July 10, 2012: Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Saint Paul. Today, I depart from that same city to return whence I came: my homeland of suburbs, used car lots, and strip malls. Back to the house where there are only two ways to answer the question “What’s for dinner”: chicken or burgers (or sometimes all of the above) instead of tofu and mushrooms or squash and cocoa powder. Much as I grew to resent the over-worked propane grill when it burned away on the back porch each summer night (and often through the winter, a path shoveled around it from the back door), I grow nostalgic every time I smell a backyard cookout. Strange as it may seem, the smell of sizzling hamburger over an open flame will forever evoke images of my mother, so many sentimental memories of countless family dinners gone by. Detestable though beef may be to eat, I cherish the aroma because nothing else makes my family so present when fifteen hundred miles separate us.
That paragraph entirely ruins the continuity of this entry, but after several attempts to remove it, I decided it would stay, incongruity and all. Why? Because I said so. Now I have to think of a clever segue to get back on track to my originally intended theme and structure. Oh, screw it, let’s just plunk it down on the page! Go for broke, live a little! Throw caution and good style to the wind (which, ironically, happens to carry a lovely aroma of barbecuing today). Here follows the Chomp equivalent of the sitcom flashback montage episode for the past year:
Night one on my own: a roaring thunderstorm welcomes me to Minnesota. A leaky window in my bedroom welcomes me to my new home by letting in streams of water down the inside of the glass, flooding the sill. I’m glad I’m alone, otherwise I would have to endure sarcastic snickers about my (ineffectual) attempts to stop the deluge with duct tape and beach towels.
Every Saturday morning, just before sunrise: I’m the first customer at the farmer’s market. I snatch up all the organic produce my puny noodle arms can carry before the other regulars (a voracious pack of little old biddies hot on my tail) can get their gnarled old talons on it. Upon arriving home with my load of goodies, I suddenly miss my father terribly; only he could possibly arrange all this food to fit in the refrigerator. I know that if he were here he would, just because he loves me, even devise a way to keep my cauliflower from coming in contact with my roommate’s open containers of raw meat. Alas, wishing him present will not make it so, and I have to wrack my spatially challenged brain for a way to keep my beets away from her beef.
Vet school, day one: they throw us to the cows. Bessie is feeling a little friendly and wants to cuddle with me … by leaning against me and pinning me between her half ton body and the metal bar behind me. My kidneys will never be the same.
Night one: My foster kittens throw me to the dogs. I get no sleep as all attempts to imprison them in the bathroom fail. I construct (and reconstruct every time they escape) a kitty prison from jerry-rigged cardboard boxes, a dog kennel, and sheets of drywall held tenuously together with duct tape. Alcatraz security would have been no match for those feline fiends.
My first night shift at work: a horse crossmatch! The most dreaded of all tests! A phone number mixup while on call, even worse. A panic attack and full day of misery later, I’m doubting I’ll survive a full month in this job before succumbing to the agonizing anxiety it induces and dying from a perforated stomach ulcer.
November 12: After plenty of drama, confusion, and phone calls, and months of stalking dog rescue websites daily (or multiple times daily, if biochemistry lectures were particularly painful) come to fruition. I drive halfway across Wisconsin to Humboldt Cheese Factory (a landmark readily identifiable by the giant cartoon mouse adorning the sign, visible from the highway) and meet my new dog. Damn, he is one ugly duckling! But as I scratch his head for the first time, he huffs out his cheeks and wiggles his scrawny, filfthy butt. I’m in love. Despite the shaved body covered in a film of grime, the bloodshot eyes, and the pink camouflage collar he wears, I’m smitten. I nearly perish from the stench of his nervous flatulence on the four hour ride home, but if I had, I would have died happy.
That night, the night my parents will ever remember as The Phone Call: I’m in the icy grip of a panic attack. What have I done? I’m not ready for this. I’m going to be a terrible mother. What if he doesn’t love me? Or worse, what if I don’t love him? I sob out my anxieties over the phone to a mercifully level-headed father. Sport looks at me from the spot that will become his designated 2/3 of the bed (yes, I only get 1/3) ambivalently, intensifying my fears of our failure to bond.
Thanksgiving: In the spirit of the holiday, I selflessly share a few pumpkins from my squash stash with others. This is truly a first. The resulting pumpkin pie is not nearly as impressive as the mess left behind in the wake of its creation. Even I am impressed with the level of kitchen carnage in the aftermath of making stuffing and pumpkin pie from absolute scratch. My dinner companions see only the final result, which is not nearly as impressive, but delicious nonetheless. We are lucky to be able to taste it at all; the sole man in the group had taken up a task beyond his culinary abilities and had incorporated three entire heads of garlic into his stuffing. After one bite and some very interesting facial expressions, we explain to him that clove is not another term for head.
December 21: Can it really be? Did I just finish an entire semester of vet school? As I click “submit” on my computerized radiology final (still wondering whether #12 was a spleen or a figment of my imagination, though I’m not convinced that those two things aren’t one in the same on abdominal radiographs), I leave the building feeling like I’ll be back the next morning. But I won’t. I’ll be home. Home, I think wistfully. Finally. But first, I must complete the novel that is my instruction letter to the dogsitter. I’m not a nervous parent leaving their baby for the first time at all. She tries not to laugh at me when I hand it to her, if only because she can see how anxious I am. I say goodbye to Sport at least four separate times before loading him into her car, and once more as they drive off. Sport says goodbye only once, as he realizes that the new lady probably has better treats than I do (incidentally, my dog does not share my love of cauliflower and tofu and turns up his nose when scraps of my dinner fall to the floor).
December 22: After six long months, I’m home. After being enthusiastically greeted by some of my dogs (and spitefully ignored after my prolonged absence by certain others, ahem, Miss Hannah) all I can think is: the kitchen looks weird. Did it always seem so … I don’t know, bare? The whole house seems like a dream version of my home – the same, but subtly different, not quite real or right. Only one thing assures me that this is no alternate universe or a dream: the toilet has not been cleaned since last I saw it.
January 7: I cry as a hug my dad and brother at the airport entrance. I can’t bear to think of going back to my basement cave, the dark, wood paneled prison where I spend my days alone and lonely save for a sympathetic elderly collie. I never want to leave my family again. Let me stay a child forever! On the plane, I calm myself and realize that I will get back into the groove of being independent and will happily settle back in once I arrive home.
January 8: I was wrong. This place shrivels my soul. I cry for hours. Sport gives me a look that says, “Get over yourself.”
The remainder of January through May: Autopilot, with maybe a few adventures and foibles thrown in here and there. Househunting, jobhunting, coming up empty-handed on both accounts.
May 22: Well I’ll be damned, we made it out alive! My class arrived as excited, intimidated strangers, lowly first years. Today we depart the classroom where we spent thousands of hours in captivity as a family, hardened by months of exams and stress, enlightened by far too much information, and bonded by some indescribable substance that cements together people who make it through trauma (or perhaps it was the formaldehyde-laced goo that coated every surface of the anatomy lab and our nasal passages).
May 31: My parents arrive to help me move into a new apartment. I feel at home before I even unpack. I don’t need intuition or a sixth sense to know that this is not just my house, but my home (and a perfect match); Nature herself tells me as an albino squirrel skitters around the tree outside my kitchen window. My mother creatively dubs him Whitey.
This Sunday, my 1,872nd shift at work (or so it seemed at the time): I find the most stunning monocytes I’ve ever seen while reading a CBC. I almost go to the ER to meet this dog and his owners just so I could tell them that their dog has absolutely gorgeous white blood cells. After a brief thought to how creepy that would sound to anyone not certifiable as a laboratory nerd, I reconsidered (but I still took pictures through the microscope and set them as my desktop background. I’m planning on having them printed and framed to hang in the living room. I think this deserves a tag of #vetschoolnerd).
July 31: I finally get around to editing this post. The first paragraph still irks me, but I like it so much that I feel it has to be included. I feel somewhat egotistical as I smile at my own words, but decide to enjoy my own writing and indulge in my self-perceived genius. As if hearing my thoughts, Sport lets out an amused and rather sarcastic-sounding snort in his sleep, pointedly directed at me and my ridiculousness. That’s my boy.