Different year. Same mistakes.
One of the first people that I met on the road was a woman who I rented a room from for about a week in Boulder (check out her Air BnB here). Her home was essentially a half-way house for wanders and, naturally, I felt right at home. I mostly chose her place because it was inexpensive and pet-friendly, however, she did say that she doesn’t accept all pets, just the ones that she feels good about. Little did I know that I would get to know everyone in the house who came and went during my stay and find surprising connections with each one. It felt a lot like my life growing up living overseas where people came and went pretty quickly, but everyone had an interesting story.
When I first walked up to her door and knocked, a young man who looked like a college student and spoke in broken English opened the door. I asked if Joni was there and she yelled from the other room that I should come in. She was a short, fit and fiery woman in her mid-thirties with incredibly beautiful curly hair that dropped to her shoulders. I learned that she did jujitsu and could have probably thrown me on my ass if she wanted to. She was very blunt and particular. Take your shoes off at the door, no shoes in the house. Keep the cat in my room. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Clean up after your dog in the yard. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. This was clearly not her first rodeo. I then learned that she was a relator and just moved into that house, but also owns multiple properties around Boulder. She was one of those business savvy Jewish women who knows what she wants and kicks butt when it comes to getting things done. Needless to say, we had an instant connection.
Several of the mornings I was there we shared breakfast together. I also made a quinoa salad one day for lunch and without hesitation she asked if she could have some. I loved her bluntness and she was a hoot to talk to. Of course, as with anywhere I go, I enjoy grilling people on the place that they live and to learn why they love it. One of the things that she kept telling me was that she loved Boulder because the men all stayed 21 with awesome abs and they were always so grateful for a women who knew what she was doing.
Thank you, Joni. Noted.
Joni liked to get things done. During my one week stay with her, I helped her bring a load of stuff to GoodWill, did a few sewing projects since my machine was already out, and helped cook dinner for her and her friends one night at the house. She had suggested that we all do a group meal one of the evenings I was there and of course I was all about it. Goodness knows that I needed the company after several weeks of solitude, so we grilled ribs, I made vegetable kabobs and it was one of the best evenings I’ve had on the road to date.
Two of her friends had just bought a house together in the mountains and had also met on OK Cupid. The woman had just quit her corporate job and was finally really following her dreams. She also happened to be into pet psychics and we got talking about how Simone didn’t particularly love the van. I explained that she loved our apartment because it had a deck and she could be outside at any time and now I have to often leave her in the van by herself when I am working or running errands. What I didn’t tell her was that I also had not yet secured all of the things in the back of the van and sometimes stuff fell on her… I’m sure that didn’t help. Regardless, she gave me advice for how to talk to Simone to help her like the van better. She suggested that I talk to Simone every time we are going somewhere so that she knew what was going on and shouldn’t be worried, but also explain to her why we live in a van and what we are doing. She was adamant that dogs understand what we are telling them through our tone of voice and manner when we talk and it helps calm them. I can’t say I disagree, it was certainly a fascinating conversation.
Another one of Joni’s friends, who was also staying at the house, was Lee. He had been staying there a few months and was on his way to Hawaii to set up sustainable energy projects on the islands. He was essentially going to be a caretaker for a state-wide sustainable energy initiative. Sounded pretty awesome. He had noticed the solar panels I had installed on the van and we ended up talking about the process to install them, how many I had and then got into a long discussion about the amount of energy that is required to make solar panels and if it is so much that it’s not worth it to make them. I learned a ton from him and was definitely envious of his next adventure to tropical paradise.
One of my favorite moments of that night was when the Chinese student, Ying, was FaceTiming another one of his friends in China, speaking Mandarin and explaining the whole evening over the phone. He didn’t know I spoke Chinese, but he was sweet and grateful in his conversation and told his friend he was having a lot of fun with his “Mei Guo peng you”.
That night I felt so at home. I honestly didn’t really want to leave there. I can’t put my finger on why exactly I felt that way, but it probably had to do with the eclectic mix of people who were all there to enjoy the moment, but were also off to their next adventures. There were people from all over the world, and each person was following their dreams. It was refreshing. I cherish that night. I am inspired by those stories. It was a pinnacle moment in time for me where I felt encouraged that I was doing the right thing and simultaneously invigorated by all of the other amazing things I could do if I put my mind to it. Here I was, seeing it all first hand.
Thank you Joni. I can’t wait to have my own wanders’ commune like you do someday.
Van life brings a wide variety of emotions and thoughts on any given day. Here is a bit of flavor into some of the things that run through my head:
- I love waking up to the sunshine.
- That is the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
- I love mornings. I love coffee. I love my dog. I love my life.
- Why are libraries so hard to find?
- Why is everyone at this park staring at me?
- Oh Simone, you are the best travel buddy. So chill. Go with the flow.
- It’s so awesome that my office can be outside.
- I’m so glad that I can have my dog with me when I work.
- No Simone! Don’t attack that dog!
- I can’t take you anywhere.
- I should never work outside, I can’t see my computer through the sweat running down my face.
- Dang it. My MiFi is almost out of data. I need to find WiFi.
- Simone, don’t bark at that nice old lady. What did she ever do to you.
- I’m so hungry. Crackers and turkey it is. (again…)
- I have to pee so bad. I hope no one sees me.
- Client call. Dear God/universe/higher-power/Allah/whoever, pleaaaaase let the WiFi hold out.
- I need a quad espresso. STAT.
- It’s so fun to run somewhere different every day.
- I wonder if people think I’m homeless.
- If someone did think I was homeless and offered me food, I’d probably take it.
- I’m so hungry. Where the hell are the crackers??
- I miss motorcycles. It would be way more fun to drive into the mountains on motorcycle.
- Why am I so exhausted, it’s only 8pm.
- I should write a blog.
- I am so hungry but too lazy to make anything. Canned baked beans will do.
- I need to stay awake until it’s dark before I find somewhere to park for the night.
- Did you hear that?
- Is that someone trying to break in?
- Is that someone walking past the van? Why are they walking past the van?
- Did that car just stop near me?
- Did that light just flicker?
- Did someone just come out of that house?
- Am I going to get kicked out of here?
- Is it too late to move and park somewhere else?
- Is it better to stay here because I’m so tired or leave because now I’m paranoid and won’t be able to sleep?
- Simone would bark if someone was trying to break in.
- No one cares that I am here, calm down.
- I just look like someone’s weird cousin parked outside their house.
- Wait, wasn’t there a weird cousin in Full House who lived in a van?
- Maybe I should watch Netflix. But the light of the phone might attract attention.
- I’m always the loneliest at night.
- I wish it were darker here.
- No one on the east coast is awake for me to call.
- Did I remember to plug in my computer?
- Dang it, my light isn’t charged.
- I forgot to put ice in the cooler.
- WHY AM I A FAILURE AT LIFE.
- Shhhh…. go to sleep… you can deal with it in the morning.
Today I learned a really tough lesson.
Last night Simone and I went on a walk. I wasn’t feeling well, but forced myself to get out because I thought it would help. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when this little brindle pitbull with a partially white face and paws started following us. She had seen us from a distance and froze until we got closer and when I greeted her, she hung her head low, wagged her little tail and had a big smile on her face. She had a pretty oval face with floppy ears. Probably about 30 pounds. She didn’t look scrawny, so I figured she belonged to the house we were passing. But she kept following us. For another 15 minutes until we were back at our spot. She kept running into the road at points and even forced a truck to stop for her and she refused to get out of the way. She didn’t seem to have the street smarts that I would expect of a stray. So I tried walking her back to the house were we found her and shoed her into the yard, telling her to go home. It looked like she had turned a corner out of sight, so we went on our way.
Sure enough, a few moments later, the little pup was right by my side again, happily trotting along next to us. So I began asking some of the other people walking their dogs if they knew who she belonged to. I talked to the neighbors. No one recognized her. Since she did not have a lot of awareness of the busy road, I decided to keep her with us for her own safety. We were staying at an Air BnB in a town in Arizona and it had a fenced in yard, so I brought her in, gave her a bath and played with her and Simone in the yard. It was so cute how she licked Simone’s face and every time I sat down, she wanted to cuddle up with me and be pet. She was such a sweetheart.
I called around to try and figure out what to do with her and there wasn’t a great option for turning in stray dogs. Besides that, she looked like a pit and I knew how that would probably end even if I did turn her in. So I started toying with the idea of keeping her. I let her into the house and she and Amelie seemed to be ok with each other. There was the initial spiked-up hair greeting, but she didn’t seem that interested in him and he just rolls with things, so it felt like everyone adjusted quickly.
I made her a little bed, which she quickly stuck her nose up to and stole Simone’s bed instead, and we all went to sleep.
The next day, after everyone was fed, I was working from home and the kids were sleeping in various spots around the kitchen. It was very peaceful. The reception wasn’t great at the place I was staying, so I decided to leave and drive to the next town over to find a better signal for a client call. It was mid-morning and I figured the pups would be tired from playing last night.
Mid-way through my call I started getting text messages from the woman who owns the property saying there were complaints of barking from my place. She said she was worried but couldn’t get home to check on them. She asked if her boyfriend could stop by and look in and I said sure. He went over to the house and claimed that Simone wouldn’t let him in. He also said that he couldn’t deal with this right now because he also works from home. The text exchange was stressing me out, because I was on a call and there was nothing I could do other than rush home when I was done. Which is what I did.
It took me ten minutes to drive back, but it felt like hours. The whole time I kept telling myself that Amelie is a tough kid, he has his claws and he knows how to hide and get away if he needs to. He’s bullied Simone before and can hold his own. More than anything, I was worried about the house. What if they knocked over all the beautiful lamps? Or what if Amelie had climbed the drapes? My mind was racing and my heart was pounding. There are not a lot of things that make me anxious, but this was definitely one of them.
When I opened the door, there was cat fur everywhere. The dogs immediately greeted me and I shoved them outside to assess the situation. Big clumps of hair covered the floor. One of the yellow kitchen chairs was turned over. Some of the food from the counter was on the ground. I walked over to the sink and there were kitty prints all over the counter and the ledge behind the sink.
I started calling Amelie’s name, but knew he must be hiding somewhere and was not likely to come when called. I looked into the bedroom. I was worried that furniture broken and that I would be in big trouble with the property owner. Everything looked disheveled, but intact. There was no question that there had been a battle in here. When I turned the corner into the bedroom, I saw Amelie. He was laying in Simone’s bed on his right side. As I moved closer I realized he wasn’t moving. His side was completely slashed open.
I ran out of the room as fast as I could and collapsed on my knees into the dirt driveway. I wept.
The woman who owns the house came out from next door to see what was going on. While I was in a pile of tears on the ground, she asked me what happened and then went into the house and took Amelie and the bed out and put him in her car. She came over to me and talked to me very calmly and told me what we were going to do. She was going to take Amelie to a nearby vet where they could freeze him until I decide what to do with him and the other neighbor was going to take the dog that I found to an animal shelter. I asked if they were going to kill her and she said it was a no-kill facility.
All I could do was sit in the dirt and cry.
Right before she left, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know this is so hard. You haven’t had two dogs before and didn’t know what pack mentality is like. You’ve learned an important lesson.”
I sure have. A lesson that cost my baby his life.
The next 24 hours were dark. I tortured myself with guilt. I should have known better. I should have locked Amelie in the bedroom and left the dogs in the other room. Or I should have left the stray in the yard. I should have known not to trust a dog where I knew nothing about her history. How could I put my baby in danger like that? What kind of mother puts her child in harm’s way? Not just harm, but a violent and gruesome situation.
Then I would take a step back and try to retrace my steps. The dog seemed to not even care about Amelie. She was quiet. She didn’t bark a lot. She didn’t go over to him many times. How could I have known she would be a threat? Of course if I had sensed something in her, I would have been more cautious. But I trusted my gut. I always go with my gut and now my gut has steered me wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Can I even trust myself anymore?
Of course, I also blamed the dogs. How could you do this? How could you be so evil to kill another creature? Simone, why didn’t you protect your brother? You’ve lived happily together for your entire life, six years, and you just let this happen? What kind of soulless being does that? Why are you such a monster? How can I ever love you again?
I didn’t stop crying for twelve hours. I sat outside the house for hours and couldn’t bring myself to go back in. When I finally did, I noticed the blood all over the bathroom. All over the floor and toilet. He must have jumped up on the back of the toilet to try to get away. But that wouldn’t have been high enough. Why didn’t he stay in the kitchen in the windowsill above the sink? I saw his paw prints there. If he had just stayed there, they wouldn’t have been able to get him. He probably thought they were playing and wanted to be cashed. He always pretended to hate when Simone played with him, but I knew he secretly loved it.
He didn’t know he was prey.
I still don’t know everything that went down. Part of me is grateful that he passed quickly and I didn’t have to find him yowling in pain. He could have grown old and gotten a disease or cancer or gone blind. He could have lost his mobility. He lived a happy, rich and healthy life and got to experience a lot of different things. That’s not always the life that cats prefer, but I think Amelie enjoyed the adventure. Anytime we stayed in a new place, he wound wander around curiously and even when he met new animals, he didn’t show an ounce of fear. He was a little punk. He knew how to hold his own. Until he didn’t…
That night I wanted something to drown my sorrows, so I drove into town to find a restaurant where I could eat a big burger and a milkshake. I kept driving from place to place, but every time I thought I was done crying and could get out to go in, I would burst into tears again. I was a mess. So I decided to go into a little diner and order food to go. A diner where I could keep my sunglasses on and my food would be ready quickly so that I could get out of there. As soon as I got back into the car, I was back to sobbing.
I started researching pack mentality in dogs and got a better picture of how it really can change a normally docile dog into something brutal. It was eye-opening to say the least. If you don’t understand pack mentality, please, go look it up.
The next day I felt more at peace. I had my day of deep heart-wrenching mourning and now I was quiet sad. I was glad to have work to distract me and I actually felt ok most of the day because of that. But nights are always the hardest. Every shadow or any patch of black, I thought it was him. All night long, I heard a noise outside that I thought was him scratching in the litter box. I often still think I hear his faint meow. Remnants of his hair would show up. I still periodically find a nail of his here or there. I tried to clean up as best I could, but couldn’t bring myself to get rid of his things, like his litter box and food bowl.
This precious little creature meant the world to me. I know that anyone could say he was just a cat, but he wasn’t just a cat to me. He has been my companion for eight years. Some of the most formative years of my life. I got him when I was in college. He went through my tumultuous twenties with me. He went through my divorce with me. He’s been there for all of the other men I’ve dated. I cannot tell you how many people who didn’t like cats told me that they loved him. He was a spit fire. He had personality and spunk. But he was also sweet. And he and I had a special bond. Unlike any bond I’ve had with any other animal. You cannot brush off that kind of intimacy and loyalty. He was my world.
I’m still processing the whole scenario. I’ve wondered why the property owner’s boyfriend didn’t just suck it up and charge into the house. He could have saved Amelie’s life. I’ve kicked myself saying that no client call or anything work related is as important as my pets and I should have left immediately when I got those texts. I’ve wondered how it all went down. Did she bite his throat? Did she claw him to death? But it’s only torture for me to think about it.
I clearly don’t know what happened. I never will. I have decided to believe that Simone had nothing to do with it, because that’s the only way I know to move on. It’s still hard interacting with her. She, of course, knows that I’m upset and for the rest of the day after it happened, she slept in the corner in the kitchen, rather than the bedroom where I was. That was the first time in her life that she chose to be away from me. I still don’t feel very affectionate towards her. I talk to her and try to explain why I am sad. I hope we can get back to a better place. But I also know it will never be the same.
This is a dark post. But I believe it’s important to share the hard things in life just as much as we share the positive experiences. I believe in vulnerability and truth. If nothing else, hopefully this post helps someone out there learn this lesson from me before it’s too late for them.