Once upon a time, back in the spring of 1978, I had a really beautiful dog named Summer. She was a purebred Viszla, amber colored short hair, amber eyes and a fluid, graceful gait. She reflected my personality, anxious, overly dramatic, and prone to breakdowns when she was left alone for more than an hour. I would come home to carpets chewed to shreds, shoes destroyed, and evidence of digestive upsets in the hallway. She came into heat in the early spring of 1978, and suddenly, she wanted to get away from me as much as possible so she could get laid. I was in Grand Junction, Colorado one day, selling a Porsche 924 I had to right to own in the first place. I was trading it for a VW square back, which fit my situation a lot better. So Summer escaped out of the car and got laid like a million times by a lot of different guy dogs. I whistled and whistled for her and she finally came toward me, slinking low to the ground with her cropped tail as far between her legs as it could reach. She stunk of mongrel dog sex.
“Get in this car right now you little hussy,” I hissed at her. She jumped in and curled up in a ball, exhausted from her afternoon of wild sex. I had problems of my own that spring. I was trying to extricate myself from yet another relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. This one was beating the crap out of me on regular occasions and since he was such a nice guy out in the world, nobody believed me when I told them he was a violent savage whose eyes changed form blue to black when the rage came on. I kept thinking I could love him enough to make him stop hitting me, but I realized that I might die after the third beating which resulted in a bloody nose and welts on my rib cage that made it hard to breathe.
Several weeks passed and Summer gave birth to nine puppies, all of whom represented aspects of all the males she gave herself to on that spring day in Grand Junction. Summer began to nurse them, but I saw the desperation in her eyes. She really wanted to kill them all but nature prevailed and she gave her swollen nipples to them with a great sigh of resignation. I couldn’t tell her, “I told you so,” at least out loud. She knew I was thinking it. The puppies were frail, and didn’t seem to develop as quickly as most puppies.
I left town to save my own life when the puppies were old enough to travel. Summer had her bed in the back of my VW squareback which was made cramped and tight by all my belongings. We were headed back to California the quickest route possible, which from Telluride, Colorado, meant a trip through the desert plains of Utah and then the real deserts of Nevada. It was hot and the VW didn’t have the greatest air conditioning. Summer was panting and the puppies were crying incessantly. I rolled down the windows in the back and kept looking in the rearview mirror at Summer, panting at an increasingly rapid rate and drooling, her eyes frantic and wild. Suddenly, she just had to go. Right there in the middle of nowhere, she just quit.
She leapt out the window when I slowed down at an intersection. The car was going at least 20 miles per hour. I slammed on the brakes and saw her gallop into the desert canyons. She just couldn’t listen to one more whimpering puppy; she had no more milk to give, and not a single shred of patience left in her fragile, bony body.
I whistled and whistled in the heat of the Moab sun. Finally she answered, limping from the shadows of the badlands. She fell into a heap at my feet and I knelt and stroked her forehead. I told her we would just find the nearest place to put the puppies to sleep. “It’s okay,” I told her stroking that anguished head as she looked up at me with amber eyes full of remorse, “We sometimes think sex has no consequences, don’t we?” For I too had my day of running screaming into the wilderness after discovering my desire for union resulted in a pregnancy I was not in the least bit prepared to undertake.
So I stole into an animal shelter with an armful of puppies and begged the person at the desk to take them from me quickly. The mother was not able to care for them and neither was I for that matter. And Summer was free.
It is now July of 2010. I have a license to practice psychotherapy, and have taken a contract job as a family reconciliation therapist for an agency in Reno, Nevada. I am assigned to a family with limited resources. Their home is in an isolated subdivision north of Reno. The mother, Terry, is stuck in the house with her disabled 17 year-old son, Buddy, and their two other young children. Buddy has a seizure disorder, which has caused a significant developmental delay. He cannot be left alone because his seizures can come at anytime without warning despite anti-seizure medication, and he is prone to outbreaks of rage during which he can become physically violent. The special school he attends for half a day gives her some respite, however, there are days when Buddy’s behavior is too unstable for him to go.
Terry re-married when Buddy was about five. His father wants nothing to do with him and moved to Oregon right after they split up. “He changes his phone number all the time so I can’t call him,” Terry says. She had two more children with her current husband, both boys, now three and five years of age. Her days begin at 5AM when she gets up and steals a half hour of time on her treadmill. “My body isn’t mine anymore,” she laments. She has gained 60 pounds over the past 13 years. Because he is new on the police force, her husband has to take the shittiest shifts, and is gone 15 hours per day with commute times often requiring over ninety minutes. Her attention is divided ten different ways every second of the day, especially in the summer when the boys are out of school. In order to make ends meet, Terry runs an in-home daycare. Natalie, age nine months, arrives at 6AM sharp. She spends her days, reminding, directing, feeding, wiping, picking up, reminding, scolding, redirecting, feeding, wishing, longing, crying, monitoring Buddy’s grand mal seizures, and hoping her husband doesn’t leave her which, he threatens to do because of “the retard,” as he has come to refer to his step-son.
When I arrive, her eyes are frantic, like Summer’s eyes. “Am I a monster for wanting to get rid of him?” she asks through tears of exhaustion. Although Buddy is seventeen, developmentally, he is maybe six or seven. He overhears his step-father’s contempt and has recently reacted to it by having fits of rage at his inability to do what other kids do. When he rages, he tears at his own flesh and throws things, crying himself into exhaustion. Terry is big and strong, and like an Amazon warrior woman, she holds him down so he doesn’t hurt himself. She grits her teeth as tears roll down her face. His limbs are long, skinny and unwieldy, like a newborn foal, and he flails until he is limp.
She finds her little corners of sanity. She calls her mother to give her an occasional hour of respite. And she goes and gambles at the penny slots. She wants to ride her motorcycle, dress in leather, and leave this God-forsaken shit hole forever. She wants to disappear into the badlands and reclaim herself.
“This was what I used to be,” she says showing me a picture of herself before the sixty pounds. Her life is heavy, cumbersome; she swallows more than she can handle, which her body reflects. She holds it all, and feels it sucking her downward into the undertow where there is no way out. Her soul paces like a wolf or a tiger in a zoo, and she pants, just like Summer did right before she went out the window of my moving car.
I hold Terry in the heat of the summer sun that beats through the kitchen window, scarred with spatters of dishwater, and we go outside to her little lawn in the back yard. I tell her to sit with me and we rock back and forth with our eyes closed. I tell her to imagine herself free. Anytime she wants, she can come here to this place of freedom; freedom from self-hatred and judgment she heaps on herself for longing to be free, freedom from criticism, freedom from some standard or perfection imposed upon her by the culture or some socially constructed image of “the good enough mother.” We don’t talk often enough about the secret we keep so well hidden that we aren’t sure we can really make it through mothering and that we hate it so much sometimes that we want to just run and run, far away into the shadows of the badlands where she can ride motorcycles, wear leather, swear, spit and not wear underwear. The dirty side where we don’t measure up to anyone or worry about what he will say if the house is a mess or shame ourselves because we’re fatter than we used to be because we’ve just swallowed way too much.