My typical practice this past year has been to exchange my uniform layers for sweatpants and a t-shirt, pour a glass of wine, create a meal in under 15 minutes, turn on my computer, and settle in for an evening of dissertationing.
After my first full day of work last Wednesday, I found myself in a kind of limbo.
I arrived home to a quiet house and set my bag down on the floor. The quiet was short-lived. Moments later, my cats began mewing in protest of my ten-day absence in Arizona. I packed my swimsuit, towel, flip flops, and goggles into a canvas bag, and headed to the gym.
Walking in the crisp evening air, I felt something akin to freedom while simultaneously imagining receiving a reprimand for using my time so flippantly. I should be studying or typing and using every second as efficiently as possible.
I have spent the remaining evenings this week in a sloth-like lethargy.
Completing a dissertation, presenting a dissertation, and performing at graduation are exhausting tasks.
The morning of graduation, I headed out with a friend to meet my parents for breakfast. We were about to get into the car when we noticed his dog was not present. In the backyard, we found Blue in a state, his mouth filled with hundreds of porcupine quills. It was a horror film in the Prescott Dells.
We set to work. My friend’s son held Blue while we began pulling quill after quill from his muzzle. I pulled a few from his front lips, but when his open mouth revealed the upper arch and tongue with a blanket of spines, I had to pull myself away. I generally perform well in difficult situations, but my empathic tendency to take on the emotions of those around me was overwhelming.
I stood up and inhaled deeply. Looking beyond the tree, I noticed a small body off to the side, lying at the base of a large rocky outcropping.
It was still alive, its body lifting with shallow breaths. In and out. Rise and fall.
“What was it feeling?” I wondered. I will never know.
But I know what I felt in the deepest part of my being—pain; confusion; and sorrow.
The animal was badly injured. Flies were already congregating around the deep wound that had torn quills and skin away to reveal red and pink flesh that should never see the light of day.
How long had it been lying there?
With so much attention toward saving Blue, I could not tear myself away from the porcupine. All I could do was sit, tears streaming down my cheeks, repeating a mantra in my mind:
I am so sorry. I hope you are not in pain. I am so sorry we have done this to you. I am sorry.
My friend and his son offered to shoot the animal to end its suffering. While I did not wish for it to be in pain, a strong desire to protect it at all costs welled up inside of me.
How did we know it was suffering? How did we know it was in pain? Perhaps, it was in a place beyond pain, making peace with this life and preparing for a transition to the next.
The idea of the violent sound and explosion of a bullet entering its body was too much for me to handle.
I was lost. I did not know what we should do.
In the end, we moved the dog to the other side of the yard and created shade for the porcupine.
We left for graduation.
Hours later, we returned.
The porcupine had passed.
My friend dug a hole.
I sang a song.
Now here I am, far from the desert in what remains of a spindle city.
Lowell—a city in transition. It feels appropriate for a woman in transition.
Four years have passed. I have followed four stages to sustainability. I have been witness to many stories, and I have written many songs.
I am listening to a voice inside and wondering where it will guide me next.