Everyone has a story. I’m no different. Some stories are more tragic than others. My story starts out rather tragically, but that doesn’t mean it has to end on the same note. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I actually do have some measure of control over how it all turns out. I can make choices that put me in a position to have a happier ending. My life doesn’t have to be a total disaster, although for a while it looked like it might turn out that way.
The choice to get my shit together 100 percent falls to me. It has never been someone else’s job or responsibility to save me. Codependency is another form of addiction that can be just as unhealthy as substance abuse. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Hell, I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way.
Aurelia, my ‘71 Chevelle SS comes to a stop across the street from the house where I used to live. It’s a sweet little Cape Cod looking ranch house. There’s a manmade pond behind the house but the beach isn’t far away. We picked the house out together because we both like the beach. I can’t even tell you how many walks we took on the beach over the years we lived there. I don’t even know if Eric’s still living there. It’s late and I’m hoping that whoever lives there doesn’t come to the door or look out the front window. I’m not sure what I’ll say if Eric spies me across the street.
It’s pretty safe to say I’m not welcome. After all I’ve put him through, I don’t think I necessarily deserve a chance to make things right. I do owe him an apology. Whether or not it will make a difference, I don’t know. What I have to come to terms with is that the apology isn’t just for him, but for me. It’s a selfish act on my part. Yes, it’s the right thing to do, but there’s a chance Eric doesn’t really want to hear it. More than four years have passed since the last time I saw him. Eric made it clear to me I had a choice to make: sober up or get out.
I chose to leave.
I’m working on coming to terms with the idea that it wasn’t a mistake. I had to leave in order to get to where I am. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of in the past, but I’m proud of myself for clawing my way out of the hole I was in. It’s not easy.
Dogs barking pull me from my reverie and the next thing I know, a fluffy tan dog is barreling toward Aurelia at full speed.
“Bear,” I whisper. He’s a pit mix. Seems like maybe he’s part golden retriever with all the fluff to his coat. Before I left Eric, Bear was my baby. That sweet boy hardly ever left my side.
Seeing him come running toward my car kicks up my fight or flight instincts. How he got loose from the house, I don’t know. The next thing I know, Eric’s running out from behind the house, calling after Bear.
I have no choice but to open the door of the car and as soon as I do, Bear jumps right in like a day hasn’t been missed. His tail is wagging so hard I’m worried it might snap right off. He’s whining, crying, and licking every part of me he can get his tongue to.
“Hi, buddy,” I say as my eyes well. “I missed you too.”
“Sookie?” Eric asks, his voice full of confusion.
I look up and I can see he’s as confused as he sounds. He also seems a little pissed off. He has a right to.
“Hi,” I say sheepishly.
“What are you doing here?” It comes as a bit of a surprise he doesn’t call Bear back.
For some reason it feels like it’s hard to explain. I’m not really in a nostalgic mood. I didn’t come to reminisce.
“Feeling the energy, I guess.” It’s the only thing I can think of to say I don’t know if it makes sense to Eric or not. “I didn’t come to start trouble, I promise. Bear, come on, get down.”
Yeah, he’s not going anywhere. Maybe if Eric busts out his dad voice…
“He’s fine as long as you are,” Eric says.
My own energy is a mess right now. Eric looks great, but then he always has. His eyes are still the prettiest shade of blue. He’s got a great tan, suggesting he’s spent plenty of time at the beach. Bear’s got to be loving that. The first time we took him to the beach he was scared. Can’t really blame him for that. The ocean is so vast and if ever something could make a person feel small, I feel like the enormity of the ocean will do it. There were several visits to the beach before Bear got over his fear and followed Eric out to the water. We always kept him on a long line attached to a harness just to be safe, but Bear was good about not going too far. We didn’t take him out there when the waves were going nuts.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even know if you were still here. I just… I’ve been thinking about things. I thought maybe seeing this place would bring some clarity.” Hopefully he can tell that I’m not intoxicated right now. He has every right to assume that I am. I earned that.
“I’m still here,” he says. “You look… healthy.”
“Thanks. I’ve been sober for a little over two years.”
“Congratulations,” he says sincerely with a small smile. Another dog comes running out from the backyard. He’s white with brown spots. When Eric calls him over he sits at my ex’s side.
“Who’s this little guy?” He’s not so little, actually. I’m pretty sure he’s bigger than Bear.
“Björn,” Eric answers. “Björn, go say hello to Sookie.” The dog leaves Eric’s side. He walks over to me and lifts his right paw.
“Very polite. Nice to meet you, Björn.” I take his paw and give it a gentle shake. The little charmer smiles at me. “Ooooh that smile breaks hearts all over town, I’m sure. You get all the treatos, don’t you?”
Björn barks in response.
“Good boy,” Eric says. Bear stays as close to me as possible through all of this. “Mom brought him to us after you left.”
I frown at that. Poor Björn obviously arrived with a job. When I left, I didn’t even think about Bear or how it would affect him if I disappeared. I don’t want to think about him sitting at the front door, waiting for me to come back day after day. It’s one of those things I have to live with as a result of my choices.
“Looks like he fits right in,” I comment while releasing Björn’s paw. I give Bear some scratches on the side of his neck in the exact right spot to make his left hind leg go kamikaze.
“He’s a good addition to my little family. So… this is… it’s strange to see you,” he confesses.
“Yeah, I didn’t plan on you seeing me. I can go.” I want to go, if I’m being honest.
“You sure you don’t want to come in for coffee?”
“I know there are a lot of things that probably need to be said. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how to put it all in order, but the truth is that I haven’t spent much time dwelling on it because I’ve been focusing on moving forward. It’s hard to do that if you’re always stuck in the past.” Being stuck in the past is how I got into the mess I found myself in in the first place.
“That’s very insightful, Sookie,” Eric says. “Are you… are you in therapy now?”
“Down to once a week. I go to AA meetings. I’ve got a sponsor. I’m thinking about getting a dog,” I admit. Seeing Bear reminds me of how much I’ve missed having a buddy. “I’ve been walking and occasionally jogging so a dog would help me keep that habit.”
“That’s very true. The boys and I run every morning, rain or shine. I’m proud of you, Sookie. It’s good to hear you’ve gotten yourself together.”
“Thanks. Bear, you have to go with Daddy,” I tell the dog that’s already made himself comfortable in the shotgun seat.
“Bear, come on,” Eric says firmly.
Bear doesn’t budge. This is a problem.
“Bear, go,” I try to match Eric’s firmness. Bear responds by lying down and resting his head on my leg. Apparently, he’s still my baby. I really don’t want to do this the hard way, but I can’t take him with me. It’s not fair to Eric or Björn.
Eric sighs. “He’s gotten more stubborn in his older age. Bear, come,” Eric says more firmly.
Bear whines and it leaves me no choice but to get out of the car. He follows, of course, and it offers Eric the opportunity to snatch him up.
“Sorry,” I apologize. This is like a super awkward custody hand off.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come in for a little while? Give him a little more time with you.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to. I’m… I’m not prepared. I know that’s probably really unfair to him.” To say nothing of it being super unfair to Eric. He’s being a lot nicer to me than I probably deserve.
“No problem.” Eric bends to pick Bear up. “It was nice seeing you, Sookie.”
“It’s good to see you too. Take good care of my boy.” I’m not sure if I’m addressing Eric or Bear when I say those things.
“I’ve been doing a decent job so far,” he tells me.
“I can see that.” I give Bear a scratch on the top of his head. “Well, I should get going. Take care, Eric.”
“Yeah, you too,” he nods.
Bear lets out a little howl when I get back in the car. He clearly doesn’t want me to go and it breaks my heart to do it, but I have to. I’m simply not prepared to have the conversation with him that I need to have. I start Aurelia’s engine and she roars. This car is the only good thing to come from those two years of stupidity that followed my breakup with Eric. It’s a good thing Eric’s got Bear in his arms or I’m sure the dog would be chasing my car as I drive away.
“Bear,” I sigh.
When Sookie leaves Bear is not happy. He sits at the door whining, probably hoping she’ll come through the door. It’s the same thing he did when she walked out four years ago. Truthfully, he hasn’t been the same since she left. Björn did a pretty good job of bringing him out of his shell, but there’s still a little something missing. The excitement when he saw Sookie was something I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I give him a good head scratch before I move deeper into the house. It kinda shook me to see Sookie outside of our– my home. I’d loved her for a long time, but she couldn’t get past her demons so I gave her a choice to clean up and stay and I would have supported her fully, or to go and never come back. She made her choice, so Bear and I moved forward. There would always be love for her, but not the same as it was when we first got together. She was once full of light and life. Slowly she started down a dark path. A path I couldn’t follow. It was also a battle she had to fight on her own. No matter how many times I told her to clean up it never happened. So, I ended up alone and a little miserable for a while. Slowly I got on with my life. Mom brought me Björn, who is a great addition to the family. He’s smart and loyal and all kinds of sweet. He’s also been a great companion for Bear. I guess Mom knew what she was doing when she showed up with a cute little puppy that had just graduated from emotional support training. He’s been doing his job quite well for almost four years.
There is a knock on the front door, causing Bear to perk up. I don’t think it’s Sookie. I walk over to answer it and I’m right. It’s not Sookie, it’s Sylvie, my current girlfriend.
“Hi,” I smile as I lean down to kiss her cheek.
“Hello. Hi, Bear.” After kissing my cheek, she gives Bear some hello pets.
“How was your day?” I close the door behind her.
“Good. I got stuck in three meetings that could have been emails, but otherwise it was a good day. How about you?”
“Interesting,” I answer. “My ex showed up about 2 hours ago. Bear lost his shit.”
“Oh… Wow. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think I am,” I nod. The fact that Björn hasn’t left my side since Sookie left tells a different story. “She seems to be sober.” Sylvie knows about everything that happened in my relationship with Sookie. At least the important bits.
“That’s good to hear. Why did she come over?”
“In her words ‘feeling the energy’. I honestly don’t know what made her show up. I had to pick Bear up and carry him in the house. He was actually Sookie’s dog to begin with. She wasn’t in a good state to take care of him when she left.” He was a one year anniversary gift from me.
“It’s like a deadbeat mom showing up out of nowhere,” Sylvie comments.
“Yeah,” I agree. I am a little fucked up over her showing up. “Yeah. He’s been pretty sad since she left again.”
“That sucks. For both of you.” Sylvie gives me a tight hug.
I hug her back. She’s a good hugger. I kiss the top of her head. “Are you hungry? I made baked ziti and garlic bread.”
I rub her back for a moment before I let her go. “Come on.” I take her hand to lead her to the living room. “Other than an unexpected visitor, today was pretty good at work. I have a new resident at the daycare. A little Corgi named Steve Rogers. He’s adorable.” I own and run a doggie daycare.
“How sweet,” Sylvie says. She works as a field at the local NBC affiliate in Portland. We met when she came to do a story about my business, in conjunction with a piece meant to spread the word about a local ASPCA shelter clearing event.
As a result of that event, Sylvie became a pet owner in her own right. She adopted a little cream and beige poodle mix she named Marsha. Unfortunately, Marsha likes to pick fights with Bear so Sylvie doesn’t bring Marsha around very often. Bear can only tolerate so much of Marsha’s bullying before he fights back.
“He is pretty sweet. So far he gets along with the other dogs,” I say. Once we’re in the kitchen I pull two plates down from the cabinet.
“That’s good. I would imagine he can’t stay if he gets in fights with the others.”
The dogs get a two week trial when they come to my daycare. I like to make sure they’re not going to disrupt the order of things.
I realize all of the dog talk is so I don’t have to think about Sookie. I see how Bear is reacting. Part of me wants to act the same way. I always thought Sookie was my soulmate. Seeing her after so long brings up a lot of memories, good and bad. For a long time when I thought of Sookie it was all the bad things. After seeing her, I start remembering the good things. That’s not fair at all to Sylvie. I have to remind myself that Sookie and I broke up for a very good reason.
I look at Sylvie and smile to myself. For every bad moment I had with Sookie, I’ve had a great one with the woman in front of me. She’s sweet, and funny, and puts up with my antics. Lately I’ve been thinking about moving our relationship forward. Sylvie has mentioned moving in together. As great of an idea as it is, our dogs don’t get along, and I’m not exactly ready to move out of my house. I love this house. I feel weird moving Sylvie into it with me. There are too many ghosts of another woman lurking behind every corner.
Sylvie takes a seat so I can bring her dinner to her. I take a seat across from her. She’s seriously everything Sookie wasn’t. I don’t like to compare them but it inevitably happens every now and then, especially after seeing my ex. Sylvie doesn’t drink very often, which is one of her draws. Sookie didn’t drink that much when we first got together either. If she did, she did it behind my back which was highly likely given her consumption levels when she moved out of the house.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Sylvie asks me, as if she knows what I’m thinking.
“About what?” I ask in reply. I know what she’s talking about. I don’t want to admit it.
She tilts her head compassionately to the side just a touch and says, “You know what.”
I sigh as I lean back in my chair.
“I wasn’t expecting to ever see her again,” I tell Sylvie. It feels weird talking to her about it. This is a conversation I should have with my therapist.
“Honey, it’s okay if you’re feeling blindsided.”
“Very blindsided. I just don’t get why she can’t just leave and stay gone.” I’m starting to feel the anger bubbling up. “She’s already caused me so much fucking grief. Not to mention Bear. He’s a mess now. He doesn’t understand why she’s gone and to give him a small taste. It’s just bullshit. All of it.” I’m not hungry anymore.
Sylvie moves her chair closer to mine and leans over to hug me. She doesn’t say anything. No pearls of wisdom or promises that it’s all going to be just fine in time. She’s just there, soaking it all in.
This is what I love about her. She’s a kind soul that didn’t judge me for things I’m feeling. She’s put up with too much of this. It’s not fair to her, but I do my best to make it up to her in other ways. I hug her back and take in her soft scent. It’s nice and clean and crisp. It cleanses me a little bit, if I’m being honest.
“I’m going to be okay,” I assure her. “It’s just a hiccup. This will pass.”
“I know you’ll be okay, but you don’t always have to be okay.” She kisses my cheek. “Come on, let’s eat.”
“I’ve lost my appetite,” I admit. I’ll end up pushing my food around the plate. “You eat.”
Again she tilts her head. Sylvie puts her fork down and pushes back from the table. She reaches for my hand and tugs me up.
“Come on, we’re going for a ride along the coast. Get Bear and Björn, and the four of us will go for a car ride.” That gets Bear out of his slump a little. He loves a good car ride.
Before I go anywhere I pause, dipping to kiss Sylvie hard and deep. I grab her hips, something I seem to only do with her, and pull her body close. I’m normally a hands in the hair guy. Well, that’s who I was with Sookie.
“Okay, we can go now,” I say with a small smile when the kiss breaks.
“Good.” Sylvie smiles back at me. The pups are already at the garage door, whining and ready to go.
I’ll worry about putting the food away later. I grab my keys and open the door to the garage. The dogs are ready to jump into my truck before the door is all the way open. This will be a good palate cleanser after seeing Sookie. A nice reboot and refresh with my kids and my girl. Hopefully it helps.