Friday, June 29, 2012

Berry, the heavenly light

Berry Perkins was about my height, 5’7”, with ash blonde hair like mine and clear, light blue eyes that sparkled with wonder. With her own fashion sense, no matter what she wore, she looked like she stepped off the pages of a magazine in her own unique quirky way, not a designer sort of way. Everyone who knew Berry tried to emulate her style but no one could copy her. From her hair styles to her clothes, it was all “very-Berry.” She didn’t need to wear make-up because she was a natural beauty. With the perfect profile, high cheek bones and a nose turned up ever so slightly, Berry's face was angelic. She dripped in jewelry, around her neck and covering her wrists. It was not all gold and silver pieces either although it could have been. Some of it was precious, some was semi-precious and some was simple bead work that she just liked. She wore it all at once and it made sense on her.
She loved life and was especially fond of children and dogs. Berry never a questioned “if” I was going to bring Blondie with me when I came to her house. Blondie and I just showed up together and were always welcome. Blondie was also invited to all Berry’s parties, even the star studded ones. Being myself with Berry was just easy. 
As our friendship blossomed, I realized that something about her reminded me of my favorite Goddess Diana from Roman Mythology. Berry was just as mythical, powerful and complex. Goddess Dianna is also found in Greek mythology as Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, the heavenly light that illuminates the darkness, ruling the wilderness, the untamed frontiers of nature. That was Berry in a nutshell.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Soul sisters

 My dear friend Berry Perkins was adamant that I should keep the shelter dog I rescued from the pound. “She looks amazingly like you,” Berry remarked. “You have to keep her, just look at how attached she is to you already. Besides, maybe she’ll help you meet the man of your dreams. Dogs help you meet all kinds of people. You’ll have to take her on walks, to parks. Sweetikins, this is a brilliant thing for you to do.”
I put a lot of stock into what Berry had to say. I held her in such high regard. People commented that we looked like sisters, which was the biggest compliment I could ever imagine receiving. I felt as though we were soul sister, although our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. She was European with aristocratic connections while I was a middle class "Valley Girl" with Amish ancestry. We often marveled about how we felt the same deep down inside. From the very beginning, we understood one another in a very profound manner. In a matter of days, Berry would call me just as I was picking up the phone to call her. Our connection grew into one of the most poignant relationships I ever had.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Berry the Goddess

Immediately, I started to doubt my decision to adopt this pound mutt. Were my parents correct? Was I kidding myself? And what about my friend Mary's reservations? Maybe I was being foolish after all. Maybe rescuing Blondie was a rebound after my dating debacle with the chef. I felt totally confused. There was one person who I knew I could trust to tell if I could handle the responsibility of owning a dog.
Berry Berenson Perkins, daughter of an American diplomat, her mother was born Countess Maria Louisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, better known as Gogo Schiaparelli, a socialite of Italian, Swiss, French, and Egyptian ancestry. Berry’s material grandmother was the Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, her grandfather was Count Wilhelm de Wendt de Kerlor, a Theosophist and psychic medium. The real thing that impressed me about Berry was her capacity for love. I was proud to call Berry my friend.
Berry was a famous photographer and actress who I had met when I was 24-years-old, ten-years her junior. A mutual friend of ours arranged for me babysit her two sons one night. Our friendship blossomed from there. 
I had studied her fashion photography during journalism school at San Diego State University so I was very familiar with the woman who helped Andy Warhol launch Interview Magazine. Her work had been published in Glamour, Vogue and Newsweek. She was also an actress, appearing in several movies including Cat People. The wife of actor Anthony Perkins and sister of model and actress Marissa Berenson, Berry was educated at Swiss boarding schools. Berry filled a void in my life and nurtured me in a way that I yearned for my entire life. Part mother, part sister, part life mentor, Berry welcomed me into her life. And she welcomed Blondie too.With Berry's blessing, I knew I had made the right decision in rescuing Blondie.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Terry the terrorist kitty

I headed to my parents house directly from the pound since they lived in the San Fernando Valley, a hop skip and jump from the West Valley Animal Shelter. Blondie threw up immediately in my car on the ride home.
“Don’t ask me to make her poached eggs on toast,” Mary said jokingly. That's what Mary always made me when I felt sick. We both laughed at my new dog's apparent stomach issue, which matched mine. I had always been prone to stomach aches which lead to major episodes of throwing up for hours on end. My mom said I inherited the “McGill family stomach.” As I got older and wiser, I realized that whenever I was going through something emotional, I would feel it in my gut. I also suffered from terrible motion sickness when I was young, so I could totally relate to my “new dog” already.
Bringing Blondie to meet my parents the same afternoon I got her from the pound might not have been the best idea. I wasn't feeling steady yet about my decision to rescue her. Mom wasn’t happy to see me with this strange dog, jumping to the conclusion that I was bringing home another stray and leaving it for her and my father to look after.
 “What’s that?” Mom asked, pointing at Blondie with her face all squished up, adding wrinkles to her already worn complexion.
“I’m taking care of her for a friend,” I said in my most convincing voice, avoiding her gaze.I had never been a very good at telling lies. Even little white lies did not come easily for me.
Sitting down across from her on my dad’s red leather recliner, I noticed dust bunnies playing in a streak of sunlight coming through the window shade. Mom kept the shades drawn even in the daytime because she hated the possibility of neighbors or strangers peering inside her home. Blondie lay next to me. We were already attached at the hip.
“Well, we don’t need any more pets around here,” mom informed me. “That cat you got us is enough. He keeps biting and scratching us.” Mom held out her arm and showed me the gashes.
“Oh my God,” I exclaimed. “Let me find Terry a new home. You can’t let a cat do that to you.”
“No! We love Terry. He’s a real character. Your father buys him fresh turkey; he’ll only eat it if it’s fresh. And he talks to us, watch. Hello Terry.
Right on cue, the beast entered the room and let out a low guttural growl, swatting at my mom as he moved slowly toward her. With his tail held high at attention, he began staring down Blondie, who quickly jumped behind my chair. It was hard to imagine this large gray cat with his black stripes and big belly as the cute and cuddly kitten he was when I first found him roaming the streets in my Beverly Hills neighborhood. Terry jumped up on the couch and seated himself on the armrest next to my mom. Mom moved over to add more distance between herself and Terry.
“Isn’t he adorable?”
I wasn’t in love with the cat I had rescued the previous year, but I was already in love with the mutt I had just brought home from the pound. After denying ownership for a couple weeks, I finally told my Mom and Dad the truth. They didn’t think it was a good idea for me to own a pet. According to them, I could barely take care of myself, even though I had a full-time job and was completely paying my own way. But no matter what they said, I knew that saving this dog was a form of self-preservation. I finally had someone to love who would love me back unconditionally.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blondie is a group...and a dog

The pound was a stark and depressing place—damp, poorly lit, noisy, and smelly. Cages filled with dogs lined the walkway of doggie death row. I could see how living inside this "jail" would make dogs feel terrified, especially those who were former family pets. There were literally hundreds of dogs and only a handful of people looking to take one lucky dog home.
I walked up and down the aisle, carefully scanning those faces that said “Take me, take me!” A golden retriever mix ran up to the front of its cage to greet me. A pit bull mix licked my fingers when I tried to pet him through the cage. Others just barked uncontrollably as I walked past.
And then I saw her: a beautiful golden dog with thick, fluffy fur and eyes the color of amber. She lay there, motionless in the back of the kennel. As I walked by, she looked up at me, moving just her eyes. She was medium-sized with pointy ears that were pulled back tightly against her head. Her entire body was shaking uncontrollably as she lay in the back of her cage. Even her face was trembling. When I saw her dejected little, quivering face, I felt her pain in my heart like an arrow shot though my soul.
My friend Mary was standing near me, trying to get my attention and steer me to the cages that held Chihuahua mixes like my childhood dog, Siesta, and other miniature breeds. But I couldn't take my eyes off the golden dog. She was in a cage with three other rambunctious canines. They were loud, rowdy, out-of-control dogs who ran around in circles and lunged at anyone that walked past. One was a pure bread black and tan Rottweiler and the other two looked like shepherd mixes of some kind. They were knocking into a couple buckets of filthy drinking water, spilling it all over the bare, cement floor. Dirty water puddled underneath the poor golden dog, but still, she didn’t move.
 Her eyes locked onto mine as I passed. She kept her watch on me without moving. Just her eyes followed me as I walked back and forth in front of her cage. Her silent despair spoke louder than the deafening growls, barks and whimpers that echoed and bounced off the walls.
I spotted an attendant a few cages away hosing down an empty kennel. She didn’t look too happy about working there, in her blue uniform with tall rubber boots over her pants. Her strained mouth told the story of a woman seeing death everyday as dogs were put down due to over crowding. As I walked toward her, I could feel amber eyes on my back. The golden dog had chosen me. There was no doubt about it.
“When is that dog going to be put down? The one in the back with the golden fur,” I asked.
She looked at her watch. “In about an hour.”
“I want that dog.”
Surprised, Mary asked if I was making the right choice. “Isn’t that dog sick?” she questioned.
“No, she’s just scared,” I explained as if I were a pet psychic. “I’m not going to keep her. I’m going to find her a good home.”
That day, Blondie became the first dog I parented all by myself. According to the pound’s records, her name had been Prissy, but that didn’t fit her at all. She needed something more hip to fit her new life. I named her Blondie after the famous ’70s and ’80s rock group.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The dog pound

As I was getting ready to leave for the dog pound and some canine intervention to mend my broken heart, my friend Mary called. We had known each other since the 80s, when she answered my ad at San Diego State University looking for a roommate during my sophomore year. In our college days, whenever my stomach hurt, Mary would make me poached eggs on toast. But the current situation required more than food. I needed love. And I needed it now.
“You’re crazy—you can’t get a dog on the rebound. That’s worse than jumping into another relationship. That wouldn’t be fair to you or the dog,” she lectured. She had a point there, I thought.
The city pound was half an hour away. I spent the car ride feeling excited and anxious at the same time. I had wanted to get a dog since moving out on my own, but my parents thought it was a bad idea. They questioned whether I had the means or the time to take care of a dog.
“I’m just looking. I don’t expect to find a dog like that,” I tried to tell Mary. But deep down, I believed otherwise.
When we got to the West Valley Shelter in the San Fernando Valley, I wasn’t ready for the reality of the grave situation I was about to witness. It had been years since I visited a city pound and I didn't remember them being so over crowded. I had to choke back tears as I looked down the rows and rows of dogs waiting to join families. Good dogs, nice dogs, frightened dogs, all abandoned. I imagined they felt the same way I did, rejected. Some other dog was chosen. They were lost, or worse, thrown out. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking for love

The Chef debacle threw me into a tail spin. The very next morning after learning that he was engaged, I responded in the only reasonable way I knew: by going to the animal shelter and getting a dog. I missed my childhood dog Siesta more than ever. How I wished I was five-years-old again and could snuggle my face into her fur and cry. With her, it was easy to express my feelings. She always accepted the way things were and loved me no matter what.
Siesta was supposed to be a full bred Chihuahua when we bought her at a local pet shop but my parents speculated later that she was most likely a terrier mix. Whatever she was, that small grey dog with dark brown soulful eyes looked like she stepped in white paint then used the tips of her feet to brush streaks on her tail and chest.
When I first saw her, she was a puppy, weighing only a couple pounds, sitting all by herself in that pet shop window, she looked so lonely and sad until our eyes met and she squealed in delight. Siesta was the last in her litter to get a home, grey tufts of hair curling on top of her head and pointy ears that were nearly as big as her entire body. When I held her, I experienced for the first time the sweet aroma of puppy breath, a combination of baby powder mixed with dog chow and a hint of moist fresh air; how pure and angelic it was.
From the time we brought her home that night, Siesta became my confidant. She got her name because Siesta was the only Spanish word my father knew. The instant Siesta joined our family, I never wanted to go anywhere without her. When I wasn’t with her, I missed her fur’s nutty aroma and her tiny feet that smelled like corn chips. She was supposed to be the family pet but everyone knew Siesta was my dog. She slept with me. She followed me everywhere. She drank from my Betsy Wetsy doll’s baby bottle and ate doughnuts and bologna while sitting in a high chair. That dog would do anything for me.
This gray wire-haired, goofy-looking dog meant everything to me. I pushed her in a toy baby carriage, rode my bike with her in my backpack, and couldn’t fall asleep without the noisy hum of her snoring. I even knit her a hat and scarf for the winter, complete with holes for her pointy ears to wear when it was chilly outside.
It was Siesta who taught me about love and forgiveness. Because of my strong bond with that dog so early in life, I knew deep down that I always felt more comfortable with a canine by my side. But I hadn’t yet felt confident enough in my ability to take care of a dog on my own. Yet faced with this devastating breakup of a relationship that really never was, the big black hole expanded in my heart practically bursting in pain. The only reasonable thing I could think of to do was to find love.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The engagement ring

That started what became a routine of him showing up at my place after work and us sleeping together, or not sleeping, as was the case. Basically, he stopped by, we had sex, then he left. I hoped that meant we were totally in love, the key word here being "we." I knew I was. And I wasn't about to screw things up by asking him about his feeling. I thought about inviting him to come over during the day or on his days off, but I decided to keep quiet; I didn’t want to drive him away by making demands. Besides, I was too far gone by then. I tried to convince myself that he was just coming by after work to keep a low profile regarding our relationship due to our professional responsibilities.
And then one afternoon while I was at the restaurant for a meeting, I overheard the bartender talking about Dave kissing one of the waitress’. When I confronted Dave about it that night, he shrugged it off.
“Are you seeing other people or is this mutually exclusive?” I asked, hoping he’d give me the answer I wanted to hear.
“You’re the only one for me,” he said as he gently kissed me. With that kiss, I completely forgot about what I overheard. The idea of me and the rock star chef at Restaurant 321 fit my picture of the ultimate relationship. Besides, he told me I was the only for him. I could just imagine my dad beaming with pride when I introduced the two of them. I was on the verge of having all my dreams come true.
The following week, I heard a rumor that Dave was engaged. Engaged to be married. To someone other than me. My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t go on with this pretend boyfriend any longer. I was going to finally confront him when he came over for our nightly jaunts. This time, I wasn't going to let kisses, or anything else, deter me from finding out the truth.
“Did you give her a ring?” I questioned.
“What do you mean?” he answered.
“Does she have a ring on her finger?” I pointing to the fourth finger on my left hand.
“Well, yes…but that doesn’t mean anything,” he answered reluctantly. He down played his bride-to-be, telling me she was manipulative and made him propose, but he really didn’t plan on going through with the wedding. He hoped this wouldn’t hurt what we had together.
How could I have not seen this coming? How could I have let myself fall so hard for this man? Even with these questions swimming in my head, I still slept with him that night. Immediately afterward, I was filled with remorse and self-hatred as he walked out the door. This man who seemed so different from the other men I had quote, unquote dated was, in fact, another womanizer. I was devastated and afraid that this meant I was sentenced to a life filled with miserable, empty relationships with unavailable men like him. I craved real love. I needed someone who I could show the real me to—and have him love me anyway.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some like it hot

I took the Chef up on his dinner offer as soon as I could and made plans to stop by the restaurant after work. When Dave spotted me entering the kitchen, he invited me to join his staff and taste some California wines. Instead of just sampling a taste from each of the five bottles, I drank an entire glass. One big problem. I hadn’t stopped to eat all day. Dave noticed by inebriated state and suggested he drive me home. 
My apartment on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills wasn’t far from the restaurant. It was a small one-bedroom above a garage. I had it furnished with 1950s-style used furniture that I bought from a neighbor who happened to be a high-priced call girl. There was a simple black couch with a black shiny coffee table made out of plastic. I had cheap, over sized framed black and white prints on the wall of some of my favorite celebrities, including James Dean donning a cowboy hat from his famous movie Giant, a close-up photo of Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot, and Marlon Brando straddling a motorcycle from the landmark film about rebellion, The Wild One.
“You are so beautiful,” Dave announced as I opened the door.
I blushed, not able to take a compliment.
“You have no idea how beautiful you are, do you?” he continued as we entered my home. He grabbed me and kissed me gently on the lips; I wanted more. His slow, steady kisses continued as he unbuttoned my blouse. “Your skin is so soft,” he said as we stood together in my living room in our undies. We both frantically tore off the rest of our clothes on the way to my bed.
Once we were lying together, he slowed down. Every slight movement I made was immediately answered by him. I needed no words to communicate, just my body telling him where to go. Dave gazed into my eyes and made me feel wanted. How could this not be love?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Future Mrs. Chef

When lunch was over and the crowd had thinned, Chef Dave came out of the kitchen and sat in on the rest of the meeting. I had a difficult time concentrating on business, because this hot chef was sitting directly across from me. But I persevered and in the end, decisions were made, press releases and events planned. In other words, I had my work cut out for me.
As soon as I got up to make my exit, Dave asked if he could walk me to my car in a polite yet flirtatious manner. I almost had a heart attack, I was so excited!
“Come in for dinner anytime,” he said as we walked side by side, a glint in his eye that told me he wanted to share more than business. I was thrilled! “Bring your friends, whoever you want, or just come in by yourself.”
I just knew this sexy, talented chef was going to be my new boyfriend. We would be the perfect couple: him, the culinary genius, and me, his brilliant publicist. I didn’t care if dating him meant a conflict of interest. We could keep it a secret until we were ready to take the next step. Besides, with his job, he would be making enough money to support us both. I wouldn’t even have to work once we were married. I could run a charity like Wolfgang Puck’s wife! I knew my imagination was running wild but I couldn’t, and didn't want to, stop it. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Learning to love fish

“Do you like fish?” Chef Dave smiled as he asked, showing off his white smile surrounded by lips that looked so kissable.
“I love fish,” without blinking an eye, I lied. Truth was I hadn’t taken a bite of any kind of fish in fifteen years. The traumatic recollection of watching my brother Rick poke the eye out of the bass he caught still haunted me. It flew through the air and hit me smack dab in the forehead. I felt too embarrassed and self-conscious in front of the owner of the restaurant and this sexy chef to admit that I didn’t like fish, no matter what the reason.
Chef Dave left the table, and in no time sent out simple green salads tossed in a fresh dressing that I later learned was a secret recipe from his mother. John asked me what I thought.
“I don’t have much time to cook these days myself, but I love to eat and this salad is delicious,” another stretch of the truth. These little white lies were just pouring out of my mouth.  
When we finished our salads, the chef sent out a light, fluffy whitefish. Chef Dave’s whitefish looked innocent enough and one bite made me rethink my pessimistic verdict, mainly because it didn’t taste a thing like fish. It was cooked to perfection with julienne broccoli, carrots, and a few stalks of asparagus, all beautifully arranged on the plate.
So far, I liked what I saw on the outside of the chef—his looks, his confidence, his culinary skills—but he really won me over with dessert. chocolate profiteroles. I had never before tasted the light and fluffy pastries filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate. I tried my best to savor them slowly, but I was the first to finish.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


It was early summer when I sat down for my first meeting with the owner of the restaurant, John, a middle-aged gentleman from Spain who spoke with a thick accent, though he had been living in the United States for more than 15 years. His soft spoken voice added to my communication challenge but I was determined to create the best public relations campaign ever. I always wanted to be the best.
The restaurant was already popular, catering to a hip crowd of late night diners and the bar was always crowded with beautiful people. John told me he offered free drinks to actresses and models when he first opened thinking the men would follow, and they did. But a major part of the restaurant’s allure was the food and that, John told me, was thanks to his Chef. There was never a question that John was a “Foodie,” through and through. His Buddha belly said he knew what he was talking about when it came to the subject.
He seemed to have thought of everything, so why did he need me? I was beginning to feel very nervous. My hands were sweating; my stomach was doing flip flops. I mean, I wasn’t a foodie at all. In fact, I would be satisfied eating Balance Bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I sat there listening to him, I began to panic. I didn’t even know which fork to use at a fancy dinner.
“I want the campaign to be as powerful as that Madonna singer,” John enthused. I tried my best to keep the smile on my face as I thought to myself, Madonna is a rock star. Restaurant 321 is a restaurant.
So there I was, wondering how I was going to accomplish this while John continued to make plans for celebrity parties, award show galas, art exhibits, charity balls to make his eatery world-famous when Chef Dave walked up to our table.
“Would you like me to prepare a little lunch?” he asked, although the question was directed to both of us, he was riveted on me.
My hand went slack and I dropped my pen. I tried my hardest not to stare at the boyishly handsome blonde haired, 6-foot tall chef with deep brown eyes in his messy white apron tied over his black-and-white checkered pants.
My pen rolled slowly off the table before falling to the floor. I didn’t even notice. I was too busy zeroing in on his hands. They didn’t look like they belonged to a man who worked in a kitchen. He had long, slender fingers with perfectly manicured nails. I thought that was a bit odd but his arms were muscular, with especially strong forearms from working with those heavy pots and pans, I assumed. Chef Dave chivalrously bent down to retrieve my pen.
“Let me help you with that,” he said as he placed the pen back into my hand, our fingers touching for a moment, just long enough to send sparks through my entire body. He looked at me with his mischievous eyes, winking as he put his hand in the pocket of his pants. His boss was oblivious to the fireworks that were exploding between the chef and me.
I thought to myself, wow, here’s an attractive guy, he’s got a job, a career even. He’s good looking yet he’s got food smeared all over his apron and his dirty blonde hair is messy. He exuded the independent spirit that I craved with the bonus of a job. I could smell it on Dave, attracting me to him like a dog to a steak.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Chef

At 27-years-old, I was madly in love with my superstar chef boyfriend, had a prestigious job at a leading public relations firm and was living in Beverly Hills. Granted home was a dumpy, tiny one bedroom apartment above a garage in an area referred to as the Beverly Hood but the zip code was 90210 where rich, successful people lived. Things looked good. I looked good. But something was missing from my life. Siesta had died of old age a couple years before and I was dogless. I thought (and hoped) a man might fill that hole in my heart. I dreamed of getting married, having kids and then getting my own canine, in that order.
Secretly, I fantasized that Chef Dave would be the one I would walk down the isle with, but I never let anyone in on that little secret, especially not him. It was important for me to appear totally cool, not too pushy and defiantly not desperate.
Dave was the chef at Restaurant 321, a hip restaurant in Los Angeles. I represented Restaurant 321, getting them articles in newspapers and magazines as well as television and radio interviews. The restaurant was a happening spot, a large establishment on L.A.’s new restaurant row that was packed to capacity every night.
It was the early 80s. I was tall, thin, with long, straight blonde hair. Long gone was my Farah Fawcett hair style from high school. I gave up those whips of hair that framed my face for a simple, sophisticated blunt cut with long bangs that accentuated my hazel eyes. I tried to look the part of a confident businesswoman in my black pencil skirt suit, simple white blouse, and black high heels, conservative and professional.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Crepe Myrtle Tree

That night when everyone was in bed, I quietly got up and went into my brother’s room. He was breathing heavily, already in dreamland while I had not been able to sleep at all. I whispered and tapped him lightly so that he wouldn’t make any noise when he woke.
“Rick, I need you to help me with something.”
I needed an ally, in the human form. I turned to Rick for help. At 18, Rick was handsome, a little taller than me with his blonde hair in long layers to his shoulders. He had just graduated from high school and was planning on living at home while attending UCLA in the fall. Rick was much more studious than I was, his only social outlet, the tennis team. When he was born, he didn’t breathe right away, a trauma my parents never got over. They coddled him, my mother tying his shoes for him everyday until he was a teenager.
Rick got out of bed, without questioning me, wiping the sleep from his eyes. The sky was black and still as we tiptoed outside. Quietly, we gathered some supplies from the garage and went to the side of the house opposite my parent’s bedroom. Standing there in his stripped pajamas, Rick started to dig a hole the dirt next to the crepe myrtle tree, the one Mom had planted several years before to liven up our backyard with its deep red booms. She chose the crepe myrtle because it’s known as a care free tree; drought tolerant, disease resistant and easy to grow.
I chose that tree as the perfect spot to bury all my cares. So under the crepe myrtle, as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, Rick dug the hole deep enough to fit all the journals I had ever written. It was a warm summer night but I couldn’t help from shaking, a chill running down my spine.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, his eyes filled with compassion for his little sister. I shook my head yes. In the dim waning moon’s light, he doused my personal journals with lighting fluid. I struck a match and threw it on the pile. With a whoosh, a stack of 16 spiral notebooks went up in flames. We stood there in silence as I watched the pages turn to ash. The flames danced as they destroyed all my written memories including the one about Mrs Ring, my third grade teacher, who told me to be a writer one day after reading my story, "The Legend Of Why Frogs Are Green"; or how I rescued a bird from certain death wrestling it out of the mouth of a cat and nursing it back to health I cried when Tweedy flew away.
I didn’t feel a thing as the embers cracked and tiny bits of paper floated around me lit up like fire flies. I was completely numb determined to change and be the good girl my parents wanted me to be. When the sparks died down, Rick and I covered the ashes with dirt before going back to bed. 
I lay awake all night in the dark, listening to the crickets hum their lullaby’s. Burning my journals felt like the right thing to do but it didn’t bring the relief I had hoped it would. My stomach was still in knots. Siesta was snoring loudly. I snuggled her in my arms for comfort knowing that she would always love me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Journal

I had been keeping journals for years, writing my feelings on paper. I even asked my friends to write in them from time to time.
Siesta’s paw prints made it into one, her tiny little toes and her soft pads that I kissed. I remember painting them one by one until I had all four feet on the page. She stood there patiently, not knowing what I was doing but standing there just the same trusting me completely. I was only seven at the time and I used different colored paint for each paw. One was bright pink, another pale blue, then the third was lime green and the last was purple. I also wrote several poems about how much I loved my little dog.
There were journals stacked up in my closet dating back to the time I learned to write. I used to keep the current one between my mattress and box spring, always starting on the first page that thus journal contained personal information. I worried that my sister might find them and read all about me. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider anyone else might read them.My journals were for my eyes only.
I came home from Kate’s one afternoon that summer and Mom was standing waiting for me at the back door, arms crossed with an angry look on her face. I knew something was wrong.
“I read it.” That’s all she said. I immediately knew what she was talking about. She looked like a mad woman, her eyes glazed, her pupils dilated and that frosted hair no longer in a perfect cupcake on top of her head but flattened and sticking up on the sides. I didn’t know whether to walk inside or make a run for it and keep running.
“Get in here,” she demanded. My feet moved. This was it. I would never recover from this. I felt completely exposed, naked, turned inside out. I hesitantly stepped toward her, noticing every stitch on her nasty pink housecoat with the frayed white lace collar. I felt my heart beat quicken and heard my breath as my world was about to collapse around me. The scene was even worse than I could have imagined. She threw her hands in the air, a used Kleenex flying out of the pocket, and ran around in circles. A sound came out of her of sheer terror, the sound a mother makes when someone they love dies, a guttural sound. I stood there watching her. Then she managed to pull herself back together.
 “Go to your room,” was all she said. She never sent me to my room before. That’s when I realized how it happened. She had bought my older sister Ellen and me new bed spreads that day. The happy, yellow and white polka dotted matching comforters had dust ruffles which meant she pulled the mattresses apart and found my journal.
I sat there on that cheerful yellow comforter in stunned silence. The white polka-dots on the bright yellow background had created so much grief for me that I hated them. How ironic, I thought. A blanket that’s supposed to keep me warm and comfortable at my most vulnerable time when I was unconscious, asleep, actually uncovered me completely. I hated it. I wanted to rip it up and the dust ruffle too. I wanted to throw salt on it and burn it. 
At that moment, the door opened. I saw Mom’s hand as she placed Siesta in the room then closed the door. Looking back, I guess I was surprised that I received this peace offering from my mother after what she had read. I knew what I had written could only mean the worst possible scenario for me. Very, very bad. Maybe she was offering Siesta like in the movies when they offer prisoner's last dinner before the execution. Siesta was my final comfort before my sentence was to be announced. Whatever it was, Siesta put her ears back and ran over to me, wagging her tail, greeting me as if nothing was wrong. I was so happy to see her, to hug her, to pick her up and let her lick my face.
“Oh Siesta, what am I going to do?” She rolled over and motioned for me to scratch her stomach.
“Even a belly rub isn’t going to make this better,” I said as I rubbed her tummy, her back leg going a mile a minute in ecstasy. A woodpecker was busy working on a tree outside my bedroom window. How I wished I could shrink up and hide in the hole he was making. But that was not possible. My penance was being grounded until I was 18.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Catalina Island

At age 16, I was hired to take care of a young couple’s children during a summer sailing adventure to Catalina Island just off the coast of Long Beach. When they told me I could bring a friend, Kate jumped at the opportunity to make some money and get tan.
Mr. and Mrs. Conrad were anthropologists who had traveled the world before settling down and starting a family. They had a little boy and girl ages five and six who I had been babysitting since they were born. Mom and Dad knew them from church and gave their full blessing on the adventure. We set sail on a beautiful Saturday morning with clear, pale blue skies and strong winds that made for the perfect sailing conditions.
The deep blue water looked like glass as the boat glided along, rocking me gently. I watched as the mainland got smaller and smaller, the water twinkling like diamonds on the horizon. The wind caught the sail and we picked up speed. As the water sprayed my face, I turned to see how far our destination was when a school of dolphins joined us. Kate and I watched them dash and dive in and out of the white water the boat left behind in its wake sensing their blessing marked what was sure to be a magical vacation.
Kate and I decided to get a head start on our tans so we got out our baby oil and positioned ourselves on the deck while Mr. and Mrs. Conrad did all the sailing as their children took naps below deck. We made it to our destination in no time.
As the boat docked, I felt even more excited about this adventure, if that was possible. The Island was all lush and green surrounded by giant palm trees with quaint shops and restaurants catering to tourists. There was hiking, biking and all sorts of water sports. We watched as a group of divers gathered their gear together to take off for a high sea adventure. I’d never seen divers up close before. I had only seen them on TV. What guts, I could never do that, I thought. I was too afraid of sharks.
To say that Kate and I weren’t the perfect nanny’s would be an understatement. We were looking at this as our own vacation. Even so, we did take the kids to get ice cream as soon as we docked. And the minute we turned around with cones in our hand, we stood face to face with two of the cutest boys we had ever seen in our lives!
“Hi, I’m Scotty,” said the taller of the two, tanned, buff and blonde. He was wearing nothing but a pair of board shorts, his skin that golden brown color from spending weeks in the sun. His blond hair was slicked back from being wet and he was barefoot. I couldn’t even look straight at him. “This is Bill,” Scotty motioned to his skinny friend, who pushed his longer, shoulder length hair out of his face. They both stood smiling at Kate and I. “We heard you were here,” Scotty said as ice cream melted down my arm.
“What?” I asked, wondering how could he have heard we had arrived.
“The Island is really small and when two foxy blondes from the mainland arrive, well, we all hear about it. What’s your name?”
“I’m Susan, this is Kate, and this is Lilly and Eric,” the kids were busy with their ice cream cones but Kate and I had forgotten about ours. A puddle of chocolate and vanilla swirl dripped at our feet, our ice cream now completely melted all over our hands.
Scotty’s sun kissed cheeks and bronze colored skin made his white teeth stand out, like they would glow in the dark. They weren’t perfectly straight from braces but there was something about his smile that said he was honorable. We made plans to meet back at that spot later after the kids were in bed and our nanny duties were done.
From that night on, Kate and I decided to sleep on the dock in our sleeping bags returning to the sailboat and the Conrads in the morning just in time for breakfast. Secretly, we were meeting Scotty and Bill. Puppy love was in the air.
The first night we met Scotty and Bill, they were waiting with a six pack of beer. We all walked to the shore and hung out, breathing in the fresh sea air and drinking while stars lit up night. My first sip of beer (I had never even tasted any alcohol) was bitter and I almost spit it out but as I continued to drink, it tasted better and better, the tingling sensation of alcohol starting to permeate my veins. It also helped ease the tension I was feeling on a strange Island with a strange boy. I started talking about Siesta and how much I missed her.
 “You know, your eyes remind me of my dog, the way they’re shaped, they go down on the sides,” he gently touched my eyes, coming closer to me as we sat on the sand.
“Thanks a lot, comparing me to a dog,” I laughed, pulling away.
“No, I mean that as a compliment,” he said then reached over and kissed me, I mean really kissed me. I liked it.
The next night I drank beer again and also smoked my first cigarette. I felt dizzy afterwards and almost threw up. But trying new things felt so liberating. Scotty grabbed me in his arms, held me tight, began kissing my lips tenderly and then tried exploring, putting his hands up my shirt. 
“Don’t,” I said in a joking manner and it worked because he stopped right away. Kate and I seemed like the only girls left at our school who were still virgins but i wanted to keep it that way.So when it came time to snuggle into our sleeping bags, the boys left. Until our last night. I told Scotty I would let him sleep next to me, provided he didn’t try any funny stuff. He was a complete gentleman. We kept our clothes on the entire night and cuddled but I couldn’t sleep at all, with the strange musky scent of boy so close I could taste it. Instead of closing my eyes, I watched him as he slept, his belly moving with each breath, in and out in perfect rhythm.
My romantic mind made up all sorts of stories about returning to the island the following summer and one day marrying him at that very dock. I never did see him again but when I went home, I wrote about Scotty in my journal. How we would meet back at the dock and make mad, passionate love, his hands touching me all over, his tongue in my mouth and on my body.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hot Rod Guy

People remarked that Siesta looked like a giant rat. She was supposed to be a full bred Chihuahua when we bought her at a local pet shop but my parents speculated later that she was most likely a terrier mix. Whatever she was, that small grey dog with dark brown soulful eyes looked like she stepped in white paint then used the tips of her feet to brush streaks on her tail and chest.
I told her how much fun it was to hold Charlie’s hand when we came in from recess. She looked at me with those big brown eyes and understood what I was talking about when I gushed over how cute I thought he was, with his dimples and that smile. He was fast too, just that morning coming in first place in our classroom’s race around the track. But he seemed to win at every athletic contest. He also won my heart.
In my teenage years, I found myself attracted to other boys just like Charlie. They were exciting, forbidden and drove my parents crazy. At 15, I dated a guy who was 20 and drove a hot rod. His long, curly hair was always in his eyes. That didn't last long, which made my Mother very happy. But what did last was my terrible judgement regarding the opposite sex. In high school, I ran after the biggest pot head on campus, even though I had never tried smoking it myself. All the while, the clean-cut basketball champ tried to get my attention but I never gave him a chance.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Pied Piper

I hadn’t gone very far before the littlest, Natalie’s younger brother, a toddler barely walking, fell and started wailing. I picked him up, carried him to the backyard and placed him into his mother Kate’s arms. I made sure to let her know that he fell, he was not wounded by Blondie. Then I said good bye and left with my dog, my family.
I was furious! Here were my friends with their husbands and kids. I had celebrated them all. Gone to their wedding showers, weddings, baby showers, hospitals when babies were born and more. All I had for my family was this little mutt, Blondie. She was it. 
Since Kate had been my friend since elementary school, it was impossible for me to stay mad at her for long. After a few days I knew I simply had to work this out. So I called Kate.
 “I am so sorry, Sue,” were the first words out of Kate mouth. I was relieved. She of all people would understand. And she did. She knew my love of dogs started with my childhood mutt Siesta. Kate understood how much that dog meant to me. She, more than anyone else in the world, knew my problem of choosing the wrong man time and time again.
Kate was with me since the beginning, when I began my cycle of making the wrong choices when it came to men (or boys, even). It all started way back in the first grade. Lots of boys liked me. Especially Donald. He was a good boy, a nice kid. I distinctly remember him following me around, tying my shoes and sharing his lunch, even giving me his home made chocolate chip cookies. In the first grade, he got in trouble for proposing marriage to me in class, actually getting down on one knee during reading time. I was so embarrassed that I tried to stay away from him for the rest of the school year, much to the dismay of my mother who was hopeful that one day I would actually walk down the isle with Donald. But Donald just wasn't the one for me. Over all the boys, it was Charlie who stole my heart.
I knew the feelings were mutual but sometimes Charlie had a funny way of showing it. Like the time he ran up from behind me and hit me on the shoulder; a little too hard. He knocked me down and I almost broke my arm from the fall. Or the day he challenged me on the playground in a game of dodge ball. He threw the ball at me with such force; it hit me right in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I fell over in pain and had to go to the nurses’ office to recover. Needless to say, our love was a little confusing at times. Who better to discuss boy trouble with than Siesta?

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Four Legged Daughter

I could smell the food cooking and see smoke rise from the grill as I entered Kate’s backyard. A simple picnic table with a cheerful red checkered tablecloth sat in the middle of the grass. There was a sand box, fully in use by my friend's children, with toys strewn about and a swing set behind it. Toddlers were playing with slightly older kids as parents watched, smiling approvingly. No one saw us yet as I looked around, Blondie tethered to me on her leash, in awe of all my friends and the families they had created. I wasn’t jealous, just amazed. Kate brought some more hot dogs and hamburgers to her husband Jack at the grill and lingered by his side as they shared a laugh. Jack was wearing an apron that said Grill King in big letters across the front. Mary’s husband Gab held her hand, looking lovingly into his newly pregnant wife’s eyes. Barb and her husband Mark stole a kiss as Blondie and I entered. I thought to myself, they all make it look so easy, like no one told them that connecting with another human being is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. At least, in my 34-years on this planet, it was for me.  
Suddenly, one of the kids spotted Blondie and in a matter of moments, we were surrounded. I brought Blondie out to the grass on her leash, kids in tow, and we sat down so that the children could pet her.
I looked up, shading the sun from my eyes, as Kate and Barb quickly approached.
“Hi guys,” I said, squinting into the sun. Kate, a natural beauty with her long blonde wavy hair and soft features looked almost angelic with the sun light behind her like a halo. She was wearing simple jeans and a tee-shirt, most likely from Target, with her hair pulled back. Barb and her perfect olive completion had a concerned look on her face as she picked up her son and cradled him in her arms. Her dark, auburn hair was long and silky and her jeans were designer, cropped to show off her new sexy strappy sandals.
“Okay, Sue, its time for you to put Blondie in the garage,” Barb said matter-of-factly. I was in shock. I had never visited Kate without my dog so it hadn’t occurred to me to even ask if my “family” was invited to the “family picnic” or not.
“I’ve made a place for her in there,” Kate added.
“I’m not putting Blondie in the garage. She’s never been put in a garage before. That would be cruel,” I said. “Besides, I have her on a leash. I’ll watch her.”
“Come on Sue, there’re kids here,” Barb went on, kissing her toddler. “We just don’t want to have any bad situation here. I'm sure you understand”
“I don't understand. I said I’ll keep her on a leash,” my voice was strained as the kids continued to pet the object of discussion. “She’s my family.”
“Don’t tell me you think your dog is more important than our kids,” Barb barked accusingly.
“Don’t tell me you think your kids are more important than my dog,” I answered as I got up to leave, the children following.
“Don’t leave,” Kate pleaded.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” I said as I walked out the gate to the front yard. I figured a little walk to clear my head might be a good idea. So I started down the street. The next thing I knew, six children were running to catch up with us. I looked like the Pied Piper.
“Sue where are you and Blondie going?, little three-year-old Natalie shouted.
“We’re just going for a walk. We’ll be right back,” I answered, hoping they would stay away.
“I want to go with you,” she shouted excitedly as her little legs ran to catch up with us. The others followed. While I was outside in the fresh air, it occurred to me that I didn’t need my friends to agree with me but I did need them to respect my choices. And if they had a problem with me bringing Blondie, they should have told me that ahead of time. It’s so difficult being the single person out. I think married friend forget how it feels.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Turkey Obsession

I remembered to pack some fresh turkey for Blondie, her favorite, a leash and a water bowl (this was in the days before the portable water bowls). I was to bring dessert so I picked up some cookies from a local bakery knowing there would be several kids at this picnic. My friend Kate, the first of the four of us to get married, already had four children, Barb had two little ones and the newlywed Mary was expecting her first. I had been asked to be a bridesmaid in all their weddings but I backed out at the last minute in Mary’s. At the time of her ceremony, I had just broken up with the man I thought I would marry and was so upset that I couldn't be there for my friend on the most important day of her life. To this day, I still feel bad about that but I was pretty depressed at the time. It was all I could do to actually attend the ceremony. As it was, I had to leave the reception a number of times to walk outside for a good cry.