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Ellie, the Love Bug

 

The other day, when I was driving home from the drug store, the front of my left foot started to cramp out of nowhere. It didn’t impact my driving, but stretching my toes didn’t help, and even the walk back up to the apartment didn’t make it go away completely. The pain was just annoying enough to make me wonder what I might have done to cause my foot to cramp. Was I doing ballet in my sleep? Have I been pointing and flexing my toes without realizing it?

As soon as I got inside, the dogs were desperate to get outside, so Mom and I leashed them up and followed them out the door. I wasn’t watching the dogs closely, because I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts, about ballet and such, but then Mom pointed out that Ellie was limping and I looked up in time to see Ellie hopping around and then flexing her leg back into an arabesque – her left rear leg. The same foot that was bothering me.

I picked her up and touched her paw, to see if she had something caught between the pads (because Butterfly used to get pieces of kibble stuck in her paw on a regular basis), but there was nothing obvious there. Ellie gave a little shriek when I touched her toes, though, and pulled her foot away. I put her back down on the ground and she proceeded to run, hop, stretch, run, and jump in quick succession. She stretched her left leg back in the arabesque position a few more times but then she put her foot down with her full weight on it. She wasn’t crying as she walked on it, so I left her to finish her dancing and peeing and then led both dogs back into the apartment.

Once inside I figured I could get a better look at her foot if I was sitting down on the couch. Thank God it wasn’t Cricket, because she would have ripped off my hand before letting me touch her foot. Ellie is much more trusting, or at least tolerant. I held Ellie in my lap and picked up her left rear paw to examine it more closely, and that’s when I saw the blood. Some of the blood had rubbed off on the top of her right rear paw, but the wound was clearly localized on the left paw. Mom brought out a damp wash cloth to dab the blood away so I could see what might have caused the injury. I worried that one of her paw pads had gotten cut, or that she had glass in her paw, and I started to catastrophize and plan ahead to calling the vet for an emergency appointment and… Mom calmed me down and continued to dab the paw until I could see more clearly. There was no obvious cut, and I couldn’t see any foreign objects, no glass, or pebbles, or needles, or anything else. Mom found a piece of sterile gauze in the medicine cabinet and managed to wrap it around the top of Ellie’s foot and tie a little knot. Then she suggested that we wait and see if the wound was still bothering Ellie after an hour or two, because Ellie wouldn’t thank me for dragging her to the vet just for a scratch that could easily heal on its own.

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“Can I have my paw back, please?”

And mom was right: the bandage came off quickly, and the bleeding stopped even quicker than that. Within an hour, Ellie was back to her usual cheerful self, with no sign of an injury. I kept an eye out for the rest of the day for any possible delayed reactions – severed ligaments, swollen ankles, blood, tumors, etc. – but she was fine.

Which left me time to contemplate the weirdness: why did I have that random pain in my foot right before Ellie had an injury in the same freaking foot? Is this some new form of ESP that psychics forgot to mention? Am I the dog mommy of the year – literally able to feel my baby’s pain? Or was it just a silly coincidence that I should ignore, and maybe make sure to do my foot and leg stretches more regularly?

I have no idea. I prefer the magical explanation (for everything), so I tend to over-compensate and be very skeptical of magical explanations, and try hard to find a rational explanation instead. And there’s always a rational explanation available. But…

I think we are all connected, and I think love connects us on an even deeper, more unfathomable level. And I think, maybe, that this was a sign that Ellie and I have found our wavelength, not just because I happened to be lucky enough to be on a call list when Ellie needed a home; not just because she’s cute and lovable in a generic way; but because we’ve done the work to get to know each other.

me and the girls

Cricket has her very own wavelength.

Ellie has become more and more of her own self over time, sleeping flat on her back with her legs in the air, speaking with her own voice (louder and louder as time passes), and running with her own unimaginable joy as she tries to chase the mourning doves as they escape up into the trees. She is a love bug, burying her head under my chin, leaping up for scratches and hugs when we’re out on a walk, following me everywhere (but especially to the kitchen). She loves me, she loves her Grandma, and she even loves Cricket, who sort of, maybe, tolerates her in return.

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This doesn’t look comfortable to me, but Ellie loves it.

I’m not saying that I want this connection to continue to express itself in foot pain, in fact, I’d rather it find a nicer vocabulary in the future. But it means something, at least to me.

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“We don’t believe in this…stuff.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. 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 girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, 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?

 

 

Tennis with Dogs

I had one leftover can of tennis balls, and a bucket of dusty balls in my closet, for years after I stopped playing tennis. I tried to get Dina, my black lab mix, to play catch with me, but she’d watch the yellow ball fly past her ear, or roll right up to her foot, and look at me like I’d gone crazy.

Dina

Dina

Peanut butter over tennis balls every time.

Peanut butter over tennis balls every time.

I used to play tennis, a long time ago. I started when I was seventeen years old, and stopped by nineteen, but during that time, I played almost every day. It was an obsession. I wanted to hit an inside out forehand like Jim Courier, and storm the net like Martina Navratilova. I started watching tennis during the U.S. Open the fall when I was seventeen, because there was nothing else on TV. I’d never liked Tennis before. In fact, when I was eight years old, I went to a local day camp and took a tennis elective in the afternoons, and I hated it. I have a hazy memory of bright sun and hot courts and not being able to see the ball clearly because I didn’t have my glasses on.

But something about those night matches at the US Open captivated me. I signed up for an adult education tennis class at the local high school gym, and my brother and his best friend volunteered to practice with me. My brother’s idea of playing tennis was to hit the ball as far as he could, not just over the net but over the back fence of the middle school tennis courts down the block from our house. His best friend had played on his high school tennis team, so when he “practiced” with me he used a wicked back spin and dropped the ball just over the net, plunk, where I could never reach it.

Over the next few months, I took more classes and lessons and practiced serves on my own at those middle school courts. I ruined my right rotator cuff with all of those practice serves, but I didn’t care. I’d carry my basket of tennis balls up the block and hit serves until the basket was empty, then cross to the other side of the net, collect the balls into the basket, and serve to the other side until the basket was empty again.

I started to practice with my college team in the spring, and over the summer I spent all of my scholarship money on tennis camp. I was eighteen, and the oldest camper there, but I was determined to become a tennis player. In the morning we practiced volleys and groundstrokes, serves and footwork, and in the afternoon we played matches. I could never figure out strategy, though. I was too busy trying to retrieve the ball myself to ever figure out how to make it harder for the girl on the other side of the net. My strength as a tennis player was my persistence and consistency. I didn’t give up, and I didn’t play differently each day. When I learned something, I added it to my game, and it stuck.

That fall, after tennis camp, I became a full-fledged member of my college tennis team and I went to all of the practices and played in real matches. I played sixth singles and I even won a match or two. I took more lessons and practiced religiously, and in the spring, the coach had me play a set against the girl who was currently playing fifth singles. We were evenly matched, because even though she was faster and in better shape than I was, I never gave up. Every game was hard fought and I won the set in a tie break, and won the fifth singles slot on the team. It was the best match I’d ever played, and the last, I think.

My back went out at the beginning of my next official match and I had to default. My mother took me to a doctor of osteopathy and he twisted me like a pretzel and gave me pain killers and muscle relaxants. But the back injury was one injury too many. I’d made it through the torn rotator cuff, strained hamstrings and upper back, a thousand blisters on my feet and hands, but when my back went out it just refused to go back in. And I was relieved. The desperate need to make up for years of not playing tennis was overwhelming me. I kept getting better so quickly that people forgot how recently I couldn’t play at all, and expected too much from me. Most of all, I expected too much from myself. I always do.

I tried to play tennis again a few years after the injury, but I was too tentative about twisting at the waist, and my timing was gone. I’d either hit the ball with the rim of the racket, or so flat that it landed four feet beyond the court. I knew I wasn’t up to practicing enough to get my strokes back, and I couldn’t imagine just playing for fun.

I wish I could be more like my dogs. Butterfly only expects herself to do what she can. She takes a long time to learn new skills, and does them only as much as she wants to. Cricket pushes past her own limits all the time, not to impress anyone else but because she just wants to do what she wants to do. Neither one of them is as much of a people pleaser as I’ve been, Thank God.

Butterfly takes her own sweet time.

Butterfly takes her own sweet time.

Cricket is NOT a people pleaser.

Cricket is NOT a people pleaser.

Maybe if I could convince the girls to play tennis with me now, it might be different. I do miss the sound of the ball hitting the racquet – whomp – right in the middle, and I miss the feeling of my whole body working together to line up the ball just right and follow through.

Butterfly would make a great tennis player, if the court were a little bit smaller and no rackets were required. She practices her split step before every pee squat and she’s very light on her feet. Cricket almost always runs on a diagonal, so her court coverage would be fantastic, and she would also be great at intercepting shots at the net, but she might try to catch the ball before it gets to her side of the net, which would be frowned upon.

She's so light on her feet she can barely stay on the ground.

She’s so light on her feet she can barely stay on the ground.

Cricket can jump!

Cricket can jump!

Their ideal would be me standing on one side of the net with a bucket of tennis balls and a racquet, hitting directly to them, and never expecting any of the balls to be returned. The game would be over as soon as the bucket was empty and then Butterfly would head off to take a nap, and Cricket would growl and beg for chicken treats, just like any other day.

Cricket is very good at begging.

Cricket is very good at begging.

And Butterfly is very good at napping.

And Butterfly is very good at napping.