the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Can balance large objects on head if offered a piece of cheese

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.

  • jeporter

    2006/11/28 at 2:16 pm

    A lovely post. It made me sad, then sadder, then as happy as a…well, really happy. Just one question:

    What’s wrong with pajamas with purple chickens?

  • Wonked

    2006/11/28 at 2:10 pm

    Sometimes I look into Wonka’s soulful eyes and convince myself that he is one skipped biscuit away from making off with a stripper and developing a coke habit. I guess I have the opposite problem.

    One time I accidentally locked him out and my neighbor said Wonka sat at my front door for four hours waiting for me to let him in.

  • Mim

    2006/11/28 at 2:08 pm

    Oh Goodness… I am so HAPPY you found Chuck. This happened to me a few years back with my boy Keyzer, I remember calling my job bawling and telling them I was not coming to work until I found my dog.
    Give Chuck hugs and kisses and many treats

  • JWo

    2006/11/28 at 2:10 pm

    There’s nothing like the feelings when you’ve realized he’s missing, finally giving in to accept the situation. That’s when we found our pooch after our front door blew open while we were out, having left the collar of the dog. We knew the door was faulty.

    It was a week before we found him. A couple with 3 dogs had found him, but had their own family tragedy the next day that kept them from contacting us. The sounds he made when picked him up?

    Priceless. (He too had a story to tell!)

    It’s amazing what animals bring to our lives. Congrats on finding him!

  • Jill Shalvis

    2006/11/28 at 2:06 pm

    My heart was in my gut reading this, I’m so glad you found him! We lost Ashes for two long painful days last year and it was like losing a limb, lol. I can remember practically mauling the animal protection service guy when it took him forever to open the back of his truck, and then my dog popped out all hey, how ya doing, got any doggie bisquits cuz I’m hungry …

  • amy Jacobs

    2006/11/28 at 2:07 pm

    Oh good gravy that had me panicking. Simply put, you and I are cut from the same cloth. I’m a worrier’s worrier to the core. Being a mother makes it even worse, as I’m sure you realize. I’ve totally had that night about a dog…and a cat…and an hour last year with my three year old! She hide from me as I screamed her name so loud I lost my voice. I’ve never felt such panic in my life as I ran outside just envisioning her kicking and screaming in the back of some child molester’s car. I begged her to show herself through sobs and finally she just was in front of me…apparently my major shit fit scared her like mad and she wouldn’t come out because she thought I was angry with her. When I saw her I literally collapsed to the ground…knees just buckled.

    Not sure what to tell you about the worrying thing because I am notorious for it myself. I hate it and I cherish it because at least I know I’m not floating through life with rose colored glasses on. Bad things do happen. We shouldn’t dwell of course, but who is say being emotionally or mentally prepared in some part doesn’t really make you happier in life in a way…more aware and careful anyway, or at least this is what I allows tell myself, lol.

    So glad he is home. And find out WHY his chip didn’t go off…you guys paid for that, it should have showed up like a beacon (not that I’m worried he might go missing again or anything…but making sure it’s working might not be a bad idea. See…I’m already worrying he’ll get lost all over).

  • Zookins

    2006/11/28 at 2:04 pm

    I couldn’t breathe as I was reading that . . . my heart was breaking. V. happy he’s home safe & sound!

  • Dianna

    2006/11/28 at 2:01 pm

    Welcome home Congressman!!

  • Jewlzy

    2006/11/28 at 2:03 pm

    Holy Cow! I am so relieved that you guys found Chuck. I can only imagine how awful that entire experience must have been for you. I’m thankful for this post because I do that same spiral thing and Maggie is so right about focusing all that energy on something positive. You’re lucky to have such a friend…and such a family and quite the awesome dog. And you deserve them all, Heather, and you share them with us 🙂 Thanks dude!

  • Braidwood

    2006/11/28 at 2:03 pm

    Ahhh Chuck! I am so relieved that this story ended with Chuck and you reunited. whoo.

    About the lead in to the story:

    I used to suffer from major guilt about people who had a hard life. – I don’t knwow why, come to think of it, since I wasn’t all that lucky, but one thing I read really helped me. Hugh Prather (who has said some really dumb things also) said that adding one more unhappy person to the world won’t help make the world a happier place. It helped me at the time.

    Also, I once worked as an interviewer to match up volunteers with volunteer positions. There were thousands and thousands of volunteer positions, and lots and lots of people who wanted to be volunteers and that really lifted my spirits. All these people contributing all these small gifts all over the world. All to say that, the best antidote to luck guilt is to help out other people be lucky too.

  • jmac

    2006/11/28 at 1:53 pm

    hallelujah…welcome home chuck!

  • lindsayc

    2006/11/28 at 1:53 pm

    getting chuck back = your best part of thanksgiving. glad he’s home, safe and sound.

  • Jaycee

    2006/11/28 at 1:53 pm

    See, all that worry about nothing. I know, easier said than done to not worry, but thank the doggod that he was ok.

    I live right near a very busy road and my dog has got out twice – once was my drunk sister leaving the side gate open, the other was when I’d just got her and didn’t have a proper side gate. Both times she was found sitting by my front door. It’s a big phew moment.

  • Stephanie

    2006/11/28 at 1:56 pm

    Man that must have been scary. I once, in my pregnancy stupor, let my two dogs out. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that I realized that I left the gate open. We lived by a busy street at the time and the worst ran through my mind. But there they were running around having the time of their lives. And there I was chasing after them barefoot, seven months pregnant and hyperventalting. Glad to hear Chuck is home safe and sound.

  • tropicalpopsicle

    2006/11/28 at 1:50 pm

    I lost a cat that my exboyfriend said was old enough to go outside. I believed him and my cat died. I’m so relieved that Chuck is home safe and he didn’t spend a freezing night outside alone. I read the last part of this so fast to get to the end where I hoped I would find a happy ending! I’m very happy for you guys. I’m resisting the urge to use several exclamation points.

  • chefgirl

    2006/11/28 at 1:51 pm

    About halfway through, I had to skip to the end to make sure you found him! So glad that you did.

  • Ryan Melzer

    2006/11/28 at 1:51 pm

    This may be your best piece of writing, ever.

  • MontanaJen

    2006/11/28 at 1:49 pm

    I’m not going to lie to you – I totally had to skim to the end of the post to make sure that the little guy was home safe. I had a pit in my stomach the same as when my girls get out and crazily sniff and bay and poop city-wide.

    Happy Returns, Chuck.

  • thisgirlremembers

    2006/11/28 at 1:49 pm

    Man! It made me so anxious just READING about what you went through that about halfway through I had to skip down to the bottom, just to make sure everything turned out ok. One glance at “Welcome home, puppy” and I could go back to actually reading what you wrote. 🙂

    So glad you found Chuck! I had a somewhat similar experience with my much-beloved cat when I was a kid, right down the the person one street over taking her in, only the lapse in time between losing and finding was – I kid you not – seven years. Yeah.

  • Lori

    2006/11/28 at 1:47 pm

    I was almost afraid to get to the end for fear that you had not yet found him. I’m so happy he is home where he belongs.

  • HappyMamatoThree

    2006/11/28 at 1:47 pm

    Gosh the saga of poor Chuck and after you had had such a splendid day. When we were little it wasn’t the dogs it was the children. Undoubtedly one of the six of us would head off to the garden (vegetables not flowers) the apple orchard or the woods without telling anyone and the next thing you knew Mama was marching your butt back to the house with a switch. Yeah I’m guilty, and we weren’t even microchipped.

    Glad Chuck is home safe and sound and he wasn’t too hungover.


  • DDM

    2006/11/28 at 1:45 pm

    *phew* I stopped breathing about halfway through that story. I am SO happy for your happy ending!!!

  • Mel

    2006/11/28 at 1:44 pm

    Awww…The perfect (wo)man’s best friend…found. 🙂

  • Lisa C.

    2006/11/28 at 1:40 pm

    Heather, I’m so sorry that you lost Chuck, but super happy that you found him again! Take deep breaths.

  • kerewin

    2006/11/28 at 1:42 pm

    The non-religious side of me says that your letting go of the spiral and maybe projecting a happy ending had nothing to do with you getting a call in 10 minutes. That they were both just good, happy things to happen in a short period of space.

    Except that the rest of me is sure they are linked and I am really glad you got your dog back without any problems. I am sure it was very heartbreaking for you to go through that.

  • ReeBecki

    2006/11/28 at 2:37 pm

    OMG! I was almost ready to go to SLC and find Chuck myself because this world wouldn’t be right without Dooce and her dog.

    Also I wanted to say that your diagram reminded me of my mother. Could the spiral be caused from living in Utah? She lived there for almost 11 years. Just a point to ponder.

    OK give Chuckles the love he deserves!

  • Julie

    2006/11/28 at 2:31 pm

    Oh. My. God. My stomach hit the floor as I hit the middle of this post. Thank God you found him, or I might have spent the rest of the night staring at my pooch, crying my eyes out. And of course I’m extremely happy for you, too 😉

  • Hets

    2006/11/28 at 2:33 pm

    Oh, Heather! Before I finished reading, and saw that you told yourself to “let go”, my heart sank! I am so glad he is back. My other thought was that someone who had been reading your blog took Chuck because they know how amazing he is! I might have been hard pressed to give him back myself.

  • Kristen from MA

    2006/11/28 at 2:37 pm

    jeezus, Heather, i just had a small heaart attack at the thought of Chuck being lost forever!

    i’m so glad that he’s safe and that your ordeal is over.

  • Russweasel

    2006/11/28 at 2:30 pm

    I have a cunning plan… Reverse spiral. Start at your front door, with the former congressman on his leash and circle the block visiting each neighbor. Introduce yourself, and Chuck, then explain that he has had two adventures already and that he may be paying his respects on some future date. Give each neighbor one of Chuck’s business cards and wish them a happy holiday. Repeat in expanding loops until dog-boy looks tired. This should be roughly equal to his random wander range.

    It will either help in the event of a future escape, or alter your awareness so indelibly that it never happens again.

    BTW, I had to do this after “losing” my dog several times one summer. He got out once more, but had only been “missing” for about 2 hours before I got a call.

  • Zazzy

    2006/11/28 at 2:28 pm

    First, I’m so happy Chuck is home safe and sound. Like others, I had to skim to the end to be sure. When my Freddie used to get loose now and then I was afraid not only that he would get run over or something – but that he’d eat someone and I’d end up in prison for manslaughter by canine.

    Second, your insights and the spiral really speak to me and it’s something I need to really contemplate. The idea of not feeling bad because I don’t have it worse is somehow potentially life changing. Thank you.

  • sarilla

    2006/11/28 at 2:27 pm

    I too loved the story though knowing that it was real made it more scary along with how heart rending it was. I love how much you really love Chuck. He certainly is irresistably adorable.

    On the worry side–it’s so reassuring to know that others have irrational fears that plague them. I have recurring nightmares about being/becoming bald. Or leave the house and panic several blocks later that I didn’t turn the oven off.

  • lawyerish

    2006/11/28 at 2:26 pm

    I’ve recently concluded that I suffer from a similar anxiety-spiral because I am afraid of letting myself be happy. Because if I am happy, I am simply inviting tragedy. So when things are going really well in my life (like now — eep!), my brain invents ways in which I will somehow end up, in a very compressed period of time, being fired, disbarred, publicly shamed, divorced, friendless, and destitute. It’s pretty amazing, really, the power of the mind. Because I’m able to tell myself that this is a perfectly plausible result, even though plenty of other people live their lives just fine without some cosmic retribution. But my life is different, because it’s me. And I apparently haven’t earned the right to be happy like everyone else.

    Anyway. I’m glad Chuck is home safely. The thought of a dog, any dog, wandering about alone and sad is too much for me to bear, and if that had been my dog — who can barely go outside when it’s below 75 degrees as it is — I would have had my head in the oven.

  • allielune

    2006/11/28 at 2:24 pm

    Just wait until Leta can open the door on her own and “help let puppy out”. Talk about a whole new realm of panic and constant anxiety. Livin’ it and lovin’ it! Glad Chuck is home and great idea about the chip. Hopefully Animal Control will check more than once next time.

  • TeenSleuth

    2006/11/28 at 2:24 pm

    If only logic could break the spiral for me. I hope it does for you. My heart would definitely explode if I lost my cat. Even for a second.

  • Daisy

    2006/11/28 at 2:21 pm

    Welcome home Chuck!!!

  • wannabemae

    2006/11/28 at 2:18 pm

    Maggie’s correct about worry creating the very thing we are worried about…in my words…we create our own hell.

    Chuck…I’m glad you are home safe and sound after a night spreading Chuck merriment to the masses.

  • Audrey

    2006/11/28 at 2:16 pm

    I, too, had to skim down to make sure there was a happy ending. The tension was just killing me! I am so incredibly happy that Chuck made it home safely. I know I would be absolutely devastated if my dog were lost.

    I also couldn’t help but think to myself, “Hey, SexEdInHigherEd just wrote about a tooth-spitting-out dream,” and “Hey, I just wrote about my awful experience and the hangover that followed with Long Island Iced Tea” as I read this.

    But mostly I was thinking “Thank goodness Chuck is home safe!”

  • JennJenn

    2006/11/28 at 2:12 pm

    What an awesome post! An absolutely awesome post. Even more awesome than “How awesome will it be?”!

    If it is any consolation, both my Father and I ran over our cat many years ago.

    First he did it when I was about 10 years old, then I did it when I was 17. The cat still lived. She died of complications from diabetes/failing kidneys when she was 15. Who would have known it was the milk with sugar I would feed her every week that would eventually kill her?

    And here I thought I was being nice by sweetening a delicious bowl of “constipation for cats”.

    I’m a GOOD MOTHER!!!

  • Sleepless in St. Louis

    2006/11/28 at 2:10 pm

    Don’t know what all the fuss was? Sounds like a typical congressional junket to me. Alot of playing and partying whilst the the constituency worries about the state of the district.

  • anne nahm

    2006/11/28 at 2:11 pm

    Glad he’s back!

  • RzDrms

    2006/11/28 at 2:12 pm

    you made up leta to have something to talk about on this website?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 😉

    seriously, i’m sooooooooo glad you found him…i, too, had to skip to the end. and i love his little cocked ear; too cute.

    btw, what are your “tall teeth”? are you telling me that even your TEETH are tall?! 😉

    kidding again. have a great rest-of-the-week.

  • Jackie

    2006/11/28 at 2:12 pm

    I’m too afraid to have children because I think I might forget them on the roof of my car and drive away. So… I mean, it happens. Don’t beat yourself up too much.

    And that republican nascar pic was wonderful. Thank you.

  • babbling

    2006/11/28 at 2:12 pm

    there ARE times when you do not want your escaped dog to return home. Like the time my roly poly Huskey type (affectionatly known after this story as speed bump) bowled over my 8 year old daughter to squeeze through a sliver of daylight in the doorway. She promptly took off after the highschool cross country track team, in the path of a very very nice Cadillac. Of which she bounced off the front of, breaking the grill, and turned around to trot back to our porch, panting happily and gazing at me putting on my shoes to go chasing her. The driver followed her path to our front door, and then began a 30 min wait for police officers who were changing shifts, the angry driver being told that the officer couldn’t exactly issue a ticket to the dog. My husband arrived home minutes after it happened to wisk Speed bump to the vet where she was pronounced to be fit as a fiddle. Apparently she bounces.

  • Workman

    2006/11/28 at 5:25 pm

    Breathe deeply, consume kibble, breathe some more.

    Like others, I was reading with my heart in my mouth. Glad to read the happy ending.

  • zchamu

    2006/11/28 at 5:32 pm

    My heart stopped when I got to the bad part. I am so. SO glad he’s home.

    Don’t beat yourself up. Shit happens, you know? My dog’s gotten out a couple of times and I know the horrified feeling. I’m just so thankful for you that you got him back. No harm, no foul, he’s home.

    Yay SuperChuck!

  • RzDrms

    2006/11/28 at 5:24 pm

    i think i’m gonna pray for candice…

  • vetmommy

    2006/11/28 at 5:25 pm

    I am so glad Chuck is home. Elegantly written as usual.

  • birdie

    2006/11/28 at 5:22 pm

    Holy Mary Mother of God and That Which Is Good And Holy And Smells Faintly Of Dog Breath.

    About half-way through the post I thought for sure he was gone forever. Or, if you’re from Mississippi (as I am, and am hence allowed to make fun): He done up and runned away! Maybe he can find hisself a ‘coon to gnaw on for supper!

  • mireille1

    2006/11/28 at 5:15 pm

    Oh, thank God. I mean it. xoxo

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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