Road Trip!

So my younger sister met me in the hallway today and whispered, “Seven days…”  We all know what that means, right?



In seven days, we load up the car and hit the road for a fun-filled fortnight in New Hampshire! So naturally, my health took a nose-dive and I am presently laid out in bed, craving a strawberry slush and the cold, comforting touch of the Reaper, not necessarily in that order.

This does not much affect my travel plans. After all, I’ll be riding in the car, not running alongside it. And once we get there, we’ll mostly be lounging around the house, writing on our various books and enjoying the company of other writers, which generally means we all stay in our own rooms and type. However, on the way there, we had planned to make one or two stops and my anticipation for these stops had slid on the anticipation spectrum away from the joyful and deep into the dread. I’m an introvert, the child of two introverts, and to quote the esteemed Dr. Lecter, when two deep-rolling swallows knock their feathered boots, their offspring cannot stand to have anyone they don’t know even look at them, much less ask them if they’re all right, and God help them if they should actually collapse at a social event, something that has happened to me in the past.

Okay, I'm paraphrasing.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

So my feelings are somewhat divided. On the one hand, I’m still excited to be going and I know I’ll get lots of writing done and recharge the old batteries by doing it in a different place, but on the other hand, I really wish I could walk more than fifty feet without falling over. Failing that, I wish there was room enough in the car for a wheelchair, just in case. Failing that, I wish I owned a wheelchair.

Let me tell you, of all the sentences I’ve written–surely, it’s in the billions by now–that was the saddest.

Okay, enough depressing shit. I’m going on a road trip! And because life is a coin with two sides, the fact that my sisters and I are leaving for two weeks also means my father is inheriting a damned zoo during the time we are gone. Collectively, we are leaving him to care for two dogs, three cats, two evil fish, one green-winged macaw, and one hedgehog. And, because we have reached that point on my personal what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-blog-about scale, I’m going to tell you about them.

One of the dogs is my father’s, a short-haired, fourteen year-old black-and-white border collie named Choco, which my dad thinks is short for Chocolate Dog, and which is actually short for Chocobo, because I was playing Final Fantasy when he acquired the dog and my head-canon trumps all others. Choco spends his mornings outside herding leaves and butterflies, lying in the grass or lying on his blanket next to my dad’s computer, unless it’s raining, in which case he refuses to go outside at all. Since we live in the Midwest, it rains a lot, and so we cannot say with complete honesty that Choco is housebroken even after fourteen years. He is a gentleman and a good dog, but he was hit by lightning once (yes, I’m serious) and he is determined never to let it happen again. When the sky barks at him, he gets the fuck indoors and lets the bigger dog have the yard.

Choco, on a sunny day.

Choco, on a sunny day.

The other dog is apparently mine. I say apparently because he was supposed to belong to my sister, Cris, but as should come to no surprise to anyone who owns pets, they decide who they belong to (or who belongs to them, in the case of cats). We adopted him a couple years ago, when he was already old and arthritic, stone-deaf, with one functional eye (the other popped out when he was a puppy–he’s a pug, that’s a thing with them–and although they put it back in, it doesn’t work) and general digestive issues. I don’t have a camera, so here is a picture I found on the internet of a dog that looks exactly like him, down to the kind of halter he wears.


Isn’t this other person’s dog uglydorable?

On the subject of cats, one of them is also my father’s, but he cunningly foisted it off on us as soon as he moved in with us because he doesn’t like cats and only got it because my mother wanted a cat and he loved her more than he disliked cats. They acquired the cat from a guy who ‘rescued’ cats. Why is that in quotes, you ask? I’m glad you asked. This guy ‘rescued’ cats by acquiring free kittens and chucking them into a house–I cannot and do not wish to imagine the smell of that house–solely occupied by his ‘rescued’ cats. Once a day, he would open a couple bags of cat food and literally pour them in through a window. I don’t know how, if or when he ever scooped litter (or picked up bodies), but after a certain number of cats, it is physically impossible to scoop litter fast enough to keep up with the poop, and this guy, according to my mother, had well over a hundred cats and kittens in this house. How many kittens, you ask. I’m glad you asked. The answer is no one knows, because ‘rescuing’ these cats did not include spaying or neutering them, or even putting the males and females in separate rooms and closing the doors in this house occupied solely by cats, because the cats had been abused, according to this guy, and needed to feel free.

I begged my mother to report this guy to the authorities. She did not, because he was a member of her church and everyone would know who reported him if he got in trouble, which he absolutely would, because that situation is not rescuing.

So anyway, my dad got this cat, which had been flung into a window when she was a kitten to make it as one of a horde of feral cats contained within a house. Her age was unknown; the guy had no way of knowing when he’d gotten her or even if she’d been born in the house. The vet we took her to could only say she was probably between three and six years old, to judge by her teeth. She’s small, for a cat; the vet says she showed signs of severe malnutrition, although she wasn’t very underweight (if the best thing you can say about your rescue operation is that your cats are not ‘very underweight,’ you need to rethink the word rescue. Or at least put quotes around it). And she was so…

You know, I typed the word shy and sat looking at it for a while, but I’ma go ahead and say it. Traumatized. She was so fucking traumatized by your rescue operation, Mr. Church-Going Cat-Abusing Thunderfuck, that she spent the first week in her new home on top of the bathroom light fixture, shivering and purring at her new owners, but too terrified to be touched by them. I’m pleased to say that today, she loves to be snuggled and is very affectionate around people and the other pets, but it is very much a product of our rehabilitation and not her ‘rescue’.

I really need to start carrying one of these things around with me.

I really need to start carrying one of these things around with me.

Anyway, she is a cat, but she is technically my father’s cat already, even if she lives upstairs with us and the other cats, so I don’t feel too bad about asking my dad to take care of her for two weeks. We’ve had her the last two years and we don’t complain. My younger sister also has a cat, a black and white Maine Coon, who has two modes: asleep and insane. Her care instructions read simply: Good Luck.

And then there’s my cat, and again, I use the word mine with a tone of confusion and resignation, because that was not supposed to happen.

We acquired my cat…You know, off-topic here, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought a dog or cat in my damn life. I’ve adopted one or two from a shelter, but for the most part, they’ve just happened to me. Anyway, I think I may have told this story before, but here we go again. We acquired my cat about two weeks, maybe less, before we moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Bible Belt and we had absolutely no spare time or money to spend on new animals. My sister Cris was actually on her way to arrange the rental of the moving truck when she saw this Siamese cat lying in the road in front of my house where it had apparently been hit by a car. It lay in a pool of blood in the rain and she had no doubt it was dead until it raised its head as she drove by.

What can you do, right?

So the emergency vet we took it to looked it over and came out to talk to us. He said its pelvis had been crushed, its jaw was broken, its eyes had been abraded by contact with the road and its retinas would likely detach (they did), and it had a number of smaller injuries which would make recovery longer and more painful. He might never be able to walk or eat solid food, and how far did we want to go with care? My sister and I looked at each other and I sort of laughed and explained that our family fostered special needs children and we did not set a person’s value by whether they could walk or eat by themselves. The vet took the cat away and spent the next 48 hours working on it and watching over it. He charged us for nothing but the medication he sent us home with.

For every Cat-Rescue Guy, there is an Emergency Vet Guy. Remember that, folks.

For the next few months, my sister, Cris, was the one who held him and said soothing things while I was the one who forced medication down his throat and flushed his infected abrasions and wiped his eyes while they lost the fight to retain sight and later put him in a full bathtub to do water therapy as he practiced walking. That cat ought to fucking hate my guts. So where is he now, you ask? I’m glad you asked. He’s lying here on the bed beside me, hugging and occasionally grooming my foot. He never leaves the room if I’m in it. If I leave, he’ll go room to room, bumping into walls and testing each step until he finds me.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that today, Roadwaffle, or Waffles for short, not only walks everywhere just fine (and climbs on the bed and sleeps in my computer chair), but eats and drinks and generally does all the right cat-things. He is blind and his mouth doesn’t close so he’s always hanging his tongue out, but he’s a good cat and shouldn’t give my dad any trouble.


Again, not my cat, but an incredible approximation, except Waffles had two red-cast eyes.

Again, not my cat, but an incredible approximation, except Waffles has two red-cast eyes.

Then we have my sister’s macaw, who is in her teens and acts like it. Love that bird. She doesn’t talk very well, at least not coherently, but she mumbles all the time in my sister’s voice. She has the weirdest sense of humor. The bird, not my sister. Well…okay, both of them, but it’s the bird I’m talking about. When someone else is in the room, she wants to interact with them, but when she thinks she’s alone, she’ll play by herself and when she does…wow. Picture a green-wing macaw, if you will, clutching a toy in her talons. Now picture her very softly talking to herself, acting out two distinctly different voices, one of them growling and occasionally laughing and the other softly screaming. So: “Grrr! Ah hahaha! Arrrgh!” followed by “Ahhhhh! Oooo nooooo!” followed by “Ah hahaha! Grrr!”

As we see her...

As we see her…

...and as she sees herself.

…and as she sees herself.

I got to say, I can’t really recommend people get a macaw unless they are fully prepared for something that big, that intelligent, that lives that long. It’s less like having a pet than having a child, and yes, I know, lots of people treat their pets like kids, but this is REALLY like having a kid–a high-strung, unpredictable, hilarious, aggravating, noisy, socially-awkward kid who will probably outlive you and definitely learn to swear before they learn to say I love you…at least, in this house. My dad thinks the bird is wonderful and the bird is intimidated by my dad’s beard, so they ought to get along just fine.

At the bottom of the care list is my hedgehog, Posey Q. Pricklepants the Third. Unlike the dog (who needs feeding and walkies and petting and attention, but who cannot hear and doesn’t listen anyway because he’s a pug), and the cats (who mostly do their own thing, but want daily snuggles and treats on their terms), and the bird (who, like any other kid, needs more or less constant attention and supervision or who will unlock their cage and wreak havoc on the damn house…You keep kids in cages, right? Just me?), Posey is easy to take care of. She sleeps all day, runs on her wheel all night, and just needs a fresh bowl of water and a handful of cat food to be happy. Sure, she and I like to snuggle in the evenings, watch a movie together and share a chicken-salad-and-cricket sandwich (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it), but I won’t ask my dad to do that. She’d disappear into the Beard and never come out again.

So there it is, the zoo my poor old father gets to tend while his ungrateful children are zipping off down the highway. There ain’t no more to say on that subject (we don’t talk about the two evil fish. To speak of them feeds their power), so I guess I’ll have to find something else to bore you with next week!


8 responses to “Road Trip!

  1. Sounds like a wonderfully colorful family, humans and animals. Every time my family ticks me off I remember things like this. What you think is normal is wtf worthy to someone else.
    When my health issues and situations depressed me I remember that even tho I don’t know the details there is always someone who has it worse.

    • So true. Growing up in a family that fostered special needs kids, I genuinely believed that EVERY family fostered, and that someday my number would come up or something and I would have to go live with another family for a while. Looking back, I have no idea why this belief lasted as long as it did. I had a few sleepover-type friends and TV, of course, so there were plenty of opportunities to see that no one else appeared to be fostering or being fostered. (Well, come to think of it, there’s a lot of kids who come and go on TV, especially sitcoms…) It was just one of those things that seemed so normal, no one needed to talk about it.

      And you’re right, too, that there’s always someone who has it worse. During Sunny’s last years, I was taking her to a doctor’s appointment at a fairly small, specialized clinic and while we were waiting for her number to be called, another family walked out–a mom, a young girl, and a teenaged girl I surmised to be the patient. The teenaged girl had severe burn scars over one side of her entire body (she was wearing shorts and a tee, so I could clearly see her arms and lower legs), like she’d been lying in a puddle of gasoline on the road that had caught fire. The scars were not fresh and had stretched out some; it was obvious from her attitude that they might be uncomfortable and restrictive, but if they were still painful, she didn’t show it. I remember her being perky and chatty during this brief interlude, while I tried like hell not to stare and stared anyway, thinking, ‘Oh God, that poor girl.’ She and her family headed out and when they were almost at the door, I heard her whisper, “Did you see that girl in the wheelchair?” (This would be Sunny) “Oh my God,” this teenaged girl with scars literally from head to toe continued, “That poor girl!”

      It’s all about perspective.

    • I’ll try. It’s ironic that I make my living writing books, but can never think of anything to write on the blog. But I am trying. I look at people who Facebook, Tweet and blog multiple times every day and I just don’t know how they do it and still have time to do literally anything else.

  2. First off, I am so sorry to hear about your health. I really hope you start to feel better, and are able to enjoy your vacation. I’ve been to NH a few times, and to my So Cal dwelling self, the small towns and forests seemed like something from a fairy tale.

    I loved reading about your pets! (though Cat Rescue dude’s story was infuriating. Waffles was really lucky to have made his way to you). I busted up reading about the macaw and her multiple personalities. If you’re ever stuck on a blog post again, you can seriously never go wrong writing about animals.

    The more I read about your family, the more I’m bowled over by how awesome they sound, especially your parents.

    • I did it with love.

      Also because the vet needed a name for the cat’s file and we hadn’t had time to get to know the cat first. Isn’t that always the way? Of course, if I HAD had time to get to know him, I’d probably still name him Waffles. He’s sweet and a little flaky and I suspect he may be Belgian.

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