“My dog does this amazing thing where he just exists and makes my whole life better because of it.”
Chihuahua. So not a breed of dog that I would ever have thought I would ever own. I’ve always been more into the working breeds, (ie: GSD, Dobermans, Boxers, Rotties, etc.) But way back in 2004, my ex (who wasn’t an ex at the time) and I stopped at a pet store. (Ok, please don’t yell at me about buying a pet store dog. I now know all about puppy mills and stuff. I know, I know. But back then I didn’t really know, or didn’t think about it, or whatever. If I ever get another dog it will be a rescue. Please don’t yell at me.)
Honestly we were just out enjoying the day when we decided to go in and look around. It was something to do.
I said “No dogs”, but somehow we walked out with a dog, who we ended up naming Jack. This dog went across country with us a few times; he was a great traveling companion. But I always told people he wasn’t MY dog. I mean my ex was the one that talked me into getting him. And they seemed pretty attached to each other.
Fast forward to 2013.
We had moved from Florida to Minnesota in 2010 to be closer to her family after I got laid off work. Then in March of 2013, My ex and I split. I was devastated. Don’t get me wrong, there were things wrong on both sides. I take my fair share of the blame there. But when she was preparing to move out, I was informed that I got to take the dog, she was taking the cat. (Um, what? He’s not my dog, but ok.)
I was now keeping the dog.
It’s probably a good thing I got him. You see I have PTSD, it’s probably actually CPTSD but that’s just now becoming a thing. And along with PTSD, I get a side of anxiety (with panic attacks) and depression.
Woohoo….I have a trifecta of mental crap! Yay! Go team me! /end sarcasm.
But the one living being who helped me through all of the break up and mental stuff was Jack, my little chi.
He was there when no one else was.
He laid next to me when I cried.
Back when I was in therapy, I’d come home and talk to him about it. Jack was the one I celebrated with when I got my first degree black belt. He celebrated birthdays with me, and helped me when I was down.
Because no matter how much I wanted to just hide from everyone and not get out of bed, I had to get up.
Jack needed me, to go out, or to be fed, or whatever. I could not neglect him just because I was a mess.
I had to keep going because this little sweet soul needed me. Even when I felt like no one really needed me for anything, Jack did. He depended on me for food, shelter and companionship.
As much as he needed me, I ended up needing him as well. I needed someone to get excited to see me. I’d come home from work and he was so glad I was home. Jack was the one thing in my life who wanted me there.
It was he and I against the world.
I took him to parks, we went on drives together. He heard me rant about stuff and listened to all my stories. If I was anxious he came and sat in my lap so I would pet him. We were best buds.
Late last year I was beginning to suspect that something was going on with him. There was nothing I could pinpoint and say, that’s it.
So I just kept an eye on him.
He was still the same loving dog he was just slowing down a bit; he WAS 14 years old, not a young kid anymore.
So I just kept an eye on him.
Then in January of this year, he took a turn.
I’m not going into it all but I did get him to the vet. They did blood work to start because we didn’t know what was going on. This was a place to start trying to figure it out. His blood work came back all normal. She said according to his blood work he was healthy.
The vet said the next step was getting some imagining done to see if there was tumors or something else.
He might not have been a trained emotional support dog, but that’s the job he fell into, he was there for me through some dark times. I’ve cried more over the death of this dog then I have over anyone else, human or animal.
I don’t even feel like I’m putting into the proper words what this dog meant to me.
I’m still not over his death and I’m not sure I ever will be. I’m still grieving seven months later.
I still talk to his ashes and tell him mamma loves him.
When I make popcorn I still put a piece or two by his ashes. He loved popcorn.
I have a couple of wonderful friends who had a book made for me, one of those Shutterfly ones.
One of my friends works in marketing (she’s a graphic designer) so she swiped the photos from my Facebook. My other friend, who is my TKD instructor, found the quotes.
So they made me a book of my Jack.
It’s probably the greatest gift I’ve been given. I have a shelf with a couple of photos of him and one of our other dog Abbie. The book is there too.
Jack’s ashes are there along with a clay heart with Jack’s paw prints. I call it my shrine.
I miss him…
I fell back into my depression and my anxiety has been worse. It’s been a rough year.
But I’m slowly trying to pull myself out of it. I’ve been trying to make myself get out of the apartment more. I’ve been trying to take walks in the park near here.
It’s the one Jack and I went to the most in his last 6 months before he passed. It took me several months to even drive back into that park. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to clean the inside of the windows in my van, his nose prints are still on them.
But I’m trying to do more, to get out.
But it’s hard. So very hard.
Jack’s ashes are in a small box inside of a velvet bag with embroidery. It says, “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.”
“Can you not do the whole, um, pap smear?” I quickly made eye contact with the nurse, who, up until then, had been fumbling with the crinkly OB gown, the one she wanted me to put on.
“I’m not sexually active and, I just, it’s really not necessary I know I’m fine.”
“Well,” she hesitated, “I can certainly let Dr. Jeffrey know your request, but just so you know,” she quickly flipped through my chart, “it looks like you haven’t gotten an internal exam in…over 2 years.” She stared at me. “And we really like our patients to have an annual exam once they turn eighteen.”
With that she closed the door and left me alone to change into the paper dress, waiting for the knock from the doctor. I sat on the edge of the table and took deep breaths.
You’re fine…you’re fine…this is routine…everyone does this.
The knock came.
“You don’t want an internal?”
“Can I ask why?” She wasn’t warm. She wasn’t kind. She didn’t sit down and pull her chair in close to me and put me at ease. She didn’t see that I was clearly bothered, tell me to put my clothes back on and come into her office to chat with her about what “the issue” was. She just stared at her clipboard. “You’re 22, Caroline?”
“No,” I started, “I mean, yes, I’m sexual but, I don’t have sex, not,” I motioned to my vagina, “intercourse.”
“So other things?”
She looked at me again. “What’s “the issue” with the pap smear?” she asked.
“It makes me uncomfortable. I squirm. I just…it hurts. I don’t like it, I tense up. It happens when I try to have sex, too. I mean I don’t try that often I’ve just tried a few times. With my boyfriend,” I added.
She “mmhmm”d and continued to look at her chart, “and how long have you been with you boyfriend?”
“And you’ve never had sex?”
“No. But we’ve tried…I’m really just overwhelmed by the idea of it…I can’t get myself to um, open up…”
“Caroline,” she flipped all the pages so that her thumb rested on the top page, “we won’t do an internal today. But you need to take care of this. Or your boyfriend is going to leave you.”
And with that she left the room.
Her last sentence continues to echo in my head. And that conversation?
That conversation happened two years ago. And my boyfriend did leave me. And I am a 24 year old virgin, terrified of sex.
Friends started to have sex. There were stories of bleeding and awkward mornings after.
I’d say “I haven’t had sex yet because I haven’t found anyone I loved and trusted enough to want to roll over and see next to me in the morning, and not, you know, like, puke.”
“You’re so smart,” they’d tell me when their high school boyfriends were sleeping with girls at other lunch tables.
I met Chris on the first day of college and the outline of his body pressed into my bed sheets for 8 months. Both virgins, we planned on being each other’s firsts. But in the dark moments we moved together not knowing how or what to do. And so we would kiss, and feel, and love so hard, sharing smiles that said this was enough for both of us. And then we broke up.
I spiraled downward with my first broken heart. I threw away the bottles of medication that made me fat. I tried to sleep over the soundtrack to the rest of my friends going out and living life. I was not meant to live, I thought. But I ended up living anyway.
My parents could see I was unhappy. So they did what they thought good parents should and would do – they bribed me in order to motivate me. 6 months later, I traded an unhealthily lost 47 lbs for a brand new car.
Overnight I went from being fat, awkward, unpopular, and lonely, to being beautiful, thin, living in my first apartment up at school for the summer, dating the popular guy at work and sought after.
My phone would ring all day long.
What are we doing tonight? Party at your place?
For 30 days in my 19th year, I led my idea of a perfect life.
On the 31st day, I woke up alone in my bed after a party to find my popular boyfriend asleep with another counselor in the living room. He continued to fuck her all summer long, but pose as my boyfriend in our happy relationship.
And I let him. I wanted the pictures of me in a bikini being tossed over the shoulder of my hot boyfriend much more than I wanted someone to hold me as I fell asleep.
I had tons of pictures from that summer.
Not an ounce of trust.
I didn’t know what I had done to deserve so much continual rejection, but I was determined to pick myself up and keep going. After all, this was college, I would tell myself. It doesn’t mean anything.
College was coming to a close when Dave and I were four months into our relationship. Our love started out as best friendship – the kind of partnering you pay 13.00 to watch in a movie theater on a Friday night. I was sure this was it. I surrendered and waved the white flag, fully prepared to leap.
“I’m ready,” I breathed.
“Ok,” he kissed my forehead and pushed forward.
I tightened up.
“Babe, relax,” he said.
I started breathing in and out, in and out.
“Is it in?” I asked, wincing.
A single tear rolled down my face. I was twenty two fucking years old with the sexual capability of a senior in high school. I felt like a fucking idiot. Why did I think this would be so fucking easy?
“Just fucking put it in, Dave.”
And then I felt it. Immediately my legs closed and went into fetal position and I kicked Dave off of me, the balls of my feet against his chest.
“What the HELL?!” he shouted, “Are you fucking out of your mind?”
“I AM NOT DOING THIS,” I screamed, “I can’t. It hurts. I’m not ready. I just can’t. I can’t do this, Dave.”
He stared at me.
“My body won’t let me,” I whispered.
Days and weeks and months passed by. Seasons ran their course, semesters ended, final grades were received.
“Do you wanna try, babe?”
“Um…maybe,” I’d say, but then we wouldn’t.
A year had come and gone and Dave stopped asking, and I stopped trying to put tampons in or finger myself with lube or even read up on “the issue”.
Our relationship became tense and unloving. It was strained. I found myself in a mindset that I imagined infertile women were in when they’d see their pregnant friends, the ones who “weren’t even trying to have a baby.” I’d watch shows like Teen Mom, or hear my 17 year old cousin ask me for sex advice and I’d become beyond agitated.
I wanted to shake them and tell them they were way too young to be having sex. And I wanted to shake myself because I WASN’T too young. But I couldn’t do it.
Dave eventually did leave me, citing “you need to learn how to fuck” as the largest of our irreconcilable differences in our almost three year long relationship.
I became his survivor story. I was the sentence said over tall glasses of Blue Moon in dark bars with friends.
“I can’t believe you haven’t fucked in 3 years, dude.”
“I know,” he’d say.
“We need to get you some pussy, dude.”
“I know,” he’d say.
No longer a lover. No longer a friend. Just someone he never fucked.
And now I lie in bed awake almost every night in my apartment alone. I think about the secrets I won’t tell people, I think about the guys who I won’t go home with. I think about the amount of time it will take for a guy to become invested in me for him to not want to leave when I explain this ridiculous fear that manifests within me.
I think about the marriage I want, and the children I want. I think about how it must feel to be loved unconditionally for every flaw.
And I think about the fear of letting go and letting someone in. And I think about how not metaphorical that idea is.
I think about that conversation with my OB/GYN 2 years ago. I think about how I drove home that day, determined to figure out my fears and my anxiety and my thoughts as soon as possible. I think about how 2 years ago I swore that in 2 years, I’d be fine. I’d be on track.
And then I think about how quickly two years can come and go.
Note: some of you may recognize parts of this story. I ask that you please respect the thin veneer of anonymity I’ve created by posting this here and only reply in the comments here, on this post. Thank you.
Why am I always the reliable one? I’m tired of people depending on me.
When my ex and I first got together, I announced that I was going to be teacher as a means to support my novel-writing. She thought that sounded swell, so she was going to be a nurse to support her art. That lasted a year or so. She finally had a little mental “snap” and quit school, just two classes short of a degree in English and art.
“If it’s what you want,” I said, “then do it.”
A friend later claimed that my now-ex had “supported” me as I went through grad school. Wrong. I worked full-time through grad school just as I had through college. I brought in at least half of our income. I paid my bills. On time, no less.
My ex’s little “snap” got worse. There were times she was catatonic on the couch. I pleaded. I begged. As a last resort, I yelled and that seemed to be what she wanted at that moment. Not something I could do ongoing – so I pleaded and begged her to get counseling. “Sure,” was the response, but it never happened. She met someone else. He convinced her to get help. So she did. For him.
She showed me a journal entry not long after she started therapy. The first blow was when she said that I was her financial stability while the other guy met her emotional needs. I thought this was her way of announcing she wanted a divorce. Apparently, however, she didn’t see anything wrong with this and pointed to the most disturbing part of the entry – “This, THIS is what I wanted you to really see!” This was the part about how she was so full of love that she loved everyone, and more than that, that she could bed anyone. Including her mother and grandmother.
We went back to her counselor to answer the question that had been posed the previous week: why are you married? My answer was: I want a divorce. There was just no coming back from that journal entry. Not when she couldn’t see how screwed up it was. Not when she only thought of me as her financial stability.
My next wife couldn’t believe I’d put up with so much from the ex, much less for ten years. But I don’t believe you leave just because someone is ill. I stick to the commitments I make and I take that responsibility seriously.
My current wife moved in with me because, well, because she was falling apart and because I keep things together. It’s what I do, what I’ve done since I was very small. We fell in love. And then we got catastrophic news – I had cancer. No health insurance, not even breaking $20,000 a year, despite having a coveted professional job at a very prestigious place. My new wife worked, but didn’t have a career and was not sure what she wanted to do next. We were dead broke.
But just as I fought my way through childhood sexual abuse, I beat the shit out of the cancer as well. About then, I was offered full-time employ at another prestigious organization. I thought I had a career. I began to relax into my life.
We fussed over the hours I kept. We fussed because I have difficulties taking breaks and tend to work myself into a state of exhaustion. We fussed over keeping the house picked up. We fussed over what to do on vacations.
We never really fought or had an outright argument, not really. We were good at dialoguing and compromising. I’m not saying sometimes there weren’t sometimes emphatic words, but we worked hard at being reasonable and at not actually yelling.
Until I woke up one day and realized that I felt like I’d made all the compromises.
Please note that I said I felt like I’d made all the compromises. I don’t think that’s strictly true; I’m sure she has her list.
I lost my beloved career. Part of me thinks it’s because she complained about the hours I kept. But I have the feeling that’s not true – there were political reasons for getting rid of someone like me, many of them. But I can’t help that feeling ….
I found a new job eventually. It was dull and boring and I said I was only doing it until she was done with school and ready to head to graduate school. Then I could – perhaps – afford to be more picky with my choice of employ. So I waited. And I grew to love my job. The longer I worked there, the more they fitted tasks to me instead of trying to fit me into a particular little round hole when I’m so obviously a triangle. She asked me to quit talking about it because she hated her job.
She had one class left. The one class I was most fit to help her with. But she put it off. Dropped out. Took it by correspondence class, but then didn’t keep up with the work. And somehow, still got her diploma in the mail.
But she didn’t apply to grad school.
She continued at the job she hated. Insisted that there were no jobs in her field. Her workplace is making her sick constantly, but rather than look for any job just to get out of there – even a temporary job instead of something in her career field – she continues with this one. Fusses about it.
The job I’d started out hating but had grown to enjoy and was launching a new career for me, abruptly and unexpectedly closed just before the economy really tanked. I eventually found a new job at the most dysfunctional company I can imagine and have spend the last three and a half years trying to find something else locally.
And now she has completely folded in on herself. It’s been painful to watch in every single way. Neither of us are outgoing people but she used to go out with friends. I realized the other day not only do I not have any friends (long-standing issue having to do with my shyness and social confusion, not with her), but she no longer has friends either. It’s like pulling teeth to get her to agree to go out without me, even just to the grocery store to pick up something that she needs. (Don’t assume I don’t go to the grocery store – I do. I’m talking about a run for the one vital ingredient she forgot or the one medicine she ran out of two days ago and keeps forgetting she needs until it’s time to take it again.)
Like my ex-wife, she, too, has ground to a halt. Stopped functioning in any meaningful way. She wants praise when she remembers to do a load of laundry. (Again, please don’t think I don’t have chores – I take care of the dishes and kitchen, she does the laundry. We have split all of the household chores.) I appreciate having chores done – but I don’t see the need to congratulate her every time she does the things she is supposed to do. I don’t want to be thanked for doing the dishes or scooping out the cat box. Those are my chores; I am supposed to do them.
Now, if we’ve been really busy and she makes an extra effort to do 18 loads of laundry in an evening (I exaggerate!), then I do tell her thank you. That genuine, kind of surprised, wow, honey, that was a lot, thank you!
But I’ve felt like she’s disappearing. I’ve pointed it out, cautiously, gingerly. I’ve talked around asking her about counseling, but she has always insisted that talk therapy does nothing for her. She finally announced six or so months ago that she decided she needs counseling. But she never followed through.
And now? Since the middle of August she has been to work twice. TWICE.
She went a week and a half before telling me. Turns out work called and left a message on the machine telling her that she needed to contact them and get put on short-term disability. Or -the implied threat- lose her job. She finally did contact her doctor. She was put on short-term disability. Had a slew of doctor appointments. The “stress specialist” said given her symptoms and her general twitchy demeanor, she is genetically predisposed to panic attacks. He’s giving her exercises to do. She’s also been prescribed medicines to take to help when it gets bad. The stress doctor would rather she stay off work for a total of four weeks since he started seeing her, but for some reason, she was to go back last week, after just two weeks. She made it two days (I think. I fear it was only one day, but I don’t remember and I’m afraid to ask.)
She sits at home and honestly, it’s become a cliche. She reads romance novels and pets the cats. I have to ask her if she will please do the smallest amount of one of her chores. She is home all day, doing nothing. She doesn’t do whatever small chore until after I get home from work. (Except for the day in which her chore was to make a phone call.) I have had to do several of her chores just to make sure they get done – on top of my chores, on top of my work week, on top of my work-from-home extra job. I have cringed when she makes a commitment at the church, fearful that she will fall down and I will have to keep that commitment for her (or put up with the fallout) – and been amazed when she keeps a commitment made to others … but not the ones she makes to me.
I am wracking my brain to figure out what I’ve done wrong. Did I just fall in love with women who happened to have similar issues? Did I do something wrong to trigger such behaviors? Am I so toxic that I poison them somehow?
I fear that she will lose her job soon. There are a lot of plans we made together which were time-sensitive which will die completely if this happens, including one that I have wanted with all my heart and soul since I was a very small child, but if it doesn’t get put into motion within the next year, the window of opportunity will slam permanently shut. She’s the one who told me we could do that, not to give up hope.
And I can’t help but feeling that this breakdown is tied to the timing of that plan. That her heart is not in it, but she can’t tell me and so the breakdown. The problem is, I had given up on that plan. I had put it aside completely and given up on it. And she brought that plan back to life two months ago. Dragged it out of its moth balls, dusted it off and set wheels in motion so that I believed with all my heart that it would happen after all.
And now I fear it will not. And I fear that we will not survive as a couple if her breakdown kills that plan.
I don’t understand inactivity. And so I have a difficult time understanding how she can just not walk into work every day. I am trying to be supportive. But for God’s sake, people are relying on you to go to work every day. I am relying on her to go to work every day. I do it. I hate my current job, but I go every day. I don’t understand how she can not only not go to work, but then not accomplish anything at home either. There are so many projects that need to be done. And she reads trash fiction all day.
I am trying to be supportive. She needs me to be supportive so she can get through this. And as long as she is working to get better….
But I am so very tired and this scenario just feels so very, very familiar.
And I am so tired of being the responsible one upon whom everyone relies.
How do I make you see that being depressed is not something I have control over? How do I make you see that when the darkness is creeping in, I feel alone and I need an anchor?
I can’t just “be happy”. I can’t just change my negative thinking. I can’t just change the fact that I feel like a failure. I need a lifeline.
You are that person for me. You are my rock, my oasis. But that doesn’t mean that the darkness does not creep in. It doesn’t mean the thoughts cease.
It does mean that I will cling harder to you while pushing you away. And I hate that about me. Because I love you. Because I know you deserve better. Because I know in the one year we’ve been together, I have come to trust you more than I have anyone in 16 years. Because we’ve walked through fire together.
But my mind won’t let me see that enough. My mind tells me, “He doesn’t love you.” “He will leave you.” “You will be alone.” And instead of looking into your eyes and hearing you tell me you love me and planning our future together, I listen to the voices. My mind isn’t trying to protect me. My mind has gotten used to the negative thoughts and now thrives on them.
Unfortunately, the voices haven’t always came from my own head. They’ve come from bad relationships. Some that lasted only 10 months, one that lasted almost 6 years. Six years of hell. Six years that left me scarred. Time may heal wounds, but the scars are still visible. As the years have passed by, I have tackled one issue after another that I carry as baggage. But I still have the depression. I still have the anxiety. I still have the fear. And that’s when the darkness begins to creep in. And the cycle begins anew….
I want to be a better person. Not just for you. Not just for my kids. But for me.
But I need your help and your understanding that these walls are not about you, they’re about me.
… I don’t know why you don’t get it, are you stupid? You pretending to be naive? No… maybe not?
You ask me to skype, see my family… I-don’t-want-to.
It’s been around 9 months since I stormed out of your house, remember that night? That you were towering over me… beating me up as my son cried in the other room. Don’t yet? I wish I didn’t have to. Because that’s all I think about when we e-mail or text.
You complain you haven’t seen my son… but do you hear me complaining about you being a shitty mom? A shitty support system? A shitty person to me? Do you hear me complaining right now about how much lack of care you STILL show over my emotions? How fucking selfish you still are?
And you wonder why I’m pissed at you…
I live a sea away, and I still sometimes feel your grip over me… Your constant pressure to have me answer your questions, constant pressure over your emotions threatening to drown me.
Drowning… Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped inside this little bottle. I can’t speak of whats wrong… You’re whats wrong. And I can’t even shoo you away.
Do you ever ask me how I’m doing? How I’m handling my new marriage? Have you ever had the courage to speak about the things you have done to me? The way you have hurt me?
No, all you are crazy about is seeing my son. And that’s why I deny it to you! I scheduled to skype tomorrow, and I am not going to! Because you’re a shitty person and I am PISSED off.
Because whenever I think of making you happy, I remember the times you put your foot down so I could be unhappy, so I could be drowned with more exhaustion, so I could be more lost.
Because you never made the effort to really help me!
You know what? I’m beginning to not care about you. Not care about what happened. I’m beginning to actually move on, but not forget! Don’t think yourself lucky this time, because to me, you’re growing to be a stranger… A bad one at that.
In your eyes I am completely evil. But remember, this is what you showed me to be.