An Old Man, A Mutt, and a Funeral: Taming the Wake of Voices in My Head

Ahead of schedule, I smugly buckled my youngest child . The dog jumped in behind. It was time for a physical for the four-legged member of our family. Heart worm, flea and tick season were on their way. After the appointment, I’d sweep by school to pick up my daughter, who was at the Humane Society volunteering and whisk her off to her ball game. If all went well, everyone would get to their destination — right on time (or even before).

I drove on with a deep sense of joy that wrapped me in content satisfaction. I was leaving early for an appointment! How cool was I? In addition to leaving early, I had snacks, drinks, and lawn chairs ready to watch the game later in the afternoon. The vet’s office was two minutes from my house. What could go wrong?

At 0:1:45, I got lost. I drove up one wrong road and went down another. I stopped and asked for directions and got lost again. The nice GPS lady said: your destination is on the right!However, on the right were only trees and a ditch. We were still slightly ahead of schedule, until, I got lost again.

I drove up the road, turned around and stopped in a driveway. A very old man was cutting the grass. I waved at him through the window. He turned off his lawn mower, got off, and walked toward the car. He leaned into the window and said he thought he knew of a vet around. Our dog barked a high-pitched yelp to defend his pack (from the old man who could hardly walk). I tried to hold the dog’s mouth shut, which didn’t work. My special needs son got mad and scared at the same time and started crying, very loudly. I couldn’t hear what the man was saying over the screaming and barking. At one point, he wasn’t sure if his directions were correct and said he’d get someone from the house. I looked over my shoulder to the house, about 50 yards away. The man could barely walk.

“No, no,” I said, “I think I can find it.” The old man hunkered further into the car window and began telling me about the history of his family and how long they’d owned the land. He pointed to the field behind him and explained about crop rotation.

"You see, last year we had corn,” he said. He took off his gloves. I sensed he yearned for a long talk. The noise inside the car from the crying child and barking mutt grew louder. The man's mouth was moving, but I heard nothing. The only thing that stopped me from leaving and waving a polite thank you was his elbows, leaning on my car. He'd tip over if I moved.

The man lifted his body slightly and looked at the farmhouse across the road. I saw my break. I waved and yelled: thank you! I put a little more on the gas pedal than I intended. The poor man backed away, shocked. Looking back, I saw a broken soul. He looked at me, then to his lawn mower. I might have been the only person he talked to all day, maybe all week. I hated these kind of decisions. If I didn’t get going, I’d be late to the vet, which would make me late in picking up my daughter, who’d have to stand all-alone on a city street.

We found the vet and were only five minutes late. I hopped out of the car and grabbed the dog’s leash. Thrilled, the mutt leapt out of the car, free as a bird. The leash hung in my hand, empty. The dog ran through the parking lot and sniffed the ground with excitement. The highway was about 40 feet from the highway. Cars whizzed by. In seconds I saw the dog’s funeral, the cute little cross we’d make over the grave, the distraught children sobbing over the fresh mound of dirt. When I called the dog, he'd pause and look at me as if I was a complete stranger.

I panicked. All the training we plodded through over the last months went out the door when the dog hit the pavement running. The confident tone I learned to use like the Dog Whisperer was gone. No longer the leader of the pack, I screeched. No, I was a sniveling, low-level, subordinate wreck. The dog glanced at me every few seconds and darted further away. I think I even heard him laugh.

The smells of the hundreds of dogs that had trod before him on the pavement and pissed on the boulevard were more than his senses could handle. My son, still buckled in the car, started crying again. I grabbed a bag of Band-Aids and hair clips out of my purse and shook it, pretending it was dog biscuits. Thankfully, the dog is freakishly infatuated with food. He came running. I clipped him on the leash; got my son; and we went inside.

“I got lost,” I told the vet, deciding to leave the part about the dog running around the parking lot out. The exam didn’t take long. We got in the car. I informed my daughter we’d be three minutes late. Apparently all the other parents are wonderfully punctual because she and the teacher were the only ones left waiting. He waved and half-smiled when I pulled up. I felt ridiculous, like I’d broken some very big rule.

When we finally returned home a few hours later, I got out, stopped, and left all the species buckled in the car for just a moment. I stood in the warm, late afternoon sun and looked at the flowers. Dinner still had to be made, baths taken, pajamas put on, and books read before bed. Any control I think I have on life is swatted from my thoughts on days like these.

It is no longer a mystery that I control little, if anything. This has taken awhile to learn. The roadblocks, the old men, the runaway dogs are just obstacles for me to overcome yet keep on going. If I knew then…so many years ago, that the only thing I can control is my reaction to the challenges life throws at me every day what a bunch of energy I could have saved; new paths I could have taken. Over time, I have learned to swat away the anger, hiss at the pity, cry, but most of all, laugh. For it is just a game, this life thing, isn’t it? Every day we get a new playing card; we get to step up to the plate. We either choose style, grace, and humor, or act like control freak that only makes life miserable for not only the people in front of us but adds to the negative bank vault for the world of bad vibes.

I opened up the car door, double-checking I had the dog on the leash. Everyone was hungry, messy, and tired but in one piece. Today there would be no funeral. Chalk up another crooked little victory, for tomorrow the games begin again.