A few weeks ago, at 2 a.m., Ryan climbed out of his bunk and picked his way through the dark while his 109 dorm-mates slept. He got dressed and brushed his teeth, then sat back down and waited for his life to begin.
Ryan, “Keith,” in Weekends with Daisy, is the prison inmate I trained two service dogs with. He went into prison in 1992 as a 16-year-old. Now, 24 years and three months later, he was about to be released to a halfway house.
He passed the next two hours thinking about the future; he re-read a few chapters of the book he’d just finished (“The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”). He looked over at the sleeping bodies of the few guys he befriended, and he prayed for them.
At 4 a.m., a correctional officer came into the dorm. Ryan grabbed the clear plastic garbage bag that held a change of underwear, his toothbrush, shower shoes, and seven books (everything he owned), and walked out of the dorm. In a couple of hours, the first few guys would stir, and then the rest would follow until the sounds of too many bored and restless men crammed into too small a space would rise to a head-cracking din. Just like it did every morning. But for the first time in what seemed like forever, Ryan wouldn't be there, jamming headphones into his ears to muffle the noise.
In the holding cage where he waited for the transport van, things already felt different. Instead of speculating with the other guys about whether they’d have yard that day, or what their chances were of getting in a phone call before lights out, Ryan talked about his next stop. The halfway house was 50 miles away in a city he’d never seen and where he knew no one, and while it wasn’t exactly freedom, it was at its threshold.
Finally, it was time. Ryan was handcuffed, arms in front, and herded into the transport van with five other guys. There weren’t enough seats, so one of the men sat on the floor (yeah, it’s against Department of Corrections regulations, but so are a lot of things that happen in prison). One by one, the inmates were dropped off at halfway houses around the state. Ryan’s was the last stop.
The van pulled up across the street from a rambling, rundown white clapboard building in a neighborhood scarred by homelessness and addiction. The correctional officer opened the van door and Ryan stepped out into a dirt parking lot. He started toward the front entrance when the correctional officer stopped him. “Hold on,” the officer said, and used a key to remove the handcuffs. Ryan stood uncertainly, testing his bare wrists. Nearly a quarter century behind razor wire—of head counts and lockdowns, prison food and boredom--and now there he was, a 41-year-old man standing on a city sidewalk, just like anyone else.
He thought he might float away.
The desk chair in the bathroom was the first tipoff that my last day with Samurai might not go as planned. Although come to think of it, there was a preliminary warning the night before when Josh sent a group text message from upstairs: “Would one of you mind coming up here? I threw up a few times.”
After nearly two years together, Samurai was leaving me to go back up to NEADS to prepare for his career as a service dog for therapy. Before I got the news that would be our last day together, I'd agreed to read to little kids at a President's Day event. But after that, I planned to strap on snowshoes and take him for a long walk in the woods. That way, Samurai would sleep well his first night in the kennel, and I’d be too fatigued to throw a toddler-style tantrum when the workers at NEADS led him away.
Instead, we sat in the ER while Josh received fluids through an IV. I phoned the doctor when Josh confirmed that he was responsible for the desk chair in the bathroom. He rolled it in so he’d have a comfortable seat while vomiting. And vomiting. And vomiting all night long “It’s probably a stomach bug,” I told the doctor. It was only after I hung up that I remembered the Greek yogurt from two days earlier. I’d held the container to my nose and assured Josh it was okay to eat, even though it had expired in January.
Josh sat slumped in the passenger seat holding a bucket weakly between his knees while I drove to the hospital. There was a parking spot near the emergency room entrance, but then I found an even closer one flush against a concrete support pillar.
Before long, Josh was in a hospital gown and hooked to an IV. Marty met us at the hospital so I wouldn’t have to cancel the reading, and the two of us settled onto folding chairs while Samurai snoozed on the floor. We were there a couple of hours when it was time for me to leave, but I kept putting it off. I wanted to stay with Josh. Finally, I stood up to go and Samurai popped to his feet, startling the nurse who was checking Josh’s blood pressure. “Oh! You have a dog!” she said, then launched into a long story involving her daughter’s dog.
I shrugged on my parka and grabbed my pocketbook. Her tale took a few unexpected turns. I zipped up and felt around in my pocket for my car keys. There was a part about allergies. And a cat. I edged past her, trying to extract myself politely -- she was saving my son’s life, after all. She described her daughter’s home. I began to worry about my own blood pressure.
Finally, her story wound down and we rushed outside. Samurai paused at the back door of my car. “Jump!” I told him, but he seemed confused because the concrete support post partially blocked his path. By now, the stress hormones were racing so powerfully through my body that I probably could have lifted all 75 pounds of him into the car. Instead, I forced myself to sound cheerful and happy, and eventually coaxed him in. Then I threw myself into the driver’s seat, shifted into reverse and abruptly smashed into the post. Samurai sprung to his feet and ratcheted his ears back, searching with wide eyes for whoever made that horrible screeching sound. Fender bender isn’t an item on his exposure checklist, but I guess there’s no reason we can’t add it.
I stepped out of the car to inspect the damage. It was bad. So bad given the speed of contact that I almost laughed (hysterically). You’d think the concrete post had fallen from a jetliner and landed on the left quarter panel of my car. It was crumpled and bent into wildly pointing, jagged angles. Flakes of dark gray paint littered the pavement. About a thousand thoughts flickered through my head, most of them leading back to that Greek yogurt and how I was being punished many times over for my cavalier regard for sell-by dates.
The car was drivable, at least. I steered it out of the parking lot and into traffic. At first I was embarrassed about the damage, but then a recklessness came over me. By the time I got to the highway, I was wearing the dented fender like a prison tattoo, daring other drivers to mess with me.
The reading was at the kids’ play area of a shopping mall. I found a place to park, far from any structures. Before getting out of the car, I peeked at my face in the rearview mirror. It didn’t look right. Then I realized why. I’d put on only half of my makeup that morning before rushing off to the hospital. In a moment of absolute panic, I looked down at my lap, half expecting that I had forgotten to put my pants on, too. (They were there, zipped and buttoned). I told myself that the kids wouldn’t notice my half made-up face. In fact, I could’ve left my pants at home, and nobody would notice as long as Samurai was there to distract them.
A few deep breaths later, Samurai and I were weaving our way through J.C. Penney when a Sephora store appeared, shimmering like a mirage, just beyond the active wear department. “Sam! Makeup!” I said, probably louder than was warranted. I rushed over and, wildly and without consideration for color or tone, applied cosmetic samples to my eyelashes, cheeks and lips – one-handed because I couldn’t let go of Samurai’s leash. When no facial surface was left uncovered, I headed to the mall where the reading was taking place. Turns out I blended nicely with one 7-year-old girl who had drawn crooked lines on her eyelids with black face crayon.
Samurai basked under a blanket of tiny hands while I sat down to read Clifford the Big Red Dog. He watched my face the whole time, as attentive to the story as any child. Afterward, he posed in a ‘sit’ with one preschooler after another while their parents took pictures. The floor was slippery and Samurai’s back legs slid apart like an easel collapsing in slow motion, yet his eyes stayed on me, waiting for the next command.
When we returned to the hospital emergency department, the security officer lit up, “You’re back!” he said (to Samurai, not me). Now that I wasn’t dragging a sick teenager with me, the admissions clerk and others came from around their desks to say hello to Samurai and to tell me about their own dogs, their sisters’ dogs, their parents’ dogs.
We made it through the gauntlet of dog lovers back to Josh’s room, where we found him sucking on a popsicle and Marty struggling to stay awake. I sent Marty back to work and settled in with Josh to wait for the results from his lab tests. His blood pressure monitor registered 89/40 and his IV bag was empty. He finished the popsicle and dozed in and out of sleep. There was nothing for me to do. I spread Josh’s sweatshirt on the tile floor to make a little bed for Samurai. Before long, I was on the floor next to him, stroking his ears and massaging his scruff. Josh was being taken care of, I hit a support post, not a car – or a person. And I was wearing pants. I felt calm for the first time all day.
Finally, after seven hours in the emergency room, three liters of IV solution, anti-nausea meds and pain relievers, Josh was deemed well enough to go home. The ER doctor blamed a stomach virus, not the yogurt (Yes! Fist pump!). By then, it was too late to return Samurai to NEADS so I got to delay our farewell and keep him one more night.
The next morning, I drove Samurai to NEADS, took a few pictures, kissed him goodbye, and held my tantrum until I was safely back in the car. Soon, Samurai will begin training with a therapist. He’ll help her reach her clients in new and profound ways and he’ll do an amazing job. Increasingly, the medical establishment is realizing that there’s a place for traditional medicine and there’s a place for dogs like Samurai. Last week, my family needed both.
They arrive 18 to a pallet, plastic crates strapped securely together for transport. Each crate holds a single golden retriever. It's like ordering in bulk.
Since May, volunteers have been rescuing golden retrievers from the streets of Istanbul and shipping them to the U.S. The effort was spearheaded by Golden Rescue Atlanta in Georgia when an American living in Turkey contacted the nonprofit about the growing number of homeless goldens.
Golden retrievers were prized as status symbols in Turkey. The fad began about 10 years ago. People would buy the puppies for themselves and give them as birthday and wedding presents. But as their numbers crept up, their appeal waned. Everybody had goldens, so nobody wanted goldens. Many are abandoned to the streets of Istanbul or driven to the forest outside the city limits where they are left to scavenge for food and fend off attacks by wild animals. The lucky ones end up in animal shelters.
I learned about the Turkish goldens recently from Brian Kling, board president of Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson, Mass. The nonprofit has taken in eight of the animals so far. On Tuesday, I met Mariah, a petite blonde with long eyelashes and a deep scar across her back. Allyson MacKenna, executive director of YGRR and Mariah’s new mom, protected the wound with a festive green and red Christmas sweater. No one but Mariah knows how she was injured, but the wound became infected and nearly prevented her from traveling last month with the rescue airlift. If left behind in Turkey, Mariah, would be dead now, Allyson said.
The thing about goldens is they are remarkably resilient and forgiving. After being abandoned by their humans, surviving months or years as a stray, being packaged up like an Amazon delivery and enduring a 12-hour flight, the dogs welcomed their rescuers with wagging tails and open-mouthed puppy smiles. Most of them even managed to keep their crates dry for the trip.
Then again, their last contact with humans before leaving Turkish ground was, I imagine, filled with sweet farewells. To ensure the goldens’ safe passage to America, someone cared enough to hand-bead good luck nazar talismans and slip them around the dogs' necks. And guess what? It worked.
Pardon me while I breathe into this paper bag. I’m still a bit nauseous from a day of dizzying highs and lows the other week. The morning began with the news that a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a guy who wants to build a 9,000-square-foot strip club in our tiny town. That's 1.4 feet of nude bar for every man, woman and child who lives here -- a scale so vast that I can only assume that the owner is compensating for his inadequate (ahem) self esteem.
In case you’re wondering, that was a low.
Then I drove to Old Lyme, Conn., where I’d been invited to speak to the library’s book group about Weekends with Daisy. I spent the morning with a room full of smart, funny and insightful readers talking about some of my favorite things (dogs, my kids, and the rehabilitative aspects of training service dogs in prison).
That was a high.
My mood took a sharp turn downward when I came home to a voice mail from a stranger claiming that my dog bit her.
I don’t have a dog of my own, and yet (and this is what I find most troubling), it never occurred to me that she was mistaken. That’s how easily I accept blame.
According to her message, she was attacked on a Monday. As it turns out, I had Samurai on that day. Now, Samurai is so gentle that he wouldn’t bite you even if you’d bathed in beef broth and donned raw meat. Still, the woman had to be right. After all, she knew my name. She had my phone number. She had notified the dog officer. I wracked my brain. Did Samurai bite someone at the post office while I was catching up with my old neighbor, Bill? The leash isn't that long. How could I not notice? Or maybe it happened while an acquaintance was introducing me to her German exchange student?
I dug out Samurai’s rabies certificate and dialed the dog bite victim. She apologized immediately, explaining that it was a case of mistaken identity. Somebody suggested I might have been the woman whose dog lunged at her while visiting conservation land, but when she googled me and saw my photo, she saw that we looked nothing alike.
I was relieved and offered to help her find the dog’s owner. Still, an uneasiness clung to me. Why did I have so little faith in myself that I assumed Samurai could undergo a complete personality change, attack a stranger, and revert back to his sweet self while I chatted mindlessly in the post office?
That was a low. Not to mention, a topic for a therapist.
But since I don’t see a therapist, I took the issue outside with me for a walk. That’s where I work out most problems. I was grappling with my deep-seated fear that I’m irresponsible and self-absorbed when I saw a 3-year-old boy in the middle of the road. He was straddling a bicycle with training wheels. “Are you stuck?” I asked, looking up and down our quiet street for cars. He stared back at me, clamped his mouth into a fierce expression, and pushed down on the pedals. The bike picked up speed. I followed. “Good job! But you better turn around,” I pointed ahead to where the road curved out of sight, “Cars come down there really fast and they may not see you.”
The boy steered his bike into a U-turn and swooped into his driveway. I kept walking, eager to dive back into my self-criticism, but turned around for one last look. He was still in his driveway, staring back at me. “Bye!” he hollered. “I love you!”
That was a high.
Puppies don't judge. That's why it doesn't bother me too much that I totally blew my chance to make a good first impression when I met Samurai last week.
I had intended to savor that special moment when the prison door slides open to reveal my newest service dog-in-training. I would press the image into my memory like a flower between the pages of a book. Then, I'd take Samurai's leash and greet him with my "I'm your weekend Mom and you can trust me" voice so he'd feel safe and secure.
Here's what happened instead: I told the prison guard on duty that I was there to pick up Samurai for his first weekend out. When I turned around, I noticed Crystal, a fellow puppy raiser, waiting for her dog. I asked who she was there for. "Bear," she said.
Bear? The name pinballed through my consciousness, setting off buzzers and lights and bells. My eyes widened. Crystal had Bear! I hadn't seen Bear since March when I had to give him up to another weekend puppy raiser. Now Crystal had him, doing her part in the effort to condition Bear to change.
The reward centers in my brain were flashing the word "BEAR!" when a correctional officer stepped into the waiting area with a tiny yellow Lab puppy pulling on his leash. It was Samurai. My gaze brushed over him and locked on Bear, who followed with a second officer. There was my baby nearly all grown up now at nine months old. Even when I accepted Samurai's leash and food from the officer I couldn't tear my eyes from Bear. I was a lovesick teenager with my annoying little brother running around next to me.
"Bear! Remember me? The first person who had you?" I said in what I now recognize as a slightly desperate and sad attempt to show Crystal that I was once prominent in Bear's life. Crystal let me say hello and I fell on Bear, scratching those ruffly ears and kissing his smooth head and generally trying to fit three months of separation into 30 seconds.
When it was time to say goodbye, I remembered Samurai, who was sniffing around the floor. He didn't seem to care that I had started off our first weekend by ignoring him.
I positioned my new puppy by my side and spoke encouragingly to him as we walked out of the prison. Our first meeting wasn't ideal, but I have -- fingers crossed this time -- 12 months to make up for it.
Our opinionated puppy-in-training has argued herself out of a career.
NEADS has made the decision to pull Tinsel from the program. She'll be adopted as a pet. A smart, fun, opinionated pet.
I'm disappointed, but not surprised. Tinsel was whip-smart and loved to work (just look at the video below.) But she barked and whined from our first day together and never really stopped. Over time, Tinsel hinted in other ways that she'd be better suited as a pet than a service dog. In prison, she was afraid of the fire escape stairs and would bolt at loud noises. One weekend with me, Tinsel panicked in the parking garage stairwell, flattening her body against the cement floor while desperately searching for a way out. But it was when she growled at another dog who was moving in on her toy, that I said my mental goodbye. There's a name for what she did: it's called "resource guarding." A pet dog can get away with that behavior; a service dog can't.
After saying goodbye to Bear two months ago, I thought this would be easier. But Bear's still in the program. Tinsel failed. I was losing a puppy I adored and giving up my vision of her future. It felt like a broken promise.
On the drive back to prison Sunday, I swiped at my eyes, knowing that if I gave in to the tears, they wouldn't stop. Tinsel was stretched out in the backseat, her body swaying and bouncing gently with the contours of the road. To her, it was just another ride in my car. She didn't know it would be our last. I forced myself to think like her, no past or future. No regrets. It got me into the prison parking lot dry eyed. I pulled open the car door, gave Tinsel one last inhale of a kiss, and delivered her to the correctional officer who walked her out of my sight and out of my life.
I know I'll feel better when Tinsel goes on her next big car ride, the one that will bring her home to her adopted family. Then I'll be able to finally stop thinking of her as a failed service dog, but instead, as a happy, slightly opinionated pet.
Every spring, registered voters throughout New England show up at a designated place and time to practice democracy in its purest form. It's called annual Town Meeting. Everyone has a chance to speak, debate, and vote on budgets and bylaws.
I almost always bring a puppy-in-training with me because town meetings are a great way to desensitize dogs to crowds and noise. The dogs eventually fall asleep through the proceedings, though a few have managed to make their presence known. One year, I was returning to my seat after casting my ballot on a controversial question. Murmers of appreciation rippled through the crowd as I walked by with Holly, an adorable yellow Lab. I noticed the cable television camera and smiled to myself at our moment in the spotlight. Then Holly squatted and flooded the floor beneath her.
Another time, I was trying to settle Freedom, a black Lab, on her blanket when a woman, furious about a question up for debate, marched toward the microphone. She passed us at the precise moment that I admonished Freedom with a "No!" Without breaking stride, the woman whipped toward me and hissed, "YES!"
By now, the Town Meeting regulars are used to seeing me with a dog. I brought Tinsel to the most recent one a week ago. The election workers at the door greeted us enthusiastically. People stopped on the way to their seats to say hello to Tinsel. At one point during a hand count, the town moderator leaned into his microphone at the front of the auditorium and reminded me, "The dog isn't allowed to vote."
Tinsel had a hard time settling. She'd chew on her toys for a few minutes, then abandon them. She barked a few times. She whined. She pawed at the seat in front of us like an unruly child kicking the seat back in a movie theater. All the while, I was consulting a mental flowchart, deciding what to do by following each possible response to its possible outcome. Some of my solutions to Tinsel's behavior were straightforward. I stopped her barking by bringing her out into the lobby for a change of scenery. Others were not so clear cut. Several times, Tinsel would leave our row and flop down in the aisle. I knew that if I were to lure her back with kibble, she would take the food, then bark for more. If I stood up to guide her back into the row, I'd disrupt Town Meeting and block the view of the man behind me. If I left her in the aisle, she'd be quiet. I left her in the aisle. Until she stood up and tried to wander toward the front of the room where the Board of Selectmen sat. Dave always tells us not to be afraid to physically put our pups into position. So, I grabbed her collar and her vest, and scootched her back into the row by my feet.
Eventually, Tinsel fell asleep. When she woke up and started whining, my mental flowchart landed on "Take her outside." A woman followed us out of the auditorium and stopped me in the lobby with a warm smile. She told me Tinsel was beautiful and asked for her name, then tapped it into her phone. I figured she had taken a picture of Tinsel and wanted to identify her until she raised her eyebrows at me, smiled again, and said, "I'm from the ADA and I'm going to report you to NEADS." I think I actually cocked my head at her like a confused puppy. The words did not match the tone. Still dripping with syrup, she informed me that I didn't have control over my dog, that I should have had Tinsel on a gentle leader because all NEADS dogs are on gentle leaders, that I pulled Tinsel by the collar and let her block the aisle where the town moderator nearly tripped on her. Well, she had a valid point with the last one, but still, I was confused -- since when does the Americans with Disabilities Act send representatives to town meetings?
I turned my back on her and brought Tinsel outside. When we came back in, I found the woman standing in the back of the auditorium. I poked my finger into the fleshy part of her upper arm, maybe harder than necessary, and gestured for her to come back out into the lobby with me where I explained that Tinsel isn't on a gentle leader yet. Then I asked her if she was really going to report me to NEADS. She laughed heartily, "Oh, no! I'm not going to report you." She may even have patted me on the shoulder. I didn't believe her. That night I wrote an email to Dave and told him what happened.
I'm still trying to figure out how to feel about that woman. In the week since Town Meeting, she's transformed in my memory into Professor Umbridge, the treacly and sadistic Hogwarts teacher who cheerfully tortured Harry Potter. Had I been a new puppy raiser, I would have burst into tears the moment she told me I didn't have control over my dog. Fortunately, I've hammered together some self confidence in the six years I've been puppy raising. I know that socializing a puppy can look messy from the outside. It's like raising a child, when, at the first sign of a tantrum, you process reams of information: your child's personality and personal history, the time of day, the amount of food in his stomach, how long since his last nap, the surroundings, the availability of distractions, the presence of other people ... and then you spit out a response. It's often not perfect, but it's the best we can do for ourselves and for our child.
We're all doing the best we can. And that's what I'll remember next time I'm tempted to judge someone -- even that woman at Town Meeting.
Okay, so I didn't fall in love with Tinsel right away. It took about 42 hours.
I blame Tinsel's bark. It's sharp and harsh and cut through me like a rusty handsaw. It started on the ride home from prison. By mile five, I was clenching the steering wheel and fighting the urge to end it all by driving into a utility pole. From time to time, I'd glance in the rearview mirror and catch Tinsel peering at me from over the back seat, an urgent expression on her face as she gathered her breath for another round of barking. There's a reason puppies are so cute.
The first weekend home with a new NEADS puppy is exhilarating but exhausting. It's kind of like watching someone else's toddler for the day. Fun, but if you're not used to focusing all of your attention on one small, often unruly being, it will suck every bit of life out of you.
Puppy raising is also like watching a toddler in that your primary concern is to keep her safe and out of mischief. The best way to do that is to tether yourself to the puppy so you're never out of each other's sight. From Friday through Sunday, except for when she was in her crate, Tinsel's leash was either in my hand or attached to my belt loop. Every movement involved a cost-benefit calculation: if I needed to get up to refill my coffee and Tinsel was contentedly chewing her toy elephant, it was worth disturbing her. If I needed to transfer the wash to the dryer, it wasn't.
Several times during the weekend, Tinsel planted herself in front of me and with no provocation, barked. I would fold my arms across my chest and turn my back. When she was quiet, we would play or work together. I threw the ball; had her do sits, downs, and stays; we practiced proper positioning and recalls. After each session, Tinsel would settle in for a nap. On Sunday morning I was so wiped out, that I joined her.
By Sunday afternoon, Tinsel was no longer barking We had arrived at an understanding: when she needed attention, I would give it to her, but only if she was quiet. Finally, we fell in love. I leaned in to kiss Tinsel and she nuzzled my hair -- right before she pulled a hunk of it into her mouth. I gently extracted it, then turned my back on her. We'll see if she tries that again this weekend.
It happens every time I get a new NEADS puppy to raise. The second we leave the prison, a powerful signal travels up the leash and brainwashes me into believing the dog is mine. The dog is not mine. I was reminded of this in a big way recently when Dave at NEADS gently told me that he and Bear's trainer decided to switch the dog to another puppy raiser.
I briefly wondered if I could sue Dave and the trainer in family court.
Okay, I know. This is what I signed up for. In Weekends with Daisy I wrote about falling in love with a puppy who was never mine. Giving her up tore me into little pieces. But gluing myself back together wasn't as hard as you'd think. That's because I knew Daisy was making someone else's life better.
Because of that, it's gotten easier to say goodbye to each dog after Daisy. But losing a dog midway through the process is something I've never dealt with. Until now.
Dave's email wasn't a surprise. Bear is a golden retriever, which by default makes him more challenging to train than a Lab. His hearing works only intermittently. The command "down," often causes it to short out.
He doesn't calm as easily as a Lab does, either. Dave tells us the dogs should act like furry lumps on the ground until they're needed. Bear is more like a furry surveillance system. Once, I took him to an indoor soccer game and actually got nauseous watching him follow the action.
So, in an attempt to ease his adjustment when he's matched with a client, NEADS placed Bear with a new handler in prison and a new puppy raiser. The idea is to show him that change is good and no matter who he's with, he'll be safe.
I'm not so crazy about change. I miss Bear. On my first weekend without him, I got an email description of the field trips he took with his new puppy raiser. I actually felt jealous. There were photos attached. I peered closely at the pictures for signs that he looked forlorn, like maybe he was missing me. But Bear looked like ... Bear.
On Friday I'll be picking up my newest puppy: a four-month-old yellow Lab named Tinsel. I vow not to think of her as my dog the moment we leave the prison. I'll give it until we get home.
Ordinarily when it snows, my instinct for self preservation kicks in. To me, each snowflake is a tiny enemy intent on doing me harm.
If I have plans that require driving, I cancel them. Then I bar myself in the house and worry. Snow is slippery under tires. Sometimes it drops from the sky so fast and heavy, that you can't see through it. Cars and drivers behave unpredictably when they're out in it. Bad things happen.
If it's snowing I will not drive. Never. Ever. Except, last week, I did.
For two and a half hours, I drove in the snow so I could participate in something that lasted, literally, three minutes.
This is it:
I'm still not quite sure what compelled me to be there. Sure, I was looking forward to it. I attended rehearsals. I played a practice video and danced alone in front of the computer. There was that whole, "show must go on" impulse, but it was more than that. The flash mob was organized by NEADS and billed as a Valentine for Boston. Originally, it was to be held a month earlier on a smaller scale and for an audience of one: Patrick Downes, who lost his leg in the Boston Marathon bombing last April. Cathy Zemaitis and Lisa Brown who work for NEADS cooked up the idea with Pat's wife, Jessica. Jess also lost a leg in the blast and in September, was matched with Rescue, a NEADS service dog whom I puppy raised. Patrick was facing another surgery and the flash mob was meant to be a spirit-lifting surprise.
Patrick recovered from the surgery quicker than expected. But Boston is still healing. This became evident when NEADS asked survivors and the professionals who treated them to join the flash mob. NEADS was overwhelmed by the response. The flash mob grew into a group therapy session of the best, most joyful, spontaneous kind.
About 70 of us fought our way through the blizzard to reach our meeting spot at Copley. The music was cued and we ran to our places, a unified mob, pumping our fists in the air. If hatred couldn't stop us, neither could the snow.