A Long Overdue Hello. / Gold.

It’s really been 1.5 years.

1.5 years. 

This post won’t serve as a 18 month catch up, or some think-piece about how my final days in college have changed me.  As you can tell by my lack of posting, it’s hard for me to come across a good blog idea with my current work load.  If I ever do make a post like that, you’ll probably see it in 2020.

Just kidding.

But am I?

What this post does do, is say hello.

A quick catch up: 

  1. I’m in my final semester of college.  I graduate on December 16th. (What the fuck?)
  2. I have a pending manuscript within the lab I work at, where I am a primary author.  Yes, primary author.  (I truly don’t know how I got to this point.)
  3. I moved in with my boyfriend.  (Our apartment is super gay and we have two cats.  Future blog post?)

All these points could make blog posts in the coming months.  And hey, maybe I’ll actually get to it.  But, in reality, what you should really expect, is what comes from my writing Capstone course, Writing 420.

Yes, it’s Writing 420.  I don’t know how they decided on the number 420.  There are only two “Writing” courses at the university:  Writing 220 (the Intro course) and Writing 420 (The Capstone course).  They literally could have picked any number.   Are they trying to say something?  I mean they have Cottage Inn Pizza (and a lot of it) at all the Minor in Writing events… is everyone in the department constantly blazed?  God, I hope so.

Anyway.

As some of you may know, I’m getting a lovely minor in writing through the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan.  (Just rolls off the tongue, right?)  Because of this, I have to produce not just a website, but a product website.  What this means, is my website cannot be like my Gateway Website, which is very me-focused.  While I can be a part of the website, it’s supposed to serve some greater purpose.  It is supposed to exist on its own as a functioning part of the real world.  (Whatever the fuck that means.)

Also if you haven’t read my Gateway website, you should!  I wrote a 28 page fictional story about two gay guys in high school.   (That’ll keep you out of my Tumblr messages and Twitter DMs for at least a few days.)

Anyway.

My product is going to be a tool for microbiome researchers to process data.  It’s a little hard to explain (ANOTHER BLOG POST?!), but when my website goes live, I’ll post about it on here.  (Explain some news around November/December).

While the microbiome website won’t be as interesting as my usual content, I’ve found some excuses to be sassy.  My website will be able to create nine different types of classic microbiome figures.  Think:  bar graphs, pie charts, exponential plots.  Alongside these “figure makers”, I’m going to write some creative essays to accompany each type of figure.  They’ll teach you about that type of data but relate it back to my own life.  What do I mean by this?  While here are some examples/sneak peeks:

  1. Relative Abundance Plots.  AKA what different bacteria make up a given microbiome?  I’ll explain this figure in simple terms and then switch to talking about what things make up me?  What different things (e.g. traumas, interests, memories) are major components in my own identity?  
  2. PCoA Plots.  AKA how do two different microbiomes relate to each other, are they similar or different?  It’s basically plots two microbiomes on an XY plane.  If they cluster together, they’re the same.  If they cluster apart, they’re different.  (Don’t focus on understanding it yet.)  I’ll switch to talking about How have I changed since moving from Negaunee, MI to Ann Arbor, MI for college?  Do I still relate to the high school version of me?  What ways am I the same?  What ways am I different?  Would I even recognize myself?

In addition to these essays, I’m going to post an essay right now, right here that I wrote Junior year in my English 325 class, Art of the Essay.  (Fantastic class, by the way.)  I reflect on struggling with the lost of my first dog, Molly, which happened while I was taking the class.

So.

Expect some things soon.

Here goes nothing.

I’m going to post it without reading it, without editing it, without changing it.

Let me know what you think.


 


Zachary Carlson

English 325

Louis Cicciarelli

18 April 2017

 

Gold

She was gold.

Was.

I think that’s what hurts the most, was.  Permanently trapped in the past, she is unobtainable in the worst possible way.  

 

She died at 14, like most dogs, which wasn’t surprising. What was was her vitality, her desire to live, run, play, eat, bark.  She was a cancer survivor, had a baseball-sized mass on her chest, and was 20 pounds too big. But that was all meaningless to her. To her, all that mattered was when she was getting her next bowl of food and when she could go outside to smell the fresh, unforgiving, Northern Michigan air.

But that’s all speculation; she was a dog after all. The disconnect between species both brought us together and shattered the connection we had.

 

A bark.

Food?  Outside?  Water? Play?

There was no way to decipher the sound and its meaning, so an endless game of guess-and-test dominated my life since I was seven.

 

She was a golden retriever.

Her name was Molly.

And she was most definitely gold.

 

&

 

I don’t know the specifics, I don’t know how, all I know is I’m on my way to a house to pick out a dog.  A dog.  I’m in second grade, with my best friend Luke, and I’m about to own a dog.  In between my incessant questions of “Are we there yet?” I imagine all the things we’ll do:  play fetch, run around in the creek behind my new house in the woods, and play tug-of-war with toys.  Lots and lots of toys.  My small, first grade mind – immune to the understanding of time – suddenly finds itself surrounded by puppies.  Overwhelmed, I can’t decide which one to pick up. My mom comes over, sees my hesitation, and points to a small golden retriever lounging under a chair.  

“Why not get that one, sweetie?” She guides me to the puppy.  “Isn’t she soft!”

Without realizing it, a smile creeps onto my face and I start giggling.  All at once, the barrier, the hesitation, the fear shatters and I reach to touch her.  She is unbelievably soft and will not stop licking my face.  Oddly enough, I love it.  I scream with delight and I become absorbed in this small puppy’s presence.  I cannot remember a time before this dog and all I know is that I want it. This tiny ball of energy is the missing puzzle piece I didn’t even know I had lost.

&

Five seconds pass before she pushes me again to leave. Her voice is tense, a little annoyed.  “Zachary, go get your sister.”  

My mom is relentless.  Since I got my license on my 16th birthday a few months ago, she’s made me drive everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.

I overcome the static friction gluing me to the couch, get up, and reluctantly get in the car.

It’s 9:00pm and I just want to play Mass Effect 3.

The second I step outside, I knew I made a mistake:  snow dominates my entire field of vision. All I can see is cold, harsh, white, balls of fury, plummeting towards me, daring me to even attempt to drive through it.  I guess this is how I die.

With my thin jacket and pissy attitude, I get into my 2007 Envoy.  (A terrible excuse for a car that is even worse on gas.) Ironically enough, the only reason this monstrosity is in our garage is because of the fact it has all-wheel drive and we live on a dirt road in the middle of the woods; yet, somehow I broke the all-wheel drive the previous fall.  Nevertheless, I buckle my seatbelt and hope to get to the ice rink five miles away before I die from hypothermia.

Slowly but surely, I get to the CR-510.  From there, I am feet from Midway Drive, which will bring me directly to US-41, also known as a snow-free road.  Drowning in anticipation, I fail to register the brown blob of fur on the left side of the road and I go over a bump.  

Suddenly, it clicks:  I just hit a deer.

“Oh!” The surprise in my surprised reaction is embarrassingly unconvincing.

Immediately, I laugh and start orchestrating a tweet, knowing this quirky, yet fun moment in my crazy life will be sure to get at least 12 favorites.  I play with “I just hit a deer and I’ve had my license for one year, wtf Mother Nature, I thought you were on my side” but it doesn’t feel right.  

This is where things get serious.  I had assumed the deer had just graced the car and the damage was trivial, but something was nagging at me.  One mile from my sister, I pull over and check on the car. My heart drops; the right tail light is completely smashed and a piece of metal is dangling dangerously close to the tire.  There’s no way I could drive the car safely.

My quirky moment turns into an annoyance and later an inconvenience.  

I call my mom and she picks me up, equally annoyed.  

She asks where the deer came out, I tell her, and we stop to get a piece of the car with some animal fur in it, so our insurance will cover the repairs.  Also our curiosity got the best of us and we went to see if the deer was anywhere nearby.

It was still there.  Dead.

I feel nothing.  Not necessarily numbness, but nothing.  Neutral. Unfazed. I don’t feel upset, or satisfied, I just see a dead deer.  I get back into the car, we go home, and I am greeted enthusiastically by my three dogs.

Right then and there I realized something, when I first hit the deer, I didn’t even check on them, I just kept driving.  What if I had hit a dog? Would I have acted the same way? I look at my dogs. Do they know I just hit a deer and kept driving?  I note the similarities between dogs and deer.  What really separates them into different categories, the fact we gave the dogs individual names?

&

When we brought Molly home for the first time, she immediately declared that she owned the place.  Prior to her arrival, we placed small wooden boards in the doorways to contain her to one hallway. She jumped over the small boards without even thinking and exited the hallway immediately.  (Clearly, we had never owned a dog before.)

 

The Beliefs Of The Modern Golden Retriever #1:

Never stop moving.  If you do, you will die.

 

Moving almost too fast to see, she didn’t wait for us to catch up.  Only after investigating every single square inch of her “confined” space did she relax and let us see her, let us see what we let loose in our newly built home.  

She was perfectly sized, soft, and gold.  The color was comforting, it felt safe and familiar.  Her aura completely changed the house: while it was dark and vast before, after her arrival, the house was bursting with life.  Juxtaposed up against the bare, white walls, her gold fur was borderline offensive. She made the house feel like it was breathing.  My three-year-old sister was crying, she had no idea what Molly was, but with my superior First Grade mind, I couldn’t stop smiling.  

A dog.

A dog.

I squeezed her until I couldn’t any longer.

&

Let me guess:  when you see a dog on campus, you look but you also don’t.  You don’t immediately scream, “Dog!” but instead, with your well trained eye, you give it as many side glances as you physically can without obviously obsessing over its existence.

 

The Mantra Of The Modern College Student:  

A Dog’s Owner Cannot Know I Want To Steal Its Dog

 

So instead, you scream internally, perk up regardless of the weather, and send the dog your love telepathically, desperately hoping it receives your message.

But that’s just a guess.

&

Regardless of what I say, she wasn’t perfect.  No matter how soft or beautiful Molly was, she was still a dog.

 

The Beliefs Of The Modern Golden Retriever #2:

We Are Not Herbivores.

 

During the first few years, she’d get too excited and run away, she’d get sick and poop disks on liquid feces on the floor, she’d bring back dead birds, squirrels, and deer bones and sometimes leave them in the house.  No matter how much we trained her, she was still a dog. But we loved that about her. She had a side of her that was untouchable by us, something she held tightly and only let go of due to old age. Her rare gifts of dead animals caused fights over who would put a towel over the dead squirrel and throw it away.  (I did and my mom gave me $1.00 for it.) Her poop disks, oddly enough, trained us and conditioned us to be patient with dogs. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have gotten three more. When she ran away, we’d fear she’d never come back. Her absence reminded us of how much we needed her presence.

She was our first, and we’ll never forget that.

&

“She has cancer.”  I’m in sixth grade.

It hit me like a bullet.

I look at her on the couch: she’s smiling, oblivious.  Does she even know?

I muster out a response through the panic and my mom repeats:  “She has cancer, I’m so sorry.”

She’s bigger now, filled in.  Almost four. Almost a little too big.  I can’t say I’m surprised. She had a mass on her chest for months, but we just hoped it was a fat mass, something common in larger dogs.  I never figured out how she got so big. She was outside just as much as the other dogs, ate just as much as the other dogs, but something made things stick to her more.  Food, people, friends, me.  Something about her made you give her a second glance, hug her a little longer, make her see you.  She wasn’t elitist, she didn’t discriminate, but there was an additional level of purity she had alongside being a carefree dog.  It’s hard to describe, you could just feel it.

She always looked powerful, almost like a queen.  I really don’t mean to be cheesy, that’s just how she really looked.  Her full coat condensed more so on her chest, it made her look proud, majestic, and all-knowing.  Have you ever noticed how sometimes dogs blink weirdly and it looks like they’re winking at you? She did the same thing, but for her it actually felt like she was.  

They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but it didn’t fix everything.  I don’t mean from a medical perspective, she was fine for the next few years and the cancer never resurfaced.  But our view of her changed irreversibly. She still ran the same, smiled the same, ate the same, but it felt, I don’t know, different.  It wasn’t necessarily, ‘Maybe the cancer will come back,’ it just felt like there was something fragile there that wasn’t there before.  Something deep within her that we couldn’t get out no matter how hard we tried to destroy it.  I don’t mean to be blunt, but it ruined the next eight years. Rather than enjoy the time we had with her, embrace her energy, and assume that was the norm, we half-joked that she was going to die within the year.  There was no way she’d make it. The doctors were as shocked as we were.   But she was a dog, she didn’t care what humans thought.  She didn’t live by the same guidelines.

She was the Queen of the Forest.  

&

Why do we love animals as much as we do?  

I’m not asking scientifically or philosophically.  (This isn’t a research paper.)

This is a question you ask when you don’t want the answer.

The intense feeling of joy you feel when you see a dog on campus, the sorrow most pet owners feel when their pet dies.  Do we really want that dehumanized to a formula?

I think we love pets as much as we do because of their purity, their innocence.  Their unburdened lifestyle. We see them each morning before we go to class and think, ‘You are so lucky.  Do you realize how lucky you are?  I’d give anything to switch places with you.’  They don’t need to worry about science, or politics, or death.  They just need to be.  

It becomes a privilege to witness that feeling, that type of existence.  To be the perceived cause of joy and life for a pet. They think you are their king or queen, when in reality your life is probably a mess or at least bleak in comparison to their own beliefs.  

But it doesn’t really matter, does it?  Because all of our thoughts about what pets are thinking or the fact they only live a fraction of our life melts away when we become absorbed by their ability to love endlessly, when we see how their face lights up when we return home, when we see them do ridiculously stupid things.  When they make us feel loved, which is something we desperately, desperately want.

So we jump in.

&

Every summer I went back home from college she was the one thing in the house that was constant.  The other dogs aged and caught up to her, but Molly was consistently large. Consistently old. Consistently smiling.  At the end of every summer, I was secretly relieved. It meant I survived another four month period at home without her dying.  Meaning, she was more likely to die when I wasn’t there. I was terrified of having to be faced not only with my first dog dying, but having to figure out what to do logistically.  Who do I call? 9-1-1? The vet? My mom? I have no idea how I’d feel, what I’d do. I was even scared I wouldn’t cry.

But each spring when I came back again, there she was.

See?  I told you I was fine, stop being so dramatic.  

&

It seemed as though dogs started appearing out of thin air.  First it was Molly, the original. Then when I was in middle school, a few years later, came Raney, a black lab – named after the creek near our house.  Dexter came after that once I entered high school, an incredibly fluffy gold pomeranian who still poops inside.  And this past summer my sister added Remi, a yellow lab who will not stop moving.  (Even when she sleeps she somehow finds herself all the way across the house when she wakes up.)

It was fascinating watching each dog interact with Molly, but also depressing.  The first blow was with Raney. Raney was beautiful, with a rough but soft coat comparable to wolves.  She was a poster child, fit, and above all, a puppy.  I’m sure you can conclude who we (unfairly) focused all of our attention to.  It devastated Molly. Due to unintentional abandonment and her growing size, she was noticeably more lethargic and depressed.  But how could you blame us? Molly’s thick fluffy hair didn’t feel nearly as good as Raney’s wolf-like coat. Her fur was so much more cleaner.  Molly’s hair naturally became matted if we didn’t wash her that often.  (We didn’t wash her that often.) It’s not like we wanted her to suffer.  

It took years before the house dynamic returned to equilibrium and Raney’s presence began to match Molly.  Only then did our Queen return, cool and as nonchalant as ever. Only then did we see her smile, see her jump, see her soar.

&

She died again when she was 10.  I was a senior in high school and it was late – a school night – and I was just about to go to bed when I heard a creaking noise coming from the hallway.   The house was quiet with everyone else asleep and the creaking noise was amplified accordingly, jolting me from my focus. Thoughts starting going through my head:  What the fuck was that?  Was I going to die?  Was I about to be murdered?  How will I turn in my Calc homework?  Somehow, I forced myself to open the door.  

In the brightly lit hallway was Molly.  Molly was standing on all fours and focusing, painfully, on the ground with her lips pulled back revealing her sharp, stained teeth.  She wasn’t choking, growling, or about to puke; it was something else entirely. She was uncontrollably making this sound.  It sounded like someone was taking a metal rod and hit each of her teeth within milliseconds of each other creating this sound so disturbing I thought I was watching my dog die.  

I panicked.  I had no idea what was happening – Google told me nothing – and with her cancer in remission for only four years adding onto her massive size, I feared the worst.  I saw this image I had of her in my mind fade away even more, her courage and strength deteriorating into nothing. I didn’t think she’d live through the hour. How quickly this strong image of her comes crashing down after it took years to rebuild.

She, of course, was fine.  Twenty minutes later she stopped and continuing living as if nothing had happened.  We, on the other hand, did not. If we thought she was fragile after her cancer scare, imagine how we felt then.  I looked at her – seemingly a more fragile version of what she was the first day she blew through our hallway like a tornado, jumping over wooden board barriers, saliva flying everywhere – and then I look at our other, younger dogs – both larger than life, constantly overshadowing Molly’s former glory.  How could Molly possibly survive before the morning let alone before I graduated high school?

&

 

Towards the end, I’d start taking “just-in-case” pictures.  Once I started college, I felt like I entered the danger zone, where she could drop at any moment.  I’d ignore the other dogs and try and capture the spirit, softness, and vibrant shades of gold every summer before time ran out.  There was a particular vulnerability when I photographed her sitting, facing me. Her true self was masked by how well trained she was.  She was too focused on getting a treat rather than being herself.

 

The Beliefs Of The Modern Golden Retriever #3:

Never let your owner take your picture in exchange for a treat.

We are better than that.

 

It was better to photograph her when she was sitting outside, oblivious to paparazzi, or her looking out a window, focused on some small prey. The best picture I got was her standing on my bed, looking into the forest.  Focused more than ever, I noticed how complicated her coat was. It wasn’t just gold, she owned every possible shade of it. She was covered in playful swirls of light and dark gold that lead to bursts of fur on her stomach and chest.  These explosions balanced her smooth, slick backside, both of which attracted light in different but equally powerful ways.

She was a beacon, reminding the forest that she was still Queen and not going anywhere.

&

Like I said, I was relieved when I left each summer.  But not entirely. Just as I was about to drive down to Ann Arbor in fall, I’d tell my mom, “Sorry!  I forgot something,” and I’d go back inside and sit with Molly. She isn’t special in this respect, I do this to all the dogs, if I’m being honest.  But with her, it’s a little different. For her, I’d spend a little more time and I’d whisper:

It’s okay to let go, you’ve had a good run.  You’ve done enough.

And then I’d go to back to college, come back the next spring, survive the summer, and repeat.

 

It’s okay to let go, you’ve had a good run.  You’ve done enough.

It’s okay to let go, you’ve had a good run.  You’ve done enough.

It’s okay to let go, you’ve had a good run.  You’ve done enoug-

 

&

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