Puppy Love

It’s an interesting thing raising a dog from a puppy for the first time. I went into it with the mindset that, most of the time, the little guy doesn’t know what he’s done wrong after doing something wrong. Kind of like most humans. That was rule number one: you can’t punish someone who loves you for doing something he didn’t know was wrong. How unreasonable it is for us to expect dogs to live up to, sometimes surpass, and adjust to the ever changing standards of humans. I also made what I now know was a silly goal to try as hard as I could to not treat Oliver like a dog. I’ve never punished him for making a small mess on the floor, yet I’ve somehow potty trained him (for the most part). I don’t bop his nose. I do my best to never raise my voice. I’ve also substituted “drop it” with “share” while playing fetch. He sleeps in my bed next to me every night and has never made a mess. But as these daily interactions continued, I started to notice that Oliver doesn’t always like being treated like an equal. He actually does like being treated like a dog. I may have messed up the whole “alpha” thing as he doesn’t like to come when I call him while we’re at a friend’s house but he will obey when my friend calls him. This has led me to the conclusion that Oliver sees me not as a master, but as an equal in the pack. This was pretty much the goal I had set out from the beginning. I wanted to live with a friend—not a pet, surrogate spouse, or surrogate child. And I can say now, without hyperbole, that he really is my best friend. I talk to him (I swear sometimes he knows what I’m saying). I sing in the car with him. We go to restaurants and bars together. We watch television together. He loves listening to music (he really does). He motivates me to get out of bed in the mornings. He gets me outside of the house. But yet, he is still a dog. If I were to suddenly die in my house, he would eventually and certainly eat parts of my face. Though I consider him my friend, he’s still very much a dog no matter how domesticated. But there is something more to Oliver that I’ll probably never understand. I know people always say these kinds of things about their animals, but there really is something more to this dog. I don’t know if I can explain it, but I can try.

Oliver loves to play. And by play, I mean attack his stuffed animals a little bit and bounce his paws all over the floor as if the floor were a giant bongo drum. But I’ve noticed that if I don’t watch him play, he’ll stop. If I don’t start grabbing some of his toys and tossing them around a little bit, he’ll stop. He won’t go find something else more destructive to do, but he’ll find some place to go lay down or sit, as if he were sad or depressed. Or sometimes he’ll come sit next to me. So I’ve realized that usually he’s not wanting to play with his stuffed animals; he’s wanting to play with me. So I play with him as if we are two friends playing a game of darts without really knowing or caring about any of the rules. Oliver just loves taking part in any activity, so long as I’m with him. Oliver loves me unconditionally. And I stand by that statement.

I told a friend a few weeks ago how nice it was to have a friend who loves me despite my countless failures, embarrassments, imperfections, and terrible tendency for days and nights and weeks and months of crippling and catatonic self-loathing. To this my friend responded, and I’ve heard this and variations of this statement before from several others, “See what happens if you stop feeding him.” Which I understand the joke and I get that it’s a reality of being an animal that they will love whoever, sometimes whatever, gives it food. But I honestly think that the result of my friend’s joke, when practically applied, would be Oliver going hungry while somehow loving me the entire time.

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I Don’t Remember Laughing

It’s difficult for me to write about my mother because I grew up calling my aunt my mother, and I continue to do so to this day. But I always know that it’s not exactly accurate or true in a technical sense. It always feels like I’m trying to fool people when I say it and that, eventually, someone is going to catch me in this lie and I’ll have to take nearly twenty minutes to explain this to them. When most people say “mom,” they typically mean their biological mother. It can get confusing really fast. And while I love and appreciate everything my mom (aunt) did and continues to do, there is always a part of me that thinks, “You know, she raised me, but she didn’t give birth to me.” It’s weird growing up knowing that you are not a biological product of your parents. It’s weird growing up and calling your uncle “Dad,” especially since I’ve been seeing more of my biological father as he gets older and have recently started calling him “Dad” over the phone. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to call him “Dad” in person. So now there are two people in my life whom I call “Dad,” and I don’t mind.

I look at the paragraph above this one and think, “There is no way for me to write about my biological mother, or my biological father, or my aunt and uncle, or my six brothers and sisters (who are actually cousins), or the four half-siblings I didn’t grow up with, or the details of my adoption, without the page looking like someone fell in love with parentheses and other forms of digression. It’s hard. Everything about it is hard. Writing about it is hard emotionally. Writing about it is hard grammatically and mechanically. Reading it is hard. Understanding what I’m writing and editing is hard. I’m sure to a reader, understanding and empathizing with it is also hard. And the older I get, the more I realize that if a person hasn’t lived this kind of life, or if a person doesn’t have experience dealing with people who come from this kind of background, they’ll never understand it in the way I want them to. It’s a huge barrier to my writing. The events are also a huge barrier to a number of other things in my life. I’ve had quite a few close friends and family members ask me if I ever write about my adoption and what it was like growing up, as if it’s a story that has ended or something, or as if I’m not still living with it.

[For the sake of clarity, from here on, I’m going to call everyone by how they actually relate to me biologically.]

My mother gave me up a few weeks after I was born. Actually, I can’t remember if I was given up or taken away. But I know I went into foster care almost immediately. Shortly after, a four year custody battle and adoption process began. For some reason that I don’t fully understand or remember, I was given back to my mother for a brief time. My earliest memory is of a time when I was allowed to stay with my mother in her small studio apartment. She couldn’t drive, so she took the city bus everywhere. She was really poor and didn’t eat healthy and we visited McDonald’s every day.

One day while we were waiting for a bus outside of McDonald’s, a man sitting next to us threw up all over the ground. I can’t remember if any of it hit my shoes or not, but I vaguely remember my mother cleaning my OshKosh B’gosh shoes at some point while I stayed with her. I can remember the way the vomit looked on the ground and the terrible smell of hamburgers cooking and venting into the open air and the way the two smells mixed together outside. Tacoma was a different place in the early 90s. Thinking back on it, the guy was most likely either nodding-off from shooting heroin or he just drank too much. Either way, I don’t remember my mother getting up or moving farther away from him. It’s weird to think that my earliest memory is of a man throwing up next to me while waiting at a bus stop with my mother outside a McDonald’s in what was, at the time, a city with a higher crime rate and gang violence than Compton, California.  But the most interesting thing about it is that I don’t have any recollection of ever riding the bus. I must have thought about the puking man the entire time and erased the bus from my memory. I don’t know.

I also remember that if my mother wasn’t taking me to McDonald’s to eat, she was cooking me oatmeal. After the oatmeal was boiled into a fine paste, she’d pour this strawberry Hershey’s syrup all over it in a zig-zag pattern. When I wasn’t eating McDonald’s or oatmeal, she would give me a carrot to chew on while she obsessed over the news. The news was always on. At one point in my life, I remember my aunt telling me how my mother watched the news and became obsessed with the Green River Killer and was convinced that she knew who it was and that the only way she could find him without getting caught by him was to sneak-up on him while wearing diapers on her feet to silence her steps. I have no clue how diapers on her feet would have silenced anything, but she wasn’t right in the head and still isn’t. So I don’t try to analyze it all that much. I also remember laying on the floor using a small plate full of chopped up carrots as a pillow to prop my head up while watching the news or whatever was on the TV. I remember wondering why my head was growing carrots when I started picking them out of my hair.

After my short stay with my mother, I went to stay at my dad’s house. I remember getting him beers out of the fridge and occasionally lighting his cigarettes. He was always smoking and he was sometimes reading. But mostly just sat and smoked and drank. He had stubble on his face and when he’d let me sit on his lap he’d put his chin on the top of my head and it would feel like he was combing my hair.

I remember my father yelling at me before violently throwing me across the room. And I remember not knowing what I did wrong.

I remember not finishing something made out of squash and being forced to either finish it right then or sit at the table until I was hungry enough to finish it. I tried as hard as I could to finish it all before vomiting all over the kitchen floor. It was the first time I remember vomiting. He made me clean it up. Just a few weeks ago, I watched a movie called Boyhood for the first time and there’s what is supposed to be an intensely disturbing scene where the dad is drunk and on a rampage and eventually screams at the family, “I hate squash!” I knew I was supposed to be disturbed by that scene, but instead I laughed because I really and truly do hate squash.

One day my father attempted to pick me up from daycare, but for some reason I couldn’t leave with him and I had to stay there overnight after all of the other kids left. Years later I learned he was drunk when he was supposed to be sober and completing some AA program which was one of the conditions of me staying with him in the first place. I didn’t know what was going on but I can remember thinking, “If it’s called daycare, why is it night time?”

At some point about a year later, I was in a courthouse in Olympia standing in front of a judge with my aunt and uncle. The judge made a joke that went something like, “So, who’s getting adopted?” I don’t remember laughing.

After the judge made his joke, my aunt, uncle, and I went into a small room that was still somehow big enough for a playhouse. I was playing in it with my cousin when I heard the door open and I saw my mother’s long, straight, black hair. She probably said something like, “Hi” in her soft voice which she still has. I can’t remember how many times growing up, after being tossed around to family member to stranger to family member, that I was asked, “Don’t you want to stay here, David? Wouldn’t you want to stay here forever?” At one point, a strange family I was staying with bought me a basketball hoop from Costco. When I left to go stay with another family member, I asked if I could take the hoop with me. They told me it could be mine if I stayed. I didn’t stay. Anyway, it got to the point where I couldn’t take people asking me those questions because I didn’t know whose feelings I was going to hurt if I stayed with someone else. I not only could never answer the questions, but I began anticipating them and literally running away from anyone who might ask them. So when I saw my mother come through the door, I hid between the room’s actual wall and the playhouse’s wall. It’s kind of symbolic, if you think about it. I was stuck between a real structure and a scale model. I didn’t come out when my mother called for me. I didn’t see her again for fifteen years.

I finally contacted my mother over the phone when I was about nineteen years old and found out that she lived less than fifteen minutes away from me with one of my half-brothers. She never visited or called during those fifteen years. Fifteen years and she lived fifteen minutes away.

I drove to her apartment with my car’s gaslight on. When I got there, her windows were covered in cardboard. I’m not even joking or trying to be funny or clever when I say it, but I got there fifteen minutes early. Fifteen years, fifteen minutes away, and I arrived fifteen minutes early. She wouldn’t let me into her apartment until it was the exact time I told her I would be there. We talked for a little bit and she offered me a can of soda and some food. I knew that if I ate or drank anything she offered me, I’d throw up. So I told her that I wasn’t hungry because I ate some McDonald’s on the way over. It just happened to be the same McDonald’s on 72nd Street and Pacific that we’d sat outside of while waiting for the bus fifteen years earlier.

I don’t harbor any resentment for my mother, but I haven’t seen or spoken to her in ten years. As far as I know, she still lives fifteen minutes away.

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Starting a New Chapter

I just finished student teaching. It was the most rewarding experience of my life, and I’ve had a lot of rewarding experiences. I’m feeling a mixture of accomplishment, sadness (because it’s sad to leave a group of kids after working with them for so long), and relief (that I’m done student teaching and can finally start teaching). The students all thanked me in a bunch of unique ways that I know only I could appreciate on the level that they intended. It’s just such a beautiful feeling to know that these students enjoyed having me be the one who teaches them. I explained to them how much I loved teaching them, how much I learned from them, and how much I learned about myself from them (I also thanked my mentor).

A new chapter in my life is starting, and it’s exciting.

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Sans Pants (Books, Coffee, and Cellphone Etiquette Pt. II)

So I answered the phone and it was my mother wondering if I had enough money this month to pay the rent, which I did, and then the conversation evolved into why I’m still single and why I don’t have a girlfriend or kids and why I haven’t bought a house yet. Even though seconds before, she was asking me if I could afford my rent. How would buying a house be an expectation when I can barely pay my rent? A mother’s perspective is something I’ve never understood. Best intentions without any of the actually reality that holds the rest of us down and keeps us from our dreams. I asked her how she was doing and she said the same things she says every time: the dog is getting better at learning how to be a dog owned by a human, dad is still working nonstop even though there is no way he can keep doing construction for the rest of his life and he’s already almost sixty years old and it’s taken a toll on his body, and how my niece is getting so big and I’m missing the best years of her life, and how I never show up to all of these miniature parties that the rest of the family throws almost spontaneously. These are always the things she talks about and they never change. The dog is always learning how to be a dog, dad is always working, and the niece is always growing as if it were a surprise to everyone that kids grow up. These are the conversations people have with their mothers at around age thirty.

After we were done talking at about noon, or one or whatever it was, I went to the fridge to drink the last beer from the night before. After I spent too long looking for a beer I had already drank, I decided it would be a good time to put on pants. Then I realized that I had answered the door and accepted my book, and the mailman sent the signal to space, and I had closed the door only to reopen it to thank him awkwardly, all sans pants. It was one of those mornings. Pants could wait. Luckily I still had two or three cigarettes left in my pack of cheap smokes that are bought only by people who spent the previous thirty minutes or so scrambling for quarters. So I went outside and smoked two of them, knowing I would have to buy another pack in about fifteen minutes. Mornings are the worst. Not the worst, but they can be pretty awful if you had a rough night the night before.

I checked my phone after talking to my mom to make sure that I hadn’t texted or called anyone that would create the morning shame spiral that also follows a night of heavy drinking. This was around the time my phone died, if I remember correctly. My phone was dead and this gave me a new kind of paranoia. Who did I talk to last night? I’d have to wait at least five minutes for my phone to charge enough of its battery for me to find out. I went to my desktop and logged into all the normal things that could create the same amount of shame. Nothing there. When my phone finally charged, I realized that I hadn’t talked to anyone in nearly a week, except my mom, and that created something entirely different from shame. I was just sad to realize that I hadn’t talked to anyone through my phone in almost a week. With texting and social networking and everything else that comes with owning a cellphone now, I should have a few screens of recent contacts. But I didn’t.

I went back to the book I finished but couldn’t remember reading any of it from the night before. I know that I loved reading it and it was one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it. It was a mystery to me. I could read it all over again if I wanted. I bet I’d remember some of it. So I looked it up online and read a synopsis and remembered everything I read from the night before. It was about a girl who left everything to go and find everything only to realize that everything and nothing were essentially the same thing. I didn’t get the significance at the time, but I thought it was a cool way to word it. When you have everything, you want nothing. That’s the same, right? Because when you have nothing, you kind of want everything. Or at least anything. So maybe I could rephrase that a little better. Everything, anything, and nothing are all basically the same thing.

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Books, Coffee, and Cellphone Etiquette

There was a knock on the door early in the morning. I wasn’t planning on getting up that early, but when someone knocks on your door, you kind of just have to answer it. So I answered it.

The mailman stood there with his little computer thing that sends a signal to space to let the company know that the book I ordered has finally reached its destination. Someone has to know that someone has received a package. That’s the way the world works now: a little handheld computer thing sends a signal to space after waking me up in the morning. Technology is used mostly to cater to the consumer, if you really think about it.

The book wasn’t that good, if I remember correctly. Something about a guy being discontented with the world and a bunch of pointless characters that really didn’t do all that much to better the main character’s life, but for some reason he still kept hanging around them until he couldn’t take it anymore and eventually goes home. Every chapter was some version of that routine: pointless conversations and little to no description of what they were doing or where they were while they were doing whatever it was. Most books are being written this way, as if it were some new style that millennials invented to feel original about themselves. Anyway, that’s how the day started.

I remember that all I had to do that morning to make the coffee was press the little button on the bottom of the machine. I was probably drunk the night before and prepped the machine to be ready for the inevitable hangover which usually followed a night of Friday night drinking. It’s surprising how much preparation and productivity happens when you anticipate a miserable morning. So I pressed the coffee button and the machine made that weird bubbling sound that always reminds me of what my stomach sounds like when it’s trying to digest something it doesn’t like all that much. Since I’m not a big food person, sustenance could always wait until the headaches and indigestion passed. This usually happened around noon, unless I had something really important to do. And by really important I mean something like running to the library at the university to print off about seventy pages of the same thing so the little monsters can learn how to read and write in accordance with the state standards that let the teachers, parents, and students know that they are learning all of the same things everyone else is learning in the state and that the best outcome for everyone involved is that everyone progress at the same rate learning the same material. I guess some people would call that really important. But it rarely feels important.

After I grabbed the book from the mailman and he did his little scan and beep thing with his computer, I shut the door before saying thank you. I tossed the package on the nearby couch and opened the door again to give a pathetically vocalized “thank you” to the mailman, which I’m not entirely sure he heard, but it let me feel good about myself for saying thank you to the mailman. I’m not sure how many people thank the mailman anymore, so it gave me a certain sense of charity and high moral ground for the morning. Then my phone rang.

The thing about cellphones is that nobody answers calls anymore. They will actually ignore the call and then immediately text you back. You know they must have been looking at their phone, saw that you were calling, let it ring itself out or they ignored the call, and then they decide that they don’t really want to actually talk to you, but they are open to communicating with you as long as there are no spoken words. Everyone in the 21st century is a writer of sorts. And maybe that’s why books are becoming so casual and conversational and lacking in anything of substance and permanence. Maybe it’s a good thing. But when a parent calls your cellphone, no matter how old you are, you answer it. It’s just polite.

***

This is mostly just a freewrite from this weekend. I don’t have much time lately to sit down and write long enough to get a story to some form of resolution or feeling of closure. Well, most of my stuff doesn’t get finished. But writing is pretty fun. If you were to see my desktop, it’s full of Word documents that I can open up and start trying to finish weeks after starting them, but I never do. Oh, well. Hope everyone is doing well.

David

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Where I Almost Am

For the last five years, I’ve been going to school to be a teacher. Even when I was just majoring in English, I was still in school to eventually become a teacher. From the Marine Corps, to community college, to university, to grad school, it’s been a long road getting to where I almost am. I’m in a city that I sometimes love, I’m in a house that is nice but a little lonely sometimes, and I’m student teaching now and inching ever so close to getting certified and eventually having “my own” classroom. The education/Masters program I’m in is exactly what I needed for this time in my life. The support I get from both the program and the school where I am student teaching is amazing. I’m learning more about myself, my subject, and how schools work and what they are supposed to do than I ever have in my life. The students are great and know how to do what needs to be done but still somehow push the limits of my patience. It’s a great experience.

I figured I’d leave something positive on here as I won’t be able to write for the next few weeks (possibly a month) due to a giant teacher assessment thingy I need to be working on and the internet is becoming a huge distraction for me.

I hope all is well as February comes to a close.

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Generation Temporary

“What is it about our generation that makes us go out and buy albums on vinyl?” Laika said over the phone. “Seriously. There is no reason for any of us to own record players. But everyone I know owns a record player. Everything is available online now. There’s seriously no reason.”

“I don’t know,” Connor said, grazing his finger through his small record collection. “Maybe our generation is sick of everything being temporary. Like, even families are temporary now. Relationships are temporary. The modernity of your tablet is going to run out next week. Everything is temporary with us. So we like the idea of something sticking around for the sake of sticking around, you know? It just feels right. I can’t explain it.”

“I kind of see your point, but it’s not convenient at all.”

“Neither is having to buy a computer, download a software, create an account with the company, sync it with your bank account essentially and then search through an online store and select and download all of your songs. And then you have to transfer it over to your device or phone or whatever. I just have to go pick up a piece of plastic and put it on a table.”

“People could make the same argument about computers versus typewriters though,” she said. “Just put in a piece of paper and start typing. You don’t even have to press Ctrl+P! Just type and you already have a hardcopy. Things that aren’t very convenient can be practical too, like computers and tablets and phones and iPods. Get with the times, man.”

Connor laughed.

“I actually really love my typewriters,” he said. “I mean, yeah, they aren’t very convenient or anything. But sometimes it’s fun to get on there and just see what comes out with no backspace or cutting and pasting. It’s fun for poetry anyway. It’s seriously the only way I can get myself to write a poem. Poetry and computers don’t mix well with me. And you don’t have to be distracted by the internet. Sometimes I wish a had a computer that didn’t hook up to the internet.”

“You could just unplug your router. Or not go on the internet.”

“Yeah, but it’s there. I know it’s there. And sometimes I have poor impulse control, you know. Like, just knowing it’s there is enough to not be able to get my head in the game.”

***********************************************************************

I bought this whole album on vinyl this last week and don’t even know why. The whole thing is on youtube for free. It may or may not have inspired this small excerpt of a really lousy story I’m writing.

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