Of Therapy, Race and Unpaid Labor

About two years ago shit was getting super real and with every passing day it become increasingly apparent that I was in need of some GOOD CLEAN THERAPY.

I was raised by therapists, and my brother is a therapist- I often joke that its the family business and wonder to myself how long it will take me to just give into the familial calling and become a therapist myself.

I will now guide you on a picturesque stroll through therapist-memories past-

  1. I had a childhood therapist analyze my IQ for scholarly aptitude at age 7. This was bogus though because the test was done in English and the time I primarily spoke and understood only Spanish. Bet that douche isn’t bilingual.
  2. During my parent’s divorce, my brother and I endured family therapy with the dreaded Evan- she was the first to suggest we be given chores to help my mom out. Can you even handle the nerve?!?! My job was to set the table. My brother’s job was to take the trash down the hall to the trash chute. One night he decided that rather than walk down the hall a few hundred feet,  he would chuck it off of our eighth floor balcony. The trash bag landed on the balcony of our downstairs neighbors, exploded, and littered their property with our mail. Not exactly an airtight plan right there.
  3. I asked for a therapist my first year of high school- actually just for fun. My mom found me an older lady with cats, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She didn’t understand me AT ALL.
  4. I was provided with a therapist after my abortion my second year of high school and I requested a male therapist this time around- who the FUCK can even understand why. I think I was trying to be edgy, and he was as confused as I was.
  5. I got myself a therapist through my college my sophomore year when I started experiencing extreme anxiety- Marge Litchford. Marge was a great therapist but then later went on to hit on me and completely disrespect the patient-therapist code of conduct, opting instead for a complete abuse of power which included (but wasn’t limited to) using facts from my life that I shared in therapy against me in a sick game of Two Truths and a Lie. Playing the game was her idea. So was inviting me out to dinner and suggesting that although she can’t “break the rules,” (presumably because of her occupation as a THERAPIST, our extreme age difference, my status as a former patient of hers…) I should “throw caution to the wind.” These last two comments were completely unprompted by me, and punctuated a bizarre night of personal panic and dissociation.
  6. This last experience seriously soured me on therapy, which is a shame because I really needed help at the time. Smith College provided me with a therapist to process the situation with Marge – just to cover their asses- but they didn’t fire her. In fact, they promoted her, and for the remainder of my college career I would endure public panic attacks any time I saw her on campus.
  7. I don’t feel any sort of guilt here using her actual name and the name of my school. According to Smith’s website, Marge is now available via Google Chat. How nice.
  8. Took a long hiatus from therapy after college.
  9. I decided I needed more therapy sometime during my first year in Portland. Probably because I couldn’t understand why I had moved to Portland- but thats neither here nor there. I started with the therapist my partner at the time was seeing, but she was really nice and gentle, and I need someone to smack me when I try to bullshit my way through things. She clearly wasn’t up for the task.
  10. She suggested I see this other person, who was located a 45 minute drive from my house- which is hard to imagine, considering everything in Portland is within like a five mile radius. Previous therapist assured me that this therapist would “hold my feet to the fire.” But alas, she wasn’t up for the task of my BS either.

So I gave up for a little bit. And during this break once mentioned to my ex that I didn’t understand how everyone in the queer community was always talking about how they were healing. I was like – I’m not healing from anything- IM FINE.

Right.

But the truth is- I wasn’t healing because I was in the depths of denial. And after years of suppressing everything, things started to boil over. At the time that I started realizing it was time to get back to therapy, I was going through a break-up, my father was getting sober and suffering extreme fluctuations in health (he also moved to back to Chile at this time and found out that my step mother— whom he had been married to for over 25 years— was gas-lighting him), I was starting the process of buying a house- which is a total privilege and also very stress inducing, and my body was showing extreme physical manifestations of anxiety- – – I really needed to talk to someone.

I strongly believe in the clarity that can come from processing with someone who is completely uninvolved in your life, but the task of getting into therapy is daunting, and finding the right one can feel like an insurmountable challenge. There should be a Tinder for therapists- just a brief snippet of what they focus on, if they accept insurance, what their sliding scale is if they don’t take insurance, and as cute or calming a picture as they can find. Cause finding a therapist is like dating, if dating involved delving into your most vulnerable shit in one hour increments every single time you go out. And always being the one that pays for dinner.

One weekend I drove out to the coast for a friend’s going away party, and she asked if I could bring one of her friends back to Portland with me. On the 2 hour drive home we talked about all kinds of stuff, one of them being therapy, and she told me that her current therapist had changed her life. I took it as a sign that maybe this could be the therapist for me. She mentioned that her therapist- we shall call her Cindy- also worked with sound healing, which in my head I was like “what the hell is that???” but didn’t press the matter and instead got Cindy’s contact info and thanked my new friend for the lead.

I should note here that I am a no-nonsense East Coaster and when I first moved to Portland was allergic to all talk of: astrology, tarot, woo, crystals, phases of the goddamn moon etc.

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The first session went just fine. We got some basics out of the way, and I found that I enjoyed speaking with her. I was right there with her on most of her insights, and her take on things. The first session ends without much fan-fair.

Second session- I wear my hair in braids, which is what I do when its too greasy for decency and I don’t have time or motivation to shower before getting on with my day. I sit down for the session, and she looks at me and with a smile says “Well, don’t you look like your beautiful indigenous self.”

This is the part where the record stops because she is a nice older white lady, and I am young and ornery Latina.

Like in most questionable racist and misogynist moments, I swallow my shock, and carry on. Because, as backwards as this is, I don’t want to question someone and make them feel uncomfortable or on the spot. I don’t want to assume the worst, and clearly she thought she was paying me a compliment. But fucking hell, if I don’t get a stupid ass comment every time I wear my hair in braids.

I work in customer service in Portland Oregon, for crying out loud. Talk about mislead white people trying to be nice by fetishizing you incessantly. I think people get excited when it looks like “Pocahantas” is making their latte.

Here is a snippet of some of the things people have actually said to me during my time in Portland-

Wow your skin is so tan. NO- its not “tan” if its my year round skin color.

Omg you went camping for the first time just 2 years ago? Thats so chola of you! NO- chola isn’t a blanket term for all Latin American people raised in an urban environment. Also- what?

Gracias for my latte! NO- I took your order in English, you are not my friend, my language isn’t just a fun tourist moment for you. ALSO what a privilege to just speak spanish freely as a white person, without ANY THREAT OF DEPORTATION.

You speak Spanish?! No way- can you teach me? NO- will you just quickly teach me coding in exchange? Also- see above. Also, why? Like really- why do you want to know how to speak Spanish? So you can order your burrito in Spanish? Give me a break.

BUT I DIGRESS-

So here is this new nice therapist, saying some super questionable shit to me. But I push on with the session and in my head tell myself I am never coming back.

During the following days I tell everyone about what Cindy said. “O M G can you believe this lady?” “blah blah blah what a terrible person!” And my friends and community members lovingly followed along, ooed and ahhed and agreed and said, “ugh you clearly need to leave. her. in. the. dust!”

And yes- that was a totally bone-headed misguided thing to say. But also, now stay with me here- People Mess Up. That doesn’t make it ok, and its up to PoC on an individual basis to make the choice regarding how much unpaid labor they want to put into the general education of white people. But I knew that there was more going on for me here. Yes, she said something offensive, but also, I was pretty freaked out about taking steps to move towards healing, and trying things that were new to me (like, um, sound healing…) that could be good for my anxiety, my relaxation, and my relationship to therapy. It would have been much easier for me to ditch this therapist and claim that she couldn’t understand me based on her misunderstanding of race and fetishizing- which would be well within my right- than it would have been for me to confront her about the comment and push forth into the unknown, taking potential steps towards some personal healing.

I have done a lot of unpaid emotional labor in my life- both femme and PoC. It exhausts me, it really does. I also have come to understand that some of it is my work in this world. I have found myself countless times in positions of mediation and leadership, starting at age 5; some of those situations have been detrimental to me and have been forced upon me without my consent. Other times that position has helped shape me into who I am, has played off of innate strengths and a deep ability to empathize, and has given me strength. I engage in this labor at work, where I do get paid, and in my social and familial life, where I have needed to develop tools to discern whether or not it is additive or detrimental. I have worked a lot on learning to have boundaries.

At the next session, I sat across from her and said:

“Before we get started, I need to address a comment you made last session.”

I outlined what she had said, how it made me feel, and why it was inappropriate and steeped in white supremacy. She apologized, explained where she was coming from, and didn’t make excuses. She thanked me for helping her understand. We got into a deeper conversation about choosing to be in a therapeutic relationship, and how both parties involved need to make sure its a good fit. She said:

“I understand you have reservations about working with me, and I thank you for telling me about those reservations. I too have my reservations about working with you.”

“What are those reservations?”

“You are very cut off emotionally and I am not totally sure that you are interested in digging deep and making yourself vulnerable to the process.”

WELL DAMN LADY, AREN’T YOU JUST HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD.

We shared our reservations, our honest observations about each other and whether or not the relationship could work; I felt like she was seeing me as clearly as she could.

What I have gained over the past two years of therapy with her has been invaluable and imperative. I had a few sessions of sound healing- and it was weird and not totally my thing, but I am glad I tried it- and worked at unraveling why I go right into my thoughts when an emotion comes up, worked at understanding family of origin relationships that no longer serve me to perpetuate, and got closer to feeling my own personal power and standing more fully in myself.

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I am honestly still on the fence a lot of the time regarding how much its the responsibility of PoC to teach white people about the ways in which they perpetuate racism and white supremacy. Even without meaning to or knowing thats what they are doing. Cause, duh, white people- you have access to the internet and BOOKS and a responsibility to be the least shitty iteration of yourself. PoC are also engaging in personal work, and the added work of holding your hand through race 101 (and putting up with white fragility and tears) is really, just honestly, asking too much. And so actually, fuck being on the fence- its NOT the responsibility of ANY PoC to guide you through understanding your racism. Just like it isn’t femme/female identified people’s responsibility to help misogynists (in alllll their iterations) stop speaking over the femmes and female identified people in their lives.

If individuals benefitting from the power of being favored within dominant culture find themselves learning from a member of any marginalized community, they are extremely lucky.

In this situation with the therapist, I did the math in my head of what I stood to lose from making myself extremely vulnerable and helping a white person evolve, vs. what I could possibly gain. I ended up gaining a positive long term relationship with a therapist who helped me a lot. In 90% of cases where I am working to help lift the veil of white supremacy and the patriarchy, I actually gain very little aside from knowing that I am *maybe* keeping someone else in my community from having to do the work for this particular individual. My chance of not being objectified or fetishized in this particular instance has passed, and I missed it.

And this is a VERY cursory explanation of the risk management those of us in marginalized communities asses on a constant basis moving through this world.

I guess my ultimate take away is that my relationship to therapy, especially the white anglo tradition of therapy, has always been a complicated one; its been a relationship that at times has taken more away from me than it has given me. I am back on another hiatus, and as with most other parts of my life, unpaid PoC labor played a role in this most recent leg of my “therapy journey.”

Interacting with each other within the system of white supremacy affords us all with various opportunities: the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to work and teach, the opportunity to assert boundaries, and the chance to feel both enlightened and exhausted. Its up to each of us, my fellow PoC queer femmes with whom I share my particular community, to make the call for ourselves when to engage, and when to keep ourselves safe and for ourselves.

I know the work needs to be done, and that teaching is, and will continue to be, an imperative part of dismantling white supremacy.  But I think its important to understand at what cost it actually comes.

Happy Pride- Why am I a Concerned Lesbian?

I recently came out as someone who does AND enjoys Crossfit.

I have NEVER before in my life enjoyed any sort of physical activity. I have literally given away hundreds of dollars to gyms through unused memberships (thirty dollars a month adds up), attempted and promptly given up periods of “running” (that shit is free and horrible), focused only on cardio when I did get my ass to the gym, and mostly felt uncomfortable and directionless when trying to engage in any type of exercise.

I wasn’t raised to be active. My family didn’t put a premium on sports or sweating, and as a person socialized “Female,” I certainly don’t recall encouragement from society at large. Encouragement to be thin, yes- but through dieting and based solely on impossible aesthetic standards with absolutely zero regard for my physical health. My parents (all four of them) are the academic type and encouraged me to get good grades and expand my vocabulary. Which is great- I use the word Superfluous in casual conversation all the time. But for most of my life I didn’t understand the value of feeling myself in my body- which can be done in many ways, one of them being through any sort of god damn physical activity.

You know what happens when you never learn to feel yourself inside your body? Tons of bad shit, and for me it includes dissociation, and lots of anxiety. Of all types! The acute kind, the daily kind, the kind related to flying, the kind that leads to IBS, the kind that causes me to ruin lots of relationships, the kind that leaves me feeling lost, groundless, and depressed. I’ve tried lots of ways to treat this anxiety- meditation, diet, staring at the ocean, therapy, getting a dog, quitting coffee- and all of these helped. But it always felt like I would get a momentary leg up on the anxiety, finally finding a fix!, and then I would deal with a hard day at work or a flight and it would all unravel, leaving me feeling like I was taking two huge steps backwards.

For a few different reasons though, I decided to try Crossfit about 5 months ago. There was a lot that lead up to this decision, but mostly it was because my gf suggested I try it so many times that I figured even working out would be worth shutting her up.

Aside from being extremely against all physical activity (read: intimidated) I thought Crossfit seemed, well, dumb. I was put off by how much people who do Crossfit talk about Crossfit (what do vegan crossfitters talk about first?), and I had a hard time admitting that there was something else out there, something super basic and elemental such as the habit of exercise, that could help with my anxiety. Sometimes, as much as we suffer from our pain, we learn to identify with it. We think it IS us, and all that we deserve, and to lose it would be too big a relief, that it would throw the Earth off its axis and the universe would find itself unbalanced. Or maybe I am just dramatic, but I have felt so stuck in my anxiety, its hard to think of a world beyond it. Of myself without my old friend, as abusive and manipulative a friend as she is.

I could have of course tried any sort of physical activity, but this was what was being suggested to me. In February the opportunity for a super affordable month long foundations course at a gym run by PoC and queers arose, so I signed up. The class met every M, W and Th at 8am for one hour and we would stretch, go over some of the different movements you find at most Crossfit gyms, and then end with a metabolic conditioning session. And that shit was HARD. During the first week I cursed in my head the whole hour and thought to myself, I will finish up this month and then call it quits on Crossfit FOREVER.

During the second week, I was like ok- actually, starting my day achieving something that feels physically challenging is kinda neat and makes me feel sorta good… but I know I am not going to enjoy weight lifting and I don’t want to get “bulky” and look “muscular.”

During the third week I was like- HOLD THE PHONE, weight lifting is actually kinda fun and totally something that has been missing from my life. Like literally, all I have ever considered exercise is cardio (see: socialized female and “beauty standards for women”) and the goal has never been strength but rather weight loss. I’VE BEEN LIVING A LIE.

During the fourth week I was like THESE PEOPLE ARE MY FRIENDS AND I LOVE THIS PLACE.

Well maybe thats excessive- BUT- at the end of the foundations course I had to admit to myself that I was starting to feel good in a new and different way, that I never ever felt uncomfortable or intimidated at the gym, that the coaches were nice and interested in my progress, and that the self esteem boost I got from knowing that my very own body could do all these hard things that my mind thought were impossible- it was worth the early mornings and admitting to people I do Crossfit.

OK so now that all that is out of the way- I am getting to the real point of this whole damn thing, which is “Why am I a concerned Lesbian?” Well, let me tell you.

After about five months of doing Crossfit, getting stronger, and feeling a REAL break in my daily anxiety (!!!!!), I decided to share some of this story on the internet. Now I am of the opinion that generally speaking, sharing anything genuine on the internet, specifically social media (I am looking at you Facebook and Instagram) is a BAD IDEA. The internet is a playground of dysfunction in which people’s absolute worst comes out. I know this, because I have participated in all that garbage for most of my life. I had my first screen name in 5th grade (it was the title of a Nirvana song) and my friends and I catfished all over the place in chatrooms all night long, giggling and feeling the power of anonymity. I had a Friendster in high school through which I experienced for the first time the self esteem crusher that is posting pictures of yourself for public scrutiny and the sick comparison of your “life” to the way other’s “lives” look on the internet. Everyone else looked more glamorous, like they had more fun, went to more parties, were thinner and had better clothes. I fully participated in this cycle, posting only the best pictures of myself, editing my existence to look as good as possible so that I could illicit jealousy in anyone else. I had a Myspace, a Facebook- actually, I started with Live Journal in middle school and jesus christ that was a mess. And also, I currently have an Instagram account.

So whatever, I posted a video of me lifting on Instagram, and on Facebook I asked for gym suggestions in New York- this was my big unveiling. And the response was generally supportive, which is awesome! But, there was also this interesting bit of response that I was definitely expecting, and this is a response I have also gotten in person, not just on the internet.

This response is an interesting cocktail of equal parts shit talking Crossfit (by people who haven’t tried Crossfit), internalized misogyny (like suggesting that women’s bodies shouldn’t be able to do certain exercises), and warnings that I may hurt myself even though I am working out under the care and guidance of experienced coaches (warnings that would likely never be given to my male counterparts- surely not to my brother.)

Many of these responses have been from people in my queer community.

AND most of these things are TOTALLY things I HAVE SAID AND THOUGHT MYSELF. Except for the moment in conversation where it was suggested by a masc partner that their femme partner shouldn’t do Crossfit so as to not hurt her body and jeopardize her ability to carry their child. I don’t fuck with that depth of internalized misogyny.

One interaction in particular stands out, cause I took it as an opportunity to articulate some of the thoughts I had been formulating on the matter. Someone sent me an article through Facebook about a biggoted thing an owner of a Crossfit gym did. It was just the link to the article with no other information, and it was from someone I don’t know very well and hardly ever speak with IRL. It wasn’t upsetting or offensive, but I did think it was an interesting internet moment.

I replied saying that I had read the article, I knew about the situation, and I wasn’t planning on stopping something that felt good for me because some bigot was trying to ruin it for everyone else. But then I thought about it further, cause I realized that not only am I feeling good physically, I am feeling accepted and supported by the Crossfit community in a way that I have hardly ever felt by the queer community. In these past five months not once have I felt unwelcome at my gym. When work outs finish up usually people high five each other and encourage one another by saying good job, or well done. So cheesy, I know. But its actually a personal fact that I have felt more welcomed and seen at my gym than I have in 90% of queer spaces I have entered, especially here in Portland. And for every moment of feeling cheesy at my gym for being encouraged I recall a moment in which I was exclusionary of someone in my queer community.

Whether or not it was the intention of the message sender, the negative feedback I was receiving was just that- a reaction of negativity, in reaction to something I was clearly saying was a HUGE positive for me. Like- are you actually listening to me? I am saying I like this thing, I feel good doing this thing, it has helped my mental health.

And herein lies the concern. I am concerned for our queer community, concerned that we are happier to lick our wounds, talk shit, and try to bring down the positivity of other people, both within the queer community and outside of it, than we are to lift each other up. I have my own glass house, so don’t worry about these stones I am throwing. I’m right there with the best and worst of us. But, like, does it have to be like this? Does it really feel good to say we don’t want to do something because the other people who do it are happy about it and enjoy speaking about their positive experiences? Do we feel like we are above it and more cool because instead we choose to tighten up, hold our pain closer, and over identify with the exclusionary practices homophes are trying to push on us?

I feel really great in my body, maybe for the first time ever in my whole life. I feel like Crossfit is helping reduce my anxiety, and I look forward to my workouts. If you have any questions about Crossfit, I do actually like talking about Crossfit. If you want to talk about anxiety, I am here for you.

And now here is a whole list of disclaimers JIC-

  1. No, not everyone needs to do crossfit. I understand there are other ways to do exercise, and even still more ways to get in touch with your body. Crossfit is also expensive, and not accessible to everyone and I completely acknowledge my extreme privilege to be able to afford it at this time in my life.
  2. Finding your OWN way to happiness is SO valid, but for me true happiness is born out of positivity and acceptance, rather than shitting on everyone else that seems to be having a better time than me.
  3. Some Crossfit gyms are total bullshit. So are some coffee shops (yet I work as a barista), so are tons of tattoo artists (yet I love getting tattooed), there are terrible, racist, homophobic artists (yet I still like art)- I think you get the point I am trying to make here…
  4. I really love my dog- I wonder what he is doing right now.
  5. I REALLY love my queer community and everyone who said anything to me about Crossfit, both “positive” and “negative.” I am not trying to call anyone out here, just trying to hold up that mirror for myself and the people I love.
  6. Happy Pride, Portland- I hope you are staying safe out there and having a good gay ass time.

Bruiser/Bruce/Lil’Poodz/The Poodle

Today is March 28th. I turned 31 three days ago, celebrating on the Washington Coast with my girlfriend and our two dogs. If you had told me this time last year that I would have given into Lola’s constant badgering for a second dog, I would have surely laughed in your face.

Lola and I started dating two years and three months ago. She came with a dog- a one Arthur Leonard aka Arnold Palmer aka Arnie Parmie aka Parmie aka Parmageddon, Parmadillo, Parmadeus so on and so for ad nauseam. And well, to put it lightly, I am/was not a dog person. I am not really an animal person. I was raised by a woman who never gave into my childhood pleading for a kitten, and soon I came to see the value of fur-free couches and the absence of that *unique* littler box smell. I firmly believe that the potential love I could have cultivated as a child for furry friends was replaced by a strong love of cleanliness, unencumbered travel plans, and undisturbed nights of sleep. In my mind, at the age of 30, I was waaaaay past the point of no return. I cared for Arthur Leonard because I love Lola, but I didn’t really get it.

But also when I stared dating Lola, I was a vastly different person. I was stuck in a cycle of personal denial, over identification with people who didn’t respect my boundaries, and stuck in relationships that felt emotionally abusive and sustained by my enabling and controlling nature= exact replicas of family of origin dynamics. Super FUN.

The first few months of dating were spent mostly boning around in bed, which was actually super FUN. But shortly there after messy feelings started (blah blah blah) and before you knew it, we were “emotionally involved.” So I did what any emotionally stunted aries does- I put up tons of walls! I did my best to hold back my feelings (even though I was falling more deeply in love than I ever had before- causing me to question if I had ever actually really fallen love before- waahhhh?!?#$%^&) while blurting bratty things out to her like “Don’t try and wife me like all the other butches do.” I did my best to become more fully “myself”- the protected self I had been cultivating since early adolescence (probably since riiiight after the good people of Planned Parenthood terminated my unwanted pregnancy). Extra judgmental, extra sassy, extra anxious, extra removed.

BUT two things were occurring simultaneous to this protection mode spiraling. 1- I was finally starting to get tired of never allowing myself to feel actual emotion and 2- I was dating an actual saint. Lola stuck it out and lovingly (albeit sometimes frustratedly) held up The Mirror. She held up The Mirror when I pushed her away, she questioned me when I was obviously engaging in behavior that was detrimental to me, and she took very little of my crap. The result was a lot of confusion and crying on my part, and tons of attempts to jump ship.

I came out of that period of time- and in many ways am still in the throws of this development- as a softer more emotional version of myself. I’m still a sassy bitch, but I allow myself to feel way more and judge others and myself way less. We joke that Lola spent this time tenderizing me (like a piece of meat).

Anyway a few months ago a friend of mine had two puppies up for a adoption- two of the cutest little pups that would melt anyone’s cold dark heart- especially my newly tenderized meat heart. One was a tiny white fuzzy chihuahua and the other was a tiny black chiweenie. And I got it in my head that even though I had never had a dog before it would be a good idea for me to adopt these two puppies. I started romanticizing the idea and would day dream about having two puppies in my life. I really have no idea exactly how I made the leap from feeling lukewarm about most animals to all of a sudden being open to the idea of adopting two dogs in one fell swoop, but I have a feeling it had something to do with becoming a kinder gentler person. Maybe.

Even though they had names Lola and I were so enamored that we gave them our own pet names- Mouse and Moose.

But these two dogs were out of state and still in a limbo-holding period. And one day during that wait we drove by the Oregon Humane Society and Lola chanted “puppy sweep, puppy sweep, puppy sweep!” And so we pulled over, parked the car, and after a three hour wait finally got to meet some dogs.

The first guy we met was named Pixel cause he weighed 8 pounds. He was not into Arthur Leonard, which is weird cause AL is the biggest dog charmer. The second pup we met was named Bogart, cause I have no idea why. He also was so scared of AL he wouldn’t move from behind the employee, Tyler’s, legs. Tyler felt bad that we had been waiting so long that he offered to show us another dog- we wracked our brains for another one we thought was cute- “Jax?” I suggested- we had been there all afternoon and had made so many rounds by the kennels I couldn’t remember which dogs had given us their numbers. But Jax was already visiting with other people.

“What about that miniature poodle, Carlito?” Lola suggested. “The dog that was being carried out by that old dude for his ‘walk’? In that dumb red jacket?” I asked. “Yeah that one.” “Ok…sure.” But while Tyler was out retrieving Carlito I thought about how busted and old that dog looked.

Within 20 minutes of meeting Carlito,  however, all three of us (Al included) were in love.

Carlito was 2 years old and had been picked up in Fresno the week before, and in his before pictures in the adoption papers he looks like a mop that had been living in a barn with other dogs, un-groomed for years and probably living off of Big Mac wrappers. (This is the story of 20 dogs picked to live in a barn, and what happens when they stop being polite and start being REAL.)

He had a 24 hour hold on him so the next day after work I went back to the shelter alone and waited anxiously as though I was about to go on a first date. What the hell was I doing?! I am not a dog person— but I knew I had made the right choice when he was brought out, being carried again, and I was informed by the adoption agent that he was afraid of his leash and had puked on his way out to me. Excellent.

I took him home, washed his pee-smelling red jacket, and renamed him Bruiser.

(We didn’t end up adopting Mouse and Moose cause duh, 5 dogs is insane even though I know Lola would love that.)

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That was 5 months ago, and in these past 5 months I have come to love this creature more than I knew was possible. Literally, when we nap together I hold him and cry a little thinking about how much I love him and how one day he might die (but probably never, right?)

What this little fuzz ball has helped me realize is that the more love I put out into the world (by loving him as much as I do) the more love comes back to me. Nothing feels quite like how it feels to have him cuddle up next to me and then rest his dumb little head on my leg and GAZE UP AT ME. With his soulful human eyes.

When he smells something good that he wants to taste he stretches his neck out and sticks his nose up, gently sniffing the air.

At the dog park he puffs up his little chest and walks right up to big dogs ready to play, but shows his stupid little teeth to small dogs that bother him. As if, little dude!

When its time for his before-bed walk he is usually so tired that I have to stand him up, and sometimes his legs don’t work and he falls right back down on the couch cause he is a lazy ass poodle.

And he has become a total pro at walking on a leash. IMG_4537