The Loss of [Wo]man’s Best Friend

I will start this post by offering only this caution: If you are not a dog lover, you will probably not be able to understand what follows. It may be best if you do not read on.

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I have never loved anything as much as I loved my dog.

A week ago, my family and I made a decision that I have been praying for over a year and a half we wouldn’t have to: to euthanize our beloved collie, Teddy.  In October 2011, Teddy experienced a collapse that was linked to a heart condition, and in February 2012, he went into heart failure. At that time, we were told he would likely only live an additional three to six months, and understandably, we were devastated. However, at subsequent check-ups with his cardiologist at the incredible Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, his heart condition continuously did not worsen.  We were overjoyed with each positive report, but sadly, Teddy seemed to have developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to walk. When this condition suddenly worsened over the weekend to such a point that he could not stand, much less walk, leaving the only option of performing an MRI for which the sedation may kill him due to his heart or to catheterize him at home, we knew it was time.

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Sleeping next to my bed

An empty darkness now hangs in the house, a kind of impenetrable silence that is almost deafening.  We promptly disposed of his bed, food, toys, etc, but his infamous tumbleweeds of fur still lurk in corners and under chairs. The backyard seems to no longer have a purpose, as it was Teddy’s domain. My tiny bedroom looks so much bigger without his bed on the floor next to my own, and gone are the days of him crying at 6 am to be fed.  But as sad as I am, I try to remind myself that we were lucky enough to experience so much more time with him than even the best doctors in the region thought we would.  And as weird as it may sound, a part of me just had a feeling that this was going to happen this summer, that time was running out, that we couldn’t be that lucky for that long. Two days before he died, I woke up to let him out and he was having a particularly hard time walking. After falling several times, I just sat down with him on the front lawn and started crying.  He seemed to not be trying any more, and there was a certain emptiness in his gaze.  As bad as some of his weak spells had been, never before did I get an overwhelming sense that the end really was near.  But as that day wore on, he seemed to get a little bit better, making it appear as though I had overreacted, but that strange sense still hung around me. Thus, when my brother texted me on Monday to tell me they were taking Teddy to the vet, I was not that surprised and feared that this would be the last of such trips.  Nevertheless, the decision to put him down was the most awful experience of my life and I really do feel that my life will never quite be the same.

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My brother and me with Teddy, Easter 2013

Some may wonder why the loss of a dog is so painful, and as odd as it may sound, Teddy was more than just a dog to me; he was truly a friend who through his every move taught me so much about how to best live life. We got Teddy when I was in sixth grade. Since Day 1, he taught me about responsibility and how to have fun in the purest senses. From those same early days, Teddy showed that his health would always prove problematic, for he developed epilepsy before he was even a year old. The seizures were seldom frequent, usually occurring once every six to eight weeks due to certain triggers.  They were difficult to watch, as his body tensed and convulsed and he held his breath, and they even made me cry, for I so loved this dog that it killed me to see him in such discomfort. While some may have euthanized him then, my family and I knew that it was a condition we could manage with a little more caution and control of his environment, and he had several stretches of six month periods or longer without any seizures. Managing that condition required such a patience and love that has never been required of me before.

Having had him for nearly half of my life, Teddy was one constant source of comfort through some truly difficult periods.  I cannot tell you how many tears of mine the fluffy white fur around his neck held, as I would usually curl up next to him and bury my face in his fur when something bad sent me into such a state. He would usually sit and let me hug him or pet him until I calmed down.  Sometimes, if I cried by myself, he would come up to me and either lick the tears off my cheeks or just lean against me.  Other times, he brought a toy to me in an attempt to distract me and get at least a small smile to spread across my face.  Teddy added so much joy to my life, as we ventured on walks in the neighborhood and played in the backyard.  He always greeted me with so much joy when the bus dropped me off around the corner in middle and high school and when I returned from being away at college.  Teddy was a master of just being a silly dog who through wanting all the attention I had always brought some amount of joy to my days.  Road trips down to Long Beach Island, NJ meant it was just him and I chilling in the back seat of my mother’s Santa Fe for five hours, when on the way there he was an excited ball of energy and on the way back he usually snuggled up against my side as we both snoozed, exhausted from the fun in the sand.  It was this constant companionship, even in the toughest of times, that taught me what true love and loyalty is.

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Teddy and Kassy

I suspect that my family and I will grieve for a long, long time. But I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals in the world to have been blessed with a dog that served as a best friend for nearly twelve years of my life.  So much of my life and the life of my family centered around being dog owners, and to suddenly have that stripped away is causing a bit of an identity crisis.  In the days since, people keep telling me that they know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a more meaningful compliment.  To have it be widely known how much love I had for one creature speaks volumes, and if that is a trait that people easily equate with me, then I could not be more honored, and it makes me rest a little easier knowing that Teddy must have known how much I loved him, too.  Sitting here, sadness overwhelms me, but while the end was not peaceful like they say it’s supposed to be, the deepest parts of my soul tell me it was time to let him go.

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Rest in Peace, Teddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.
August 24, 2001 – June 24, 2013

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Part 2: The 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States

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Bedecked in official inaugural buttons, bundled up in layers upon layers of our warmest clothes, and sleep-deprived, Tiffany and I ventured into the brisk Monday Morning that was Inauguration Day.  It was 4:30 am and we were armed with footwarmers, bagels with cream cheese, snack bars, bottles of water, a blanket, and wristlets. We boarded the Metro and as soon as we exited the station around 5 am, we found ourselves in the line of the Gold and Yellow ticket holders.  We knew ahead of time that our tickets guaranteed us a spot on a vast lawn that was right behind the reflecting pool in front of the capitol. Tiff and I stood in line with other excited people for approximately an hour and a half. I will be honest, I was cranky, I wanted coffee, and I was cold. Even though I had thick tights under my thickest jeans, wool knee socks, footwarmers, and boots, my feet and legs were still freezing. Tiff and I wrapped the blanket around our waists as we fumbled with all of our other belongings that a security notice had told us could not be in a bag over 6″x8″x4″, so we just stuffed our pockets. The line would advance at random points without any clear indication as to why. Finally, we were told the gates had been opened. We clutched our tickets and quickly progressed, knowing that the sooner we got to security, the sooner we would be at our spots. We hustled to one entry point where we emptied all our pockets and opened our wristlets and walked through a metal detector. Cleared, we continued our fast pace. We came across one worker who was about to direct us towards the left, but then said nine key words: “Wait, are those yellow? That makes a big difference,” and then directed us towards the right. It turns out that we would have been MUCH farther from the action if we had gone to the gold section. Tiff and I nearly jogged and realized that we would be in the FIRST ROW of our section!!! How the heck did that happen?? (Definitely the Founding Fathers – they clearly had our best interest in mind all weekend).

But it was only 7:10 at this point, still four and half hours away from the start of the ceremony. Little did we know, but we would be on our feet for several hours straight, as there were no chairs and we didn’t feel like sitting on the ground was the best option. We settled in and chatted with the people around us. One woman expressed her disbelief over the fact that this kind of cold was something we were accustomed to, as she was from the U.S. Virgin Islands and had been at the President Obama’s First Inauguration. Two middle-aged women behind us seemed to know everything there was to know about politics in DC and shared their excitement with us; they, too, had been to President Obama’s first Inauguration.

Finally, the musical prelude commenced at 9:30, which made the time go by much more quickly. We caught glimpses of the motorcade progressing up the road to the left of the Capitol, freaking out that the president and every one of our representatives would soon be present. The Oaths of Office were given, and an assertive address left me with hope that we will see the change the country so desperately needs in this next term. I found myself looking at either the Capitol or just at a point in front of me because looking at the jumbo-tron reminded me too much of when I watched the 2009 Inauguration on a projector screen in my college’s campus hub. I wanted to feel like I was there and to fully be present in the fact that I was at an event that has only happened 57 times in our nation’s entire history. It was remarkable.

One of the most moving moments throughout the ceremony was being with so many diverse Americans. When Obama mentioned women, a bunch of us cheered. When he referenced Latinos, a group behind us cheered. This pattern continued and there was something so moving to me in it. We clearly all had very different interests in what the next 4 years would do for us, but we were united on a lawn, cheering for the president that was elected by the will of a free people. It was nothing short of beautiful to stand there as a testament of what democracy can accomplish. 

At the end of the ceremony, Tiff and I had to trek about 15 blocks to where our tickets to the parade were. We hustled over there, eager to just sit down and relax.  Sadly, once we got there, Tiff and I got separated for the parade when she kindly went to get us food. Before our separation, though, we realized that our ticket seats placed us at the very end of the parade route and we expressed our hope that we would still be able to see the President and Vice President.

And we were.

POTUS Point

POTUS Point

I was overcome with excitement when I and those around me looked down just past our seating area and realized that the President had exited his car. Between the screaming and the cheering, I snapped several awesome photos.  The President couldn’t have been more that 50 feet away from me, and seeing him and his wife as well as the Bidens in person felt like a dream.

VPOTUS Point

VPOTUS Point

Did this really just happen?  Was I really present for all of this, an event that I said I would attend 4 years ago when I watched the 56th Inauguration on a screen in Massachusetts? 

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It was real, and it was something I will never forget.

I will never forget the feeling I had among so many of my fellow Americans, from all different walks of life, cheering for hope for the future.

I will never forget spending a long weekend with a friend who is so far away now, reminiscing on moments in the past and sharing dreams of an ambitious future.

I will never forget the conversation I had on the phone with my grandfather when I got home about the whole experience, when he told me in response to my description of the FDR Memorial about the time he saw Eleanor Roosevelt while he was on rest and recovery in the Pacific during World War II.

I will never forget the excitement I had to go back to my students and tell them all about my experience at a moment in history.

And I will never forget how proud I was to be an American that weekend while I was present for an event that shows the power of democracy, in a place that serves as a reminder that the protection of natural rights like those of equality and free speech enable people like Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for the rights that all people deserve.

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Part 1: The Founding Fathers are Watching Over Us

capitol at nightNote: This post is terribly overdue. But that’s what happens when you take a positively wonderful trip and then come right back to work and midterm grading and lesson planning. So sorry! But here it is, my account of my marvelously nerdy and fun-filled weekend in DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States.

I’m a nerd. If you haven’t picked up on that by now, then I don’t know what happened.  A few weeks ago, I took a fabulous trip down to Washington DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States. It’s an event that only happens every 4 years and is the culmination of years of campaigning and serves as a testament to the success of the American political system.  Months before the election, I said to my friend Tiffany, with whom I stayed for the weekend, that I would go to the Inauguration regardless of who was elected. I hadn’t been to our nation’s capital since I was in second grade, a travesty in the mind of this U.S. history lover. So when I looked at the calendar and realized that the Inauguration fell on a long weekend, I figured why not.

I arrived on Friday night.  My brother and his friends drove me to the airport (that experience is worthy of a post in itself, just because those are some crazy boys).  I’m pretty sure I was in traffic to Logan longer than I was actually on the plane to DC. Ah well, such is life. Tiffany and I had contemplated going out once I arrived, but after one beer on the plane, I realized I was in no shape to do so and opted to go to bed (even though, in typical long-time friend fashion, we were up late talking and catching up).  On the way to her house in Maryland, I was like a child in Disney World for the first time. Here we were, driving on the highway, and all of  a sudden, there’s the Capitol Building to my right, illuminated in all its democratic republican glory on a chilly January’s night. I warned Tiff that this would basically be my reaction every time we happened across a symbol of our fine nation, and she laughed and assured me that that would be quite alright.

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We set the alarms early for Saturday and headed into the city for a gloriously clear but chilly morning. We devoted the day to seeing many of the monuments. We started with the Jefferson Memorial, which was relatively quiet as it had just struck 10 am. I have mixed views on Jefferson based on what I consider to be his hypocrisy as the author of the immortal words “all men are created equal” yet was the owner of many slaves, one of whom he impregnated with his illegitimate children. But I digress.  The fact remained that here I was, gazing upon the likeness of one of our nation’s Founders, with his words etched all around us. Regardless of his personal flaws, his words would be taken by generations beyond his own and used to inspire reform and revolution the world over.  On our way out, Tiff and I noticed a small word etched into the wall to our left indicating that there was an exhibit to be viewed. We ventured into a sketchy elevator and found a small exhibit on the life and times of Thomas Jefferson – a lovely surprise for this history teacher.

After viewing the Jefferson exhibit, we continued on along the perimeter of the Tidal Basin and came across the FDR Memorial. It is impressive. Inspirational words of the nation’s only president to be elected to more than two terms provide the context for each stage of the Memorial, which are cleverly devoted to each of his terms that coincided with pivotal moments in twentieth century American history. We then set our sights on the MLK Jr. Memorial.  It is striking. It is so different from the other memorials, but it is inspirational. This memorial was one of the most crowded. Many visitors were visibly emotional as they reflected on the contributions of this champion of civil rights. The next big item on the checklist was the World War II Memorial, which I promised my family I would go to and take lots of pictures of in honor of my grandfather, a veteran of the Pacific theater who had lied about his age and enlisted at the age of 17. I was sure to tell him all about the experience, and  sent him many pictures of his trip, all of which he loved

The rest of Saturday found us walking all over the city, viewing the White House, chatting up Secret Service agents, and meeting our local representative so that we could get the tickets that he had secured for us for the Inauguration ceremony (it helps to have students who have parents in power who also happen to have the same alma mater as you…).  We then headed to dinner at Bullfeathers, a restaurant dedicated to my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. captiol I relished in the opportunity to dine under a signed photograph of him, while a large portrait watched over us from the adjacent wall. Tiff and I also enjoyed the Bullfeathers Amber, an exclusive brew that went perfectly with our savory buffalo mac n’ cheese and delectable fish and chips.

After dinner, we took a stroll to see a beautiful views of the Capitol building at night and the Supreme Court, and then returned back to Tiff’s house to ready ourselves to go out dancing, which ended up being another casual beer at a sports bar amongst several well-connected 20-somethings in their ball-attire.

Sunday brought us to the Lincoln Memorial. I have no shame in admitting that it was here where I almost cried. Like the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial also has a small exhibit on our awe-inspiring sixteenth president, as well as the actual history of the Memorial itself. In one corner, there is a video on a continuous loop that shows all different demonstrations that have occurred at the feet of the stone statue while a wise-sounding narrator delivers some of Lincoln’s most inspiring quotes.  My eyes welled with tears as I heard Lincoln’s words on equality and justice, paired with images of MLK, Jr. and women protesting for equal rights and young people demanding an end to war.  It’s democracy and progress, it’s what our nation stands for, despite its flaws. I looked at my friend, who had tears in her eyes as well, and we shared an appreciation for one another’s understanding. lincoln

We continued down the mall in the direction of the Capitol and stopped by a small memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence that had been dedicated on America’s bicentennial. When you have a chance, google men like Abraham Clark and Elbridge Gerry.  The vast majority of the signers were average guys at the time, who could have very likely been killed had they been unsuccessful in their attempt to establish a free and independent nation.  I have spent time as an intern researching many of these men and am continuously impressed with how after the Continental Congress, most returned home and carried on with their lives.  Many would be involved with the war effort in some way, but overall, life was normal for them, aside from taking part in such a revolutionary act. We then made our way to the American History Museum, where we expressed shock at the fact that we were actually looking at George Washington’s uniform, marveled upon the beautifully intricate dresses of the First Ladies (what tiny waists some of them have!), and learned about different little-known facts of each of the American presidents.  It was here that another friend from middle school, who had moved back to Taiwan but attended college here in the U.S., joined us. We dined at the Hamilton, named for my favorite Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. Keeping in line with my sampling of historically-themed drinks, I ordered the Hamilton’s Mule, a strong gin and vodka concoction that was quite delicious.

We turned in early that night, as we finally decided that we would have to leave for the Metro at 4:30 the next morning in order to get the seats we wanted in our section, an account of which shall follow.

Arm in Arm

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They walked past me with quiet smiles, arm in arm with coffee cups in their free hands. All on a chilly winter’s morning like any other school day.

One of my duties at school is to man a post outside for intake duty, every other day.  My presence is supposed to deter students coming from the bus drop-off point from taking a short cut to one of the buildings that, if they did take it, would bring them in the path of the numerous cars of parents who drive their little scholars to school.  I see a significant number of my own students at this time, most still with sleep in their eyes and bulging backpacks.  One of the last buses to come brings the arrival of two of my 10th graders, quiet but sweet girls who are very clearly close friends.  They always share sincere smiles as they walk by, sometimes asking questions that pertain to class, but mostly just exchanging an early morning greeting.

Something struck me about them the other day though.  They’re different, somehow a bit more removed from the foolishness that I often observe as a middle/high school teacher and that yet, I can relate to. There’s an element of sincerity between them.  With arms interlocked, it dawned on me how they were just being present with each other. At 7:45 on a Friday morning. Enjoying a moment with a friend.

Seeing them the other day made me think of all the friends with whom I have had moments like that. Late night chats in a residence hall lounge. Night time conversations with a roommate while the lights are off and we’re both in our beds. Walks through Boston with a childhood best friend back from the bar, spilling our hearts out over concerns for the future.  Tear-filled sessions in the Chapel. Impromptu dance parties. There are some whom have fallen out of my life and others of whom I have stayed strongly connected with, but who are now “scattered to the four winds” across the country.  Even though life has changed beyond anyone’s imagination in a matter of years, the friends remain.  How simple yet complicated life was just a few years ago. How much was to be learned and experienced.  How much we would be there for each other and how much remains for us to be at each others’ sides for.  The same kind of scene I observed between these two girls could have been said of me at a similar time:  “They walked  arm-in-arm through the halls of the sprawling high school. Giggling over inside jokes and stressing over what was to come.”  Years later, one could observe, “They walked arm-in-arm across campus, planning coffee dates and shopping trips.” And the words will continue to apply in the future, at weddings and baby showers, graduations and housewarmings, and just ordinary visits with those dearest to us whom life transports to new places near and far.

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Childhood best friends

…they walk arm-in-arm, sharing a moment with a friend.

Your Friends Make Your World

Join me for a frappucino at Starbucks sometime; you’ll notice I do something strange with my straw wrappers.  After unwrapping the straw, I tie the crinkly paper wrapper into a knot and pull it until it breaks. Two of my dear friends from home taught me years ago that if the paper breaks perfectly so that the knot comes undone, then someone is thinking about you. If there is a knot in either side, well, then you are out of luck.

One of our yearly summer adventures

Now, I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I always follow this one little gesture through, although its not about whether or not someone is thinking of me (however, I will confess that I sometimes giggle at the broken knot if I’ve been thinking of someone, hoping that they are thinking of me too).  Each time the paper breaks, I feel like I am back with the three friends who always follow this trick, no matter where we are at the present moment.  In pulling that straw wrapper tight, I am transported back to when we were 16 and 17, meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream dates to stress over finals and AP exams, prom dresses and college applications. I can picture Jen’s scrunched up face as she concentrates on thinking of one of us in order to make the knot break (with minimal effectiveness), or remember the random restaurants from our yearly beach trips where all four of us have tied our straw wrappers at the same time to see who the lucky lady would be.

As the years have passed and life has grown all the more complicated,  reunions with these girls become tougher and more difficult to plan, so this single, mechanical action is like a reunion in memory, lasting just a few seconds, but bringing a small smile nonetheless.  One is currently completing an internship hundreds of miles away in Washington DC, another is seriously contemplating a move to New York City to pursue her dream writing career, and the last returned from Alabama last month from Basic Training in the Air Force and will be leaving to begin her study at medical school in less than a week, a step she has been planning go take since the days of those Friendly’s ice cream dates.

At Maura’s graduation from BU this past May.

I miss them all terribly but no matter where life takes us, I know we will always be there for each other to share joy and sorrow. I recently got a job as a teacher, a dream I have consistently pursued since I was about 15 years old.  I wanted nothing more than to call a customary Panera date with these three to tell them all in person. These inspiring and talented young women have encouraged me every step of the way, and emit sincere “awwws” when I tell them a teaching story. I can always count on them to show true interest in my passions, just as I do for them. But we couldn’t all be together to share the big news, so I settled on a phone call ( as this was too big for a simple text!).  Tiff squealed with delight when I called her as she was making her way along the 9 hour trip back home from DC, while I received an ecstatic voicemail from Jen that night after a day of training in return for the one I left her about how I couldn’t wait to tell her the news until we were able to catch each other on the phone.  I’ve known all three of these women since we were in elementary school and after these years of our friendship, I recognized this moment as the step into adulthood.  We’re all college grads now, pursuing our dreams and passions, but I know that no matter where life takes us, we will always have each other.

The next few years are sure to be a bit tumultuous as all of my friends and I settle into careers and post-grad education, but I’ve accepted it. Distance doesn’t mean the friendships are any different, even if we are unable to be there in the way we previously have been for each other through literal physical presence.  But we’re still there.

In the days since graduation, I put a magnet on the large mirror in my bedroom that once found its place on the refrigerator of my senior year apartment.  It reads as follows: “Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world (William James).”  So whether they are interning in DC, teaching in Kansas City or Connecticut, still living life as an undergrad in Worcester, completing a year of service in New Orleans, starting grad school in Providence or Pittsburgh, laying the foundations of their careers in the Boston area, or following a dream in New York, my world will always consist of my beautiful, supportive, one-of a-kind, gift-from-God friends.