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Me at age 16, traveling Denmark with a good friend.

(Originally written Friday, September 28, 2018 and then edited through October 1, 2018)

My 13-year-old self didn’t even know how to spell his name correctly as I wrote about him in my diary all of 44 years ago. Yet I called him my “boyfriend” in those diary entries from Fall 1974. He was 3 or 4 years older than me and, as I bloomed into adolescence earlier than my classmates, I found myself teased, belittled, and humiliated incessantly for having breasts, my period, and other characteristics of a grown woman. On the academic side, I was fairly advanced and by graduation I was in the top 20 in my class of over 700. I played violin in both the school orchestra and a competitive youth orchestra and studied privately with respected instructors. In these things – academically and musically – I knew the rules, to study, to practice, to revise, to work hard. Yet in retrospect, I was so insecure about my changing body that I didn’t know how to handle the kind of attention it would attract, for good or bad. My rebellious nature grew as I struggled with the attention I received, which often wasn’t in my best interest, especially from certain boys attempting to play men.

From that early experience, I’ve come to some conclusions about bad behavior. I no longer buy into the “boys will be boys” mantra often used to excuse inexcusable behavior by aggressive angry young men. Sorry. Not sorry. Not buying it. Because when you buy into that, you accept that women, girls, “ask” for rape. They don’t. They dress nicely because they like to feel good about themselves. Not because they want to be sexually assaulted. They say “no” because they don’t want to be raped. Not because they want to sound like a bitch. They smile not because they want to be attacked. They smile because they feel good and want others to, as well. We just want kindness, respect, and humane consideration, not deep shame, verbal or physical abuse, and sexual attack.

#MeToo and My Sisters, Too

The #metoo movement that busted into the limelight last year as women began to stand up and be counted as survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, dredged up memories that I’d put behind me long ago. But like many of my sisters in heart who have experienced that same reignited pain, the poor excuse of a man who currently occupies the White House, and whose name I cannot write here, displayed such openly misogynistic attitudes and behaviors as to declare open season on women, our civil rights, and our dignity. He has empowered other men to also be openly misogynistic who had previously felt stifled by the “political correctness” of civility. In response, a growing chorus of female voices has risen, creating a backlash against the older white male generation’s status quo that said women had to stay in their “place” and men would be the only arbiters of power.

Angry, bitter, outraged… these feelings welled up inside me as I felt betrayed by the openly hostile expressions against women perpetuated and endorsed by this old white male guard that I saw on television. Then there were the younger sexually entitled“incels,” men who were “involuntarily celibate,” celebrating a more violent level of misogyny against women as they openly blamed women for their unwanted celibacy, punishing women for turning down their sexual advances.

I felt betrayed because I thought this was a fight that had already been won and done, and that we’d moved far beyond this level of vitriolic and violent misogyny to achieve some levels of success in championing women as equals – or at least the potential to be equals to men, to be treated with respect, dignity, and valued beyond procreation and superficially pretty looks. That betrayal ignited something inside me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

It was the 70s

Born in 1961, I came of age in the midst of the burgeoning women’s rights movement. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The sexual revolution. The Equal Rights Amendment.  Although originally introduced by Alice Paul in 1923 on the heals of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, the ERA was finally passed by 2/3rds of both houses of congress in 1972. However, it failed to meet the next hurdle to achieve ratification in 3/4ths of the states by the extended deadline of June 30, 1982. Only two states have ratified it after the deadline, Nevada in 2017, and Illinois 2018.

As I reached adolescence in the early 1970s, the Watergate hearings, the ERA’s passage by congress, and the gasoline crisis served as a backdrop to the experiments of my generation with sexuality, with feminism, and female assertiveness. After getting my driver’s license as a teen in 1977, I bought a car, but discovered only later that during my time growing up women couldn’t have their own credit card (until 1974, Equal Credit Opportunity Act), or even get contraception (until 1972, Eisenstadt v. Baird) if you were unmarried, or legally get an abortion (until 1973, Roe v. Wade). Heck, it wasn’t until 1981 that the US Supreme Court declared a Louisiana law unconstitutional which had given sole control of marital property to the husband. That attitude of the woman being subordinate to a man was endemic even in the decades that followed the wins of the 1960s and 70s.

Buying a House

So it was no wonder that I found myself indignant when my new husband, Keith, and I purchased our first home, mostly using funds from a trust my grandparents had created for me for college, but which I spent very little having gone to a state university (back when tuition was still quite low for state schools). At the house closing in Fall 1982, the deed was written up as “Keith Fulmer and his wife, Mara,” as if I were an appendage of Keith’s rather than the primary purchaser of the property. I expressed to those present that I found this very demeaning and wanted the wording changed. But I was told “it’s the way it is always done.” My feminist assertiveness later led to a confrontation that same year with a town tax assessor when Keith and I went to file our objections to the increase in taxes after the sale. I was the first to speak for us to the grey-haired older gentleman sitting across the table. His reply “Now, why don’t you not worry your pretty little head about this?” He continued, “You’re just going to stay home and make babies, sweetheart. Let your husband worry about this.” I believe I could feel Keith’s hand on my arm as I must have begun to rise from my seat to mentally slap the man. After all, my income was our primary source, and the one upon which our small mortgage had been based.

The indignities continued long after it became “illegal” to discriminate against a woman. Yet the system is basically rigged against women from the onset. Support systems necessary for staying on par with men in various career choices don’t exist in this country, though lip-service is paid to it, even as women are not. The costs are unsustainable for young people trying to start families while paying the bills, buying a home, and trying to get ahead. Even with the Family Medical Leave Act, employers are not required to pay for leave to stay home with a new child, only to allow you time off – unpaid. Childcare is not supported through any kind of reliable social safety net. And women who choose to stay home through the early childhood years (and whose spouse has the income to manage) often pay an enormous price both economically and in their job status as they try to play catch-up upon re-entry to the job market.

The Kavanaugh Hearings

The same white male old guard that I saw laughing during breaks at the Kavanaugh hearing when Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford had been testifying yesterday of Brent Kavanaugh’s attempted rape, when she was 15 and he was 17, are the same men who make legislature that keeps women down, or block other legislation that is meant to provide some measure of support. And here they were…laughing during a break after hearing her testimony.

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Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during a break in the Q&A for Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee.

Then Kavanaugh got his chance. He hadn’t even bothered to hear her speak earlier, so focused was he on writing his bullying speech on how “not guilty” he was in a vitriolic conspiracy-laced temper tantrum. His anger was frightening, his entitlement astonishing, his indignation unbelievable. What I saw right there was a bullying self-entitled white male who felt he could and SHOULD by all birth right be able to get away with doing anything he wanted because. “I went to Yale!” he shouted. And, “I’ve worked for so and so,” the name dropping and resume rapping all just reinforcing his self-entitled ass. He came off as overly defensive, the kind of man who was used to being able to have his way, but angry that he no longer controlled the narrative, someone who was watching his right to power crumble in front of him, a guilty conscience stomping his feet like a belligerent toddler who knows they did wrong but won’t accept it.

I had been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, figuring maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. But his behavior spoke otherwise. I’ve been the subject of the self-righteous defense of an alcoholic’s rage before, accusing everyone else for their pain in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. I’ve cried in response to this heated verbal abuse from someone who called my late husband “friend” and who somehow felt it was okay to belittle and attack the widow and bring her grown daughter to tears to cover for his guilt of his own behavior. It was that same out-of-control tantrum that I saw and heard in the voice of Brent Kavanaugh. Someone who was finally forced to confront the demons they’d tried to hide beneath a facade of virtue. In the end, I felt that regardless of whether he actually did attempt to rape Ford when they were teens, or not, he demonstrated that he was a complete emotional train wreck who was unfit to serve on the highest court in the land. I, like many of my sisters in heart, empathized deeply with Dr. Blasey-Ford.

I was 13, he was 16 or 17.

As I stated at the beginning, I was only 13. I did.not.know. I didn’t understand enough about sex to fully comprehend what I was getting myself into. Marshall was older and I felt flattered that someone older seemed to “like” me. But in reality, he only wanted to have sex. And he would boast about it to my friends afterwards. It got back to me in some of the worst ways. “Slut” was probably the nicest thing they said. But one boy who I called friend, even after occasionally slipping into the role of humiliating me on occasions, would sit down and ask me my side. We later would share a lifelong friendship. I recall telling him that I would commit suicide, when one time he asked if Marshall had “screwed” me and what would I do if I became pregnant. I had just confirmed to him what Marshall had been boasting about. Funny thing, though. I kept a diary back in those days. And I really didn’t know what “screw” meant. I hadn’t felt anything – no penetration, no wetness. It was, in retrospect, some heavy petting. But when asked at the time, I thought I must have been mistaken and been “screwed.” So, after that conversation, I went back into my diary in 1974 and wrote over top of the original entry “screwed me.”

It was four years later when I had begun dating Keith that I discovered I had been wrong earlier. Boy oh boy was I relieved… a bit embarrassed by my naïveté, and chuckling a little about it. I remember thinking, “well, if Marshall really DID screw me, it must have been with the smallest dick possible, because I didn’t feel a thing!” Silly, I know. But it did make me feel better.

That’s because there was one instance when it got scary with Marshall. From my diary when I was 13 years old (names have been changed):

diaryTuesday, Oct. 15, 1974

School was okay today. I talked to Mr. L and I told him about game night. [Note: a chaperoned party where the kids teased the parents about dancing.] We kidded especially about when I was escorted home by 3 boys. During 7th period he told Jay: “I heard about you and what what’s-his-name did to Mara, Friday night.” Jay: “We didn’t do anything.” Mr. L: “But you were thinking about it, and it’s the thought that counts.” Jay told me this as we were standing at Mickey’s locker. Jay walked home with us today. When we reached Mickey’s house, Mickey & everyone else went home. Jay walked home with me. We talked & joked about nothing in particular. When I got home my brother was sitting on the front porch. As it turned out we were locked out of the house. I put my books on the porch and started walking to Mickey’s house. Mickey was riding his bike and so he told me to get on. The bike tipped over so when Joe came out with his bike, I rode on his. We got to the corner of Reed and Wheeler when we met Jay. I got off Joe’s bike and started walkin’ back to Mickey’s.

We went to look at the new house they were building on the Wheeler extension. Then around 5:15 pm, I went home. Jay rode along beside me and offered 2 or 3 times I ride on his bike. I turned him down because was afraid I’d fall off. While I was making potatoes for dinner Mickey came to the door. He had seen my mother drive off and he wanted to know, I guess, if I was available. We talked and he asked if I wanted to come over while he was babysitting around 7:10 pm tonight.

Well after dinner I did go, using the excuse that I had to help Mickey with his homework. While I was walking though, Marshall and Roy [Note: Marshall’s younger brother] rode up behind me on their bikes. They followed me to where Mickey was babysitting and, when I rang the bell, Mickey signaled me to come back in 10 min, (and that) maybe Marshall and Roy would leave. Well I walked around the block once and Roy rode alongside me. When I got back Roy rode off and Marshall followed me back to the door where I convinced Mickey to let us in. Mickey sat in an armchair while Marshall and I sat on the couch. Marshall had his arm around me and so Mickey put a blanket over his head and pretended he wouldn’t look so Marshall could go farther. Every time Mickey left the room, Marshall would try to kiss me. I didn’t want him to because I felt it was neither the time nor the place. But he kept right at it. At 20 of 9 (pm), Mickey said we had to go.

We went outside & Marshall took me by the hand and said “Come here, I’ve got to get my bike.” He got me in the corner of the house next door and wouldn’t let me go. I kissed him twice and then tried to get away. I wanted to get home and I didn’t feel like “makin out”. As I said before it was neither the time nor the place. He wouldn’t let me go & he pinned me against the brick of the chimney where I couldn’t move. He whispered that it was too bad my parents were home… I tried to get away and I struggled. He held me tight so my wrists ached. I wanted to get home. Then he started sticking his hand down my pants. He took my hand and stuck it down his. For a moment there was no struggle. Then I took my hand out and grabbed his to get it out but he held.

Finally he let go and in a mocking voice said “I got to get home, I got to get home.” He left on his bike and went home. I walked down towards Mickey’s house then turned around and went back to where he was babysitting. I asked if I could talk to him & so I told him the whole story. He let me in and we waited till the parents came home. I sneaked out the back door and waited for Mickey. Mickey kept saying what a creep and a jerk Marshall was…I walked home with Mickey who lent me his sweater to keep warm…

Although I think I must have been numb at first, my 13-year-old self finally came to the realization that Marshall was destroying what self-respect I had left, that being with him was untenable. I went through the phases of feeling guilty, ashamed, irresponsible, fearful of disappointing my parents and then ashamed again. Like many young girls, I didn’t respect myself enough, didn’t value myself, though sometimes was good at hiding it. I blamed myself for what nearly happened. I was insecure about myself, my body, my prettiness. It’s not that I wasn’t smart. But, like many book-smart girls, I was very insecure in other ways. And there were always those “mean” girls who seemed to make sure you knew how much better they were by belittling and humiliating you (me) in front of others. Over the next few years, my body shifted back and forth weight-wise and by the time I was 16, I could pass for 22, with a hour-glass figure and long curly auburn hair. I still was insecure about my looks. Oddly enough, Keith was the first one to help me change that.Closed Diary

Looking Back/Looking Forward

In the decades that have since passed, I have reflected on that experience with Marshall* and its impact on me in the short and long term. Perhaps in the short-term, and with the help of people I still count as friends more than 43 years later, I was able to move on, and even come away a bit stronger for it. Certainly, I never let myself get close to anyone who was like him ever again. I used his behavior as a model for whom to avoid. I realized I needed to practice self-preservation. My empathy for others, my need to feel needed and loved would sometimes lead to great personal pain. It took awhile to start to figure out how to harness my “powers” while preserving my sanity.

In the long term, as a grandmother now, I look back at that 13-year-old girl and I am sad. Not just for having to remember her/my experience, but to be confronted by the naïveté of a young girl who so dearly wanted to be grown up, who tried to be and act grown up. But who just wasn’t as mature as she led herself to believe, and who blamed herself and didn’t trust enough to be taken seriously if she were to report the experience.

But no longer do I feel the need to apologize for who I am, and for my experiences I have lived. No longer do I feel “deserving” of the way I was treated by Marshall or anyone else. I have come to understand that their behavior was the result of their own experiences, their own anger and pain. Unfortunately, I was the one who got in their way of their acting out. The fact that I could not trust others to believe me or my side of it, well, I guess I felt that it would only result in more public shaming and blaming of me, and nothing good would come of reporting it. After witnessing the attacks on those who’ve come forward regarding Brett Kavanaugh, I guess I’m not too far off.

Still, I’m rather proud of how that 13-year-old girl – how I – turned out. I know what my powers are now. Such is the result of decades of life experiences, of learning to trust in my intuitiveness, my empathy, my inner and outer “beauty”, and my voice…and of becoming a responsible member of my female tribe. These are among my strengths.

Even so, the behavior on display these last couple of years, culminating in last week’s hearings for the Supreme Court nominee has reminded me of my responsibilities. Beware to those gentlemen who dare to challenge my rights as a woman in the 21st Century. Beware to those who try to demean and diminish the needs and value of women everywhere. I, like my sisters in heart, have harnessed my powers and I know how to use them.

*I’ve chosen not to reveal his real name here because there isn’t any point. Unless he was in the running for Supreme Court Justice, I’d just as soon leave him to Karma. Hopefully, he grew up. I need not waste any energy on punishing him. That fate is in his own hands.

PS: I know that members of my family will have read this and will have their own emotional response to the sexual assault and the other indignities described above. Do something positive. Channel any pain you may feel into making sure the next generation of young women never have to feel “less than” _____ ever again.

Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Friday, 7/27/18

Woke up at 4:52 am to a blazing light shining upon me. It was a huge full moon low on the horizon so that its light reached inside my bedroom. I smiled and said Happy 60th Birthday, Keith! We miss you here on this life’s plane. Hope you’re enjoying all our shenanigans from your view on the other side. ❤️

Keith taking his solo pilot flight test, upstate NY. Instructor decided we should all go to dinner in Keene, NH.

Postscript: When I awoke later in the morning daylight, I looked out the window and saw the trees and wondered how I could have seen the moon so clearly earlier. And yet, there it had been! When he passed, it was a huge blue moon (a second full moon in the month) and I always associate the strong light of the full moon as his embrace from beyond.

Traveling has a way of creating magic and expanding our vision here and beyond.

Threads of energy and connection

On a steamy hot July 4th, we floated in the waters of Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Disembodied heads peeked above the waters – me, Steve, Larry, Jean, John, Patty, Brian plus other old friends. As the waters sparkled in the sunlight, my vision shifted, seeing tendrils, threads connecting each of us, our heads, 7th chakras, energy paths from one to another, and then above. It was surreal and yet very real… I shook my head several times to try and dispel the vision, yet it persisted. The vision began to fade so I sketched it quickly in order to bring it back to further enhance in art.

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My quick sketch of the vision I had looking at my friends bobbing in the waters of Sacandaga Lake, Adirondack Mountains, upstate New York, July 4, 2018. 

Conversations while in the water, heads bobbing, voices laughing, planning, life beyond work, the family by heart and blood, community of friends planning to care for each other in a life of continued adventures, but recognizing the pains of aging… Plans began for those couples without children, then those who did have children who would not be willing/able to care for aging parents… Duties were assigned: John P as our travel planner, Jean our financial/taxes person, Larry our sommelier and meal planner, me and Brian on branding development and space design, Steve our inventor and fixer-upper…should Michael join us he would be our gardener… Patty would pave the way into retirement. We could move between locations to allow time at each place and take advantage of weather… Several months in Michigan, travel to Europe, possibly a month in Fiji in April… where else?

Aging into new adventures means making the most of life with family by blood and family by heart.

Shifting to sooner plans, travel to Newfoundland, Canada, Kelly’s home country. When could we all visit, and how? Have passports, will travel.

The view from here

As we wandered the countryside, our views throughout our week were stunning… New York Adirondacks, Vermont hills, Middlebury, countryside antique shops, farmlands… peaceful, tranquil, even energizing… Saratoga, revisiting old memories.

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A roadside antique shop in the Adirondacks.

We were watching fireworks from the baseball field across from Larry and Jean’s… the same field with the same chain link fence at home base where Keith and I hung out together with Michael, Larry, Brian and others. Standing there… Steven, Larry, Brian, Jean, me… surreal… forward, back…time seemed to cross oceans, decades, and reconnect…creating new connections. It felt powerful.

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Watching fireworks in the park with friends.

Revisiting a new friend in person

I finally caught up with Nan O’Brien-Webb in New Haven, VT. Steve was filled with trepidation; it brought up feelings of a past bad encounter with a marriage counselor. Not what I intended at all. It was exploratory for me just to see what was up with Nan’s workshops. And it was very emotional for her, too, to meet her former best friend’s wife after finding his obituary.

I no longer feel the need to have an intermediary. I see/feel connections to the spirits feeling their messages when it is important, seeing signs and recognizing them for what they are most of the time. I recognize that I have become my own intuit. Still, it was interesting to discover how others with longer experience work with this…this gift.

I sent Nan a photo of Steven with the shadow of another we saw as a hint of Keith hovering over Steve after he’d gotten the great sanding machine running back in May 2013. But then, as I scrolled through the photos, I also came across another photo that I’d taken but had ignored for my aesthetic preference of another. The non-filtered photo, however, had a clear message, one that I’d completely missed before. Taken the same day as the one with the shadow of Keith… this one showed a large “K” made from the shape of the stairs leading up to the loft.

To Nan, I wrote:

… I could feel the emotion in the room, the healing that was being accomplished, even as the doors cracked open a bit to understanding of the different lives we lead in physical and spiritual form. You’ve certainly helped me to better articulate what I always felt to be true.

…Funny thing… as I went to look for [the photo I promised], I discovered a second one – taken the same day – that had a message I’d completely missed.

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Keith oversees a sewer connection we’d been trying to get at Perry Road, only about 5-6 weeks before he passed. So I’m guessing this picture was taken around mid July 2012.

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Large flat-belted gears drive a giant 4-drum oscillating sander that Keith had  fallen in love with in the large  woodworking shop on the property at Perry Road. When he tried to get it started, the belts fell off only a few seconds after it began to run. This photo was taken in May 2013 when Steven came into my life. He too fell in love with this old machine and immediately set about to get it running, which he did!

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Another view of the  old woodworking shop taken the same day Steven got the old sander running. I noticed the sun shining in the far windows, setting off a glowing light. But I used a different camera setting for the above photo. I almost missed the real message.

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This photo was take seconds before the first one just above. In looking for the picture I’d mentioned in VT, I found this one. Notice the giant “K” at the center, formed by the structure of a stairway in front of the glowing windows. SMH! I was dumbfounded when I came across this picture last night. How could I have missed it?!

Finally, this is the image I mentioned to Nan. Intellectually, I know how it was made. But it gave us all goosebumps when we first saw it. I was sitting at an old handmade table saw, working on homework for my doctorate. Steve was literally scurrying around working on making the giant sander operational (it extends from where he’s climbing to the round wheels you see in front of the windows to the right behind the posts).

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I looked up from my studies when I heard it come to life and grabbed my phone to take this photo. The message was clear to me at that moment. Keith was VERY pleased!

As I wrote to Nan, I feel that sometimes places can hold the energy of those who came before us there. Or they at least provide us a place to connect. Sometimes I feel old Maurice Reid here, as well. He was the original owner of this woodworking shop and I feel his occasional approval (or annoyance as the case may be at the time) as we try and make improvements to the old homestead.

These are just some of the most profound memories I have from the week’s travels and the memories those moments inspired me to revisit. 

Oh that sound…that sound.

A cacophonic symphony of frogs, birds, and forest rises from the green lush view outside my window at early dawn.

My mind drifts upon the fog back to a distant rainforest, the sounds carrying upon the light breeze of memory. The cool damp night air grips my lungs, my shoulders, my skin. It reluctantly gives weigh (sic) as its foggy embrace lets go slowly from the deep green blanket unfurling from a long winter’s sleep, released in a tsunami of sound and fragrant damp spring. I sigh.

That sound…that sound…

It fills my ears with nature’s symphony, as I dream of another place and time.

The cool moistness of the air fills my lungs and I breath it in deeply, grateful for the damp balm as it coats my airways, and soothes my soul.

The cool damp music of the early morn will soon give way to an incessant red heat, of this I am certain.

But for now, I travel back to that other place as I pull the blanket to my shoulders, made heavier by the damp night air, an embrace from beyond the veil, a fog whose feathery tendrils drift across the lush green landscape.

That sound…that sound…

Oh don’t leave me…

that sound…



Written Wednesday, May 16, 2018


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Sweet Pea, our nearly 15 yr old Borzoi, in a glamour shot from her healthier days.

January 8, 2016, 11:11 pm

Sweet Pea died today. Steve and I took her to the veterinarian this morning after making a difficult choice. She had not been well for awhile, but had begun declining more rapidly in the last month or so. She’d grown more frail, wasn’t eating as much, or sometimes not at all, and could barely make it up and down the stairs. Lenny, in the meantime, had begun to show his own distress by whining and barking to get Sweet Pea, or one of us out of bed to help her go outside, to eat, or whatever was going through his little puppy sized brain. He was driving us all crazy by doing this at all hours of the night. We were growing impatient, exhausted, and frustrated. We knew what it was about. But neither one of us wanted to make the decision. Sweet Pea would tell us, we would say to each other. She would let us know when the time was right.

But sometimes we don’t want to pay attention, to make the difficult choices. Sometimes, we think, that if we just ignore it, life will go on without having to face the painful moment of truth. I know that’s bullshit. I have seen it up close and personal. But it doesn’t make me immune from the desire to shield myself from the reality of her – or anyone else’s – suffering. It hurts too much to acknowledge it.

Last night, after two nights of sleeping down on the coach through the night, Sweet Pea decided she wanted to join us…one more time. Before this, the trek up the stairs would be wobbly but possible. It was the trek down the stairs that scared us all. Her legs barely held her up, and her unsteadiness made it a nerve racking and time consuming experience to get her back down the stairs. So we were grateful that she had not attempted it for the previous two nights. But not tonight.

The spirits had been talking all evening… I’d been seeing 11’s for most of the day. Michael sent me a photo that showed 5:11 in the LED clock on the TV set top sitting on Keith’s cherry cabinet he’d made for them in Needham. And again I’d look up to see 11 elsewhere…clocks, emails, texts. Something was up.

So when Michael texted me again at 9:11 pm, I thought it was simply an acknowledgement of the pattern I’d shared with him. But not long after, I heard shuffling and then a bang, then whimpers in the hallway. I jumped out of bed to see what happened. Sweet Pea had fallen at the top of the stairs, collapsing in front of the bathroom and had her nail caught under the doorframe molding. With some difficulty, I freed her from the doorframe and coaxed her up so she could make it to the bedroom. I went back down and fetched her pillow bed that I’d brought down before to convince her to stay down there. She looked forlornly in my direction, her cataract cloudy eyes trying to see me in the fog. This might be it, I thought. Maybe she’ll die in her sleep like Gemorra did so many years ago.

But the night passed and Lenny’s constant whimpering reminded us of the grim decision we would have to make once daylight came. She could barely stand, let alone make it down the stairs. At first I tried, but gave up, so Steven took on the challenge, pleading with her to try, telling her he’d catch her if she started to fall. She made it and went outside to pee, retaining the last bit of dignity the old girl had left. She even ate a little when she came back in, constantly escorted by the ever whimpering Lenny. But then she made her way to the couch, using her last bit of energy to climb up there. Her breathing was labored and I could see the time had come. I couldn’t make her suffer another day.

She passed peacefully in the vets office. They put out a white blanket for her to lie upon, though she missed it when she reclined after her anesthesia. At one point I thought the anesthesia had done the job, without the final injection. But she was breathing still, though so shallow it was hardly visible. Then the shot in her leg, and within moments she was gone… Gone to the other side, relieved of her pain, greeted happily by a healthy and goofy big Stanley. Given a warm and social greeting by her old master, Keith. I picture them enjoying some romping and fetching games followed by a good round of coach-potatoing together like they did all the time before.

Steven and I gave our last tearful goodbyes…he was really fond of her, she reminded him of several other big white dogs he’d had as furry companions in his life before me. And, with a trim of her tail feathers and an imprint from her paw as a memorial from the vet, we left to toast Sweet Pea over bacon and eggs and…toast.

Although my neighbor referred to her as "Satan's Spawn," Sweet Pea did have her playful side.

Although my neighbor referred to her as “Satan’s Spawn,” Sweet Pea did have her playful side.

Later, after letting my grown daughters know about her passing, I posted a photo and the news on Facebook. I felt somewhat awkward about the outpouring of sympathy. Yes, Sweet Pea was my longest living Borzoi, having made it nearly 15 years. Yes, she had helped me through some difficult life transitions. Yes, she had been “my” dog and furry companion. And yes…even better, she had befriended Steven…a sure sign that he was the good guy I thought him to be. I even imagined Keith sending her back from the cemetery that hot summer’s weekend over 2 years ago when she got loose for 30 hours and nearly died in the 100 degree heat so that she could help me to decide on the merits of Steven’s character. She did not share her inner sweetness with just anyone, and was especially particular when it came to men. There have been only two men I knew her to show deep affection for – Keith and Steven. I guess she knew who were the right men to be trusted in my life.

Stanley (left), Keith (laying down across the couch), and Sweet Pea (on Keith's chest)....aka the Keith sandwich on Russian rye.

Stanley (left), Keith (laying down across the couch), and Sweet Pea (on Keith’s chest)….aka the Keith sandwich on Russian rye.

In the photo above: It’s hard to believe when I look at this picture..my heart both sinks in sadness, yet breaths hope, too. Everyone is gone from this earth but hopefully reunited on the other side. Stanley on Mother’s Day 2011, Keith on 9/1/2012, and Sweet Pea on 1/8/2016. Even the couch – brought back from Fiji – is gone, having been turned over to the dogs, and later dismantled, the leather salvaged for me to use in making books. Maybe I should make some more…