Since I was a kid I always loved dogs even though I could never really have one, lest it be an “outside dog,” or forced to dwell only in our moldy, unfinished basement. So no surprise that as an adult I became best friends with a four legged creature. She’s not Lassie or Rin Tin Tin nor is she any of the cock diesel Pit Bulls from North Philly. Just a fluffy, muppet kind of thing who thinks she should sleep in my bed every night or on top of the kids.

Sometimes though, I think she’s lonely. She has more friends than me, but she doesn’t drive so it’s difficult for them together without human assistance. I thought she could use a friend. She loved the cat at first, but then it became her tormentor. I’d hear Cassie crying every night and barking at the cat to back off as he assaulted her from atop bookshelves, from under couches and over ottomans. A dog friend might be nicer.

If you’re anything like me with oodles of liberal friends, you know several people who work at/with pet adoption or foster organizations. A third of the people on my Facebook friends list like dogs more than people. So, I reach out into the doggie adoption realm. There was an event. One of those puppy gatherings where you can bring your dog and other people bring their dogs and people are sniffing and barking and eating treats and wearing t-shirts that say clever dog stuff on them.

I went to fill out a form (several forms) to procure a pet. A homie for Cass, when I began to grapple with a huge reason why so many people don’t adopt. The process is ludicrously intense and highly ostracizing. It was easier to get a passport. Easier to get a job. Easier to join the military. Getting my concealed carry permit and buying a motherfucking gun was less scrutinizing than adopting a dog. I didn’t quite grasp how comical the potential comparisons would be until I was set back with one of the expected, nasty elements of high-falluting liberalism. The woman who I handed my doggie visa request documents to had to speak to a vet in order to check on my ability to care for a dog (a dog who was presently waiting at the door smiling at everyone).

She went into the room on a phone and emerged minutes later with a face like spoiled milk.

“Well,” she said, speaking through me with a tone I imagine reserved for children who don’t take their muddy shoes off when they enter the house. “Looks like you have two dogs and they aren’t up to date on their shots.”

One was a cat, who was since adopted by a friend of mine, and it turns out Cassie was due for a booster. I just let Becca talk, she and Ryan had driven with me, and the woman was on Becca’s phone anyways.

The older woman deepened her voice. “Since you don’t take care of your dog–” and then the rest kind of fell away from me. Something about the fact that Ryan and Becca do take care of theirs, which, while not untrue, was hearsay at this point. My own spoiled ass dog waiting outside trying not to get adopted.

It was funny in a lot of ways because Ryan and I are typically harsh about people not taking care of their dogs. All those obese labs that look allergic to exercise, the rampantly misbehaved or aggressive ones that people refuse to train, Michael Vick’s dogs, the dogs who are fed excessive amounts of the people food that even people shouldn’t be eating. But the woman who held the key to Cassie’s friend had thrown me right in the camp. While my happier, better behaved, sleeping in the bed, beach going, running 30 plus miles a week, lake swimming, having more friends than me brat of a dog was patiently sitting outside expecting a new puppy to lick.

It’s not like raising questions about the metrics used for adopting a dog could have come out as anything other than combative. I’d already witnessed several objectively nasty candidates stroll out with dogs that will receive as much love and attention as Catherine Martin in The Silence of The Lambs. Or they’ll be tormented by the troves of children who’ve never been told no, while the sun scared owners who refuse to take the dog outside are beached on the couch (which the dog will not be allowed on) with a six pack of Natty Ice before rising only to throw the plastic rings into an endangered sea turtle breeding zone and leave their lit cigarette in the sand. But I digress.




At no point in my life have I heeded adult advice. Adult in this sense meaning elder, implying someone more wise–the isolated sage on the mountain top. This was because A: there was a lack of true adults and B: the advice was shit. It was out of place and context, filled with the lowest of low expectations. Don’t step on cracks, don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, be manly at all costs (i.e. mean and violent towards everything), latch on to the first menial job you can find and bury your heart in it, don’t do drugs (in school, in lieu of learning), find a woman who can cook and marry her–mostly at a time when there was no heat in the house and I’m just trying not to go to bed hungry.

So, I’ve taught life to myself, overcoming every difficulty, whether small or large, alone–how to brush my teeth, when to use deodorant, how to read (thank you video games), algebra to get into college, the political process, history, statistics, basic economics, travel, guitar, some Spanish, finance, navigating the workforce (who gets what jobs and how), you name it–to a thorough enough degree that a non-expert in a particular field is unlikely to provide new information. Several people I know have had to do the same. This exhausting endeavor has at times been motivated by loathing–for myself as well as those around me whom I’ve thought just weren’t trying hard enough. Now, even though I’ve taken great strides in coming to approve of myself, I have not developed such an acceptance of others. I’ve learned how to smile and nod through life lessons offered by people who are physically older than me only because it’s polite. No matter how wrong or massively condescending the information is, but I often want to say, “I’ve never been anyone’s kid, why start now?”

I rarely agree with post College Dropout Kanye, but, “Can’t tell me nothing.”

This has come with a hammer–>nail approach to interpersonal relationships and the excuses to go along with it. For people close to me I say, “well, I’m just as hard on myself.” Which is meant to imply that because I care, I have a vested interest in their continued self-improvement and worldliness (as lofty as that sounds, there’s some truth in it). If I end up promoting any form of self-actualization to a stranger it’s usually because I feel like they really need it. Distant relatives I might see at a funeral, people who misuse the emergency department, belligerent young soldiers from some other unit. But I’m often a hypocrite.

As much as I grin and bare it every day through someone spoon feeding me shitty or obvious advice from a pedestal, I’m probably standing on that pedestal just as often. Clearly I don’t find my own advice shitty–although some should be obvious–nails absolutely need hammers. There is rarely a known reason to take my word for it. Similar to the way that I often nod and think, God I can’t wait until this is over, whenever some old dude who had a college fund is “teaching” me about the welfare state or the grandiosity of Donald Trump’s policies or why I should want everything he wants/has, nearly every scrambled together self-improvement program I’ve handed out has fallen on deaf ears. To alter the world view of someone who has never felt included in said world is a Herculean task that requires far more than a basic mission to civilize. And it is always far too late when we try.

I should know that the narrative of hard work is complete bullshit, but the only words I seem to find for my brother or mother or anyone still living in squalor back in the hood can often be reduced to “you’re just lazy,” or “you’re not trying hard enough.” While sloth sometimes plagues us all, there is a wide swath of possibility between blaming that and saying nothing at all.

Mother’s Day

He kept holding his hands up to me as if we would start boxing at any moment. But he was wobbly, and the only reason I stood so close was to make sure he didn’t fall. The closer I got, the more he made threats though about how he’d whoop my ass. Then followed the myriad of comments expected during a 1:1 with another black man. The attempts to bond over booty–he yelled about which nurses he would fuck and how he would do it, but grew disappointed, then angry when I told him to quiet down instead of agreeing with him. There was of course, the inevitable claim that I was an Uncle Tom, and the final and most brutal insult in the black community–the claim that I was a “faggot.” I had heard all of these things from so many patients that sometimes I don’t even notice. I’m supposed to be all liberal and empathetic when it comes to drug abuse/addiction, but this was only a few days after Mother’s Day and people just kept asking how said day was. This guy’s mannerisms, the look on his face reminded me way too much of my mother.

I hadn’t seen her high in at least a year. But I understood that she was still smoking crack regularly. That would never change. My grandfather would say, “all day every fucking day that bitch is smoking crack.”

“Well,” I told him. “She’s never done it at my place.”

Which was true. She hadn’t been high in my presence for over a year, even though for a few weekends a month or nearly every time I have the kids I had allowed her to stay over too. Until the Friday before Mother’s Day. Funny thing is, I was doing what a psychologist once suggested I do–meeting her where she was. I hadn’t berated her, I hadn’t worn her down with rhetoric about advancing her life, getting a job, changing her ways. I was taking it slowly and just trying to comfort her–I allowed her to bring my infant niece to my place too, even though I had a lot of work to do. I even bought her cigarettes (which I swore I would never do) and didn’t lecture when she ate nearly all of my food. I made reservations for a nice restaurant in the city that I knew she would love.

And then on Friday, when the kids were at school she got high. Thankfully my niece was already back home. I was surprised at how instantly I noticed the subtle changes in her mannerisms, even though it had been such a long time. She took shorter, choppier steps, her right elbow rested in her left hand, with her right hand on her neck (a position I often find myself in, sans crack-cocaine), she said “huh” when I asked what she wanted to eat, but she never, ever says “huh” in response to mishearing something. She was in the kitchen laying a dish in the sink, but before she even turned to face me I asked her.

“Are you high?”

“Huh,” she said. “No, why you ask me that?”Then she turned towards me. She was sweating and her lips were pressed so tightly that it looked painful. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets.

“Listen,” I said. “You have until I get home with my kids to be sober, or you’re leaving and you will never see them again.”

She went into the bathroom to “clean.” By that I mean the activity that her and my grandmother often did when high, remove everything from a room and spend around 4 hours scrubbing a single spot over and over again, in between staring out of windows. Except my mom would talk to herself the whole time and say things like “uh uh,” or “they’re coming to get me.”

I left. The kids had good days at school and were asleep as soon as they got in the car, they whined when I woke them up to come inside. Everything was out of my bathroom on the living room table and the bathroom door was locked. I put the kids in my room and told them to stay there and play for a little while.

“Get out,” I said through the bathroom door.

“I knew this would happen,” my mother said.

“Yea, I guess I did too.”

In a few minutes she came out of the bathroom twitching. It smelled horrible and I went to open the window. Her eyes were even further out of her head, perfectly round.

“You have to go, now,” I said. She just stared at me.

“You don’t know what I know,” she said, with a little grunt following the end of her sentences now.


I remembered what a waste of time it was talking to people who were that high. Same thing with the guy at work. When I asked,

“Do you need to use the bathroom?” He started beat boxing. I handed him a urinal anyway.

“I need some privacy you fucking faggot,” he said.

“Sure,” I told him, and closed the curtain. Then he detached himself from the monitor and stood up, stumbling back against the wall a little, so I got ready to brace his fall.

“You touch me imma fuck you up faggot,” he said.

Please, I thought. Let this motherfucker do something he’ll regret. I found calm in the thought of crushing his trachea underneath the heel of my shoe, hearing it crunch.

And then I was disgusted with myself. I couldn’t believe I had let that kind of shit get to me. Especially not to a point where I could find pleasure in the pain of some unfortunate bastard. But that is apparently where I was at. Where I’m at more often now than ever.


Back home my mother had made little progress in leaving. Ten minutes had elapsed and she was still standing over her purse and book bag. I tried to help her pack it. I was exhausted and the only thing I wanted to do was supervise some grade school homework and lie down.

“Uh uh,” she told me when I reached for her bag. “You know they be watching me?” She moved stiff and robotically.

“I wish you could understand how you sound,” I told her. “To see yourself like this.” Really, I was just concerned that the kids didn’t see the grandma they now claimed to love in such a state. I told her that she would never, ever see them again.

She stood in the living room staring at me, ignoring every polite gesture towards getting her out.

“Do you want me to call the police?”I asked her.

“They already know where Kia at,” she said.

“Listen, my kids are here, I’m not doing this,” I said.

“They’re not doing it,” she said.

“I need you to leave,” I said.

She growled and snorted at me. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little. When we were kids, my siblings and I sometimes made it a game to mock her while she roamed the house high in the middle of the day. What seemed like every day. But just like years ago, that thought was only a brief respite. I considered whether I would have to physically remove her from my apartment, and how much shame I would feel afterwards. At least that wouldn’t be as bad as having the police come and remove her. I fantasized of what it would have been like to have just had dead parents. Even if they didn’t leave behind any money or property, it would somehow be easier than absent and cracked out ones.

When she finally left, at my urging I was so angry and disgusted with myself for kicking her out that it was difficult not to take it out on the kids. They were very quiet when I let them out of the room and I feared they had heard us. They didn’t ask where grandma went either.

The next day she texted me: “I’m sorry, I lied to you yesterday when you asked if I was high.”

No shit.

Still, I was glad she made it home okay.

I called her, but she was high again.

On Mother’s Day she texted me and asked: “Are we still going out to dinner?”

I ignored her. But I couldn’t ignore the next day’s drug addicts or interrogations about Mother’s Day, but apparently I’m still good at masking fury, since co-workers tell me all the time as I’m berated by the pseudo sickly,

“You’re so patient.”

Even though I know I’m not.