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A Relationship in Presents, Part Two: Italy, the country of lovers

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This series explores style in addition to memory and basic aesthetics. I encourage you, for your own fun, to compare this piece with the previous part and to define for yourself the differences and how they affect the writing and the reading, and to continue the experiment for the upcoming parts.

Remember to contribute to this week’s Themed Thursday. I’m really excited to see what other posts crop up! 🙂

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Sarah and I walked through Europe hand in hand. Originally I had traveled with my sister, but she and I had been estranged for years, and isolating ourselves from our parents in Europe didn’t seem to help whether we got along or not. Beth and I split ways at first when she went to Amsterdam; I went to London to pick Sarah up. We met back up in Paris and tried to make things work, but we weren’t friends, weren’t friendly, and when we were preparing to leave Avignon, Beth split, leaving Sarah and I alone.

We had been friends all through college, one of those friendships where people ask, “So when are you two getting married?” They ask all the time, always with the same rising hysterical note where you can tell they know they’re being assholes but they ask it anyway, like it’s a joke, like either of us might find it funny. But really they’re just assholes, and no, we’re never getting married, thanks. We’re not even dating.

Most of my junior year, her freshman, she dated my friend Steve who had crashed on my couch, and I went pretty steady with this girl Christina. Nobody questioned why Sarah and Steve were together except when they saw how hard she’d hit him and how well Steve put up with it. Everyone questioned why Christina and I were together, ranging on topics from how much we fought to how much time we spent together. Sarah and Steve didn’t last the year; Christina and I did but eventually broke up December of my senior year.

Sarah, like a few others, asked, not in so many words, whether we could get together now that Christina and I had split. But I had loved her like a tree with ivy, like flesh holds onto a scab, and the sap or the blood still dripped fresh from the wound when they asked me, and I protected my open sore.

Unlike the others who asked whether we could finally get together, Sarah heard an invitation to Europe with me after I graduated. Can we date? she would ask, and I’d say no. Can we go to Europe together? I’d follow up with, and she’d ask me Can we date? Five months passed with a few other conversations to supplement this recurring one.

The three-day graduation party came and went. On the second night, I slept on a couch with Sarah because the other girl chasing me had fallen asleep already. It reminded me of the night two years before when I had thrown an end-of-year bash and fallen asleep on the floor with Holly rather than take my chances with Sydney. In resentment, Sydney had gone into the bathroom, claiming to snort coke. This one, however, simply went outside and drove home at four in the morning.

I packed up most of my stuff in the apartment and went back to Dallas for the month of May, spending time with my parents before I left for Europe. I spoke with Justin during the day about how he needed me to go back to Waco and get the rest of my shit out of the apartment and with Sarah nightly about how I’d like for her to come to Europe with me. Her refusal had changed from whether we could date or not to whether her parents would let her come or not, so I began to press a little harder those last few weeks, with no luck.

The last day before I left I spent packing my oversized duffle bag and backpack: clothes, toiletries, iPod, books, Woolite so I could wash my clothes on the go. I spoke with Sarah one last time. She had gone home to Houston for the summer, spending time with her old high school friends and, regretfully, with her parents. I listened to her complain for a while and asked her if she wouldn’t rather come to Europe with me rather than waste away her summer there. She answered that she would, agreeing finally and at the last minute to come. I laughed at her. I didn’t believe she would come.

We got off the phone soon thereafter. I flew into Paris with my sister, and on the second day received a note from my father that Sarah had called and said she would land in London after a week. Beth made her plans to go to Amsterdam, and I rode the train to Calais, took a ferry to Dover, and rode the train the rest of the way to save myself a little cash. I left my hostel that morning, met Sarah at the airport all smiles and surprised cheer, and took her to the bed and breakfast I had reserved for us.

I showed her London as best I could in the two days we had before we met up again with my sister in Paris; Sarah and I rode the train all the way, business class. Together, the three of us saw Chartres and then Tours and the surrounding cities; we rode the train to Avignon, and Sarah and I went to Marsellies while my sister wrote us a goodbye note; we went to Dijon where we had sex for the first time and then down to Florence. I bought Virgil’s opera in latin, the book itself bound together before America declared independence. I couldn’t afford the Boccaccio that I also wanted and left a little sad. Sarah turned me around on the street and bought that gilded Decameron, and the store sent them to my parents’ house in the same box.

We took a day trip from Florence to Milan, and at the Galleries Lafayette, she offered to buy another Mont Blanc pen since I liked my first one so much, an offer I felt guilty about almost accepting. Then we traveled to Rome and then Ravenna, where I bought her a brand new dress that was just a little too long for her, a beautiful blue arrangement with an ornate flower on the waist. The sex was already beginning to lose its charm, but I didn’t say anything. From there she talked me into spending a day in Venice, a place I refused to go not because I didn’t imagine it as beautiful but because I couldn’t afford it. She bought me a glass statuette of lovers dusted with gold flecks.

Paris took us in for a few days after Italy, and we saw several closed museums. We went back to London and then to Derbyshire to stay with Kiran, an old high school friend of mine. Rita, Kiran’s mom, asked me whether she were the one, and I answered I dunno. How am I supposed to know? No, she’s probably not. And Rita smiled at me, told me that youth was meant for fun and that I’d know with someone, that David had known with her and had been right. Not that she had known David was the one; she fought and resisted his advances until one day she gave in, but David had known that she was his one.

When we went back to Texas, Sarah told our friends we were dating. I said we weren’t. She didn’t talk to me for months, not until I invited her to Devin’s wedding, after which I would become jealous of her physicality and tell her that I couldn’t stand the idea of her being with anyone else. I’d ask her to dedicate herself to me, and she’d ask if that meant we were together, and I’d, resigned, say yes—finally, some would say; inevitably, others.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

Garden Part Two: Concerning man and beast, God and man

I used to go to this unused farm up in Allen, TX with Kalli. It took about fifteen minutes to drive there from my home, and when we’d arrive I’d let her out of the car and we’d walk down the tree-lined dirt road towards those untended fields. I never did find out the story about how a farm fell into being just a dog park, but a golf course and suburban neighborhood had grown up around it, which always made me suspect that the farmer was waiting for some development company to offer him a price perhaps a little better than fair. While he waited, the fields grew stiff yellow grass and wild flowers and weeds, and trees stood blocking out the houses and the golf course and the roads. Other off-leash dogs and their walkers gave the only evidence that I hadn’t actually left civilization behind.

I wonder whether walking in Allen with Kalli would be like walking with God in the garden. Out in nature, commands nearly cease to exist. Kalli chases field mice and jack rabbits, and I do not worry for her. I take pleasure in the puppy-like qualities she hasn’t outgrown, the smile that so plainly lights up her face when she looks back at me: she’s always fifty feet ahead, just fifty, and she occasionally looks back to make sure that I’m following her or that she’s preemptively following me. If I change directions, she’ll run past me fifty feet, look back, and smile.

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

How different would life be if  Charismatics and other emotive religions could actually fulfill the promises of spiritual awareness with God, if I could know that God was looking after me like so many claim to know it? But I can’t prove that he is; that’s the great trial of faith, to believe that he’s looking even in the absence of proof. But their universal and bland rhetoric states that you can feel it, that you can know for sure beyond the trials of faith; how different would life be if that were the case?

Therefore, how can I help but be happy that she feels so thrilled at these little and simple joys? The best days for her are those when we go out into the field together, and I can tell just by her acknowledgment and constant awareness of my presence that the experience wouldn’t be the same without me. The field wouldn’t bring her so much pleasure if I weren’t there to share it with her.

I have thoughts about leaving civilization, and they’re so tempting since—to an extent—civilization can actually be left behind. Would I more actively pursue happiness if I were to leave my thoughts and the thoughts of men behind in order to participate in this daily happiness with Kalli, or would her elation wear off or my happiness at her elation? I took her out to Allen often enough when I lived nearby, and the pleasure of it never wore off. I can’t imagine it ever waning.

Or am I talking more about hermitude than of abandonment? Could I forget Socrates? Assuming so, would I want to leave my doubt behind? Would I abandon my spiritual resignation?

What would it be like to walk in the garden with God, to always know he’s there, to turn my head every few feet just to make sure that he’s with me, that he hasn’t turned in a different direction, to give chase once I found he had? If my relation to Kalli would be like God’s relation to me, could I sustain that pure, simple happiness that she has in my presence towards God and His presence? Do I really need to leave the city and go into nature to pursue God in this way? Would such simple happiness really require me to stop being me, to sacrifice my self the way in which Kalli has never had to sacrifice her dogness for me?

If the story is true and the knowledge of philosophy came into man after his nature was made, then yes, I suppose I would have to sacrifice the unnatural part in order to participate in walking with God in the garden. But Christ only talks of nullifying the curses laid on us, of freeing us from the burden and yoke of sin. What Christian would say that by becoming like Christ he has lost the knowledge of good and evil but rather gained the ability to always pick good over evil? Would even Christ have said that he knew neither good nor evil but only the will of the Father, as opposed to saying that the will of the Father is good but his actions without the will of the Father are bad, thereby admitting a knowledge of good and evil? But, of course, my phrases give away my opinion on such beliefs, If the story is true and What Christian would say.

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

I would like to participate in a relationship with God in such a way as Kalli participates in a relationship with me, but the truth denies me: man has the ability to abstract, which separates him from other animals in general and inspires doubt; I abstract, therefore I doubt. Obviously I have said that my dog is rational, a creature which can be taught and cared for, so I do not define man as a rational animal, rational being what distinguishes him from other animals. Rather, man is an abstracting animal, and I would set forth that even if the story of the fall is true, man had in him the ability to abstract before the apple, which led to doubt, which led to a distance from God, which led to the eating.

Could I sustain the happiness of walking with God in the garden as Kalli can sustain her happiness with me? Could I sustain my happiness with her the way it’s claimed, without proof, that God sustains his happiness with me? I don’t know, but in truth I don’t believe so.

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Filed under Criticism, Philosophy/Theology

Garden Part One: Kallion, my dog, my child, my love

My first two-parter, now with picture goodness! I’ll post the second section on Thursday. Thanks for the feedback, the shares, and the views. 🙂 Also, just because you CAN post anonymously doesn’t mean you SHOULD. ;-p

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I have a dog. Some readers will wonder what breed she is, what her attitude, etc. Others will stiffen slightly, remembering the times they brushed against the wall rather than letting that animal sniff their pleats. Still others will shrug: he has a dog, so what?

I got my dog in college. She had been abandoned in Waco, TX and picked up by the SPCA. She arrived in her cage six hours before the first time I saw her. Her youth and her timidity appealed to me, as did her size. Fifty-two pounds and six months old, the white Husky and German Shepherd mutt backed away from me and my friends in the little play pen. Her color was pure except for the freckles on her nose, and her left ear flopped while the right one stood erect.

I crouched, and her brown eyes looked back into my blues, and I wondered why she was so afraid. Had her previous owners beaten her, teaching her to fear humans? Had she been abandoned, left to struggle for survival still so young? Did she suffer from simple social anxiety, nervous of newcomers and new situations, both of which surrounded her in that moment?

Slowly she came to me. She nuzzled her freckled head under my right hand, and I felt her damp nose against my skin, a wetness I would come to know personally over the subsequent years. She trusted me so quickly, which contrasted so starkly with her fear. Her legs trembled underneath her. But she didn’t whimper, didn’t make a sound.

Photo 159

Her sweetness as I’m writing this post

I couldn’t take her home that day. The SPCA has a policy that animals have to stay with them at least three days, and they had to spay her besides. The day of her operation, I waited in the anteroom, really just little Texas shack attached to a series of tiny monastic cells that a little statue of Saint Francis watched over. The brown wood-panelled walls and dirty linoleum tile muted what light made it through the soft linen curtains, amplifying my worry.

I felt anxious and worried. The procedure had run late, or maybe just the vet performing it, and my legs hopped up and down uncontrollably. I wanted her to be out of that place; I wanted her with me. Already I wanted to protect her from the pain of the world even though, indirectly, I was the one who had put her on the table.

Does understanding these emotions really require a dog person? Do cat persons understand what I went through? Can I ask for a little empathy from parents to picture a little puppy as a little child, afraid and frightened and alone, vulnerable without your care? Or is everyone with me, shaking with me in that stuffy little room?

I already saw myself as her protector, as the one assigned to allow her to experience the world without taking more damage than necessary. I already loved her in some small way, but not as a thing to pet and feed and walk on occasion; rather, I loved her as if I were a parent. No, there is a little abstraction here; I loved her as a guardian. I am not a father and cannot describe the differences (if any exist) between how I feel towards Kalli and how a father might feel towards his child. I love her; I want her with me all of the time. I want to do what’s best for her, and I want to protect her from the harm in this world without sheltering her from the world as it really exists. How do you balance those desires, to protect her and to give her free reign?

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

The second I got her inside the industrial loft I lived in, she puked a yellow liquid all over my roommate’s green decorative carpet. We had laid it under the Ikea living room table, about five feet from the front door and in between the two off-white cloth couches, and Kalli lurched for it, begging for anything not cement so that the liquid would drain into it. I laughed, but my roommate didn’t react as smoothly.

I called the vet the same day and asked about her health, but they said that she was just reacting to the anesthetic. Days went by: Kalli continued to vomit, and I began to lose confidence in the SPCA’s vet. Kalli wouldn’t eat at all, either. When I spoke with the SPCA again, they suggested that she was just having a hard time adjusting to her new environment and that I should spend more time with her or leave her alone so she can get settled, whichever.

I stayed with her for four days straight. She slept in my bed with me, cuddled inside my fetal abdominal curve or behind the bend of my knees. I researched several tricks to get her to eat: microwaving the food or mixing it with beef broth. Neither worked. I became frustrated with her when she turned away after sniffing the food, yelling out my whys and why nots with violent hand gestures before sinking back in to resignation that for some reason I wasn’t going to be able to keep my dog alive. She continued to waste away.

After ten days I took her to another vet, convinced that the SPCA had pegged her symptoms wrong. The PetsMart (Banfield) vet took simple stool test and basic blood work, which revealed that Kalli suffered from intestinal worms and stomach parasites, respectively. A shot took care of most of her symptoms within hours; the vet recommended that I feed her bread and baby food for the first few days to get her digestive system on track. She began to eat, and I nearly cried. For the curious, she preferred squash baby food, and to this day bread remains one of her favorite treats.

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Once she fully recovered, I hardly ever had her on a leash. Those of you not from Texas may feel tempted to think of it by its cliché, open ranges and big trucks and cowboy hats, but I lived in busy college-student filled apartment complex and let her out off the leash. I took her out at two in the morning when no one else was around (Baylor is a fairly boring school, after all) and taught her that curbs were boundaries and that I meant it when I said “Come here.”

I had to teach her how to negotiate stairways because she was so afraid of steps; the first time I walked up a small set of five that I normally bypassed, she looked at me from the bottom as if to say, “Good for you, but I’m not following.” I spent thirty minutes to get her up those little steps. I took the time and taught her what she needed to know. I also learned about her, such as when to trust that she’d listen to me and when to take tangible control (Squirrels and rabbits are a dangers, especially since I’ll let her chase them in parks but not in suburbs.).

Did she learn to obey my commands because I gave them frugally and only with reason? I never hit her to make a lesson sink in, and I never gave her treats—she only ate bread aside from her normal food, and I offered that freely, not as a reward. Therefore, I had no positive and no negative feedback to give her aside from my affection and admonition, neither of which really have affect unless you admit that maybe the ways in which people describe dogs’ emotions aren’t just personification. Did she learn to obey my commands because she loved me, perhaps because she was aware that I had taken care of her during her sickness or because I spent time with her as a family member might, as a friend might, as a pack member might? I’d guess the answer lies in that emotional milieu somewhere, but maybe that’s just me.

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Author: Greg Freed

This post won the WOOF contest from PlotDog Press on July 24, 2009.

Other winner:
Zorlone – After Thought – A poem of regret.
Dragon Blogger – Sweet Songs of Youth – Poem about childhood love and innocence.
Jennifer M Scott – Among Lilac – A poem of decisions.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing