Monday, December 21, 2015

Finding True Love

Carolyn J. Rose

Like many women of my generation, I grew up on stories about girls like Cinderella, handsome princes riding to the rescue, and the myth of happily ever after. I recall mooning around the house speculating about my true love—a fairly nebulous guy whose physical characteristics changed yearly. At the core he was kind and generous, smart and witty, and willing to fight dragons and walk through fire and do whatever it took to be with me. (Because, you know, it was all about me, and he would be consumed by his love for ME.)

I recall asking my mother if she believed there was only one “right” person for each of us, one “real, true love.” Further, I grilled her about the difficulties of finding that person. What if he lived in India or Nepal or the very center of Africa? What if we never met? Worse, what if he had already lived—and died?

My mother was a practical woman with a job, three kids to care for, meals to cook, laundry to do, a house to clean, and homework to supervise. She probably found my romantic notions ridiculous. As a matter of fact, it seems she presented me with the already-died theory.

As I grew older and more realistic and had loves of various degrees and durations, I shelved the dream of consuming, perfect love. But then, at the age of 53, I met the one who would love me without conditions, who would abandon all others to run to my side, who would be patient, sweet, and joyful.

Her name was Bubba.
She was ten pounds of silky gray hair, tiny black eyes, crisscrossed teeth, and strong spirit.

For fifteen years she was always glad to see me when I came home from work, from the supermarket, or even from a two-minute trip out to fill the bird feeder. She often danced with joy—or with the hope of getting a dog cookie. She cuddled, she snuggled, and she herded me out for walks. She inspired me to create Cheese Puff in my Subbing Isn't For Sissies books.

And then, along with me, she grew old. There were more bad days than good, more anxiety, and more loss of physical control. Finally, Mike and I made one of the hardest decisions of our lives—we sent her on ahead to wherever and whatever.

As we watched her spirit depart, our pain was fierce and raw. We sobbed, unashamed and inconsolable. When the pain abated, it left scars—bright and cold and empty places in our hearts.

We lost more than a dog.

We lost more than a companion.

We lost pure, true love.

Friday, December 4, 2015

What they'll say about me.

“I get up every morning and read the obituary column. If my name's not there, I eat breakfast.”

 Maybe it’s the gray, nasal drip rain of December mornings in the Northwest. Or perhaps it’s a product of waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and blurting out “Holy &*^%&*&^%$ I’m 67 years old. Like George, I find myself scanning the obituaries in the morning paper, (after reading "Pearls Before Swine") and wondering what my death notice will look like.

The same phrases turn up in many of the final tributes: “Devoted family man;” “Loved bowling and his grandkids;” “Enjoyed travel and gardening;” and so on. Nothing wrong with any of that really. But does it really capture the person? Does it provide the essence of the unique and imperfect human being who shuffled off this mortal coil? One day I’d like to pick up the paper and read something like this.
            Frank would have had a much longer and fuller life if not for that idiot who delayed him for a nanosecond at the green light on 33rd and Columbia.
            Francine liked to dress in colorful clothing and was once mistaken for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
            Bruno’s crowning achievement was his virtuoso performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” using only a pair of spoons and his underarms.
            Meg was voted “girl most likely to be listed alphabetically” by her high school class.
Charlie had three 300 games to his credit. Unfortunately he was a golfer, not a bowler.
Shellie had a rebellious nature and was a true contrarian. Unfortunately her efforts to always be “out there” never received any public acclaim. It’s fair to say she was (wait for it, wait for it,) “A Rebel Without Applause.”
Eldon’s life was summed up by something his mother said when he was 8. “That boy is a real stinker!”
Dolores exhibited an almost uncanny grasp of the obvious.
I think my own obituary should list the major achievements in my life.
            Mike held the distinction of being fired from the same radio station twice under different ownership.
            The artistic pinnacle of his career was making a battleship out of scotch tape when he was 10.
            Is the only known example of someone’s wardrobe requiring an environmental impact statement.
            Will always be remembered in the Vancouver theater community for his bravura performance as The Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Received a regional Tony award for “Best depiction of an inanimate object.”
            Never, in his entire life made a list, had a plan or knew where he left his reading glasses.
 I hope that when that morning comes, and I read my own obituary in the paper, that whoever wrote it is entirely honest about who I was and how I lived my life. Actually, I’d rather they kept it brief.
            Mike Nettleton: He came, he lived, he loved, he tried hard but sometimes screwed up, he treasured every moment with those he cared about. He was fun while he lasted.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Apparently, it’s all about the dog

Carolyn J. Rose

When I wrote NO SUBSTITUTE FOR MURDER I thought of it as a single story, a standalone. Many readers, however, let me know they saw it as the beginning of a series. They liked the characters, they liked the voice, but most of all they liked Cheese Puff, the protagonist’s entitled dog.

Readers got in touch to suggest things that could happen to the ten-pound orange mutt. Those ideas got into my head. They grew. And more stories emerged.

Before I knew it, Cheese Puff, although neutered, fell in love with a long-legged Golden Retriever named Lola. He acquired a number of outfits, including formalwear. He went on shopping excursions, to plays and movies, and out to gourmet dinners with Mrs. Ballantine and members of the Cheese Puff Care and Comfort Committee. He was even kidnapped by a drug dealer.

In the latest book, NO SUBSTITUTE FOR MISTAKES, someone starts a cat-bashing blog in his name, his life is threatened, and he tangles with a rogue duck. To his chagrin, a cat comes to the rescue.

I’m grateful to Bubba, the pound puppy we took in 15 years ago this month, for providing the inspiration for Cheese Puff. She’s given me unconditional love, plenty of attitude, and constant reminders that it’s not all about me. “Small dogs,” Dr. Blair Ferguson told me when we took Bubba to his veterinary clinic for her shots, “rise each morning with one thought in mind—I will bend you to my will.”

Boy, did he nail it. But, I have to admit, there’s a certain freedom to knowing I’m not in charge.


 Bubba won’t be with us   much longer, but she’ll live on as long as Cheese Puff has adventures.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Hole in the Water

Carolyn J. Rose

 Every day that I can, I hit the pool for deep-water exercise. Sometimes I run and jog on my own. Sometimes I take a class. Sometimes I chat with others while we work out. Sometimes—usually when I’m stuck on a plot problem and want to concentrate—I paste on my I-want-to-be-alone face and attempt to avoid distractions.

Because I stick to a schedule, I run into the “usual suspects,” swimmers who are sticking to their schedules. Some come for the social aspects—generally they talk more than they exercise. Others are more concerned about the physical benefits—they work as hard as they’re able. Some are preparing for surgery or recovering from it, trying to improve or retain flexibility, or hoping to trim flab and build core muscles.

Sometimes I introduce myself. Sometimes they do. Almost always first names only. Sometimes we remain nameless. I think of them as the man with the fierce butterfly stroke, the woman who never stops talking, the man who rests after every lap, the woman who comes with her sister, the man who always has a tan, the woman who either hasn’t read or doesn’t care about the notice asking us to refrain from wearing perfume.

There are some swimmers whose routines have overlapped mine for a dozen years. There are some who come for only a few months as part of recommended physical therapy. There are others who get a new work schedule, move, or head south for the winter. There are even a few who want more than the public facility offers and leave to join a club.

And there are still others who don’t return because they can’t. Because their health has failed. Or worse.

Those are the ones who leave a hole in the water.

Those are the ones who make me painfully aware of mortality.

Those are the ones who make me wonder how many more days of swimming I’ll have before I leave a hole of my own.