Pondering Poodles & Other Toys

If I lived a storybook happy-ending life, today would have marked 30 years of marriage for my ex-husband and me. During our 19-year marriage, we shared a mutual dream. When we hit the retirement years, our goal was to rent an RV and rescue a group, seven was the lucky number, of abandoned old poodles in the local shelters. With our poodle family packed and ready, we planned to enjoy a year-long road trip from our east coast home to Alaska.

My ex-husband’s brainstorm of an idea was to co-author our own version of Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. I was all for it and eager to chronicle our Alaskan adventure in the same fashion of the great American writer’s experience driving across America with Charley, his French poodle. Throughout each passing year, especially at night when I was tired and spent from a full day, my ex would smile and in a soft whisper say, Travels with Charley.

Those three words, our secret code, was the necessitated adrenaline that renewed my spark and carried me through the day’s remaining hours on a positive note.

Around 2007, our young family even toured the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California, in the area were the author grew up. As I write this post and visit the website to retrace our memories, pure emotional pain veils, like a fetal membrane, my remembrances of our time that we enjoyed in the Golden State together. It is almost incomprehensible now how naïve and innocent I was and how I viewed life on a permanent mural and not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board.

Anyway, my ex-husband and I never rescued one poodle, apart from the rescue poodle Crouton, whom I already owned. When 2010 rolled around, we could not rescue ourselves. The bottom of our Titanic-fated house sliced open after ramming into a financial disaster iceberg. I went down with the ship. My ex-husband bolted to safety. In fact, I recall that the last time my ex held Crouton was shortly after I learned the raw truth of his departure, before he relocated to a state some 600 miles away. As I bawled my eyes out in the bedroom nesting in the bed, he entered, cradling the dog in his arms, and with a bitter tone he said, “Why don’t you sleep with Crouton tonight.”

Prior to this fateful night, what tripped me up was that I thought the “in sickness and in health; for richer for poorer … “ wedding vows shadowed us and stretched way past the final hours of our wedding day celebration. In other words, I put my life and faith in those vows. Certainly, when I promenaded down the church aisle on the seasonally perfect May day and relished in his face aglow and blast-of-white smile 30 years ago, nothing nor no one could erase the future promise I foresaw. It was as clear in my mind as the intense blue, cloudless sky. Every line of the manuscript in my mind — beginning, middle and end was underscored with “happy.”

As said earlier, I was naïve and innocent and viewed life on a permanent mural not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board. Unfortunately, what I learned decades later was that his life views paralleled the meaning behind that classic toy: “When you’re done, turn over and shake to erase — then, start the fun all over again.”

At the beginning of our marriage, much of his attention went to a new managerial career while I focused on an infant born with a heart defect. The situation kicked me into a dismal trajectory and the sad ending was that I became an archaic, displaced worker, which later added to our financial burdens. As decades passed, though, admittedly I gained my greatest worth from my role as a mother. My ex gained his worth by being away from home in places where he could garner the full attention that he necessitated as his mental state tore away. Our worlds existed in separate orbits and one day spun out of control and in the frenzy our dreams disappeared.

Sadly, we were required to cash in our retirement fund that helped pay for our divorce legal fees. At that point and time, we could not afford to pay our mortgage, never mind buy an RV. And the road map to Alaska that we so diligently planned was switched out with a map that took us not to a destination but to near destitution with a terribly messy and costly divorce.

I can’t turn time back to the Saturday of our wedding that draped us in its turquoise sky and stroked us in gentle warm breezes. Sometimes I think the pure white Calla Lillies that almost slipped out of the bouquet while I promenaded down the aisle symbolized an omen. Or maybe bad luck unfolded when my soon-to-be groom accidentally saw me that morning before we exchanged our vows later in the day. As a side note, it brought great solace to me when Mrs. B. confided to me that her soon-to-be-husband also saw her by pure accident on their wedding day and they marked 30 years of marriage the same year we married!

Luck or no luck. Good endings. Bad endings. Things happen out of our control. Raw reality is: we are out of control, because all things, including us, are temporary etchings in life. That’s the short and long of it. Life can trick you into believing that we are the authors of our life as surely as the left control on an Etch A Sketch moves the stylus horizontally, the right one moves it vertically. Shake, make it disappear. However, raw truth be told, the design for living has a deadline. When the ending, happy or sad, arrives, there’s no twisting the white knobs on the classic red board, because life magically disappears just like the miles in the review mirror that usher us forward to a great American road trip.

Faith Muscle

11 thoughts on “Pondering Poodles & Other Toys

  1. Just as you eloquently describe grief, the loss of your marriage is told through aching words, Stacy. I can relate – having gone through a divorce after many years of marriage. The loss of dreams was definitely just as you described. I could feel a pang as I read your post.
    We have many things in common, because my son had a heart defect. It consumed his life and mine.
    Thank you for opening up to share so many tender details of your life. The metaphor of an Etch-a-Sketch was perfect. Sometimes I feel like my past was “just shaken up” and then all my memories just disappeared. I do believe in your beginnings.

  2. HI Stacy,
    With each post I feel I know more of your journey and you.
    The broken dreams and broken promises, you have been through so much!
    Now you get to continue rebuilding, and dreaming new dreams! Your faith is your armor and weapon! You are strong, and inspiring!
    Sending you blessings and hugs! Blessings! ♥♥

  3. My friend, your words pierce my heart. I have not experienced the death of a child. But the death of relationships. Ironically, you and I share the same story and dreams. Indeed one never knows what life is going to bring. Comparing the life to the toy was spot-on. I’m glad that God has shaken what I believed to be my destiny and is in control. Every time I try to dial the knobs and create a picture myself he takes over. And when HE and I share the same dreams for myself it feels magical. I stand with you in your memories. I stand with you as these memories marinate deeper. And I stand with you in faith. Peace, love, and blessings to you. 🤍

  4. Thank you for visiting my post. I hope you read a few more and give me your feedback. I read your post today and I felt like it shared both pain and acceptance. I agree that many, maybe most marriages fall on the rocks in hard times but some fall on the rocks in smooth sailing also. I hope the storm has passed and you will enjoy the remainder of your journey, and you rewrite the ending so it has joy even if not as originally planned. – David

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