Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sleeping With One Eye Open Is Going To Be Tiring

Three cats, two dogs and a fish.  That's just too many pets for one person.  So, when we were splitting the sheets, I made the spousal forfeiture take his damn fish with him.  Good riddance. 

Last week I had to have Fred put to sleep.  He was an old cat - all of mine are.  But he was a tough old bird.  So tough, in fact, that the vet prepared a second injection because his little shoe leather heart just wouldn't stop beating.  In the end, he didn't have to administer it. 

That left me with one cat and two dogs. 

The math seem a little off to you?  You'd be right.  The remaining cat is He With No Name, a Maine Coon tuxedo cat who is very easy to live with.  The other minus? 

Evil Steve. 

If you have a very good memory, you will know that she is a vengeful and cunning creature whose name didn't originally have it's modifier.  She earned that "Evil" bit, fair and square.  We didn't see it coming when a friend first brought her to us, tiny and half-starved.  Her mother, a stray, had been killed by a car and the friend thought the spouse needed a cat to keep him company while going through chemotherapy.  Granted, we already had a couple of cats, but what's one more, right? 

Over the years, Evil Steve has taken the occasional sabbatical.   We've never known where she has gone, but every year or two she will disappear for a couple of weeks.  Once or twice, since we moved to "the 'burbs" she's been gone for as much as a month.  She always returns, just when we've written her off, looking fresh, clean and obviously well fed. 

I haven't seen her since June.  That was over four months ago.  Obviously, she's coyote fodder. 

So, I buried Fred. 

Over the past few days I marveled at how little Fred must have been eating, as He With No Name is still plowing right through the crunchy chunks pretty much as heavily as ever. 

This morning, after being awoken at an ungodly hour by bored dogs wanting out of their crate, I crawled back into bed where I bemoaned being awake while watching an episode of Midsomer Murders.  Then I stumbled into the kitchen and fed the foul beasties.  I perused the insides of the refrigerator, then cursed myself for not buying groceries yesterday afternoon as I'd intended. 

No food means venturing out for a breakfast burrito.  I tried calling the local joint, but I couldn't find their number.  I had no plans to become socially presentable enough to go inside and wait while they cooked the food, so I called the next closest place, a little drive-through in the County Seat, about 10 miles away.  All the while, the dogs munched and snarfled in their little metal pans.  He With No Name was still sipping from the bathroom faucet on the other end of the house. 

Just as I opened the dishwasher to try to do something productive before making the breakfast run, I heard a plaintive yowl.  It came from right behind me. 

I whirled.  Nothing there.  The dogs never batted an eyelash, just kept licking their empty bowls. 

Admittedly my first thought, one of those things that pop out of the primordial ooze of the deeper brain, was a flash back to that second, unused injection the vet held in his hand while listening to Fred's diminishing heartbeat.  The second thought was a laughing realization that there was a cat in heat outside my kitchen window, probably sitting on the ledge, just out of sight.  I went outside to shoo her away. 

No cat. 

Inside the dogs were still completely unperturbed, other than to be a bit miffed at the limited portion size provided their indiscriminate palates.  I started to wonder about auditory hallucinations, as one does.  I'd had a visual hallucination once, due to medication, and maybe...

The yowl.  A second time. 

The dogs did not react. 

I slammed the dishwasher shut and started throwing open doors on the lower cabinets.  I pulled cleaning supplies, various seldom-used gadgets (Why do I own both a food steamer and a rice pot?  And isn't that a huge wok!) and some pots and pans out onto the kitchen floor.  And then I saw her. 

Evil Steve is back. 

Steve had gone crazy before she left.  I'd attributed it to kitty Alzheimer's since she's older than she should be.  Evidently her vacation hasn't cured her because now she won't come out of the cabinet.  She seems to be in fine condition, once again.  Her fur is soft, at least in that one little spot my fingers brushed before she skittered out of reach.  Her eyes are bright, as least when they are staring malevolently at me from Hades' Window Sill.  Her voice is in FINE form, obviously.  And I think maybe, just maybe, she's got on a new flea collar. 

And she's still in the cabinet. 

The dogs now care about this.  They care a lot.  So much caring.  So much. 

Everything is now back in the cabinets.  (What am I going to do with that wok?)  I guess Steve's going to stay put.  At least she's stopped with the vocal lament bit. 

I'd been considering getting some chickens.  Maybe I'll wait on that.


Monday, November 07, 2016

I Didn't Chose His Name

I killed my cat today.

I wasn't going to mention it, but, like so much of my life, it was too good of a story to pass up.

Fred has been living at my house for the last five years.  Before that he lived at the school.  When they built the new school, after the students burned down the old one, they didn't install cat doors, so Fred was homeless.  For about 10 minutes.  Then he came home to my house.

Fred had enormous fangs and lengthy claws.  His fangs were too long to fit in his mouth, so he looked like a vampire with his two white teeth resting on the black fur of his chin.  When we got him, he was solid black.  Now he'd developed a white spot on his chest and white hairs sprinkled through the rest of his coat.  He'd also lost every tooth in his head, except for those two over-sized fangs.

And his had respiratory issues.  That's what finally did him in.  He sneezed blood all over my house, all weekend long.  At 8:01 this morning, I was on the phone to the vet.  Again.

The doctor was in and they told me to bring Fred in.  The vet, a gentle, no nonsense guy, did the injection.

When I got back home with his body, I realized that, given my back trouble, there was no way I could dig the hole for Fred.  I had to ask for help. Within moments of sending out a plea, my ex-sister-in-law volunteered my ex-brother-in-law for the job.  She said she owed me for bringing her booze.  Rick, the husband, would get to square the debt after he got finished at the school about eight o'clock tonight.  (He's a football coach.  They never go home.)

Today being the day after the end of daylight savings time, it was pitch black outside at eight o'clock.  So he and I stood out under a pecan tree in the front yard and I held the cell phone flashlight while he manned the shovel.

Within moments, a patrol car (well, a patrol SUV) was pulling into my driveway.  Mindy's son Matt was the driver.  He's a brand new sheriff's deputy out here in the sticks.  He and another new officer were out on the prowl for evil-doers. 

Rick and I looked pretty much like evil-doers. 

The deputies tried to convince us they'd had a call about suspicious characters. As if.  They were just bored.  Matt did point out that this was the first time he'd seen me, since starting with the department, that he didn't have a subpoena for me.  I thanked him for that all snarky-like.  Cause he's an ass.  Cute as all git-out, but an ass nonetheless. 

We tried to convince them to help Rick dig.  They declined, citing the fact that they might look more than a little suspicious, digging a grave and burying a body.  We couldn't really argue with that, but I insisted that they at least turn the spot light on and shine it in my yard so I wouldn't have to use the cell phone to illuminate the necropolyptic scene. 

They turned on the lights and the three of us stood around, watching Rick dig. 

A couple of minutes later, the neighbors' grandson came running out their front door.  He stopped dead when he saw the lights, then turned and ran full speed back into the house yelling at the top of his lungs "The cops are at Rachel's house!  The cops are at Rachel's house!"

It was at that point that Floyd County's Finest decided to flee the scene.  I told Rick it was probably a good thing I'd not mentioned that I'd spent the whole evening cleaning up the crime scene in my house.  There was blood everywhere.  Little cat-sneezed drops of it.  Everywhere.

A few minutes later, my neighbor arrived, at the urging of his grandson.  "Is everything ok?" he asked.

I explained what we were up to.  He laughed when I told him the cops wouldn't help us bury the body.  The neighbor hung out for a few minutes until the grandson got bored and decided it was time to go.

All the while, Rick dug.

When the hole was big enough we added the towel-wrapped body.  Covered it over, and added a stone cairn.  I owe Rick a six pack. 

Hopefully Fred will rest in peace beneath the pecan tree.  But, given how things go at my house, that's not a sure thing.

I'll miss ya, buddy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

No One Mentioned the Gargoyles

Small town living means that when you dial 911 you get the volunteer ambulance crew. It's just five guys. Five guys who can leave work when the pager goes off.

As you may know, I am an intensely private person in real life. It may not seem like it to read some of the stuff I post here or on other social media, but it's true. I don't let people into my home all willy-nilly. I really have to want you there to invite you in. If one's home is one's castle, then mine has a sizeable moat around it. A moat full of crocodiles. And the drawbridge is always up.

On one recent occasion, however, I had to make an exception.

Thanks to a herniated disk or two (or three), I've had some pretty significant back trouble recently. Normally I don't wear much to sleep in (Wait, what did I just say about my love of privacy?!) and I'm immensely, humbly grateful that on the particularly painful morning in question I managed to get out of bed and get dressed. I accomplished this by doing something, then lying flat on the bed to let my back realign before accomplishing another task or two and repeating the process.

Once I got my clothes on, I laid down again before tackling my shoes, and that's when it happened - a serious spasm that left me unable to sit up. After the requisite gnashing of teeth, I realized I had no choice but to call for help.

That sort of pissed me off, but what must be done, must be done.

The ambulance was quick to arrive. The crew dragged a stretcher in through my unlocked front door and down the hall, struggling to manipulate it through the narrow space and into my bedroom. Once inside they surrounded the bed and stared down at me.

It was a most welcome invasion of privacy.

They discussed my situation amongst themselves, briefly, before deciding the solution was to lift me by the bed sheet and transfer me to the stretcher.

I was not going to be able to lie flat because they had to raise the head of the gurney to get it out my bedroom door and into the hallway. I was not looking forward to that ten foot bit of the trip, so I took deep breaths and tried to psych myself up for this tiny trauma. Just before lifting me, the man positioned at my left shoulder leaned down and looked into my face. I didn't really focus on him. Not until he said "I wondered why you weren't in your office yesterday when I went to see you."

Suddenly I recognized the face I'd paid scant attention to. A face attached to a man, in my bedroom, who was preparing to move the top of my fragile spine and the bits of me attached to it.

Have I mentioned that I'm a probation officer?

He didn't drop me. He didn't jerk the sheet. He didn't even whack my head against the headboard. I should probably give him community service credit for that.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Because It's Fun To Do This To Monica.

This morning I met with a woman who'd arrived in town only moments earlier, after spending almost a year in a treatment center.

We had a lot to talk about.

In the past 18 months she has lost custody of her children and now there is a restraining order in place, preventing her from attempting any contact with them.

Her father died.

Her mother, who was coddled and cosseted by her husband for the majority of her life, has collapsed into deep and abiding depression and the accompanying ill health.  She will not survive for long.

She has committed a felony offense that will forever prevent her from working in any field associated with her four-year college degree.

Her husband continues to use any and every illegal substance he can get his hands on.  When he picked her up from the 30-day program she tried prior to being sent to long-term treatment, he had a car full of his latest score and a motel room rented just minutes from the treatment center so they could use uninterrupted until it was gone.

This woman is a little younger than me, but not much, which means she's old enough to know better.  Her bachelor's degree is in psychology.  She has been through almost a year of the best treatment the court system can provide.  It may not be Betty Ford, but it's still pretty damn good.  Her family is desperately supportive of her.  She has friends from a Christian community group that have provided her local housing with a couple who run the only 12 step group in the county.  They have a car for her so she can drive to the neighboring county for work and recovery meetings.  She will be receiving one-on-one counseling through a program my office provides.  She'll be seeing me at least twice a month. She has already paid an attorney who will handle her attempt to regain custody of, or at least access to, her children.

All of that.  She has all of that.  And she chose to have her (ex)husband to pick her up from the treatment center and drive her 400 miles to see me.

I stood with her next to the window of my office on the first-and-a-half floor.  We looked down at the truck parked below, with the twitchy guy sitting at the wheel.  And we talked about choices.  And how she was choosing prison if she chose to get into that truck with him.

At that moment, in a truly inspired bit of timing, the man who is offering her a place to live, food to eat and a car to drive, showed up at the office door.  He knew she had to see me as soon as she got into town.  He was there to offer her a ride 'home'.

How much more of a godsend could there be? The woman, who is overly emotional on even her most sober days, rhapsodized over her good fortune.

He and I double-teamed her on the importance of "be still and know".  (He started it, but I've been to lots of southern revival meetings and I could play right along.  I've always thought that verse was God calling humanity to aspire to the deity and perfection of introversion, but I digress.) Promises were made by one and all.  Expectations were tendered and checked.  Small steps were plotted along a slow and steady path.

Then they left.

I shuffled papers.  Read an email.  Got up to stretch my back.  It's been giving me trouble and sitting too long is a problem.  I stepped over to the window and looked down.

I watched her get into the truck with the (ex)husband.  And then they drove away.

*************

I told my secretary I needed to move around and I was going to pace the hall for a bit.

Walking past the County Clerk's office, I recognized one of my guys, leaning over the counter to study a form, along with his girlfriend.  He saw me too and on my return trip he came out into the hall to talk.

He's not a smart man.  He doesn't have mental retardation, but he's not far from it.  He's not had an easy life and drugs and alcohol were his only escape for a long time.  Now he has his own struggling auto body repair garage. And a woman to care for, which makes him feel like a man.

He peered up at me, his eyes huge behind the thick lenses and thicker frames of his charity eye glasses.  "We had a miscarriage," he said.  "We're here to get permission to bury the baby on the farm."

I offered what few sincere condolences I could.

"I've forgotten when my next appointment is," he said.  "Can you tell me when it is?"

I told him not to worry about it.  We would send him a reminder.  At his last appointment he'd made a special effort to get there.  They were driving in from the doctor's office, 50 miles away.  They'd had an ultrasound that day and he had pictures he wanted to show me.

Side by side, we leaned against the cold marble wall, pretending to read the posted foreclosure notices.  We stood together, dry-eyed and silent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

LizWatch 2016

Just thought you'd like to know.  Liz came to see me this afternoon.  She called this morning and said it had been a rough morning.  She was going to be late, but she was going to be here.  I told her that was ok, I'd see her when she arrived.

She arrived with cash.

She paid off everything she owes me.  It took a trip to the convenience store to cash a small check, plus a couple of handfuls of quarters, but she paid all the money she owes.  In full.

Her probation will end successfully.  Provided she doesn't do anything crazy between now and Christmas Eve.  (Really.  Christmas Eve.  The sentence ends on freakin' Christmas Eve.  HA!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

"The code is really more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules..."

Liz drives about 50 miles to come and see me.  Today she almost made it on time, which is an improvement for her.   She lives on the farthest edge of the farthest county in my jurisdiction.  Soon she will move across the line back into another jurisdiction, but even then she will travel to see me.

I've transferred her case to that jurisdiction once before and it did not end well.  The poor guy working those counties is also a one man dog and pony show, just like me.  However, he has to do both adult and juvenile probation.  There is not enough tea in China to pay me to do that.  No ma'am!  Therefore, I try to be a little more understanding of him than I might otherwise be.

The problem is his method of coping is to be a sticker for detail and a fanatic devotee of rules.  All rules.  Any rules.  Liz doesn't work well inside strict parameters.  Her existence is more lateral than logical.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't get along with the guy any better than Liz did.  I'd rather keep her case and not be paid for it than to have to deal with him again.  But that's not the story I'm gonna tell you.

Last time I saw Liz, we finally got busy and completed the state's newest, shiniest assessment tool for her case.  I was months late doing it, but we'd had other more pressing concerns on her previous visits.  The state won't like this, but that's ok.  It'll give them something to pad their reports with and we'll all go home feeling fulfilled.  (Perhaps you can see why Mr. Rule Book and I didn't get along so well?)

The assessment tool is as fabulously un-useful as any such mandated instrument, but it is a great interview starter.  It helps to aggregate information into a single interview that might take me months to cover without it's guided questioning.

We spent a lot of the interview talking about the depression that Liz suffers from to a debilitating degree.  Today she looked better than she has in a long time.  Her hair and her clothes were clean.  Her eyes had not a spark, but at least a dull gleam.  And she sort of ghosted a smile as she came in the door.  It was a good day to talk about why she's depressed.

Liz is an educated woman.  Not liberal arts, but she's had a Certified Nurse's Aide license and completed a 2-year associate's degree in office management, with a minor in accounting.  She's worked in several offices as well as a lengthy stint doing purchasing for a state prison.

Despite her education, Liz is desperately poor.  And she married a poor man, in pretty much every sense of the word.  She knows he's worthless, but they stick it out.  They've been together a long time.

Their first child was a son.  He was born without any major incident and pronounced acceptably viable before being sent home for cuddling and coddling.

Once safely ensconced, he promptly stopped breathing.  Luckily Liz's mom was there and knew just what to do.  She remembered Liz had done the same thing as a baby.  It was sleep apnea.  The doctor confirmed Grandma's diagnosis and told Liz all her children would need to be monitored for it when born.  She was never to have a baby sent home from the hospital without a breathing monitor.

Liz had a second child, also born healthy and normal.  The breathing monitor showed no signs of apnea and all was well.

Liz had third child, a daughter.

You know where this is going.

Liz did all the right things, the things that my chronically poor people are seldom able to do.  She got prenatal care.  She kept the same doctor who'd treated her other two babies.  She was ready to have this baby.

The baby was ready, too.  Her daughter was born while the doctor was away on vacation.  A teenager in scrubs delivered her, according to Liz.

All went well and they were both released from the hospital at the earliest possible opportunity.  Except there was no breathing monitor.  Liz told the teenager the baby was supposed to have the monitor - just in case.

Dr. Howser assured Liz that she was just being an over-protective, overly-worried new mother.  God had given her the gift of a perfectly healthy baby girl and she needed to take the baby home and enjoy her.  He wouldn't listen to Liz's protestations, probably dubious of what a Medicaid mother could possibly have to tell him about medical care.

When Liz got home she still tried to do the right things.  She called her doctor's office and made an appointment for as soon as he got back into town.

Things went well and there were no problems with the baby.  On the morning of the appointment, Liz went into the bedroom to awaken her daughter and get her dressed for the trip to the doctor.

You know what happened.

All the doctor could do for Liz at that point was to help dull the pain.  "The drugs turned me into a potato," she said.  Her emotions were so flattened she couldn't even cry at her daughter's funeral.  She tried to read a poem during the service but could only stand and stare bleakly out over the audience until someone helped her down off the stage.

Liz stayed medicated for months, but could never function on the meds.  She wasn't interested in the "vegetable lifestyle". She had two other children who needed a mother, not a potato.  So she stopped taking the drugs.

The legal ones, anyway.

Now Liz cycles back and forth from deep depression to exhausting mania.  She has waking nightmares of finding that bloated purple face staring up a her from the crib.

Her living situation has not improved.  She's been practically homeless twice in the short time I've known her.  She can't find a job - there are none to be had in the community of 150 people where she lives.  She has no transportation of her own, so she can't get a job out of town.  The minor support she receives from family members would evaporate if she moved somewhere else.  She at least has a roof over her head where she is.  Her husband just got felony probation in another county due to a dumb mistake.  She owes me all kinds of money.  

Liz recognizes that she probably needs treatment for bipolar disorder, at the very least, but her husband's aunt was diagnosed with that disorder after the aunt tried to kill their grandmother while searching for some sort of imaginary treasure she was sure the grandmother had hidden from her.  Liz thinks she cannot afford to get the same diagnosis, given the complicated family dynamics and the fact that she is dependent on that family for food and shelter.

And there I sit, behind my desk, staring at the next question on the assessment form.

"Do you belong to any groups or clubs?"

She just snorted.

Next question:  "Do you belong to a church?"

My face probably betrayed my skepticism about that question because Liz laughed.  "No," she said.  "I didn't think it would really help me to have a bunch of people telling me that this was God's will and part of his plan.  I always assumed God wasn't that much of a shit."

It was my turn to laugh.  "Ohh, you are so smart," I said.  "Yeah, God is not a dick."

**********************

I don't like to follow rules, just for the sake of following rules.  I need reasons for rules.  Otherwise, I tend to ignore them.  Sometimes that gets me in trouble.  Sometimes it doesn't.  When I was young I was quite complaint and conscientious but the older I got, the more I realized that everyone else is making it up as they go along, just like me.  Experience has taught me a lot and I do have some hard and fast rules that I've set for myself.

I never ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I turn my socks right side out before putting them in the hamper.
I don't complain about paying my taxes.
I don't wear anything pink.
I vote.
And I never start discussions of religion or spiritual beliefs in my official capacity.

Despite my adherence to that last rule, there is seldom a work day that doesn't involve some sort of spiritual discussion with one or more of my people.  They bring it up, not me. There were many times, when I worked in a larger department, that I and the other officers would marvel at the frequency and occasional depth of these discussions.

Some people who want to talk 'bout Jeezus do it in a smarmy attempt at manipulation.  'Look - I go to church.  We cool.  I'm a good person, so you can't treat me like all those other people.'

The majority though, are seeking. They want comfort and answers.  And they want to talk.  Sadly, many of these conversations end up being an attempt on my part to push back against the prosperity gospel bullshit.

The poor and the magical thinkers among us are prime targets for that type of teaching.  The rich person is not only going to stay out of needle eyes and other places, they're not going to 'buy' into the practice of 'blessing' the pastor/prophet/teacher, either directly or indirectly, with money and expensive gifts as a means to securing a financial blessing of their own.

The poor person is going to think it's worth a shot and they will give all they've got left to the church.  All they've got left after picking up a few scratch-offs, that is.

Liz is not a victim of the prosperity gospel.  Neither does she have patience for the sort of theology that tries to force encouragement by assuring her that tragedy is God's horrible, horrible will. Unfortunately, her experience has been that those are her only two choices when it comes to religion. Given where she lives, there aren't any other options, really.

And yet, even with all the stuff she deals with, she could still make jokes about how thoroughly unhelpful sanitized, white-bread religion is to her down and dirty daily life.

And that's the point.  (You knew there had to be one somewhere, didn't you?)  Despite the cesspool of her existence, she can still make a joke.  She can still smile.  Liz is not some Norman Vincent Peale success story.  She's just human.  And humans are fantastically resilient.  That's why we have to take an interest in one another.  That's why we have to listen to one another.  It doesn't take much to make someone's life a little better.

Will Liz find a job?  Get her mental illness under control?  Pay the water bill and the electric bill both in the same month?  Nope, not anytime soon.  Possibly not ever.  She's not going to join a church or the PTA or the athletic booster club.

But she will survive.  And she'll keep a roof over her family's heads.  And she won't join those groups or churches, but she also won't join the KKK or whatever passes for a gang in these parts.  And maybe her kids will get an education and have a better life.  I'll do whatever I can to keep her out of jail.  That's about it.

Too bad there is not a cool punchline here.  The truth is life is pretty precarious for a lot of people.  Do whatever you can to help them move away from the precipice.  Sometimes there's not much you can do.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much.