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To the Library we go

 

We walked the dogs to the library the other day. It was a magical moment when the weather was cooperating, and I actually had the energy to walk. We leashed up the dogs and put our overdue books in a bag and off we went. Cricket loves to go on long walks and visit other places. She would prefer to drag me around the neighborhood for an hour or two a day, if it were up to her, whereas Butterfly would prefer to never leave her backyard.

"Let's go!"

“Let’s go!”

When we first moved to this apartment, a year and a half ago, Butterfly blossomed. She smiled more. She ran in the yard and recognized our door right away and ran straight too it, off leash, within days. She was home.

"My backyard!"

“My backyard!”

Butterfly is not a fan of walking along the very noisy street next to our building, though, so I had to carry her for the first part of the trip to the library. I carried her down the hill and across the street, while Mom and Cricket stopped every few seconds to sniff things and race ahead, and sniff things again and race ahead again.

"Must. Sniff. Everything."

“Must. Sniff. Everything.”

"Cricket, are you sure it's safe out there?"

“Cricket, are you sure it’s safe out there?”

I expected Butterfly to be fine walking on her own once we reached the side street, but she still refused. She tried to pull back towards home, and when that didn’t work she just refused to move at all. She was afraid of every noise, especially the birds squawking from the nearby trees.

I carried her like a baby, with her head resting on my shoulder, and that seemed to calm her down. I tried setting her down a few more times, because fifteen pounds gets heavy after a while, but she’d walk for a little bit and then stop and refuse to go any further.

"Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth."

“Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth.”

We finally made it to the library and dropped off our books in the book slot, and then decided to walk home through the duck pond, hoping the serene atmosphere would help Butterfly stay on her own feet. We walked on the sidewalk, to avoid as much goose poop as possible, and for a little while, Butterfly was fine. She was even running ahead of Cricket, who was hyperventilating. The sound of Cricket’s breath, scratching against her vocal cords, made me picture a tiny musician inside of her throat, playing a tiny violin very badly.

"I'm not choking. I don't know why you think I'm choking."

“I’m not choking. I don’t know why you think I’m choking.”

Before we were halfway through the park, Butterfly balked again. I veered off onto the grass after all, hoping that would make her feel better, but it didn’t. I had to carry her, and dodge goose poop, all the way up the hill, until we were back to the sidewalk and the busy street. I put Butterfly down, just to rest my arms for a second, and as soon as she realized we were on our way home, she started to hop and smile.

We had to wait for the light to change, and then wait for cars to swoop around the corner at high speed, but then Butterfly pulled me across the street and up the hill as determined as a marathoner in her last lap.

"Are we there yet?"

“Are we there yet?”

I’d been listening to Sheryl Crow singing “Home” earlier in the day, maybe on a TV show or a movie, and the song had become an earworm playing over and over in my mind, louder and louder, as Butterfly pulled me into our parking lot, and around to the backyard, and straight to our door. Home at last.

"Wait, the walk is over?"

“Wait, the walk’s over?”

 

My Mezuzah

 

A mezuzah is a totem, a sort of anti-goblin device slash symbol of Jewish identity that Jewish people are supposed to place on our doorways. The mezuzah itself is a rolled up parchment inside of a decorative case and the parchment comes from the bible and basically reminds us to love God, and believe in God, and keep the commandments, and pass it all on to our children.

It's pink!

It’s pink!

You’re supposed to kiss the mezuzah – or kiss your fingers and then touch the mezuzah – every time you enter or leave the room, but I don’t have the patience for that. I have my one mezuzah at the front door, and I notice it when I walk in, and it gives me a feeling of familiarity. I happen to think my mezuzah is pretty.

The only other thing we have in front of the apartment door is a red welcome mat that almost always has a few pieces of kibble on it. So, welcome, dogs live here. We also have a table out in the hall with plants on it, and there are plants outside the front door of our building, and a turtle made of painted rocks. So we have a few things that announce who we are – Jewish dog people with lots of plants and an interest in turtles.

Turtle guards the garden.

Turtle guards the garden.

When my brother’s family came to visit, my niece Lilah, the black lab, who had only been here once before, raced up the stairs and went straight to our door without anyone reminding her where to go. She knew which apartment smelled right. Eau de kibble sends the message.

Lilah!

Lilah!

Lilah in the snow.

Lilah chasing Cricket in the snow.

But a mezuzah shouldn’t just be a sign to other Jews, as if only Jews should feel welcome in my home. I feel more like the mezuzah announces who I am, so that you will feel more comfortable telling me who you are.

I like symbols. An idea is elusive, but a physical symbol is visceral and concrete, and makes things easier to remember. I’ve considered dog related symbols for our front door too. The shelter where we adopted Butterfly gives out huge paw magnets that you can put on your fridge, and car stickers, and sweatshirts, and blankets, and on and on. But, by the time you get close enough to my door to see a sticker, you will have heard Cricket barking at you from inside, so the sticker would be kind of irrelevant.

I’m not comfortable wearing a star of David necklace. I had one, but I kept yanking at the chain until the chain broke, two or three times. Maybe the necklace felt too reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews had to wear during the holocaust, or maybe it’s just that the necklace I had came from my father’s mother, and she grossed me out.

I wear my Koru instead. It’s a New Zealand/Maori symbol of new birth – an unfurling fern – and I wear it to try to remind myself that I can start again every day. I don’t have to be stuck in the past, even if the past is the bad day I had yesterday. It’s not a religious or spiritual symbol for me, it’s a reminder, like a rubber band on your wrist (I tried the rubber band idea first, but it hurt too much).

Koru and hair.

My Koru, and hair.

I’m afraid to post this now, given the current situation in Israel. I feel vulnerable when I watch the news. When I heard about mass protests against Israel in Europe, and anti-Semitic slurs on college campuses, I couldn’t help but feel frightened.

To me, having a mezuzah on my door means that I feel safe telling people that I am Jewish and I don’t live in a place where being Jewish makes me a target. Putting a mezuzah on my door, or writing about being Jewish in a blog that is largely about dogs, is my way of saying that I know I’m safe and I don’t have to hide who I am in order to reach out to new people.

My girls, and Ducky too.

My girls, and Ducky too.

Leaving Limbo

Butterfly's new room

Butterfly’s new room

            We are moving. We’ve lived in limbo, intentionally, for fifteen years, avoiding people and places that would remind me of where I grew up and what I had to contend with. This neighborhood has been my witness protection program. It’s not that I live in the country or out in the boonies, but it takes a while to get to the expressway and that’s an important point on Long Island. It takes a while to get anywhere from here. I will miss the privacy of living off a small road. We’re moving to a major road, near a high school and a train station. I’m afraid of being so visible.

I’ve been gradually moving back into the world, going to synagogue again, going to school, and finally moving into an area where I will run into people I knew before. I think I’m ready but there will be no way to be sure until I get there, and take the next step.

            When we first moved here fifteen years ago, it was the beginning of April, and the trees smelled like honey. I grew up in a flat neighborhood, with wide green lawns and evergreen trees and tall, old maples and oaks and it was majestic, but monotone. Here it was pink and white and red and yellow. Someone told me that this neighborhood was where the gardeners for the gold coast mansions lived. So they would come home and experiment with color and shape and size and arrangement. It’s a nice story, if it’s true.

Autumn in the neighborhood

Autumn in the neighborhood

            I will miss how familiar everything is. I know how long each route is; I know where the hills are, and where the road dips, and where a dog will bark.

I can’t imagine all the smells Cricket will miss from her five and a half years worth of walks in this neighborhood.

Cricket sniffing her neighborhood

Cricket sniffing her neighborhood

I’ve worked so hard at overcoming my social anxieties, and I do a lot better now, but I still panic, I still feel overwhelmed. And then someone walks by with a dog and I’m a chatter box, asking the dog’s name, giving pets and scratches, talking about my dogs, forgetting to ask the name of the human, or offer my own name, or shake hands.

            I feel such relief when I see a dog, of any kind. My autonomic nervous system calms down at the sight of a dog.

Nose kisses with Poochie

Nose kisses with Poochie

            I’m better at collecting dog friends than people friends. I feel much more confident that I am likeable with dogs. People make me anxious and make me question my value. Dogs just boost my neurotransmitters and make me feel loved.

Cricket and Ursula, the boxing puppies

Cricket and Ursula, the boxing puppies

            We made cards for our nearest neighbors and homemade dog blankets for three of the dogs Cricket and Butterfly love and will miss very much. But I felt awkward giving gifts and presuming we would be missed when we leave. And I was worried they would be mad at us for leaving and upsetting the equilibrium of the block. But it turned out that our neighbors loved us in return, and though they will miss us, they wish us well.

This was the picture on the card to say goodbye

This was the picture on the card to say goodbye

            A few years back, when I was walking Cricket around the neighborhood, we came across a tree that looked a lot like a chicken. I was still pining for my ex-boyfriend, a chicken enthusiast, and I wanted to believe that the chicken tree was a sign from the universe, that some part of him was still with me. The chicken tree gave me hope. This whole neighborhood has sustained me for fifteen years and offered me small gifts that have allowed me to hope that the future will be brighter and that moving forward will be a good thing.

The Chicken Tree

The Chicken Tree