I often write about the mistakes I’ve made. In fact, I would say the majority of this website consists of all the stupid, ridiculous shit that I’ve done over the years. Some of my mistakes are admittedly funny and I know you guys are rooting for me even as I make an ass of myself. But some of them are also sad and tragic and when I depress you, I sometimes wish I could take it all back. Still, some others have convinced you all that I’m worthy of your hatred and perhaps you’re right.
More than once, people have asked me why I write here. Why I feel compelled to publicly show myself at my worst while dutifully ignoring any positive contributions I’ve made. Why I insist on embarrassing myself or dredging up the past or obsessing over things that shouldn’t matter. Most of the time, my answer is standard: To entertain. Hey, if my foolishness kept someone from being bored at work for 5 minutes, then maybe it wasn’t all in vain, right?
But while I’m giving my standard answer, I’m also simultaneously wondering if it’s correct. Because deep down, in the very back of my mind, a single word keeps popping into my consciousness: penance. In fact, whenever I find myself idly thinking about my website, I inadvertently begin chanting that word silently. Penance, penance, penance. It’s like the beat of a drum. Penance, penance, penance.
I am not a religious person. So when one has already made amends to the offended parties, what does one do when that fails to relieve them of their guilt? How does one continue to apologize without a confession box? Who does one tell when they lack a white robed figure to give them prayers as homework?
Maybe this website is my confession box. And these stories can be my prayers. And you can all be my white robed figures clicking your tongues disapprovingly at me and assigning me homework until you’ve decided I’ve apologized enough.
Or maybe this is just a website and you are all just a bunch of people bored at work and all this melodramatic bullshit I’m writing now is just a weak ass way to stall.
Yes. That’s it. I’m stalling. For all my posturing and dramatizing about this story being the biggest mistake of my life and this other story being completely humiliating, I know I’m ultimately full of shit. After all, the stories I tell now I’ve already told a million times. Some of them, I’ve dressed up in funny hats and feather boas in order to make them more palatable to my audience. Sometimes, when you dump a pile of potpourri on a pile of shit, it doesn’t stink so bad.
But I also have stories I’ve never told. Stories I can’t bring myself to speak of. Stories that, unless I’m drunk or under the influence of some chemical, I can’t even bring myself to think about. The shame simply cuts too deep.
I’m trying to tell you one of those stories now, but I’m obviously having trouble. Hence, the shitty analogies where I relate this website to Catholicism. Of all things.
Well, I guess I better get on with it already.
Shortly after I divorced my first husband, I decided to get an apartment with a friend from work. Her name was Melanie and she was my age, 18, and eager to be away from her parents. I, too, was excited by the prospect of living with someone strictly for fun and not because I was legally obligated to. Melanie and I found an inexpensive 2 bedroom apartment about 10 minutes from campus and wasted no time in decking it out to reflect our incredibly modern, women of the world-like taste.
Melanie and I were both typical, young, newly single girls and like most girls in that particular predicament, we desperately wanted a sexy new boyfriend to match our new apartment. So we went shopping together, hoping to find the perfect shade of lipstick or the right blouse to attract a new guy. On our days off, we strutted around campus, idly licking ice cream cones and giggling whenever someone looked in our direction. We spent our nights in bars, living it up on the dance floor, hoping to woo Mr. Right with suggestive dancing and short skirts.
It probably would have worked, too, if we would have just given it some time. But we were young and impatient and completely impractical. A mere two weeks after ‘Mission: Get New Boyfriends’ began, we decided to kick it up a notch.
“We should get a puppy,” Melanie announced one day.
“A puppy?” I questioned, “For what?”
“When you’re walking with a cute puppy,” Melanie insisted, “Even the shy guys will stop and talk to you. You just have to make sure it’s not a sissy girly dog. We’ve got to get a man’s best friend sort of dog.”
“I was thinking a lab or something.”
“Who would take care of it?”
“We’d take care of it together. We’d split it 50/50.”
“Fuck then, let’s go get a dog!”
We found and bought a dog that day. A beautiful black lab we elected to call ‘Sandler.’ We pooled our money and bought Sandler all the things he would need: food dishes, collars, leashes, squeaky toys…the whole nine yards. Sandler was cute as hell and by our estimation, with him by our sides; we would have men knocking our door down by the end of the week.
Now I’ve done some pretty ridiculous and impulsive things in my lifetime. Oftentimes, I’ve even wished I could go back in time and kick my own ass. But buying a dog, a living creature, for no other purpose than to use to attract men, takes the proverbial stupidity cake. If I could go back in time, I would smash my own face in with a brick.
Even worse, for all of Melanie’s proclamations about how we’d split the responsibilities 50/50, it quickly became quite clear she had no desire whatsoever to raise a puppy. She walked Sandler once and never had anything to do with him ever again. He pulled too much and made it impossible for her to talk to guys.
I was in college. I had a full time job. And suddenly, I had this baby animal to care for. Not only that, but I didn’t know jack shit about raising a dog. Hell, even if I had the time (Which I most certainly didn’t), I didn’t have the know-how. I thought as long as I made sure Sandler had plenty of food and water, everything else would work out naturally.
The thing about Sandler is he had terrible separation anxiety. He bonded to me quickly and completely and every time I’d leave the house (Or even just the room), he’d immediately go into hysterics. He’d cry, howl, and claw at the door. He’d chew things up and destroy anything he could get his paws on. I couldn’t go to the bathroom with the door closed without Sandler losing his little doggy mind.
Hindsight is a bitch and now that I reflect on it, I realize Sandler’s problems with separation anxiety probably had a lot to do with the fact that no one was ever home. Melanie and I both had class and jobs and Sandler was lucky to get an hour of human interaction per day. No wonder the poor pooch cried until he was hoarse whenever I left the room. He was lonely.
I didn’t take him out enough and I wondered why he had accidents in the kitchen. It never crossed my mind that he was just a baby and physically unable to hold his urine for 10-12-14 hours a day. I never exercised him and I wondered why he ran around the house like a lunatic seemingly unable to calm down. I rarely spent any time playing with him and I wondered why he was so needy all of the time. Why couldn’t he just lay by my feet quietly? Why did he have to whine and cry and crawl into my lap no matter how many times I pushed him away? Why didn’t he understand I had homework to do?
Sandler loved me. That dog worshiped the ground I walked on. The look in his eyes when I walked in the room, an adoring look of reverence, as if I were the Coolest Person in the World, broke my heart sometimes.
Mainly because I knew I didn’t deserve it. If I would have just picked up one book about puppies, attended one training class, rearranged my schedule only slightly, put forth the slightest bit of effort, I could I have given Sandler a better life. But I didn’t. I was too self absorbed, too immature, too callous, and too irresponsible to worry about anything other than myself.
A few months later, Melanie decided she couldn’t afford to live on her own and moved back in with her parents. I was slightly annoyed with her because she didn’t even offer to take the dog. I would have rather her stiff me on her portion of the electric bill.
When Melanie left, I didn’t think it would make much of a difference when it came to Sandler. She never did anything with him anyway, so it wasn’t like I was missing out on her help. What I didn’t consider was that her presence in the home when she was there and I was not did slightly ease the pain of Sandler’s separation anxiety. After she left, it got ten times worse.
Every day, when I came home from work or class, I would have a god awful mess waiting for me. Sandler tore up the carpet. Sandler opened the cabinet doors and scattered sacks of flour, sugar, and spices all over the floor. Sandler stole homework assignments from my desk and ripped them to pieces. Sandler ate my couch, made mincemeat of every pair of shoes and I owned, and somehow managed to tear the bathroom door from its hinges.
After two hours of class, I would be rewarded with 3 hours worth of cleaning. A day of work would earn me a paycheck full of things I would have to replace. Two things happen to a dog when it becomes bored and lonely: It either gets aggressive or it gets destructive. Sandler’s level of destruction was enough to land me in the poorhouse, if I didn’t get evicted from my apartment first. It was…overwhelming.
One day, I came home after a particularly exhausting day at work and was greeted with a mess so ample in size that it literally knocked the wind right out of me. Every book I owned had been shredded. The contents of the garbage can had been strewn throughout the house. The furniture had been chewed beyond recognition. Deep claw-like gashes decorated the front door. Every pillow, every article of clothing, everything, everything within reach of this dog had been destroyed. In places, Sandler had even managed to eat holes in the drywall.
I closed my front door and sank to my knees, utterly defeated. Sandler, with happiness in his eyes and his tail wagging wildly, sat next to me earnestly licking my hand. I refused to pet him. I refused to look at him. Instead, I just sat by the door in stony silence.
After awhile, Sandler started whining and nudging his big, goofy head under my arm. I recoiled from him, convinced he was to blame for the mayhem he created, mentally refusing to take any sort of responsibility for the state of mind I forced on him with my neglect. I told myself I was the victim. I told myself I couldn’t take it anymore. I told myself I had to do something and do it quick before I lost my fucking mind.
Then, I took his collar off.
Sandler didn’t seem to mind. Hell, he merely looked thrilled that I finally elected to acknowledge him. At that point, something cold and distant and almost mechanical in me took over. I stood up and opened my front door. Purposeful and determined, I grabbed Sandler by the scruff of his neck and shoved him outside. I slammed the door in his face and marched over to the window to see what he would do.
He sat by the door for a second or two, confused, before he spied a group of neighborhood kids next door. With a playful bark, he ran off to join them for some much needed playtime.
With a grunt of relief, I walked briskly over to the telephone, picked it up, and realized it was dead. Sandler had chewed the cord to pieces. Furious, I hurled it across the room.
“SON OF A BITCH!”
I took a moment to calm myself before I went upstairs to use the phone in my bedroom. I called information and requested the number for the city dog warden.
“Hello. I’d like to report a stray dog. It’s outside running loose and there are children out there. I’m worried that it might bite one of them.”
After relaying my location and a quick description of the ‘stray,’ I went back downstairs to watch what would happen. Twenty minutes later, the dog warden showed up and took Sandler away.
My goal with this story was to be totally honest about what happened. I wanted to tell this story without smearing some imaginary lipstick on it to make it easier to take which is my usual method of operation when I tell a story. Sandler deserves better than that.
So, it is with my deepest regret that I admit to you now that when the dog warden drove away with Sandler happily barking in his truck, I felt absolutely nothing but relief. I wasn’t sad to see him go. I did not consider the ways in which I failed him. I didn’t lament the cowardly way I dealt with what I saw as nothing more than ‘a problem.’
Instead, I cleaned my house, replaced my belongings, and refused to think about him. I forced him out of my mind completely, like he was nothing more than skinned knee or a stubbed toe. Slightly painful, yet completely forgettable.
I didn’t know this at the time, but the dog warden in my county generally puts the bewildered stray dogs in a cage. If no one claims them in 3 days, they fall victim to a needle. They die cold and alone for no other reason than someone…someone like me…failed to see them as living creatures with wants and needs, but instead treated them as nothing more than inconveniences.
If I could choke down the shame with a bottle of whiskey or a handful of pain pills, I would. But you can’t erase something like that. You can’t make it pretty. You can’t justify it or make excuses for it or give yourself a pass. You can’t even say you’re sorry because your victim is dead.
To this day, I look back and have trouble believing that was really me. To behave so coldly and callously towards a helpless creature who loved me seems totally unconscionable. What was I thinking? How could I have been so irresponsible? So uncaring? How could I have been so fucking unbelievably selfish?
It was something my Mother would have done.
When you grow up with a Mother like mine, the fear that you might somehow end up just like her is a fear that trumps all others. The idea is a tragedy. A nightmare. A fate worse than death. Years later, while having a meal with your friends, you’ll hear yourself laughing and suddenly freeze. You’ll think to yourself, “She used to laugh like that” and quickly excuse yourself to the bathroom.
You’ll spend some time sobbing in a bathroom stall before you wash your face and rejoin your friends. No one will understand why you are suddenly so morose or why you’ve lost your appetite. Rather than tell them the truth (that you caught yourself laughing like your Mother and therefore fell in hate with yourself as a result) you make up some half baked theory about food poisoning so you can go home early and lie in bed staring at the ceiling for the rest of the night.
I killed that dog. I may not have slid the needle into Sandler’s vein myself, but I did kill him. And, in doing so, I became my Mother’s daughter.
I will never, ever, for as long as I live, forgive myself for what I’ve done.
Hell, it took me until today to even admit to it.
Penance, penance, penance.
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