15 April 2014

I do not think it means what you think it means

There are approximately 7.2 billion people in the world today. At some point in our world’s history, one of those 7.2 billion people studied the other 7.2 billion people in the world and determined that the females in the bunch were giving birth to 255 people per minute.  Four and one-quarter babies every second.  In the time it will take you to finish this paragraph, more than 130 little Aries kids will have unhappily come into this loud, bright, scary, cold world; more often than not born to happy parents proud of what they had accomplished. Forgive me if I’m dwelling. I wrote this paragraph after spending a few days in Philadelphia, dealing everyday with the consequences of overpopulation, of men and women who couldn’t keep it in their pants: thousands of similarly-dressed parasites involved in the same deeply-meaningful conversations about careers and love and the world’s problems; all while fighting for the last stool in the bar, the last parking spot on the street.

Three and one-half years ago, Mrs. Benchly and I invited 100 or so of the aforementioned 7.2 billion people to gather outside by the Maine seaside in their Autumn Saturday Best. After the familiar “Once Upon  a  Time” melody  serenaded all 7 of the beautiful  flower girls,

and with the sun shining down upon us, preparing itself for one of its more memorable sunsets, one of our friends, a man of the [friendly] cloth, informed the other 99 or so guests that “marriage, marriage is what brings us together today.” She was not The Princess Bride, I was not Westley, but ours was indeed true love, passionate and pure, which ultimately became a green union of yellow and blue built confidently as if by Masons, sealed with a kiss and a vow that “we shall keep together what share of trouble our lives may lay upon us. And we shall share together our store of goodness and plenty and love.” After a seemingly endless journey to find love, a journey at times so disheartening and soul-crushing that it inspired Papa Benchly to say­—a month before I met Mrs. Benchly—that some people were just not intended to find love, this was the ending promised to us by Hollywood and its subsidiaries. When we said “I do, I do, I do,” we were signing on the dotted line of our Happy Ever After contract. This we believed, because how many married folks remember the fine print of their vows, anyway?

Our honeymoon was, cliché or not, perfect. We ventured to the Pacific Northwest in the autumn, with raincoats in tow, and returned home two weeks later nearly sporting suntans. Mrs. Benchly rearranged our travel itinerary so that I might browse the hallowed grounds of Powell’s Books. On. Our. Honeymoon. Love. On more than

one occasion, I walked around a park taking pictures of flowers. Again, love. We returned home to our dog, Agatha, the best dog in the world who smiles when she greets you and who falls—into your body and asleep—when you ask her to “snuggle.” For our first anniversary, we ventured to Germany in the autumn, and two weeks and 1400 pictures of sunsets, castles, and mountain peaks later, we

returned home with those same unused raincoats folded neatly in the same spots in our luggage, two metaphorical foreshadows thinking to themselves, “should we be worried?”

We suspected there might be a problem before there was one. Mrs. Benchly told me her fears before marriage, before law and God said we should try. If you were naïve, as I was then, you would say, as I tried to say then, that we were prepared for anything. But you wouldn’t be prepared, as we weren’t, because when you prepare for anything, for your share of trouble, what you’re really doing is praying to whomever will listen (wishing, really) to ensure your store of goodness and plenty and love. Isn’t that what Grandpa made you believe you’d get?

After a year, I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit concerned, but that’s not the same thing. But then we entered a university study at the hospital because it gave us free access to expensive medicine. And then the study ended and we found ourselves stuck in congestion on life’s highway surrounded by lanes of traffic flowing freely until we moved into  them; two Michael Boltons watching  their  

loved ones speed by them to their full-house destinations. And then we went back to the hospital (sans university study) because it gave us access to expensive medicine. We placed our checks in their hands like tokens in a slot machine; hospitals and casinos are not all that different. And then the treatments ended and we found ourselves staring at the same mile marker, faced with a realization that our dream of a life without pain was sold to us by a con artist. 

There isn’t really a good word for our current reality. I keep coming back to the word that does not mean what one might think it means. It applies in a sense—our reality is not one either of us ever envisioned for our future—but the word still doesn’t mean what one might think it means. Even so, I can’t help but use this word. I use it to describe the reality that has been written for us. I use it to distance ourselves from this reality; to pretend that we’re characters in a beloved movie just two hours and one wheelbarrow away from a happy ending. Because then, when I can imagine our life existing in such a script, I don’t mind so much the countless scenes in the lives of those around me. The lives whose scripts don’t feature the word that does not mean what one might think it means.


20 June 2011

Up Up Up Up Up Up

“[I]f you follow your heart, you’ll find your purpose and end up proving you were right all along.”
—Overly optimistic Benchly, May 21, 2009

I wonder if any of you have seen the original ending to the movie Sleepless in Seattle. The director, Nora Ephron, decided to cut the final scenes after a test audience nearly went so far as to cut them for her. As you know (or if you don’t, get ready to be spoiled), the theatrical version of the film ends with Sam and Annie meeting at the top of the Empire State Building where they introduce themselves and slowly exit the observation deck, neither able to hide their love-at-first-sight astonishment. Cue the credits.

What you may not know is what happened in the scene that originally followed. After cutting to black and a line telling us that 12 months had passed, we’re shown Annie, Sam, and Jonah eating breakfast in the kitchen of the Seattle houseboat. Sam is reading the newspaper, and Annie, while placing her cereal bowl in the sink, asks Jonah if he’d like more Kix. Jonah replies that he is full and runs into another room to turn on the television. Sam places the newspaper on the table, walks over to Annie, gives her a kiss as he places his bowl in the sink, and says he needs to balance the checkbook. Cue the credits.

So how does that make you feel? Disappointed? Relieved that Ephron ended it when she did? Desperate to find the lost scenes on the Internet? If so, let me save you the trouble. That scene was never filmed. It was never filmed because it was never written. And it was never written because Ephron knew better than to mess with the love story formula: Despite the obstacles of X and the efforts of Z, A and B live happily ever after (unless, of course, they were created by Nicholas Sparks’s imagination). Ephron may have taken an unconventional route in placing the Meet Cute at the end of her film, but she knew that once she had established their Happy Ever After, the only thing she could do next was cut to black, or, at the very most, a shot of hearts on the Empire State Building.

Another movie that followed to a T the same formula of X and Z and A meets B at the end was the tiny, near-perfect French film Happenstance. Some of you have seen this movie. Some of you haven’t. And only the most devout readers (read: reader) of mine might recognize it from the afore-quoted May 21, 2009 blog entry. Like most all of the entries leading up to it, that entry dealt with my struggles with relationships and my path in life. What sets that entry apart, though, is the fact that it was the last of its kind. And it was the last of its kind because it came just 9 days before I met the future Mrs. Benchly and found, with her, my Happy Ever After.

I bring this up today, in my first(!) entry of 2011, because I’ve begun to wonder, should I have followed Ephron’s cue and ended this blog with the above quote? You could argue that this blog has been more than just an outlet for my frustrations and joys with dating and relationships and the single life, but you’d lose that argument in as much time as it would take for one to quote my ninth blog entry. This explains, I think, why this blog has been so quiet for so long: Benchly’sWord, though occasionally home to a non-love-life-related insight or two, has always been about my path to love. And now that I’ve found love, my writer gut is telling me to cue the credits, or, at the very most, a cheesy musical montage featuring clips of previous scenes. But, as a writer, I need this creative outlet. So, what’s a blogger to do?

Like most of the questions I’ve posed through the years, I haven’t had a solid answer to the question of what should become of Benchly’sWord. Until today. Now that I can see clearly, it’s silly to think how long it’s taken me to figure out the next logical step for this blog, but I’ve been under the writer’s block weather for over a year: after a 7-month bout with Engagement Brain, I fell ill with a seemingly never-ending case of the Newlyweds. I still have most of the symptoms, but I’ve slowly been able to manage them, at least enough to be productive. And so it is that I can announce today my solution to my writer’s block:

I’m going to write a new story. In blogging terms, I’m changing directions. In movie terms, I’m writing a sequel. Sure, the sequel may have traces of the original in it (because, people evolve and so do relationships and I'll want to document those changes), but this story won’t be about my path to love. And it most certainly won’t be about reading a newspaper while eating breakfast. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be about. Maybe it will be about creating a home. Or a family. Maybe I’ll find out Darth Vader is my father. Maybe Fredo will break my heart. Or maybe a shark will follow me all the way to the Bahamas to settle a personal feud. Who knows? What I do know is the first act of my life has been written and it’s time for the curtain to come up on Act 2. The lights are flashing. Please take your seats.


02 November 2010

An Absentee Voter

Today is Election Day. It’s a day when millions upon millions of Americans will record their voices with their #2 pencils, sharpened by hope; and it’s the rare day when each voice is as loud as the next one, even the silent ones. It’s a day when men and women will vote for their dreams, and the dreams of many men and women will be crushed. And it’s a day when your mind is warmed by feelings you have rarely felt since your childhood; when you think the world can be a better place and you can make a difference. It’s a day that often reminds me of the first time I ran for public office. Earlier this year when I announced my ultimately-brief candidacy for lieutenant governor of Vermont, I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought it was my first attempt at politics. That’s because not many of you have known me long enough to know that it was actually my second political dance, the first happening nearly 25 years ago.

In elementary school, lives were made by how well you fit in and, conversely, lives were forever scarred by how much you didn’t. And, in elementary school, you didn’t fit in at least once a week no matter how hard you tried. I remember bumping into Jennifer Person* on the school bus, hearing her complain that I had given her an instant cooties infection, and holding in the tears long enough to step off of the bus. I remember the shame I felt when Jacob VanRyan* accused me of wearing the same pair of jeans two days in a row. And I’m still sheepishly embarrassed whenever I think back to the day a substitute teacher incorrectly read my name during roll call—replacing my last name with my unconventional middle one—and traumatized me to the point of seriously considering changing my legal name.

Elementary school was war and every day was a desperate battle to survive embarrassment, irrational or not. It was the front lines of recess and gym class. It was the pulling rank in the cafeteria. It was the mutiny of friendships. It was the daytime bombings of spelling bees. It was the better funded and supplied (read: dressed and ice-cream-cone-holding) popular officers and the underfunded lower-middle-class privates who pretended they didn’t want to buy ice cream. It was the general teachers executing those who didn’t do their homework. And if you were lucky enough to survive the day, you retreated to your bunker at home, distracted yourself with toys and comic books, and did your best to avoid talking about “what you learned” in school because what you learned was that life isn’t fair. And who wants to hear that answer?

By 6th grade, I resembled a shy Corporal Upham kid doing his best to avoid being caught in any cross hairs. After 5 full years of surviving, I was getting pretty good at it. Considering all of this, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised by my whimsical decision to enter my name into the running for my 6th grade homeroom’s representative to the elementary school’s student government. Why on earth would I volunteer for such a dangerous social mission as a school election, you ask? Truth-be-told, I vaguely recall doing so because it appeared that no one else was going to run, which made me all the more distressed when I discovered that I would in fact be running against the four most popular kids in my class.

After the shock of my announcement wore off, my self-appointed campaign manager friend and I mapped out my campaign strategy (I decided to play the “I’m a great listener” card) and began polling constituents, which, in elementary school terms meant we asked our classmates who they were voting for. After the primary dust had settled, it was painfully obvious that I was going to need three or four more votes to win. I don’t remember much else of the campaign season; I have a hazy recollection of one or two of my opponents bringing in cookies. But what I clearly remember is what happened the day of the election.

In the hour before the polls opened, my classmates and I were in the music room, learning how to play xylophones. My friends and I (read: The Party to Elect Bungalow Benchly) sat in front of the alto xylophones while my opponents played the bass xylophones. Our teacher’s ultimate goal was to have us learn a song, but this became next to impossible when all four of my opponents began fooling around with their bass xylophones. After ignoring repeated requests from the teacher to behave, all four were sent to the principal’s office. Jackpot.

On the walk from the music room back to our classroom, my campaign manager implored me to take advantage of the recent turn of events by calling out my opponents on their immaturity and irresponsible behavior. My campaign committee went desk to desk to remind voters of my clean record and a few classmates mentioned their temptation to switch parties. When my four recently-disciplined opponents returned to the classroom, it was time for us to give our speeches and it was time for the class to hear my voice.

Each election day, in the voting booth, with pencil in hand, I think of platforms. I think of campaign promises. I think of issues carrying more weight than they probably should. I think of bribes. I think of mudslinging. I think of lies and half-truths. I think of scare tactics. I think of racism and sexism. I think of Nazi/Hitler/Communist/Death Panel name-calling. I think of lack of substance.

Each election day, as I prepare to vote, I’m reminded of that fateful afternoon in elementary school and the excitement I felt at the possibility of serving my classroom. I’m reminded of my opponents. I’m reminded of the election-cum-popularity contest. I’m reminded of the emotions I felt after the results were announced. I’m reminded that I lost by three or four votes. And I’m reminded that I opted not to sling mud at my opponents in my speech.

And then I write down the names of those whom I feel would best represent me in their respective offices. I vote for intelligence. I vote for responsibility. I vote for experience. I vote for ideas. I vote for change when need be and I vote for the same when things seem to be working. Lately, though, I haven’t wanted to vote for anyone.

*Actual name.


29 October 2010

The Wedding Planner

And here's the second post from our private wedding website. Enjoy!

It's been 5 months since I last posted on this website and we're 3 1/2 month away from The Great Wedding Day of 2010 so you can be sure that quite a bit of planning has happened since I last wrote. Rather than spend the next few days telling the story of each and every step of the planning process, I thought I'd sum it all up with a list of the lessons we've learned thus far on our quest to get married:

1. While dessert is typically reserved for the end of a meal (unless you eat at Skinny Pancake where you can pass off dessert as your actual meal), in the meal called Wedding Planning, you actually get to eat your cake pretty early on in the process. My fiance and I tested wedding cake samples at the bakery at which she held down a part-time job in high school and when thinking about the best parts of the planning process, this step most definitely takes the cake. We designed our cake both inside and out, we ate more cake than should be allowed in one sitting, and we got a great price with the old friendly It's-Who-You-Know discount. When the stress of planning a wedding starts to get to us, the perfect antidote is a moment spent imagining the next time we taste wedding cake.

2. Everything in the world is Made in China. My fiance and I spent days upon days driving from store to store, Internet searching from site to site, looking for kitchen appliances, sets, houseware stuff, and dishware made in the USA and were disheartened to find limited and mostly discouragingly-expensive options at every turn. The biggest disappointment for me was when we selected a dish pattern that was both traditional and hip only to discover that Pfaltzgraff had moved its manufacturing overseas. In the end, we decided to skip registering for dishware altogether and keep the plates we had purchased secondhand for the wedding reception. Speaking of ...

3. I'm having fun planning a wedding on a budget and searching for shortcuts and work-arounds and cheap alternatives, while still guaranteeing a great celebration. From the save-the-date cards to the invitations to the reception dishware to the party favors to the cake toppers to the ring designs to this website, we're definitely making this wedding our own. Of course, it wouldn't be possible without a lot of help, which brings me to ...

4. Our loved ones. We have been given an amazing gift in life by being blessed with the love of so many wonderful people who have all helped us throughout this planning process. The advice, gifts, energy, creativity, volunteered time, and all the other countless contributions we've received since February have made our goal of planning a wedding in 7 months not only possible but, for the most part, stress free. But speaking of stress ...

5. When it makes Mama Benchly cry, you can rest assured that compiling the guest list is the most stressful part of the planning process. Finding that balance between what we want and expect from our day, what our families want and expect from our day, and what we can afford our day to look like is a delicate dance. And we all know how much I love to dance.

6. Getting a puppy while planning a wedding is probably not an accurate example of "good timing." We love Agatha and now that we have her, we can't imagine our lives without her, but having her around has definitely complicated the planning process a bit. For instance, it's tough to concentrate on the task at hand when there is a super tired and cuddly puppy resting her head on your lap.

7. Most every wedding-related decision you make carries with it a worst-case scenario that isn't all that bad and, in most instances, is something that will fade away over time, but the choice of photographer will affect you positively or negatively for the rest of your life. Considering the fact that finding a photographer who is qualified, creative, with a similar vision, and affordable is next-to-impossible, and it's safe to say that choosing the photographer is the most difficult step of the process.

8. I'm not exactly known for dressing up, and I'm most definitely not known for wearing rings, but it was pretty awesome to see myself in the mirror wearing the suit I'll be wearing on my wedding day, and it felt incredible to try on my wedding ring.


The Road Unexpectedly Taken, at 1 a.m.

Note to readers: I apologize for my absence these last few months. As most of you know, I was a bit preoccupied planning my wedding to the now nicknamed Mrs. Benchly. I didn't have much time for blogging and what little time I had was spent crafting an update or two for our private wedding website. But now that the wedding is over and there's no need to worry about paparazzi crashing our wedding, I thought I'd share with you what little I wrote. And then, once I'm done with that, maybe I'll start writing again. I'm overdue ...

Imagine that you and your girlfriend (you know, the girlfriend to whom you are “practically engaged”) have decided that you want to get married in Maine in September 2010, 8 months away from the current pre-engagement calendar date. And imagine that her parents have called the two of you at 8 p.m. on a Friday evening to discuss, on speaker phone no less, a potential waterfront wedding venue 5 hours from you that they discovered earlier that day and which they strongly encourage the two of you to see for yourselves in the immediate future, which is parent-speak for “yesterday.” After consulting a calendar, you realize that unless you visit this venue in the next 48 hours, chances are such that you won’t be able to see it for another month, and just in case you dared to think that this decision was an obvious one, remember: your girlfriend’s good friend is driving in from Syracuse in 21 hours. With all of that in mind, what do you do?

For me, the whimsical-to-a-flaw boyfriend, the decision was easy: pack overnight bags, do a quick Internet search for a reasonably-priced hotel located in the area through which you’ll be driving at 1 a.m., leave home by 9:30 p.m., check in to the hotel, sleep for 6 hours, get up early, meet up with said girlfriend's parents, tour the wedding venue, and return home in time for the arrival of the Syracuse friend. For my responsible, realistic girlfriend with a sweet tooth for whimsy, the decision required a few minutes of careful consideration before she ultimately decided that my whimsical plan was the only option for us. And that’s how I found myself listening to my girlfriend sleep while I fought through my yawns to be able to see the mostly-deserted 1 a.m. Maine roads. And that’s how my fiance and I ended up at the Harpswell Inn in Harpswell, Maine 13 1/2 hours later. And that’s how we discovered the site on which our friends and family will gather 8 months from now to witness and celebrate our marriage.


03 May 2010

A Flawed Life

I remember getting into an argument with Mama Benchly when I was 7 or 8 years old and tantrums were the logical and normal choice of attack. The tantrum most likely occurred after Sisters #1 and 2 refused to include me in whatever it was they were doing at the time, as was their right and responsibility as older siblings. I pleaded with my mom for her to have one more child and to please make that child a boy. I wanted a brother to play with and my childhood thought process was able to gloss over the fact that such an age gap would have meant that I would have ended up being the one refusing to include a younger sibling in whatever it was I was doing. Mama Benchly’s response was simple: she and Papa Benchly had decided that all of the complications associated with my birth had meant that it would be greedy and dangerous for them to try for more.

Seven or eight years earlier, Mama Benchly was gardening in our family’s Champlain, NY yard one summer evening when her water broke. After rushing to the hospital 30 minutes away, and after a labor that lasted just 90 minutes, I entered the world. At first glance, it seems like the picture-perfect, normal delivery; however, a second glance shows that I gave them a scare by wrapping the umbilical cord around my neck as well as by having an irregular heartbeat. Add to that the fact that I was born with one less pectoral muscle than the normal baby, as well as the fact that a few short years later, two toes on each of my feet would have grown overlapping each other if it wasn’t for corrective surgery, and my parents understandably saw the warning signs written on their son’s pectoral-less flat chest: try for more and you might not be as lucky.

As you can imagine, considering how desperate adolescents are to fit in with the crowd by not sticking out of it, I had a difficult time coming to terms with my pectoral deformity. Though I always loved gym class, I dreaded changing into and out of my clothes in the locker room where I ran the risk of being exposed as a deformed imposter posing as a normal kid. (I’ve still mostly blocked out of my memory the times in gym when the instructor made our teams play “shirts and skins.”) And to be honest, finding peace and comfort with my deformity has been a lifelong struggle against which I often find myself losing. I’m still hesitant to remove my shirt in public, and while it took quite a bit of trust for me to reveal the deformity to past girlfriends (again, it speaks volumes about the kind of woman my future wife is, that I felt comfortable telling her about it on our third date), regardless of how much I’ve trusted my close friends, it’s 33 years after my birth and most of my readers (read: friends) will be hearing of it for the first time in this blog post. I imagine Sarah the L didn’t even know about it. So considering my age, it’s ironic to think that it took a juvenile insult thrown my way from an adult posing as an adolescent to help me come to terms with my deformity.

Like most kids in my generation who grew up loving baseball, trading baseball cards, and memorizing the statistics on the backs of said cards, I became an adult who finds pleasure in playing in a fantasy baseball league each year. And thanks to Mr. Extracurricular, I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a locally-based league for the past two years (complete with a live draft! [I know how this sounds, so don’t bother telling me]). We expanded the number of teams this year and in doing so we welcomed aboard a few friends and some friendly strangers. One of these strangers (for the sake of rhyming anonymity, I’ll call him Brat) beat a returning team in the first week of the season and then bragged about it on a message board (the fantasy baseball equivalent of trash talk). This week, after my team beat his team in what can only be described as a “thrashing,” I felt compelled to defend the aforementioned losing team’s honor by returning the trash-talking favor (word for word the way he had done so 4 weeks earlier). Brat responded by saying he wasn’t going to listen to someone who didn’t even have a pectoral muscle. Oh. (You see, evidently, Brat is friends with my exgirlfriend, she thought it appropriate to share this information with others, and Brat considers physical deformities as appropriate punchlines.)

Instantly, I was transported back to 8th grade swim class when one of my peers looked at my bare chest and asked me if a tractor trailer had plowed into it (I’ll give him retrospective points for his creativity). However, unlike that afternoon and all of the uneasy years that followed, after Brat's insult, I didn’t feel the urge to hide or be ashamed. Instead, I actually felt proud of my deformity because, 33 years into my life and I've finally realized that it’s my biggest flaw, and that rather than focus their attention on having one more deformity-free child, Mama and Papa Benchly instead raised someone incapable of poking fun at deformities; someone of whom they could be proud. I won't pretend that I'm flawless, or even close, but I'd like to think that thus far, I've lived a life of which my parents could be proud.

I emailed Brat a few minutes ago and mentioned that I thought his personal attack was uncalled for. I also wished him well this season and mentioned my envy at his foresight in adding a certain pitcher to his roster. I don’t know if he’ll respond but if he does, hopefully it’s to talk baseball. Isn’t that the normal thing to do?


01 April 2010

Gumbo was his name. Oh.

On any given day, at any hour, and regardless of the general mood of society, a quick stroll down Any Street always reveals an alarming number of folks displaying horrible parenting skills. Whether it’s the mother of two complaining to one daughter about how the other daughter is “being a bitch”; or the father showing his friend a picture of his teenage daughter and saying, “they didn’t look like that when we were that age!”; or the mother with the crying toddler shouting “don’t make me hit you again”; or the mother preaching hatred to her son; or the father letting his 8 year old kid watch the most recent Saw movie; I see on a daily basis inept parents handing out contagious doses of awful parenting to their children. And each time, I’m reminded of something The Doctor once told me. He said he and his wife wanted children because they had a lot of love to give and because they wanted the joys of a family, but in the back of his mind, he always found satisfaction in knowing that his good parenting skills might someday cancel out the bad parenting skills of at least one other parent. I’ll see your child growing up into a man who abuses women, and I’ll raise you my child who will volunteer at nursing homes.

Considering how many parents out there seem to be failing their responsibilities to their children and the world around them, I find myself especially thankful for my fiancé’s parents. Among the countless items on the list of reasons why I’m drawn to my fiancé, is that she, too, likes to make lists, and though I’m not entirely sure from which side of the Benchly family I inherited this trait, from the moments I’ve spent with her family, I can tell that she gets this trait from both of her parents. She is her father’s daughter with planning book in hand, carefully taking notes for current and/or impending projects, formulating ways to ensure that dreams become reality, and making sure she is prepared for every possible scenario life has to offer her. And she is her mother’s daughter sharing aloud each of her innumerable, and often times complex ideas for future events/plans, in a way that at times is only comprehensible to those who have spent enough time with her to have memorized the cipher necessary to decode her thoughts. As a result, I can’t remember a time when I knew her to be unprepared (except my surprise engagement, but that’s a story for another day) and each time I see her confront life’s challenges with the courage that comes with knowing life’s next three moves, I know that her parents did a great job raising her. (Note: they already blessed our engagement/marriage, so you know I’m not brown-nosing.)

It’s an item from one of my fiancé’s lists that inspired this blog entry today. A week or two after we met, I noticed a brief but ambitious list of goals for 2009 hanging on her wall. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll just say that it speaks volumes about the person she is that she was able to achieve most of those goals, including her desire to adopt a dog. She and I both had dogs in our youth and after our talks of love turned to talks of engagement, her itch to adopt a dog became our itch. We had love to give to a dog in need of love. And so we poured over countless websites looking for the right dog. A few adoption applications were turned down, a few were submitted too late, some dogs didn’t get along with cats (which mattered due to Othello’s veto power), and then finally, a no-kill animal sanctuary contacted us about an energetic terrier who had been rescued and who was looking for a home. We couldn’t resist his Benji-like appearance and the obvious wag of his tail captured as best as possible by the still photograph, and so we drove 6 hours to meet him. After a long walk around the sanctuary’s property on which we experienced firsthand what it means to hold the leash of an energetic terrier, we adopted him and drove him home (with a stop for a necessary bath along the way). He was Gumbo, our dog.

As I write these words, Gumbo has settled into his bed upstairs 10 weeks after we brought him home. The first few weeks he lived here, I often told friends, family, and strangers that he was a “work in progress”; an energetic puppy in need of a lot of training, and daily trips to the dog park. We gave him tasty treats for sitting, and we induced vomiting when he dined on our socks. We laughed as he navigated what appeared to be his first set of stairs. He took two emergency trips to the animal hospital in the first month. He met Othello and wagged his tail as Othello growled at him and slowly backed away. He devoured three rope toys and a few other chew toys. He slept at our feet while we watched LOST. He retrieved tennis balls and promptly lost them while getting distracted on the return trip. We took him on road trips with us and let him lean forward and rest his head on our shoulders. We loved him.

But Gumbo needs more than love. Gumbo was born on the street, and has spent most of his life hopping around from home to home, never certain when and where he’ll find his next meal, never certain if he should feel safe. And so Gumbo the loveable puppy is at times Gumbo the unpredictable, growling, barking, biting dog with sharp teeth. He guards his food. He sometimes guards his toys. He gets on edge when he senses food in the air. And more unpredictably, he gets on edge when he’s tired; when LOST has ended and we attempt to stand up, we’re met with a scared dog attempting to bite our ankles. If born into a different situation, if his litter wasn’t discarded by an inept human who was most likely an inept parent, he’d not only be the most adorable and loving dog ever adopted, but also the most trustworthy one. Unfortunately, that’s not the hand he was dealt in life. We don’t love Gumbo less for this, which makes what happens next especially difficult.

As you read these words, my fiancé and I will most likely be on the road to return Gumbo to the animal sanctuary. Gumbo needs the right kind of parent in his life: someone with no children in their lives; someone with experience dealing with the most serious rescue dog issues; someone who can love him as much as we do, but who will also be able to meet his training needs better than we have been able to. People have told me it’s not our fault; that we have been great parents to Gumbo; that we are giving him the opportunity to find his “forever home.” I hope they are right. I hope he finds peace in life, I hope he spreads joy, and I hope he brings a smile to the faces of those in need of the kind of smile that helps you forget how horrible this world can be.