Tag Archives: memories

Becoming Mrs. Harris

Last July, Heath and I celebrated our 11th year together. That’s a long time to “date” someone; made to feel even longer considering I’d been wearing an engagement ring on my finger for the last 7 of those 11 years. I’ve hinted at the reasons why before, but it mostly boiled down to never having enough money to make it happen on our own. There were other things… the uncertainty over whether I could accept never being a mother for the rest of my life (since Heath didn’t want kids) or the fact that family seemed like a very unimportant thing to Heath (in comparison to me at least, because I spend a great deal of time with my family). But when Heath’s dad passed away last year, the change in him was almost immediate. He started talking about having kids, about how he regretted us not being married already because now his dad couldn’t be his best man and see it, and that he realized why all those moments I spend with my own family were so valuable. As an introvert myself, who’s constantly trying to push myself out of my comfort zone, it was so nice to finally have a partner to leave that comfort zone with. And to dream again about a future I always saw myself having. So wedding planning began last February and here were our a year later, married.

 

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and I’ll elaborate more on that in a minute, but first let’s talking about planning. People always tell you how stressful wedding planning is, how you need all this time to get ready for it. I mean that’s even the message shows and movies about weddings tell you too. And I suppose to some degree, it can be, but I think it’s mostly a choice you make about how stressful you really want to make it for yourself. How much of a bridezilla do you really want to be? I chose none at all, but even with that relaxed attitude, I did manage to get a little crazier as the wedding approached. The thing about wedding planning is, you can have all the ideas sorted out months in advance. I had a pinterest board and a very clear idea about how I wanted the barn to look on the big day almost immediately after we’d decided to finally get married last year, but outside of imagining the look of the day, there’s not much you can even do that far in advance. Basically everything that needs to happen to make a wedding a success happens in the last couple of months/weeks before it and I guess that’s where the stress comes in because no amount of proper planning can stop everything from having to be done at virtually the same time.

 

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We’d planned a small gathering, which primarily consisted of my family (because it’s so huge) and the few friends we have that could make it. We didn’t have a wedding party so we walked down the aisle together. We didn’t do all the traditional dances or bouquet throwing, because who made those wedding rules anyway? We didn’t even have cake, because I hate cake and just can’t understand why anyone would pay the prices those things cost for something that mostly just looks pretty but often doesn’t taste very good at all. Basically, we just wanted to throw a slightly extravagant Thanksgiving-like gathering and in the end that’s what we got and everyone loved it. The warmth of the barn, the rich fall colors, the smaller crowd that encouraged lots of socializing, the comfort food we served, the pie bar which allowed guests to enjoy a variety of different desserts whenever they felt like eating it. There wasn’t any pressure to be “on” the entire time and for two introverts like Heath and I, it was perfect.

 

But back to those stressful weeks leading up to the wedding and everything going wrong… The details of the wedding came together without much a worry at all for me. My dress had arrived wrong initially and when the right one did finally show up I had to have a significant portion of it taken in, but otherwise I’d commissioned my friend at work to be my wedding planner/arrangement artist/jeweler. She’s talented in all these areas and had just been married in the same place a year before. She knew what sort of look I was trying to achieve and I never once doubted that whatever she created for me, I’d love. Not having to make all those decisions myself took such a huge weight off my shoulders. And it was a good thing, too, because the month before the wedding is probably a photographers busiest season and definitely my personal busiest as a photographer since my hobby became a full-on side job in 2015. I was working overtime at my real job, working out religiously, and taking pictures of people almost everyday or several families a day on the weekends. To say I was drained would be an understatement and my body finally made me stop all that nonsense two weeks before the wedding by gifting me with pneumonia for the first time in my 33 years of life. It was so bad I even missed nearly an entire week of work. The whole time I was sick, Heath took the best care of me, doing everything he could to make sure he didn’t get sick too. And he made it through that week, healthy as can be while I struggled to get enough air into my lungs to even do more than waddle to the bathroom occasionally.

 

They put me on steroids the week of the wedding and finally I’d started to feel some improvement, and a false sense of energy, but I sorely needed that because it was time to get super busy. I had pictures to edit, work to catch up on, bags to pack, pies to bake, a music playlist to put together, etc., etc… In hindsight, I would do a lot of these things differently if I had to do it again; I wouldn’t have baked all the pies, I wouldn’t have decided to be the DJ for my own wedding, I wouldn’t have taken on so many clients when I knew I wouldn’t be able to get their pictures back to them in a timely fashion… but it was too late then to do anything about it all so I just got busy. And then Heath got sick, too. Thankfully, it wasn’t pneumonia, but it was a fever that wouldn’t quit and stomach that was constantly heaving. I don’t think I’d ever seen him sweat through so many clothes in our whole 11 years together as he did in those few days before the wedding. Even on our wedding day, he was running a fever, feeling weak and drained before the day had even began. I felt bad for him having to power through it all, but he did. And despite feeling ill for most of it, he’d genuinely enjoyed the day as much as me.

 

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It’d rained the morning of the wedding and the temperature had dropped significantly from the muggy 70’s we’d had just days before. We’d prepared for the cold with a basket full of blankets for people to share since the ceremony was outside and they were a huge hit! And luckily the rain quit just in time for the ceremony and held off long enough for our photographer to capture some pictures of us in between it and the reception.  My dad officiated the wedding, which of all the gifts my parents gave us for this (the wedding itself and a portion of the honeymoon), was probably my favorite. We wanted it short and my dad made the whole thing happen in under 5 minutes! He forgot the rings, which he beat himself up over, but it was actually a huge break in the tension I was feeling. For an introvert to be the center of attention, standing at the alter wasn’t easy for me. Forgetting the rings made everyone laugh, and reminded me that all those eyes on me were just my family – people I’m comfortable around on any other given day.

 

 

The rest of the afternoon moved at lightning speed. For as little people as we had in attendance, I feel like I hardly got to talk to any of them. I don’t know how people with weddings in the 100’s manage the crowd at all. My uncle’s company catered the event, serving prime rib eye, roasted chicken, a root mash, my mother’s macaroni & cheese recipe, and cheddar broccoli soup. Everyone raved about how delicious it all was and I vaguely remember it being tasty, but I probably only got 1-2 bites of each thing. I hardly eat at other people’s wedding and having the chance to at my own was even slimmer. The pie options were Berger Cookie, Blueberry Mascarpone, Apple, Apple-Berry, Pumpkin, Pecan, and there was also a plain cheesecake, too! We’d made the wedding favors (a mason jar mug with seasonal tea & cider) everyone’s place holder, and several people put them to use right away to stay warm. After exploring a table full of “fun” just for them, the kids tried to rally the crowd to the dance floor and when that was unsuccessful, lured us there instead by battle dancing. I wish someone had recorded it, because it was epic!

 

It was all over so fast, I’m not sure how people have time to even fit those traditional wedding activities into the event. Surely that takes so much of the fun out of it. As people departed and left us with warm hugs and well wishes on our life together, nearly everyone had something to say about the ambience of the barn or the comfort of the food, the closeness of the guests and the pinterest-like success of the decor. Even though the day was about us, the fact that my guests were so pleased made me feel even happier about the day as a whole.

 

Heath and I were home by 9, with smiles on our faces that just wouldn’t quit. Even as I type this remembering how happy I felt, I get a little teary eyed. I’d thought that getting married wouldn’t feel that exciting or different than already being with him for 11 years had felt, but it was truly the happiest day of my life to date. I’d dreamt about getting married since I was a little girl, sure that it would have happened before I was 25 and when 25 came and went it stopped feeling like a dream and more like something I’d failed at. But to finally know that this is forever now gives me a different sort of peace and security in our relationship than I had before and I’m so-so glad we finally did it.

 

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Sarah & Heath

November 7, 2015

 

Our full wedding album can be viewed HERE!

 

A few favorite tracks from our wedding reception playlist can be heard HERE!

 

In my next post I’ll tell you all about our Honeymoon in Disney! [aka: a continuation of the best days of my life. 😉 ] Stay Tuned. :)

 

Memories: Redwood Trust

As a child I had a sort of natural ability to dance, much like my ability to play the piano. Mimicking whatever I saw was easy and I did it often. My parents, understanding that this ability would only flourish with proper training, put me in dance classes at a young age.

For years I studied ballet, tap, and jazz (which later became hip hop). It wasn’t until high school, where my free time was largely occupied by school plays or musicals, and field hockey and lacrosse, that I finally gave up dance lessons. It didn’t stop me from dancing on my own, though. Like the release I feel while playing the piano, dance often offers a similar euphoric experience for me.

Despite my love of dance, I was in college before I’d ever entered the “club scene.” My resistance to clubs stemmed from a variety of personal insecurities and fears such as:

  1. When I dance, I dance big. You’ll never find me “grinding” against someone, nor do I truly even consider that dancing. It’s more like dry humping a stranger and um, no thanks.
  2. I don’t like to be touched by strangers, especially in what I deem inappropriate ways (groping, grinding, sandwiching, etc…). It doesn’t matter that my form of dance is obviously not an invitation for these common club activities; it never fails that someone will try to invade my space anyway. This is a total lack of regard for someone’s personal preferences, in my opinion. Disrespectful even.
  3. Generally clubs aren’t places for people who take dance seriously. They’re a place to hook up and this is the last place I’d ever consider finding a suitable mate.
  4. Also typical of clubs, is alcohol consumption. Personally, I don’t want to drink in a public place, surrounded by a sea of strangers, with the potential of getting wasted and doing something I would later regret.

My college roommates finally convinced me to go to a club with them one night after many failed attempts prior. I only caved because it was their birthday and guilt has a way of winning people over. It wasn’t a totally horrible situation, but all of my opinions on clubs were only confirmed for me that night. In the end, my roommates were trashed and dancing on the bar with random people pressed up against them. And because I was there with them, any attempts I made to really dance were unsuccessful.

The type of clubs my roommates had exposed me to basically played remixed versions of whatever was popular at the time, in a cramped black hole in the wall. It was always dirty and hot, and unless you were drunk and blissfully unaware, it wasn’t the most desirable of places to hang out. I went a few more times after that with them, but usually found a corner to position myself in and became the designated driver.

After my roommates had finally won the battle of getting me to the club, my other friends, who had tried for years, felt compelled to try again. It wasn’t like I could really say no to them anymore so I let them expose me to a whole different kind of club scene, one that ended up being more my style and actually an enjoyable environment. So much so, that they dubbed me a, “club kid,” after just my first night there. The club was Redwood Trust, once a bank in Baltimore converted into a three story night club. Every level of the club offered a different feel.


(The Early Days, Redwood Trust)

The basement level was dark and smoky, with live drums accompanying the “underground” music they played on this floor. It was a lot of base that just thrummed through your body, pretty much the rooms where people got high and zoned out to the music.

On the second floor a live DJ hosted the show, and they didn’t just mix popular tracks, they actually made music mixing their own beats. This floor held the main bar, stretching across one entire wall of the club, and had neat architectural additions to it tying it to its former purpose, like the bank draws embedded into the bar (so cool). There were very little places to sit on this level as the main focus of this floor was dancing and nothing else. The better part of the floor was wood and at the opposite end of the bar, a stage stood for those that could really dance. I was there often. Foam fell from the ceiling on this level and lights swirled from every corner of the room to accent each dancer. This floor was my floor. The place I felt the most at home.

With a loft-like opening to the third floor, the music from floor two bled into the top floor, but there wasn’t much room for dancing there. Upstairs, on the third floor, another bar existed, and then every other free bit of space was occupied by couches or “lounge areas.” Maybe this place was intended to be the “wind down” place, but a lot of drugs and hook up’s took place up there and honestly, unless I was looking over the balcony at the dance scene below, I rarely ventured up there.

So, it was very wrong that I would find myself up there on the last night I attended Redwood Trust….


(Before my last night at Redwood Trust)

I was pressed onto a couch when I came alive, surrounded by people I didn’t know, with a strangers face in mine coaxing me to do things I was not interested in taking part in. My mind felt fuzzy, like my eyes could only see a blur of life in front of me, but somewhere deep in the back of my brain I knew what was happening was wrong. Somehow I found the strength to push said stranger off of me and stumbled towards the nearest bathroom. Once inside, I threw my face into a sink, heaving for air and wanting to throw up, while trying to understand how I even came to be in these circumstances to begin with.

Muffled voices met my ears, with lines like, “Oh my gosh, that’s her,” “Who?” “That girl who dances in the center of the stage,” “Yeah, you know, the girl with that black guy and those other freak kids that surround her,” “Lady Lux. She’s on Buzz’s site every week, don’t you know her?” “Somebody go get them!”

While their comments swarmed inside my ears, I tried desperately to come to, but my attempts were useless. All I remember was just being happy to be away from the immediate discomfort I’d felt moments ago before finding my way to the bathroom. And then suddenly, my friend, actually nicknamed, “Freak,” and the black guy the girls had mentioned seeing me with, showed up in the girl’s bathroom. In one smooth movement, he’d scooped me up in his arms and we’d escaped.

The scene that passed my eyes after that was quick, lots of muffled noise and blurred vision until I found myself being dumped onto a curb outside, with someone promptly shoving their hand down my throat. The whole ordeal was very, ‘WTF,’ for me, but I still knew it could have been heaps worse had I not found some sort of sense and been rescued by whoever went out to find my friends.

As I puked up my guts onto the pavement, the reality of it all started to become very clear to me. Beside me, my best friend at the time, Lauren, whom I’d bought an alcoholic drink for (because she was underage) and taken sips from while she flirted with a random guy, sat beside me in the same condition as me with another of our friends forcing her to puke up her guts. And the friend that had rescued me was finally returning to our group outside with blood on his knuckles looking ever-so satisfied. Shortly after him, while whipping my face clean, I took in a group of guys who I vaguely recognized being kicked out of the club, the leader of said pack missing a few teeth, and several of them bleeding from the nose.

I’d been drugged. Against my will, and for the purpose of being taken advantage of. Anyone that knows me knows that one of my biggest fears is rape. I’ve had a friend go through it and it’s something I can’t imagine myself ever recovering from. And that night, I might have been very close to the action. Very close to my worst fear.


(After returning home from my last night at Redwood Trust)

Despite my love of dancing and my new found enjoyment in Redwood Trust, I could never go back. Even after the beating my friend did to those punks who tried to take advantage of my friend and I, and the club itself overlooking the violence he enacted on them, I just couldn’t erase the thoughts, the memories, from my head. That place was dangerous and it was no longer my scene.

I tried to go to another club once, a long time after that with my sister and her friends, but I resumed the designated driver position, waiting in a corner for the night to be over in that old black hole in the wall and never tried again after that.

I miss dance, truthfully, and would love to take up a class again some day, but my club dancing days have long been over. And I don’t foresee myself ever giving that scene a chance again honestly. I know I should overlook a singular idiot individual, but they killed it for me in the worst of ways. They made something I irrationally feared worthy of fearing, and sadly, I’ll forever hate them for it.

Memories: Sports

I was just entering high school the first time I tried out for a sport. I’d been sort of athletic before then, but in the form of gymnastics and dance, never a sport that involved physical contact and grueling training. I’m not even sure what drove me to give sports a shot. Maybe it was because my sister had been an athlete since she was five (and a really great one) in softball and soccer, or that all of my friends at the time had already played a sport all of their lives, too, and it wasn't a question of whether they’d play in high school – it was their life, or maybe I just felt like there was some sort of obligation to conform to atypical high school activities. Whatever the reason, I didn't regret my decision to give it a shot. Turns out, I was actually pretty good.

For fall of my ninth grade year I tried out for the field hockey team. I think I've always liked ice hockey because my father does and it was something we could enjoy together. And I’d had two aunts play the sport before me at the same school. They painted it to be a really fun sport so I went with it.

I remember the first day of try outs (which started a few weeks before school started) began at five thirty in the morning. Almost everyone that showed up was still rubbing sleep from their eyes, even those returning to the game from the years prior. We were told to run a mile on the track as our first test. Hardly even remembering ever running a notable mile before it, I was somehow raring to go, ready to outrun these girls who’d probably done it a million times better than me before.

And I did. Well, almost.

The star player, a senior named Kim, who’d just returned from overseas after playing on a traveling team of elite hockey players, seemed to set the standard. Clearly the leader of the pack, I did everything I could to stay on her heels. She made it look easy, but I remember it wasn't for me. I just felt driven to try as hard as the best person there. And I used that mentality in the weeks of tryouts that followed. I didn't believe I’d be some star player too as a result, but I thought that my effort alone would win me a spot on the junior varsity team at a minimum.

Ah, but it did so much more.

When the teams were announced, not only had I made the team, I was the only freshman to make the varsity squad. Varsity! I had a total WTF moment, followed by an immediate OMG – SQUEE moment. And the reward of my effort didn’t stop there either. I hadn’t simply made the team, I was a starter, playing right in front with star player Kim who I’d modeled my performance after. I couldn’t believe it.

Apparently, neither could my friends, or the other players who I’d upstaged. Upperclassmen, who felt entitled to the spot I held on the varsity team over them, were outright vengeful towards me. They did everything they could to sabotage my position, and when I say everything I mean the dirtiest things they could try. One girl honestly tried to run me over with her car at the local shopping market. I am not joking about this.  And my friends, all of those girls who had played soccer their whole life and were sure they’d make the team, only made junior varsity. They thought it impossible that someone like me, who’d never even played the sport before, could pick it up so easily that I was qualified for varsity.

And so I was pretty alone in my happy dance over my success. Which sucked, but somehow it just drove me to be an even better player. I continued to soak up any and all knowledge of the sport Kim had to offer before she graduated and I trained my butt off – I even attended summer camps of round the clock physical torture.

I made All County Honorable Mention that year and by my sophomore year I was captain of the team. It was a heightened game against one of our biggest rivals and our team was falling to pieces. I’d just gained a free shot and as I watched my stick follow through and player on the opposing team was running towards me (which, if you know anything about hockey and free shots is a fail on her part). The hook of my stick connected with her eye socket and there was blood everywhere.

Whistles were blown, flags were thrown, and I was sure I’d be kicked out of the game for destroying this girl’s eye. Instead, after the girl was wheeled away with a maxi pad over her blinded eye, and the commotion died down, the game resumed with even more intensity than before. Like we weren't just fighting to win a game, we were fighting to the death. Before we hit the field, though, my coach held us in a tight circle to plan our next move. And before releasing us back to the battle, she yanked the captain band off our current captain’s arm and shoved it at me stating firmly, “Whisted, you’re captain now!”

I didn’t understand it, but I never questioned our coach. I took the band and slid it onto my arm and gave it my all. We won that game and I remained captain through my senior year.

Field hockey wasn't the only sport I played in high school, though. When spring rolled around I thought I’d give Lacrosse a shot, too. Surprisingly, I excelled at it as well. I was faster in the spring, the upward motion of a lacrosse stick in my hands seemed to drive me for forward like a jackrabbit and even though one might consider being short a disadvantage to a sport you play in the air, I somehow made my tiny stature work for me. It was easy to duck under and away from oncoming sticks.  I was good at keeping the ball tight in my stick and sneaking up seemingly out of nowhere to score goals.

As fun as it was, I probably never reached my true potential with lacrosse. I was also heavily involved in the theater in the spring and juggling the two extracurricular activities in addition to my difficult class schedule became a burden. By my junior year I’d given up on lacrosse and chosen to dedicate myself more fully to theater instead. Sometimes I regret not trying harder to make them both work.

I miss playing organized sports as an adult. I certainly wasn't the type of kid people expected to play these sports. I was girly, dainty, a pianist, a dancer, not a contact sports kind of kid. But I disproved that stereotype by excelling at it. And it gave me so much more reward than just a healthy, toned body. I learned inner strength and self-determination and how to lead people towards a common goal. I found pride in myself for achieving something I would have never thought myself capable of. I miss not only the action of actually playing team sports, but the qualities they helped shape in me. It’s not to say I've lost these attributes, but it’s easy to let them become dormant without a constant feed of encouragement.

There are a lot of people who frown upon sports and extracurricular activities like it, but people should really try to see the bigger picture. Even if I hadn't been some great athlete, I would have still enjoyed the effort it took to be a part of something and I would have still gained those inner qualities by pushing myself the way I did.

It’d be fun to play again one day.

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Memories: Dog Bites

When I was born my parents already had a mutt named, Ozzy (Osborne), that they’d raised from puppy-hood. Ozzy saw me, coming into the picture, as a threat to his livelihood and he made that known by his first snarling attempt at my face when my parents brought me home (so I’m told).

    

My parents, being the young, hopeful kids they were at the time, thought a little threatening on their part would be enough to sway his actions against me, but several years later they would find that their foolish assumptions were wrong, and my face would pay the price.

The year was 1988, I am 6 years old. It is the end of summer.

Many times before this moment I’d had encounters with Ozzy that were less than desirable. When I’d tried to kiss him, he’d slide his tongue out at me to taste my skin, while growling in an “I will get you one day” sort of way. My parents, while cautious, thought it was more funny than anything, not realizing the true threat on their hands.

One summer afternoon, though, things went from subtle hatred to outright kill-mode.

My sister was only 3 years old, playing in the plastic playhouse we had out back of our townhouse at the time. I was lingering by the gardens. I held a bucket of popcorn in my hands, a treat Ozzy had always been all too fond of when my parents offered it to him before.

Being the naïve child I was, and not understanding the grimace he held on his face against me all those years before equating to hatred, I offered it to him the way I’d seen my parents do it before, presenting the bucket right under his snout, waiting for him to dive in.

Sniff he did, but devour, he did not.

Full on attack is what took place, unexpectedly, against me, innocent child in a yard alone, without adults to reprimand him. I was not prepared for what came next.

The most I remember is somehow pushing him off of me, running past my confused, but shocked-still sister and into the house, a 3 story townhome with rock music a blaring. I made my way to the entry way, the second level of the home, and screamed bloody murder for my mother. She was cleaning at the time, an action that took a day’s worth of time accompanied by the aforementioned rock music, but she heard me amidst it all. She paused on the stairs above me, taking notice of my torn off face and pitching a Pledge filled rag my way, while running past me to call for my father, whom at the time was in a home a few houses up the street, as she was petrified of blood.   

I remember my father gathering me up in his arms as he entered the house and my mother advising me to refrain from looking in the mirror in this entryway, but her warning only caused me to take a glance at my horrifying appearance: a face mangled by the jaws of a dog twice my size, ghostly white and dripping of blackened blood. The image will never leave my mind.

At the hospital, it was all too surreal: my grandmothers hand in mine, singing, “The sun will come out tomorrow…,” to distract me because I loved Annie, the sheet of brown paper they laid over me after cutting my clothes away from my body, and the needles piercing my skin through said paper, as they proceeded to sew my face back together. I don’t remember feeling numb at all, though I know I must have at some point.

When I returned home, I was full of stitches, with a bottle of coca butter in tow, and an excused absence from school for a few weeks. The dog, my absolute enemy, and greatest fear now, was locked in the basement; an out of sight object, but not out of mind.

       

That week, after returning home, my parents left with Ozzy to “take him to a farm for wayward dogs,” and I never saw him again. Later, as an adolescent, I would learn that they’d taken him to a field to share a bucket of KFC with him (apparently his favorite) and let him run one last time, and then take him to a vet to be put down. While it saddened me to know he had to die as a result, some part of me found resolve in knowing he wasn’t still out there existing and capable of finding my face again one day because after his attack, my entire view on dogs had changed.

The creature I had once loved had become my biggest fear.

My parents, being people who loved large dogs, couldn’t live with this new fear in me and urged me to “pick” the next big dog that would “guard” our house. While I was scared of most dogs, I was receptive to puppies. At the time they still seemed harmless for the most part.

Of the first litter, I picked the dog with the largest paws, not knowing that he would wield the largest growth in the end. He was a chocolate lab, a dog my parents had researched long and hard to find a compatible pet for children before settling this time, and I had named him, “Mousse,” like the chocolate dessert. His official name being, “Sir Chocolate Mousse of Edgewater” (Edgewood being the place in MD we had lived at the time).

     

Mousse was perfect; docile and calm in every way of the words. Despite his rapid growth into giant dog, he was loving and sweet and protective of me, especially. But in between the second and third year of his life, we moved to a different town. While acquiring a larger yard, in what appeared to be a more stable town, said yard had no barriers like its predecessor and Mousse liked to roam. Not dwell, though, just pass through. Still, the owners of those pass-through yards despised his brief presence and despite my fathers attempts to even purchase these pass-through locations, they did everything they could to stop Mousse’s brief encounters with their land.

On the fourth year of his short life, he died of kidney failure, likely the result of poisoning according to the vet. Burying him so soon was a sad, sad day for the small child I still was at the point. I’d found trust finally in another dog and too quickly he was taken from me.

Very soon after, my parents set out to acquire another lab, of the yellow variety this time because another chocolate felt like betrayal to Mousse to me. Again, I decided on the one that would come home with us. It was all dependent on my comfort with this dog and again I picked the one with the largest paws.

He grew so rapidly, nearly overnight in comparison to Mousse, that I named him Hooch, after the giant dog from Turner and Hooch the movie. His official name was, “Hooch the Pooch Whisted.” I loved him so much I carried him around far past a reasonable size to carry around a dog of his kind.

Hooch was the type of dog that felt like your friend. He waited for me at the door when I’d return from school or from being out with my friends and wag his tail so happily at your presence that you couldn’t help but feel like you’d just made his life meaningful. He’d sleep with me in bed, no matter how little room there was for the two of us in my twin sized bed. He seemed to sense my disclosed sadness as an awkward teen and comfort me as necessary.

Hooch was like a perfect human, trapped inside a giant furry body. He was my best friend growing up. Laugh all you want, but it’s the truth. And his awesomeness wasn’t only extended to me. My family, my friends — they all had this amazing connection with him, which just led me to further believe that in some other life he was the kind of being everyone needed to know.

      

When I left home for college, it was definitely hard to be away from him. And being forced in some circumstances to be around other dogs made me suddenly remember the fear I held for them overall without Hooch around. Even tiny yapper dogs that could easily be punted with just a kick of the foot scared me and it made me miss him all the more. The comfort and ease he gave me after such a tragic childhood situation could not be erased, clearly.

Then one day, while at the DMV with a friend, Mom called me to tell me that what was supposed to be a routine test for Hooch at the vet, had resulted in them putting him to sleep for good because of a cancerous tumor surrounding his stomach being inoperable. At the moment, not being home, it didn’t really seem real, but shortly after I moved back home and it all hit me like a ton of bricks.

He wasn’t there, he was really gone. My dog, my best friend, had spent his last night in a cold and dark doctors office cage probably wondering where his family was, but thinking by tomorrow he’d see them again, only to never wake up again. The thought of it all killed me. I spent days going through pictures and videos of him, reminiscing in all that he had given me in my childhood, crying profusely, and realizing exactly how much he’d meant to me.

To this day I still have his ashes in a case, and a lock of his hair in a capsule, never allowing my parents to burying him in the backyard beside Mousse. I still just can’t let go officially. Something changed in me though, with Hooch’s death. I was no longer afraid of other dogs.

In fact, I yearn for them, big dogs especially. I don’t think I could own another lab, ever. It would be too hard on me, reminding me of Hooch and somehow making me feel guilty. But I dream of one day having something like a Great Dane.

Now when I see dogs in public, I’m that annoying person who asks if I can pet your dog, if I can love on them, because in them all, I feel a bit of Hooch’s spirit and want to absorb a little of it if I can, even if for just a moment.

It’s so strange to me how much I love stranger dogs now. I can even approach dogs without owners, without fear, just in hopes that I can be of some service to them (which is honestly foolish, but my reservation doesn’t exist at all now). How I came from the girl who was scared of even the tiniest of dogs to the girl who loves any and every dog I come across I will never fully understand, but I know Hooch is the reason somehow and I will forever be grateful for that.

While I’m currently living with a cat (and happily so, surprisingly) in my current apartment living situation, I truly hope a dog is in my future. A giant one I can love not exactly as much as Hooch, but close enough.

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Memories: Joey

Before I became a surveyor/wannabe writer I was an in-home Behavioral Specialist. I stumbled into this career while doing my Secondary Special Education internship at John Archer (our local special needs school).

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I was 20 when I started my internship and on my first day the teacher I’d been assigned to assist showed me around the school and introduced me to her class. Her students were between the ages of 17-21 years old (special needs kids go through grade school until they are 21) and most of them were higher functioning special needs kids, some even had jobs as part of their curriculum.

There was one boy who wasn’t though. He was dressed like any other 17 year old boy, like his parents took great care of his appearance. He even had a little gel in his spiked sandy brown hair. But he was sitting alone in the corner, separated from the rest of group, whacking a Jesse rag doll (from Toy Story) repeatedly against his mouth.

In a hushed manner the teacher pointed at him and said, “That’s Joey, but don’t get too close to him. He’s extremely violent.”

While he was about my height, the boy was very skinny and I found it hard to believe such a tiny person could be so violent that I wasn’t even allowed near him. And the fact that they’d basically written him off as a lost cause infuriated me. I couldn’t believe she was actually suggesting I ignore him and only cater to the more functioning students.

Like the rebel I thought I was back then, instead of heeding her warning I immediately felt drawn to him. I was determined to give this poor kid some attention and understand what made him so “violent.”

So over the first week of my internship I observed him and learned as much as I could about him. Joey’s disorder was called “Cri Du Chat Syndrome” also known as “The Cat-Cry Syndrome” characterized by the cat like wail of the child at birth and the distinct facial features they all share. It’s a fairly rare disorder and when he was born there was very little known about it at all.

In that week I realized several things about Joey such as: his inability to feed himself or even eat regular food (his food had to be pureed like mush so he could swallow it without choking), his inability to use the bathroom on his own (he wore diapers and needed to be changed), he needed assistance to walk most of the time (due to scoliosis so bad he had to have two metal rods inserted into his back to keep him straight), and that he was incapable of any form of communication. Also, like the teacher had warned he was rather violent, but mostly to himself. In fits of rage he’d bang his arm against his head, or his head against hard surfaces. He’d occasionally bite his own arm so hard it’d leave marks and would also dig his claws into almost anyone who came near him, but not me (at least in the beginning).

Everyday when the buses would arrive we ushered the kids outside and led them to their proper rides. I decided this would be my attempt at getting close to Joey and for the most part he seemed to cooperate better with me than I’d seen him cooperate with anyone else. Some days as he entered the bus, he’d even look back at me and smile. Even though I was doing very little to ‘help’ him, he seemed to appreciate my lack of fear in touching him. And so that became a routine. Every afternoon I’d hold his hand or arm for support and lead him to his bus, without the violence I’d been warned of.

My ability to not be effected by his aggression surprised the teachers and I soon became his one-on-one aid, helping with feeding, bathroom, speech (I tried to teach him sign language and get him to practice making the shapes of words with his mouth in front of a mirror), and anything else Joey required – even time outs. On those days where he was especially aggressive, we’d walk the hallways together and he’d almost immediately calm down.

As my internship came to an end though I wondered what would happen to him after I was gone. Would he go back to being alone and ignored? Would all the progress he’d made with me be lost because no one else was willing to take the chance?

It was then that I received a phone call from his mother. She told me that his bus driver kept teasing that Joey had a girlfriend at school and when his mother had asked for an explanation she told her that since his new aid had started walking him to the bus he was far more docile on the rides home and would even hesitate to get on the bus some days like he’d rather stay with her (her, being me).

His mother couldn’t believe this because she’d fought the system hard his entire life for the attention he deserved and like her son, was basically blown off at every attempt she made to get him one-on-one help. She wanted to meet me and wondered if I’d be interested in babysitting or working with him at home sometimes through a company they received funding from called ARC.

Knowing that my time with him was up at school I agreed, in hopes that my efforts wouldn’t be completely lost and also because with a child like that I imagined his parents rarely got a break. So I started babysitting him and while I watched him in his own environment he was different. He was more relaxed and he seemed more receptive to teaching in the comfort of his home. And at first his outbursts were far less common at home than they were at school. This drove his parents to seek additional funding to keep me in their home more frequently.

A company called Human-IM who places behavioral aids in people’s homes to assist with special need kids like Joey approved him for funding and hired me to work in home with him 40 hours a week although between babysitting and working I was frequently there far more hours than that. On a few occasions I even spent the night for the weekend so his parents could actually take a real vacation.

Over the next 3 years with Joey I taught him several things, such as walking up and down the steps with minimal assistance (as he had become far too heavy for his parents to continue carrying), using the shower hose to rinse himself off while bathing, how to hold a spoon once I’d placed food on it, and even some simple sign language so he could finally communicate with us in a way other than violence. I also worked with that violence and enacted a reward system, one that didn’t acknowledge unnecessary acts of violence, but rewarded his positive behaviors instead. As a general rule, people want attention. If you only react to positive behaviors than they are far more apt to act in a way that pleases you than one that results in them being ignored.

At first Joey accepted this change nicely, but quite a few factors started to play into its lack of effectiveness over time. Joey had a terrible amount of medical issues ranging from reflux disease & severe constipation to overactive mucus production that made him choke constantly and required special breathing machines. He was on an amount of medications I wouldn’t wish on anyone and while some of them worked, several of them seemed to only add to his problems. And his bodies near constant discomfort made him angry. I imagined myself in excruciating stomach pains, wishing I could scream out about my aches and not being able to and knew that I would likely become aggressive as a result too.

The older he got, the stronger he grew and the pinches and outbursts I’d once been able to tolerate eventually became too much for me (my arms and wrists are still marred with little moon shaped marks as a memory). I didn’t want to give up on a kid I loved like my own blood, but my effectiveness with him had warn off and I’d became nothing more than a punching bag in the end. I knew it was time to leave. His family would still receive funding and I hoped that someone else brave enough to endure the violence initially would be able to reach him like I once had. After 3 years together, we parted ways.

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I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been thinking about Joey and my time with him a lot and I miss him. I haven’t seen him in over four years now, but I’ve heard he was put on a new medicine that curbed his aggression better than he’d ever been before and that he’s since moved into a group home with other adults like him where there is 24/7 supervision and aid. I hope he’s happy where he is and I hope his aids treat him as good as I did, if not better.

But of all the thoughts I have of Joey, one will always stand out over all of the others and still to this day bring tears to my eyes just thinking about it….

A few months into babysitting him I arrived one night while his father was carrying him on his back down the stairs into the living room. Joey had just had a bath and was in fresh Sponge Bob pajamas. His father kept saying, “Joey, Sarah’s here,” and I heard him making “Sssss” noises like he was trying to say my name. His mother waited at the bottom of the stairs and I stood in the center of the living room. When they reached the last step he slid off his fathers back and stood with his mother. He pointed at me and for the first time in the 18 years of his life said a full word. “Ssssarah,” he said with a smile on his face like he was happy to see me.

It touched me in an indescribable way for him to not only see my face and know my name, but be able to say it when his speech was so impossible at that point in his life. But it touched me even more to see his parent’s faces when they heard their son speak a full word for the first time in his life.

Knowing the impact I had on not just Joey’s life, but theirs was one of the biggest rewards I have received in life and it’s something I will never forget. I hope that one day I will see him again and that maybe, just maybe, he will still remember my face and my name.

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