruction in order to embrace the fact that I was moving… HOME. So that’s what I did. As anybody would when their house is burning to the ground, I grabbed the most valuable, the most sentimental and anything living.

The "anything living" got whittled down to me and my goldfish, Map (who has now been adopted by Blair). I had a bunch of plants, but dieing houseplants didn't fit into my “valuable or sentimental” category, so I sent them to live with Jaime. She had always been the green thumb anyway. Then there were the cats. Jaime had gotten a kitten for her birthday. We went to the Humane Society to pick one out. The joke was on us thinking we could avoid the nonprofit guilt-trip and get out with one kitten. We left that day with Marley and Bella Blue. Bella Blue was my kitten. She had about twelve names before Bella Blue stuck. That should have been my first clue that I was a bit indecisive about becoming a cat lady. That and the fact that I completely forgotten, until someone reminded me, that I had already owned a cat once before. In college I had a kitten. I kept the kitten until I realized that I had a kitten. I promptly gave the kitten away. So now, when Emi told me she was kitten shopping, and I in turn offered her Bella, I started to question my ability to nurture at all.

I have always thought I nurture my people; playing hostess, playing auntie, playing waitress, making sure drinks and stomachs are always full. The BF gets the best I can come up with in the kitchen. But animals? I am on the fence about my skills in the animal arena. That is why when said BF tells me he is going to Atlanta, I didn’t even think about wanting to take care of his dog. Not until he mentioned one night that his sister would probably take care of her.

“What!? Why wouldn’t I?” One of my other personalities piped in, the one that apparently thought we should have the honor of pet sitting.
“Well, you lose track of things… remember the sock in the middle of the road blog?”
Awesome, now I am being judged for flamboyant recollections of my own quirky characteristics.
“She is a dog! I would take way better care of a dog than a sock. Duh.” Now I was a little mad. I roll over in the dark and face the wall. No one was going to tell me, a couple months from another birthday, that I was not responsible enough to take care of their dog. I could take care of a dog. Just because I don't take myself seriously, does not mean everyone else should do the same. So I did what any mature, responsible potential caregiver would do. I threw a silent tantrum until he curled around me and told me that I would have the dog for the four days while he was gone. I wonder now if it was a little bit of reverse psychology. I hadn’t necessarily wanted the duty, and yet I had found myself fighting for it, my competitive nature getting the best of me.

Before he leaves he tells me that if anything happens to Remie it’s over between us. I laugh until I see that he is dead serious. WTF I have I gotten myself into?

5:00 a.m. BF gets up and leaves for airport. He kisses Remie goodbye and walks out the door. He walks back in the door quickly when he realizes he did not kiss me.

5:05 a.m. I make eye contact with the 3.7 pound Chihuahua and we both agree to go back to bed.

9:30 a.m. Wake up and move to a spot on the couch.

1:00p.m. Think it’s time to get off the couch and run some errands. Look at Remie and try to decide if she is more likely to stay alive with me, or alone at the house. Tough decision. I look around the house at all the loose electrical cords and in the end I take her with me.

1:15p.m. I decide we are going to have a potty-training boot camp. I leave the house with her and a ziplock that contains little chunks of cheddar cheese.

10:00p.m. I now remember that this is my first night in the big house, the one that sits in the middle of nowhere. It is super dark. Way darker than I remember. I am considering ditching the potty training for a pile of newspaper by the door. I only think about this to protect us both. If the coyotes don’t get her, the zombies and aliens are certainly going to get me.

10:15 p.m. We have survived the great outdoors and now it is time for bed. I put the house into lockdown, double-checking every door to the outside world. The alarm is set, and re-set again. All this responsibility has me exhausted, but I still take a Tylenol PM for good measure.

8:00 a.m. We made it through night one. I only woke the little dog up three times to make sure she was still breathing. The dog weighs less then my big toe and it has me seriously concerned for her safety in the middle of the night. I have dreams about smothering her on accident, rolling on top of her in the middle of my pill-popping haze. I do not want to accidentally smother his dog. That would be bad.

9:00 a.m. “Smile, Remie! We are going to send this picture to your daddy as documentation that you and I are having the BEST time ever.”

2:00 p.m. I am in Seattle with Emily. We are doing all things urban and she invites me to hit Fremont before I hit the freeway. I tell her yes until I remember I am taking care of a dog, and tell her no.

5:00 p.m. I pull into the driveway and open the garage. With my hands full, I use my elbow to open the door into the house. It is locked. Shit, shit, shit. The door that stays unlocked was locked in my late-night paranoia and now I am locked out. Remie is locked in. Shit. Ok. No need to panic. The French doors must be open since I brought the dog outside earlier. I will just go through that door and run to turn the alarm off. If you go through any other door besides the one to the garage, the alarm will go straight to siren, his voice repeats in my head. He said nothing about the police, so I figure I will just bear the “siren” and move fast. He wasn’t kidding, the siren is loud as all hell and if I were a robber I would have passed out from an anxiety attack. With the alarm code typed in, the house is swallowed in silence. Until the phone rings. Shit. I run to grab it, knocking a bag of beef jerky to the floor, raining bits of jerky all over as it lands. Remie runs for a piece the size of her head as I pick up the phone. Oh well, beef jerky looks like a dog treat anyway.

“Who am I speaking to?”
“Sarah, what is the password?”
“Oh, I know that!” I give her the pin number that he gave me.
“No, not the code. The password.”
“I don’t know the password. I know his middle name… or how about how he takes his coffee?”
“I need the password.”
“It’s my boyfriend’s house, I am house-sitting. I can give you his cell phone number, but can you do me a favor? Could I call him first?”

5:15 p.m.
Amelia calls to chat. I tell her there has been a beef jerky shit storm in the kitchen. Amelia tells me that dogs shouldn’t have beef jerky. “Remie, drop the beef jerky!”


9:00 a.m.
I put the dog in my purse and head to watch my niece, Mira, play soccer. I hear a little boy ask if dogs should be in purses. I look at him and say, “No. Dogs should not be in purses, but she has no leash and I need my hands free to drink this latte and protect her from birds of prey. The coyotes and zombies may be sleeping, kid, but there are still risks.”

6:00 p.m.
I take all of her clothes off, which goes against BF’s rule #36, and let her run around with Arwen’s pack. She resembles a dog for the first time this weekend and I realize maybe I have taken my job too seriously. We take the night off. I let her be a dog and she let’s me be the rule-breaker.

10:00 p.m.
She stares at me as I read in bed and I wonder what she is thinking. Where did my dad go and what did I do to get you as my nanny? Or maybe, thanks for letting me be naked on the beach. I can’t tell whether we are closer after all this time together. We both fall fast asleep before I can figure it out.


4:00 p.m.
The airport. He texts me in Minneapolis to remind me to bring the dog. It reads like a joke, but I know the truth. I make sure she goes potty before we leave. I am pretty sure that she is going to be so excited to see him she may even pee on him and her pink outfit. She is excited, super excited. He gives her all the attention I am quietly wishing for myself. Daddy’s Girl, I think as I look at her with a twinge of jealousy. I can’t help but smile as she heads towards my lap and looks up at me with her big brown eyes.

In the end, I was up to the challenge. I thought everyone else needed the proof. As it turns out, the only one who seemed to doubt me, was me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mile Markers

If it can't be fixed by duct tape or WD-40, it's a female problem. ~Jason Love

First Date followed by Second Date. Followed by a teeny tiny bit of mutual panic and attempt to turn away while at the same time not losing eye contact. Followed by a make-up,  which was followed by a make-out. Followed by a pink toothbrush in a clear cup next to his bathroom sink. Followed by getting the alarm code. Followed by meeting his family (goes smoothly with only minimal worry about whether they liked me or not). Followed by meeting my family (goes really well, despite total worry as to whether he could handle my family). Followed by receiving sole custody of the Netflix queue. Followed by a weekend getaway to the 509. Followed by breathing deeply. Nights settle into what needs to be picked up for dinner, long brainstorming sessions, books by the fire and whose turn it is to make the popcorn for the movie (I chose).  Mile markers along the relationship trail.

We all create gestures, rules and guidelines to help us navigate romance. Learning how to be in it together, even at times when we aren't sure how to.

Now there is a whole new set of rules. Technological gestures that we have attached a deeper meaning to. From cell phones to Facebook statuses, we find reassurance (and sometimes red flags) in all things modern. As new romances take flight and hearts flutter, we listen for beeps and tweets that tell us we have a message waiting in Times New Roman.  It's sweet, even knowing the whole time the sound of their voice is so much sweeter. We attach songs to incoming calls so we are thinking about them by the second ring, long before we even hear their voice.

“What is my ringtone?” I ask as he reaches for his iPhone. Rihanna is blaring through its tiny speakers. He knows who is on the other end without looking. Whoever it is, they have a ringtone.
“I don’t have a ringtone for you,” He says with a shrug to say "no big deal".
“You don’t have a ringtone for me?”

I will be honest. Not the answer I want to hear. But he has moved on, chatting about work, so I move on too. I stare out at the familiar scenery, silently promising to get myself a song he can attach to me. Maybe a Beattles song, I think to myself. The Beattles are timeless. He's still driving and I'm still thinking.  Still over-thinking when I'm distracted by the sound of jingling change.

“Now what are you doing?”
“Nothing, Miss Nosy,” he says rifling through his center console.

The gravel crunches beneath us as he pulls his truck to the side of the road. At this point I'm sure that if we weren't in the middle of nowhere, the handful of change he was gripping would have been my fare on the next bus. I felt as annoying as I must have been. I hate it when I act like “that girl".  The one who would even care about a ringtone. I hate it even more when I'm aware enough to know I am acting like “that girl”.

What was the change for?  Flowers.  The phone call was from his sister, who has a flower stand, and he was buying me six white and yellow daffodils. I don’t think duct tape and roofies could have shut me up faster.  A relationship mile marker on the side of the road.

When I wake up, no one has to worry about shutting me up.  Life, and my mouth, doesn't start until coffee does. It's Sunday morning in Ellensburg; We're at his family’s home nestled in the hills that overlook all things country and cowboys. I don’t notice the morning light streaming through the blinds.  Magpies wrestle each other for food as I wrestle out of dream state.  Under the dark blanket of heavy eyelids, I am awake.

 The other side of the bed tells a different story.  He has risen with the sun and is off building Legos in the living room with his nephew. I use this opportunity to spread out. I position myself diagonally across the entire bed, my sleepy limbs cushioned by pillows. One bare foot peaks out from under the comforter and, just like every other morning, the day waits for me. That's when it happens. I hear the door handle turn. I squint through day-old mascara and morning hair to see who it is and what they could possibly want. He doesn’t say anything. Just walks over to me, sets the forest green mug on the bedside table, gives me the signature half smile/smirk, the one I love, and leaves, grabbing my exposed toes on the way out. Coffee. For me. Coffee for me that I didn't even ask for. If my brain could have formed words, I would have told him too much.  A mile marker on the bedside table.

“Mom, I have to go,” I chirp into the phone as I stare into the mirror. I'm trying to get ready and trying to sound calm.
“What's wrong?”
“There's a very good chance my earring is super-glued to my ear.  I need to get off the phone before I freak out.”

I thought the thin sterling hoop was permanently attached, but in the end it was just a little… stuck. He had gallantly fixed my favorite hoops like any man would: with super glue. A mile marker in my ear.

I am not going to lie. I love grand gestures. I love witnessing humans throw themselves in front of the train we call Love. They wait at airport gates, stand in the pouring rain, climb mountains and shout it from the rooftops. Go big or go home, right? I've had a few grand gestures in my life; songs written about me, poetry dedicated to me on stage, a first kiss in the falling snow.

I do need gestures, but I don’t need a ringtone. I don’t need a relationship status on Facebook. I don’t need a banner or a t-shirt that declares his feelings to the world. Why? Because in front of me, on this table, is a glass of water that holds six yellow and white daffodils. He brought me coffee. In bed. He fixes my broken things and every once in awhile, when I'm a little broken, he fixes me. He tells me the messy truth and then remembers to tell me he is still here and I'm still here and we are in it together. He claims me. I always believed that the man with the grand gestures was the one to look for. I was wrong. Grand gestures are good and they make for great stories, but little gestures, those mile markers along the way?  Those are what make the trip an adventure.