Two weeks off

Downstairs the house smelled of wet dog and mould, and unwashed socks that had been worn too many times.  I didn’t care. That was what Exit Mould and Pine-o-clean were for. I bought bottles of the stuff and cans of Glen 20 and I washed and dried everything, including the dog, and I shut fast that room with its smell of ancient foot odour.

I went for long, punishing walks with the dog. He had to run to keep up with me and he was only small – a maltese terrier -type crossed with something or other. He had a penchant for bullying much larger dogs and was annoyed when I didn’t let him off the leash to run after what he thought were fair game. I’d learned my lesson last year when he decided to take on a huge mastiff. She weighed ten of him, with a head the size of a basketball.  I was the one left with the 800 dollar vet bill, a mutt with a plastic collar of shame around his neck and a drain in his chest, and an earful of virulent abuse from the mastiff’s owner.

Occasionally he’d balk at the pace as we pounded along the beach or the bush tracks behind the dunes. I’d play Green Day as loud as my ears could bear, so I wouldn’t have to think or feel or hear anything else but Jesus of Suburbia and American Idiot. With my headphones, sunglasses and a hat jammed on my head I could be anonymous and separate.  Every now and then, the leash would jerk and pull my arm backward. I’d turn to see the dog sitting stubbornly in the middle of the track and he’d look at me balefully as if to say “slow the fuck down, will ya?” I’d jerk the leash back my way, and off we’d go again. I did not slow the fuck down, and he with his tongue sticking out, bright red and dripping, had no choice but to run or be dragged. I’d make him jog along the shoreline and he kept a wary eye out for any encroaching waves, for he hated to get wet and would bark in a shrill voice at me if I got too close to the water.

When we eventually returned home, the dog would throw himself onto the tiles downstairs in an effort to get cool, panting mightily. When he thought I wasn’t looking he’d curl up on the couch.  And then he’d sleep for hours and hours, only occasionally shifting to get more comfortable. Sometimes his legs would jerk and his body shuddered as if he was having a mini-seizure, and he’d moan in his sleep.  I took to walking by myself in the afternoons so  the dog could rest and I could trudge along unimpeded, without the need to examine other animals’ excrement or stop to wee on fence posts .

We were both a little leaner at the end of those two weeks.

*Picture credit: me and my iPhone

When my grandmother died

When my grandmother died not long ago, at the ripe old age of 97, I was very sad. Here was a woman who had loved me all my years, a woman who I remember with every cell in my body, who was the linchpin of my large flawed family and had the sweetest Geordie/Irish accent you’ve ever heard.  I posted a picture of her on Facebook, with her twinkling, smiling eyes.  “At least you had her for so long”, commented one friend.

“At least you had her for so long”!!  Just because she was a great age when she died?  Does it mean I should love her less? My 1 year old cousin only had her for a year. Would you say at least you had her longer than he did, that somehow one year of love is worth less than fifty? Does it mean I won’t miss her as much? Are you envious because your grandmother died sooner than mine?

When my best friend died, an acquaintance said, “Oh at least you got to see her a lot before she died”.  And if I hadn’t, what then?  “At least you got to have dinner with her six months ago, before she got sick, before she died” (Oh yeah, great. Lovely). “At least you didn’t lose more than one best friend” (Oh but I did). “At least she died with her family around her” (um, no, we weren’t all there). “At least you have shared memories with others (no, she held the memories). “Well, at least…” Jesus Pollyanna, shut the hell up with your platitudes and ridiculous “at leasts”.

You hear it a lot in the face of tragedy and sadness. “At least he was unconscious”. “At least you got home in time to see your father, (ravaged with disease and delirious with pain)…before he died”. “At least her daughters were in their twenties when she died. At least they had a mother to grow up with”. “At least they had wills…imagine if they didn’t”. “At least the baby was born and you got to hold him…before he died.”

“At least”…. It’s a term used to add a positive comment to a negative situation. People like my acquaintance, Pollyanna Perfect, say it all the time to make people feel better. It’s part of her stock standard patter.   But you know, it also means “at the minimum”. You should clean your house at least once a week. You should service your car at least twice a year. At least I saw her once before she died. At least I saw her when she died. At least I went to her funeral. At least I remembered her birthday.

“At the minimum, you saw her (once) before she died”. “At the minimum, you got to hold the baby (once)”. “At the minimum, you got to the funeral (once)”.

“At least” diminishes. Repeated and repeated, statements lose all meaning.  At least you saw her before she died. Why is that comforting?  Why do you assume that comforts?  It doesn’t.  I want to see her now, alive, talking, laughing. I want her to remember me. I want to make new memories with her.

At least you have old ones.