Summer happened. Too quick. Or maybe mercifully so, considering I want for fall and winter all year long, considering how hard the 80 degree August days hit me. But summer happened and I’m not entirely sure how to compartmentalize it. This was my first summer that was not defined by a move, a significant change. I didn’t graduate from college. I didn’t transfer colleges or drop out of graduate school. I didn’t move from Alaska to California via car and then to Washington five weeks later. I didn’t hop cities within California or Colorado. I stayed still.
This was, in fact, my first summer that wasn’t defined by a move or a change of a similar magnitude since 2007. That makes my head ache. Ten years. My first summer where the summer was just… being… doing the life thing… since 2007, since I was fifteen and sixteen?
And 2007. That summer was defined by two lengthy Colorado visits, the afternoon storms while I was there, a on and off again boyfriend I adored, Eclipse Prom (though this is memory playing tricks on me because that Twilight event was in the spring, wasn’t it?), a stray cat that followed me home and stayed in room until she ran away, cutting my hair to my shoulders because I’d dyed it black only to strip it down too many times and it was so damaged and all the hair had to go to start fresh and god. God. Did that haircut really do a number on my self-esteem. The summer of 2007 was defined by the loss of my childhood golden retriever and, in the late August days, the arrival of the black lab that would go on to change my world.
This summer, 2017, it started with moving that black lab from California to Washington (ha–so I guess a move held a huge play). This summer, 2017, I imagine that in ten years, another decade, 2027, I’ll remember this summer as something strangely sweet. Every dream of the previous year true: living side by side with my dog, the daily hikes, how she gallops into the creeks and into Puget Sound every time we hit the beach, how she walks through the forest like a queen, never strays from my side when another creature comes near. Before Bellatrix moved in, I’d often go days without leaving my apartment, unwilling to go to the mailbox unless it was the pitch of night. Since June, I’m outside in my rain boots and shorts within minutes of waking, and I’m outside again, and then again, and then again for a longer time. I’m not so afraid of the sun these days. I’m not so afraid of being seen because doing so, taking my dog out, it gives her the greatest joy, so I find myself putting on her leash more than she even needs–because it’s a mood boost for the two of us. So, it’s been a dream of a summer. A summer with my dog.
But this summer wasn’t only Bellatrix and me. It was long nights at my desk working on proposals, working on freelance projects, working on what I can’t even recall. Days of sitting still, sitting so still in my darkened apartment, sitting still yet dizzy, too hot. No AC. I’m a joke: I finally broke and bought a giant fan yesterday, September 8th. I turned 26 this summer, in August and, in a single day, I was dropped from my father’s health insurance and into Medicaid: an event I’ve been dreading since before the ACA, before the age was pushed by several years. I’ve been on a waitlist to see my new psychiatrist since the spring and I have another month to go but I still have hope, even though my monthly prescriptions cost some hundred dollars without coupons. It was a summer of hope, of learning to hope, to shut the fuck up with the panic and act instead. Or take a break. I’m still so bad at taking breaks–only took three in July and August combined (not counting writing retreats, which do feel like work, are work in some regard), and that is not a source of pride but a wake-up call. TAKE DAYS OFF FROM WORK. WEEKENDS ARE FOR HEALING. I’m learning to be kinder to me. That’s what this summer has been. That’s what I’ve tried to let it be.
It was also a summer of a writing retreat in British Columbia with new friends, of a write-in with two of my best friends, of static heat and wildfires up the coast. Sparkling water and near-frozen bananas and reading sixteen books. It was a summer. Months that bleed back in my mind to spring. Where did one end and the other begin? If I blogged regularly, weekly, bi-weekly, the season wouldn’t even be worth noting. It was a summer like any other: stagnant, endless sun, relentless heat, decent enough, all things considered. I even ate some watermelon last week.
But that’s not entirely true–decent enough–because, this summer, I not only had my dog with me, always, but I also held NOTHING LEFT TO BURN for the first time. Something I’ve been working toward since I can remember: me, ten, fifth grade, on the tetherball court, me, punching that ball in the terrible way I did, punching that tetherball and imagining what my first book would look like, imagining holding a book with my name on it. Me, six, in the principle’s office in some fluffy dress, passing over a bundle of construction paper and proclaiming my dream to write. My entire life. I’ve worked for this always and will continue to do so. It sounds so silly, trite, almost pathetic. But it’s not. It’s my truth and I think it’s sort of lovely.
This summer, I held my first novel–still unfinished but so close, tangible, real. And though I wouldn’t have been able to recognize what it’s become, it’s the story I held so dear back in 2007, that summer, the second summer after having completed my first book–there was a lot of writing in bed that summer. It feels like I should say I wouldn’t have believed it–that if you’d told me at fifteen and sixteen that I’d be holding my book, prepping for its publication–it feels like I should say I would not have believed this to be the truth. But that’s a lie. Looking back at teen-me–god this will be cheesy–but looking back, I’m proud of that girl. That girl had no doubt. I had no doubt that I’d make my dream, my goal, a reality. It was just a matter of when. Of continuing to work, not giving up, holding on with my teeth. I remember saying that maybe it would happen soon but maybe it’d happen when I was ninety. And I say this now to me and others about book two, book three, book four. There are no guarantees but damn will I always be writing.
Even still, despite what perhaps some might call teenage arrogance, that moment in early August was a fantasy: holding my book for the first time. A shock. I couldn’t breathe. I still feel strange, fluttery, terrified when I spot a copy on my bookshelf or when I learn someone read it and loved it. I am so lucky. I am so, so lucky. A summer with my black lab and a summer of a lifelong dream coming true, the bliss of living with the dog who is great love of my life, and the bittersweet relief of the reality that nothing is permanent, especially not the heat
It rained for the first time in three months last weekend and it felt like coming home because, let’s be real, summer has never felt like mine.
I’m writing from Orange County, where–for the first time in years–the region is experiencing daily June Gloom in the mornings. I’m in California, firstly, to move up my beloved dog to Washington. My dear Bellatrix will hit the road with me up the coast all the way to my northern home. She’ll walk in a rainforest for the first time. She’ll discover moss and run through Jurassic Park-like ferns and damp, foreign terrain. She’ll live with me: a dream of mine for years, a dream I didn’t think was a possibility as recent as two months ago. This is happening.
The other reason for this trip is to bid farewell to all of my long-term doctors and do final hurrah check ups. I turn twenty-six in August and will be transitioning to Washington’s public health care. That is happening. It’s beyond my control and all I can do is fight for proper treatment and medications, not panic, and hope. I’m lucky. Washington is the best state for public health care. I’ll be okay.
In May, I finished up the last of my line edits on NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. It’s now in copy edits and has a gorgeous (so, so gorgeous) cover that will be ~revealed~ June 26th and, equally exciting, it’ll be up for pre-order the week prior. This is all happening. This dream. This hope I’ve been working for my entire (young adult and) adult life. I started writing the first version of this novel when I was thirteen and have been re-writing, revising, learning to write, again and again, querying, writing, fighting for this book ever since.
I don’t know when I’ll truly believe that NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is being published. Maybe when I hold an ARC in my hands this summer. Maybe when I hold a finished copy in January. Maybe when I see it on bookshelves on March 13th.
March 13th. March used to be my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.
March is usually my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.
At the start of May, I flew to the Bay Area to help my older sister with my two-year-old niece and their moving to Reno. It was a sudden and quick trip: five days with a roadtrip to Reno squeezed in. But it forced me out of my go, go, go, work, work rythm, and oh I will never turn down an opportunity to see my niece. And, after the trip, still early May, I became severely sick. In May, I wrote seventy pages set in Alaska and struggled relentlessly with a synopsis. At the end of May, I withdrew from the MFA program I’d planned to start this summer. It was when I started applying for a private personal loan to cover rent for the next year that it hit me: no, this can wait, this is a financially terrible idea, no, it can wait, it’s not now or never.
In May I made some good decisions.
In April and May, I walked into the forest regularly, and I’m learning to appreciate the sun, and I learned to let myself take days off, letting myself stop working after I’ve put my time in, seeing new and old friends. In April and May and now June, I’m focusing on the differentiation of what I want to do and what I need to do and what I think I need to do but don’t need to do: I too often get the three confused.
And now it’s June and June kicked off with my flight to California and I’m still here, sorting through a lifetime of books, spending time with my parents and my brother and my dog (oh my, that girl has no idea what’s in store for her), seeing doctors every day, and (attempting) to squeeze some work in. It’s my older sister’s anniversary and she and my brother-in-law are vacationing, so–surprise!!!–more time with my niece (which I did not know what was happening).
And so, with the roadtrip home next week, I won’t be back to my desk until the 16th–so deep into this month–and I’m trying not to let this freak me out; I’m focusing on why this is the case: my health and moving my baby home with me.
This summer: holding a galley of my book in my hands, pass pages, seeing more old friends (fingers crossed), finishing my proposals (again) and letting them go enough to send them onward to my agent, a booked two months of freelance projects (so, so happy about this), and PITCH WARS (and all the better: I’m co-mentoring with one of my dearest friends, Rachel Griffin)!
But, god damn, I miss my young sister fiercely. The last time I saw her there was snow on the ground in Utah. The next time I’ll see her there will be snow again on the ground in Utah. Why is Australia so far?
I was asked what I’d wish I’d known before my black lab entered my life. She arrived only three months old in August 2007. I was fifteen and now I’m twenty-five. Easy math: she’ll be turning ten this spring.
The number one thing I wish I’d known: how fast ten years can pass.
This question is surprisingly emotional.
Of course there are technical things I wish my family had known: the danger of ocean waves; her allure to anything edible, including dog-treat-like painkillers (she survived an entire bottle–it’s a mystery how she got into the high cabinet); how she won’t simply chew a bone but eat it down to its marrow, making herself sick.
But what has been most surprising, most important, is my black lab’s impact on my life.
The timing of this question–what I wish I’d known–is spot on. Once again, I’m separated from my beloved. She’s in California and I’m in Washington state. My biggest want is to spend her final years with her, which is implausible and selfish. We also have a relaxed Bichon Schitzu mut in our home, one year her elder. They’re pals, sort of, despite their different temperaments. What would I be doing to these dogs if I separated them, if I took Bella from the house–a house that is large, open, with a yard that looks out to valleys, mountains, a national forest? The home she knows.
I’m convinced she won’t mind after too long: she loves me, I take her on hikes, I give her constant love. But this isn’t the topic of this post–my desperation for more time with her–so I’ll save that tangent for another time.
Excuse me as I will absolutely get sentimental.
///what I didn’t know when Bella(trix), my black lab, arrived.
Hide the macadamia nuts. When Bella snags a newly opened bottle from the cupboard and devours it, she’ll lose control of her back legs. Your parents will think she’s paralyzed, dying, and will carry her down the stairs using a towel. She’s unable to stand, to sit, to move, to respond. Your parents won’t call you until they find the destroyed macadamia nut container and turn to Google, when the vet deems her okay. You will cry regardless.
In her early days, she will help you recover from anorexia. When she is still being kenneled at night, you will hear her crying as you cry and bring her to your bed. She will nuzzle you to sleep. She will calm you, give you the love you don’t think you deserve. In her early and mid and later days, she will be the force that pulls you out of the dark. A reason to keep trying, move forward.
She will maybe save your life in so many damn subtle and large ways.
One day, when you’re on a walk–she’s one, maybe two–two dogs on extending leashes will bound to her. She’s on your leash and you’ve trained her well on walks. She stays by your side. But the other dogs, fully grown, fast and thrilled, they will jump onto Bella before you can pull her away. She’s already shy. The dogs will hump her, try to play. Bella will whine, whimper, let out a howl, and try to escape, claw to you. You will sob as you try to end it. The owners of the other dogs will laugh it off, apologize, ignore your eyes. You calm Bella down, nuzzle her face, and let the moment pass. Continue the walk. Shake it off.
From that walk on, the only other dog Bella will trust is Leonardo–the shitzu mix she shares a home with. At dog parks and beaches, she keeps her distance. She will always prefer humans. When other dogs enter the house, she’s not aggressive (she will never be aggressive) but dubious, timid, sad–keeping a distance, only stepping in when she feels small Leo is at risk.
This one is hard for you to admit: technically Bella was a birthday gift to your brother and is not technically your dog but his or at the very least the family’s dog. (Shhhhh.) Even at age twenty-five, you will generally refuse to accept this as fact.
Because when you’re home, you and Bella spend every moment together–her following you like a shadow–she will pick up pieces of your personality. Or maybe you will pick up pieces of hers. Your family and friend are dubious about what came from who. You both share an affinity for hanging out on the floor (okay, she often chooses the couch but still), bouts of hyperness followed by exhaustion, you don’t like being left alone but rather be near the chaos to observe from afar, your shy around crowds of new people, both empathetic to a fault and cry too easily, introverts who crave attention and give too much love. You both press your face against the faces of those you love. And, fine, are both a wee bit bratty and entitled when it comes to best-sitting spot in the house.
When your younger brother and dad innocently, playfully, toss her into the pool as a puppy, they ruin her the possibility of her every willingly swimming in it again. You will spend years trying to lure her out with treats and patience. She won’t go past the second step.
But days where the temperature peaks past 95 degrees, you’ll look out a window and see her–your pool-fearing dog–relaxing on the top step of the pool. And occasionally, randomly, she’ll prance inside with her belly and legs soaked wet.
Because of your tendency to press your face into her face, she will attempt to do this with every other family member and frequent house visitor. And if someone is sitting on the floor, or really sitting anywhere, she will try to cuddle real close. You will be blamed and you will not care.
As soon as you pull out a suitcase, her mood will plummet. She will nestle in a corner, on a bed or your folded pile of to-be-packed clothes, and stare at you with the saddest eyes. She knows what it means.
She will do anything and everything to obtain food. She will steal an apple from the fruit bowl and raw steak out of the sink. She will find the boxes of expensive holiday toffee in the closet and eat every last piece. Chocolate does not make her sick. It’s a mystery–how she snags food your family now ensures to hide, put up, put away.
Your dad admittedly offers her his breakfast plate for her to lick clean. This will drive you crazy. But after her weeklong stay at the animal clinic after a surgery, when the vet happily proclaims he gave her a McDonald’s egg sandwich every morning, you will be annoyed and amused and you father will be vindicated.
Her guilt is palpable. Especially after food stealing. She will hide, duck her face, hurry outside. She’ll watch your face from afar, your energy, waiting for the punishment to end.
When you return home–because after your first year and a half together, you develop an addiction to sporadic moving–she will tackle you and love-nip your face and cry whimper joy. You will live for these moments.
After you have a surgery, or when your simply very sick, she will know. She will be tentative around you, removed from her normal eagerness. She won’t hop onto you bed but wait for your beckoning. She will lick your face so carefully, nudge her head against your chest. She knows. And when you’re having an episode, when you’re in absolute distress, sobbing, unable to breathe, she can be in another part of the house, outside even, and know this too. She’ll find you. Sit with you. Wait it out. Let you sob into her belly.
After you free her from her kennel mid-night when she is still a puppy, she won’t go near that kennel again. When it’s brought into the house, she will stay several feet away, watch it carefully. She will only go inside when you crawl in too and with a treat.
When you are away–in Colorado Springs or Berkeley or Humboldt County or Alaska, at college, an extended vacation, a random move–your heart will break every day because of how much you miss her. You will become a crazy dog lady. Have you ever missed anyone like this? You will pester your mom for photos and videos and you will sob. Knowing you’ll see Bella again will be your calm.
The ocean is not Bella’s friend. When she is brought to the dog beach a fourth time, she will be infatuated with the waves. She will walk out too deep. She is seven years old and her hips and knees are already weakened, damaged even, from a puppyhood of “dog dancing” (we were young and dumb–me and my siblings) and her jumping near back flips for food and simply being alive–and, at that beach, a series of strong waves will slam her, drag her backside to the sand. You will see a video of the exact moment and your stomach will sink. Her legs under her, her hip yanked to the side. After, she doesn’t care that she’s in pain. That she’s injured. She continues her ocean dance and beach frolicking. She will come home with a limp and bounce around the house, still gleeful. You will try to tell yourself it’s okay.
Three months later, you will demand a vet visit despite the cost. Her limp is worse and she’s developed a tremor. The vet first thinks it might be cancer and your heart shatters. But, ultimately, you learn she has torn ligaments, a faulty joint, other horrifying terms. She needs an intensive surgery. Metal in her knees, her hips. She might not survive. Your heart breaks again. You’re told she’ll probably need a second one on her other back leg in a few years. This expensive surgery. This pain.
She has the surgery. She heals. Her nights spent away from the house, at the hospital, are too quiet. As soon as she is brought home, she fights the concept of not walking on her own, not running. Using a sling, you will help her outside to use the bathroom. She will whine like there’s nothing worse in the world when she’s confined to a small room so she doesn’t hurt herself. She will heal. Two months later, you’re walking with her, running with her through the hills and valleys that make your home. Two years later, you’ll notice an occasional small limp and wonder. You and your family are mindful, watching closely.
But you’ll always resent the ocean.
One day, you will write a blog post dedicated to her, and you will cry as you type and gather photos. You are as dramatic as her.
She will become a spoiled queen. Your family can’t resist. Since your first dog, pups have been allowed on beds and couches. And Bella is the worst–believing she’s entitled to sofa space and pillows, and perhaps you enable this by your preference for the floor below her.
When you realize she is nine years old and has outlived your childhood dog, you will start reconciling her limited time. You will consider the span of her life. Of what she has given, taught. You will make plans for her time ahead. You will cry and then get up and remember there is still time.
At some point, you will consider her a part of you. She has developed you, taught you how to grow from a broken teenager to who you are now. This black lab that you initially avoided. Every day away from her hurts. She is your baby. Your patronus, a bone, your best friend–the only one who understands you so completely. She has seen you at your very worst. She has watched you self-destruct. She has watched you love. She has taught you how to love.
You never expected her to teach you how to love yourself.
Bella reminds me why I stay proactive with my mental health to this day, and she will continue to in memory when her time ends. I’ll say it again and again: I never thought a dog would teach me how to love myself, but that is exactly what Bella did. If I’d known sooner, I would have treasured her early puppy days, would have let her in right away.
This year. That spring. This summer. This fall. We all ache and are fighting and I don’t know what to say. The past week–it’s been similar to when my aunt died. I wake gutted, deep. It hits me every hour and I cry. I get through the day okay, I make it past sunset, only to collapse. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be able to stand again.
But this is different from my aunt’s death. It’s take so much to reconcile that–how this is harder to move on from than a loved one’s passing. I knew she was going. She had fought and won for a decade. She was in a pain. I knew she was going to die months before, and I’d somehow left Alaska soon enough to say goodbye. And I knew my mom, my family, me–we’d heal, prevail, move on in small ways gradually.
But this. I didn’t expect this. We. New tragedies and damaging news hit every day. People are dying. And me, my family. We are privileged. We are white. While my personal financial situation is in shambles, my parents are well off and stable. I am educated and straight passing and have a safety net: I can return to my childhood home if necessary. But I’m also queer, have an invisible and chronic physical illness, bipolar, losing insurance in eight months, and a woman. And still, I am so so so safe in comparison to so many others.
My heart breaks more every day. I want to make it stop: what’s happening, what’s happened. I can’t begin to understand.
I don’t know how we’ll heal, how we’ll move on beyond raising our voices, refusing compliancy, fighting, making phone calls and writing letters, doing at least one thing each day to refuse to accept that this our new normal. The hate. I don’t know when we’ll get a reprieve, and that’s–that’s horrifying.
Too many have spoken far more eloquently, powerfully, bravely, inspirationally on this election than me. Too many are fighting stronger, louder. I have so much respect, so much love. I try to let those emotions overpower the fear and anger. I’m fighting too. I’m making plans. I’m listening. I’m trying. I am. And I’m tending to my heart. And I hope your tending yours too.
This is not to trivialize the events unfolding. This is not to say “it’ll all be okay”–I’m not sure this is a fact these days, at least for so many in this country. This is–this is my way of coping, of saying I love you.
Because I do: I write with love. I write hoping that whoever you are, you are okay. You are not alone.
And yet I don’t know what to say beyond sharing fragments and thoughts that are helping me get up each morning and do my work, take care of myself, keep hope, keep working. it warms me in the tiniest of bits and I hope it warms you, maybe, too.
my heat pad, pressed to my heart.
the puget sound rain, drizzle, relentless, secure.
wood burning in the fireplace, breaking the cold.
me finding calm in watching the flames.
my revision, the highest stakes deadline of my life.
receiving comfort from my editor, a dream come true
–it’s hard to wrap my head around a lifelong goal, dream,
coming to fruition in the admits of all this pain but it’s real–
I must focus on that.
i must allow myself to celebrate.
growing an orchard every day in my Forest app,
losing myself in the words.
cutting off my internet for hours at a time.
thank you Stay Focused, the silence, the silence.
i am wanting to fight, to be active,
but I must also respect the quiet.
the quiet strengthens me.
my new bookshelf:
my one splurge from the first third of my book advance.
imagining moving all of my other books still in California,
filling my apartment with a wall of books–
–and yet, all the while,
my wander lust/moving love kicking in, my ache for the outside.
can you believe I’m looking into moving again?
(yes, if you know me, yes you can).
reading in bed, snuggled warm
the gentle reminder that I’m not a city dweller.
looking at the olympic peninsula, san juan islands,
the coast, the mountains.
cheaper rent and possibilities.
room for my black lab to move to me for her final days–
my baby, my pup–does she even have two more years?
planning to celebrate her days,
her and me, in these wet forests, the mountains, and trees.
chicken and dumplings.
tacos filled with avocado and salsa and sour cream. that warmed tortilla.
mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. pork loins and sage gnocchi.
pizza. chocolate. endless chocolate. buttered toast with sea salt.
feeding myself, even without an appetite.
feeding myself because it’s no time to starve,
no time to self sabotage or relapse
to go into default habits.
it’s time to stay strong. rise up.
hot salt baths.
yoga by the fire.
the lack of beastly wildfires.
reminding myself that there’s no reason
to live in a city if the city isn’t offering you work
and if the city is more than you can afford
and, though you absolutely adore the particular city,
you much rather be lost somewhere you can walk outside and be outside
–the hope and dream of that.
every place I’ve lived has offered immediate access to outside, to quiet:
trabuco canyon, humboldt county,
colorado springs, chipita park, fairbanks.
not so much berkeley when I was seventeen,
but even berkeley had trees in which
i could get lost within walking distance from my studio.
renton–i love it’s proximity to seattle and montains and water–
but I feel severed. i need my open roads,
my immediate walks from home.
the hope of that in my near future: it helps.
i also don’t like the name renton.
books. thank you books.
what I’ve done lists instead of to do lists.
i went to the emergency room in late october,
or maybe mid-october.
my mind wasn’t right and i was scared
–it wasn’t okay,
though I said it was okay after the time.
i still wasn’t being honest.
after my last blog post, I was so far from honest.
leaving my job at b&n within a week of the er visit.
this soothes me: the bravery of that action.
i wasn’t being honest with myself before.
i sound so flakey, but I’m not. i’m not a quitter.
my therapist gave me a talking to and
I walked out of her office and made the call.
taking control of this short life.
hugging the man i love.
i am a fighter.
i have been fighting since the first grade.
i am loud and adamant.
when i get an idea, a dream, I work for it.
i’m stubborn. i don’t quit.
i find the paths that I need to make it work,
listening, learning, growing.
i’m a work in progress. i’m writing.
hearing, pausing. patience and love,
so much love. connection.
with myself, my heart,
with those I love and those I don’t know, with you.
knowing I’ll see my family soon, california, my dog.
showing up. doing the work, the tending.
rising up. I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.
I love you. take care of you.