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Six Weeks into the Apocalypse

 

After the anxiety phase of the shutdown, which I wrote about two weeks ago, I moved into the depression phase. I got really tired, and started to feel hopeless, about everything. The idea of putting on my mask, and gloves, just to go to the supermarket and possibly find out that they had no toilet paper, or paper towels, or mushrooms, or fat free Greek yogurt, overwhelmed me. I stopped arguing with the voices in my head that were telling me I wasn’t doing enough, and just accepted that they were right. And the nightmares continued. Night after night, from the safety of my home, where I have more than enough, I imagined myself lost and lacking in everything.

In my waking life, I did everything I could think of to manage the gradually lowering clouds, and the thinning air, of my emotional world: I watched Steven Colbert, and his dog; I watched Rachel Maddow, and wondered why she didn’t bring her dog to work with her; I watched the news as selectively as possible, and I went to my Zoom events, and worked on my lesson plans, and exercised, and played music, and cuddled with my dogs. But I couldn’t push the grey clouds back; they just kept coming closer and closer, squeezing me into an ever smaller corner of my world.

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I tried to count my blessings, and my successes from the past year, but my brain turned everything into the wrong thing. And, suddenly, all I could focus on was the wasteland of Cricket’s hair; her matted ears had become the measure of my self-worth. No matter what else I might accomplish, the fact that Cricket wouldn’t let me brush out the mats on her ears meant that I was a useless piece of shit, not just as a dog mother but in every possible way.

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“I look beautiful. I don’t know what you’re kvetching about.”

Ellie, reluctantly, let me clean her eyes, and her tushy, when necessary; and, with very sad eyes and a light grumble in her throat, she even let me comb through the more stubborn mats in her hair. Cricket, on the other hand, got crazy eyes and bared her teeth at me if I even looked at her ears. Cricket tends to see grooming as a war, and a war that she usually wins.

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“Grumble, grumble, Mommy.”

I tried everything I could think of. I loaded her up on treats before even introducing the comb or the scissors. I tried raising her dose of anti-anxiety meds, and even giving her the Ace pill she takes before a regular grooming visit, but her anger only increased.

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“I won’t back down!”

A few days ago, I finally had the energy to put Cricket into the bathtub, despite my rapidly depleting sense of self, and I was able to remove about twenty-five percent of the mess (fresh clean butt!); and then, during her after-bath-zoomie-tantrum, she wiped her face on every piece of furniture and dislodged even more of the muck, some even under her eyes, where I always worry that she will get an infection from the clumped, wet hair, that absorbs her eye goop.

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“You cannot take my eye goop!”

But despite every effort, and my increasing attempts at stealth, there’s still so much left to clean and trim, and I have very little confidence that she’ll let me do it.

It’s a sign of my looming depression that I am taking Cricket’s behavior so personally. I’m not in a full depression yet, thank God. Therapy and medication have made it harder for my system to fully shut down, the way it’s done in the past, and I’m doing everything I can think of (diet, exercise, social connections, entertainment, etc) to stay above water; but I can see the cliff coming, and I’m afraid, because once the depression takes over it’s very hard to pull myself back up.

I’m hoping that Cricket reads this essay and, out of pity, allows me to at least trim the hair under her eyes, to help stave off my depression. She’s a very smart dog, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s taught herself how to read; but making a sacrifice to save someone else’s life? That might be expecting too much. Even if that life is mine.

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“No. Just no.”

Obviously, Cricket doesn’t think her sacrifice is necessary yet, and maybe she’s right. I’m not looking over the edge of the cliff yet, I’m just worried that it might come to that, the longer we stay shut down and unsure of what’s to come. But, really, if Cricket walked up to me and offered her ears for combing, that would be a true sign of the apocalypse. So, maybe I should count my blessings and be grateful that we haven’t crossed that line, yet.

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“Can you blame me? This is what happens when I let them near my hair!”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Dishwasher Debacle

Out of nowhere, sometime in May, our dishwasher stopped washing the dishes. Mom called a repairman, and when he looked the machine over, he said that what we’d been told was a fairly new dishwasher (when we moved in two years ago), was actually on its last legs. But, he could replace a few bits and pieces and give us another year of use, if we wanted. Mom wasn’t sure what to do. Should we buy a whole new dishwasher, or squeeze out another year with this one? The decision was made when he told her that the fee for the diagnosis of the dishwasher would be put towards the cost of repair, if we did the repair. Otherwise we’d be out that money, plus all of the costs that would come with a new dishwasher.

What Mom didn’t tell me, because she didn’t know, was that it would end up taking three or four weeks before the new parts even arrived, and only then would we be able to make an appointment to have the repairman back to fix the dishwasher.

I’d forgotten all about drying racks, and how water pools on plates and bowls when they dry right side up on the counter. I’d forgotten how much I hate washing dishes, and how leaning over the sink makes my back feel like it’s being stabbed with cleavers. And I’d forgotten how much panic I can feel about a strange man coming into the apartment.

I don’t actually remember the repairman’s first visit. I don’t know if I slept through it, or if I was away from home when he came. I just know that I would have done anything to avoid it.

We finally heard back from the repair company that the missing parts had been located and the repairman would be coming to fix the dishwasher “sometime after one o’clock in the afternoon.” When we got the call that he would definitely be there by 2:30 PM, I thought that was pretty good, as these things go. But he didn’t arrive until 5:30 PM, and by then my anxiety had transformed into a strong belief that the world was ending, and I just had to sit there and wait for it to happen.

“Why do we have our leashes on indoors?”

There was drama about where he would park his van, and while Mom went out to move our car so that he could use our parking spot, I corralled the girls into my room and closed the door. And then the sky went dark and the rains came, and then the thunder. I wish I were being melodramatic here, but no. It felt like the apocalypse to me, and to the girls too, well, mostly Cricket. I couldn’t hear the dishwasher repair guy’s arrival over Cricket’s barking.

“Why are you letting the mailman IN THE HOUSE?!!!!!”

I picked the girls up one at a time and put them on my bed, hoping that would calm them down somewhat. And calm me too. But Cricket stood on my legs and then paced across the bed. Her eyes were shiny and she couldn’t breathe without rasping. When Butterfly ran down her doggy steps to guard the door of my room, Cricket jumped off the bed to follow her, and then they scratched at the door together, and restarted their barking duet.

They were NOT this calm.

They were NOT this calm.

I attempted to intervene five or six more times before I gave up on trying to calm them down. The fact is, I was in no real position to calm anyone. My brain felt like it was stuck in a Panini press; I was sick to my stomach, and dizzy and frightened; and I couldn’t talk myself out of my fear. All I could do was to make myself feel guilty for being such a baby and for leaving Mom to manage on her own. Guilt, I can do.

At some point, Mom slipped chicken treats under my door to quiet the girls down and, while Butterfly actually rested in front of the door for a few minutes to wait for more treats to appear, Cricket could not calm down.

Butterfly, on her way back to the door for treats.

Butterfly, looking for treats.

Then the power went out, not from the storm, but because the dishwasher guy was testing out the fuse box to see which fuses went with which appliances. Mom had tried to warn me, but couldn’t make herself heard over the barking, and couldn’t risk opening my door lest Cricket run out and chew on the repair man.

After the power came back on, there was a big crack of thunder, and a rush of rain outside the window, and Cricket stood on the rug next to my bed, stared into my eyes, and peed. This was not like her at all, at least the peeing part anyway.

When I peered out the window to check on the rain, I saw that the repair man was leaving the parking lot, and I gratefully let the girls out of my room. They checked the rest of the apartment for leftover signs of repair man and once they were satisfied that he was really gone, it was time for more treats, and pee removal spray for my rug, and a trip outside to walk, very quickly, in the rain.

“Where’d he go?”

We had survived. And the dishwasher worked again. And a crazed maniac had not killed my mother while I hid in my bedroom. But, I was still shaky, and so was Cricket. I didn’t feel relieved as much as exhausted by the whole ordeal. I worry that pretty soon something else is going to break and we’ll have to go through the whole drama again, and maybe Mom won’t be available to take care of it.

I don’t know what I’ll do in that case. Maybe Butterfly could talk to the repairman for me?

“I don’t think so, Mommy.”