Recently, I not only had the privilege of performing a reading of Welcome to the Hotel Yalta for the Alchemy Double Feature at Napa Bar and Art Gallery in Prague (see above picture), but got to spend a glorious eight days in the golden city with my twelve year-old daughter, Charlotte.
The reading was on a Monday, only a day or so after we’d landed in the Czech Republic, and I aimed to offer my little girl a memorable night of friends, family, great prose and off-beat poetry. We donned our virtual Berets, and I sat her down at a long, wooden table with a big, fat Coke, shamelessly showing her off to my Prague friends. Up until that night, most of them had only seen her in pictures or heard about her exploits via social media.
Having brought Charlotte’s older brother to a similar event in Prague a couple of years earlier, I also looked forward to showing off a bit for her. Giving her a taste of what her mother does apart from driving car-pool, picking up cupcakes, and nagging the whole lot of Dougherty children to practice piano.
Chauffeur and buzz-kill are not the only descriptions I want ascribed to me – even if used affectionately.
And since Charlotte herself is a creative writer, I thought the experience would be good for her – enriching. I know I never wanted the night to end. Full, frothy mug in hand, waxing nostalgic about the “old Prague” of my twenties, I turned to my daughter at one point… and watched her yawn. She tried to cover it up, but when I pressed her, she admitted she was dying to go get a hamburger and escape the whole “booooring” scene.
You can’t please everyone – least of all your own children. And as the late playwright, dissident and former Czech President Vaclav Havel once said, “Work for something because it is good, not just because it has a chance to succeed.”
I’m not entirely sure I made the grade on either parts.
After the Alchemy Double Feature, I laid in bed – still wide awake with jet lag – and tried to envisage what the rest of our week would be like. I made a valiant effort (after several Pilsners) to recall what struck me most the first time I came to Eastern Europe – the fairytale anatomy of the buildings, the smells of dog poop and sausages, the tiny, gnome-like old ladies who pushed to the front of the line with well-earned meanness – and how it would be possible to translate my experiences and make them relevant for my daughter.
How could I describe to her that lingering sense of otherness that comes from knowing a place as well as the geography of your own hand? And would it even matter to her if I did? I know Prague’s spirits, her hard-fought victories and crushing defeats. I know her sins. Especially her sins.
And she knows mine.
It is an intimacy that follows you around for a while. It’s not quite like the emotional hangover that comes on after bumping into a former lover. More like the act of remembering – truly remembering – a long dead friend whose absence can still be felt inside your heart chamber.
Except that my daughter has never had a lover, or been forced to navigate the loss of someone beyond an aged grandparent who she only saw a couple of times a year. She loves history, though, and has a wild imagination for its characters and exploits.
So, that was a start.
She understood when I told her that there is a time-travel aspect to visiting an old haunt. Especially a haunt that’s been around for well over a thousand years. Prague is an ancient soul, one that held me in the palm of her hand during some of my most tumultuous years. I do have a sense when I’m there, that part of me is following around the ghost of my younger self.
Years ago, when I vowed to take each of my children to Prague on the cusps of their thirteenth birthdays – I decided I wanted to craft an over-arching theme for our journeys. First, I took my eldest, my only son, and we had a magnificent time. We did the touristy things, of course, but we also visited my mother’s village, saw my father’s farm, which had just been sold after hundreds of years in our care, and even went to a Burlesque show.
My objective then was to bequeath a sense of family legacy to my son, a notion of honor that would launch him into young manhood.
Charlotte, however, is very different from her brother, and not just because she’s a girl. Family legacies aren’t really her thing. She wants to chart her own course and while fascinated by the past, she chafes at feeling encumbered by it. Since her infancy, she has demanded my full attention all the time, and has never been content to sit in companionable silence together. Her brother, on the other hand, could go three days without ever saying a word.
To my glowing pride, amazement and exhaustion, Charlotte squeezes every bit of juice out of any given situation. “This is my trip,” she let me know – big smile, but with hands on hips to convey she meant business.
It was daunting to re-imagine the trip for her, bring something new to it, so that it wasn’t just the same tour I’d planned with her older sibling. She wouldn’t abide that anyway, and there was no doubt in my mind that she’d be keeping a private ledger, comparing his trip to hers.
Did I mention she’s a middle child?
Nor did I want to be like the parent who drags her kid to her college town, telling cringy stories about where she puked after the “wildest Halloween party ever.” How she and her friends dressed as Van Halen and jumped off the roof of the cafeteria! Get it? Jump-ed! My daughter loves me, but I know she will never, ever think I’m cool and I have no intention of striving – in vain – to change her mind.
As I stared up at the ceiling in the dark that night after the reading, it occurred to me how little interest I had in going back and creeping down my own personal memory lane. Almost as little as my daughter had in following me there. I’ve grown up and away from the young woman I was when I called Prague home. Even if I hold great affection for that old me and some of my more colorful adventures and misadventures. They were at once fun, scary, weird, devastating and glamorous.
So, after subjecting Charlotte to my book reading, I decided to steer as clear as possible from stories of my days in theater, the hours I spent in smoky pubs talking Cold War shenanigans, my travels through the backcountry and affairs of the heart. How boooooring.
I told Charlotte instead about history, the fickle nature of politics, the centuries-old gravestones, the art and architecture that spoke not just to its own generation, but to humanity at large. Things that transcend.
In short, I endeavored to make Prague hers, ours. A place she could adopt into her heart for its own sake.
So, on our last day, when I asked my daughter what she wanted to do, she didn’t hesitate. “I want to get watercolors and go paint somewhere.” Her enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by the rainy weather that visited us out of the blue – another Prague feature that has spanned the ages. But she wasn’t deterred.
We bunkered down at a series of coffee houses, ordering tea and goulash, capturing the people, the cobblestone streets outside the arched windows, the intricate fleur de lys patterns molded onto the high ceilings. I’d never done that when I lived there and it was truly one of the best days I’d ever spent in the city. Just me and my daughter, painting pictures – her’s much better than mine.
“Can we move here, dad?” Charlotte begged my husband over Facetime late that afternoon.
I turned back to the view from our balcony. The streets were damp and glossy, and the smell of exhaust fumes and baking bread wafted up.
“Perhaps, Mr. President,” I whispered. “We’ve managed to do something both good and successful.”
My husband and I celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary last July. As far as commemorating the occasion, to be honest, we fell pretty short.
In fact, we both forgot. And this was hardly an isolated incident.
There have been years when the only time we “remembered” was when we played our phone messages and discovered several “Happy Anniversary” tributes from friends and family. Joyful, wistful ruminations about how much fun was had at our nuptuals and such.
So last summer, when we slipped the occasion yet again, we hung our heads in mock shame and whispered our usual mantra – “Please tell me you didn’t get me anything.”
It’s true, our wedding deserves better homage than we have given it. It was a wonderful occasion in every possible way. I was giddy, with not a flash of cold feet, and my husband called his “I do” loud and strong, like an Amen! at church. Our friend Dave wore his Marine Corps dress uniform in honor of my husband’s late father, a Greatest Generation Marine, eliciting wails and tears from all seven of my sisters-in law. The toasts from our loved ones got longer and funnier as our guests got drunker. There was a hand-stand contest in the women’s bathroom, several sing-a-longs, and a few Irish cry-a-thons. I’m pretty sure the bartender went home with one of our guests.
In the wee hours of the morning, we drove off into the sunrise feeling like we’d just had the best night of our lives. It was a glorious start to a love affair that would grow us up, bring three new humans into the world, and both validate and challenge every notion of what we thought marriage was going to be about.
Yet, while we have been truly remiss at celebrating milestones like anniversaries, we do pay attention.
As a couple, we’ve been together for twenty-one years. Roughly 3 1/2 years apart in age, we’ve grown up with the same movies, TV shows and music, and can reminisce together about having spent the latter part of the 1970s in “Six Million Dollar Man” slow motion, while anthem rock blared from our teen siblings’ radios. We share a love of literature (namely Czech) and can usually come to a compromise on tastes in furniture, vacation spots and pets. We have laughed with each other all through this journey.
And as the indignities of aging have begun to creep up, we laugh at each other, too. The creaky ankles, the gastrointestinal rejection of foods we’ve always enjoyed no problemo, becoming out of touch with popular culture. You know, that weird feeling when you look at the cover of a “People” magazine and have certainly heard of the celebrity who graces the cover, but are not acquainted with their body of work, or lack thereof. Furthermore, you don’t care.
I’m both humbled by and amazed at how successful our union has been so far, especially now that I know how easily things could have gone wrong. Like all of those times we moved and had to make real sacrifices for the other. Career sacrifices. Lifestyle choices. We took big risks in starting a business, chasing dreams, in adding more children into the mix. Things didn’t always work out the way we’d planned.
We’ve had to navigate our youngest child’s on-going medical woes, the fall-out that came from a birth defect that arrived in the form of a rare, cancerous tumor.
And we’ve marched on through this muddy, emotional backwater while friends – people who married with the same joy and hope in their hearts – broke apart over what appeared to be minor grievances. A series of tiny papercuts, instead of big events like extramarital affairs or long habits of knock-down drag-out fights. Although a few of our friends had those, too.
There, but for the grace of God, go we.
From what I’ve seen, the breakup of a marriage can be as simple as two people who have settled into living separate lives with few common interests. A slow drift, rather than a short, sharp shock. No cataclysmic event that punctuated years of anger, dissatisfaction and an erosion of trust. I’ve often wondered when exactly those lovers made the decision to just do their own thing, and if they had even the slightest inkling it would be the kiss of death for their marriage. A first cigarette that would turn into a two pack-a-day habit, and then ultimately, well, you know…
Little things can add up to either build up or chip away at a bond. And each, seemingly small decision can be the difference between growing together or apart.
It is an awesome responsibility, a marriage.
It’s why recently, when my husband developed a light snore that happened to coincide with a nasty streak of insomnia on my part – one that had been plaguing me like a swarm of locusts – I took a hard swallow and held firm. I told him that under no circumstances would we remedy the situation with separate bedrooms and conjugal visits, as he suggested.
“It would only be for a while,” he said. He was getting really tired of my nudging him every time he started to make his raspy noises and I don’t blame him. “And we can make it fun.” Wink-wink.
I thought about it briefly, and then said, “Nuh-uh.”
That night, I sucked it up and ignored his snoring, letting him have a good night’s sleep without the feel of my hand pushing him onto his side.
Because I’ve seen it happen before. Once you move into that other space, it’s too easy to like it there. Having the whole bed to yourself, with no extraneous noises and clanging midnight visits to the bathroom. No cold feet or sharp toenails.
And once that separate space has been established, it’s even easier to start taking other seperate spaces. Especially since that one worked out so well. You might start going out alone more, not watching that tv series your spouse likes so much, but that you find just meh. You might make love less frequently or stop altogether. “Making a date of it” requires planning, and planning is hard with three kids in the house.
I also think that without those little reminders of intimacy – the brush of a hand on your hip while you finish that last chapter of the book you’re obsessed by, a kiss on the shoulder, spooning – it’s more convenient to find comfort in your own cave. Do with less.
You might even think you like it better there.
Until that day when you recognize that you and your beloved have whittled away at what made you a couple, leaving you with little more than common space, common chores, and memories of the way laughter used to echo in the house.
That’s why, after seventeen and a half years of marriage, instead of making up a guest bedroom for victims or perpetrators of excessive snoring, we decided to go mattress shopping instead. We’ve had our mattress for as long as we’ve been wed and figured there have probably been some improvements in the slumber industry – one’s that might even help an insomniac get back to sleep, or lessen those gurgling sounds made by most middle-aged men.
And sure enough – mattresses have come a long way!
My husband and I plopped down on a “Plush” version that felt like heaven and had a price tag more akin to real estate than furniture. But we figured it would make up for all the anniversary presents we haven’t and won’t be giving each other.
And for seventeen more years, it’s worth it.
I devoted the entire month of February to love for the simple reason that it is the most important thing in all of existence. It is what makes us whole, human. Without it, we are mere mortals with no hope of a spritual dimension, an eternal, an other.
Yes, it’s that big. But it’s also deceptively simple.
And because I love you Cold readers so much, I’m going to let you in on a little secret about love. I guarantee this is all you’ll ever have to know about it.
Come closer. I’ll whisper it in your ear. Are you ready?
The thing about true love is that the romance novels are spot on!
They might not be all arty about it, and their dialogue can be downright dreadful. Their plot lines might make us cringe. But they strike at our heart’s deepest desire – sincerely, savagely, with a fist – not an open hand.
And for those of us who have been blessed with love, those sugary-sweet, dog-eared paperbacks are familiar on a blood-level. The way a mother knows every naked emotion that crosses her child’s face.
That’s why I leave you with a good old-fashioned romantic love story. My friend Tim put to pen this lovely memory about his courtship with his wife and published it on his blog some time ago. He was kind enough to let me re-purpose it here.
“The story begins in the summer of 1969.
I was home on a thirty-day leave, my reward from Uncle Sam for re-enlisting to go to Vietnam. Don’t ask about that, it’s something you really don’t want to know. Anyway…. during that thirty days, I spent as much time as I could with a girl named Chris. She had eyes that were a golden brown, and a smile that made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside that I started calling her Sunshine.
Our relationship was pretty normal for Midwestern kids in our situation. We took my dad’s Ford to A&W where we drank root beer, ate potato chips and listened to the radio. We went bowling, and I taught her how to shoot pool. I fancied myself a musician back then, so I played my six-string and sang to her.
It was basic casual dating while I tried desperately to get in her pants.
Thirty days seems like a long time, but it was going by pretty fast, and as the end of my leave approached, it dawned on me just how much I would miss her when I left. I realized that this was the real deal, that not being around her would leave a gaping hole in me… a hole that I wouldn’t be able to fill with anything else. Schemes of how I could hold on to her while I did my time on the other side of the world started buzzing around my brain.
I was nowhere close to being a cultural sophisticate, but I knew that some token of my affection was called for. The run of the mill band of gold with a gemstone sounded too conventional, and I couldn’t afford it anyway. I racked my brain until I arrived at the kind of solution that only a morally bankrupt, socially inept boy from Gary, Indiana could come up with.
We spent a final afternoon at a State Park in Illinois, and I knew that this was the time to do it. As we were walking back to my dad’s car, I took a pop-top pull tab from a can of soda and slid it on her finger. Luckily, she didn’t bust out laughing or snort in disgust.
She just gave me that smile that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside… Sunshine.
Maybe that pop-top didn’t have anything to do with it, but Sunshine and I ended up getting back together when I came home in October of 1970. Pretty close to Christmas of that year I scraped up the money for a real ring with a tiny diamond mounted on it. It wasn’t much by a lot of people’s standards, maybe even laughable, but I liked its simplicity. The next weekend, I made the drive from Fort Knox, Kentucky to Michigan to get her reaction. We drove over to Howard Johnson’s where we drank coffee and ate pie. I pulled out the ring and asked her if she would marry me.
Again, she gave me that smile that always managed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside… and then she said yes.
I guess I really didn’t have a date in mind when I gave her that ring with the tiny diamond on it, but good old Uncle Sam did his part to hurry things along. It wasn’t long before I got orders for Germany. I knew I couldn’t face being away from Sunshine again, so I asked her if she would come with me. She said yes, and we were married a couple of weeks later, in July of 1971.
Like any couple, we had good times and bad times. Money was made and spent. Houses were bought and sold. Children came along, grew up, and left. The stream of time flowed relentlessly on. Memories of who we were back in the summer of 1969 were worn down to pebbles and washed downstream. It’s hard to remember just when, but somewhere in the stream I stopped calling her Sunshine.
Thirty-some years later, I’d forgotten all about that pop-top. Its memory had worked its way downstream until it sat at the bottom of a deep pool of my mind. The pool was muddied with all the other memories that ended up there, many of them worn down until they were smaller than grains of sand.
Then one day at work, some unknown current of thought broke the memory loose and forced it upward through that deep pool. The current was strong. It pushed the memory upward so fast that it broke the surface with a little bloop, then plopped back down into that muddy water. A circle of waves rippled out from where the memory had landed… waves that grew wider and moved along the surface… waves of a memory that tickled my brain until I could suddenly see me giving Sunshine that stupid pop-top, just as clear as the day it happened.
And there I was… grinning inanely in the middle of the day. My coworkers had no idea what was wrong with me, and my boss looked at me like he wanted me to pee in a cup. I ignored them, and just kept grinning stupidly at the memory. For the next few days the thought of that pop-top rattled around inside my head, banging up against the sides until I had to do something to stop the racket.
It took a little time and a bit of subterfuge, but I found out that Chris had actually held on to that pop-top. It was squirreled away in a box with other reminders of my lunacy, high up on a shelf in a closet. I dug it out and took it to a small, family run jewelry store… the kind of place where the husband repaired jewelry and installed watch batteries in the back, while the wife ran the counter. The jeweler’s wife and I exchanged ideas about what to do with the pop-top, and eventually we agreed to make a necklace out of it.
Somehow, the jeweler made a mold of that pop-top, and was able to make an exact copy of it out of gold. On this he mounted a small diamond, then soldered on a loop to run a chain through. His wife helped me pick out a simple gold chain to pass through the loop, and the necklace was complete.
That’s what you see in the picture, the jeweler’s rendition of the pop-top pull-tab that I gave to Sunshine in the summer of 1969. I know it doesn’t look like any piece of jewelry you’ve seen before… you probably think it looks more like some kind of fishing lure… but for some reason or another, I like it.
I gave the new and improved pop-top to Chris as an anniversary present, thirty-four years after I’d put it on her finger for the first time… a rock from the stream of our past that I pulled out and had polished up so we’d remember. She wears it often, and when I see it hanging around her neck it makes me pretty damn proud that she thinks enough of me to wear it, that she thought enough of me to keep that stupid pop-top for all those years in the first place.
And every once in a while, I’ll reach out to touch it… and she’ll give me the smile that still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Sunshine.” –Tim Dittmer
I remember years ago, sitting with a group of lovely new mothers in a “Mommy and Me” class, as we talked about the changes that motherhood had brought into our lives. Most of us were first-timers at this parenthood thing and we got to talking about intimacy. Namely, how to maintain it with our husbands when there was a chubby, adorable, needy, often screaming new family member who was drinking our blood and sucking up all of our attention.
We were each telling funny stories about aborted attempts at romance, when I said something to the effect of, “Here we are, having made this beautiful creature with the love of our lives, and we’ve no time or energy to make any more love.”
I was trying to be funny and encouraging, but one of the women looked up from her new babe and said, “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have married the love of their life.”
Her’s was a brave and painful revelation. I’ve never forgotten it.
I’d met this woman’s husband. He seemed like a great guy and they appeared happy together. They probably were. And yet, there was someone else on her mind. Someone with whom she would never be fighting for a stolen kiss, a caress, a hurried tryst before the inevitable waking sounds of their flesh and blood turned into a full-out wail.
Longing for what might have been is a love story that can be hard to ponder. There is no happy ending pay-off – at least not in the traditional sense. The happiness lies in the past, or in fantasy.
And that’s why the following story broke my heart.
“I dream of previous lives-the one where we’re young and you walked me to the car after your gig so I wouldn’t be alone in the parking lot. One where we met for drinks in the afternoon so that we could have the entire restaurant to ourselves. There’s the time a neighbor dropped by. Before leaving he said, “I saw you two last night. He’s in love with you. His eyes never left you and I could see them dance as you two laughed.”
One sultry night you show me how to play my favorite song. The problem is, I have no talent. You sit behind me, press my long fingers into a chord, you slide our hands up and down the neck of the guitar. Then you caress my neck, ever so softly. Butterflies and kisses in the moonlight. We make music together for a brief, shimmering moment. The night sings the touch of your skin into every song.
Your tenderness captures my love.
You propose to me-I accept, swept off my feet, and you let me choose the ring. I imagine the entire scene, the time you first place the diamond on my finger and whisper…now you’re mine forever. Then you take me in your arms, quote Marlowe and say, Now, make me immortal with a kiss.
I keep the good parts of you with me, secure…safe within a box locked deep inside my heart.
I brush my hair; two long strands fall together into one. I toss them first to the left then to the right. Unhappy with the effect, I start again.
I dream in past versions of myself…call my lover your name by mistake, he takes his coffee the same way you always did, then I gaze out the window and wonder if you remember the way you and I fit together like the ocean and the sand…the sky and the land.
I write in streams of consciousness which mean nothing. My mind is filled with chapters of books, with characters living the life I wanted with you. Stories of our break ups, our love-making, your hands on my body. Two are one.
Alas, for all that was and all that might have been. Thoughts of our dream that never came true are remembered as a kaleidoscope of hopes and yearning in passionate shades and paisley swirls. Ghosts and shadows cast by candles haunt me. Waltzing into my mind…stolen kisses in a darkened hallway…your silhouette against an ebony sky…the two of us.
Under the full moon, filled with magnolia on a honeysuckle breeze, you take me in your arms and we know. Days when you call to say you love me…there is always more to be said…of all we want and the castles in the air that you build for me. Our secrets and wishes on stars.
Illusions of you are the key to the magic inside my heart and soul.
A wistful sigh reveals those shattered shards and ashes from a fire long ago.
A tear tumbles down my cheek. But, I’m healing and learning.
And, I often see you and we are one.
One dream at a time.” –Hunter S. Jones
Stories of unrequited love are usually dripping with ennui and longing. The promise of what could have been grips you like a toothache, and suddenly you’re kicking yourself for not having the guts to bare your soul to someone who you felt in your heart had been waiting for you to come along. If only you’d had the nerve.
The following story is a bit of a twist on that, and one that left me feeling hopeful instead of wistful.
“Long before I had the guts to come out, I tried to overcome my ‘unnatural inclinations’ and suppress my gay desires. I know that such stories are plentiful these days and really old news from a past we’ve all moved on from. So I promise I won’t bore you with that old chestnut. This is only to set the scene for my first love, experienced in the late nineteen-eighties.
I channelled my amorous frustration from being a closet case into relentless political work against nuclear power. It was a mere few years since Chernobyl, and it seemed a worthwhile cause. Instead of army service I carried out alternative work in a school for severely disabled children
During the summer holidays I was manning the reception and spent most of my days reading political magazines and writing letters to various editors, while a gang of handymen sorted out renovation work at the building. They were tough guys, cool as they came, beer-drinking football players who looked like they would laugh at me if they had known I was gay. It was obvious how little they thought of me and one day I overheard them referring to me as “the poet”, with contempt. I made a point of ignoring them after that. Weeks of resentment and exchanges of unpleasantness followed until the new term began and our lovely students replaced these men.
I was glad to see the back of them and was gobsmacked to find myself at a party with one of them. How could our social circles possibly overlap, I wondered? I froze and stayed away from him.
But later, wined and jolly, with my best female friend in tow, I overcame my resentment and intimidation.
Luke was incredibly good looking and wasn’t quite as cold at the party than he had been at the school. When I laughed hysterically about one of his dirty jokes the ice between us broke and he smiled. I was relieved that there would be no more awkwardness. But things got better than that: Luke got up from his seat and sat next to me on an old sofa and put his arm around me.
“I always thought you were just an arrogant arse wipe,” he said and grinned cheekily. “I’m glad I was wrong.”
I smiled and said: “Ditto.”
Luke was all the man I aspired to be. I admired his confidence. I was often shy in those days and not used to being treated as an equal – especially not by tough guys. Luke spent the entire evening with me and my friends and for days after that, he was all I could think about.
A social barrier had broken down and a door had opened to a future I had never envisaged for me. Luke was funny and a born entertainer. He had sought me out for company, not the pretty girls or guys who would talk about the Bundesliga.
When I was with him I felt more confident and it seemed my best sides came out naturally without me even trying. Yes, Luke didn’t read books nor cared much for politics, but he was a decent guy who looked out for his friends and had a soft core under his hard exterior.
It wasn’t long before I realised I was head over heels in love with him. The girls fell over themselves to get his attention, too, but he didn’t pay them much heed. At no time was I under the illusion that he was gay, either, nor did I ever confide in him about my feelings. I didn’t want to ruin a good thing. I treasured his friendship.
Then one night, in a club, he grabbed me on the dancefloor and kissed me in front of everyone. It was done like a joke and people laughed, but it wasn’t funny to me at all. For me it was the most electrifying and defining moment in my romantic life. I had kissed girls before but…
It was the time of Robin Beck’s “First Love”, the soda advert that was being played everywhere that summer and that was exactly how it felt: Electricity flew…
The fact that the kiss was taken as a prank spared me the worry of people thinking I might be gay. Instead, we were hailed as two guys up for a laugh.
For weeks I hoped for a repeat of the kiss, tried to create situations where we were alone and we could kiss again, but it never happened.
“You’re a decent guy,” Luke said to me. “Your friends are lucky to have you.”
Eventually he met a girl and we saw less of each other. I was heart-broken but was never able to tell. Eventually I moved away to study and we lost touch.
But the fact remains that this man, the object of my desire who couldn’t love me back, gave me more with the unexpected friendship and kindness than future boyfriends would. The feeling to be singled out by such an unlikely person taught me to lose my fears and negative expectations and to trust that love can be found in all places.
Later it would be the memory of this kiss that drove me to leave the gay capital of Britain, Brighton, and move to Bath, where I met my partner of ten years in a street café. We all are worthy of affection and love, will be special to someone and have qualities that someone will recognise and love. That is the magical and wonderful way of love. Unexpected and impossible as it was, it stayed with me up until this day and helped me love myself more than I ever did before.” –-Christoph Fischer
Our dog, Milo, was adopted by my husband and I soon after we were married. I remember bringing him home in our convertible like it was yesterday. That crazy beagle-spaniel mix just sat there, tongue hanging out, letting the wind tear through his coat.
It seemed like the best day of his life, and we were beside ourselves. Milo was our first baby, you see, and we took him everywhere we went and spoiled him with way too many treats. We even called him “baby” and allowed him on our furniture, although we’d sworn up and down we’d never do that. We bought him a five-star dog bed that we put right next to our fireplace. As far as dog lives go, I think Milo’s was right up there Gary Fisher’s.
Unfortunately for Milo, our human babies came about a year after his arrival.
Oh, he tolerated them as best he could, but let’s face it, he pretty much hated their guts from the get-go. I couldn’t blame him. His needs had taken a backseat to our parenting and he wasn’t getting nearly the amount of walks and tummy rubs that he used to be able to demand like a Lord of the Manor.
By day, when the kids were at school, he was a cuddly, affectionate dog. He slept at my feet as I wrote and licked my husband’s ankles.
But at night, Milo became a beast.
He growled at my son, taking food out of his little hands and leaving him crying without the least bit of remorse. He bit our second daughters toe, drawing blood. So, there! He seemed to say. He growled whenever our youngest daughter even walked into a room.
Our kids desperately wanted a relationship with Milo – wishing he’d sleep in their beds, play with them outside and do all of the things their friend’s dogs seemed to do. But Milo would have none of it.
Still, after a long illness, when we had no choice but to take Milo to the vet and have him put down, I sobbed and heaved, hardly able to pull myself together. I couldn’t even be in the room when he got his shot. That I had to leave to my husband, who petted and whispered to Milo as he slipped into infinity.
Hardly a heartwarming story, but it’s the best I can do.
That’s why I have another one for you. This one is from Michelle Gwynn, and you better get out your handkerchief. This is a pet love story that should go down for the ages.
“Sometimes, love walks into your life and changes it in ways you never expected. In my case, love walked right up to my front door one chilly morning in October, 2002. He had big green eyes, white fur with gray spots, and a loud meow. It was love at first sight.
I was destined to be the local cat lady, and when another feral cat I cared for brought this poor stray to my doorstep, I just couldn’t say no. I named him Samuel Duane. Samu for short. Yep, there’s a story behind the nickname.
The morning Samu came into my life changed everything.
I put out extra food that morning, and took a moment to let him sniff me. I reached out, and he rubbed his head against my hand. He was friendly. I left for work. Eight and a half hours later, I arrived home, parking where I usually park. This time, someone was waiting for me.
“Well, hello there,” I remember saying.
He was very happy to see me, acting more like a hyper dog than a cat. He bounded along beside me all the way to my door. I didn’t quite know what to do with him. He wanted to come in, but I already had two indoor cats, Sophie and Emmie. I was cautious about letting another cat around them without first having him checked out by a vet. Plus, I still didn’t know if he belonged to anyone. Since he was friendly, I figured someone had raised him. I gave him some attention, but kept him outside.
Yet he stuck around.
Finally, after I’d determined Samu was truly on his own, I had his nails trimmed, had the vet treat him for fleas, and brought him home. This time, he got to come inside. It was a test.
Mr. Charmer made himself right at home, and Sophie and Emmie seemed okay with him. Well, damn, now I had to name him. I considered his personality, his distinguished looks, and decided he looked every bit like a Sam. Of course, I’ve never been one to settle for simple names. He needed a full name, including a middle name. Sam became Samuel, and because he was so darned nice, had to be named after my favorite uncle, Duane. Samuel Duane was now an official member of my family. He didn’t even seem to care about going outside anymore. He’d found a home.
I swear, Sam was like the Walmart greeter of cats. Every person who came to visit received his full attention. Even non-cat people fell in love with him. I had to check bags when friends left after a visit to make sure no one was smuggling my cat out.
Then one day, my nice cat showed a nasty side. My brother came by, bringing with him a tiny little black Labrador puppy he’d recently found. Like me, he just can’t let a stray animal go uncared for. My mother happened to be holding the puppy when Sam began snorting like a bull, yowling, and arching his back. All the short hair on his now chubby body stood up like a porcupine. He did not want to share! He kept leaping at my mother’s hands trying to get to the little dog.
I put him outside on my screened-in patio. He paced back and forth, mad as heck.
When my brother left, taking his pup with him, I let my cat back in. I made the offhand comment that Sam, with his big gray spot on his white back, looked like a killer orca swimming to and fro around its prey. Sort of like Shamu, but in this case, Samu, the Killer Cat!
From then on, he was Samu.
He slept on my bed next to my hip, followed me everywhere, and had me wrapped around his paw. Samu even learned how to blow kisses. The only kiss-blowing cat I’ve ever known. When I kissed his head, he would click his teeth, making a funny chirping sound that vibrated his chops. He also had a very unusual love for baths.
We went along like this for six years, happy, healthy, a family. Then, he began to experience problems. Samu developed kitty constipation. He’d try, but no payload. On those occasions, I took him to the vet for what amounted to a cat colonic. He’d get his pipes flushed, and with a change in diet, and medication, he did all right. But then the problem came back, it was far worse. More tests were run, and it was discovered that my boy had a condition called Megacolon. This meant his small intestines lost their ability to move things along. The colon actually loses its elasticity, and stretches out, hence the ‘mega’ portion of the name. Stuff would pile up, but not move. Humans can also develop this problem, but there are viable surgical alternatives for people. None for cats.
Dietary changes weren’t helping. The medication no longer worked. Continued enemas weren’t a feasible treatment option. He was hurting, and there wasn’t anything I could do.
Reality struck me like a knife in the heart. I spent the entirety of the next day torturing myself. The vet said there was no surgery that would help him. No more treatment options. I knew what this meant, but I wasn’t ready to face it, and yet, I couldn’t bear to see him suffer. He was whining in pain each time he tried to use his box.
With the world’s heaviest heart, I called the vet clinic. An appointment was made for 2:15 that afternoon, but the morning was all ours. Samu sat on my lap, and we did ‘kisses’. I let him eat whatever he wanted. For a little while, we sat outside on the patio soaking up the sun. I took as many pictures of him exploring and sniffing my plants as I could. I told him how much he meant to me, how he’d changed my life, made me happy, and was a good brother to Sophie and Emmie.
The cruel clock kept ticking.
On the way to the clinic, I sang “You are my Sunshine” to him, horribly off-key, past the lump in my throat. Inside the waiting room, I was quiet. I just couldn’t speak. When they led us to the special room at the back of the clinic, they kindly sedated him so he would be calm. There, I held my baby, scratching his ears, and kissing his head. He was too wonky to kiss back by then.
When the doctor came in, I couldn’t breathe. He knew what I’d gone through trying to find a way to save my little buddy. Quietly, he said, “Okay, I’m going to push the medicine, and he will simply go to sleep.” I panicked, but held my tongue. I kept hold of Samu, his little head laying over the crook of my arm, and told him how much I loved him until he was gone. In that moment, my heart, or what was left of it, broke. I howled from the depth of my soul. Tears blinded me, and I couldn’t be consoled.
My Samu was gone, and all I felt was pain.
For the next two weeks, I couldn’t leave my room. I just wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to eat, or see anyone.
After the third week, I remembered my camera. Desperate to see his sweet, furry face again, I downloaded the pictures. There he was, chewing my fern, rolling in the sunshine, and even sitting on my lap, his favorite place to be. Samu’s last day was a good one despite his gastric discomfort. It was Samu’s day, and all about Samu. I added these pictures to all the other pictures and videos I had of him, taking a stroll through the memories. I could see how happy he was, and how many people were happy to have met him. Everyone wanted to take a picture with “Michele’s cool cat, Samu.”
In his short time, he put a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces. In that same short time, I learned what being a pet mom to a fur-baby was all about. As the weeks turned to months, and the months became a year, I finally found a way to be at peace with the hardest decision I’d ever had to make. I realized that to love someone means to put their needs above your own. Samu needed an end to his pain.
To hurt so much when love leaves only means we have loved well, and with every fiber of our beings. It means we were the lucky ones.
As for Samu, then, now, forever, I will always love you.
The grandmother is a beloved stock character in Czech literature. It’s no wonder, because with the exception of the unlucky, a grandmother is a fixture of Czech family life. Not only does a grandmother often live with the family, as my mother lives with us, but she is an active, loving, and sometimes infuriating part of the power dynamic.
At least for the parents.
For the grandchildren, she is mostly joy, forbidden candy, folded laundry – crisp and ironed, sugery compliments, and the occassional embarrassing episode. A grandmother might think nothing of asking her teenage granddaughter – loudly and in public – if she’s still feeling constipated, for instance.
I, myself, had a grandmother with whom I shared a clausterphobic, crazy-loving, frustrating and blessed relationship. Without her, I would not be even be a sliver of the woman I am today.
This is a woman who taught me how to stand up for myself, and gave me the courage and encouragement to start a business, write books, fall in love, and ultimately leave my family and home to live for years in a foreign country. Leaving her behind to miss me terribly, while I went off in search of adventure.
Yet she never said a word about her own heartache, cheering me on and listening to my stories with rapt attention.
As a mother, I now understand how difficult that is, and how much love it takes to help raise a headstrong and independent child who will one day bid you adieu.
My friend Catalina understands that, too.
I consider Cattalina a soul sister. She’s a writer, fellow immigrant, and true romantic. She’s an early Cold reader, and she and I have a sort of mutual fan club going on. When I reached out and asked for readers love stories, she jumped right in, head first. I love that about her.
And here is her story.
“I grew up in Mexico with a clear understanding of the irrelevance of chronological age. My grandmother who was born in 1898 was always active, always young. The bond that was so special and transcended generations is one that to this day holds an important place in my heart.
For one school year as a child I lived with her and my step-grandfather in Pineville, Louisiana. A year filled with armadillos, squirrels, Southern traditions and country girl adventures. An immense change from the Mexico City routine of my childhood. She was seventy and tried to teach me how to do a headstand! I never succeeded, but my grandmother’s headstands were flawless.
We never called her abuela or abuelita, she was to us all always Fallita. A nickname for her Christian name Flavia. She had some interesting tales of our ancestry which included her assurance that we had the blood of German pirates dating back to the 1600s. Although a few years ago Ancestry.com’s DNA test disputed that.
Her stories of the fun and frivolity of the 1920s piqued my curiosity and made my imagination dance as a teenager. The meals she cooked, she endeavored to whip up with the privilege of doing so only when she wanted, as she had a fabulous cook; Aurora.
Another of her gifts and hobbies was sewing. Only a machine stich could compete with her precise even-handed stitching.
And Fallita was as old-school tough as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. I liked even her pointed remarks, touched with mean-spiritedness. When we love someone, after all, we need to love them wholly; flaws and gifts alike.
She lived to be 88 and to date over thirty years after her death, I miss her and feel her loving presence at times. Love after all, real love at any rate is everlasting.” -MCV Egan