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The end of (these) times

2020 has been a real ass-kicker across the board. Pandemics, job losses, a crappy economy (unless you’re a billionaire), a contentious Presidential election, restricted travel, and a whole lot of deaths have made this a memorable “annus horriblus,” as Queen Elizabeth once noted, to much derision.

Personally, it’s been a mixed bag. I quit a terribly toxic job in December of 2019, with the idea of writing a book and becoming a freelance writer. I did both, but it took a while. The pandemic shut things down from a revenue-generating perspective, in March or April. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the means to keep my mortgage, my car payments, and all my utilities paid during the down times. Business has picked up since then, and I’m heading into 2021 with an expanded contract at Yelp and a few new clients in the hopper.

Not once, in all of the crazy times of 2020, did I regret quitting that job. Since quitting, I wake up every day as my own boss. Some days I’m great; some days I do not want to report for work. But 100% of employees at HHWrites, LLC report a general satisfaction with work life at the company, in that they get to write for a living. People are paying me to write. It’s awesome.

I did write most of that book. I had to set it aside for a bit because the amount of paid work picked up (yay money!) but it’s a goal to finish it by spring and have it in front of agents and editors for publication. There are a few chapters to write, a few to finish, and quite a few to punch up and edit. Even if it never gets published, I wrote 45,000+ words about my life and my mom and my dad, and got some things worked out. It’s hard to reconcile some childhood memories when one parent is dead and the other dying, but I think I came out the other side a better human being, with more forgiveness for their parenting foibles and more uncovered memories of their awesomeness as people. What started out as a bitter exercise blaming them for things gone wrong, has ended as a love letter to two people who just did the very best they could, given their circumstances. I love them both more now than I ever thought I could.

I thought I would lose my father this year. He’s still in the end-stages of dementia, but he’s been there for 24 months or more. His continued existence reminds me of how amazingly strong he is, and that is the example he set for my brother and I. We are two of the toughest people I know, thanks to him. We are also extremely affectionate with our people because of him.

My dad traveled a lot for work. I used to, back in my CNN Ad Sales days. One day I was in the crappy Delta terminal at LaGuardia, waiting on a delayed flight, exhausted out of my mind and just ready to be home. I called my dad and talked to him about work travel, and told him how much I admired him at that moment. Not once did he come home from work trip and act anything short of thrilled to see us, no matter how tired he was.

His answer surprised me. “I was genuinely that excited to see you both. I loved you. I couldn’t wait to get home to see you. The tired went away when I saw you guys.”

I miss talking to him. I saw him briefly in early November. He was the same – smaller, more fragile-looking, with tons of bruises on him. But man, he still has a hell of a grip. When he held my hand, he almost crushed it. That’s always been his way though – this invisible strength that holds us all up.

In a somewhat dramatic conversation, my brother and I wondered if we should tell him it’s ok to let go, it’s ok to rest, maybe all this holding on he was doing was to make sure we were ok? So I got elected (in that Brian said he wasn’t going to do it) to say something.

Except I was to be clear that he wasn’t to go anywhere until AFTER Brian’s visit the next day.

In the middle of our brief time together, I said something to Daddy about it being ok to rest, if he wanted, he did a good job raising us and we were going to be ok. Very Grey’s Anatomy kind of speech, made in between sobs. “But don’t forget Brian will be here tomorrow so not before then.”

That man shot me a look like “What the Sam Hill are you talking about? I will NOT go quietly, I do not need rest, and I am going to take as much damn time as I want.”

He’s been non-verbal for years and in this case he did not need words to express himself.

“OR,” I said, backpedaling as hard as I could, “You take as much time as you want and live forever. Whatever you want, Daddy.”

I did lose my cat this year. Most people don’t know I had a cat. She was the least showy of all my animals, the most shy and quiet of them.

I don’t like cats. Well, I don’t like YOUR cats. I liked mine just fine. But I wasn’t looking for a cat and I won’t have another one (I’m pretty allergic and the relief in my sinus cavity since BG’s death is amazing). This one just showed up at the bottom of my stairs when I lived in Conyers 17 years ago. She was pitiful and eating a dead worm, sitting in a storm sewer. It was going to rain and she would have been swept away.

Her name was Baby Girl – BG – because I wasn’t going to name her. I was going to find her a good home. Which I did, I guess.

Most of her life she was extremely shy with strangers. She adored her brother Jake. She loved to torture him, sneaking up on him while he was asleep and biting him on the butt, then running out of the room. She liked to sleep in his beds so he couldn’t. She liked to sleep in his basket of toys so he couldn’t get them out and when he did, they reeked of cat.

She didn’t eat for three days after he died, and wouldn’t go near any of his things. She was my partner in grieving for him.

BG adjusted to life as an only cat, and lived almost three years as such, until I brought Beau home. I thought she was going to disown me. She was disgusted by him and wanted nothing to do with him. Eventually when he calmed down, she grew to like him. He loved her. He was very protective of her, especially toward the end when she got sick with kidney disease. He went to every vet appointment with her. And he was there when a vet carefully and lovingly put her to sleep for the last time.

She was in a lot of pain, and it was both heartbreaking to let her go, and a relief to watch all of that pain leave her tiny body. Only seven pounds when she died, she was losing more and more weight every day. It was definitely time. She died snuggled up against me with my hand on top of her head, petting her, and her dog beside us both watching. He sniffed her a few times after she was gone, as if he was checking on her, and then let her go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how different our relationships can be with our animals. Jake was a soulmate; we had a connection that was deep and wide and vast, a kind of overwhelming love for one another. Wish and I had an unbreakable trust bond that was forged from many years of saving one another from mishap. He saved my bacon more than once and I nursed his broken bacon more times than I can remember. Beau and I have the most human/dog relationship I’ve had, but he is also my protector.

BG is more like a sibling, maybe. When she was young, she was annoying as hell, scratching all my furniture, waking me in the middle of the night because she could, vomiting everywhere because of her IBS. But she was there with me when Jake died, to grieve with me. And in the end, she was her sweet and cuddly self, setting into a nook in my arm every night to sleep. When getting to my bed got to be too much, Beau started sleeping in the living room with her, and most nights I joined them so she wouldn’t be alone.

We miss her. But I’m very glad she was a part of my life for 17 ½ years.

None of us ever know what’s ahead. I thought I’d lose my dad in 2020, but so far have not. Maybe 2021? Who knows? He’s a tough old bird who is doing as he pleases, and I love that about him. Maybe I’ll get a book published. Maybe not. I know I will keep writing for a living, and that is the only guarantee I need from the next year. As long as I’m writing, I know I’ll be happy.

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