Take Your Broken Heart…

This blog has been rather anemic for a very long time. This past year the only thing that held the forefront of my mind was politics, and nobody wants me spewing about politics. In fact, I had been told that as a writer (even an aspiring one), it is best to not discuss your politics in social media as it could turn away potential readers. And I’m not sure I agree with it, nor care if it is true.

But this is only about politics in an ancillary way.

During the Golden Globes this year Meryl Streep gave a speech that touched on politics. It was about the despair and pain she felt at the outcome of this past year. It put out a call for compassion and understanding, and for those with a voice (as she was losing hers in a literal sense) to join in with protecting the press who would face a more difficult job during this incoming administration.

This isn’t about her speech, or the politics behind it. It has nothing to do with my feelings about her motivations – even though I agree with everything she said. No, this has to do with the quote she gave as inspiration towards the end of the speech. It came from her friend Carrie Fisher, or as she said, Princess Leia. Being an old school Star Wars geek, I have been inspire by those characters – not to mention their actors and writers – most of my life. So I wasn’t shocked when this statement held meaning for me. I’m a sucker for a good quote…

Take your broken heart. Make it art.

If you look back through my archives I have blogged next to nothing this year. The past couple really. Mostly reactions to the deaths of artists that inspired me. My Twitter feed features more photos of our puppy than any real writing. I know the reason why, though I never speak of it. Until now. Now, I will make it art.

Before we adopted Ginger, Aladdin was our family dog for over fifteen years. When his cancer was so bad we could physically see him struggling even though he’d never show any signs of pain. That was his personality. Part of me felt like he didn’t want to show any reason to leave us, as he was always looking out for us. So that July, while in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to make a call to have a vet come out to our house for his last walk. And it broke me.

I have done that walk before. My childhood dog when I was 21, married and not living at home. She had been my best friend through my childhood. And I took it with as much stoicism as I could. I was there when she entered my life, I would be there when she left it. I felt it was my responsibility. I did that with our cat, even thought he was arguably my wife’s cat. I brought him home and allowed him to get used to the house before the kids came home so he wouldn’t freak out. We were the ones that took him for his last ride.

But this was the first time I had to make the call. Nobody was with me, and I had to apologize to the vet because it took me several tries to get the words out. After several curse words under my breath.

We gave him the best last day we could. Gave him steaks we had intended to take camping that weekend. Gave him pets all day long. Let him take one more nap with his boy. Pet him to sleep one more time like I did when we adopted him as a 9 month old puppy.

After that first weekend, I still had a deadline ahead of me. I held on to a line from the Walking Dead delivered by Scott Wilson as Hershel. “We’ve all got jobs to do. This is mine.” So I finished writing the short stories through the end of the month. I hit the word goal, but not the story count (which really was my own goal, not the challenge).

After that I felt broken. Like I’d lost my voice, but not the physical one. The one that whispered stories into my ear at night. The one that fed the gorilla (as the branding of my site from a different quote would call it).

In a sense, that is part of the reason we discussed adopting another dog. During the nights, with our son moved out (especially on the nights when my wife was in Milwaukee), I sat in a quiet house. There was a hum to the rooms once the television was off. Like it was hiding a secret from me. But the secret was the voice that would fill that space was gone. At the very least it had turned down the volume to barely a whisper.

With Ginger in the house, my nights became about her. She had such a hard life for the first year to 18 months, that she needed someone to show her how to live. So I trained her, and bonded to her. She learned to not fear touch. Her tail spent most of its time in the upright curled position and not between her legs. She found her voice – and promptly scared the shit out of my wife with a single bark while standing right behind her.

Now, with Ginger being more of a real dog, waking me up by playing the way puppies do (something she never had before), I am still working my way slowly into a writing routine. I still feel that loss from two and a half years ago. The hum of the empty rooms rings in my ears from time to time. Especially when the power goes out in the Door County house and I’m the only one awake.

I’ve lost loved ones before. The first was a friend at the age of 11. My grandfather when I was 13. Most recently a friend who wasn’t yet 30. I remember buckling a bit during the funeral for my uncle – military services cut through my armor pretty well. But most of the time I feel the eyes on me because I’m oddly cool or detached during those times. I held it together during my Nonna’s funeral. So how does that guy admit that something broke his heart to the point it has altered him?

Maybe it was just  a breakthrough game like from Arkanoid or one of the levels of Tron (for you old school video gamers). Eventually enough of the blocks in my wall were broken out and one hit home. Or possibly the closeness with which I bound to Aladdin made it hurt all the more. I do know the guilt I felt that due to my spinal injury there were things I couldn’t help him with. I couldn’t lift him in the end.

The truth is the loss of Aladdin, the first dog we chose as adults, has broken my heart. It has left me concerned with the closeness I have with our current puppy, Ginger. Can I survive this again? My answer has always been that one moment of hurt doesn’t invalidate the years of joy.

When we went to Cave Point County Park in Door County on Christmas morning (now that we have a place up there, we can holiday up there), I saw him as he would run along the beach chasing the gulls. Climbing up the rocks as he loved to do with Robin. Cave Point was his favorite place, and now its ours. Would it mean that much to me if I hadn’t gone through everything with my dog? Maybe. But it means so much more to me now that it’s his spot.

So, like I am standing at a podium in a community center with burnt coffee and stale donuts on a folding table at the back of the room, I am testifying. “My name is Zombie Joe, and I have a broken heart.”

But thanks to Carrie Fisher and Meryl Streep, I now know what to do with it. I’ll wrap it around me like a warm blanket (even though I hate to many blankets). I’ll use it. Make it into art.

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