My Dear Friend, the Dirty

The bliss in that first taste soothes my soul.

It’s six ounces of Ketel One vodka with a dribble of brine. Not the nasty liquid that comes out of an olive jar, but twice filtered brine from premium olives. This subtle saltiness takes the bite of the vodka down a notch to pleasurable, an inviting clean crispness that sterilizes my insides and satisfies the palette.

This drink and the art in making it is what symbolize the end of an arduous day, or not so arduous, a ritual nonetheless.

It’s a beautiful thing, the vodka martini. Even the word vodka sounds terribly exotic, so undeniably Russian. I’m wearing a sable hat, standing amid the tundra, my breath streaming before me in smoky condensation as I set my implements about—the cocktail shaker, ice, olives, pick, the 1.75-liter bottle that takes the support of my two hands to pour it.

I was introduced to “the dirty” when a high school girlfriend mixed one up for me during a girls’ weekend. The memory of its taste and influence to seduce my mind into peaceful waters remained dormant, however, until I hit a stretch of unbearable time, some four years later, when I had been writing long and hard without any validation or ounce of fruition.

I’d bleed all day long over the page, feel isolated having abandoned my corporate career, determined to make something of myself writing. What I found in my dear friend, the dirty, was a form of self-medication—a crutch, a reward—the delightful anesthesia that numbed the anxiety of feeling like a failure, the taking of a wrong turn.

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. ~ George Bernard Shaw

The thing, too, that’s commendable about drinking the dirty is it gets you to where you’re going, fast. And instead of looking like a thirsty drunk, you can do the deed looking poised like Holly Golightly, long stem glass high in hand, three beautiful olives appearing larger than life through the condensation between the rim and where you’ve already sipped away.

The art, the sophistication, the ritual—its downright writerness.

I am a seasoned, one per night, quite functional vodka martini drinker. To some that may not sound bad, but I know what my physician would say and I’m staying clear of her exam room.

The margin, however, between quite functional and fully functional is a subject to be questioned. Especially since I’ve transitioned to drinking the dirty straight, aka “sans the dirt.”

Certainly, the “advantage” here is to be numbed from pain, some sort of intolerance for various fragments of life, the daily grind. The detriment, in the slightest incremental stages that’s widening the margin, is found in a loose tongue and the voracious appetite that follows in the martini’s wake; the inability to read before bed, remember little things in the morning.

The detriment, the slippery slope, is outweighing the advantage.

The latter is evidenced in my ever-expanding girth and my two arms, which now resemble loaves of bread. For the martini, the escape it brings, frees me to consume a serving fit for Pat’s defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sugar and salt begets more sugar and salt.

And chicken parm tastes best when complemented by what?

A robust red wine—two glasses worth.

But it’s stops there, right?

Nope.

With an overstuffed belly, a shot of Remy Martin in a handsome snifter comes afterward. I’ve had a love affair with food all my life, well-managed through biking my butt off, but throw in this consumption at my age, it’s gonna lead to the end of me.

Obese essayist dies of ever-consuming consumption: she drank and ate herself to death, despite what she’s thinks, not so artfully.

Shakti Gawain, a new age author, whose methods of creative visualization I practiced like a junky when I first began writing, says of validation, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”

Sorry Shakti, I just can’t buy that.

I’m wired differently, tethered to the physical. I do not trust my intuition; I don’t even think I have any. I need validation to keep on.

When validation continued not to surface, I began taking in cute and furry animals until a person of well-intention adopted them. The vodka soothed my nerves, caring for the animals gave meaning to my life. I’d be hard-pressed to count the number of lagomorphs and tiny whiskered fur balls that have moved through our home.

Validation, alas, is crucial to my existence.

But, wait!

There’s a change blowing in the proverbial wind. Yes, siree! I no longer a need to anesthetize myself to endure the operation of life. I’m quitting the vodka—although I’m on the third bottle beyond the one that was to be my last.

I’m gearing up, you see.

Why, might you ask, am I “suddenly” willing to give up my dearest friend, the martini? The beautiful thing that took me away from reality; facing the endless number of untethered days ahead of me?

Because my essays are starting to get picked up. There’s the validation, the essence of what I’ve been striving for. No more crutch needed.

And you know what?

Getting published, I find, tastes as clean and pleasing to the palette as the vodka.

And, by God, it’s healthier!

It is the dawning of my intended existence.

Right now in fact I’m crafting a new essay on the writing life with Suzanne, my coach, an accomplished individual with street cred who validated my existence long before I was born and frightfully knows me better than myself.

We have a lot of things in common she and I. Except outside of writing, she’s not obsessed with the martini—she’s obsessed with yoga.

Yoga sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it?

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Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.

 

Big Love for a Little Spirit

I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is hanging out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, giving rise to them in a way that suggests her body is capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.

The fruity fragrance from the pine trees that pass in my periphery along the road departing from the Weston Reservoir penetrates the air. A grand estate appears. David Gilmore’s voice fills the car; he’s singing “Poles Apart,” accompanied by his faithful guitar. His words are deeply personal and introspective and each line advances me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.

I had left the house an hour and change before, worrying about the chilly temperature, the state of the ground. If I’d be able to dig into the soil. The Reservoir, one of our favorite haunts, is where I intended to bury one of our beloved “girls” after visiting the vet.

The last three weeks had been difficult, watching her struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over; her body emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff out her remaining life. It had eaten away at me, causing me to dream images of her body’s decay from the inside out. She, “Bobbin,” is a favorite among our rescued menagerie; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.

Let me interject a matter of opinion here: I am not some weird lab geek or a questionable hermit with a strange fetish. I hold an advanced degree and am attractive athlete, very feminine, hail from an affluent area, and here to tell you, rats make great pets.

Especially those rescued from a hoarding debacle.

I had arrived at the vet around 9:00, having made a shaky-voiced call, indicating my decision to put her down imminently only twenty-five minutes before, checked in and sat down on the bench in the reception area. The clinic was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that indicated, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Bobbin in my hands I envisioned golden light surrounding her and tried to help myself feel better by taking deep belly breathes and blinking away my tears.

Bobbin

And we all know little compares to the emotionally-charged vibe when sharing a vet’s reception area with someone who is sitting there, tears streaming down his or her face, holding their beloved pet, waiting to be called into a room where it will be euthanized.

The cat and dog people around me didn’t understand that I happen to be that person during this particular visit. “What’ve you got there?” An elderly man asked, a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet, yapping. Four other people, wanting to satisfy their own curiosity, looked my way. “A rat,” I whispered, “she’s dying.”

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Who Rescued Whom: How We’ve Made One Another Whole Again

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. ― Martin Buber

Lady’s ribs protruded from her coat and her belly was swollen with milk.

Thirteen frightened rescue Labs who’d just endured a straight 12½-hour drive from Muncie, IN, combined with the anticipation of the adopting families, made for a chaotic scene at the rest stop Union, CT, that crisp autumn day.

“Lady” the handler called out and we came forward to meet our new family member. She looked at us with her sad eyes and immediately dropped to ground, presenting her belly in submission and desire for loving human contact.

Ostensibly, she was about 2-1/2 years old and despite being clearly underweight and having recently delivered a litter, Lady was beautiful. We couldn’t help but look for comparisons with famous beauties — high cheek bones, gorgeous brown eyes. Audrey Hepburn, the original Sabrina. She took to her new name immediately and we raced to the park to feel the joy of freedom and play. Off-leash, she couldn’t get enough of fetching the ball or the stick. Soon, we learned that she was an incredible frisbee player.

Until laying my eyes on Sabrina’s profile, my heart couldn’t entertain loving another dog. And what canine isn’t after the same love?  I’d grown up with animals and while we maintained a diverse entourage, the loss twenty years earlier of our beloved German Shepherd was still a bit raw. Dennis, my husband on the other hand, had grown up with allergies and never experienced life with the warmth and companionship of any four-legged, furry creatures. I surprised him announcing the planned adoption on the train returning from a business trip to Washington, D.C. His face actually lit up (a dog!)

In Sabrina’s case, she couldn’t know the variety of family members that awaited to embrace her presence. Within days of the initial hair-raising excitement, the cat sought out occasions to groom her ears. Our pet rat was free to waddle the kitchen floor unbothered, and the pair of bonded bunnies in want of company, stretched out beside her on the living room floor.

Dog, cat, rat, rabbit?

You bet.

And Dennis and me?

Like kids again.

Sabrina settled into the folds of our lives, well-nourished and exercised in Boston’s epic snowfall in the winter of 2010, taking careful watch over all of us. The fear expressed in her eyes pre-adoption disappeared — the classic love-story.

But in the vein of “who rescued whom?” there’s more to this story.

Thirty years ago, as a passenger in a VW Rabbit that was broadsided in a January blizzard, my abdomen was driven into the steering wheel—blunt force trauma that necessitated re-plumbing and iterative repair to my digestive system. The all but miraculous recovery did leave me with irritable bowel syndrome and permanent damage to the nerves that signal my bladder is full.

Working from home for most of the eight years following Sabrina’s adoption, I suddenly noticed that when I’m busy working away, Sabrina will gently place her head in my lap every couple of hours, prompting me to get up and make a trip to the restroom. And, when I suffer acute intestinal cramping, Crohns-like symptoms, she’ll sit at my side and lean her body against mine. Her calm and steady source of nurturing helps me to relax and mitigates the cramps.

In 2008, the Department of Justice amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include individuals with digestive, bowel and bladder impairments that limit major life activities, calling for employers to make reasonable accommodations and if the individual elects, to allow certified task-oriented service animals (dog or miniature horse) to accompany them on-the-job.

Sabrina demonstrated that she met the requirements and serving in the capacity of a sensory/medical assist was certified by the National Service Animal Registry (NSTAR). She was welcomed enthusiastically in a temp role I held at Sun Life Financial in Wellesley in 2016.

Her competencies and understanding of language constantly astound us. For bystanders in public, the grocery store, pharmacy, gym, dentist, doctor, gazes from cell phones are broken, conversations fall short.

Then, come the smiles. A question. Praises. The feel-good moment.

Sabrina brings people together.

In 2017, being hired for a role at a snooty Cambridge brand-analytics firm, the HR Director responded to a detailed email explaining my condition and Sabrina’s certification with an “enlightened” “you can’t bring your dog to work.”

My reaction?

I walked out of the place.

Most recently, her behavior on-the-job at Dell Technologies is so well-mannered, coworkers never run out of compliments about her.

The other day I read a distressing post from a woman who said every time she looks into a service dog’s eyes, she sees sadness. Even Ingrid Newkirk, CEO and Co-Founder of PETA, has told me, “the life of a typical service dog is a terrible one.”

It’s true. Any canine enslaved to servitude is doomed a dog’s life unlived.

Service animals are working animals, not pets.

The ADA confirms it.

In Sabrina’s case though, everybody won, and life couldn’t be better. She thoroughly enjoys the hikes and playing and gets plenty of it. Sabrina teaches me to exist in the moment—just like she does. We enjoy the sight of the sun shimmering through the trees, the call of the birds, and the fragrance of wildflowers when I tread beside her when we’re on our hikes. But she’s always there, as my devoted helper.

What more could a dog do for a girl?

Sabrina is just like heaven.

To see all of Lisa’s published work, click here.

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Lisa publishes essays on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-StationHuffPost, and the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. In August of 2018, she was awarded a one-month writer’s residency at Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, AL. She lives near Boston, where she bikes, hikes, rides horses, and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. She is pitching her memoir, “Calamity Becomes Her: Love, Loss and a Healthy Dose of Overcoming Adversity” to agents and at work on the sequel.

You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on TwitterLinkedIn or via her website nurtureismynature.com.