The bumpy road to love

Love at first sight may be the way many romances begin, but love truly taking hold and rooting down deep is the result of practice, dedication, and daily affirmations. Trust is not born overnight, particularly for those of us who carry the psychological burdens from previous relationships. Emotional baggage does not magically disappear if and when you are able to extricate yourself from a bad situation and eventually, hopefully, find a connection with a being who is a better fit.

 

I still remember the moment I first met my husband. I was sitting around a table of doctoral students who would soon become kindred spirits and anchors in my journey to a PhD and the nascent beginnings of my self-study in creating sustainability at the personal level and beyond. In this moment, we hardly knew each other, having spent a single afternoon on a hike up a nearby butte.

 

I was particularly nervous because we had been asked to share our “elevator speech” for the first time. The elevator speech is like a pitch in the business world. It is a brief, succinct description of your product. For a doctoral student, the research intention or focus. My research ideas were all over the map, and my inner critic was quite certain a mistake had been made by the committee and that I really should not have been sitting around that table with all of these other people who were clearly more qualified and brilliant than I.

 

It was in this moment of roiling rounds of inner turmoil that a tall, beautiful being walked into the room. Piercing blue eyes locked with mine, and I am pretty sure I swooned just a little. The tall man found a seat beside me, and we began chatting right away. Within moments, we were carrying on about our connection to the Pacific Northwest and apparently [a cohort peer later told us], our love of the French language and every France related.

 

It was relatively easy to fall in love with this man, and I did so over and over again each time our paths crossed over the next year. More difficult was the decision to leave my husband at the time to walk into the unknown. In hindsight, I can envision one of those overly dramatic US American films, where there is a crazy fire explosion and apocalyptic devastation. The audience inhales sharply, thinking the protagonist must surely be dead but not wanting to exhale for fear that even this physical action of letting go might make it so.

After what seems like an eternity [but in all likelihood is only a few seconds], the hero staggers out of the chaos, charred, clothing in tatters, but alive.

 

This is pretty much how I would describe the process of leaving my first husband, moving through divorce, and the subsequent four years of long distance with Rich, during which time left an abusive situation at a job in Alaska, moved several times, completed a PhD, and finally made the decision to leave my permanent job with the government to live with Rich in Arizona.

 

Having survived the apocalyptic fire, my exterior wounds healed, my entire being still recalls with vivid detail the experience of trauma that led up to the conflagration. Those inner lacerations and burns take much longer to heal. The term healed is perhaps not quite accurate to the mending process. The pain lessens but not does disappear entirely. Rather, it is replaced by a kind of muscle memory, a phantom pain that can hit you like a punch in the stomach when you least expect it, leaving you doubled over, breathless and groundless, vainly attempting to create a semblance of balance. With time, psychological scar tissue appears, but this, too, changes the overall makeup of who you are.

 

I lead a happy life, but I carry sadness in my muscles, my bones, the dark corners of my inner personal ‘scape. My soul has imprints, tattoos of intricate design, which tell the story of my life path: my triumphs, struggles, moments of courage and fortitude, and moments of despair and hopelessness.

 

All of these elements of the Self are a part of the person I have become. They inform my perspective and response to events in my life.

 

Studies have shown that dogs experience emotions very similarly to people. I imagine the emotional burdens they carry are as all encompassing for them as they are for us bipedal beings, with the added challenge of not possessing the ability to express what they are feeling in a language people can readily and easily understand.

 

It is with this introduction that I now describe my experience this past week of bringing my rescue husky to a boarding place for dogs in order for my husband and I to enjoy a visit to Paris, France. I found the boarding place advertised at the local veterinary clinic, so I assumed it was reputable. First mistake.

 

I contacted the place, and they suggested we bring our dog to meet their dogs to make sure they would get along during the stay. Atticus did fine and wanted to play with their dogs, but their dogs were quite aggressive toward him. We assumed it would be fine because they would all adjust. Atticus is a very social, amiable being, and he has never shown an aggressive propensity or dominance toward other dogs of any size. Second mistake.

 

Hindsight (no pun intended) is 20/20, and this particular term is quite apt for this past week.

 

The day before our journey to the city of love, I took Atticus for his morning walk. I remember feeling a sudden rush of excitement and anticipation wash over me. I hadn’t felt even the remotest sense of these emotions for nearly a year. I hadn’t traveled anywhere for nearly a year and had not joined my husband for any of his jaunts to other countries since adopting our big, white husky in the fall 2017.

 

Allow me a brief digression here because I recognize that in some ways I have been traveling for the past year and a half since arriving in Brussels. When I tell people where we live, they get this dream look in their eyes, sigh, and say, “Wow! What a charmed life you lead.”

 

I would tend to agree with the charmed part, though honestly all magic comes with a price. Our “charmed” existence involved my husband leaving a full-time job to become a full-time, unfunded, volunteer doctoral student. It involved packing up our belongings, leaving most of them in our stand-alone garage in Arizona and others at parents’ homes on opposite ends of the country. It involved what we thought would be a temporary separation from our one year old husky, who would stay with my parents until we found a place to live in Brussels where we could have a dog. It involved uprooting myself once again from a community where I was just beginning to feel like I had friends, if not a sense of professional purpose. It involved selling my car and moving to a place where we would depend solely on public transit (which my husband loves but I struggle with because I have grown accustomed to having the freedom of the open road).

 

Yes, I am privileged. Yes, there are dreamy elements of our life in Brussels, and indeed we are living my husband’s dream. He has wanted to live in Europe since he studied abroad in the south of France three decades ago. I cannot really say that the experience has been a dream for me. I went through a deep, dark depression after spending nearly three months apart while waiting for my visa to come through (something we did not realize when the idea of moving overseas was first broached). I arrived in Brussels in December, just in time for the darkest, gloomiest part of the year.

 

The first placed we lived was an old house, which had been turned into three floors of individual apartments. The house charming enough, save for the fact that you could hear every single noise from the neighboring homes and our crazy loud, obnoxious downstairs neighbor, who held gatherings at her house several times a week, charged up and down the stairs with reckless abandon, and stomped back and forth in her own apart. She was so loud that we began referring to her as “hippo,” and I have to say that I now cringe every time I see any kind of hippo-related paraphernalia. After attempting to persuade her to behave more respectfully of other humans beings with desserts left at her door, kind notes, and in-person dialogues, we began complaining to our landlord and stomping on the floor when she was loud. When we asked her to quiet down during a Wednesday night gathering that was carrying on until well past midnight and her guests threatened to call the police (say what?), we threw in the towel and left.

 

When we moved into a truly charming, little house in an equally charming neighborhood beside a forest full of grand beech trees and endless trails, I thought for the first time since leaving the United States that I might be able to exhale and experience the true depth of the fortune I had received just before moving to Brussels, “Much needed relaxation is in your future.” Sadly, it was not to be. Not two weeks into our stay, I received a text from my dad that I had been summoned to Small Claims Court by my former renters for my house in Alaska, who had broken their lease, caused $10k worth of damage to the house (oh yes, 2017 was a rough ride) and demanded a return of earnest money they had paid me to keep my house off the market for two years while they attempted to procure a loan, at the end of which time they quit their jobs and moved instead of buying.

 

I spent the next several months taking panic pills to alleviate my rising anxiety just enough to fall asleep at night and ripping out all of the blackberry and morning glory in our back garden for hours every day in an attempt to work through enough nervous energy and exhaust myself so that I could sit still without devolving into a panic-induced meltdown.

 

I was stressed out and lonely, alone with my thoughts and propensity to worry. I had experienced several health challenges since arriving in Brussels and was only able to breathe evenly by taking an allergy pill every day.

 

My husband had purpose and a built-in community with his research and peers at the university where he was studying for his doctorate. I did not have purpose. I couldn’t even legally work on my spousal visa, which was connected to his student visa. I sat home alone all day, every day except for the one day a week when I would go to volunteer to offer songwriting at a refugee asylum center in Brussels proper.

 

It was at this time that, in addition to my obsessive gardening, I also began poring obsessively over dog rescue sites and joining dog rescue groups on Facebook. We had expressed to my parents our desire to reclaim our husky, but they had long since become irrevocably attached to her and did not want to give her up.

 

I not only missed our husky, I still cried over the loss of our wolf dog, Okami, who we had rescued and had to put down mere months later after taking him to a vet who “forgot” to test for tick-borne illness when we first brought him in, thereby discovering that he had Ehrlichiosis when the disease was too advanced to be able to save him. In my solitary, anxiety-riddled state of mind, I imagined that having a dog keep me company all day would lift me out of my depressed state and cure my loneliness. Despite my husband’s repeated desire to avoid adopting a dog because we didn’t have a car, money, or friends close by who could watch the dog when we wanted to travel (not that we had the money to travel anyway), I begged and pleaded until he gave in.

 

Now, I don’t generally concede defeat or fault, but my husband was definitely right about this not being the best of times to bring a canine into our lives. From the start, BWD (big, white dog) added even more stress to my life. He came to us after having been abandoned and had extreme separation anxiety.

 

You wanted a shadow, and you got one, my husband would say to me.

 

You were right, I would say, over and over again. What was I thinking adopting a dog right now?

 

My neighbor liked to chide me that it was like having an infant. She has two kids, so I am sure she is right, except that my infant is super hairy and weighs close to 70 pounds.

 

Public transit only became more stressful with a dog in tow, and I had regular emotional meltdowns any time I tried to go anywhere with him. Grocery store trips were a nightmare, as he would howl and cry when I tied him up at the front of the store and did my best to speed through as quickly as possible.

 

Fast-forward eight months, and things have definitely settled down quite a bit. I have had many opportunities to practice creating balance and maintaining equilibrium in my life with a dog. Said dog is now able to stay in his crate for 3-3.5 hours at a time, allowing my husband and I to get out of the house when we need to, though not for long enough to go to a museum or for a long, leisurely dinner. But we don’t really do any of those things anyway right now since my husband is so focused on his doctoral work. Having gone through the process myself, I know that working toward a PhD can be all-consuming, so I have begun to take myself out of little field trips on weekends when my husband is at home working and can hang out with the dog. This helps me to get out of the house and to have the freedom to wander at my own pace and to pop in and out of stores, which my husband detests. I don’t blame him. I have seen some seriously bored men, sitting around in lingerie stores while their partners try things on and wander from rack to rack.

 

I have to admit that most of my life choices have been fairly extreme and not always well thought out. I get an idea, become obsessed with it, and don’t rest until that notion has been realized. I do this with all things, from buying an instrument to adopting a dog. Once achieved, I move on to the next obsession. I realize this may not be entirely healthy, but I also think there must be sound, spiritual reasons for these tirades. I must have experienced something so profound in a past life that I brought with me this passion to the point of mania with me to work through in this one.

 

I desperately wanted to be needed by another being and to have a constant companion, and my wish was granted.

 

My husband joked, I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that when the gods want to have fun with you they give you what you ask for.

 

Great! I responded. The gods definitely granted me a handful.

 

Which brings me back to this past week, Paris, doggie homestay gone awry, and more opportunities to practice on my path to Enlightenment.

 

I was so excited to get to visit Paris. France and Paris in particular are special for my husband and me; we share a love of French culture, language, food, and places. As I mentioned already, we may live in Europe but we don’t get to spend much time traveling. My husband is studying most of the time, and our income is very limited. Remarkably, his department reimburses travel and lodging expenses for conferences, so I have been able to tag along to a couple of destinations. Last summer, despite the court summons, I had a great time wandering around Darmstadt, which literally translates to the intestine of Germany, and Rome. Since adopting a dog, however, I have been housebound until we recently found a place to board our dog so we could spend a few days in Paris.

 

The trip started out promising enough. Despite there being no cars parked in our usual Zipcar zone, my husband found another with enough time for us to bring puppy to the boarding place and get to the train station with plenty of time to get use the bathroom and get a sandwich before boarding the Izy slow train to Paris. Seated across from us on the train were a couple of loud, chatty women, who were noisily eating ice cream, but the train ride was otherwise pretty pleasant and uneventful.

 

Upon arriving at Gare du Nord in Paris, we had not trouble purchasing week passes for the metro.

 

I can’t believe how easy that was, my husband had remarked.

 

I remember thinking as we were heading toward our Airbnb that we never know in advance what will happen in life and wondering if it was better that way.

 

Had I known what a nightmare this trip would turn out to be, I wonder if I would have just stayed at home, even if it meant not even getting to enjoy 24 hours in Paris.

 

The Airbnb was the first nail in our vacation coffer. From the outside, it was an interesting design, a little nook in the middle of four walls. The inside was another story altogether. Steep, narrow ladders connected three tiny levels. A little Tiki bar with thatched roof gave the space its Airbnb name. One small window opened to the outside world, allowing for air to enter, if not circulate through, the apartment. Thankfully, the cleanest space in the entire place was the bathroom. The shower was great, I will say, though I did discover quite the colony of black mold growing on the pipes in the bathroom.

 

The iron bars that covered the windows that overlooked the little indoor atrium the door opened onto were shaped into interlocking Jewish stars, and I joked that it was like a wee prison for Jewish people.

 

There were a total of three towels in the bathroom; the dishes were dirty and a whitish mold was growing on the cheese grater; the Wifi did not work; and the only night we spent together in the space we were able to find one mattress sheet cover, which we used as both sheet and blanket because there were not washable covers on the three blankets piled atop a chest at the foot of the bed.

 

My husband’s conference was not scheduled to begin until the following afternoon, so we set out to wander around the city together before meeting a colleague of my husband’s for dinner at a restaurant he and his wife wanted us to “discover.”

 

We had a lovely time afternoon until I received a text from the doggie homestay, asking if our dog had ever attacked other dogs. Ready the text, I felt my stomach give way.

 

Apparently, the dogs had been arguing over possession of a stuffed animal.

 

No, never! I responded. Why don’t you take away any toys and bones they might argue over?

We had anticipated that our dog might have trouble on his first time away from us since he had been abandoned by his first owner and had a sensitive disposition to begin with. However, we imagined he would adjust and that this was just a bit of bumpiness at the start of his stay.

 

Don’t worry, my husband said. It will probably be fine. Just let the universe do its thing, and try to enjoy yourself.

 

So, I did my best. We enjoyed an incredibly meal with my husband’s colleague and his wife at a really groovy restaurant with Avant-Garde design that evening, we received the message that Atticus had attacked their dog.

 

The next morning, I had not received any texts and figured that everything was going ok. After breakfast, I received a message that Atticus had attacked a small dog in the night and injured its eye.

 

Small dog? Where did the small dog come from? I wondered several days later. We had known Atticus would be staying with the owners’ two dogs at their house, but we had no idea that other dogs would be introduced into the mix. Plus, little dogs had a tendency to provoke and attack Atticus.

 

Can you separate them? I asked. I imagine that Atticus is quite nervous and stressed out.

 

He doesn’t seem stressed out, came the reply.

 

Ummm, ok, I thought.

 

I texted back, Why don’t you try crating him and/or keeping him on a leash in the backyard? We often connect a leash to the futon he sleeps on at night so he isn’t able to wander around and get in trouble.

 

In my mind, I was wondering, Why on earth they had kept all the dogs together overnight when already they were not getting along? I was also wondering why people who run a dog boarding facility did not seem to know anything about dog behavior or psychology, to the extent that they were surprised dogs might get into it over a toy.

 

We stopped for a second coffee and croissant. My husband offered my half of his, which I ate despite the feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach.

 

We found our way to the Irish Cultural Center and sat for a few minutes at a table in the courtyard. Then my husband went to check in, and I was left to wander. On my way to pink metro 5, I happened upon Rue Mouffetarde, a street we had discovered per chance on our honeymoon. There, we had seen one of the most beautiful examples of graffiti, and I hoped to find it again since my photo had been blurry. Earlier in the day, we had found the artist’s work in another location.

 

I didn’t find the graffiti (perhaps, it had been on one of the doors that shop owners draw down when the shops were closed). Our first visit to the quaint street had been just after breakfast and before many places were opened for business for the day. I did find a little yoga shop, which was owned by a woman who had come to France from China when she was a little girl.

 

Desperate to find a way to stay in Paris, I explained the situation to the shopkeeper and asked if she had any ideas for a way I could send soothing, loving energy to my dog to help him make it through the next few days until our return to Brussels.

 

We wandered the shop together, and she suggested a statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy who people pray to for ending suffering. Seemed pretty perfect, albeit not entirely in my budget.

 

At that point, I was so desperately fighting the tilt of the universe that I would have spent almost anything to not have to leave my husband or Paris behind. There were streets to explore, food to eat, museums to visit. I was not nearly ready to go home.

 

I decided on Guan Yin, and the shopkeeper gifted me a little packet of incense to burn while sending positive, calming energy to my fur baby. Heart heavy, I wandered back down Rue Mouffetarde, found a newspaper and magazine stand that sold tiny lighters, and headed toward Place des Vosges to perform my meditation puja.

 

I followed a new path to Place des Vosges, grace à Google maps (how did I ever find anything before smart phones?). I walked through a courtyard that led me into a beautiful labyrinthine garden, where I took a photo for a young couple with a baby.

 

(Nice Marieke, racking up the karma points. That’ll convince the universe to let me stay).

 

I walked up a set of stairs, through an open breezeway, and found myself looking out upon Place des Vosges. I walked in and spent a few moments carefully choosing a bench that was out of the way enough that I might not attract attention from passersby, not that I really cared if people thought I was “that crazy lady burning incense with a statue” because I was, in fact, that crazy lady burning incense with a statue.

 

I sat on my bench, held the statue in my hand, lit the incense, and proceeded to send as much soothing, calming, loving energy to my fur baby as possible. I closed my eyes, and tears streamed down my cheeks. Later, I would realize that the meditation and statue were likely more for my own cathartic benefit than anyone else’s, but in the moment I focused all of my energy and intention on love for fur baby and the ability to stay for me.

 

When the incense burned down to the point where it was burning my finger tips, I extinguished it on the statue, walked toward the nearest statue, and tossed the tiny remaining piece into the water like a coin for luck. I had the sense that something was amiss, so I retrieved it and placed it just under the surface of the soil by the tree beside the bench where I had conducted my ceremony. Then, I walked to the exit on the opposite end of the place, reached into my coin purse, and tossed a coin into the fountain (a 2 cent piece because even numbers are lucky [clearly]).

 

I wandered until I found (with the help of Monsieur Google La Carte once more) L’As du Falafel, the restaurant I dream about when I am anywhere else in the world besides Paris.

 

Just you? The outdoor greeter asked. Shall I join you? (All in French).

 

As you like, I responded. Guffaw guffaw. #metoo

 

The falafel was fantastic. The plate of fries was so enormous that by the end I had to prioritize which carb I wanted more, potato or pita. I opted for potato.

 

Then off to find the Musée Picasso, which was hosting an exhibit about the history of Guernica. I had seen the true painting at La Reina Sofia in Madrid when my sibling was studying there years before, and I was captivated. This was one of two museums on my list to visit during my time in Paris. Having the foreboding sense that I might be called to leave Paris at any moment, I filled my day accordingly.

 

The exhibit was beautiful, and I climbed several additional floors, filled with rooms of paintings. The only challenge was that I had to pee like crazy and the restroom was in the basement. I kept thinking, This must be the last floor. I can make it through a few more rooms. What are you crazy? Go pee, NOW!

 

By the time I finally got through the last of the room, my bladder was full to nearly bursting. Honestly, I am certain that people with a reasonably sized bladder experience life in a completely different way. I literally plan my day around when I will need to pee and how I can make this happen, which is super challenging in European cities. I really think Europeans either don’t ever pee or have bladder to other organ ratios that are very different from my pathetic, tiny person one.

 

I was just coming up the stairs to the ground floor after a heavenly evacuation when I received the text from the dog homestay that they did not have the setup to care for my dog and they “hated to ruin my vacation, but…”

 

Lovely. I walked through the rain all the way back to Tiki hell, packed my belongings, and proceeded to freak out while my phone refused to connect to Google Maps (because thanks to technology, I have no actual idea how to get anywhere).

 

Cannot connect to server, Try again is my literal hell.

 

Finally connected, I ran to the nearest metro stop, arrived at Gare du Nord with 20 minutes to spare, found the insanely long, slow moving line for train tickets, stood semi-patiently while an old man complained about something train related in French to an employee, and finally interjected to ask the man if there was any way to get a ticket soon since my train was about to leave.

 

You have a credit or bank card? He asked (in French).

 

Oui (needs no translation).

 

Then you can use the machines over there.

 

I ran to the machine, somehow managed to actually figure out how to purchase a ticket, and went to find the Voie.

 

My husband had been texting as he made his way to Gare du Nord to give me a kiss and the all-important Zipcar card, without which I had little hope of actually being able to get to the dog homestay place since all of my friends with cars were busy.

 

It’s ok if you don’t make it. I will probably just cry if I see you, I texted.

 

As soon as I spotted him making his way toward me, I promptly burst into full-on sobbing.

 

Tears continuing to stream down my face once more, I finally made my way to the very last car of the train, where a rowdy group of women were all sitting together (one of whom was in my seat that faced the direction of movement for the train). I was so exhausted I didn’t even bother to try to switch. I mean, I did let it be known that she in my seat (I am not yet Enlightened and full of peace, after all). I really had no desire to sit with her three chatty friends, though.

 

Side note: I think US American get a bad rap for being “noisy,” but I honestly think that every culture has its fair share of annoying noisy people.

 

I had purchased a ticket for the fancy fast train for a horrifying price tag of 99 euro, which amounts to about $116 US dollars. F’ing ouch! I will say that it was definitively fast. I arrived in Brussels a mere hour and a half later, having peed at least four times (I take full advantage of restrooms whenever they are readily available), where I proceeded to wander for the next 45 minutes while my phone attempted to load the Zipcar website to tell me where I could find the nearest car to rent.

 

While waiting beside a crosswalk, a guy on a bicycle drove by and gave me “the eye.” I instantly began crossing the road and stopped on the other side of the street. This did nothing to deter said man on bicycle, who simpy road to my new location and asked if I needed him, any kind of help, finding my hotel, etc. (All in French).

 

No thank you, I responded. But that’s very nice of you.

 

Not. Are you daft, dude? I crossed the street to get away from you. Do I need to wear a freaking sign? #metooagain

 

Fifteen minutes later, and I found the Zipcar, unlocked it with my card, and got in.

 

I got the key out of the dashboard, loaded Google Maps, and got ready to drive.

 

When I went to step on the gas, I looked down and saw three pedals.

 

Shit! Standard. It took me several minutes to remember what to do with my feet I relation to the three pedals.

 

Me: Ok. I have two feet. There are three pedals. Where do I put my feet again?

 

Thank the gods that driving standard literally is like riding a bike because I hadn’t driven stick in eight years.

 

The second I turned o the car, noise came blaring through the radio. I turned it off and began attempting to follow the GPS lady’s instructions.

 

Turn right on this street that I am horribly mispronouncing because it is in Flemish or French and I have no idea how to pronounce.

 

I hear ya, lady.

 

Several strange turns later, I finally got onto the ring road that would take me to the small town in Wallonia where I could rescue my rescue dog. On the much more open road (I don’t think the open road really exists in Europe like it does in the US, but I was happy just to be on a two lane highway and out of the city proper), I happened to glance at the radio.

 

Judaica Divertissement (Jewish entertainment).

 

Ummm. Ok. Since my entire life feels like it has been a series of entertaining, albeit more funny tragic than funny ha ha, events, I felt no need to turn the radio back on for any more.

 

At the homestay, I rang the doorbell and my dog nearly crashed through the door he was out of there so fast. I had to run and grab him because he was seriously headed for the highway to pick up a ride and get the hell out of dodge (I hear ya, buddy. I feel that way about Belgium fairly frequently).

 

I got my hand around his collar and guided him abck into the house so I could get his belongings. Once inside, he walked around n circles, panting heavily.

 

See? The woman pointed at him. He doesn’t seem stressed at all.

 

Umm….are we talking about the same dog?

 

No points were given to these folks for any kind of in-depth knowledge of dog behavior and psychology. I mean, it really isn’t rocket science to remove a toy that two dogs both want to play with and refuse to share. Dogs aren’t getting along? Separate them. They are really quite similar to little kids, just bigger and with a greater tendency to shed.

 

At this point, I was in crisis mode. No time to explain to these people how inept and incompetent they were. Save that for the business review (yes, I am a Jew after all).

 

My mission: Save the dog, Save the world.

 

Atticus was in the car before I could spread his sheet across the back seat. F it. Zipcar can deal with a little dog fur. I nearly drove off without his doggie beds, which the woman put in the trunk of the car.

 

I’m sorry I ruined your vacation, she said.

 

That’s life. And I gave her a hug. It was like one of those 80s movies where the person goes in for a handshake and the other offers a hug so the extended hand goes into an uncomfortable place and everything goes into slow mo with the screeching music from Psycho playing in the background.

 

Oh well. The world needs more hugs, I guess.

 

And off we went. The return trip went relatively smoothly. I parked in a not-spot across from our house so I could make a couple of trips (with Velcro dog in tow) to get all of the heavy stuff in the house before returning the car. Then, I somehow convinced Big A to get back into the car and got in myself.

 

Atticus promptly crawled up into the passenger seat.

 

No, I said, attempting to push him into the back seat.

 

Oh, f it. I sighed. But you have to lie down because it isn’t safe.

 

He lay down and stayed down while I proceeded to drive around Watermael-Boitsfort for the next 40 minutes in search of a place to park the car because the two zones where we usually park were blocked off by construction signs.

 

It was at this point where I really was prepared to just throw in the towel altogether.

 

I attempted to text with my husband, who was at the wine gathering at the Irish Embassy that I was supposed to be attending as well (but seriously, who wouldn’t rather drive around a foreign city in a rented car that charges by the minute than drink free glasses of wine?).

 

After several minutes of back and forth messaging, he finally suggested that I call Zipcar.

So I called Zipcar (T-mobile also charges by the minute, by the way…20 cents a pop…good times).

 

 

Even though I hit the number to talk to an English speaking representative, the person still answered in french. I know that I am supposed to be practicing my French, but I was so frazzled at this point that I wasn’t sure I could explain what was happening in a foreign language. My husband says I have turned in a “parrot,” mimicking French with no trouble at all, but there are times when I am just too worn out and overwhelmed to fully participate in the nuances of this cultural adventure.

 

When I asked if the representative spoke English, she responded in the affirmative (thank all the Gods). The system had been down, she said, which may also have contributed to the challenges I was experiencing finding a zone where I could park the car. She located my car via GPS and guided me toward a Zipcar zone.

 

Note: When you drive into one such zone, a woman’s voice informs you (in English), “You have entered a Zipcar zone.”

 

At Rue du Pinson, where the woman told me I could park, there was no mellifluous, feminine voice of welcome.

 

Why don’t you park and then call us back and we will see what we can do about the extra time you have spent driving while looking for a parking zone.

 

Oh, hell no, I was not about to let her off the phone when I still hadn’t parked the car. At my request, she double-checked that this supposed zone was indeed kosher (for parking, at least). I was so thrilled, I got out of the car, go the dog, and triumphantly held my Zipcar card to the little box on the windshield.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Eh?

 

I walked over and tried opening the driver’s side door to see if the car had locked.

 

Nope.

 

It took me several more seconds than I would like to admit to realize the car had not locked because I was still holding the keys. I hastily returned to the glove compartment, closed the door, and tried again.

 

Success!

 

The representative even credited my account for the extra 40 minutes I had spent. That almost made the experience worth it….

 

Thankfully, we were right near a bus 17 stop with a bus on its way in just a few minutes. Atticus lay on the sidewalk while we waited. Upon boarding, the driver wanted to chat about the dog.

 

What breed is he? He asked. White Canadian shepherd? (The French word for breed is actually “race,” which I find interesting.

 

I went through my explanation: He is a husky. It is rare for them to be all white. Etc. etc.

 

Oh, but he is beautiful, the driver said.

 

Thank you, I replied. Then, He takes after me (I didn’t say).

 

We finally made it home sometime after 11pm. It took all of my self-control not to start vacuuming and cleaning the house upon arrival (cleaning is my way of de-stressing and at this point I was about as wound up as I get).

 

I fell asleep after 2am and was barely able to function for the next several days. Atticus was completely crashed out as well and essentially attached himself to me at all times.

 

I can’t say I was thrilled to have left Paris, and I was livid with the dog-boarding place for their completely unprofessional, incompetent behavior.

 

However, the sun came out, I did several loads of laundry and cleaned the house, and Atticus and I went for long walks in the woods. My husband made important connections with colleagues. He spent such long hours in the conference that we would not have had all that much time together in the city of love after all.

 

Even though I wasn’t able to wander the streets of Paris, drinking coffee and wine, eating patisserie, and taking in the sights and sounds of the city of love, I had the gift of spending time with very sweet, four-legged beings and living in a beautiful corner of Brussels with kind, mostly quiet neighbors.

 

I am still hoping for that “much needed relaxation.”

 

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