This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2015, all rights reserved
I am going to be fired. She said I put my hands on her, that I shoved her or hit her. Really? I don't believe I would do something like that, but I can't remember. We need to run.
The State Police's motorcade and the national media will arrive any minute. As I watch out our dining room window for blue lights and helicopters, I feel tight and squashed, anxious and prickly in my stomach and chest.
We have to get out of here before the all-points bulletin goes out, before they have my picture on that TV show. They're using the one that shows all my chins. Is that woman my student's mother? Did we get into an argument at the park? I throw a few things into a plastic grocery bag.
Hubby says he'll do whatever I need to do. Will he really leave everything that easily on just one word from me? Yes. I say it. "Go." We don't even lock the front door; leave both cars in the driveway, clean dishes in the dishwasher. I wonder who will clean out the refrigerator.
We are in our driveway—I am saying goodbye to the dogwoods; then we are trudging up the big hill in the college town where we lived when we first married. Thirty seven years and that hill has gotten even more awful. Thirty three years ago I skinned my knee on that damn hill looking for our dog, and I still have the scars. We still look for her. Anyone in her rational mind knows dogs can't live to be 35, so we don't look as hard as we used to, but still, we look.
I feel terrible for Hubby's back. As usual, he carries more than his share. Heaps of dirty gray ice stand between us and traffic. My boots make squishing noises as I slog on, and cold water seeps into the footbeds of my pink flip flops. Now we carry green suitcases and a quilt that belonged to my grandmother's grandmother as we fight our way through bamboo and briers by the lake. That's high ground.
Today it's swamp. Thick mud sucks at our tennis shoes, fighting our every step. Where is our dog? He loves the lake. He can run and swim for miles. Please tell me he is with our son and daughter-in-law, though taking care of three dogs is a great deal to ask of newlyweds moving into a new house, especially if one of the dogs is as spoiled as ours.
There's a big fire raging out there, and I'm trying to gather dogs and kids and family and friends and make them get in the lake, but I can't find them all and the fire keeps getting bigger. I hear it crackling, chasing me. I keep discovering people missing. I round them up, and then I look; they're gone again. I've lost so many. One dog we can't find no matter how long and hard we look, and one dog my mean neighbor shot. When I got off the bus, I saw her, bled out on the back porch. She made it home before she died, but I did not, and she died there, alone, nobody there to open the door when she scratched.
Thick smoke stings our eyes.
Please, please, hang onto each other. Let's keep each other safe.
I hope the herons have all flown away.
The bullfrogs sing for rain and evening, looking for love. They aren't the only ones looking in this college town. My young, sassy self and Hubby with all his hair ride by in a blue Celica with the windows rolled down. They don't even glance at us with our plastic bags of clothes hanging from our handlebars, knocking our knees. I take my bare feet off the petals and stick my legs out, but I hold on tight as we fly down that huge, nasty hill. How am I ever going to find everyone and get them in the lake? They can't hear me calling.
Oh, oh, oh, there he is, finally. Our dog runs with us, in the grass, away from traffic. He is being so good. I tell him I am sorry I called him spoiled, but he is.
"Wait," I say. "Stop. Why are we running?"
The dog picks a nice grassy spot to lie down between Hubby and me in our fold out chairs in the meadow near the mountain creek, then answers. "Because that's what you said you wanted to do."
Hubby launches the ball with the dog's favorite toy, the ball flinger, and the dog is off like a meteor after it.
"Well," I say. "That's how I handle conflict, and this is ugly—fights and fires and loss and awful stuff. I don't like ugly."
The dog is back with the ball, and for once, he lays it right at our feet.
I stare at it a minute. Alive with dog slobber, it sparkles in the sun. Isn't all that sparkly light supposed to signify something? And there my dog stands with his tail so straight and tall. When he first came to us, it hung low and scared, a sad little thing.
"That's because they weren't supposed to have dogs in the apartment and they kept me locked in a closet," the dog tells me. "Throw the ball!"
Hubby flings the ball so far, and the dog is off again.
This time he brings the ball to me. "My tail and your spine," he says.
"You should have seen my student," I tell him. "The first time we did jyu waza, she cried. After, she told me some things, and I cried. "
"Sometimes the world is a horrible place," Hubby says.
"But last time she stood there so straight and calm, and whatever came, she was ready, moving. She found more techniques than I knew she knew. She found more techniques than she knew she knew."
The dog dances in circles, waiting for me to throw the ball.
"Another student found a group, other people who keep hearing the bombs explode in their heads, and they're helping him. You'd be proud." I launch the ball away as far as I can, which really isn't very far, but the dog doesn't care. He runs back in to catch it on the bounce.
He brings it back and watches to see what I will do. "The world is a better place when folks feel strong enough to hold their tails up," he tells me.
"You've put a weird picture in my mind," I say.
"Own it," he says.
Hubby doesn't look at me as he picks up the ball and throws it again, but I see a little smile he doesn't hide very well. "So. What do you want to do?"
We are on our bikes, headed toward the ocean, the frogs singing in the marsh and the dog running beside us.
I feel the sun on my back and warm in my hair. "I want to face whatever comes. I want to handle what must be handled in as calm a way as possible."
"Good," Hubby said. "That's good. I'm with you."
I can see the top of the hill.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.