An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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.

  • First- Thank God
    Second- Can you (or Maggie) please teach me how to do that not worrying thing?

  • I laughed, I cried. Great post and I’m glad you found Chuck.

  • No-Sister

    Wow, I felt sick with worry until I found out Chuck was okay. I kept telling myself, “Okay, she wouldn’t have written an intro if he was still missing.” But still, knowing the agony of fear I suffer anytime I think about my dog getting out of the yard, anyone being mean to my dog, my dog choking on a piece of chicken jerky, my dog being maybe slightly less than giddily happy for one second out of a day, I still know that I can only IMAGINE how afraid you were until you got to kiss him on his little puppy nose.

    And thank you for being so candid about the anxiety spiral. People who don’t deal with it will never understand how the smallest little thing can snowball into a massive, gut-wrenching worry, but it’s nice to read that someone else gets it! Even if I wish, for your sake, you didn’t!

  • mirage1

    I think you just took some time off my life (and I’m just someone who admires him from afar!). This seems to have been the Year of Devastating Doggie Tragedies–I can name 8 just right off the top of my head–and I was very concerned that Chuck might have been one more victim.

    I’m glad he’s home.

  • OMG, I nearly started crying halfway through that story thinking you were going to say he was still out there lost and wanding the cold, lonely streets. SO glad you found him!

  • Laura D.

    I also wonder if the “spiral” is a female thing or an overachiever thing or what. I find myself stuck in it quite often.

    I was so anxious reading about your story! So glad you found Chuck.

  • Stefanie

    Welcome back Chuck!

  • KillCreek

    Heather! Oh my god! And YAY! I lost my dog for 10 days in the freezing cold once. I don’t think I slept more than an hour each night. I know that panic. I am so happy you got him back.

  • cailey

    You really like to build up the tension in a story, huh? I was sitting there telling myself to not peak at the end and that ‘of course they found him’. Still, I was just about as worried as I was when my own dog disappeared after we’d had him for just two weeks and he was still a puppy. Luckily he was trapped by his collar in the vines on our fence (weird, I know)and he couldn’t bark.
    You really had me on edge. Great writing.

  • d to the j

    just out for a stroll, eh? happy endings are always the best!

  • Thank you for sharing it.

  • Kathy

    I’m glad you got your boy back safely. Echoing another person, put a tag on him. And put your cell phone number on the tag.

    A friend’s husband left the gate ajar the other night when he went to work. She looked out, saw the open gate, panicked, went racing out the door…and all-but tripped over her two dogs sitting on the step waiting to come back in.

    Another friend lost two greyhounds out an open gate. (There’s been an epidemic of lost dogs around here.) She had both dogs back within the hour because both went up to total strangers in the neighborhood to beg for treats. (She’s the one who learned not to put her home number on the tag. Or, at least, to activate call-forwarding from home-to-cell phone.)

  • Talon

    oh my god!! *hugs you hard* I am so glad you found Chuck!! You had me nearly crying until I reached the part where you found him. *growls about microchips* What is up with that???

    I’m so glad the people who found him took good care of him though, and I’m so glad you have your emo-boy back!!

  • Glad that you found him!

  • >^..^<

    GodDAMN, that was a lot of drama! I’m so glad that your Chuck-er-upper Puppers is home 🙂 I once had a dream that I lost my kid at Disneyland that was so vivid I woke up crying. I feel your pain, Heather.

  • MadCarlotta

    Sweet jesus woman, you nearly gave me a heart attack!

  • I’m so glad you found your baby! I would much rather I lost my dog, then somene else lost my dog, know what I mean?

  • Betsy

    “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.”

    Heh-heh- do you realize that some sick bastards would say that you have “surrendered control to Christ?”

  • I am so happy you found your pupper! I would much rather I lost my dog, then someone else did, know what I mean?

  • The spiral. I hate the spiral. I have it too. Is it primarily a female, overachiever thing? Is it worse since you’ve become a mother?

    I’m so happy Chuck was found safe and sound. One of our four dogs was found. I can’t imagine our lives without her but often wonder why her previous owners never made more of an effort to claim her. We found her outside a Starbucks on a cold rainy day and who knows, maybe she traveled several miles or several states before we found her. We’ll never know for sure – we can’t get her to talk about it. The vet feels, due to physical problems, that she may have been abused so it might have been for the better.

  • “his toys and rawhide bones scattered underneath my feet like little Polaroids of his life”

    I cried at that but still can’t come close to imagining what you went through. So glad Chuck’s home safe again.

  • Zee

    Ohhh, thank god you found him!! Losing my dog is my worst worst worst nightmare so I can only imagine how you felt! Thanks for sharing this with us, Heather – it can’t have been easy.

  • Sarah Crawford

    Thank you for happy endings. Now please put a collar with tags on the congressman.

  • Renae

    Oh honey, I’m so sorry! I would be hysterical if I lost my dog. I’m really glad it worked out and he’s home safe and sound.

  • My heart completely stopped! I had horrible visions of Chuck out there in the night dealing with Mormons all on his own.

    And what Mary Craig said – No more of this Chuck, our hearts can’t take it

  • I am soooooooo happy you found him! I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t able to read about Chuck! I freaked out similarly two days ago. I was convinced my dog was in the house, because I could hear her collar jangling around somewhere, but she wasn’t anywhere to be found so I ran around in the street looking for her. Turns out she was waiting at the patio door to be let in and occasionally came by the open kitchen window and jangled and jangled and jangled me into insanity. Pets are people too – it’s okay to love them too much! Stay spiffy 🙂

  • holy crap. i thought it was the end of an era there…thanks be to God that you found chucko, and tell him that if he EVER pulls this kind of shit again, i will personally come out from California & kick him in the butt!!!!

  • This comment is for Chuck. Please to make sure he gets it.

    Jesus, God. Chuck. Dude. You have GOT to stop doing this kind of thing. Seriously. Not kidding.

  • mark

    I’m glad that Chuck is home safe and sound. Good luck with “the Spiral” – I know so many worriers (I’m not one) and it’s about as easy to quit as meth.

  • delphiblue

    oh, chuckles. glad you’re back.

  • Sorry you had to go through this, but thankfully it all worked out. And you’ve realized you can stop the Spiral. A phenomena I am all to familiar with.

    And BTW, timed math tests BLOW. My 3rd grader has such a difficult time with them that he just gets stuck and can’t finish.

  • If my dog got away for longer than 15 minutes I would dedicate my entire blog to her for eternity. No reason not to write about what’s real.

    Luckily, she’s arthritic and walking farther than the distance between the couch and the food bowl is a task akin to doing the Tour de France, so there’s not much danger. But reading this account made me a little sick to my stomach anyway.

  • I’m so glad this has a happy ending.

  • houstontxteddy

    I must admit it, I too went right to the ending of this entry. Reading this made me sick to my stomach with anxiety! We are SO glad Chuck is safe.

  • I don’t know Maggie (although I did glimpse her at BlogHer and her hair is indeed amazing), but she seems like a good friend to have. I understand what she means when she says that it’s possible to worry until what you’re worrying about actually happens. And although I wish you didn’t have such bad anxiety, the fact that you worry so much about people who are less fortunate than you shows what a good heart you have.

    That being said, I’m so glad you found Chuck! You’re lucky to have such kind, congressman-loving neighbors. Oh, and by the way, my husband flew to Salt Lake City today on business, and I jokingly said “say hello to Dooce for me”, and he said “WHO’S DOOCE?” And then my head exploded. As IF.

  • marnie

    OK, I have never actually lost my dog, my my stomach was up in my throat until I heard Chuck was safe and sound.

    I just try to kill my dog by feeding him razor blades… well, I didn’t actually force it down his throat, but he ate a razor blade none-the-less.

    Glad Chuck was out shagging the neighbours dog and not… well eating razor blades or something horrific like that…

  • ok, i was on the edge of my seat, slighty nauseous and on the verge of tears. because of chuck, i live vicariously through you as a dog owner. i’d kill to have a kickass dog such as master c.

    i am sooooooooooo glad that he was found and is safe and back home. give him some hugs and kisses from northern california, would you?

  • Ana


    this post made me tear up. That anxiety and pressure sure builds up. The release in that deep breath, when you really mean it, feels really good.

    Thank god that dog made it home. I don’t think I’D be able to sleep tonight!

  • Maggie’s right, you are walking directly into what you fear. The timing of this is no accident; this is spirituality 101, and she just handed you the primer. You really made this one happen, and you know what? Everyone is okay. You’re a good person, a great writer, and an even greater mom. Please don’t interpret any of this as condescending, I’ve been right about where you are most of my life, maybe a little less OCD, but right down to the tooth-loss dreams, I hear you loud and clear. By the way, I understand that this particular slumber-time drama can signify a feeling of powerlessness, which sits feeding the roots of fear, and vice versa. Maybe it’s a symbiotic relationship.

    Anyway, just make your spiral an upward one. It’s clear from your blog that it’s what you’ve been working on anyway. You’re doing much better than you think.

    I’m so glad your amazing dog and lovely family are safe. No worries, Ladybug.

  • Liz

    I don’t usually comment because you GET SO MANY (not bitterness, just envy) but I read this and it tugged at my heartstrings.

    I have a new puppy who already is a part of our family in a major way, we got her right after we had to put down our other dog, and now we just had to have a surgery on our OTHER dog, Milo, because he tore his ACL (read: knee) and required a rather complicated surgery because he is just TOO FAT to have a less complicated one. Whoops.

    But Milo is now not doing so well, he’s not eating, can’t hardly walk, and yelps if you come near him. He must have some infection somewhere which is usual because the incidence of infection in these surgeries are rather high, however Milo is in such a state that we’re having to decide whether to keep him alive or to let him go to Doggy Heaven, and figuring out if we’re doing best by him, not us.

    I guess this post just made me thing about Milo, and I am really really glad you guys have Chuck back because I know how hard it is to lose a pet–even for a day it’s difficult.

  • Glad you got your boy back.

  • Stephanie

    Oh my god. My dad did that with our dog in the morning this August. We drove around and finally found him, one street over, with his WHORE! Every time he goes out in the front yard he starts trying to walk up the street to go see his whore. I never realized my dog was such a pimp. I’m glad you found Chuck!

  • This whole thing did make me want to buy a calendar.

  • i suffer from extreme dog related anxiety. i worry and fuss over every aspect of my dog’s health to the point that i’m convinced i gave him cancer. yep, my 2 yr old mutt got cancer and some part of me thinks i caused it (he’s ok now though).

    i was so worried you were going to say chuck had been hit by a car or something i almost closed the window. i’m glad i scrolled down and found out he was ok. that dog goes on some crazy adventures. it makes me wish he had his own blog. i bet he’d post lots of his angsty poetry he writes in the basement.

  • Jaxie

    First: glad you found Chuck.
    Second: the entire time I was reading the first half of this, I couldn’t help but think of this book I just read to my 4th grade class. It’s not the greatest book ever, but oh my goodness did this post make me think of the book. I do believe that if I had your physical address, you’d be getting the book as a christmas present. So, if you get the chance the next time you’re shopping, you should check out the book “Just In Case” by Judith Viorst. I do believe you’d be able to relate…a lot!

  • laurajeans

    Not meaning to be cheeky but did you register the microchip you had put in Chuck? I only ask because my cat Daisy went missing a few weeks ago at my parent’s house in American Fork, UT – I had forgotten to call and register the chip manufacturer’s database. She’s still up in Utah somewhere. Sigh.

    Glad you got Chuck back though.

  • Dia

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that Chuck is safe at home once more. I panicked when I read that he was missing and almost stopped to email my best friend a tragic “CHUCK IS MISSING! OMG, WE MUST DO SOMETHING!” email. I can’t even begin to imagine how horrific it must have been for you.

    Also? I have that same dream about my teeth falling out. Drives me nuts and I always have to check when I wake up just to make sure that they’re all still where they belong. *shudder*

  • ashley

    i’m so glad you found him. so, so glad.

  • Heather, that story went on too long!! I just needed to hear that he was home safe! I’m still recovering from that scare. I can’t imagine how you must have squeezed him, how you must be squeezing him still.

  • melissacg

    Oh, how scary. I’m so glad he’s home safe.

    Are you able to stop kissing his little face off yet?

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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