Suburboring

Some time ago, I read two similar books. One was Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, and the other, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Both were guests on either The Daily Show or the Colbert Report (I couldn’t remember which until I searched through my blog and found this post from 2007 about the exact same subject), and both intrigued me. Each book had a point that stood out to me: the importance of goals for human beings, and how the process we go through to reach them is much more important than the actual achievement.

Some old friends and former classmates have occasionally asked me why I don’t want to move back to the suburb of Indianapolis where I went to high school, especially now that I have a child. They have “four-star schools” (whatever the hell that means – I don’t feel like I received an excellent education there), and I could have free babysitting.

It didn’t fully dawn on me until this afternoon, for whatever reason, why I didn’t like the idea. Off the top of my head, I know living in that particular area doesn’t appeal to me because it’s essentially chain restaurants and box stores. Here and there, you might run across an independent restaurant but, not only is that rare, they usually suck. Bad food, poor management, high prices, limited hours.

But this afternoon, as I was taking a walk while Charlie was home from work for lunch, I realized it has more to do with my personal goals and the idea that I would feel stifled living there.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on my undergraduate degree, and, at the same time, deciding to, applying for, and being accepted to grad school. The schools to which I applied were only in two cities, and I knew I wanted to end up in Chicago. Thankfully, Charlie did too, so that wasn’t an issue for us.

Once I was accepted, the next item on the list was getting here. And, even though we now have that checked off the list, there are still a great number of other things, big and small, that I am working toward: getting my free DePaul t-shirt (it’s not really free – but they make a big deal out of how you get a shirt because of the student athletic fee everyone has to pay), getting my driver’s license and student ID, taking Bea to a museum, navigating the transfers on the El with a two-year-old without losing her (this has not happened – it’s just one of my fears); getting an advisor at school who can let me know what my chances are of securing an internship that’s going to guarantee me an awesome job in Chicago, or, if all else fails, even considering my Ph.D.

And once those things happen (or don’t), I have other ideas up my sleeve. Moving to a different city, moving back to Indy so Bea can be closer to her family, going to school somewhere else for another graduate degree, traveling.

The only thing that has kept me sane this summer as we’ve struggled to get back on our feet is knowing that, soon enough, we’ll have too much to do. Charlie and I joked this evening that, once we’ve got the cash to really experience Chicago, I’m going to be like, “I’ve got a million papers to write! I don’t have time for that!” But, of course, I’ll make the time.

But knowing that I have things to work toward, however small or large, is what keeps me going. And there’s something about that small town where I went to high school that makes me feel . . . limited.

When I see folks from high school post photos on Facebook, I see the walls of their manufactured homes – two-stories, no yard, no trees, built over a garage. The interior is always painted taupe or forest green with the same white or wood trim. Their sofas and chairs, all taupe and tan and brown and purchased on credit from the same furniture store. Their “art” (if they have any — completely bare walls are pretty common), prints purchased at Target or Wal-Mart in frames. Their husbands, clad in basketball shorts and Colts jerseys, snoring in a taupe recliner with a can of Coors Light still gripped in one fist.

It makes me sad. Their personal goals: making sure the dry-erase board in the kitchen/family room/dining area (because it’s always one room) has all the kids’ soccer and softball and football schedules; getting enough people to come to the “candle party” they’re hosting to make some money to save for the next summer’s trip to Florida.

That’s it.

Maybe that makes me sound like a gigantic, stuck-up asshole. In fact, I’m positive it does. But it’s not that I’m judging those women’s lifestyles and choices. It’s that, imagining myself in that scenario makes me feel depressed. If I’m going to move somewhere that’s a cultural void, I’d rather be on a farm, growing my own food, making my own clothes, homeschooling my kids. I mean, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it all the way. The town where I went to high school has a mall now. People who live there plan their weekends around shopping at this mall. They have date nights at Applebee’s® and take pictures of their Weight Watchers® approved Chipotle Lime Chicken and Mucho Margarita®. It’s just not for me.

Not to mention the fact that, if Bea went to the same school I did, and if she expressed any interest in sports, her coaches would be the same assholes who tortured me in high school. The soccer coach is the guy who tripped me in the hallways, knocked my books out of my hands, called me names, and generally terrorized me. I really don’t want to have to associate with him on a regular basis again.

Vaguely Employed

Today I was officially paid for the first time for my freelance editing job. They pay monthly, which isn’t especially pleasing to me, but it’s a job. Or, rather, it was, until I ran out of regular work.

When I was contracted, they had an unusual amount of assignments and were looking to bring people on as quickly as possible. A potential contractor would normally have 4 weeks to go through their training, but at this point, they asked me to do it in less than 2. I finished it all over a weekend, at which point I was ready to take on paid work.

The first four jobs I took were smaller – between 3 and 25 minutes of edited work. They pay per minute of finished — transcribed or translated — audio or video, so the faster an editor is, the more work he or she can accept, and the more money the editor gets paid. Unfortunately, after my first four jobs, everything dried up and I haven’t done anything since.

They have email alerts, so I can get notifications when there are files on their “market.” But, for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to sign on and pick anything up as quickly as other people.

I’m really hoping this dry spell doesn’t last much longer. I don’t have a lot of time left in the summer to work and am not fast enough to pick up some of the longer files they need finished. Since the required turnaround is usually 24 hours, I have to be really careful not to accept work that’s more than I think I can handle. If I’m doing most of the editing and transcribing while Bea is asleep, then I really only have about four or five hours a day that I can really focus on the job unless I want to stay up all night working and then be with her all day while Charlie’s at work.

The editing program is set up so that each individual word must be placed in a specific cell to match up with the speaker’s voice, so not only does it take an understanding of language and grammar, but I also have to be able to focus all of my attention on it. I’ve attempted working while Bea is tearing around the house screaming at me. Ineffective.

There are two main things I like about this job: one, it’s strictly freelance. I can work from home on my own schedule, taking as little or as much work as I think I can handle. Second, I am certified to use their software and program which, if things go well for the company, will be something that will look good on my resume.

On the other hand, both of those things are also hindrances. If the company doesn’t do well (it’s still relatively new and small), no one will care if I’m certified to edit using their software. And, while I am under no obligation to take work, there is no guarantee I will get any. The people who have been with the company since the start have first dibs on the files; the rest of us have to fight to sign on fast enough to pick up files when they become available.

If necessary, however, I think I’ve been offered another job at a coffeeshop. Last weekend, I got a text message from a number I didn’t know. The message said something like, “Hey, I heard about what happened between you and [the district manager who fired me]. Someone who owns a coffeeshop in Lincoln Park is looking for help right now,” and, if I was interested, I should let the owner know I’d worked at the other place, however briefly. I texted back to say sure, I was interested, and to thank the person for thinking of me. I still don’t know who it was. She told me her name, and it’s not someone I recall working with or meeting during my brief employment. Although I’m pretty sure I met everyone that was employed there.

So I called the owner of this local coffeeshop (but not before removing my somewhat negative review on Yelp) and she said she’d already scrambled around to find coverage for the employee who was in the hospital. If I was interested in working there, though, she said she needs someone starting in August and would love to sit down and speak with me. I said sure, that I’d come in and turn in an application, drop off my resume, whatever.

So here’s the moment where I have to ask myself if I really want to go back to working at a coffeeshop (and one that also serves ice cream and lots of different kinds of food). Do I want to work at a restaurant, or do I just want to make coffee? I just want to make coffee. I don’t want to make grilled cheese sandwiches and soup and scoop out gelato. Just espresso drinks, please.

I also don’t want to spend all my free time at work. I’m still unsure of what a full schedule as a graduate student is like. Will I have to read 75 books per quarter? Will I have to start attending conferences and presenting papers? Will I need to spend every waking moment writing, reading, and studying? I honestly have no idea what the workload will be like in my program, so I’m not quite ready to commit to a regular schedule where I’m rushing out the door the moment Charlie gets home.

Then again, I’m getting really sick of shitty coffee. Most cafes will pay you an hourly wage, let you split tips with co-workers, and give you a half or a full pound of free coffee (or some tea) each week. The take-home would be worth it to work a few shifts a week and probably more lucrative financially than the editing job.

Pay Attention to Me

One thing I hate about social networking; when I find a “celebrity” (author/actor/blogger/photographer/drag queen) that I like and want to follow/read/keep tabs on in a non-psycho way, I have to keep myself from reading the comments or commenting, myself, on posts. Otherwise, I get extremely irritated.

Wil Wheaton  just posted on G+ about a bunch of loons harassing him for not signing autographs as he was leaving his hotel. By the time I read his post, there were 437+ fans posting how sorry they were that this happened, some of whom were trying to out-clever one another with their comments, and, one can only assume, be the person he responds to.

The comments were (to me, anyway), another form of that loony hotel-lurking, only their autograph would be his direct response and acknowledgement of their existence.

I’m super flattered that one of my favorite authors (Christopher Moore) added me on Facebook a few years ago. Granted, he was probably just searching for profiles that listed his books as favorites, but it was still really cool for that split second he sent the invite. But I hate reading the comments on his posts. Every one is just another fan trying to catch his attention and get that virtual autograph.

On some celebrity pages, there are actually users essentially threatening the celebrity to pay attention to them. When the media was aflutter with raising awareness about gay teen suicides, I actually saw posts on some of my RuPaul’s Drag Race favorites’ Facebook statuses, begging JuJubee and Pandora Boxx to comment directly on a user’s wall so s/he had a reason to live.

That’s messed up.

Homesick-ish

It’s been two months since we moved, and I’ve started to feel the twinge of homesickness. The loneliness and unfamiliarity, I was prepared for; the profound disappointment at missing the Indiana State Fair, I was not.

The video above is one I took, just a few seconds, when Charlie and our old housemate Cavan went on the swings at the fair. Every summer for a few years in a row, we would go with Cavan to gorge ourselves, take photos, ride the rides, and people watch. People watching was definitely my favorite part (a close tie with buttery corn on the cob, elephant ears, and those corn dogs that probably don’t qualify as “food”). It never ceased to amaze me how many morbidly obese people I could count who wore overalls with nothing else. Or people in bare feet. Or mullets and rat-tails on children and adults.

And the best part was jabbing Cavan or Leti or Sarah or Audrey in the side and trying to nod subtly at the person you were making fun of, but didn’t want to notice you were making fun of them.

So I guess I’m not just missing the fair, I’m missing the people we would attend it with.

For the most part, I’m okay with hanging out at home. I know it won’t last forever, I know I will make friends — or get some old ones here. Katie, who used to work with me at the coffeeshop and started last fall at Brooklyn Law is transferring to Northwestern at the end of the summer! I actually don’t mind not feeling too pressured to socialize because we are so broke right now. If too many people wanted me to go out to eat, have drinks, go shopping, or even hop on the train for sight-seeing, I’d have to bow my head and admit we have less than $15 in our checking account for the rest of this week.

So, I think laying low for a couple more weeks is probably just fine.

Avada Kedavra, Lycosidae

The other night, a Facebook friend posted in his status that he’d smooshed a spider in his garage, only to have a hundred baby spiders shoot out in every direction. The mere idea of it gave me the chills, and I was hoping he was mistaken, that he was exaggerating, that there just wasn’t any merit to his post. Turns out, I had to see it firsthand to believe it.

For your sanity, in the hopes you can sleep tonight, I chose not to attach a photo of what these assholes look like.

Last night, I went in to the kitchen. After switching on the light (which is connected with a chain hanging from the ceiling, so I was already several feet in by the time I got to the light), a large, brown wolf spider froze in mid-scuttle to stare me down.

Bea was already asleep, so I tried not to scream (I am petrified of spiders), but thankfully Charlie heard my muffled ohmygodohmygodohmygods and came rushing in with a can of beer he’d just finished (leftover from our cookout, not something we normally have lying around). He hunched over the spider, which was glaring at me and calling me horrible names, I’m sure of it, then threw down the can of beer. Whereupon, a hundred baby spiders came rushing out in every direction.

For a split second, Charlie and I both looked at one another in horror — he is “creeped out” by spiders, as he puts it — before he began smashing all of them, barking at me to get a paper towel and some bleach or something. I sprayed the crap out of them while he continued to go after the mother and wipe up the babies.

[Let me also point out here that there is almost nothing about our apartment that would deter these creatures. Despite my feverish cleaning inside, it’s a 100-year-old house with bad siding, wood chips everywhere, tons of vegetation, trees, ivy, and about a bazillion little places for them to hide, inside and out.]

Immediately after our brutal encounter, I felt a mixture of disgust and guilt. Here we’d gone to extreme measures to  murder a family of creatures whose only presence in our house was to eat insects; creatures that would otherwise prefer to leave us alone.

Then again, I’ve woken up in the past few weeks with no less than four (4) different wolf spider bites, three on my chest and one on my elbow, which means they’re biting in my sleep, when I should be the least amount of danger to them. My understanding, after an hour of frightened Google searching, is that they don’t tend to attack unless they feel trapped or threatened in some way.

In which case, leave me alone or I’m going to murder all of you bastards. I’m talking, pulling everything out of my room, ripping the shitty, hastily-applied baseboards off the walls, and bleaching the crap out of every nook and cranny in this place. I would rather deal with the bugs these assholes eat than the assholes, themselves. I couldn’t fall asleep until almost 2am because I kept feeling like something was crawling on me. I almost slept on the couch.

But please don’t let that deter you from coming to visit. Even with an apartment full of wolf spiders, I’m still lonely.

“Trinity Go?”

This morning, Bea asked me “Trinity go?” (as in, where did she go) and started going from room to room, throwing her hands up and asking for her. It’s been exactly one week, almost to the moment, since we lost her. I didn’t have the Internet right in front of me to consult with the plethora of unreliable web sources telling me how to address death with a two-year-old. So I said, “She went to sleep. Forever.”
“Ever?”
“Well, yes. Like, she went to sleep and won’t wake up.”
“Trinity go, sleeping?” In other words, where did she go to sleep.
I said somewhere else, where we wouldn’t see her anymore.

I didn’t want to leave open the possibility of visiting Trinity or the idea that she might come back. I don’t think Bea even understands what any of that means, but she has stopped asking. For now.

On Wednesday, we got a sympathy card in the mail from the vet. That was pretty gut-wrenching and Charlie didn’t even want to look at it. I hid it on a shelf with some other things I have that will eventually go into a photo album, when everything isn’t so fresh and painful.

After looking around online afterward, just to see what sources suggested, I found advice running the spectrum — you should show your kid the animal’s body and explain that s/he is dead and will go in to the ground to feed plants; you should tell them the animal went to a farm and is going to live there forever; you should tell them the animal is in heaven, playing with [a list of other people the kid may or may not know who have died]; you should never speak of it again.

I’m not sure I handled it the best way possible, but I certainly wouldn’t have said anything I read online.

This is the kind of situation that brings up questions for me as to how I’ll address other topics: religion, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy. Charlie doesn’t want her to be “that kid” — the one who tells all the other kids in her class that there’s no Santa. I also don’t particularly see the value in making up stuff like that. I get that some people believe Christmas is supposed to be magical for children and perpetuating the Santa business keeps it special, but I think it’s bullshit.

Of course, the people who primarily will be responsible for her education are going to be perpetuating this business. I can’t stop elementary school teachers from telling Bea that “pilgrims and Indians” sat around a big table and had turkey, any more than I can expect her not to believe it. I can attempt to redirect her, and give her the tools to make logical conclusions about what is or isn’t real, based in fact, and how these stories evolved through time.

Along with creating and encouraging these myths, there’s going to come a time when those myths are destroyed and the kid feels his or her innocence or childhood is lost. No Santa? No Tooth Fairy? No Easter bunny? Why did you lie to me?

Most of those legends, to me, are Hallmark creations. I mean, obviously, they are based on a variety of myths from a variety of places, people, and religions. But, as we celebrate them today, in the US, they’re so far removed from their original meaning, I don’t think most people could tell you what a fir tree has to do with a fat guy in your chimney. These stories are pushed to sell more candy, toys, and greeting cards. Why (or how) in the world I would encourage my daughter to dye boiled eggs and then try to wrap it in to a story about how Christians believe Jesus was resurrected is beyond me.

I know this is probably not a very popular opinion, and I know that, being super straightforward and brutally honest with children backfires. They resent you for leaving them out, for making them the weirdos at school who let it slip first, or for just missing out on the opportunity to be like everyone else.

I haven’t put much thought into choosing my battles. I know I can’t very well say there’s no Easter bunny while putting presents under a tree from “Santa.” The holidays and events without omnipotent beings seem a little easier. Other than the “Great Pumpkin,” there’s not a Halloween spirit telling kids they have to behave. Is there a way I could address these creatures without turning her into the little shit that ruined Christmas for all the kids in her school?

It all just smacks to me of monotheistic religions that promote a powerful authority figure that rewards and punishes us for our behavior. My background in psychology and understanding of child development tells me that we all have to go through stages that will eventually (hopefully) lead us to make decisions based on what is right and what is wrong, morally and ethically, as opposed to “because mom and dad said so,” or “because God will punish/not reward me.”

I don’t want to affect her development by putting too much pressure on her to be logical when she’s too little. I just want her to know how much BS people feed other kids (and themselves), while keeping it to herself.

Most likely, I’ll be like every other parent, cave, and propagate all that stuff, despite my better judgment, because it’s just easier.

Hair Pulling

It seems silly to think a two-year-old could be stressed out or nervous. But they’re little people, no? According to a life stressor quiz, I scored 654. More than 150 points on this test, and it’s time to reconsider what’s going on in your life, take a new direction, and perhaps get thyself into counseling.

If the events I’ve experienced in the past year are causing my hair to fall out, I’m sure that a portion of them — if not my own stress — has leaked out to affect my child. I try my best to remain calm, keep her entertained and distracted, and ensure her happiness. That doesn’t mean I’m always 100% effective.

So Bea has started pulling out her own hair. She has a habit of twisting the hair around in, usually, her left hand. She’ll pull a hair or two out of her head, then start absent-mindedly brushing it across her face. Next thing you know, it’s in her mouth.

For a kid that little, you have to wonder if it’s something you’re doing wrong, or if there’s something you could be doing right to help. It’s definitely something we’re going to have to keep an eye on and try to redirect. If that isn’t effective, we’ll have to consider other avenues, though I’m not really sure where to start.

To top it all off, yesterday, she had to be really patient with me. I felt so bad for her, but one of the downfalls of staying home is that, if I get sick, there isn’t any way for Charlie to help out – or anyone else, for that matter. I was nauseous, fighting a migraine the entire day, felt dehydrated and my muscles ached. It was all I could do to peel myself off the couch and try to play with her.

I thought I’d started the World’s Worst Period on Tuesday (a few days late), but the symptoms led me to believe that our last less-than-careful encounter ended up in a pregnancy, which ended this week. I had a lot of lower back pain, some pretty awful cramps, and . . . well, let’s leave out the other issues for the sake of your delicate constitution. Suffice it to say, I counted back and discovered that I had, in fact, been ovulating right around the time we were intimate.

I told Charlie about it because, I knew if I were losing a pregnancy, however early, I needed to switch up my use of feminine hygiene products. If you’re miscarrying, you should not use tampons, guys, just so you know. He ran right out to get me some other stuff and, when he returned, he asked if I was disappointed. I think because I seemed so down. But if I seemed down, I explained, it was because of the changes my body was going through, on top of all the other myriad difficulties and challenges we’d been faced with in the past week. Month. Year. Whatever.

Am I disappointed? Not really. I don’t want to have another baby. Am I sad? Yes. To think that Bea’s little brother or sister was this cluster of cells that just sort of washed out of my body and, for a few weeks before, I’d had no idea that this was going on . . . It’s a little disturbing. But I also realize that most pregnancies don’t make it past the first few weeks, and most women aren’t even aware that it’s happened (like me).

It definitely makes me think about where we are right now – emotionally, financially, time-wise. I haven’t even started classes yet, so I can’t imagine juggling that, Bea, a pregnancy . . .

So, yeah. It’s a bit of a relief, even if a tad bit sad. And physically painful. I think, if Bea is stressed out now from the move, from losing Trinity, from sensing that I’m so exhausted, I don’t think she would deal well with me being knocked up or having to compete with a baby for attention.

Family Untied

I just realized it has been almost a year since I’ve spoken to my mother, face-to-face. It’s been four months since my dad has bothered to say anything to me, even in an email. The last I heard from him was when I asked for help with our move and he said no. (As you may recall, he told me in January he had “over ten grand” in his bank account.)

For months after Bea’s first birthday, Charlie took the reins and dealt with my mom while I was at work. Her hysterics were just more than I wanted to tackle, and after trying and trying to communicate with her, I admit I just gave up. She wouldn’t listen to either of us, and even accused Charlie and me of railroading and brow-beating her one afternoon last summer when we tried to convince her to help us  find homes for their cats.

Since all of this shit went down last May, Charlie and I have received no less than a dozen sobbing, 5-minute-long voice mails, fifty or more emails each, and several messages from Facebook friends and family to tell us my mom is asking them to take photos and screenshots from our pages. My mother has begged and pleaded with us to listen to her “side” and let her see Bea more often. I have listened to her story and, to be honest, it isn’t much different from what my dad told me. I explained this to her, so I guess my response was unsatisfactory. She wanted us to be shocked, horrified, disgusted, I guess. But we weren’t.

After just a few weeks with my dad as a housemate (dependent), Charlie and I agreed that we couldn’t figure out how my mom could claim she had no idea what was going on. The man is a liar, a manipulator, possibly a sociopath. If he didn’t love his cats so much, I’d think he had no conscience at all. I lost count of all the times he lied to me with a completely straight face. A few times, in the beginning, I called him out on it. “That’s not what you said yesterday, Dad, when you told me A, B, C.”
“Yes it is,” he’d respond. “I don’t know where you’re getting A, B, C. It’s X, Y, Z.”
“No, Dad. I remember it very clearly and can quote exactly what you said. It was just just a few hours ago.”
He would either laugh, saying that I was losing my mind, or throw up his hands in frustration, shouting, “Oh, okay! You know better than I do what I was saying?!”

I actually went out and bought a lock box to keep Bea’s social security card and birth certificate because there was no doubt in my mind that, given the opportunity, he would take her information and start applying for lines of credit under her name.

So one of my major frustrations with my mother is her lack of accountability in this entire situation. You can’t live with someone for almost 40 years and never have any clue that he’s completely lost his mind. I don’t know if he ever had it. I don’t know if PTSD played a factor. I don’t know if he’s got some form of mental health issue that’s only recently begun to rear its ugly head. I just know that you would have to be incredibly stupid or live in a serious state of denial to not see how nasty he can be.

But that’s only part of it. The most recent email to Charlie said, and I quote, “If you don’t let me come and visit, how will you know how I’m doing? If Courtney doesn’t talk to me, how will she know what’s going on with me?” Did I tell you this already? How will I know how she is? What about how I’m doing? The woman hasn’t asked anyone what’s going on with me in a year. She didn’t know I was graduating from college until my dad told her. She didn’t know I’d applied to graduate programs until Charlie mentioned it. And she didn’t know we were moving to Chicago because . . . well, I didn’t tell her. So, yeah. That one’s on me.

A lot of my gay and lesbian friends are big proponents of chosen family. Because they have to deal with their parents’ refusal to accept the lifestyle, they become closer with other people in their lives than their mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I’m lucky to have developed some really great relationships with people in my family recently. My dad’s brother, his wife Vicki, and their kids. But I also have a lot of people in my life who mean a lot more to me than my bickering, nasty parents — one of whom would run me over with a car to steal my daughter, the other of which would run me over with a car so he could pawn my TV.

It just makes me all that much more determined to get the money together for an estate lawyer; to ensure that, in the worst possible scenario, neither of my parents is even considered as a guardian for Bea.

It probably sounds sad to other people, especially those who think Family is all we have in the world, that someone should not talk about their own parents this way. But I know I’m not alone. I know, through late-night Google searches, that there are tons of other people in similar, if not worse, situations than I am with the people who brought them in to this world. It merely leads me to believe that child rearing is not a right — it’s a privilege to which many people seem to give very little consideration. And it makes me very aware of how I am with Bea and how I do not want to turn out as a parent.

Poor Impulse Control

Our landlady Anne’s oldest dog passed away a little over a week ago. She was a really, really old and really, really sick dog. She had horrible, bleeding tumors in her mouth, which had been surgically removed three times in the last 6 months before the vet said, “Look, we can’t keep putting her through this.” After the vet put the dog to sleep, Anne was devastated. For about 15 minutes. Then she was making plans to drive all over Illinois and Indiana to find a replacement.

If I haven’t yet made it clear (and I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at least three times already), Anne and I have very different ideas of what “clean” is. Her apartment smells of dog, in the worst way. She is always covered in animal hair, always a little sweaty, always has a spot of drool on the corner of her mouth. Her hair is unkempt, her shoes are rarely tied, and her part of the house is covered in food, urine, and animal feces. Although they are completely separate apartments, I can still smell her place in our kitchen and, especially, outside. In this heat, the smell sometimes makes me gag.

She wants us to take care of her pets when she goes out of town because, in the past, the woman she paid to do this did not do what Anne asked. She was apparently paying her housekeeper (ahem) to spend the night with her animals, but I only saw the woman three times over the course of the entire weekend. Strictly out of frustration, we used her spare keys to let the male dog out because he would not stop howling. I’m talking, like, why isn’t this dog hoarse or passed out from the five solid hours of barking?

She offered to pay us to care for her pets and the house. You know, scoop the litter box (she also has at least three cats), bring in the mail, water the plants, let out the dogs. And, apparently, maybe one of us can sleep on her couch to keep the animals company. The idea of this turns my stomach a little bit. She went so far as to suggest maybe it would be a fun “family vacation kind of thing” if we all stayed the weekend upstairs in her place. After hearing that her male dog makes a habit of urinating and defecating on her couch and bed whenever she leaves for longer than an hour, this prospect does not appeal to me.

I realize I’m being totally catty and judgmental, which is why I use the disclaimer that “our ideas of clean are different.” I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like poop in my bed or bugs crawling over my face. Call me stuck up if you want to.

So what I’m getting at is, despite what I consider the rather discombobulated and disorganized condition of her house and personal life, and her apparent lack of financial security (she asked for the rent check early because she only had four dollars in her checking account) she drove five hours yesterday to adopt “an older, female lab” that she just knows I’m going to love. Before Trinity died Saturday morning, I knew Anne was planning on getting another dog. But after our horrible night and weekend, I was shocked to learn, a mere 7 hours after Trinity had passed, Anne had no intention of changing her plans.

Sure enough, she packed up first thing Sunday morning, and returned last evening with bags full of toys, going on and on about the names she had chosen for the dog, and how we would just get along great because she would remind me of . . . um . . . Alvy. Yes, Alvy. I know she was going to say Trinity, but stopped herself.

She must have chewed my ear for a total of an hour over the course of the weekend about getting her new dog, how famously we’d all get along, which names suited her best, how old the dog is, and what a kind soul Anne considers herself for always adopting old, sick dogs. I said almost nothing during all of these conversations until last night, when she was telling me what time today she planned on returning with the dog and that we should all come out and greet her at that point. I said, “That’s going to be difficult.”
Anne said, “Oh, don’t worry. Everyone will get along fine!”
“Not the dog. Me.”
“Oh. Are you still sad?”
“It hasn’t even been 48 hours,” I sighed.

She then launched into this speech about how it’s all a part of life and I shouldn’t be sad because Trinity had a good life and that, essentially, it doesn’t get any easier with other animals or people in our life, so I should pretty much just move on.

If it doesn’t get easier, I thought, how is she able to take in another animal so quickly?

In this respect, Anne reminds me a lot of my father, so I’m guessing she may suffer from bipolar disorder, or some other mild mental illness of which a symptom is lack of impulse control. She can’t stop herself from going to get this animal, despite our loss. (She also can’t stop herself from buying something – anything – every time she leaves her house. Plants, knick-knacks, clothes, watering cans, books, utensils, whatever. “It was on sale.” “It was such a great deal I couldn’t pass it up!”)
The fact that her other dog died just over a week ago and she was looking up pets online the next day surprises me. Trinity was my first dog, my first best friend, my first baby. She not only could never be replaced, I have neither the money, the time, nor the emotional strength to take in another animal right now or at any point in the foreseeable future. In fact, Charlie and I have discussed the possibility of not getting another dog “after Alvy” until Bea is old enough to help take care of a pet.

Anne continues to rationalize her decision by making it sound as though the old female lab is for “all of us.” I haven’t told her this yet, but we are still reconsidering our verbal agreement to sign a second lease to get that washer and dryer. I’m not sure I can stick around for a second year, watching her bring in and lose dogs, all the while having to sit there and listen to her tell me how wonderful she is for doing it. I think she wants to try and convince us to replace Trinity because she knows how difficult it would be for us to find another apartment that would allow two dogs.

I’m also not sure this place is truly worth what she’ll be charging us, after the additional cost for the W/D. During our many walks through different areas, we have seen a variety of apartments for rent in much nicer, newer buildings – at or below the cost we’re paying now. Places with central air (though our window unit works great, I’m not complaining about that — it’s a luxury I’m pleased to have), fireplaces, and permanent parking spots.
We have to move the car every day before 10am and back after 5 when her business partner arrives and leaves, so Charlie just drives to work everyday. Once his schedule changes at the bank, we’ll have to move it Wednesdays and Thursdays in the morning, which is just a pain in the ass, especially since we missed the deadline for residential parking stickers.

What I’m getting at is, while I knew going in to renting this place that it had its ups and downs, I think I see a little more clearly now why people don’t stick around longer than a year. Renting from Anne is like a contracted friendship. Although she is very kind and generous, and genuinely a nice person, I don’t necessarily want to have a twenty-minute-long conversation (which consists of just listening to her talk) every time I have to take out the trash or want a smoke. The idea of a quiet, separate apartment with hardwood floors and sealed walls in a building with a bunch of people who don’t want to talk to me is really appealing right now.

Trouble Sleeping, Eating, Playing

I haven’t really been able to sleep the past two nights and I’ve had almost no appetite. I know it takes time to get over losing a family member, but I have a permanent headache from crying. The good thing is, we have Bea and Alvy to focus on. Alvy is clearly aware that something has happened – he isn’t as anxious and worried as when we moved here. My friend Liz took Trinity for a month while we settled in and then brought her to us to make sure Trin could navigate the yard and steps to go outside.

Since he saw Trinity seizing and in pain, I think he’s aware that she’s gone-gone, not just gone at Liz’s. In fact, once she was outside and on the way to the car, he turned, looked at me, and threw up. But I think he’s now in mourning.

I feel absolutely terrible that Charlie had to do that by himself. We had no one to come over at one in the morning and stay with Bea so I could go with him to the vet, and there was no question as to whether we would wake up a two-year-old to watch a dog die.

The saddest part is, we had to make the decision not to get her ashes returned. It was either pay $450 (which we most certainly do not have), or allow them to use her body for something else — veterinary students, I imagine. It makes me unhappy to think about her being a specimen rather than the awesome, sweet, loving dog she was.

I had no idea it would cost so much for cremation. I thought it would be more like $150. The vet was nice enough to take an imprint of her paw for us in clay, which we baked yesterday. It didn’t really turn out. I know we have the paw print, a million photos, the portrait we commissioned from Audrey, and almost 13 years of memories, bu I always assumed I would have her ashes somewhere on a shelf. We hated having to say we couldn’t afford it.

Staying busy helped yesterday. We did our weekly grocery shopping, made a trip to the DePaul campus for people-watching and other errands, and went to a park made just for toddlers. Today it’s supposed to be over 100 degrees with the heat index. We talked about going to a dog beach, but it’s not the kind of place that’s super clean or great for kids and people to get in the water. Just because the signs say “No Water Pooping” doesn’t mean dogs don’t poop in the water.

While Bea is our primary concern, she has no idea what’s going on and we need to make sure Alvy is okay. The last thing I want to do is leave him home alone for hours a day after his best friend died. We may just spend the afternoon in the kiddie pool out back.

Speaking of our great yard at this place, it’s a disaster right now. The landlady has a group of handymen she calls up for various, on-the-DL, semi-illegal, non-permit type work. Her latest project is getting the water from the yard to drain in to the sewers. So these guys would appear, unannounced, at different points during the day all of last week to dig stuff up, put dirt all over the yard, move around chairs, sing to Katy Perry songs on the radio, and smoke. They were also supposed to put a drain in our utility room so the washer and dryer could be installed back there.

They were supposed to start our drain on Tuesday. Then Wednesday. Then Friday. Now tomorrow. Since they aren’t getting paid well and nothing’s really on the up-and-up, I don’t imagine they care when they come or when things get done. But all the contents of the shed under Anne’s house are on one side of the yard (and this lady has a LOT of stuff; she’s a bit of a clutter-bug), and all the dirt from the ground under our stairs and in her shed so the sewer lines could be laid are on the other side of the yard.

It makes for a very dangerous, dirty, and complicated play area for Bea. Especially since, with the coming heat wave, we’re not going to be walking much of anywhere for a few days. It would be nice to have that area clean and safe for her. One of the main reasons we chose to move here rather than a nice, clean, new apartment with a dishwasher and W/D is the yard. Bea can tear around and wear herself out and we just go right back inside. It’s a comfort, safety, and convenience issue. But with the bugs (I shudder to think what fall/winter will bring inside), and increased rent for a W/D, I’m wondering if we should sign a second lease after all. I do like Anne and, as I mentioned before, the pros are outweighing the cons right now. But after a fit of hysterics (after which Bea refused to get off the couch for over an hour) upon seeing a large black bug crawl over her foot, I’m not sure I want to stick around too long.

The other afternoon I went to pee and ended up literally pissing all over myself as, mid-hover to sit down, two huge wolf spiders darted out from an undisclosed location toward me. I also woke up with three huge bites on my chest, and another on my arm one morning. I. Hate. Spiders.

How the hell do you keep fifty species of insects out of a garden apartment in a 150-year-old house? That isn’t helping me sleep, either.