Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dollars, dogs, and dinner doldrums

Seventeen years and almost $200,000 in and God, do I still have a lot to learn. My life thus far has been spent acquiring knowledge, yet the most valuable information I've come across in all this time doesn't cost $50,000 a year. I would say it's free, but there's almost always a suggested donation to the universe, be it frustration, permanent scars from cat claws, or little chunks of dignity I'll never reclaim (cut to me flat on my back on an icy sidewalk, Sport giving me a quizzical look of "what'cha doing down there?", and me looking around to make sure no one saw as I learn the hard way to make note of which neighbors boycott sidewalk salt). A few tidbits I've gleaned from such lessons:
As long as you have a stockpile of dried legumes in the pantry, you can survive on less than $30 of groceries a week.
On a not totally unrelated note, potatoes and Brussels sprouts do, in fact, present fewer culinary options (even with considerable creativity) than the number of nights a $30 food budget necessitates they be consumed.
Having a wallet tighter than a 90s TaeBo instructor's butt helps when you have a heart more open than Kim Kardashian's legs (... have I been drinking without realizing it? The metaphors are dirtier than the bathroom in a girls' dorm tonight). The homeless, neglected senior dog you selflessly welcomed into your life seems to think that vet bills, expensive food, and medications that cost half your weekly salary (and temper tantrums that involve biting passing joggers) demonstrate gratitude and constitute proper repayment for your kindness.
Money is not all it's cracked up to be, especially when it can be traded in for things like a pain-free dog and the rare indulgence of an enormous block of overpriced yet obscenely delicious imported sheep's milk cheese (which, incidentally, crumbled liberally over tonight's potatoes and Brussels sprouts, made them just a little bit more bearable).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Season Premier

I’ve been sitting on this entry since December 22 (and man,  is my butt sore – ba-dum ch!), when I wrote it waiting for my plane back to New Hampshire for winter break, my first time back with my family since July. I put off posting it because once I arrived, it no longer felt right. My expectations and reality clashed like cotton tube socks and Birkenstock sandals. With every intention of presenting it to the world with a brilliant, witty, and insightful “here’s what really happened” epilogue, my meager two weeks passed without a single quip or parenthetical remark; with so little time to spend with my family, I endeavored to spend every last moment with them, neglecting my duties to my adoring public. Upon returning to the Great North and classes, spare time proved scarce, the words to express my emotions lacking, and the state of mind to commit my mental state to paper completely absent. On this snowy Saturday night, on call until 8 am and with nothing to avoid except studying, I finally re-opened the long-neglected word document sitting on my desktop and set to work. So, without further ado, here is the epic two-part season premiere of Chomp.

Frantically tearing through the piles of laundry (they’re at least clean piles now), flinging sweaters and pajamas about, I attempted to pare down my wardrobe selection to bring home (a necessity, as the zipper on my suitcase bulged ominously, about to burst open like a fat man’s pants after the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local Chinese joint). I realized that almost every article of clothing bore some very special adornment that had been absent from my life for too long until recently: dog hair. Smiling, I looked around my room and realized that everything indeed had a light covering of grey and white fur, like a dusting of snow after a flurry (even as I type this at the airport, I’m swiping errant hairs from the keyboard). All is once again right with the world.
But will all be well on the home-front upon my return? My dog Hannah stares at me from my desktop image with her characteristic pout – what will her gaze hold when I see her for the first time in over six months? Excitement? Resentment? Apathy? Knowing her, the last option is the most probable, as befits the Princesse (I write it as such to emphasize that she prefers her title be pronounced in dramatic fashion, with the accent on the second syllable). Since snottiness is what I left behind (she wouldn’t even spare me a passing glance when I said goodbye), I would be happy to return to her familiar ways. Being deep down (sometimes a little too deep down) my faithful and loving dog, I know can depend on her to be the same prissy-pants she was before and welcome me back to a familiar home. Even if Hannah will never change, so much else has. How will it feel to return to my childhood home (for it now truly must bear that modifier), the one place that remains idyllically stagnant in every human’s heart as an unsullied and secure haven, to find that it no longer resembles the version in my mind’s eye?
It’ll hurt, to be sure, to see that the Earth continued to turn without me, that the people and places I left do not, in fact, require my presence to function. My excitement at going home is tempered by my knowledge that Mom and Dad have found other endeavors, other hobbies, and other ways of living that don’t involve me (horror of horrors! Parents aren’t allowed to have lives independent of their children!).  I almost don’t want to visit the animal hospital where I worked to discover that the role I carved out for myself over four years has been usurped all too easily by someone new.  Even my physical place has been repurposed and reoccupied; a leaky water heater prompted the stripping of my bedroom and conversion into an office.
When I said that all is right with the world, I referred to the St. Paul world, the vet school world, the me-on-my-own world, where, especially since Sport’s arrival, I have truly felt at home. While this is a natural and wonderful evolution, it has split my life between two places which seem to me now completely independent of each other. But which world is home now? I know the answer without hesitation. How will my family and my dogs feel now that I have essentially found alternatives? I guess the whole “world turning without me” scenario goes both ways.
Things at home have changed. For me, home itself has changed. But I suppose it’s only fair, as one variable in this whole equation has changed more than any other: me.


So you see, the problem with the above entry is this: within moments of departing the airport in the car with my parents, they began to bicker about the senseless directives spewing from the GPS. “Just like I never left,” I thought, at once basking in a warm glow of nostalgic familiarity and wondering when my plane back took off. As the days progressed, it became apparent that nothing had changed. For six months, my world had been spinning like a whirling dervish hopped up on meth, so the normal pace of the rest of the universe created the illusion that it had stood still all that time. As a stream merges with the river from which it originally branched, I melded back into the daily (dys)functioning of the Thibodeau household. With the speed of the aforementioned dervish’s pet gerbil who uncovered his stash, my conviction that St. Paul is the greatest city in the world and that I would stay forever and ever and never look back vanished, replaced by a sense of belonging more deep and primal than the one I feel with the veterinary world and my new home.
All too soon, the GPS once again spat out robotic directions while I sat in the back seat of Dad’s car, ruminating about why my feet were lead blocks as I left the house until next summer.  The last time I left, bound for Minnesota, everything in my future was new and full of promise. Now, the novelty of independence, responsibility, a new school, and a new home had worn off. I closed my eyes against the reality that had been slowly seeping in over the past two weeks: no home can replace your first home, the one with your family. Just to torture me, my mind projected images on the insides of my eyelids: the cold, dark, wood-paneled room to which I was returning, the house empty except for an often-absent roommate with whom relations are coolly cordial and nothing more, a life empty save for work and chores. Incapacitated by the stab of loneliness and child-like longing for Mom and Dad, brother and dogs, and all the “little things” of our shared life as a family, I spent the first few days back in St. Paul with leaky eyes, hiccupping breath, and bleak thoughts. The stabbing has diminished to an ache, but its intensity has not abated. School provides a welcome distraction and escape from a solitary world populated only by myself, my dog, and my piles of laundry. The dreams, like fantastical hot air balloons, that carried me here on the winds of excitement and promise are quickly becoming reality. Unfortunately, that means the balloons have been sullied by the smog of pessimism in the atmosphere and weighted down by the ballast of monstrous debt, an enormous work load, and the prospect of a difficult professional life, lonely personal life, and little to no hope for profitable employment upon graduation.
Forgive me for the bleak picture I paint. I hope that in the days to come, my canvas will seem less gray and the colors on my palate more vibrant, that I can recapture my former enthusiasm and sketch out a more optimistic future. Perhaps if I remind myself why, ultimately, I’m currently sitting alone (save for an elderly collie) in a basement in Minnesota, hunched over a laptop, neglected neurobiology notes laid out beside me … If I close my eyes, I can summon the image of the ICU doctor from this afternoon who had a radiant look as she thanked me for coming in during a snow storm to run bloodwork on her patient. Holding a critically ill, old, mangy cat covered in its own urine and actively trying to die just to spite the doctors and technicians working their butts off to prevent this eventuality, how could she have the expression of an eight-year-old given let loose in the cereal and cookies aisle of the grocery store with his mother’s blessing to fill the cart as he pleased? I know why. I’ve felt why. That I can imagine being, and have been before, in such a situation and yet in my element, content, and fulfilled tells me that I’m exactly where I belong. Even though the sheen has been worn off my previously dream-like aspirations of a life as a veterinarian, my future holds plenty of experiences that will polish them off and let my passion and happiness shine again.

A (not so) quick note, I keep hearing (from my mother, of all people - how embarrassing) how people just love your blog!. When I hear from friends an off-hand remark about something I've said here, I'm always shocked that someone actually reads this self-centered, wordy, pretentious drivel. To tell the truth, I have no idea who reads this little chronicle, other than my female relatives for whom it was originally intended to shut them up about keeping in touch. Perhaps it's because there is a dearth of comments (again, other than my mother and aunts). Here's where I request that you all repay me for whatever modicum of amusement and passing diversion you derive from my hours of hard work by stroking my ego a bit and leaving a few remarks in the comments. In all seriousness, I would love to hear from the people who read this, what you think of my self-pity, melodramatic ramblings, and writing style. Perhaps you, like my aunts, just can't figure out the comment system on this server? Just click on the "0 comments" hyperlink and click "add a comment". You can be anonymous; it's not necessary to register with the site. Even if you remain a silent lurker, I sincerely thank you for reading and supporting me, even silently, in all my foibles and adventures.