Simple, Spiritual, Outdated Living in a Vintage New England Home on the Southern Coast of Maine

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Eulogy for Tiny Tim: The Spiritual Lessons of Abuse and Overcoming

Prompted by a "calling" that came without any explanation, I picked up the phone and dialed (literally since I still use rotaries) the local shelter early in December 2013. I asked if they had any elderly or hard luck guinea pigs.

"As a matter of fact I have just the pig for you."

He was in need of a foster home. His background, quoted directly from his intake papers:

"G. Pig surrendered in last 24 hours with history of child in home rough-housing with animal."

When he was brought into the shelter he was laying on his side, the position he had been in for days. At the time an inner ear infection was suspected which could create vertigo and loss of balance. Because he had been left untreated and unattended, he suffered loss of vision in his eye due to his cornea getting scratched from laying in his bedding. The mother asked if he gets better at the shelter, can she come back and get him? (NO!)

They brought me to see him in a separate building for special needs animals. He was able to stand now, but he whimpered as he walked, and walking was still difficult due to his vertigo. He was thin, wouldn't eat any fresh fruit or veggies, and was on heavy duty antibiotics. Most notably he seemed understandably depressed.

I was overcome with some very strong emotions, mostly anger. How could someone permit this to happen? How could an adult not seek appropriate care? I told the shelter I needed to talk to my (now ex) husband that evening about fostering. His response? "Hell yeah!" The next morning we went to fill out the paperwork and brought the patient home.

When he wasn't huddling in the corner where he could keep his head steady, he struggled to eat or walk. His head went to the left, then right. Left, right, left like he was watching a tennis match. My ex made him a little pillow out of a sock so that he could lean his head on something soft to stop it from moving while he tried to eat.

I spent a lot of time apologizing to Timmy for what had happened to him. I cried. I kissed him all over throughout the day. I hand fed him with a syringe. I had his medication adjusted because it had been too strong and then took him off of it while giving him probiotics. His poor little stomach was upset from the heavy antibiotics. The good news was that our vet said after his exam that neural pathways can redevelop, so that if he had sustained brain damage from his ear infection he could still learn to walk without falling.

It was only after a few days that we decided to adopt him and be his forever home. I officially changed his name to Tiny Tim at that time.

Over the next few weeks the dullness left his one good eye gave way to a healthy twinkle. One morning he began to run around his cage and when he fell over a couple of times he got right back up! I laughed and laughed and that seemed to encourage him. Timmy's walking and balance began to improve daily. He developed a very healthy appetite albeit discriminating aka foodie. I trained Timmy, once unable to stand up without falling, to spin on command!

About eight months later we had take Timmy to the vet because his blind eye was leaking a great deal of mucous and he was also sneezing some of it out of his nose. He was placed on antibiotics again which were still very hard on his digestive system. During that time I hand fed him since he'd stop eating on his own. After his course of treatment he was no longer sneezing but his eye discharge continued. We made an appointment with the only veterinary Ophthalmologist in Maine. I wasn't prepared for what his exam revealed.

His diagnosis and prognosis was heartbreaking and shocking. It's not for the squeamish so skip over it if graphic animal abuse is too much to read.

In summary, as the result of his abuse, the least of it was that he would need his eye cleaned and moisturized 2-3 times a day for the rest of his life. The devastating part was that he would have ongoing infections needing antibiotics. The bacteria becomes resistant over time with repeated use, and his stomach could only handle so much. Unless he had experimental surgery in a Boston hospital (for which we'd have to find willing participants), a procedure he would not likely survive due to heavy blood loss, his quality of life would be poor and shortened.

His "good" eye
Although not on the official paperwork, she suggested that I consider euthanasia. 

My regular blog readers know that Timmy went on to live another 2 1/2 years after that for a total of three years and four Christmases with me. He did have repeated infections that first year or so, and he became resistant to two different antibiotics. Then I had a brainstorm. I noticed he seemed to do better during the very dry winter. Maybe if I always kept the air dry it would help dry out the bacteria-prone discharge in his head. I bought a humidity monitor and we placed a dehumidifier near his cage for the times we needed it. It worked!

My ex-husband, his "Pop Pop," still visited with him weekly.

Wayne and Timmy bonded nightly on the floor for guy's TV time (sports, etc.)

He went from an abusive "home" to having two dads and a mom who spoiled him throughout the day. Because I work from home I was able to spend a lot of time with him. He did more for me than I could ever do for him.

What Timmy taught me:

To be open to love from others after being abused by those whom were supposed to love and protect you.

Cruel indifference can not be understood and to contemplate it takes away from the loving energy needed to sustain healing from abuse.

Looking at life from your "good eye," in Timmy's case literally but also metaphorically, your perspective is brighter.

What's normal for you can become your new normal. You don't need to compare.

Focusing on what's good and lovely does not equate denial. Timmy lived with the physically damaging effects of his abuse for the rest of his life. The key word is lived. He wasn't simply surviving.

Animal shelters are lifesaving. It's imperative that we support them in any way we can.

I hope Timmy's life and lessons have touched you in some way. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blog Lurkers

Only a very small percentage of my blog readers will leave a comment. I am trying to figure out why some people never want to engage, even anonymously. Sometimes it's disheartening. I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Feeling Grateful for Those Who Serve God and Our Country

Patriotic art I scanned in 2003 from an authentic WWI poster by Howard Chandler Christy

I wrote the following essay in 2002 and decided to share it here with all of you:

We were stationed in Jacksonville, NC and living about five miles from Campe Lejeune. My Marine had been sent to Idaho with other troops to help put out wildfires. We had lived there less than two months and already moved twice, having first lived in a motel, then a rental house but had to sue the landlord over serious and numerous code violations who would not fix them nor would he let us out of our lease, then slept on cots in our third house for the first week because the military sponsored moving truck was three weeks late. 

Outside of our home the air was seemingly white from the intense late summer heat but I would takes walks anyway. Snakes slithered in our yard. Nearby wooded areas smelled musty and I witnessed “dust devils” wreck havoc with a nearby dry field. At one house, a stressed Marine often hollered as a baby cried. A few houses past us a Doberman fiercely barked and growled at me, jumping on the metal fence. As often happened, the weather changed without any hints or a heads up. Frequent blue sky cloud bursts further dampened my spirits.

My neighbors were very friendly but invitations were limited to boozy MLM parties. As someone who is dry it wasn’t an option for me.

While on base one morning I sparked up a conversation with a receptionist where I had an appointment. She seemed like a very nice person and I was thinking of asking her if she wanted to get together sometime. But then this:

“What is your husband’s rank?” she asked. Such a rank question, I thought.

I answered.

“Oh, well I’m not sure if anyone told you this yet since you’re still pretty new here, but you do know that although I can go to your beaches, you can’t go to mine.”

I was incredulous. Not because of the segregation of enlisted and Officer's beaches, but that she felt the need to bring it up. 

Sometimes I'd drive around town to find glimmers of inspiration. Hourly rate motels with shirtless Marines smoking cigarettes leaning over banisters depressed me. Apple "cider" at the local bookstore cafe turned out to be powdered mix unlike the fresh cider I was accustomed to back home in new England. Seedy strip club billboards felt like bullies.

Then came the “birds.” The Osprey. They constantly flew so low over our house that I thought I could jump up to hitch a ride to base.  Pictures inside my house constantly needed readjusting as the vibrations made them off center.
One night in 2000 an osprey crashed and killed four Marines aboard, may they rest in peace. 

When aircraft wasn't overhead I could hear the ordnance. The explosions didn't happen at any specific time of day. Sometimes they ushered in midnight.

Sleep, something with which I've struggled anyway, became even more foreign to me. I had gone over 48 hours without sleep. I drove to the base hospital and went through admissions.

"Last four?"

I gave the clerk the last four digits of The Marine's social, which is what you are when married to the military.

"Wife number?"


"What spouse number are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Has the Marine had any other wives?"

"Huh? No. Well has he?" I tried to peer over at the computer screen to see what he was looking at, and paranoia set in even though I was told it was a standard question.

I took a number and sat in the waiting room listening to kids fidget in their chairs and eat candy. Finally I was called in and went into a curtained off area where a woman next to me was screaming. It was hard to hear. Two women came in to talk to me, and asked me what was going on. I started crying. "I can't sleep. I miss my husband. I need to sleep. Can you help me?"

"Are you a newlywed?"

"About two years."

"Oh, well let me tell you, I've been married for a while and I'm glad when my husband is gone."

The other woman added her thoughts.

"What you need is to go out and get some ice cream and drink some wine. Get a manicure."

At that point my sense of humor bravely came back, but secretly. Everything suddenly became absurd. I politely listened to their advice and did get a script for something I took only once.

Driving back to my house I thought about how I just couldn't do this life. At that very moment is when I started seeing the "Welcome home!" sheets hung along the highway. "We missed you daddy! Welcome home SGT Jones!" and months of anguish were painted on white sheets blowing in the humid wind. I started crying again, only this time for the realization that the men, women and children who live this life will always have my profound respect, even if I'd never want to hang out with some of them or they, me. I thought of how much these families go through and how little we'd hear about their sacrifices. This was in 2000, before the war against terror.

I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in prayer and a Higher Authority. I needed some help from that arena, not wine bottles and sugary sundaes.

I met with the base Chaplain. I began to unload. I didn’t hold back as I expressed every horrible thought I had about some of the other wives I had met, Jacksonville, the Marine Corps, and how I felt like I was being elitist. I said I felt like a bad Marine wife. Unpatriotic. I expected a sermon on how I needed humility and to keep an open mind. Instead I got:

"Kind of like the Stepford Wives here sometimes, huh?"

He had my attention. He continued.

"I can see how it would be frustrating. Not a lot of outlets for someone like you."

Then he looked right at me.

"You don't need to beat yourself up to make other people feel better. Simply help bring them up to speed or let go."

Thank you,
Cdr. Jerome Dillon, servicemembers, past and present, and families, for your service.