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So begins my retrospective of my almost year in Presidio, Texas.

Looking around Presidio, it seems desolate and often devoid of life. Nothing but dirt and scrub cactus in every direction.

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Imagine having this to look at everyday. No, don’t.

In the cooler months, when the rattlesnakes were dormant, The Boy and I would walk in the foothills looking for treasures; centipede bodies hollowed out by voracious ants, butterfly wings and a backpack full of rocks. On our last outing my heart stuttered when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the stealthy peek of an animal head. I was half a mile from the safety of “civilization” with The Boy and two bite-size schnauzer snacks. Our safe, albeit very quick, return home was successful because it turned out to be a stray dog, and not a coyote. The dog packs that live in the surrounding desert grew daily, recruiting from both sides of the border, the language barrier non-existent for them. They circled on the fringes of a town without law because the animal control officers only lasted a few weeks. Nobody wants to be the executioner, no matter how steady the pay. After a while, it got so bad, we stopped leaving the compound. But even that wasn’t protection.

An adorable mutt came along and took up residence in my neighbor’s garage; kept comfortable in the heat by the inflated pool he cuddled up to and drank from. The dog was terrified of adults but the gang of stray children could get close enough to torture him with their love. They named him Hercules because if nothing else, Presidio is definitely a Sandlot for the kids.

hercules

I rescued him from their affection repeatedly by removing t-shirts and homemade collars. The kids would look at me with disappointment and say, “We don’t want him to get picked up! He’s our dog.” I would remind them that he wouldn’t stay their dog long if his collar got caught on something and he choked to death or he got over heated in the 100+ degree temperatures. Hercules disappeared once and my neighbor was relieved to no longer have him hanging around his “pool house”. Two months later Hercules seemed to rise from the dust, I was certain he’d become part of, and resumed his residence. I admit, I was just as happy as the children to see him because I couldn’t face the loss of life.

Except for those wild varieties, Presidio was death to dogs. My first neighbor, who moved out just weeks after we moved in, lost hers to a snake bite. She reported this information almost cheerfully and then detailed rushing him an hour and a half to the vet for blood transfusions and every measure money could buy to save him. Because I was new to town, it seemed crazy at the time to try and save a dog that obviously wasn’t going to make it and even crazier to not shed tears while recounting the event. Later, I understood. Presidio likes to take everything from you and the transplanted residents weren’t going down without a fight. It wasn’t cheerfulness in her voice, it was triumph and it came from the fact that she had an end date. She was getting out with her remaining dog and she wasn’t ever coming back. Our neighbor, Carlos, found his Pug, Candy, laying dead in his backyard, the cause never to be know. Another neighbor, Pete, lost his dog, Lulu, when her collar got stuck on their fence, hence the cautionary tale. “Lulu’s dead?” the children asked me, with as much hurt in their eyes as if she’d been theirs. Pete acquired two dogs in the following months, Lucas, a purebred golden lab puppy he found wandering fifty miles in the desert while out on patrol, and then a little toy poodle, Peppita a legitimate import from Meixco. The Boy and I basked in the joy of living next door to two puppies. They fell over each other in their efforts to greet and lick us every morning. Then, Peppita disappeared. And just a little while later, Lucas was gone too. I knew better than to ask.

It was only a matter of time before death came knocking on our door. One morning, one of the Schnauzers didn’t come rocketing down the hallway at the sound of food in his dish. When I picked him up and set him on his feet, he fell over. It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so terrifying. For an entire day, he never moved. The vet was an hour and a half away and she would cost money that I wasn’t sure we had. I syringe fed him water and chicken broth every couple of hours. I cried on the long road to the vet. X-rays were taken and blood tests sent out, but, she could only guess at what was wrong. She gave us some medicine, mail-ordered some others and hoped he would get better. I drove home without an indication that my dog would survive. I just had to wait and see. I cried and cried.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

This dog was once named Marley but he became Moo when we realized Marley was too dignified for the likes of him. He is not one of those dogs that causes me to go into raptures over his loyalty and angelic qualities. He is a killing machine. Rats in Chicago. Birds in Presidio (I still haven’t figured out how he caught them.) He never comes when he’s called. Michael once had to chase him half a mile down the beach of lake Michigan and then a mile back in the other direction. I laughed the whole time because I had told him not to let that schnauzer off the leash. Moo barks so much that he continues to bark while I’m shouting for him to stop, while he’s eating and even when someone holds his mouth shut. It’s a talent I wish he didn’t have. He’s terrified of everything. Seriously. Wave a piece of paper at the dog and he shoots out of the room like a gun went off. Thunderstorms are not his favorite and unfortunately for him, the desert had a lot of those. He eats soap. He is a sweet and cuddly of the dumb variety, and definitely crazy. But, he’s my crazy. And I love him. I didn’t want him to die. A week and a half I cried and worried and syringed and prayed and hoped. Prison was bad enough, now it was going to kill my dog too? And then one morning, he got up by himself, just for a minute. A few days later, he was fine. We never knew what was wrong with him, just that the heavy antibiotics worked and Presidio was poison. We shut the door in death’s face that time, but he was still hovering around the neighborhood dogs. After all, snake season was just beginning.

On January 7th my great friend, Emily, who also happens to be my one fan, informed me that it had officially been a year since my last post. I thought about giving up this blog (like so many do) because there are so many other things that occupy my time but, how can I deny my one fan? 

I am Edward Scissorhands, in all of my pale, awkward and misunderstood glory.

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I will one day meet somebody and I will tell them that I almost spent a year living in West Texas. The most frustrating almost-year of my life. I will tell them, as I am telling you now, that West Texas defeated me. It was where I learned that there are some things I just can’t do (even if someone else can) and no amount of willpower or positive thinking can alter reality.

Do you remember how I said I wanted to belong? I tried. I tried so hard that it literally (I do know how to use that word correctly) made me sick. Perhaps I cursed myself using the Edward Scissorhands analogy, but in the end, I didn’t just feel like Edward, I became Edward. And now, one year later, almost to the day, I have been given my opportunity to run back to my gothic mansion (actually, a cute little house) to sculpt my ice sculptures in the frozen north of The Twin Cities. Not chased by a mob. Not even noticed by them.

Now that I’m leaving, I don’t mind telling you, I lived in Prison. Literally. Well, it’s the literal English translation of Presidio. I lived in Prison, Texas. I lived there for at least six months, surrounded by native Spanish speakers before somebody bothered to tell me this. I guess when you live in a place called “prison” it becomes the orange-jumpsuit-wearing elephant in the room. When the translation was finally revealed, right about the time that everything was falling apart, I laughed. How fitting.

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn't it?

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, Presidio is a nice little town full of nice people, many of whom are very happy there. I could have been happy there if not for the comedy of, not quite errors, more like misfortunes, that befell me. Nothing catastrophic, just a steady drip of frustration and mishap. At first seemingly innocuous, subtle in it’s ability to slowly break me down. Just like chinese water torture, after each drip, the next was that much harder to face.

I planned to recount my misadventures – some hilarious, and some painful – in one long blog post. A final farewell to Prison. But, as I began to do it, revisiting it made me physically sick. It was too much all at once. I recently finished reading Blackout by Connie Willis and although it is science fiction, it made me think about real survivors and veterans of wars, who don’t like to talk about what they experienced. I get it. On a very minuscule scale, but still, I get it. It was bad enough the first time, don’t make me live it again. Unfortunately, the rest of your life doesn’t make sense without that piece of your history. I am the way I am because of what I’ve lived through. We are all that way. That is why we cannot judge. We do not know the private heartache and adversity people around us have faced.

The Prison yard in the rain

The Prison yard in the rain. It doesn’t improve much in dry weather.

I want to blot out the Prison chapter of my life and never think about it again. But, if I did that, I might forget all of the things that I learned. The benefit of suffering is that you learn so much. Instead I will bravely face each water droplet one blogpost at a time. The only reason I can do this is because it’s over. I’m free. I hope you enjoy it, Emily.

One thing I know to be true is that life never turns out the way you expect it to. We wake up thinking our day is going to go a certain way, and sometimes it does, but more often there are those moments when the unexpected strikes.

The unexpected can be good, just ask anyone who had a “surprise” baby if they would send them back. It could be something small like a box filled with Hershey’s kisses sent by a friend who gifts you the opportunity to say that you got kisses from the UPS man you have a secret crush on. Or it could be discovering that your car has had barbecue sauce poured all over it because somebody doesn’t seem to understand that when you park on the city street and cars move around you it sometimes looks like you took two spaces when you didn’t actually. Good or bad, it’s not about what kind of “unexpected” it is, it’s about how we face those challenges. Do we laugh? Do we complain? Are we grateful? Do we cry? Or do we just keep going?

This month has not been unfolding as expected at all. Over the past few weeks I have gone on seemingly endless trips to stores (consuming and spending money are very nearly my least favorite things to do) to stock up on supplies for my rural desert life. Mattress buying, dentist and doctors appointments, a worrying medical condition in an extended family member, one flat tire (astutely spotted by my 3-year-old who is also excellent at spotting spiders, Ikea and Mule deer), cleaning, packing, teaching my lovely teenage girls at church and then saying goodbye over and over again.

In the midst of all of this, I was getting up between 3-5am to get my word count everyday. As always, there were days when the writing was quite painful and I just wasn’t happy about where it was going but, I kept doing it because I needed something to anchor myself in these stressful and surprising times. I wanted one good thing that I knew I could count on everyday. And what I unearthed from my imagination was perhaps the most unexpected of all, adventures, people, chases, and secrets I didn’t even know were there.

Not only did I “win” NaNoWriMo this year, but I finished a day early and 1,416 words over my 50,000.

About mid-month I began to worry because I knew that I wouldn’t be finished with my Novel at 50,000 words but, I was pleased to discover that according to the NaNoWriMo rules:

You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel. 

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I did it! I am halfway through my second novel and once I’m settled into my little house in Texas, I’ll return to finishing my final draft of my first. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this second book. I promise to share it with you . . . someday.

The very same day I won NaNoWriMo another unexpected event occurred. It was literally the day before Michael was supposed to fly home and our family would be reunited after 7 months apart. I noticed there was something not quite right about The Boy. The next day as Michael was getting off his plane and collecting his luggage The Boy and I were at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado being told that he needed surgery and we wouldn’t be moving to Texas two days later, as expected. There was a moment when I almost cried but instead I shrugged and was grateful that all of this happened before we moved to a place where the nearest children’s hospital would be four hours away. It was a blessing with perfect comic timing. So, Michael came, took all of my stuff and the dogs and he left me and The Boy behind. Sounds like a country song, right? Well, I’m writing a country song of my own, “Michael, we’re coming after you . . . just as soon as the doctor gives The Boy a clean bill of health.” It’s not very catchy.

All of this made me realize that life is made up of the unexpected and you should never put aside the things that are important to you simply because there is too much going on. It is those very things that keep you sane when the unexpected arises.

Life isn’t a chain of unexpected events, it is a chain of salvaged moments filled with the things and the people you love.

In March, a friend approached me and asked if I would like to participate in a Salon she was hosting.  I was horrified at the idea of reading my work in front of actual people.  Lost in the initial shock that this Salon host even knew I was a writer (another friend had “betrayed” me to her), I agreed to do it.  Over the next couple of weeks I lamented that decision and debated about backing out.  But, in the end, I went through with it.  The reaction to my writing was positive.  Here is the excerpt from my novel that I read at that Salon.  (Before you begin, you should know my manuscript is Young Adult, I’ll write more about why another time.  And this excerpt is not about my Protagonist, it’s about her youngest sister.)

Trouble

Sasha could see her mother in the window and wondered what she could possibly be doing inside on such a beautiful day. Child sized gloves lay deflated and forgotten somewhere in the back garden.  Sasha’s fingers burned with the cold as she scratched at the earth, trying to reach the liquid hot center.  She reasoned that if went deep enough she might be able to create hot balls of clay which she then intended to use to build a steaming hut warm enough that her mother would allow her to camp out in the courtyard overnight.  She threw the discarded frozen balls far across the playground where Welly would chase after them pretending that his prey was something exciting, even though he knew it wasn’t.  Sasha knew that’s how you could tell if someone was really your friend.

As she sat back to examine her blackened throbbing fingers, Welly enthusiastically dove into the hole and scraped ferociously.  The deeper he dug, the wetter the soil, but it did not seem to Sasha that it was getting any warmer.  Soon the hole had filled with water and she strained against the sticky mud that was pulling Welly down into an unknown abyss.  They had not found the liquid hot center of the earth, but they had found the fountain of – Sasha wasn’t quite sure what – but she was certain it was magical.  So, she took a drink.  It tasted terrible.  She knew it!  It was magic.  If the water tasted good it couldn’t be magic because everyone would be trying it but if only the bravest people could stand to drink it, then of course it would be special.  Sasha crawled onto her stomach, leaned over the edge of the hole and began drinking from the puddle with great gulps.  She didn’t hear it at first until she noticed Welly looking toward their house, but there was a violent rapping coming from that direction.  Her mother loomed behind the window, scowling and shaking her head emphatically.  Sasha wiped the mud from her chin.  She didn’t understand how her brother and sisters could claim that their mother used to be fun because she definitely wasn’t anymore.  There would be no more drinking the potion.  She began to sail sticks and leaves in her magic pond, hoping they would sprout and grow into magnificent trees right before her eyes.  She thought about the magic that could be taking place in her and remembered learning about amoebas in Science class.  Sasha was positive that she had millions of tiny amoebas swimming about inside her body.  She didn’t entertain the idea that they would make her sick for a moment, even though that’s what her Science teacher had warned them about.  She decided that these were magical amoebas which would mutate her body and give her special powers.  Sasha lay back on the bristly grass and stretched her arms and legs wide, sinking into the sleeping blades.  She closed her eyes.  She wanted to make it as easy as possible for the amoebas to make the miraculous changes.

Her mother rapped on the window again and Sasha lifted her hand and waved to indicate she wasn’t dead.

“Has the transformation taken affect yet?”
That wasn’t her mother’s voice.  Sasha opened her eyes and lifted her head.  The man was across the playground on a swing.  He was very odd but she wasn’t sure why she thought so.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He smiled sheepishly, “Of course not.”
Sasha sat up and Welly positioned himself between them, shielding her.  She looked to her mother’s window but the sun was now high enough that the interior was dim.  Sasha always hated the rule that she wasn’t to talk to strangers because it seemed rude.  People liked to be talked to, she knew that much.  And she liked talking to people.
But, not this man.  She hoped for the heavy knocking on the window and the safety of her mother’s rules.
“Can I join in your game?”
“No, I’m sorry.  I’ve just finished playing.  There’s nothing left to do this morning but go have breakfast.”
“You would abandon me right after I’ve arrived?  When I’ve come all this way, just to see you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“Oh Sasha, I know you very well.”
She stood up, pointing accusingly at the man.  “Stranger!  Stranger!”
“No one will hear you.  They’re all too busy to notice.”
The man rose from the swing and walked toward Sasha and she became very scared indeed.  She tried to dash away from the man, but he grabbed the hood of her coat and dragged her back.  He looked down into her face.  He was dressed the same way her father always dressed for work.  His face was not old and not young, he was simply an adult.  His short orange hair was combed neatly.
“You don’t look like a kidnapper.”
“That is one of my favorite things about this world little Sasha.  People choose to see what they want to and ignore what is real.”
She struggled and pummeled the man in futility.  He smiled and yanked her across the courtyard.  She began to scream desperately for help.
The man paused and knelt on the ground in front of her, muddying his suit.
“Stop.”
She did.
“You are coming with me and you are going to be a good girl about it.”
“I am not!” She began screaming again.
“You will or I will be forced to kill your Mommy and your Daddy and your big brother and sisters.”
Sasha rolled her eyes.  “I’d like to see you try.”
The man with the orange hair frowned.  “Keep this up and I’ll show you.”
“How?”
“There is a bomb in the basement of your house.”
“Is not.”
“Yes, there is.”
“Impossible.  I would have heard it.  I have very good hearing.”
“You are a difficult child.  Didn’t your Mommy and Daddy teach you to listen to adults?”
“They never teach me much of anything but I know that all adults lie, all of the time.  My teacher from last year at school said she would miss me when I went to the next grade.  But that was a lie, she was glad to be rid of me.  She didn’t even remember my name when I walked by her class this year.  Nanny Margaret said she would always think of me as her own baby but that’s not true because she never came back.  You – all – lie.”
“Perhaps you are getting to be a little too old.”
Sasha put both of her arms into the air and dropped heavily to the ground and out of the coat that the orange haired man held in his grasp.  She dashed toward her house but when he cut her off, she swerved toward the woods and her fort.  He was much faster than she was but Welly ran around his legs, biting and tripping him up, despite the heavy kicks the dog was receiving.
She remembered what Welly and Brumby had taught her all of those times they’d played together – Welly may be faster, but if Brumby was in the lead and turned sharply and swerved all over, Welly would have quite a time catching him.  She tried not to think about the fact that Welly always caught Brumby in the end.
Sasha dodged this way and that, running toward the muddy areas and jumping over them as the stranger slipped.  She told herself this man was the worst kidnapper she’d ever heard of but secretly, she was terrified.  She dove into the tunnel she’d dug last summer and wedged the piece of metal she used as a door into the opening.  He was breathing on the other side but she didn’t feel afraid anymore.  Her mother would notice she was missing and she would come out looking for her, then the man would be caught and sent to prison for a million years.
“You are much different than they told me you would be.  I won’t waste your time with children’s games anymore.  You are obviously too grown up for that.  Sasha . . . there is someone who wants to meet you.  That is why I have come.  This person is very important to us and you in turn will be very important to them.  Everybody where I come from will love you and you will never, ever be ignored.”
Sasha pressed her back harder against the door and dug her heels into the dirt.  Her mother would call out to her any minute.  They didn’t forget her anymore.  Not since they’d gotten back from the country.
“She isn’t going to come.  I sent her something much too interesting in the mail.  She’s too busy to think of you Sasha.”
The man touched the other side of the door and it turned cold.  Ice radiated through the metal, entering Sasha’s bones and shaking her with fear and doubt.  She began to cry.  She wanted to be at home in her room but she didn’t think she’d ever see it again.  She wanted Welly but he wasn’t here.  He was out there, on the other side.  There hadn’t been time to wait for him to come into the fort.  Welly would never forget her . . . but her family . . . this man had been chasing her for so long and nobody had come.
“Can Welly come too?”
“Of course.”
“But I don’t want to go.”
“You don’t have a choice.  I have taken that from you.”
Sasha opened the door and stepped out into the cold.

NaNoWriMo Word Count for November 2: 2,139