I lost my appeal for Long Term Disability with my provider. I had paid into the system for eighteen years. I had collected notes, letters and documents from my doctors and my Therapist, all who agreed that if I returned to work at this time I would end up right back out of the work force, possibly in worse shape and even more quickly than before. With these professionals behind me and my naïve belief that somewhere along the way Insurance Companies really were in the business to help folks that really needed it, I mailed my documentation.
They turned me down.
I cried. I worried. I lost sleep. I was indignant that they assumed I was trying to lie my way into a ‘free’ paycheck. How could this huge well – known company reject a claim for medical compensation without speaking to, interviewing or examining me? Now my only recourse was to hire a lawyer. At a time in my life when my emotional state was at its most fragile I felt like I was being torn apart. Lawyers I called spoke in brief, staccato sentences or talked over my questions altogether. They didn’t want to take my case on – too small potatoes. I was finally pointed in the direction of an Advocate. At last someone listened with human compassion and patience. She was, however, honest. My choices boiled down to A.) Hire the lawyer and obtain a battery of costly psychological tests, pay more fees, see more doctors, make more phone calls and go through the litigation process or B.) Recognize the toll the entire nasty process was taking on my health, weigh the financial offset and let it go. I thanked her for her caring and honesty before I hung the phone up. And I made my decision that evening after talking with Edwin who said he would support me in whatever I chose to do.
I let it go.
Was it fair? No. Was it the right thing to do? Yes. I can say that now after looking back on it. And it solidified another decision I had been wanting to make. I called the Bank, requested the Human Resources department and tendered my resignation. No, you do not need to hold my position for me without pay. I won’t be back. I called another division and requested my entire 401k be transferred to another financial service. I set the process in motion to have my pension mailed to me. I would live on this with Edwin’s help as long as I could make it last. I was scared silly through the entire process. But I felt freed.
And that was it. For the first time in thirty years I was officially unemployed. And I had absolutely no idea what sort of employment I would seek when that time arrived. The thought of any employer made me feel physically ill. Any employer. Doing anything. No, I did not know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, but I knew for sure I was never going back to Corporate America.
Our first week with Ca$h in our home, I never left the house for one minute. For several reasons. I wanted to bond with him, learn what he was all about. I wanted to start reassuring his canine mind that he was stuck with me. Neither one of us was going anywhere that would take us away from the other. But mainly because I did not want to leave him for a minute. He had quickly begun to recognize and respond to my voice. He followed me around the house and snuggled beside me on the couch. He lived for walks. It was as if he could not get enough of the outside. He dropped his weight to the ground if he thought our walk had turned towards home. He lay down at the bottom of our two flights of porch steps and rolled his eyes in apology but refused to budge. He was too heavy for me to carry. With alternate calling, kissy noises, pushing and pulling he would finally trudge his death march up the stars and through the front door. I had dogs all through my childhood and up to the point when I left West Virginia. And certainly they had loved to be outdoors. But poor Ca$h acted as if his every trip outside was going to be his last.
And then there was his kennel. He rode from Virginia to Delaware in it, in the small back seat of my car, uncomplainingly. I had placed it in the dining room in a cozy, quiet corner where he could have an unobstructed view of Edwin and me in the living room. I kept fresh water near it. I placed a purple plushy octopus in it to encourage him to discover the joys of legalized destruction. Softer blankets than those on my bed layered the floor.
He would have nothing to do with it.
On the eighth day, Edwin and I planned a trip to the grocery store. We figured we would be gone no more than half an hour to forty – five minutes and that it would be a good time to start getting Ca$h accustomed to being by himself for short periods of time in the crate.
Edwin approached the crate and unlatched the door. He turned to Ca$h and opened his mouth to call the Pit Bull by name. He did not even get the words out. Ca$h, who had been carefully watching Edwin wheeled in the opposite direction, leapt up on the couch and buried himself in the cushions. We called, we made kissy noises, we sweet talked and pleaded.
Ca$h stayed on the couch as unmoving as a sphinx, his big muzzle tucked between his paws. His brown eyes bounced from me to Edwin and back again uncomfortably. No treat, toy or words swayed his decision.
More pushing and pulling. Gently as possible. I wanted to scrap the project. So what? I don’t care if he runs loose in the house while we are gone. We’re upsetting him. Look at him! Please….he really doesn’t want to go in that thing. But Edwin, the sane one, insisted we carry on with the plan. Eventually the Pit Bull’s big butt was far enough in the crate for Edwin to shut the door and latch it. Sad brown eyes looked out at us. I volunteered to stay back at the house. Edwin took me gently by the arm and propelled me out the door. He set the alarm and stepped out. I felt like crap.
When we returned home, we walked up the front steps chatting about what Ca$h might be doing in his cave. I glanced at the panes of French windows lining the front door. A big beautiful head was framed in it looking happily back at us! Ca$h was thrilled to see us – we had not left him for good! After some hugging and smooching I stepped into the dining room to assess the situation. The kennel was in its place, the door shut tight. Just as we had left it. This did not make sense. I looked closer. The black bars on and around the door of the crate were snaggled and bent in diverse directions. He had tried to eat his way out. On top, one of the fastening hooks had been unhooked. Had I left it that way unknowingly? Great! Just a really great first experience for him alone in the kennel! I’d be careful not to let that mistake happen again.
A couple of days later we tried again. We decided to go work out together and once again tried to encourage Ca$h into the plush protection of his kennel. It was no easier than the first time. He hated it. I hated it. But we promised our boy we would be back soon as we set the alarm and left.
We returned an hour or so later, walked up the front steps and saw our excited, happy and very wiggly Pit Bull pushing his big nose against the French window in an effort to greet us. We quickly let ourselves inside, exchanged greetings and headed for the dining room. The kennel was standing in its spot and the door was shut. Just as we had left it. But the front bars looked as if some Tasmanian Devil had tried to install a doggy door with his teeth. One of the top hooks was once again undone. I knew I had double – checked those before we left. I took hold of the front panel and pulled. Ca$h had somehow applied enough pressure to pop that latch and give himself a six inch wide gap to squeeze his sixty pound body out. And then he had waited for his Pack to come back to him.
I was concerned. I hugged and kissed him. I told him we were all forever. While he was splayed on his back accepting a belly rub, I gently used my finger to pull his floppy chops away from his teeth. I peered at them and quickly dropped my finger and drew back in a mix of horror, sadness and pity.
Ca$h’s right side long canine tooth was completely gone, broken down to or below the gum line. The smaller teeth in between were so worn down they were almost flush with his pink gums. I saw no more than that. I had known one tooth had been extracted by the vet in West Virginia that had neutered him for me. This was a lot more than one tooth.
So despite Edwin’s protests I packed Ca$h up the next day and went on a covert mission to his Veterinarian. The thought of him being in pain while eating or using his mouth was enough to start me planning ways to pay for oral surgery for him if the situation called for it. In her examining room, Dr. Schultz lifted up his lips as I held onto him and chatted to him. Ca$h loves his Doctor and her female techs. They give him kisses and treats and he high fives them and doles out rare kisses to them. But he is not fond of having his mouth bothered and he issued a half – hearted growl. Dr. Shultz mildly told him to shut it and he did. She finished her examination, dropped his floppy chops, gave Ca$h a pat and turned to face me. He’s a rescue, right? she asked. Yes, he is, I told her. And he had a case of happy tail on his first visit, right? Yes, I remembered he did. Three scabs had since fallen off. Well, she told me, it probably can’t be proven but it looks like he was kept in a cage for a long time. I see the worn down teeth in a lot of rescues. They resort to chewing the bars of their cages in frustration or boredom. Often right down to the gum. That and the happy tail. But she declared him OK and said the teeth did not appear to be causing him pain. Relieved, I thanked her, settled my bill and left.
On our way home we stopped at Canby Park and Ca$h walked and sniffed and begged me to let him chase squirrels. I thought about a lot of things as I indulged him in everything but the squirrel chasing. Multiple scabbed wounds on his tail. Major teeth missing or ground down to near non – existence. Begging continually for walks and once outside becoming a dead weight and refusing to come back in his warm house. Broken jaw, scarred muzzle. Steel bars of his kennel bent like paper clips. Turning himself into a pretzel to free himself of the confines of his cage. His cage. Because I knew that’s what it was to him. A prison keeping him from freedom he could not seem to get enough of now. When we got home I folded it up, and carried it down to the basement.
Weeks later while dusting the floors, my Swiffer caught something with a metallic clink. I bent over and picked the object up. Shiny and black, it was a steel S- hook from the front panel of the cage Ca$h hated so much. Some force had been desperate enough to press against it and shoot it across the dining room and under an armoire. I held it while thinking and then threw it away.
Parallel lives, I was thinking. We are parallel lives. You are released from your cage and your past and I will make certain that you are never imprisoned again.