Tuesday, April 15, 2008


It was three years ago this afternoon that my life changed. I'd been taking Wellbutrin to stop smoking and had traveled to Atlanta on a business trip when midway through our very first meeting the world as I knew it fell apart. Later, after many months, many doctors and tests, and many dollars, it was surmised that the Wellbutrin had rewired my brain and activated (or unmasked, depending on who's talking) a severe physiological anxiety disorder. From that point on I was unable to go to movies, couldn't stand loud music, was unable to read, lost all tolerance of warm weather, became terrified of travel and withdrew almost completely from society for the first several months I was sick. Gradually over the past three years I've worked hard at reintroducing myself to the life I once had. Many of you, who've been with me from the beginning will recall my Christmas request for Magic Feathers, a collection of talismans meant to see me safely home for the holidays. Through it all, of course, was my most loyal and effective treatment, Duncan, the dog who helped nurse me back to health and who daily reminds me what I'm living for.

Our walk this afternoon was special to me. I didn't want to focus on that day three years ago, but rather all the days since. I felt full of life, excited to be out with my best friend enjoying the world around us. It was well over 70˚ and the wind was quite strong but it didn't stop us. We walked down to the lake and the sight of that choppy water reflecting a thousand suns was spectacular. I stood on the hill looking down on the backside of the park and the water, stretched out my arms, closed my eyes and let the wind blow over me, warm and loud––the only sound I could hear––pushing against me, slapping my shirt and shorts against my skin. I was a skydiver on my feet, imagining myself hurtling through sunshine space with my dog at my side.

The anniversary was part of the walk only in that the world seemed sweeter today because of it. I remember the end of June that year because it had slipped past me without much notice. A friend had driven me to the doctor and on our way home I noticed the Russian Olive Trees had already bloomed and their buttery sweet fragrance had faded. I'd been trapped indoors, unable to concentrate only on not losing my grasp on sanity. I'd been so caught up in my own head that one of the highlights of my year had passed unnoticed. Anyone who knows me knows how much those Russian Olives mean to me, how I can pause in a walk or a drive and do nothing but tilt my head back and breath their scent like it's the only thing keeping me alive. Paula pulled the car over near an enormous tree and waited while I tried and tried to catch the faintest whiff of them, and when I didn't and began to weep she held my hand and drove me home in silence. Before I climbed out of the car I turned to her and said, "I will never miss them again. I refuse to spend another June trapped in my own head this way." And that's where I believe my recovery began and the seed for today's walk was planted. The spirit of those missed trees––my trees!––guided my eye with every step I took.

While most of the trees, not just the Russian Olives, are only just beginning to bud, the willows are filling in nicely. From a distance they look almost yellow, but up close they are spectacularly green against the blue of the sky.Up high, soon to be concealed by long tendrils, a woodpecker had plowed the gnarled drab bark of one willow with it's beak, revealing the sandy, bright grain beneath.
Basking on a rock near the bank of the brook that runs through Lilley Gulch I caught sight of a strange insect sunning itself on the warm, mottled surface. As I knelt and examined its bright yellow wings and rough body I realized it wasn't an insect at all but a seed pod fallen from one of the nearby trees or carried by the wind and set gently atop the stone like an infant released unharmed from the tornado that destroyed its home. I turned it over in my hand, rubbed my fingers across its course surface, watched bits of it flake away only to gasp as Duncan, impatient with me, leaned down and sucked it up, chewed once and swallowed. There, his eyes seemed to say. Can we go now?

Up on Pierce, quite near the high school, on a sidewalk I've walked a hundred times I noticed an ancient map of the old world peeling away from the back of a bus stop bench, tan bodies of land surrounded by vibrant green oceans lacking only the words, "Here be dragons."There were willows along the road, tall and gold with small black birds perched delicately on their points, the red tips at their wings brilliant under the sun. There was the call of some bird of bug which sounded like a screen door squeaking open and closed echoing across the greenway. There were the shadows dancing all along the sidewalk as we passed beneath the trees. But my favorite shadow of all was the shadow Duncan and I cast, walking together, anniversary or no anniversary, the most important detail of the walk.


duncan's internet friend said...

Excellent. Glad you are where you are.

Lori said...

I understand a little about anxiety... nowhere near as deeply as you do, but some. I'm glad you made it through, because it is a lonely journey. You have to find strength in yourself. Friends help, but they have their own lives to maintain. Nothing, though, surpasses the complete, unwaivering support of a dog like Duncan. I know. Glad you're here with us NOW.

lizh said...

What a beautiful post..it instantly touched upon a myriad of emotion..
I'm glad you've found life again..and with Duncan's love, you didn't have to 'look' alone.
Thanks for sharing this personal experience

Curt Rogers said...

Thanks! It's been an amazing journey and changed my relationship with Duncan completely. Prior to the anxiety he'd been my dog. Because of where we've been and what we've gone through together, he's now my best friend. I never understood what that meant until then.