The long answer: "but-i-feel-so-empowered-since-i-now-have-daily-freedom-from-the-insanity-of-my-mind-and-the-bodily-cravings-it-is-such-a-relief-to-understand-i-am-not-a-bad-person-but-a-sick-person-sometimes-i-just-want-to-shout-it-from-the-rooftops-and-sometimes-i-just-want-to-squawk-from-the-darkness-of-my-cave-but-i-must-go-forth-and-BLOG!"
The short answer: "Uh, no?"
My poor husband.
My poor, beleaguered husband. Poor, poor, poor K. Seriously, I need to make a t-shirt. It would sell like hotcakes. (Do hotcakes sell in L.A., because seriously, no-one here eats carbs.) What the hell did he get roped into when we jumped into that puddle of marital bliss one sunny, spring afternoon back in May of 1995? For a while there, there were no romantic misty mornings or sensual afternoon showers to meander through, clutching hands, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Our marriage had become a full-blown tornado. A Category F5. The force of nature that tore through our life leveled it all: honesty, hope and trust. Pellets of ice shredded all Honesty like shingles off a roof sent flying through the air. Feeble whispers of Hope were drowned by howling winds that seemed to rise up from direct from hell. And Trust was flattened, like a structure demolished, useless until built back up from scratch.
But somehow, someway, Love survived.
[kidneytransplantaddictionoverdoserehabrelapseseparationrecovery—maybe if i write it really small and smushed together K. won't notice this part.]
You try getting through that unscathed.
So when my husband asks, I listen. There's nothing I won't do for him. Except give him a kidney. So I began to scratch my head, in an exaggerated fashion, much like a animation character who has way more hair than me (damn you, immunosuppressives!) and pondered.
What should I write about? What would make him smile?
Quickly I observed that there are a number of topics that are invariably off-limits:
My first boyfriend
The Medical System in America
I also observed that there are certain topics I am not interested in writing about:
The LA Scots (more drama than a Telemundo novela.)
Bag piping (a girl needs a break.)
How much Kevin complains about how hot Los Angeles is in the summer (Winnipeg is waiting.).
And then it came to me. Quick as a flash of light. Or the wag of a tail.
Who doesn't like dogs? I'm sure, actually, I KNOW some of you are out there, and quite frankly, I don't trust you. But all that matters for this blog is how much K. and I LOOOVE dogs.
Especially our own.
My first dog was Ralph. Ralph was a beagle. I was 16 and I fell in love. There is nothing like your first dog. It's a little like your first orgasm—nothing prepares you for it. I was absolutely smitten. From his smushed-up scowl to the white tip of his thick, bushy tail that spun erect whenever I walked through the door. His whiskers would part like wings every time his wee leather lips pursed with sweet suspicion to belt out his trademark, "WOOOOOO!" I used to stare for hours at his "I heart my BEAGLE" leash because "beagle" had suddenly become the CUTEST WORD IN THE WORLD.
Ralph was a puppy when I bought him. Never again. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Even as a pup his personality was formed and ready. He was the ornery old man who'd sit on his porch and yell at the children who'd scamper across his front lawn. But Ralph was secretly a love muffin. He was all bark and no bite. (Except for that one time. Poor K.) He was fine with the world and everything in it, especially if he got to GO FOR A WALK. He'd walk for hours on end, especially with Bedstefar, my Danish grandfather, who never owned a Danish hound of his own, but quietly logged many hours with Ralph over their (Bedstemor and Bedstefar's) many visits to Toronto. What a sight that was. My 2 favorite guys in the world—my Bedstefar and my beagle, Ralph, trotting down the salted, wintry sidewalks of Toronto together. Testify!
K. and I shared Ralph for 8 years. He moved in with us in 1994. And he traveled Route 66 with us all the way to The City of Angels.
This is Kevin's best memory of Ralph:
It was a spring evening in Toronto. 1992. We were in love. I believe it was the first time, or one of the first times Kevin had met my mother. And it was the first time he met Ralph.
After my father's death, my mother, brother and I moved from an apartment in downtown Toronto, to a house on the east side of High Park. How I raised Ralph then is downright hazardous compared to the responsible dog owner I am now. I used to just open our front door and let Ralph run around the neighbourhood for a couple of hours. Take that, Neighbourhood Watch! (spelled with "u".) I never got him neutered. Terrible. Who knows how many greyhounds with beagle faces are running around the West End of Toronto now? I know. Live and learn. So Ralph was used to running up the sidewalks of Geoffrey St.. It was our family ritual—the running of the beagle—whenever one of us was making our way down the street from the streetcar stop on Roncesvalles, another would bring Ralph outside and wait. Amazing to think we survived without cell phones. We would just guess when someone might arrive home. "Mum said she'd be home by 6pm. I'll peek outside and see if she's on her way."
And then all hound would break loose.
That spring evening, Mum stood on the top of the porch. At one end of a taut leash, her hand protectively clamped, at the other end, an extremely eager beagle, rigid with combustible energy, ears up, cocked like radar cups, nose pointed outward—and his lipstick if you really want to know the truth. (Not neutered, remember?) I threw up a big wave and an even bigger "RAAALLLPH!". It was a slow-motion movie sequence. Time would stand still when I saw my bud. My Mum would drop the leash as she bent to whisper, "Where's Henriette?" This old hound would bound down the patio steps and instinctively turn right and then tear up the well-preserved Canadian sidewalk towards me. But who was this? Kevin stopped short. His face lit up, with something that can only be described as puppy love (Get it?). Ralph bounded towards us with his big beagle grin, lots of tongue, yelping with delight. He was relentless in his exuberance, joy bursting from every danderous pore of his wiggling body. It was The Greeting That Had No End. Kevin took in my wonderful dog from head to paw as Ralph jumped up on me and then K. gasped with tentative delight,
"You have a BEAGLE?"
But why was he running on an angle? I could already read K.'s mind and we weren't even engaged.
"Ralph's spine was infected when he was 3. He was paralyzed, couldn't walk for 10 days. A little Prednisone, and miraculously, he could. But ever since then he runs on a bit of an angle. He starts at POINT A, but ends up at POINT C. A little unorthodox, but he gets there."
My beagle Ralph walked a crooked line. Yup. My kind of dog.
"I've always wanted a BEAGLE!"
[Honestly, folks, I think that sealed the deal.]
I told you. There's nothing like your first time.
If Ralph was the sitcom curmudgeon, then Bessie was his heart o' gold wife.
We adopted Bessie after living in Los Angeles for about 8 months. Bessie was an old basset hound K. discovered in the back of the Pasadena Humane Society. IN THE BACK. This was not good news for Bessie. But what was good news was that we fell in love instantly and took her home. Bessie was 10. She had been found wandering around a parking lot. And she had been adopted and then RETURNED because she had a tiny lump on her back the size of a peanut that, in the end, never grew any bigger. Their loss. Bessie was pure love. Bessie had no baggage. None. Not even a handbag. For a rescue animal this is rare. We called her our ballerina girl—bulimic and beautiful. She was our L.A. girl, appropriate as we lived on Hollywood Blvd. at the time—the Laurel Canyon end. Bessie was thin, social, too social. In fact, Bessie's only flaw was that she'd get distracted pooping. This was challenging when walking her along the famed Boulevard. If someone called out, and they often did, "OH! She's ADORABLE!", Bessie had to stop. She knew she was beautiful. She'd stop pooping, look up, wag, wag some more, even as we cursed her latest fan for interrupting the precious ebb and flow of her BM. It was worse than bribing a toddler with M and M's to use the potty. (Not that I know anything about that. Poetic license.) She also threw up every morning, hence the bulimia. Just a wee "Blargh"—every morning. Nothing major. Compact. Contained. A polite little retch to clean out her system.
Kevin fell hard for our sweet Bessie Lou.
"I've always wanted a BASSET HOUND!"
[Wait. I thought you always wanted a beagle?"]
This is Kevin's best memory of Bessie:
As perfect as she was, she had one major flaw. A titch of anxiety. But it only came out beyond the sheltered walls of our North Hollywood duplex. When at home, and paired up with Ralph the Grouch, the two personalities seemed to balance each other out. One Curmudgeon + One Pollyanna = 2 Happy Hounds.
Traveling triggered another personality altogether.
Doggie co-dependency makes traveling, uh, challenging to say the least. One time we threw caution to the wind, or was it intelligence?, or maybe it really was caution?, because I would never do it again. We flew Ralph and Bessie with us to Winnipeg, Canada. Because as much as we loved seeing K.'s family, we couldn't bear leaving our own family behind. So we bought the doggie crates on Craig's List. We discovered that transferring through Denver or Minneapolis would be impossible because the outside temperatures dropped too low for dogs to transfer planes. So Vancouver it was—Canada's Miami Beach. And we stocked up on those doggie tranquilizers. Ralph took to the tranquilizer obediently, swallowing his pill, manifesting it like a pro, his bloodshot eyes and heavy head happily chilling upon the collection of pillows we'd stuffed inside his crate. Bessie, on the other hand, became a beast. Our sweet stuffed animal come to life was plunged into the throws of panic once the tranquilizer hit her bloodstream. Even back then I was confused. ("But Bessie! It's drugs!") Our demure princess howled and bayed and cried whereas King Ralph, The Howling Hound of Hollywood, shut right down and enjoyed the riiide, man.
And it only got worse upon return from Winnipeg to Vancouver.
We stood wrangled inside long, snaking lines with frustrated travelers, pure anarchy contained only by the ingrained Canadian desire to be polite at all times and those ubiquitous velvet (poly-blend?) ropes confining us to the teeniest square of linoleum at this pseudo-border. We were all tired, hungry and frustrated after long flight delays due to de-icing. Stupid Canada! Does it have to snow every January? It was New Year's Day. Christmas was the nostalgic past and the only thing in the future were maxed out credit cards and the strong possibility that we would miss our flight home. Those darn Canadians. So fair and reasonable. No racial profiling here! We would have to wind through those ropes like everyone else. There was no deal I could negotiate with 4 suitcases, 3 airport trolleys, 2 doggie crates, and 1 wildly embarrassed husband.
If there's one thing to know about my husband, it is that he does not like attention. Is this incongruous with him playing THE LOUDEST INSTRUMENT ON EARTH? Yes. Is it a contradiction of sorts that he loves to sing in front of thousands of people? Correct. Is it somewhat odd that he runs a business where he has to deal with people very day? Absolutely. But attention on HIM? Not so much. Why was Kevin embarrassed you might ask? Well, our darling basset hound was having the same reaction to her tranquilizer—that is to say, none. In fact, it did the opposite and cracked her out—catapulting her into a tweaking frenzy—winding her up so tightly that when the howls of agony began to emit from her perfectly sculpted snout, a flurry of frantic heads rippled through the line-up like "The Wave", each one looking in a different direction for the murder that had just taken place on Canadian soil. No. No-one had been killed, but my pacifist, my very own St. Francis of Assisi, was flipping out and wanted to kill. his. dog. Kevin was sweating. Bessie was sweating. Kevin was shaking. Bessie was shaking. Ralph was safe and stoned. And I was just plain ol' annoyed. ("I mean Bessie, if you're not even going to enjoy the drug, share the wealth.") As her howls of agony got louder, the tittering around us grew in tandem, until it was full-blown event. Our dog was howling! Everyone was howling! They were all baying and laughing and for a moment everyone's frustrations with Customs were lifted away with the snowflakes that were keeping us grounded.
And then we missed the plane.
We took a break from dogs for a year and a half after Bessie and Ralph died.
We had Bessie for just over 4 years.
Ralph lived for 17 years and 27 days.
And then we discovered "Daphneyland". A rescue for basset hounds in Acton, California.
To arrive at Daphneyland is an Experience. Because basset hounds are such a loyal, kind and gentle breed (with notable exceptions like Bonnie, the Killer Basset. Another blog.), cute clusters of houndiness can hang without (much) incident. We arrived at the ranch for the first time in 2004 and parked at the bottom of the hill near the residence. Atop the hill was the kennel, and around the kennel, a chain-link fence enclosing about an acre of desert land. This is the "common area"— where they "Release the Hounds!" As we pulled up, the Pavlovian sound of our wheels grinding into the hard, dusty sand triggered approximately 50-70 basset hounds to come flying, and I do mean flying, down the side of that hill to greet us. Mega-watt ears flapping, tails pinwheeling with delight and oh, those slobbery snouts loudly trumpeting that welcoming sound only a dog-lover can stand.
"AHHH-ROOOOOO!" Times 50.
And from my husband's lips a sentence that killed my Princess Leia fantasy dead in the dirt.
"OH! THIS is my fantasy!"
Soon after we met Daisy. The Dais. The biggest basset hound in the world. She was fat. Really fat. Like, where-do-I-get-one-of-those-doggie-treadmills-that-I've-seen-on-the-News-at-6-to-help-her-lose-weight, fat? I was terrified we couldn't give her a good quality of life, terrified she'd never be able to enjoy herself, terrified she'd never be happy. But Kevin was only terrified that I wouldn't say "Yes".
I said "Yes".
Our 10 year-old Daisy was never svelte like our Bessie Lou, but she was Comedy. When we moved from North Hollywood to Shadow Hills, we moved into a rented house on 5 acres of land. Daisy learned to hike with me. She was never the sprinter, more the endurance waddler, but she always strut through the finish line. She was generous, thoughtful, bringing us petrified gophers and rats on a semi-regular basis—busting through the front door with purpose, flinging down her trophies with a sassy wink and a prideful wag. And she had a dark spot. She had a past. Sometimes she would need to walk away from all the love we smothered her with and have a little "me" time. But my greatest fear was never realized.
She was happy.
This is Kevin's best memory of Daisy:
2 nights before she died, the 3 of us were bundled up by our pillowed headboard, blissfully zoned out on mindless telegenic waves and the endorphin rush that comes from softly stroking dog fur for hours on end. Suddenly, she began to eject herself from the comfort zone of our arms. Perhaps eject is an overstatement. She had never done this before and it became clear it was hard for her to navigate our fluffy bed. An overweight basset with back issues is usually not in any great hurry to leave the comfort of a pre-existing archaeological dig of pillows and sheets. Once excavated, and human Slave is intact, they STAY. But Daisy was insistent on moving. She waddled around, wiggling her body awkwardly, trying to build momentum. "What are you doing, sweet Dais?", we wondered. Finally, she settled down against a freshly excavated barricade of comforters. She fine tuned her new spot with a detailed snout. And then she stopped. She was sitting completely opposite from us, just looking. Not staring, looking. She looked first at the one, then the other of us. Daisy was nothing if not fair, balanced in her love for us, loving us equally, but uniquely. That night, we held a conversation without words. We both felt it, any true blue dog lover can sniff out those moments, even if we don't know at the time what they mean.
Now I know she was saying goodbye. A good and proper goodbye, worthy of the Good and Proper Dais.
This time, we waited only 6 months to return to Daphneyland. We were hooked on hounds, addicted to rescuing senior dogs.
When we met the smallest basset of them all, who turned out to have the biggest heart.
Here's the tribute I wrote for Maggie May when she died very suddenly just 7 months ago.
As soon as I spotted Maggie's little black back come tearing out of her cage, I thought, "OMG! THERE'S MY DOG!" She was little—40 lbs.—smaller than any hound we'd ever owned. She was arguably the prettiest. And she was most definitely the sweetest.
Kevin, once again, could not get enough of our current basset. And it was so much easier to eat her up with a spoon because she was "Compact Basset"—coming in a conveniently smaller-size for extra snuggling! But it took her a long time to get comfortable, and it was difficult to watch. Everything scared her. If you dropped a pot, a spoon, a feather. As we found her voice, a nervous high pitched wail, we began to tease her mercilessly, "I'm Maggie. I'm afraid of Air." A sweet, plaintive, "Noooooo..." was her reply for everything. But thankfully, her anxiety dissipated even as ours grew. During the most challenging time of our marriage, through illness and addiction, unemployment and separation, she blossomed, her heart spilling over with love when we came up short. Maggie flourished when we needed her most, indeed, finally finding her gloriously nipple-studded belly in rehab with me. She was always happy, always twirling and completely ROBBED at The Arcadia Basset Hound Picnic placing an unspeakable 2nd!!!
But she didn't care. As long as she could keep wagging.
Kevin's best memory of Maggie:
Picture it. Shadow Hills, 2010. The bedroom of one fatigued husband and his bedridden wife. The wife lies under a mountain of blankets. She is hiding from Life and The Cold. She is always cold. The husband lies in the opposite direction, facing the foot of the bed, watching TV. He lies in his tighty whities on his stomach, sweating, gasping for air. He is always hot. Maggie, their adorable, slightly wall-eyed basset, lies parallel to her master. She digs him. She wants to please him. They are both lying with their legs sprawled behind them like pressed ducks. The wife laughs. The husband begins to softly bark, edging his nose skyward. Maggie begins to squeak, uncomfortable, uncertain. The wife laughs again. The husband begins to bay like a coyote. Maggie squeals now, straddling that line between complete bewilderment and the joy of crazy. The husband starts to yap, continuous barks of encouragement, now directing them toward his confused little canine. Maggie has had enough. She retaliates—her tiny barks of protest comedic from such a wee little frame. Her barks grow louder and louder until they shift into growl and then finally shift into an anthemic xylophone trill of epic proportions.
Her trill was hilarious, a surefire party trick that would ignite the room with delighted "Oooh's" and "Aaah's".
And it was the sound that sustained me during those dark dialysis days and nights. When I could hardly stand another minute of my existence, Maggie would do the howling for me.
"His name is Wahlter White?"
Wahlter waited for us. We met Wahlter at Daphneyland in January of 2013 when we were taking pictures of the hounds for Petfinder. We still had Maggie May. We weren't looking for another dog. But Wahlter was looking for us.
Wahlter waited 13 months for us.
"And then there's Wahlter..."
[Which we like to sing to the tune of Pharrell's "Because I'm Happyyyyyy..."]
We've had Wahlter for 5 months now. I don't now why I was so nervous to have male dog energy again. After 17 years of Ralph, I just figured there was no going back to The Penis. But it was a gamble that payed off in spades.
When we brought Wahlter home, I hadn't heard K. giggle like that in 6 years.
Wahlter is nervous in his own way. He's the only hound we briefly considered medicating. The first time we came home after leaving him, there were slobbery, goobery sheaths of saliva covering every window pane of our cabin. And we live in a cabin with french doors—read panes of glass, many, many panes of glass. Books were knocked over, K.'s hard drives were toppled and every surface had been mounted in the desperate attempt to FIND MY OWNERS. We would return home to complete destruction and the polar opposite—euphoric celebration. The panting, the spinning, the sheer depth of his gratitude that we were home was touching, troubling. Would he adjust? Thankfully, with a little lavender oil, a little classical music and a little more time, it seems he has grasped the idea that we do return home—always—and that his fears of abandonment are pure fiction.
Wahlter is delighted by all things. He can be merrily trotting beside me as I take the garbage out and then, "SQUIRREL!"—or in his case, "GECKO!"—and ZOOM!, he's off, tearing across our sandy yard and diving into a one-inch squared crevasse, completely perplexed as to why he can't jam his whole being inside. He is equally delighted to simply sit and stare at me in the morning as I putter around the kitchen. Brewing coffee, washing dishes, taking my meds. He ignores the black cloud above my head that takes its sweet time dissipating into the light of day. He just watches me wake up, unflappable. I am charming to my dog as both my inhuman morning self and my electric night owl self who can't stop "Hoo-hoo-hoo-ing!" until the wee hours of the night. He loves it all.
And we love all of him.
And he is of profound comfort when he curls up with me at night. My protector, who knows nothing of my Diseased past. His tail wags like a malfunctioning metronome on triple speed at the mere sight of his partner-in-bromance, K., while simultaneously "Grrring"—just a slight warning growl—channeling my Ralph, who used to growl with bulging, suspicious eyes if anyone came too close to me when I was lying down.
Ralph protecting me from Future Diseases. Wahlter now protecting me from Diseases Past.
Somehow it has all come full circle.
Kevin's best memory of Wahlter:
So now that we have a picture of their personalities, this is how I imagine the conversation might have gone down at The Rainbow Bridge when Maggie joined Ralph, Bessie, and Daisy that cold January night here on Earth.
A wee, tri-colored basset hound finishes crossing a beautiful bridge alight with a technicolor glow. She stops to pee.
MAGGIE: Noooooo. Where am I?
Enter RALPH, age 17, (think: Robert De Niro meets Robin Williams), BESSIE, age 14, (think: Paris Hilton meets Drew Barrymore) and DAISY, age 14, (think: Elaine Stritch meets Melissa McCarthy). They surround MAGGIE, age 14, (think: Kristen Wiig meets Kristen Bell). Butt sniffing and tail wagging ensue for several minutes. RALPH lets one rip.
MAGGIE: Noooooo. Who are you guys?
RALPH: I'm Ralph. The dog that started it all. You may have also heard of me as GayBeg104, The Gay Beagle, Ralphum, Boobus, Bud, Budson, just to name a few.
DAISY: Ralph. We get it.
BESSIE: I'm Bessie. I'm beautiful.
DAISY: I'm The Dais. Welcome. It's cool up here. No-one cares that you're big, or that you pee on the floor, or even if you eat your own poop. So knock yourself out.
MAGGIE: Noooooo. But I miss Them. They never cared if I did any of those things.
RALPH: How are they doing?
MAGGIE: It was very sad for them for a while, but they always loved me. So much. Too much.
RALPH: Too much? How is that possible? I couldn't get enough.
DAISY: Ralph was never neutered.
RALPH: True, true. I just mean, they were awesome.
BESSIE: They told me I was beautiful. All the time.
DAISY: Me, too.
RALPH: Me, too.
MAGGIE: Me, too.
There is a prolonged silence.
MAGGIE: Do you miss them now?
RALPH: Well, we see them all the time. You get to kinda watch over them. But you don't miss them. You'll see.
DAISY: And this place is the shit. All the food you can eat. You can chase whatever you want. Sniff anything. And you never, ever feel alone. Just loved.
MAGGIE: That sounds nice.
BESSIE: I'm beautiful.
RALPH, DAISY and MAGGIE: We KNOW, Bessie.
DAISY: And we'll get to see them again.
MAGGIE: But how do you know?
DAISY: We just do. You'll see.
MAGGIE: Can I hang with you guys?
RALPH, DAISY, and BESSIE: Of course! We're family!
ALL 4 DOGS: AHHHRRROOOOOO!!!!
As the dinner bell sounds, my 4 beloved dogs go running off into the sunset, tails wagging, ears flapping and hearts bursting with joy.
So yes, my cherished canines, our Love survived.
And no, I don't always have to write about alcoholism.
But I always have to write about what's important to me, and nothing was more important to me than you guys.
I hope this made you smile.
[And Ralph, Bessie, Daisy and Maggie]