The End

Today I woke up wrapped in soft blankets with the Wyoming sun gently flitting through the sheer curtains at six am, but stayed in the plush king bed and fell back asleep while snuggling with a whippet named Piper. When I re-awoke at seven, I smiled at a text from Ira wishing me a good morning at 6:32 in what I suspect was supposed to be a Scottish accent. I put my glasses on and tiptoed downstairs with Piper dancing at my heels. I measured out some puppy food into a small bowl for Porter, a heeler/Catahoula mix, and placed it on the floor with two other bowls for Piper and a piebald dachshund called Oscar. After all of the kibble had disappeared into now-satisfied bellies, I put Piper and Oscar outside so I could focus on Porter. I had already washed his eye of the light green mucus that had crusted his right lids shut overnight; as long as I made sure he had a treat in his mouth, he was fairly patient with me rinsing his eye out and administering drops. Then I tried to give him one of his pills in peanut butter, but he spit it out, so I had to push it into his throat along with two others. He didn’t seem too aggravated and I rewarded him with a stick of chicken jerky, after which he went outside to play with the others.

I went back upstairs and continued my morning. Contacts in, teeth brushed, scalding hot shower taken, legs shaved, comfy clothes dug out and put on, hair brushed, lotion applied. Returning to the kitchen, I watched Porter try to get Oscar to play with him out of my peripheral as I spooned granola, coconut milk yogurt, and blueberries into a dish for breakfast. I refilled the water dish before stepping over the baby gate into the living room. I loaded The Royal Tenenbaums into my PS3 before sitting on the couch with Piper – wrapped in a down comforter, of course – and we started the movie. I paid attention to it in waves: my eyes on the screen while I was licking spoonfuls of yogurt, distracted by a round of crossword puzzles and word searches on my DS, then back to the screen as I started to get sleepy from too many words, and distracted again by work emails. Halfway through, I rose to check on the boys and make myself a cup of passion tea with candied ginger.

I found myself lost in a movie I had seen a myriad of times before, at many different points in my life, and I discovered new feelings welling up in me. My breath caught in my lungs and my eyes grew heavy with tears when Richie was preparing to kill himself. I hesitantly smiled and gripped the blanket when Richie and Margot finally admitted their love for each other. I was initially disappointed in Eli’s aversion to aid with his drug problem and his subsequent accident into the Tenenbaum household just before the wedding, but I sighed and beamed proudly at both his and Chas’s admittances that they needed help – though for very different things, still closely relatable. I laughed at the words etched into Royal’s headstone and marveled at Pagoda’s undying loyalty. I felt tears seeping under my eyelids at the close of the movie – one I have seen a myriad of times before, at many different points in my life – and after sitting here thinking about it for a few hours; after downloading Spotify and listening to a bunch of acoustic songs; after hugging a puppy and playing with all the dogs and starting laundry; after writing about my morning…I still don’t know why I reacted the way I did this time.

I finished my original five-week internship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at the end of March, after which I left Kanab for a week and visited friends in Phoenix. On my return, I was allowed two weeks to intern in areas I hadn’t been able to complete earlier due to my sprained ankle. In the second week of April through the middle of May, I was asked to participate as the first ever intern for a five-week dog-training specific internship. It was tough being the guinea pig, but I’m honored that I was given the opportunity to lead off such an awesome new program that I’m sure will benefit many more determined and dedicated people in years to come. No sooner had I completed that second internship, then I was scheduled for my two-week job evaluation in rabbits. Basically, the evaluation is a situation where both the employer and the potential employee have the chance to try out the open position to see if it’s going to work for all parties involved. This being what I had put up on a pedestal as the opportunity of a lifetime, I gave everything I had, asked every question that popped up, and absorbed as much information I could fit in my brain. All to no avail. I received a voicemail on the first day of June informing me that while I did a great job, I wasn’t the person they were looking for. So I packed a few bags and hit the road.

I left early in the morning on Wednesday, June 3rd and headed up to Salt Lake City. I stopped for a flight and a Cuban sandwich at Epic Brewing Company before visiting a post office to mail off my finalized divorce papers. Having never been to the state of Idaho before (and really only thinking of potatoes and the Oregon Trail when it came up previously), I made it to Idaho Falls and walked into the only brewery in town. A few samples in, a small family consisting of a mother, her mid-20-something son and his 21st-birthday-celebrating cousin sat down to face me at the corner of the bar. I finished off my samples while the guys pounded down a couple pints and the mother reminisced about being young again with the bartender, and when I stood to pull my wallet out of my back pocket, the older of the two men asked me if I was there alone. Normally, this is a question I lie about for obvious reasons thanks to the gender roles in today’s society, but I had just been told I wasn’t good enough for what I had thought was my dream job after 3 months of hard, unpaid work, I didn’t have a home and couldn’t afford to stay in Kanab to continue pursuing the work I’ve wanted to do since I was born, and I had sent in my divorce papers not 3 hours earlier. So I smiled and told the truth, wished the younger one a happy birthday, and walked out. Before I reached my car, the older guy called out to me. I stopped and turned around as he approached, telling me I was one of the most beautiful women he had seen around there and asking simultaneously if I had a boyfriend and if he could get my number. I laughed and said I was just passing through, that I didn’t have a boyfriend, and that he could have my name. I shook his hand and drove away.

stag party

Originally I had intended to stay in Idaho Falls, but decided I was making good time, so I continued towards Jackson, Wyoming. I booked a hotel in Teton Village and just before I reached Jackson, I passed a very busy little bar in the town of Victor, ID. I walked in as it started raining and found a spot at the very back corner of the bar, ordered a beer, and the band started playing. It was surreal being among so many lively people I didn’t know in a town I had never even heard of at a bar I just happened to notice when I glanced to that side of the road. None of this had existed before that moment, but it felt comfortable and familiar. I had three pints while the live music twanged through the muffled conversations. I watched parts of the hockey game that was on TV with strangers next to me, and I clapped with the people paying attention to the songs as they ended, and I paid my tab and slipped out as the rain stopped. I reached my hotel a short time later and started a bath in the elegantly modern tub. I soaked off some of the alcohol and all of the rest of the worries I was carrying with me that day before crawling into bed.

teton village

The birds chirping outside idyllically woke me up, and I opened my window to a soft light shining through pine trees onto mountains capped with snow. I felt refreshed. I showered and ordered room service for brunch in bed…because it was something I’ve always wanted to do. A handsome young man delivered my breakfast, and smiled as he was caught off guard by my answering the door in a loose robe. He returned a few minutes later with my orange juice, apologizing sheepishly for forgetting it the first time, and I heard him lingering a bit after I closed the door. I lounged in bed for another hour and then returned to the road, lighter than I had been when I started my journey.

teton park

tetons

I slowly wound my way through Grand Teton National Park with my windows down, soaking up the smooth warmth of the sun through the crisp mountain air. I felt my legs and shoulders burning from the rays streaming through my sunroof, but I just let it happen. I saw deer and birds and so many tall trees and bubbling streams; there was a blue heron that caught a large fish, and a moose ignoring a horde of tourists taking photos as it enjoyed lunch, and mountains looming behind every forested horizon. It was quiet and loud – a cacophony of sounds drifting along a whisper of wind. It was peaceful. I took deep breaths in and held everything inside for as long as I could, absorbing all of the particles, before I slowly pushed all of the air out of my lungs, ridding myself of the old and the negative that had collected…making room for the new and the hopeful. For the first time in a very long time, I was lost without feeling lost. I was finding myself.

To be continued…

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Pigs

Three weeks ago I finished my five-week general animal care internship. My last week was spent in Piggy Paradise with all of the amazingly smart and adorable pot-bellied pigs, their wonderful caregivers, and even some goats who were learning clicker training. I have never worked with pigs, nor have I ever really been around them outside of the petting zoo capacity from my childhood, so being able to spend a week learning about them was fascinating. I had no idea that there was even a market for pot-bellied pigs, let alone a completely made up brand/breed of “Teacup Pigs.” Many of the pigs at Best Friends were surrendered because they grew much larger than their owners expected them to, had a myriad of health problems due to their insufficient diet, or were too aggressive and destructive in large part to them being under socialized single pets.

There is no such thing as a Teacup, miniature, Juliana, micro mini, dandie, or pocket pig. These are all just terms for pigs that are likely still babies under one or two years old and have been starved to deter growth. All of these brands are sold under false pretenses, usually for thousands of dollars. Pigs can begin reproducing around three to six weeks of age – still just piglets – and don’t stop growing until they are around five years old. What people see when they go to purchase a teacup pig is a litter, or farrow, of itty bitty baby piglets next to two small, but ideally proportionate pigs that are advertised as the parents. The parents are used as the guidelines to which the babies will grow up (because only full-grown adults can reproduce, right?), and uneducated people with only one goal in mind will buy the schtick. Once the money is handed over, the new owners of the cutest piggy ever are told to feed it a limited diet to ensure it stays small, and sent on their way.

Then the piglet outgrows the teacup, and the sink, and the puppy bed, until it’s 60+ pounds. Being underfed and supremely intelligent, It is always hungry and bored with the cushy indoor life, and starts rooting under the fridge for those lost cheerios, ripping up the flooring and toppling appliances. It acts out with aggressive mood swings, biting for food and to establish dominance in a herd where there are no other pigs to challenge. It shatters underdeveloped bones just by walking, it has breathing problems from being inbred, its internal organs continue to grow normally while its skeletal system is stunted, resulting in an over-stressed, extremely painful existence. The life expectancy of a normal, healthy pot-bellied pig is 16-20 years. The life expectancy of a Teacup pig averages to about five years. Thus, they end up in shelters around the country that are unprepared to care for them, and they are euthanized. Thankfully, there are now many pig-specific sanctuaries that will pull them from kill-shelters and give them the life they deserve while educating the public about the scam that is Teacup pig marketing.

IMG_20150319_210939This is Kit, a smiley little one-year old who is kinda shy and skittish around people, but if you have a fig newton (or 15), she’ll follow you around like you’ve been best pals forever. Despite her hesitant nature, she’s tremendously curious and will try to sneak up to new situations before they notice she’s there. Many times I would catch her approaching out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned around, she’d trot away from me with her tail wagging happily. I was able to work on some training with her, getting her used to being pet by people, teaching her to touch my hand or sit for a treat, and I even had a splash party with her in a piggy pool on one of the warmer days.

Kit’s profile: http://goo.gl/SGhYB3

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Training Kit to sit

Pigs are so remarkably smart, and love having lots to do – including rooting around in the dirt, playing with things that make noise, scratching on trees and cinderblocks, rolling around in puddles, and exploring new places. They are ranked right behind humans, apes, and dolphins in terms of their intelligence, and they can learn a wide variety of tricks and behaviors. Also, they are great walking companions if you have the right motivation (fig newtons, lots and lots of fig newtons).

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Cherry asking for more fig newtons

Not only is Best Friends home to a couple herds of pot-bellied pigs, but they have a five-acre plot set aside just for two very unique pigs named Nick and Holly. These siblings are part domestic Hampshire, part feral pigs that are over 400 pounds each and have legs for days. Holly has been trained in level one of Parelli horsemanship (which I’m still not convinced isn’t magic), and really enjoys hiking and washing rocks. Nick is a seasoned collector, and will dig up whole trees, fence posts, and any other artifacts he deems worthy to decorate his room with.

Here’s Holly enjoying a short mudbath:

And Nick:

Holly’s profile: http://goo.gl/gCbhPp

Nick’s profile: http://goo.gl/9oU48r

Some great articles to educate yourself on teacup pigs:

Best Friends – The Truth About Teacup Pigs

Modern Farmer – Never Buy a Teacup Pig

The Dodo – What’s Misleading About Teacup Pigs

Pause

Let’s go back to when I restarted my life for the umpteenth time. The most recent restart, which began when I applied for the five-week general animal care internship at Best Friends Animal Society. I’m still deeply entangled in the luxurious newness of it all, despite having existed in Kanab since mid-February, but I failed to document my arrival. Skipping over the lives I’ve lived previously – of which there are many, and will be many more – my application was sent out into the universe in early December, carrying with it the hope that I would even be considered despite my glaring lack of professional experience within any shelter-related field. I trudged through my days after that final email left my draft folder, waiting for something. Maybe a sign that it was the right time to think about myself finally, or anything to convince me I was worthy of this endeavor. Weeks passed. A month. I had been silently rejected many times before, ignored, and my doubt grew alongside my desperation, each one encouraging the other to stretch their roots deeper and to swallow more light from the sun. I was trying to plant a garden, but I didn’t have tools strong enough for the weeds, and they continued to slowly strangle each of my little aspirations.

I reached out and received a reply almost immediately. They were waiting on two more references to check out. I promptly got in touch with the people I had listed as authorities on my applicable skills, and begged them to just entertain the thought of filling out paperwork that might help me to follow my dreams. Two more weeks and my birthday had arrived; I was three years away from thirty, coming to terms with a broken marriage, living with my parents, and setting boundaries for all of the dysfunction that surrounded me. The last time I felt so wholly unprepared to simply exist as a person was for a labyrinthine period of time after my brother died.

Checking my email at work on my birthday, I saw this message:

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I ravenously shredded into the allegorical envelope and devoured what was inside. I was going to Utah. In three weeks. In an instant, I knew where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there. I gave my notice to my employers, who were also my family, and began sorting through all of the memories of a tragic fairytale life that I was no longer consumed by. I packed nine boxes into four and saved just enough room for myself in my car…and then I drove a snowmobile off of a hill.

I experienced the proverbial life flashing before my eyes in the three or four seconds it took for me to hit the ground from twenty feet in the air. I felt my lungs crumple and my spine compress, each vertebrate slamming into the one below it. I fell backwards off of the machine as it roared out from underneath me, and I opened my eyes to a monster-filled darkness. I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t there. I had landed in the middle of the trail and my dad was still behind me. I subconsciously reminded myself that I shouldn’t move, but the part of my brain that was still struggling to remain sentient forced my clawing limbs to frantically clamber off to the side so I wouldn’t also be run over. Unable to physically express any emotions at this point, I wept mentally with gratitude that I was alive and – as far as I could tell – not paralyzed. My dad vaulted from his snowmobile and kneeled over me, ripping his helmet off and ordering me not to move. But I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t hear him over the fear that was thundering in my ears, that had replaced my blood. “I need to get up! I have to get up!” I was gasping. “Help me roll over! Please, I need to get up!” I was so afraid of lying there and being preyed on by sharp teeth and cold breath dripping with blackness of the winter night. “I’m ok, just help me roll over!” My dad’s face expressed panicked dread and extraneous remorse and I didn’t have the capacity to indulge either of those things. As he hesitantly aided my anguished, and completely illogical, petitions, I steadied myself on my hands and knees. “I’m ok…”

There was a gut-wrenching realization that I actually wasn’t paralyzed, but that something was out of place. There are no words for the immense elation I felt at the surge of pain that began to throb through my bones and at the muscles that trembled violently with adrenaline. I was alive, and I was there. I tried to stand and collapsed. I still hadn’t caught my breath and I was losing it all over again. My dad hoisted me up and my left ankle dangled, refusing to participate. We were ten minutes from the nearest shred of civilization – a backwoods bar in the middle of the northern Wisconsin woods – and we needed to get there now. I slowly drove his snowmobile over the remaining bumps and dips, sobbing and panting from the exertion. After reaching the bar, we had a beer and some dinner before we headed back home…a drive where I both argued that I didn’t need to see a doctor and pleaded to be put out of my misery. Two and a half hours later, I was in the emergency room getting x-rays and vomiting from the oxycodone. By three in the morning, almost eighteen hours after the beginning of the snowmobile excursion, I was finally laying in bed with a splint on my severely sprained ankle and an untreatable sprained back.

I emailed the intern coordinator at Best Friends when I woke up, terrified of what could happen to my internship opportunity, but not willing to entertain the possibility that I might not be able to participate. It was five days before I had to drive halfway across the country, my ankle wasn’t broken, and I was still capable. She responded almost immediately, saying she would make it work for me, and I fell back asleep to hold onto my dream.

Tuesday, the day before I started my journey west, I saw an orthopedic surgeon who gave me a boot and wished me godspeed. My family thought I should stay and heal, rather than risk further injury, but I had too much personally invested in this endeavor, in myself, and I left Wednesday morning. I arrived on Friday afternoon and settled in for what is now the most rewarding and challenging experience I’ve ever pursued. It’s been seven weeks since I arrived in Kanab, since I started living for myself. I don’t have my influential relationship, I left the dysfunction behind, I came alone and with nothing and with everything. “I’m ok.” I’m alive, and I’m here.