The night after Christmas, the house flipped over, rolled once or twice, and crashed into the marsh. The tail end of 2008 thumped twice, and expired. The remaining residents of 43 Blue Spruce Circle put themselves on life support and bumped around in the dark until the end of 2009.
When their mother finally came up for air, Elizabeth and Lucia promptly extubated themselves. They surveyed the wreckage and declared it 'Good Enough'. Nobody felt like tackling the kitchen.
Financially speaking, they should have walked at the first opportunity. Conceivably, they could have come out slightly ahead in the divorce. Their mother might have been poleaxed, but she wasn't stupid, just frozen. Common Wisdom said: The Market Will Come Back. Do Not Panic! Their mother panicked anyway and went into survival mode. While she was sleep-walking, her gutted salary went at her savings like a weasel on crack and in 2010 the food budget for three dropped to $35 a week; cash in an envelope.
Lucia did not want to eat anymore rice and beans. Elizabeth put her head down and waited to see who would explode first. It was a draw that ended when her mother dragged Lucia to the computer and started reciting numbers. Lucia's face went blank, their mother surrendered, and went back to skipping one or two meals a day. Nobody else went hungry except by choice, in which case, the rice and beans became a very hungry woman's lunch.
Year over year, the market value of the house continued to slide into the swamp. When Lucia took a gap year, and then another, she was required to pay 'the cost of Lucia' which meant she had to get out of bed. By the time she took off for Europe, their mother's salary was improving but her work life balance dissolved into a salty puddle on the kitchen floor.
Once or twice a year, she'd look at the market and consider foreclosure. The penalty for walking away from a mortgage that could technically be paid was steep. She looked at rentals that would keep them in town. The cost was half of the mortgage and required no upkeep. She still couldn't bring herself to pull the plug.
On November 1, 2018 she made the last mortgage payments. The first payment had remained relatively stable, but the second mortgage hit its bubble in July 2016 which effectively quadrupled the payment. This was the same year every appliance in the house rolled over and died, including the furnace and the oil tank. The roof was caving in over the screened porch and half the gutters were tangled in the weeds. She interviewed real estate agents and prepared to evacuate.
They leased a small cottage within walking distance of a train station on the Harlem line. One of them was going to need it sooner or later. Subjectively speaking, the rent was affordable. On the other hand, they were exchanging 2,200 square feet for what turned out to be 460. What began as an evacuation became an exodus.
Traumatized people do not like change. It's a fact. It doesn't matter so much what the trauma was, as the resulting need to maintain control in order to avoid surprises. Elizabeth was terrified. Her mother continued to move forward by brute force. They got themselves out and Elizabeth became a commuter through second semester. Eleven miles is too close to home to justify further depletion of the tuition fund. Also, she'd opened her door in the morning to a puddle of vomit one too many times.
Traumatized dogs like change even less. It can be hard to tell what traumatizes a dog because some dogs can tolerate just about anything, while others pee on the kitchen floor when the doorbell rings. Elizabeth's dog started out with a good healthy dose of separation anxiety. Leafy shrieked when she was upset. The first time we heard it, we honestly thought somebody was murdering a baby. Nope. Just my dog who has been crated per usual when we leave the house. Different dogs have different responses to similar stressors. The 220 pound St. Bernard also suffered from separation anxiety which could be triggered by having the bedroom door shut in his face.
When Simon was left in the house, fully aware that his people were in the backyard, he simply went to the lower level and relieved himself in each of the four corners. I don't believe I have even seen a horse discharge that much shit at one time. Somehow that is easier to deal with than a sixteen pound lunatic that decides the world has literally ended when she's left alone. Uncrating her made it worse.
We held our breath and thanked the gods we'd moved in the middle of winter break. Elizabeth had three weeks alone with the Leafy in order to convince her that the new place was as good as the old place. Leafy wasn't having any of it and we were running out of time. The lease did not permit pets and no one would take her. The resident land people agreed that it would be ok as long as we promptly removed her when and if they were disturbed. I assured them that my daughter Lucia was just dying to get her hands on the dog. Lucia would sooner have consumed a bottle of lye.
These two photographs of the same dog were taken on January 5, six days after we moved. At this point she was mostly glued to Elizabeth's lap. The photograph on the right was taken a little after 5 PM. Granted, she didn't much care for the raincoat but she cared less for the rain. That is the same dog in the bed with the cat, five hours later.
That cat, by the way, made it until spring. When she nearly threw herself through a window screen, I opened the side door and wished her well. She never much cared for people and lived mostly outside for the first ten years of her life. Ellie Belly had had ENOUGH already.
Both cats were getting sick. I chalked it up to stress but didn't figure it out until the following May when a lead pipe burst, resulting in a toxic rain storm.
Maybe Ellie's breaking point was the dog. When Simon hit about 154, at 7 months, Ellie convinced him that he was her mother. It didn't take much; he was terrified of cats and had a good thick layer of fur between her kneading claws and his skin. Leafy came when Simon was about a year old. He did his best to convince us that she was a Scooby Snack just for him. A sulking Saint Bernard is a pitiful thing, maybe mostly to himself. When he came around, Leafy promptly informed him that they'd been married while he was busy staring out at the swamp. He surrendered. Mostly. When he died we didn't know which of them was more likely to throw themselves under the wheels of the UPS truck. Ellie resolved the problem by turning Leafy into a mostly unwilling surrogate. When Leafy disappeared, the cat stopped speaking to anyone.
We don't much care to talk about it, the thing that happened to Leafy, but we're fairly certain it started when her crate was replaced. It was nearly twenty years old and mostly rust. She got a shiny new crate that was exactly the same as the old crate except it wasn't full of rust and falling apart. Oddly enough, she lost her mind. We gave up and tried a soft crate. She ate her way through it in under under four hours. We put up a baby gate and left her loose in the kitchen. All hell broke loose. We removed the gate and gave her the run of the house. It got worse. Our neurotic, batshit crazy dog was suddenly agoraphobic. We put her back in the new crate and moved her to the Harry Potter room, which is really just a small butler's pantry. The thought was if we put her by the litter box, the cats would visit now and then, and if she was in a smaller, more confined space, she might feel safer.
No. I'd gotten as far as the end of the shared driveway, maybe two hundred feet, when I stopped the car and got out. I was right. That WAS my dog screaming two hundred feet down the road. When I found her, she'd 'hopped' the crate up and down hard enough to move it forward three feet. The banging had to have been deafening.
I sent my boss and team an email letting them know I'd be late because I had to re-home my dog. The rest of the story is brutal. The part that makes it bearable is that she was rescued in her final hours by a man who came out of nowhere.
When an animal is seven years old with a bad case of rather obvious (she was shrieking from the far end of the parking lot) separation anxiety, no one will take. Every shelter in Westchester turned us away. Even the kill shelter would not take her until it was her time to die, although I would not have done that. Lucia said, hey, Ma, I got my bottle of lye, back off, woman, I don't want that dog. I called my own vet and asked to have her euthanized. I cried, the tech who took the call cried, and then she said, give me twenty-four hours. I said, you can have the weekend. We can only assume she made it out alive. I've got to believe that, the same way I've got to believe Ellie made it back to the forest.
And Elizabeth? She got to listen to two people in their nineties having sex on the kitchen table behind and below us. It wouldn't have been so bad if Pat hadn't been calling Ray a big meaty fuck head at the top of her arthritic lungs for twenty minutes after the fact, which is when the nightly throwing of the pots and pans resumed.
Her mother tried to explain that this wasn't normal. Sex in your nineties was impressive, but the screaming was terrifying.