Come see me, Sophie (poem and essay)

Come see me, Sophie, as you’re walking the blue twilight between worlds.

Come see me, in that dream land, when the pain disappears and the body absorbs into stars, and we can behold the sun as it rises on this first new day.

Come see me,
From your world beyond breath, when the boldness of your heart finds itself again, and in the unburdening from flesh you can see the magic of who you are.

Come see me, Sophie, watching the tears of a Sophie-less morning,
Then scamper off to the world you now belong to,
catching joy like butterflies,
looking back to see me (one more time)
Quietly calm in the salty stream
Daring the world to make me forget

For as on the lawn that day with my hand stretched out was forever and when you reached back to me through Time, painted me into wholeness with vibrant splashes of your self making my heart thump with happiness, and your eyes became the wonder of the blue sky and in the deep green of our moment the clouds watched and danced across the sun.

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Sophie was an old girl I cared for for several years. She’d had been adopted as a senior dog—when I met her dad and his three dogs, he wasn’t even living with his future-wife yet—from a post off a FB rescue page, and joining sled dogs Greta and Tala, was a huge personality that liked all the attention and used her expressive face and “talking” to get it. I once looked back on one of our (by then) easy level walks adapted to her weak back legs and saw her ambling along with a “rope” hanging out of her mouth, trying to chew. The “rope” was a rat tail and the only way I got her to drop it (I worried it had been poisoned) was to briskly walk until she could either open her mouth to breathe/keep living and drop the rat or not get enough air. I’m happy to say she chose the former. She could hardly walk without a wobble but “hell yes; let me bend/stoop then chew this enormous dead poison while trying to walk without stumbling because I’m so fucking bored right now.”

Sophie went downhill very suddenly when I was caring for her in July 2017. She wouldn’t eat the pre-cooked steaks or chicken her family had left—she was in decline but they thought it was okay to go on a hasty honeymoon to Montana—and when I cradled her back end with my sweatshirt and steadied her front with her leash to get her out to sit in the side yard—a long-favorite activity—she laid under the tree where I set her and, as Greta and Tala played, looked in that way of a sadness impenetrable by anything else.
And I’ve cared for many animals now who went on to pass, and have been asked by families to help them gauge the question of “when?” Because they don’t want the animals to suffer for their own selfish desire to keep them alive yet it’s hard to even think clearly through the hazy intentional-contemplation of making something they love not-alive.

And there are deep questions asked. For instance: how much suffering is too much? Some people who have a hard time with emotional experiences and/or active grieving won’t be able to tolerate much suffering at all. The first time their rabid-eater doesn’t finish their supper they might start believing their pet is not enjoying life enough anymore; it’s possible their own anxiety about grief might be trying to make the process more manageable by controlling it as best they can or that they don’t want to feel they’re betraying their stewardship of their pet by not listening to the “signs.” In contrast, some people who have seen grief and feel comfortable navigating it can endure more for longer. Often way too long. And then there are those—most of us—who don’t know enough about it to be well-informed, and live with the agony of not knowing what to do. Is THIS the sign? About which, who could say? A vet will offer clinical data, offering to do a dental on a 16 year old cat just to give some hope.

For me, Sophie’s sadness is often the metric. The “sign.” Senior animals do bounce back from not eating and do have bad days—often really bad days—but when the eyes begin to look like they’ve never experienced happiness, it’s time to begin the process of saying goodbye.

So I did. That night, 7/11/2017, on the evening visit. Her parents (doctors) were rushing back from their trip—driving all night—to themselves begin the process and on that last visit, I sat with Sophie on the dirty concrete of her parents back patio, stroking her head.
And they got back and the morning of 7/12/2017 were able to see her off in purposeful-dignity but before I knew they had, I got woken up very early that morning by something “saying” this poem.

For the night before, sitting with her on that concrete—her sisters doing their own thing—I felt the Sophie she’d been for me. The lively fun of conversation and expressiveness in a story where a homeless senior dog gets to go on to light up a world. And knew (I mean, I did hope her doc fam would know some trick to keep her going but deep down, I knew) she’d be going where I couldn’t be part of it anymore, couldn’t see her; that this was my last chance. So sitting there, I told her I’d miss her, and asked her to come see me when she got to wherever it was that she was going.

A few months passed and I was asked to come sit for the family’s other two dogs, and it was weird because sometimes at dusk—when her sisters and I would be sitting in the yard (like all four of us used to do)—I swear I’d see Sophie. The first time it scared me because we’re trained to indulge only the “logic” of our left brain. Having things be utterly predictable is such a great comfort to humanity.

But such it is that in the known universe of which humans understand very little beyond non-quantum, not everything has to make sense to our left brain. And, in fact, it’s almost an irrational idea that it ever would, and after the passing of Sophie and many others—facing the deep questions, many with no clear answer—I’ve since made peace with the wisdom of believing in the vastness of what we don’t know and in playing the part of an active observer of that which is as yet undefined.

 

Embattled

And I really have to resist telling all the maleness at Jiffy Lube to go make me a sandwich because that’s just where I am today. I was kept up all night by our new dog Lady’s whining—separation anxiety; Julia’s on a trip, Livy needed sleep; I was on duty—and along with my dream last night, I’ve basically been spit out so when the young man in the greasy jacket with no name tag grabs a sip of coffee saying “Kelly Ripa looks so good for her age. What is she, like, 50?”, I’m irritated because he’s flinging around the face grades like he’s got a clipboard and right on the tip of my tongue is a “stfu, Amazing Arbiter of Beauty Evaluations, I’m usually much prettier it’s just I stayed up all night with my fucking dog OK?” “Give me mustard, red onion, and make it gluten-free. Dick.”

And I haven’t dreamt about mom and her husband in so long but last night (during a rare entry into REM) I was again in the recurrence of a dream I’ve had before—grabbing my kids and my pets (and sometimes our foster kittens) to get out of a house before my stepdad can get there to hurt us—and from the sound of Lady whining when I briefly woke, I felt the fear and the sickness that is the testimony of my real life with him. The unabashed anger—punches to horses faces, that day he convinced mom shooting my two dachshunds (and her dog Malone, among others) was an appropriate way to end their lives—and creation of the deepest cruelty and sadness you’ll be seeing forever, to where in the dream I wasn’t even that upset when I realized that from within the accepted futility of our escape plan rested the only other option, at which point I immediately started looking for the weapon I was going to use to kill him.

And I’ve often wondered about this recurring dream. What does it mean that in the limitlessness of my nightscape, I’ve shot him in the chest, gasping as it explodes and the warm tissue of his flesh splatters on my face? What does it mean for a shaggy lady flashing sass in tiredness at a tiring world that from the spaces of her own heartsickness comes not healing but violence?

And last night, within the space of the blending of realms, I woke to a sliver of knowing.

For leaning into a tender world too long steeped in insults comes a rage so powerful it can breathe even as it suffocates, and in the calm of knowing what it feels like to truly Love, stands a warrior forever fighting for the goodness of that which might be unable to battle such a foe.

So this morning, in and out of my exhaustion—head resting into a Jiffy Lube window—I fell into that dream, and looking around a living room in the franticness of protecting the love that is my air, slayed dark things with axes in the quiet of the night while remembering myself and my place in the order of a gentle world.

3/30/2018

And I’m walking Greta and Tala and thinking about grief because I’m putting my dog to sleep today sometime between 11 and three. And I asked the vet to text a half hour before he arrives to give me a chance to run home since I’ve been doing my 15 hour workday stretches for weeks–plus I’m moving–and the order in which to triage the chaos is like looking in every direction for due north because your entire system is malfunctioning.

And it’s a cool morning, and the girls’ fur sways to our movement.

Continue reading “3/30/2018”

The journey to “Amy Brook”

 

Pic: My younger brother Jeff and I circa 1971; I was about 3.

According to the birth certificate tucked inside my baby book, I was born October 1, 1968 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View California and my name was “Amy Brook Palleson”. I don’t remember any of the other fluff on it—height, weight, etc.—just that the birth certificate paper was black with white printing and hard to read and that the book itself was a mess of white out and scratch outs and corrections.

We can fast forward now, through memory lane, through years, through the solidification of who I was—Rose and Martin Palleson (dads parents; “grandma and grandpa”), Leeroyce and Deck Hogin (moms parents; gammie and gampie); through aunts and uncles and cousins; through my brother Jeff born in early ‘71, my sister Alex in ‘75, and Clancy and Cindy, my father and mother—Fast forward all the way to the couch in gammies living room where I lay quietly crying at age 13 (or 12? I can’t even remember) because solidity is often invented, and my real dad was dying, asking to see me and only knew me as “Sophie”.

In the way of regret and guilt, I’ve often been to that place where I must explain my choice, that day I learned Clancy wasn’t my dad and that the real one I never knew about was dying. For that was the year I was mercilessly bullied—had started high school, young for my grade; afraid to turn corners; lost all my elementary friends—and would the next year change schools because of it so I was mixed up and scared and insecure and didn’t have much to hold onto right then.

But the bigger truth is that children know what’s expected of them, and that secret was supposed to be kept. That’s why when I was one year old and she left him, Mom had changed my name, that’s why she crossed it all out in my baby book; changed my birth certificate, had Rose and Martin/my dad‘s parents officially adopt me and never mentioned anything. Because that was the new life she’d wanted and I loved her and was supposed to let her live this life. So in a heart bigger than my self, I knew she’d feel betrayed if I went to see him and I never wanted to hurt her—lived my life to protect her—even if that meant hurting someone else (and myself) instead.

And of course he died, and so then did his only memories of his daughter, Sophie Stuckey, the name under the white out.

And there are times when I’ve looked upon that day with judgment of myself for not going to see him. Because it is not like me to extend myself into such seeming-cruelty. To deny a man about to exit this life the chance to see what he had offered this world; deny him a chance to experience closure for a chapter which may have haunted him through health and illness, happiness and hardship.

But when my own child turned 13, I met my world from a different place.

For I didn’t know until then that one choice always speaks many languages. And that the guilt and regret of a young girl who didn’t know what to do was actually the wisdom of a human being caring for another. The wisdom of a human who wanted more for her mom than for her own self, who in so acting, would let her mom then live always inside the world where she doesn’t have to confront anything but the memory of her one year old baby with a new name and their brand new life together.

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Sometimes in saying my own name— ‘Amy Brook’—I can hear my mother defining that new life, and the new hope she had for her and myself.

For that name means ‘beloved by the stream’ and in iterations of selves both past and yet to come, I believe that much of me has lived to bear out the truth of such a name. Beginning in earnest that day on the couch as a 13 year old girl.

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Post script: In yet another facet of this, I have realized in these later years that I was also afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore if I went to see him. Because in the years after I found out Clancy wasn’t my dad—long after Harvey Stuckey had passed—mom would say things like “you’re just like your father!” when we’d argue. Of course I’d never met him so had no idea if what she said was even true but that she was talking about someone I never knew who was dead and who she had left when I was one it was messed up. I think mom had a lot of abandonment issues and that after I knew about my dad, I never really felt like I was just hers anymore, and it made her vulnerable.

Anyways, Please don’t do that to your kids. Say things like “you’re just like your father!” when your kid knows how much you despise their dad. Even if they ARE acting just like the other parent and it’s egregious, give them the space to self-correct and remove the language of shame so that they don’t struggle with the feeling that they aren’t loved or lovable.