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.

  • this is the bestest entry EVER!

  • Nat W.

    So glad someone found him! Losing a dog is the worst feeling.

    Yay, Chuck!

  • Mrs. Bickerson

    If you haven’t seen the movie My Life as a Dog, you might like it. The little boy goes through hell and keeps his positive attitude by comparing his life to the first dog sent into space. He imagines that anything he (the boy) endures is better than being that dog, sent into space, all alone, no food, etc. Quite the good movie. Funny and sad.

    When I was 6 or 7 in Iowa our dog, Barney, ran away one December. He was gone three days. My mom and dad drove miles and miles around our town with my brother and me yelling his name out the windows. And then one day he poked his head out of his dog house in our backyard. We never knew where he had been. Perhaps Las Vegas?

  • Jenn

    I’m so glad to hear that Chuck is back home, safe and sound!… I’m also very glad to hear that you were able to ward off some of that vice-grip anxiety. I can tell you what a monumental feat that is, especially in such a scary situation.

    I like to refer to it as good ol’ Catastrophic Thinking, and I’m only the latest in a whole line of women in my mom’s family to perfect this skill. It’s had a particularily tight vice-grip on me lately, and it’s so awesome to see someone not only explicitly spell out the exact train of thought it creates, but also to see that it doesn’t always have to get the better of you. Thanks for the encouraging (and, as always, hilarious) story!

  • jaclyng

    Hey Heather; glad the pup is safe. Regarding the Spiral of Worry, I was the same for years; guilty that I had so much when so many had so little. Then I learned the concept that we all create our own existence ENTIRELY. So now I am thankful I have created a wonderful life for myself and enjoy it fully. For those who haven’t created the same kind of life, they are on their own path and their lives are exactly what they have chosen for this time, for whatever reason. Thank God I chose love and luxury!!!

  • DanielN

    Wow, I can’t believe those people called animal control so quickly.

    Remember the days when we all just let our dogs roam freely around the neighborhood? I’d stand out on the back porch yelling Cinnamon….Cinnnaaamooooonn…Ciiinnnnaaaamoooonnnn! and she’d never come. My Dad would step out and call once and she’d come zipping around the corner and into the yard.

  • MarkDM

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME? It happened *again*? Geez, well, now that Chuck is back safe and sound, I’m sure calendar sales will go through the roof. If he was ever really gone, that is.

    Seriously, great post, and I knew it’d have a happy ending when I saw your very funny Nascar graphic near the top. I can’t imagine you’d do something so whimsical if the extremely handsome Chuck was still missing or if something terrible had happened.

  • I found myself holding my breath halfway through this post. Glad Chuck is home safe!

  • Angela

    Hey, what’s wrong with Republican NASCAR fans??? LOL!
    Love your blog, and I’m glad that Chuck is home safe!!!

  • Jamie

    Oh man, I was totally teary-eyed. I even scrolled ahead to the end to see if you’d found him, and even though I saw that you did, I still got more and more teary-eyed as I finished reading.

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but if it’s any consolation, it made a great, heart-wrenching story.

  • leslieruth

    Didn’t know I could go through so many emotions in one blog reading. Glad to hear that Chuck is back safe and sound! Sound like Maggie was a much needed help at the perfect time. I’m a little jealous you have friends like that. Any tips on how to make friends when you move to a whole new frickin’ state?

  • Indigopyro

    I relate in too many ways to your hillarious illustration of The Spiral. I am incredibly guilty of letting my worrywort imagination get to me. In fact, I must admit that half way through your tale of Chuck’s adventure I immediately assumed he was dead – what a terrible thing to think!

    I’m also the person who assumes that any time a strange sound comes from another room that someone/something has spilled, broken, died, etc. This is, of course, a terrible way to live and I was so encouraged to see that someone else’s mind works this way too – and that it doesn’t always have to be like that. Thank you for the laugh, the heartwarming tale, and helping me feel more normal.

    P.S. – Not to suck up, or anything, but I think you’re an amazingly talented writer and I read your blog religiously. You are wonderful! (I think we all need to hear that every now and then.)

  • Lis

    Whew!! I was so stressed out while reading. It’s so funny though, cause I bet Chuck had a great time while you guys were so worried. Do you think you’ll set up a play date with the dogs of the neighbor who found him?

  • oh thank goodness! as most people probably did I cried for the last half of the post and just kept telling myself she wouldn’t write about it if they hadn’t found him….with fingers crossed. We are very happy about it and my daughter Aurora and husband Edison send their love and best wishes with mine.

  • Just wanted to say thank goodness you found him. I have literally nothing else to say, besides you freaked my shit out with that story. I’m so glad Chuck’s ok.


  • Beckcycle

    Not only am I relieved that Chuck is home (WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE MICROCHIP DIDN’T WORK?! Does that happen often? BUT THE MICROCHIP HELPS ME SLEEP!)but I am also secretly a little happy that my dog isn’t the only dog who would wander away under those circumstances. If Chuck-the-most-acrobatic-dog-ever would do it, then I guess I can’t blame my dog.

  • Glad to see Chuck is home and doing well.

    I do have another theory for you about your worrying, because I too am a worrier. I am more of a flyweight to your heavyweight, but I figured out why I do what I do.

    We (you and I and 99% of the people we know) have grown up steeped in stories from TV and books. Most of these stories follow the same couple of dozen themes, one of the major ones being that a person with everything going for them is plunged into their darkest tragedy in a split second. A happily family riding home in the car with a new puppy singing Christmas carols is just ASKING to be hit head-on by a semi, for example. So, everytime things are going well, or I’m especially happy, or even if I’m just driving down the street with my kids in the car and no one is screaming mommy mommy mommy, I can just picture the story arc where everything is going great in my life and then wham! Everyone in my family is killed.

  • I felt sick for you as I read. I am so glad he is home.

  • Dude, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WOULD DO if I lost my dog. I can’t even imagine it. I try, but my brain shuts down with utter terror. Oh, and dude, if you EVER write a post like that again, wherein I don’t know if it’s going to end well, wherein it isn’t clear if that adorable patient puppy is going to be okay, I will seriously drive all the way to SLC and wrap noodles around your head. Seriously. I lost like a year of my life just now.

  • Julia

    thank goodness I didn’t know – I LOVE that dog.

    Tonight, after a stupid comment by his coach, my 14 year old ran out of the gym and was missing for 1 hour and 14 minutes. I thought my world had come to an end. he arrived home finally and said he felt better after he ran it off. good god.

  • OH MY GOD that just happened to me really recently! Only it was when it was incredibly HOT here this past summer, and I let my dog out in the back but I hadn’t latched the gate after taking out the recycling crap to the alleyway. We noticed him missing around 8pm and then my husband and I took turns driving up and down the alleyways and streets in our neighborhood looking for him until 11:30pm. I drove up and down many more times the next morning, after having not slept a frigging BIT all night, fat eyes, guilt-ridden myself. And I had to wait until noon when the animal shelter opened up. My daughter (3) was all upset, worried about Floyd, and where was he, and why wasn’t he home, and I had laid his bed and water and food on the front porch in case he came home, and he didn’t, and she was a mess. And then I found him in the second to the last pen at the animal shelter, and we were all crying and beside ourselves. He was picked up a HALF A BLOCK from our house, at 8:20 pm the previous night, and had been there all night. He was without his collar due to having had a bath that day, so also, no way to identify him. So anyway. Long story. But I can relate. Glad you got him back.

  • Welcome home, Chuck!

  • I can’t even begin to imagine the hysterics I would go into if my dog got lost. I am so relieved you got Chuck back. A Chuckless world is not a world worth living in.

  • RzDrms

    i actually wondered why she had jon wearing a dress in the above picture (because you know that’s not dooce). i guess jon must be a cross-dresser or something.

  • I had no idea Chuck was so petite. He only weighs 3 pounds more than my daughter! I’m so glad your story has a happy ending. I’d feel the same way if one of our cats got out: horrified, panicked, and sort of numb.

  • Postmodern Sass

    Thank god. I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to Chuck. Seriously. I just love that goofy dog, man.

  • Kath :-)

    I cried thru your whole post.

    Thrilled beyond words that your family is complete once more.

  • Can I ask why you had Jon decapitated in the above pictured car crash?

  • Next time, please put the happy ending first so that I can read the rest of the entry without a huge lump in my throat.

    Welcome home, Chuck!

  • Oh, Heather, I’m SO glad you guys found him.

    P.S. This was a beautiful post. Seriously.

  • Good to have you back, Chuckles.

    Heather, you should know that all it would take is a simple post and all of us in the greater Morgidor would have mobilized the Home Teachers (or some shit) and been out there looking for the Chuckster. We’d have gone all Elizabeth Smart on his ass.

  • Oh my goodness! Like just about everyone here, I had to scroll to the bottom to see if Chuck made it. My mom passed away last week and I took it reasonably well (all considered) but when my doggie got out and I thought something had happened, I almost had a meltdown. So, I understand totally about chuckles.

    YEY for finding him!! I am so glad. Dooce wouldn’t be the same without him.

  • Just remember, “To err is human; to forgive, canine…” Dogs don’t hold grudges, and that is just one of the reasons why they’re so wonderful. I’m glad the Former Congressman made it home safe and sound. Give him some love for me!

  • I am so glad you took that breath. And that Chuck didn’t get that tattoo. It would Soooo have messed up the calendar for me next year.

    Glad you are both safe and sound.

  • Katie

    THANK YOU for not posting this until you had found him…cause otherwise I would have been sitting in MD in my own spiral, wondering where Chuck might be and why there was nothing I could do a gazillion miles away. And it IS all about me.

    I’m so happy you found him!

  • ecileh

    Okay. I’ll admit it. I am ridiculously attached to Chuck. So much so, in fact, that I was more worried about him as I read this than I was over the prospect that my (indoor) cat might have gone missing twenty minutes before we left for five days of Thanksgiving Hell.

    I’m very relieved that he is home safe and sound. Give him a scritch for me. And I’ll hug my dogs for you all, too.

  • I’m so happy he’s home!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!! Badcat & T-Bone send their love!

  • heathabee

    Heather, I am so happy that Chuck is home safe and sound, and thank you for sharing the story with us! I had to stop and scroll down to the bottom to make sure that it all turned out ok; I couldn’t take the suspense! But what a happy ending! It’s so hard to just “Let it go” and “give it up” and I’m glad that you were able to do so and that you saw the benefits of it.

    Oprah tells a story along the same lines, about wanting that role in the Colour Purple so badly, and begging for it, and obsessing about it and making phone calls, and praying about it… it took over her life. While she was running around a track at some ‘fat camp’, she was thinking about how she couldn’t MAKE the director give her the part, and so she let it go, and gave it up to God and almost instantly, someone (from wherever she was) came down to the track and told her that she had a phone call. And it was Stephen Spielberg telling her to check out of the fat camp, because the character she was going to be playing needed to be that over-weight ‘Mami’ figure. She got the part.

    Anyway, after that long story/schpeel, I just wanted to validate that what you did and tell you, GOOD FOR YOU. Giving it up, letting it go is a great and powerful thing to do, and I hope you find that you are able to do it more in order to escape your anxiety. I hope you find much comfort in your new anxiety-free life! 🙂 best of luck to you!

  • i’m glad chuck is okay. losing your dog twice in one year doesn’t at all sound crazy to someone who also has a dog with an actual mind of their own… i think my dog plans her escape attempts, and then mocks me when i see her dashing through the parking lot out my own window.

    anyway, i have that same reoccurring nightmare about spitting out my teeth. i always thought it was god punishing me for being vain.

  • melinda

    whoa! I just had that happen 2 weeks ago when my dog broke his tie-out. The one other time he did that, he showed up about the time I noticed he was gone. I only had about 45 minutes of anxiety before he showed up, compared to your hours, but it was ETERNITY! So glad Chuck made it home ok and sans tattoos 😛

  • Allison

    I must agree with the many commentors who believe this is one of your best posts ever.

    Once again, your honesty in your post is unbelieveable. I have to say as a sometimes writer, I look up to you majorly and this post has just reiterated that.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us and not sugar-coating it. I know someday when I’m a mother and a wife and I’m super-worried or can’t stop crying or incredibly depressed, I’ll look back and think of you and maybe I won’t freak out about my behavior being abnormal (at least not as much). Thanks for changing what the face of a modern-day mother looks like. I appreciate your ability to stand up and say, “This is me, and I’m not perfect.”

  • liznboys

    This was not good timing for me…we had to put our dog of 14 years down on Wednesday…over the years she has escaped and I remember well the panic that would ensue (she was actually, quite the Houdini, always able to escape when a rabbit or squirrel teased her once too often). I cried when I read this post b/c it reminds me of my furry baby….the house is oddly quiet w/o a dog.
    I am so glad Chuck had a safe night out on the town and was returned promptly. (our next dog is going to microchipped). Give him an extra cuddle for me.

  • JessicaP

    welcome home Chuck.

  • I am so happy all of you are reunited.

    If you will excuse me, I have to g and wash my face, damn tears!

  • Megan Garnhum

    According to dreaming that your teeth are falling out are the most common dreams.

    One theory is that dreams about your teeth reflect your anxiety about your appearance and how others perceive you.

    Another rationalization for these falling teeth dream may be rooted in your fear of being embarrassed or making a fool of yourself in some specific situation. These dreams are an over-exaggeration of your worries and anxiety.

    Teeth are used to bite, tear, chew and gnaw. In this regard, teeth represent power. And the loss of teeth in your dream may be from a sense of powerlessness.

    Traditionally, it was thought that dreaming that you did not have teeth, represent malnutrition which may be applicable to some dreamers.

    Other Perspectives

    A scriptural interpretation for bad or falling teeth indicate that you are putting your faith, trust, and beliefs in what man thinks rather than in the word of God. The bible says that God speaks once, yea twice in a dream or a vision in order to hide pride from us, to keep us back from the pit, to open our ears (spiritually) and to instruct and correct us.

    In the Greek culture, when you dream about loose, rotten, or missing teeth, it indicates that a family member or close friend is very sick or even near death.

    According to the Chinese, there is a saying that your teeth will fall out if your are telling lies.

    It has also been said that if you dream of your teeth falling out, then it symbolizes money. This is based on the old tooth fairy story. If you lose a tooth and leave it under the pillow, a tooth fairy would bring you money.

  • swmcd

    So the chip failed (probably). Go back to the vet and get it replaced. Now you have to test it. Get a wand; hear it go beep. But that’s not enough: you have to test it regularly, say, once a month. And people can’t remember to do things like that.

    So…you get a wand and mount it on the front door frame. Now it goes beep every time Chuck goes through the door. But beeps are boring. Wire an MP3 player into the wand, and now it can play a ringtone. For example
    – the Halleluah Chorus, in celebration that you still have a dog
    – the dum-dum-dum-dum from Jaws, to remind you of the peril that lurks without.
    – a tape loop of Chuck barking, although that might get confusing

  • Daydreamerme

    As someone who struggles with anxiety too, I can’t imagine how you got through it. Well done for letting go and relaxing into it, I’ve tried that – tried being rational and not letting my mind turn every little thing into a gargantuant crisis that leaves me gasping for breath, but I just cant do it. Well done!! Congrats on getting Chuck back – would you believe I exhaled a great big breath of sweet relief when you found him? I dont know you or you’re dog, but dammit, I care. Hope you dangled some spaghetti on his head, just so he feels at home.

  • Meggleberry

    Oh Heather, how glad I am that the Congressman has turned up safe and sound. With a husband that has serious allergy issues, Chuck is the closest I will come to having a dog of my own. And what a dog! There are days after seeing or reading about the exploits of Chuck the Wonder Dog that have me seriously contemplating trading in the husband for just such a dog.

    Please understand that I do not for one single second recommend that your loyal readers try what worked for me but I present it here purely for the amusement of all. My childhood and teen years were dominated and/or destroyed by various evil manifestations of The Spiral and only cured when I gave myself electric shock therapy via accidental electrocution administered by a Sunbeam Mixmaster during the making of a chocolate cake. Please kiddies, just to reiterate – don’t try this for yourself at home, but getting that close to DEATH, the scariest thing I could imagine and the logical outcome of every spiral journey I had taken, only to find that I was not scared for a single second of the whole near death experience cleared my mind of the obsessing and made me thankful for every single day that I am not dead.

    And also left me determined that I would never again put myself in the position where I might be killed by a domestic household appliance.

    Big smooch for Chuck.

  • Chuck, what the hell, Chuck? What would we have done without you? Signed, Your Fan Club

  • aly

    oh thank god you found him! yay! no one deserves a lost dog– i dont care how many 2nd grade math tests you bombed– although, i bet chuck had the time of his life. maybe you should train him to respond to pop tarts though? or maybe licorce?

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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