Our friends Maggie and Bryan were driving through Utah for the holiday and stopped to spend a couple nights with us. Maggie and I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon shopping for gifts and dresses and then sat in a small cafe to dissect why I am such a chronic worrier. I don’t think Maggie realizes this, and when she reads this she will most likely retch, elegantly, but she has become my life coach over the last year. You cannot come away from having spent five minutes with the woman without thinking that your life is suddenly going to make a dramatic upswing. Or hoping that someone with such amazing hair has some awful personality blemish just to balance out the universe. Like maybe she’s a huge fan of Fabio or goes to bed wearing pajamas decorated with purple chickens.
I have always been a worrier, and in second grade I used to get so sick with anxiety about the timed math tests I took on Tuesday mornings that the worrying would start the Friday night before. I was hardly able to sleep or eat or think about anything other than the addition or subtraction problems that I would encounter on that single sheet of paper, and by the time my teacher started the clock on the test I was so violently ill that I could barely hold my pencil upright. I remember thinking that my future was dependent on whether or not I performed perfectly, and that if I missed one problem a series of events would unfold: one, my mother wouldn’t love me. Two, she would kick me out of the house. Three, I would die homeless.
This is what I like to call The Spiral, and I have spent my life fine-tuning this skill. I start by making sure everything around me is normal and in working order, and then I start to worry about the littlest thing that could go wrong. It’s always something very tiny and insignificant, but by the time I have finished analyzing it in my head it has turned into the Worst Case Scenario: small A leads to small B leads to very awful C jumps straight to homeless and dead. See Fig. A.
Maggie got me thinking about why I do this, and at first I thought it might be hereditary. My father is notoriously frugal, always has been, has saved every penny from every paycheck since the day he started working because he was afraid he might lose it all. A couple weeks ago while he was sitting on our living room floor playing with Leta, Jon absentmindedly called him “miserly” to his face, and I immediately fell over and broke my head. This did not faze my father a bit, not surprisingly as he is very proud of his ability to save money. Although I’m sure he would have preferred a more accurate word, like “rich.”
And maybe a little bit of the reason I worry so much is because I am my father’s daughter, but when talking it out with Maggie I realized that the root of it is a singular thought that has followed me through my life, the thought that because there are other people in the world who do not have it good as I do, other people who do not have a warm place to sleep or food to eat or a TiVo with which to record every episode of The Bachelor, I need to worry about something, anything. That I owe it to those who have a harder life. That because I am very lucky I need to suffer crippling anxiety to even things out a little bit.
And of course, the exact opposite is true. I owe it to those who are not as lucky as I am to appreciate the hell out of my life, I know this fundamentally, I just can’t get around the guilt I experience almost every hour over the fact that my life is really good when so many in this world have lives full of ongoing tragedy, an overwhelming feeling that if I am not a stressed out mess everything will be taken away from me. Maggie got me to see that the way in which I worry about things is so hypnotic that it causes me to walk directly into what it is I fear, that my worry is causing what I’m worrying about to happen. And then she suggested that maybe I should start worrying about developing really big breasts or about a large trunk of money falling out of the sky onto my head.
I left that cafe feeling totally renewed, and for the rest of the day I kept smiling when I thought about how much better my life will be without The Spiral, about how I can channel all the energy that I used to spend worrying about everything into more productive things, like charity work or reading books to Leta or skipping through the house naked and drunk. And I was still feeling this jolt of exhilaration that evening when I walked outside with the dog to let him perform his nightly duties, still reeling from the possibilities when for a second I thought about something inside and stepped back in to run and put something away or fix something, I don’t remember. It seemed important, seemed critical at the time, but now I cannot even remember what was so crucial that it made me leave my dog outside unattended. Without his collar on.
Do you see where this is going?
I got so distracted once I walked in the door that I forgot that I had let the dog outside. I’m going to go ahead and admit to this, although it is one of the most embarrassing and horrible and devastating things I have ever done. I could try to be vague and say that we lost our dog because he got out somehow or because of negligence, but that would not be telling the whole truth. It was my fault. I was the one who let him out, so I should have been the one to make sure he got back in. I didn’t. That is what happened.
I was unsure about whether or not I was going to write about this for a few reasons. First, it didn’t seem fair to roll out this drama in front of my readers for a second time. Who loses their dog two times in one year and expects any response other than ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Second, I can guarantee that someone is going to accuse me of making this up in an attempt to drum up sales for the 2007 Chuck Calendar. Just like I made up Leta to have something to talk about on this website.
Maggie asked if I was going to write about it, and pointed out that no one would have to know about it except for the people in our neighborhood who saw these fliers:
I don’t know, it would have felt wrong to have not talked about this because Chuck is such a huge part of the narrative on this website. And because Sunday night was the worst night of my life. It would be weird to try to write something else here as if this didn’t happen.
Jon and I drove around in our car for two hours Sunday night shaking bottles of anti-depressants out the window hoping that Chuck would come running to the sound. Bryan drove his car for the same amount of time looking up alleys and driveways. By 1 AM we had given up, and once we were back home I lay in bed with the pillow over my head to muffle my hysterical screaming. It was one of my worst nightmares, my dog missing in the freezing cold, his toys and rawhide bones scattered underneath my feet like little Polaroids of his life.
By morning my eyes were almost swollen shut, and both Jon and I had barely slept an hour having both obsessed over every terrible possibility in our heads. Leta woke up early, and so we waited in panicked silence for a few hours until the animal shelters and vet’s offices opened. Jon started leaving messages as Maggie and Bryan posted fliers across several streets. And every time the phone rang we all looked at each other, hopeful, apprehensive, wishing we would soon wake up from a bad dream. I have a recurring nightmare in which all my teeth fall out, and after I have spit them into my hand I tell myself that it is a dream, and I can wake myself up. I kept trying to do that yesterday morning, kept telling myself that this wasn’t real, and that if I concentrated hard enough I could open my eyes and Chuck would be sitting right there in front of me with a coffee pot balancing on his head.
And I guess this is where I try to tie the whole thing together, and if you bear with me this just might make sense. Or not, I can’t promise anything. At some point yesterday morning I realized I had to let go, had to stop gritting my teeth because that was not helping us find the dog any faster. I had to stop imagining him frozen in a ditch, or at least hold off on that spiral until we had at least talked to one animal shelter. And I swear to god, it wasn’t ten minutes after I had taken that huge, calming breath that we got a phone call. I know it was just a coincidence, but it was a loud coincidence.
I was sitting with Leta on our bed when I heard Jon in the living room say, “SOMEONE HAS HIM!” and I ran out to hear him promising reward money and possible sexual favors to someone over his cell phone. A kind family one street over had found Chuck sitting on their porch the night before, invited him in to play with their own dogs, fed him, and let him stay the night. They said the dogs played mischievously for hours. The next morning the father called Animal Control, and when the truck came to pick him up they scanned for a microchip and couldn’t find the one we had implanted into the back of his neck earlier this year. The only reason the man knew to call our number was because he had seen the flier Maggie and Byran had posted on one of his trees when he left for work.
It would be several hours before we would actually see Chuck again because we got to the animal shelter long before the Animal Control truck had finished its rounds. When the officer walked through the door with my dog I felt a violent cocktail of emotions, relief and joy and regret and exhaustion, but mostly I felt like I did in 1997 when I woke up with a hangover from a Long Island Iced Tea, a hangover that lasted three days and caused me to puke in three different trashcans.
Chuck saw me and was all DUDE, HAVE I GOT A STORY FOR YOU. Bryan had joked that Chuck would probably show up somewhere with rum on his breath, a headache, and a tattoo of a scrotum on his forehead. And that wasn’t far from the truth. He was happy and ready for his next adventure.
Welcome home, Puppy.