Category Archives: stories

The Toll Free Day


She stood right here, on this very bridge, contemplating life and
death with all the wisdom her 16 year old mind could produce. Her heart
and mind raced at an equal pace, flooding her entire body and soul with
an anxious intensity she’d never known before. Her breath quickened and
her shaking hand clinched the cold steel bar of the fence, while she
steadied herself up and into the 2 foot space between where the fence
ended and the toll man’s empty booth began. Today was Sunday, and the
toll booth was most certainly empty due to a recent approval at town
meeting declaring that “Sunday shall forthwith and forevermore be a toll
free day” in the town of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

The early morning summer wind caressed her face, tossed her hair and
caused her to lose her balance several times. She struggled against the
will of the wind, which seemed intent on sending her spiraling to the
sea below with absolutely no regard for whether or not she was ready to
crash into the sea. For she definitely was not ready, almost ready for
sure, yet not quite, and she defiantly held her position while shifting
her weight to keep balanced on the wooden railing.

“How could I let this happen? Not once, but twice!” She heard the same
question over and over again in her mind, yet was unable to formulate a
reasonable answer. Of course, she was well aware of how “it” happened,
that was not the issue, her question was more about trying to comprehend
her own irresponsible behavior. All she could do was “sigh” and shrug
her shoulders; then shake her head, defeated and exasperated.

Finally, she screamed, “There is no answer!” Yet the nagging question
echoed over and over again like a scratched record skipping inside her
broken mind. She watched a hawk glide effortlessly overhead, envious of
its peaceful existence.

Her own voice interrupted the silence, “This is better than having to
face her again. I just can’t face her, not after what happened the last
time. I’d rather die than go through that “procedure” again like she
made me do the last time. I am not going through that again.”

She looked up at the hawk, circling gracefully above her head in the
sky, and then turned to look down at the empty ocean. The memory of her
mother’s reaction flooded into her mind like a tidal wave.

“What?! How did you let this happen,” screamed her mother, slapping
her across the face. “You’re only 15 years old. You will not have this
baby! Do you hear me?” This time her mother hit her across the back with
enough force to knock her to her knees. “There is no way I am taking
care of your mistake. I will call the clinic in the morning and you will
have a procedure to get this taken care of as soon as possible. Case
closed, and do not breathe a word of this to anyone.”

There was no discussion. They made the trip to the clinic three days
later and the “procedure” was over in less than an hour. They drove to
and from the clinic in silence. Back at home her mother smiled, asked
her if she wanted some lunch, and carried on with her daily routine
without ever once again mentioning the “procedure” or the reason for it.

As quickly as they began, the memories began to fade. The sun warmed
her face. Her breathing became shallow. The beating of her heart also
slowed as did the thoughtless nagging in her mind. The waves lapped
against the bridge timbers. She became exquisitely aware of minute
details, those surrounding her and those inside of her. Her senses so in
tune that she actually thought she felt this new baby’s heart beating
inside of her. The thought was comforting. She would be with this new
baby. They would be together.

She noticed that the wind had died down a bit, which made it much
easier to balance on the railing. She thought matter-of-factly of how
much easier it would be to balance without shoes on her feet, and
proceeded carefully to remove one and then the other; sending them both
splashing into the water below where they were quickly taken by the
hungry current and whisked away under the bridge.

Calm descended upon her from the top of her head to the tips of her
toes. She thought, “This is how it must be, and it is the best I can
do.” She took one final look up at the sky and again saw the hawk
gliding in an effortless flight above her head. “That is a beautiful
hawk,” she thought.

Then a distinct voice broke the silence, as if responding to her thoughts.

“But, my dear, how do you know I am a beautiful hawk? Maybe your eyes only see what you want them to see.”

Startled by the unfamiliar voice, she nearly lost her footing on the
railing. She held tight to the steel bar and looked around; not a soul
anywhere in any direction.

“Who said that?” She asked.

Again the voice spoke, “Do you only believe what you can see? If this
is the case, then you might as well jump and get it over with.”

“I don’t understand. Who is speaking?” She asked again.

“You know it is I, the hawk circling above. Who else could it be, there isn’t anyone else here.”

She asked, “Why are you talking to me? I need to be alone.”

The hawk replied, “You have other needs, more pressing than your own need to be alone. You can feel it, can’t you?”

She could, of course: the pulsing beat of her heart in her neck.

“Yes, I can feel my heat beat, so what.”

“You cannot see or feel yet what you know to be true, because the
truth is like a hidden jewel, waiting to be discovered. How can it be
true that this is the best you can do? Ask yourself twice, once for
yourself and once for the faint heartbeat that you can only sense is
there.”

She held on gently to the steel bar for support. The hawk continued to
circle above. Her eyes filled with tears; aggravating, stinging tears
that burned down into the very nucleus of her soul. She shook her head,
hoping to free herself from feeling….anything and everything.

Her mind began to race again and her heartbeat quickened.

“What am I supposed to do now, Hawk? Could you answer me that one question?”

The hawk replied, “The hardest thing to accept is the unknown, and sometimes there are no answers.”

With that, the door of the toll booth suddenly creaked open, startling
her. She lost her grip on the steel bar. Then, as if in slow motion,
her feet begin to slide out from underneath her. She was still not ready
to actually give herself up to the ocean, and she screamed. In that
instant, she felt a tug on the back side of her windbreaker. Her feet
were steadied. Her balance restored.

“Young lady, what the heck are you doing up there?”

She turned to see Ed, the toll booth man, still holding onto her jacket.

She couldn’t speak.

Then he said, “You could have really hurt yourself playing around up
there by yourself. Now, you come on down from there right now.” He
helped her down, and she stood timidly in front of him.

He looked down, noticed she was shoeless and said, “And you really
shouldn’t be running around here without shoes on either. You know those
seagulls make a damn mess all over this bridge.”

She spoke quietly, “Yes, Ed, I, I, I know. I’ll remember next time, I promise.”

He questioned her, “Now you tell me young lady, why were you standing
up there anyway? It’s not safe, you know that. Did you see my friend
while you were up there, the hawk?”

She nodded yes.

“Every day I see it up there, circlin’ and flyin’, like it’s waiting
for something important to happen. I thought maybe I’d seen some baby
hawks with it last week, but not anymore.” he said.

“Ed,” she asked, “why are you here today? There are no tolls on Sunday.”

“That’s a strange question, young lady. I think maybe the sun has
gotten to you or maybe your little brain is weak from being up so high.
You know that today is Monday. I’m here Monday thru Saturday, same as
I’ve been doing for the past 40 years; well, except for Sundays now. ”

“Monday? Today’s Monday?” She asked.

“And it’s a good thing it is Monday, because if it really was Sunday like you thought, you’d be swimming right now without your good friend, Ed, here, to catch you.”

She said, “I know, thank you, Ed. I guess I’ll be getting along now. I
wonder whatever did happen to those baby hawks that you saw.”

He said, “Young lady, sometimes there are no answers. They are hidden away, like the truth, waiting to be discovered. ”

He smiled, winked at her, and then turned around to go into his booth.
He sat in his chair, the same way he’d been doing for the past 40
years, lit his pipe (which was against the rules), put his feet up
cross-legged on the desk (also against the rules) and pulled his blue,
faded skipper cap down over his eyes.

She looked up to the sky. The hawk was gone. Seagulls dropped clams on
the rocks near the shore. She put one foot out, stepped off to go
forward, not having any idea where the heck she was headed. Still, and
without even a single ounce of doubt, she just continued to place one
foot in front of the other. She didn’t have an answer for how she would
manage, but she was okay with not knowing. Her heartbeat and her
footsteps kept time as she plodded carelessly along.

Sharen Wendy Robertson owns the copyright to all posts on this Blog.

Bella and Giorgio: a love story of two dogs

 

          Once upon a time, in Middleboro, Massachusetts, there was a family of six (a mother, father and four children) and a beloved black Lab named, Max.  

Although he’d not been sick a day in his whole life, when Max was 13 years old he became severely ill with a heart condition.  The entire family was heartbroken because Max just layed around on the couch without any energy.  He was dying……..    

          The mother of this family, whose name is Sharen, had the very sad job of having to take Max to the vet to have him put to sleep.  Sharen’s heart was utterly broken over this and so her oldest son, Al (who was 23 years old at the time), accompanied her to the vet that day to lend his support.  Al went into the vet’s office with his mother, and although his heart was broken over Max too, he stayed by his mother’s side and accompanied her into the room where the vet would give his dog the fatal dose of medicine which would end his suffering.  It was over in a matter of minutes and Al and his mother left the vet’s office without their beloved Max.  His mother’s knees collapsed outside, and she started crying.  Al picked her up gently, carried her to the car, and they drove home.  The children came home from school and found out the sad truth about their dog Max and thus John, Cathy, and Carmen all knew the heartache of losing a pet who was the equivilent to them of being a sibling.  
 
          In the next few weeks, Sharen was filled with overwhelming grief over the loss of Max.  The house was empty without the “pat pat pat” of his paws on the hardwood floors.  She was so grief-stricken in fact that she was emotionally disabled for several weeks.  Upon seeing his mother’s distress and sadness, Al decided to step in to try and help.  He told his mother that he needed some new clothes, and that he wanted to go shopping at the mall.  Sharen, ever desiring to accomodate her children, complied and off to the mall they went.  They casually walked through the stores, and then as if by chance, Al led his mother to the pet shop and told her he needed to look for a dog for himself.  However, Sharen did not want to go into the pet shop.  Al coaxed her in by telling her how beautiful and cute all the puppies were inside and that she just had to come in to see the puppies.  Reluctantly, she obliged her son and walked into the pet store.  There she stood in front of rows of puppies.  Her thoughts about Max were lifted for the moment, and then a little, white Maltese caught her attention.  Al asked the sales lady could she please take out this little puppy so his mother could hold it.  Sharen, unprepared for the feelings which might accompany holding a new pet, gasped, but Al reassured her.  She cautiously entered a little room where the sales lady waited to hand her the Maltese.  In one breath, Sharen knew immediately that she loved the little dog, and she decided to buy her right then and bring her home.  Al was happy to see his mother smile again. Sharen named her new little puppy, Bella.  

                   

         Bella was a joy to this grieving family.  Max had only been gone one month, but this cute little two pound munkin filled the house with joy and laughter once again.  Max will always be remembered and revered for the 13 years he grew up with this family but Bella was now making her mark as the next most loved pet.  She cuddled, yipped and bounced around under foot, like a little white mouse.  She received all the best vet care that money could buy.  She was an absolute joy.

          Three months later, at 5 months old, it was time for Bella to be spayed.  Sharen took her little puppy to the vet and left her overnight.  She picked her up the next day and asked the vet if she needed to cover the stitches with a bandage; he told her not to bother, that it would heal with the air.  At home, Sharen allowed Bella to go outside like she did before.  Bella seemed a little groggy, but Sharen didn’t think much of this, considering the operation.  On the third day, Sharen came downstairs in the morning to make coffee.  She sat at her kitchen table and waited for the coffee to brew.  She looked over at Bella, still sitting in her little homemade bed.  Sharen called Bella to come over to her, and Bella got up and walked to her, but she swayed to the side and bumped into a chair on the way.  Sharen thought this odd and continued to watch Bella while she made her coffee.  Bella continued to walk around the kitchen bumping into the other chairs and the walls.  Sharen called out Bella’s name again, and once again Bella turned to head in the direction of her voice but bumped into another chair.  “I think she’s blind!” said Sharen, as she put her coffee down on the table.  She called out to her husband and children and when they were all in the kitchen she pointed to Bella, calling her name.  Bella once again bumped into a chair while making her way to Sharen.  The children threw toys for Bella, but Bella did not try to retrieve them or try to play with them.  Sharen collapsed into her kitchen chair, lowered her head, and rested it on her hand and said again, “I think she’s blind.”  

         Sharen immediately brought Bella to the animal hospital, where she was diagnosed with distemper.  It seemed the vet had not vaccinated Bella adequately for distemper, which is a totally preventable virus for dogs. Bella probably caught the infection while walking outside without her stitches covered. By the time Bella was seen at the animal hospital, the infection had already taken the poor puppy’s eye sight, although she could still see some shadows.  Sharen brought Bella home a few days later. 

          It was difficult for the family to adjust to having a blind dog, but especially for Bella because she was such a happy, energetic little puppy.  She still played around a lot, but she had many bumps and bruises.  Within the next few months Bella also lost her hearing due to the infection.  This poor little puppy now could not hear or see and Sharen was heartbroken for her.  So, she decided to get another puppy to keep Bella company; another Maltese whom she named Giorgio. 

          Giorgio, a cute 1 1/2 pound little fluff ball, came into the family a skiddish, fearful kind of puppy.  He disliked sudden moves, and loud noises frightened him.  He was not as cuddly as Bella but that was okay because he was suppposed to be Bella’s friend anyway.  From the moment they were first introduced, Bella and Giorgio were inseparable.  Giorgio never, ever left Bella’s side. It was amazing watching Giorgio become Bella’s “seeing eye dog” without any training what-so-ever or coaxing from anyone.  Giorgio taught himself how to help Bella, and Bella trusted Giorgio explicitly.  For instance, if it were time to go out for a walk, Sharen stood at the door and called her two puppies.  Giorgio would run for the door but Bella would sit, unable to hear or see anything except shadows.  Giorgio would run back to Bella and nudge up against her and then run for the door again.  Giorgio patiently repeated this ritual until Bella caught on and got up to follow him.  When she finally did, Giorgio stayed right by her side.  They walked together like one, big fluffy white dog, without ever being tied together. 

               Mealtime was especially poignant.  Bella would be in her little bed (a bed that Giorgio climbed into every night), and Sharen would put out food.  Bella did not know food had been put down because she could not see, but Giorgio certainly did.  He would jump out of the little bed and run to the food, repeating the ritual of running back and forth to Bella until she caught on to get up and follow him.  Giorgio would not eat or drink water until Bella was by his side.  Then, when they were done eating, it was the ritual once again of running back and forth to get Bella to go outside; off they would go with Sharen following close behind the two of them.   

          Through the next few years Giorgio and Bella were like husband and wife, brother and sister, and best friends.  The steriods that Bella had to take when she’d gotten sick made her reach a weight of 18 pounds! while poor little Giorgio never weighed more than 5 pounds.  They were certainly a cute couple. 

          Sadly, Bella never quite regained her health after the bout of distemper when she was a puppy.  She contracted a severe infection when she was four and half years old (basically still a young dog) which she was not strong enough to fight.  She died at home, with Giorgio by her side.  He kept nudging her to go and eat and to go outside, but Bella was too weak.  She stayed in her little bed, her head hanging over the side, Giorgio licking her face.   Giorgio stopped eating too those last few days of her life.  When Bella passed away, Sharen took her to the animal cemetary.   Giorgio sat by her little bed for two weeks and howled and cried.  

              Giorgio will still look for his beloved Bella sometimes, if he hears a family member say her name or hears a dog barking that sounds like Bella he’ll turn quickly to see if she is around.  He loved her, and she loved him.  It is a wonderful love story, and if there is a doggie heaven, Bella is waiting to be reunited with Giorgio.  For now, she is content getting to know Max, who I am sure is watching over her.  

R.I.P. Max  2/17/90 – 3/8/03
R.I.P. Bella 2/3/03 – 12/18/07   

              

                   

Sharen Wendy Robertson owns the copyright to all posts on this Blog.