Part 1: Independence Day
A few days ago was July 4, 2018. It’s widely called Independence Day here in the USA, of course, referring to the beginning independence as a nation. This year it was different for me, though: it was my own independence I celebrated on the fourth of July.
I am disabled. It isn’t in a way that most would think of as disabled, so I manage to fly under the radar most of the time and often feel like some sort of imposter when I need or choose to accept the label. “Disabled”. I used to resent it.
I am, though — disabled. Here is a the first definition given for “disabled” by Merriam-Webster.com:
1a : impaired or limited by a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition : affected by disability
b : incapacitated by illness or injury
I suspect some will feel strongly on this post and I don’t pretend to understand all disabilities, to represent all people with them, or any such thing. I also don’t pretend this is the be-all end-all definition, it is just there as the first reference that popped up on my internet search for a formal definition today. I just left it here to prove something of a point. I have trouble with major life activities like working, studying, cooking, and sometimes walking and basic care for short periods. I am on constant pain, for all that I don’t constantly notice or think about it (like other chronic pain patients, I have found it is just part of my life now, albeit a poor one).
I never imagined I would be here, now, if I thought about my future back in high school, say. I have wonderful parents who gave me so many opportunities. I was financially comfortable, given attention and love and encouragement, and helped when possible through struggles that I like many other children went through– bullying, speech therapy, learning differently, etc. My mother as an elementary school teacher was even familiar enough with ADHD to suspect it and set me on a path to diagnosis when I was 9, and older relatives who all discovered their own ADHD as a result have made it clear that they wish they’d known growing up. I got a lovely house in the suburbs, a big sister to play with and annoy (as little sisters do), a dog to walk and confide in and dote on, and even the chance to go to a wonderful private high school when the bullying I went through was so bad that my parents tried to get me to leave mid-year in middle school and we all agreed that something had to change before committing to four more years.
This is all to say that I had a great deal of advantages. I also worked hard, studied a little too much, worried a great deal, and all in all tried to do well and have my options for the future open.
Now, I’m a dropout, disabled, with failing marks from a few classes and some physical and psychological damage that hurts to realize has shifted things. Somewhere along the line my life just went sideways. That’s how it felt for a few years. I spent a lot of time feeling like that. Maybe I still do; sometimes I do, but it isn’t the same. I no longer harbor the illusion that I know where my life is going but I do know it’s going somewhere. Maybe not fast or soon, maybe not the way I thought, but my life will go somewhere again. I will be able to make a life for myself.
I can imagine things like that now, thanks in large part to Storm. I know that with her by my side I can go out without fear of it going wrong, without being scared I will be stolen from or groped again in an bad spell of vision and pain, or something worse might happen. I can find ways to cope with a partner to balance me out (literally in some moments).
In short, I can imagine becoming independent again, and that is something wonderful. I still will have to make accommodations for the ways my life has permanently changed. That I have made peace with long since. It does little if anything to diminish the thrill I feel imagining a full life, a job, even a wife and kids one day.
Part 2: The Day When Dreams Came True
On July 4, 2018, I celebrated what my partnership with Storm means: independence. We went through my family’s usual activities for the day, visiting our town arts festival (Storm got careful treatment with cooling bandanas, Mushers Secret on her paws at frequent intervals and shade or dirt or grass to wal on outside as much as possible, frequent tests and breaks of air conditioning, and as much water and ice as I could convince her to lap up). She was on duty much of the day (with breaks, as mentioned), a few hours, and then we rested at home with my parents and ended up at the beach for fun and later fireworks. Stormlight blew me away with her manners and calmness as always. Off duty she tried to play with a little dog, happily play bowing and giving all her eager play signals, but graciously accepted the friendly sniff and go attitude the older terrier had towards her eager advances. She did get feisty and growl at an off leash puppy who got in her face but listen to my stern voice telling her to knock it off when she went to get a physically dominant position, a correction. I know it was bad, but I also can tell a badly mannered moment and a correction from a full on dog fight, having seen both. She doesn’t like puppies getting in her face, which we are working on, but she listens to me. She went back on duty and back to ignoring other dogs. So well in fact that I was able to keep her eye contact while another dog sniffed her butt. It was a big deal; I was incredibly proud.
After a rest, we went to the beach. I always wished as a child to have a a dog who liked the beach, who would splash and run and play there with me. My dog Jazzy was and is a very sensible dog whose size at just under 5 pounds makes her rather smaller than most cats even, and she was wary of the mild waves and could not be convinced to love the ocean as I did. I love her with all my heart but had to admit that I was disappointed even then not to run into the sunset on the beach with my dog.
These childhood dreams came true this fourth. I was so excited. The anticipation built for days, planning to take Stormlight to the beach on a hot day. I carefully watched with glee as she put her paws in water dishes outside in the week before, imagining her doing that in the ocean; when she had had too much and dug a little hollow under a bush along the sidewalk a block from our apartment, I was grateful for the sympathetic laughter of bystanders and property owner alike and later imagined her joy at digging freely and happily in the sand to her heart’s content. I daydreamed about this trip to the beach with Storm and hoped hard as I dared that she would like it.
And..she did. I was very determined she would be off duty all night and get to just be a dog, her only jobs playing and snoozing and sniffing and happy dog things. Her nose was going a mile a minute when we got out of the car with all the new smells; she settled happily in the sand and seemed to like the feel of it and the cooling evening air and the sea breeze.
My parents and I brought dinner to the beach. They both chose to eat immediately upon arriving but I was too excited. Storm and I went off along the beach, letting her sniff where she wished. She loves finding rocks it seems and is a fearless climber, and this was no exception; she did patiently hold back though for her less agile human. On my urging we went into the water and she splashed in belly deep. Here’s the picture I took of her, confident and beautiful in that water with me:
She settled down in the sand while I ate, and then we went with my mom for a walk along the sidewalk bordering the beach. It was sunset, it was finally lovely weather, and we were all happy. Storm was frisky, happy; I was doing my frequent practice of giving her kibble every time I caught her looking back and checking in on and with me, so she perked up even more and soon we started running, joyful. My mom told me to go ahead and I did.
We ran into the sunset, literally. It was quite beautiful and I think I was laughing with the sheer joy of it. We ran until I couldn’t and then I called out to Storm and we slowed down, not even a spot of tugging on the leash — we are very good together at changes of pace, and she is a dream to walk — and came back to a walk.
I turned my head, grinning, and my mom was some ways back, watching. She raised her arms in a joyful moment of celebration, knowing my dreams were coming true.
My mom soon turned back, craving ice cream, and Storm and I played in a park and a bit of forgotten beach beside it together. We ran, we splashed, we waded; I encouraged her to go where she pleased and laughed as she explored rocks and scrambled up their slippery seaweed covered surfaces with ease. She kept trying to taste the seawater for some reason, though she drank her fill from our water bottle, as if she couldn’t quite believe this strange stuff was water or just was curious about its smell perhaps. I got to run through sand with me dog by my side, exploring the sea with her as the sun set on a warm day. It was all I ever dreamed of.
Epilogue: Ice Cream and Bacon
Later, admittedly, the poor pup taught me that she simply does NOT like fireworks, and I had made a mistake. When she became agitated I offered her a towel to hide under, which usually works for thunder, but it wasn’t nearly enough and she ignored the offer. So, we got up and walked across the street. She ignored kibble after a few more minutes, which was my reality check as to how scared my sweet dog was, and tried to hide under a little cart of a car clearly there for EMS or supplies or something. Stormlight, brave dog that she is, let me coax her out on a loose leash (I still don’t know how and consider it a testament to her incredible adaptability that she was able to listen even then) and I remembered something from childhood. There is a restaurant on the side of the beach across the road and it has a big ramp, with open space under the second, higher half; it has piles of sand being a beach. It was well lit, whixh even with the blazing light I keep on Storm’s collar was important on a festive night; it was contained, safe, public, busy, somewhat shielded (I certainly found it to be a better level of noise), and still nice and safe for her. I brought Storm to the ramp and she immediately understood the appeal and dug herself into the sand as I lay back and talked to her calmly and then just watched the fireworks, holding her leash in one hand and resting my head on the other. She still would stick her head out when I called her name, another heartbreakingly sweet and lovely moment of pure Stormlight that made me wonder yet again how I have gotten so lucky as to have this dog. She still responded and checked on me even too scared to even eat –that to me is exceptional, especially for under 5 months as a pair.
I had decided already to see if I could beg a spoonful of ice cream off the little beach diner, needing a high value treat for Storm, but couldn’t do anything until I had someone to do so as we were not nearly close enough to a window to ask. My dad did so after the fireworks as my mom and I discussed the display and watched as Storm stuck her nose farther out to investigate a little boy interested — she adores kids and had calmed down enough to eat kibble and offer a few licks to me before that, just not enough to consider budging.
A wonderful woman named Mara came to our rescue. She is whiny dad happened to speak to, working at the restaurant, and came out herself with a heaping spoon of vanilla ice cream and a bonus: a strip of bacon! I gave Storm a bit of each so she knew exactly what the prizes offered were, let the little boy give her a bit to his delight and his father’s amusement, and then lured her out for the rest. She soon scrambled out to a knot of encouraging dog lovers who had happened along our little story at various points and all joined me in telling her what a good girl she was for coming out. Storm offer a few licks and nose nudges to her admiring public and trotted along easily to the car, seemingly all recovered. She was exhausted but happy, to my relief (I still feel badly for bringing her somewhere that only scared my lovely dog).
It is a wonderful thing when problems can be solved by something as simple as a little bit of bacon and a spoon of ice cream.
Photos of Storm under the ramp