Should I stay or should I go?

I’m currently sitting in my spot at Saturn, and I am surrounded by 18 cat people. 18.. I know, because I’ve counted.

 

I ordered my cold-brew-and-almond-milk beverage a couple of minutes ago, settled down onto my couch, and then my couch as well as the adjoining couch were quickly joined by human being after human being. I’ve watched as two tables have been pulled over into this same vicinity to accommodate the massive number of human beings all wanting to huddle together in this one area, where I happen to be.

“We’re the Magic City Kitties Club!” someone gushed in explanation.

“Oh! That’s cool,” I nodded at them, smiling and sticking in my earbuds.

“We’re sorry to kinda barge in on your space,” another one of the club members offered apologetically.

“Oh no, you’re totally fine! This makes the day more interesting,” I reassured them. Then, feeling like that wasn’t enough and that they might think I was calling them weird, I added: “I LOVE people who LOVE animals.”

 

I watched as new group members (easy to identify, as they were wearing cat shirts, leggings, and even headbands) poured into the building and then meandered over to our swelling area. As people began introducing themselves (apparently, this was their first in-person meeting), they passed around a roll of stickers that contained cat silhouettes and famous, cat-ified Birmingham landmarks, each of them with captions like “Magic City Kitties”, “Purrrrmingham” and “Pussy Patrol.”

 

One woman whipped out her phone, and that’s when I knew how the rest of the meeting was going to go. At the present moment, everyone has their phone out, and they’re sharing cat pictures and stories over steamy mugs of coffee and tiny plates carrying donuts and biscuits. Many of the members are laughing; the woman to my left has tears in her eyes. Maybe her kitty has died, I think to myself, or maybe she’s just sensitive and this group makes her really happy.

 

“Now here’s a picture of my Marley,” one member begins in a loud, commanding voice, flipping her phone around and then rotating it slowly so that anyone interested can gaze at the image of her black, brown and white beauty featured on its screen. “Now, let me tell you why I love kitties,” she continued, clearing her throat a little. “One morning last year, I discovered this stray kitty causing a ruckus outside, BEATING UP the neighbor’s POODLE!”

 

Everyone laughs.

 

“And it gets BETTER!” She holds up her hand, smiling at everyone as she struggles to mute her own laughing. She sucks in a dramatic breath. “I took Marley in as my own, but she insisted on being an indoor-outdoor cat. During the times when I’d let her outside, whenever that poodle even SAW her coming, he would FAINT.”

 

Everyone bursts out in laughter once again, but more heartily this time.

 

I turn my music up louder as the group waves phones around and takes turns petting the black kitty that one enthusiastic member brought into the cafe with him.

 

What did I want to write about today? The title of this post is: Should I stay or should I go? Who am I talking about? Where are they now, and where might they be going? Are there multiple applications for the phrase? You bet there are.

 

It started nearly six years ago.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by re-telling the story, but in December of 2010, I drove to Tennessee and adopted Bruster — a dorky little German Shepherd puppy. He was the runt of the litter. I remember walking into the owner’s cozy cottage and being led into a living room by a guy who looked like a farmer. The living room was full of bouncy, happy puppies with perky ears and easy smiles, and Bruster was the one hiding behind a couch and whimpering to himself. I ventured over to the couch, knelt down, and tilted my head, taking in the sight of the sad, black and brown blob tucked inside the space between couch and wall.

Oh my.. I want him. I need him.

 

And I got him. I still have him.

 

He’s always had fun; we go hiking on the weekends, someone’s always throwing sticks for him in the backyard, and he sleeps in bed with me every single night. He’s had an unwaveringly excellent disposition, seeming more like a human soul stuck inside of a lush German Shepherd Dog’s body than an actual dog, but the last several months, following the divorce, have been difficult.

 

Chris has visited the house a few times (either to pick up more of his stuff or to practice music with either me or Charlie). Out of the three times he’s most recently visited the house, Bruster has puked twice immediately after he’s left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. He’s a sensitive dog; losing one of his idols has obviously taken an emotional toll. He’s always cried and whined incessantly (from the age of 12 weeks and onward), but there’s a certain vacantness to him now. I don’t like to think about it for too long, because there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

But things took a very sharp turn three months ago when Bruster destroyed his very first door.

 

I was teaching a class at work that Tuesday. I had just dismissed my new hires for a quick break and strolled over to my desk when I pulled out my phone and saw that I had a new text message from an unknown number.

 

“Hi,” it read. “I’m Rachel, one of your neighbors. Max (next door) gave me your #. I found a German Shepherd today on Indigo Valley Road and I know you have one, so I was wondering if it’s yours.”

 

I froze. Um.. no? My dog is an indoor dog. I’m not one of those assholes who keeps their pet outside, tethered to a tree or hooked onto a stake in the ground, so..

 

“Oh wow!” I responded in real life. “I don’t think it’s mine because I put him in the house this AM, but he could have escaped (he has before) — does he have a single, floppy ear by any chance?”

 

In response, I received this.

 

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Bruster looking wasted.

 

The photo’s caption read: “Yeah, he does.”

 

I let out a huge sigh. Bruster; what the fuck and how the hell?

 

I assigned electronic training to the new hires, clocked out for a way-early lunch, rushed home, and reclaimed my puppy, profusely thanking this neighbor for her kindness.

 

“No problem!” she answered. “He got into my car right when I opened the door. Super friendly dog.”

 

Brave lady, I mused inwardly, letting a 93 pound beast into her car so willingly.

 

After depositing Bruster back into the house, I did some “how the hell?” investigating before returning to work. I checked the downstairs — no doors or windows were open — and then tip-toed upstairs. There, I verified that my bedroom window was closed, and then I noticed that the master bedroom door was ajar, and that the bottom of the door itself looked frayed and clawed.

Shit.

 

I nudged the door open further and heard outdoor sounds. It was then that I made the fascinating discovery that the door to the outside (leading onto the deck) had been forced open.

 

He had torn the weather stripping, part of the door, and had SOMEHOW forced the door open while it was still in a locked position.

It boggled my mind.

 

So I barricaded the area, reassured my anxious dog that he was okay and would continue to be okay, and returned to work. I resumed teaching class and tried to temporarily forget about the fact that two doors in the house would now need to be replaced.

 

The following week, The Destroyer of Worlds struck again. Fortunately, I discovered the disaster while I was on my scheduled lunch break.

 

I drove home from work to prepare a salad that afternoon. After prepping it, eating it, and feeding and watering Bruster, I stuck my plate into the kitchen sink and started talking to the hound.

“Do you wanna go OUTSIDE, puppy dog?!” I asked him in a “you’re just a babyyyyy” voice. Bruster got all excited and worked up over the word ‘outside,’ and I remember smiling as I led us both over to the side door. My foot knocked into something on the way, causing me to look down and pause, and when I did, I sucked in a quick breath. It was insane. Bruster had obviously spent his morning hours gnawing away on this new door, removing the long wooden pieces (that framed the door) from the wall, and he had nearly busted through the tiny pieces of window-pane-glass.

“Oh my god?” I asked him. I looked at Bruster. He held my gaze, saying nothing. “What the hell is going on with you?”

 

 

But the third time.. that was the time I’ll never forget.

I was at Saturn, typing away on my laptop and unwinding on a leisurely Saturday morning, when my other neighbor, Max, texted me.

 

“Hey!! It’s Max (from next door). Your dog’s out again. Just thought I’d let you know. I gave him some water. I think he’s just hanging out on your front porch.”

 

I stared down at my phone in disbelief. “HOW?! I put FOUR STOOLS AND A CHAIR in front of that damn door.”

 

I shot him a text that said “thanks” and then hurriedly saved my draft, stuffed my laptop into my backpack, and sped all the way home. When I pulled into the driveway, I rushed out of my car and there he was — calmly standing at the top of the driveway — looking stately and poised and staring directly at me.. just waiting on the outside of the home so that he could be a few seconds, a few steps closer to me when I’d returned home. I sighed. I walked up the driveway to meet him, unable to be upset with him because I felt bad for him, and his ears flung backward as he galloped to where I was. He whined happily.

I look at him, and I still see a puppy.

 

I tried to open the front door, to let us both back into the house, but it wouldn’t budge. I inserted my key, unlocking the top and bottom, but it still wouldn’t move.

 

Well THAT’S weird, I announced out loud to both of us, but what isn’t weird these days? I manually opened the garage, strolled into the house, and then halted. I could not believe it. The front door was destroyed. He’d pulled the long, wooden trim off of the wall, gnawed the lock fixture off, and pieces of blue wood (the color of the door) were sprinkled along the tile floor like gnarly-looking confetti.

 

I looked at Bruster, and for a minute, I couldn’t say anything. Then, I shook my head slowly, left to right, my head felt so heavy, and I said: “That’s it. That’s it, bud. It’s over.”

 

I was devastated. I was so mad at him that I didn’t speak to him for two days. I was mad because I was sad; why was he ruining it? Why was he sabotaging the chance of us living his whole life together?

 

I reached out to an old college professor (who, ironically, had been on my mind in recent weeks). She had taught my Freshman year English class, and I recalled that she had a special place in her heart for GSDs and had a reputation for rescuing and re-homing them.

 

“I have too many dogs right now,” she responded via email, “but please contact this person. They can help you find a home.”

 

I did so, and the woman I contacted was incredibly unpleasant; unresponsive to emails, and then short and snappy when she DID type out a lazy response.

 

“It’s going to take a long time to find a suitable home for him,” she shared in one of her last emails. “Go to the vet and get him on meds while you wait.”

.

I had to type, erase, re-type and erase again before I could formulate a polite “goodbye” email.

“I don’t want him on meds,” I replied simply. “Thank you for getting in touch with me, but I’ll take care of this on my own. Thanks! Take care, dipshit!”

 

Minus dipshit, that is – verbatim – what I said.

 

So I posted an ad on Craigslist. It contained something along the lines of:

Looking to re-home a precious, well-mannered German Shepherd. Needs a parent who will be able to spend the majority of their time at home with him, as he has severe separation anxiety, and he must have a fenced yard with plenty of room to roam.

 

I attached three of the cutest Bruster pics available to the ad and then tried not to vomit after I made the post go live.

 

I shared the news with my manager (one of my closest friends) the following day.

 

“Jace,” she clasped her hands together and nodded her head solemnly, “this is NOT a good idea. I can feel it. Please wait on it.”

 

She’d witnessed me go through a lot of changes and abandon a lot of things over the course of the last two years. This was just another one of them. I had mentioned selling my motorcycle to her a month before, and she protested: “You love your motorcycle! You own it outright!” I agreed with her. Then I listed the motorcycle for sale about two days after listing Bruster on Craigslist. I didn’t bother to update her on the matter.

 

And I understand the psychology behind it all; it’s going to seem like we’re veering off course, but stick with me for a minute here. I divorced Chris because I was gay, sure, but I also wanted to be alone. I fell in love with someone else, but refused to enter into a relationship with them because I still wanted to be alone. I re-homed my rabbits, sold all of my furniture, and gave away half of my clothes, all under the guise of wanting to “simplify” my life. And this was true; I wanted my rabbits to have a better living situation (them roaming freely and happily on a farm is such a lovely image; I hope that’s their reality), and I did want to live a more “minimalist” lifestyle. But I was also prepping for my departure.

 

  • Paying off every single debt and making sure the bills were paid on time.
  • Cleaning out the garage and keeping as few items as possible in the house for easy sorting and selling.
  • Placing distance between myself and those I loved most.

All of these were preparations.

 

The only thing really keeping me alive, at this point, is the fatass German Shepherd who loves and needs me so badly. And selling the bike? Well, that would be one less thing my roommate or family would have to worry about when I’m gone; liquid assets are the best ones. There would be money in the bank, and they wouldn’t have to worry about where the title is and how they’re going to sell it.

 

I was preparing my loved ones for my death.

I was preparing myself for my own death.

 

I love planning — almost to a fault. I’ll be eating dinner at the table with Charlie, talking about projects I’ll be handling at work the following day, when he’ll pipe up: “But where are you now? What day is it today, and what are you doing right now?” I’ll smile and humor him, deliberately focusing on the present moment instead of looking ahead, but it’s so hard to keep my mind from straying hours, weeks, and even years into the future. It’s where I prefer to exist.

 

And death is just another fun thing to plan for.

 

I don’t want to leave my loved ones with a messy, cluttered house or complicated and oppressive financial matters, and I certainly couldn’t justify leaving behind a broken-hearted German Shepherd. So, rather than working with him on his behavior, it seemed easier for me to just re-home him. That way, he’d be happy, in love with and being cared for by someone else, and I’d be free to – if it gets to that point – do what needs to be done. Dip out, guilt-free.

 

I saw it — my reasoning. My underlying motive. I acknowledged it, and I pulled the bike and the dog ads.

 

“I’m going to take care of you until the day you die,” I whispered to Bruster one lazy weekday morning as he laid in bed and I dressed myself for work. “Don’t worry; I’ve got you.” I kissed his velvety, floppy ear and he started crying. Happy, sad, confused, frustrated; there’s always a cry. I love it.

 

So — to answer my question: Should I stay or should I go? I’m not going yet.

And to answer Bruster’s question: Will I stay or will I go? You’re stuck with me, buddy.

 

But now there’s a third entity in the mix.

Last weekend, Charlie and I went ice skating together. We had a blast. Neither of us fell, and after both of us had admitted to each other that, thirty minutes into our two-hour session, we’d honestly had our fill, we loaded into his car and began navigating toward our next destination: The Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

 

He’d mentioned the idea of doing so earlier on in the week.
“Want to stop by the Humane Society this weekend and look at all of the pups?” It was a casual offer.

 

I looked at him very seriously. “Yes, because I’ve never been, but be warned.. there’s a very good chance we’ll end up LEAVING with one of those pups, because A. they’ll be irresistible and B. I’ve been considering getting a playmate for Bruster anyways. So..” I trailed off, playfully.

 

We pulled up, walked in, and the place smelled like an orange bucket mixture of urine and Clorox. It was very strong-smelling. Pungent. A little nauseating.

 

We approached the front counter, nearing the sometimes happy-, sometimes hostile-sounding barking, and a brunette smiled at us in greeting.

 

“Are you wanting to tour the facility today?” She asked.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Is this your first time?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Okay! Please sign in here. If you find an animal you’d like to sit down with, let one of our staff know and we’ll set you up with a room.”

 

I signed Charlie and I both in and then we took eager, gentle steps in the direction of Kennel A. As we moved past each window, we’d laugh and “awwww” at the pups on the other side — I noticed that there were so many labs and pit bulls — and at one of the windows, I came to a stop. The first thing I saw was the back of her head — it was an orange, coppery brown — and her soft-looking ears. She was laying down, facing the other direction. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew that she was the one.

 

“Charlie, I have to see her.”

 

“Okay! Let’s keep looking first.”

 

I obligingly toured the rest of the facility in an unconcealed hurry.
“So! Any other pups you want to interview?” I prodded him gently.

 

He smiled. No.

 

We arranged to meet with Magpie (the name of the 4-year-old dog). While waiting for a room to become available, Charlie stepped over to a window near the front of the room and then knelt down, looking inside of it. I saw his gaze fixated on one pup in particular: a sickly-looking shepherd mix. It was coughing. Snot was dangling from its nostrils and it had stitches on its tummy. The papers on the outside of the window indicated that she – Buttercup – was 6 months old.

 

“Awwwww.. look at that sweet baby..” I murmured. “Do you want to interview her, too?”

 

Charlie nodded.

 

We ended up wanting to interview 3 pups total: Magpie, the 4-year-old shep mix; Buttercup, the sickly-looking, 6-month-old shep mix; Suzanne, a 12-week-old shep mix puppy. See a trend here? Shep mixes; all of them. In the financial world, cash might be king, but in the animal kingdom, shepherds are.

 

Finally, our names were called and Charlie and I were assigned to a “meeting room.”

 

“Ah, you guys get the one with the couch!” our guide celebrated, motioning us into the room. We laughed.

 

The first pup we interviewed was Buttercup. She ran over to us as soon as the volunteer released her from the leash, and right as the woman closed the door, I started crying uncontrollably, gently petting Buttercup.

 

“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked softly.

 

“I don’t know,” I squeaked between tears. “It’s just so stressful, being here and seeing all of them. I want her. I want all of them.” Tears streamed down my face and I didn’t bother brushing them away. I stroked the sweet pup’s fur and kissed her cheeks and, within 10 minutes, the volunteer had returned and escorted Buttercup back to her two other friends.

 

“Which one do you want to see next?” the woman inquired.

 

“Puppies..” I began. “Do they typically find homes pretty easily?”

 

“Oh, YES!” she exclaimed. “They’re snatched right up very quickly.”

 

“Okay.. then we don’t need to interview Suzanne,” I looked at Charlie as I spoke the words, and he nodded his approval. “It’s not that I wouldn’t love to have a puppy, but I’m sure she’ll find a home.. so let’s meet the 4-year-old named Magpie.”

 

Magpie was a doll.

 

The fat little thing waddled into the room with her ears back, looking sleepy and docile, and she plopped down onto my lap. Instantly.

 

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I began petting her, laughing in response to her immediate familiarity with me, and when I stopped petting her, she leaned her head back against my neck, motioning that I needed to continue.

 

“Oh my goodness!” I looked at Charlie and giggled.

 

He called her over to him and then he began petting her. When he stopped, she raised her paw, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and then waited expectantly for him to continue. She was irresistible.. just as I knew one of them would be.

 

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Puppy (L) and Charlie (R).

 

When the volunteer returned to the room, I didn’t know what to do yet, so I requested another 10 minutes with her.

 

Cuddling and cooing continued, and then the volunteer returned too quickly.

 

“Well,” I started, “I want to take her home right now, of course, but he wants to take some time to think about it,” I gestured toward Charlie, “so we’re going to go grab lunch and think about it. We’ll call you guys within an hour.”

 

We drove downtown and stepped into a new hot dog shop that Charlie’s friend had opened recently. We ordered tofu dogs, vegetarian chili, tater tots and french fries and then stood at the counter, munching on heavy, fried foods while we deliberated on a very important life decision.

 

After finishing our meal, we left the shop to take a walk at the park across the street. We verbalized the pros, cons, knowns and unknowns, and after tallying it all up, we unanimously agreed to bring her home. We also jointly decided on a name: Machiatto Marshmallow Yattinos.. affectionately known as Maqui (mock-ee).

 

We picked her up, formally adopted her, and then drove her home together.

 

“Are you feeling nervous?” I called out to Charlie from the backseat, where I was cuddling with Maqui.

 

“No — are you?”

 

“A little,” I admitted, smiling and stroking her neck.

 

We were both wondering if Bruster was going to love or hate this decision.

 

We pulled up at the house and I stepped out of the car with Maqui (who was sporting a brand-spankin’-new orange collar).

 

“You go get Chug from the house,” I instructed Charlie, “and then meet Maqui and me down the road. We’ll take them both on a walk around the block together — let them meet on neutral ground — and then we can kind of gauge how they feel about each other.”

 

We met as planned. Maqui shied away from Bruster while Bruster was overly interested in her. I observed that he seemed to dislike the fact that I was walking her and leaning down to pet her now and then, so Charlie and I swapped dogs; I walked Bruster and he walked Maqui. This arrangement pleased Bruster.

 

Back at the house, Bruster – a natural herding dog – stayed on Maqui’s heels, following her everywhere. He made her nervous and drove her crazy — I could tell. She staged a bit of a confrontation later on in the evening where she bit the skin underneath his left eye, creating a bloody wound. I reproved her and consoled him. It was stressful. We all went to bed quickly afterwards, hoping for smoother sailing the next day.

 

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And the next day showed a little improvement; when Maqui passed Bruster in the hallway, she would just bare her teeth at him without actually lashing out in attack.

 

“Progress,” I mused. “She’s still acclimating,” I reasoned with myself.

 

A few days later, things seemed relatively peaceful. The dogs could now walk past or alongside each other with no friction or bristling on Maqui’s end, and Charlie even caught them lying side by side, feet touching, one afternoon. Bruster’s anxiety had become visibly reduced and he was able to spend his mornings and afternoons un-crated while Charlie and I were at work. Now that he had a companion, his motivation to escape had just seemed to vanish. Things were really great. Until Thursday.

 

Thursday night, Charlie and I were eating dinner. Bruster was lying on the floor, a few feet away from us, and so was Maqui. Randomly, Maqui pounced on Bruster, biting him and sending him into a nervous frenzy. He got up, whined, and started pacing, blood trickling from his right eye.

 

“MY POOR BABY!” I set my bowl of pasta onto the counter and ran over to comfort the gigantic Shepherd who was now breathing heavily and continuing to cry.

 

I used a damp paper towel to clean Bruster’s eye and ignored Maqui for a solid twenty minutes as I fumed over the incident.

 

When I walked out into the garage to fill up their water bowls, Bruster followed me, and I noticed that Bruster’s eye was beginning to swell. I started crying.

 

“Charlie,” I announced as I stormed into the kitchen, “if she does ONE MORE MEAN THING TO HIM, that’s IT. She’s going BACK to the shelter. I don’t want her to be there, but I’m NOT going to let her hurt my boy. He did NOTHING to deserve that.” I’d already had an ad listed on Craigslist that week, thinking what’s the harm? If someone is interested in her and can offer her a one-dog-only home where food aggression and attention jealousy aren’t going to be issues, they can have her. If not, we’ll see if this living-with-us thing works.

 

Charlie agreed with me; one more screw-up, and she was out like white after Labor Day.

 

Things have improved since Thursday. There have been no fights (aka, Maqui hasn’t viciously attacked Bruster again), but I’m still viewing this arrangement as a “trial run” type deal. Right now, I’m fostering Maqui, and she’s certainly better off sleeping in a warm bed with me and Bruster than on a cold, concrete floor. As it stands right now, Bruster adores Maqui while she, at best, tolerates him, but I’m hoping that changes. We’ll see.

 

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Bruster (L) slowly inching his way closer to a sleeping Maqui (R).

 

This morning, I let both dogs out so they could “do their business” while I got dressed for the day. When I opened the door to let them back in, only Bruster was standing there.

 

“Mock mock!” I called out. Waited. Nothing.

 

I stepped outside and walked into the backyard. Bruster was on my heels now, excited.. thinking it was time to throw the stick again.

 

“Maqui Girl!” I called out cheerfully, ignoring him. Still no response. I didn’t see her anywhere.

 

Oh, I haven’t mentioned this bit yet; Maqui – while overweight (per the vet) – is a tiny girl. She’s like a mini-shepherd, and as such, she’s been able to find certain areas within the yard where she can squeeze her fat body underneath or through the fencing. She’s gotten out twice, sending Charlie and I on search and rescue missions, so this would make the third time she’d broken out.

 

Here we go again, I muttered.

 

I got Bruster back into the house and then I headed out through the fucked-up front door. I worked my way through the neighborhood on foot, turning my head this way and that while I called out “MAQUIIIII! MOCK MOCK! ..mock chicken nugget, come here, girl!” at random intervals. No luck.

 

I began trudging home and pulled out my phone to text Charlie.

 

“She got out again. I’m walking around, trying to find her. When I do, I want to take her back to the shelter.”

 

Just as I was nearing my house, sighing at the sad thought and image of returning Maqui to the gloomy, smelly shelter, I heard the sounds of quick breathing and light feet pattering across the concrete coming from behind me. I turned around and there she was: Maqui Girl.

 

She zoomed right past me, looking goofy with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, and she barreled all the way up the driveway, coming to a stop when she reached my front door. Within seconds, I had joined her. When I did, I looked down at her stupid, happy face, and I shook my head.

 

“Come on, girl. Let’s go inside.”

 

I sent a follow-up text to Charlie: Ugh. Found her. I’m not going to take her back. *eye roll*

 

Will she stay or will she go? Depends on her. Stay tuned.

 

Should you stay or should you go?

Sometimes, in some situations, you choose to stay and it’s good. It’s the best decision, and it’s a well-thought-out one. Other times, in other situations, you choose to stay because it’s easier to make that choice. Really, it’s not even a choice you’re making; it’s more like the result of not acting.

 

And then sometimes, you leave, and it’s the cowardly choice, while other times, you leave, and it’s the best decision to make but the hardest fucking route to take.

 

Me choosing to die this afternoon, for instance, would be easy. Very easy. But not necessarily best.

Me choosing to stay is brave. I’m constantly challenging myself to be brave.

Me choosing to keep Maqui could be wise or foolish, depending on how her behavior continues moving forward..

 

And me choosing to end a relationship last year was the right decision, but it was the hardest I’ve ever had to make.

 

I stopped by Whole Foods this morning, on my way to Saturn, for a piece of ‘fancy fruit.’ Charlie was working on the floor and, immediately upon spotting me, produced a bright red pear out of his apron. It was hand-picked and had been requested earlier, via text message.

 

“Your fancy fruit, ma’am.”

 

I smiled, accepting the pear. We talked for a few minutes, and then I said that I needed to go.

 

“Aren’t you going to stop by and say hey to Chris?” he reminded me, gesturing in what I assumed was Chris’s direction. I didn’t look.

 

“Nah,” I responded quickly, shrugging it off and smiling as I walked away. My heart was racing and I felt like puking; I needed to leave as quickly as possible.

 

I was in the checkout line when Charlie came running after me.

 

“HEY! Chris said that he was waiting to talk with you; come back!” he smiled encouragingly.

 

I stared at him blankly. “Okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” I made my purchase and then began walking back over to the produce section. I took each forward step slowly, considering running out to my car instead and then texting Charlie from the safety of being far away.. asking him to apologize to Chris for me and to explain that I was busy. But I decided that that would be shitty. And cowardly.

 

I approached the cooler where Chris was working on the other side, cutting up and packaging watermelon.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Heyyyyy!” he called out, smiling. “What are you up to today, J? The usual?”

 

I smiled. Anyone who’s even remotely close to me knows what ‘the usual’ is: me, whittling away my hours at Saturn, sipping on a coffee drink and writing pointless nothings.

 

“Yep. The usual. What’s new with you?”

 

He slid a sample of freshly cut cantaloupe across the counter and I nibbled on it, listening quietly as he gushed about his new band; he named the upcoming cities they’d be playing in — Cincinnati, Nashville, Mobile, and New Orleans — and described the band’s overall sound.

He asked me about Maqui and about my acoustic performance at the wine tasting event last week; I answered his questions, feeling so happy that we were speaking again that it made me want to cry, and then I realized that I was on the brink of crying, so I quickly made up some excuse of “not wanting to take up too much of his time” and fled the area with a wave. I remember him looking a little confused that I was ending our conversation so abruptly, but I just didn’t have time to explain.

 

Charlie caught me on my way out; he was stocking oranges now. He smiled at me.

 

“Are you glad you came back?” he asked.

 

“Kind of,” I murmured softly. Then I smiled bravely. “I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you later today.”

 

I made it to my car before I broke down. It feels like we just separated yesterday.

 

And that’s a situation where leaving — choosing to divorce my very best friend — was the most painful decision possible. It was a choice I didn’t want to make. I could have stayed — that would have been easier, for sure. But it wouldn’t have been fair. I miss him every day, so it’s easier to just not look at him, talk to him, laugh with him, or hear about his life and to mourn his absence than it is to face the reality that he lives twenty minutes down the road and I’ll never see him or be as close to him as I used to be.

 

 

So that’s life right now. I’m accepting that

  1. I’ll be fending off subversive, suicidal thoughts for the rest of my life.
  2. I’ll be taking care of my crybaby Shepherd until he takes his last breath (walking through the shelter last week, there’s no way in hell I could ever take a bow and make my exit and then leave him in that kind of situation).
  3. I’ll be saying hello and goodbye to so many people and animals in my lifetime. Hellos are exciting and goodbyes suck.. and they’ll come in waves. Rising and receding with the tide. Overlapping each other. Overpowering me, at times. It’s an endless cycle that’s stuck on repeat until I’m gone. Loving as strongly as I have and then losing those that I’ve loved feels like a warning to never love anyone “so fully” again.. but then I think about what – or who – I could miss out on. And I remind myself: Wasn’t each person worth it? Wouldn’t you trade those memories for NOTHING? And weren’t you strong enough to continue existing after life with them? You can do it again. You should do it again.

 

 

But for now, it’s a quiet day. The majority of the cat people have exited my corner of the coffee shop. A small number of them remain in the cafe, and they’re seated at a table about ten feet away. The “kitty cat donation box” has been collected and whisked off; the member with the real-life cat left about a half hour ago after congratulating me for “surviving” being in the midst of their first public meeting. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a coffee drink I doubt I’ll be able to finish.

 

Other than Bruster, there are honestly only two other reasons why I choose to stay alive.. because it is a choice; when you work, sleep, eat, drink, and buckle your seat belt, you are proactively choosing to live.

 

The first reason is my mother and father (and family in general). They’ve already lost their son. I’m the only child left, and I can only hope that they go before I do so that I’ll feel the pain that they won’t have to.

The second reason is.. I like having fun.

 

In the past month, three people have inquired as to why I’m such a happy person.

The first person was one of my new hires. I work for a credit union, and last Friday, I took a group of new hires to a local branch to practice processing transactions. My new hire was examining a check — deciding whether or not to place a hold, verifying the check’s security features, and ensuring that the back of the check had been endorsed properly — when she suddenly turned around and looked at me.

“I know what it is, Jace! I KNOW why you’re so happy all of the time.”

 

I laughed at her. “WHY?!” I was curious to know, too.

 

“It’s because you sleep so much.”

 

Earlier that day, the new hires had inquired on my personal life: “How do you spend your evenings, Jace?” I’d told them that my evenings usually go like this: eat dinner, watch Doctor Who, and then go to sleep at 8:30. They’d all said that that sounded boring and that I needed to ‘live’ more.

 

“Huh!” I responded to her now. “Maybe that’s it! I do average ten hours a night.”

 

A couple of nights later, Charlie (person #2) turned to me and said (jokingly): “I KNOW why you’re always so happy! Because you drink SO MUCH ORANGE JUICE.”

It’s true that I drink orange juice daily, so that is a viable potential reason.

 

And then that weekend, my barber commented on the same thing.

“Man Jace.. when you come in here, you’ve always got that good attitude. You’re all cool and shit.” He paused and I laughed.

“Why?” he asked suddenly, shaping the hairline on the back of my neck with a straight-edge razor. The closeness of the cut left a cloud of heat on my skin. “Why ARE you always soooooooo nice?”

 

I paused to think about it. “Honestly.. I think it’s because I’m always looking forward to the next thing.

 

When I was a kid, my OCD manifested in the form of repeating a certain phrase to my mother before bed every night. Really, it was more like posing the same question over and over, and that question was:

“Goodnight mom, I love you — we’re going to have fun tomorrow, right?”

She would reassure me, over and over again, that yes, we WERE going to have fun tomorrow, but I still had to ask the question 8, 12, 30 times before my frantic mind would become satisfied and I could fall asleep.

 

I think I’ll have the phrase tattooed on someday.

 

I’m sticking around for my dog, my parents, and for the sheer experience of life. Tomorrow’s going to be fun.. right? I’ll learn something new, meet somebody new, write a song, kiss my dog, grab a burrito..

I want to see what interesting thing happens next — and eventually, when I DO die, I’ll get to see what happens “next” then, too. But I’m not going to rush it. The writer in me is curious to experience everything and then to reflect on what I’ve experienced and to consider what it means; happiness, sadness, joy and tragedy, with all of their shapes and depths.. what do they all mean? Why do they come up, why do we feel them so strongly, and why do they feel the way that they do? You’re born, right? You live, you love, you hate, you believe, you discover, you share, and ultimately, you die; what was it all worth? And was it worth it? Stay tuned, I guess.

 

In the short-term, later on this evening, I’ll be attempting to distract Bruster with a tortilla chip so that I can get some of these dang medicinal drops into his poor, puppy dog eye.

Aun Aqui

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