The Man Who Caught Bunnies

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Tyler spent the night last night, for the first time. After spending his evening teaching a painting class in Santa Fe, he hopped in his old truck – the one he, a man of 40, has kept running since high school, because he is the sort to fix things rather than trade them in (yes!) – and drove to Albuquerque to see me. All the way down, he sent me links – to songs. The lyrics varied, from the song about the woman who had been damaged by upheavals and the man who didn’t see this as damage at all, but compared her to a beautiful mountain range pushed up from the planet’s own dramas, to Elvis: I can’t help, falling in love…with…you.

He arrived to find me listening to Oscar DeLeon, dancing around my living room, drinking coffee to keep myself awake until he got here. When I opened the door to find him, five-eleven, with the effortless grace of a deft and practiced hunter, square jaw, hazel eyes that show everything – hope, mostly, and acceptance, and pain of his own – his lips parted in a smile.

My God, he told me. You are so beautiful.

When I told him I wanted to show him the pretty parts of Albuquerque, he had answered without missing a beat: You are the pretty parts of Albuquerque.

We exchanged songs, and listened with our eyes alive. He is a painter. A sculptor. A man of otherworldly talent, sprung from the fertile dark earth of Alabama, where, when he said he wanted to take art in high school, he was met with puzzlement and scoffing. Why the hell would anyone want to take art? Why don’t y’do somethin’ useful, like shop class…A boy who saw every subtle variation of light and color flicker across the faces of all those people incapable of seeing him for what he was. A genius.

I have never felt as seen as I feel in his gaze. He can reproduce any image, with a pencil and his big, strong hand, and it looks perfect. The blanket looks soft, the baby’s toes, perfectly proportioned, the wrinkles on the soles of its feet, just so. Just right.

It is hard for me to hold his gaze. I am always the first to look away. Tyler’s soul shines from his eyes, open, vulnerable, free. He is beauty, and his spirit flows right into mine, and roots around. There is very little he doesn’t notice with those eyes of his.

One, then two in the morning, and still we were up talking. Sharing. Each story that passed between us only serving to confirm what we had already concluded. Soul mates, he said. You’re corny, I replied – but I felt it too. I’ve never deserved anything this good, he said, and my heart shattered for him. What life does to the beautiful ones. The oddballs. The ones who don’t fit in. We believe we deserve the pain they push up against us. I want to change that in you, I told him. I want you to love yourself more, to see yourself as I see you. A glimmer of a tear, and he touched the side of my face. Same. I want the same. We will do this, together, for ourselves, for each other. And I wondered, do those who see his art, or read my books, ever really understand what goes into becoming one of us? The isolation and derision, the arrogance of those who cannot, will not, should not, but do?

We decided to go for a walk, even though I live in a part of town referred to as The War Zone. I am only six blocks from a nicer neighborhood, and so we resolved to head that way, under the full moon, in the cool of the first night of Autumn, with stars twinkling. I’ll bring my gun, he said. He is not conservative, but he is a Southern Man still. He left Alabama because of the racism that was so natural as to go unquestioned among his people. He loves them, but sometimes it is impossible to want to do anything but run from that place and never go back. He fled to San Francisco. To art school. If they hadn’t known better – and one look at the way he looks at women tells the story of his inclinations – they might have figured he was one of those. He wouldn’t have cared if they thought this. He loves. Tyler is love.

He told me about his dead cousin, and there were tears in his voice, the kind of tears you can hear in Juan Gabriel’s mouth as he sings. Levi. A man chased by his own demons off the edge of the world, and gone forever. And then, as we walked through the blue-dark night in my poorly-lit neighborhood, hoping not to run into meth heads or lose Pit Bulls, we saw the most amazing, incredible thing, as though conjured from the ether by a memory of Levi, the gentleness of Levi, a protector whose loving impulses were guided, as so many are in males, towards the military, where he was broken in a million places and never put back together again, held in place only by the glue of self-medication, until that glue didn’t stick anymore, and he needed more, and more, until the night he simply shattered altogether.

What is that? Tyler asked me, pointing, seeing it before I did. His eyes work like that, always scanned, always aware, a male thing, I think. I looked to where he pointed but I saw nothing. Is it a rabbit? he asked.

Maybe. We have those around here.

Usually, rabbits run away from people in the city. They know, the little scrawny gray cottontails, the ones who survive, they know that to live they must flee, always. But this one did not.

This one, hopped towards us, with deliberate intention.

What the hell?

It was not a wild rabbit, not hard bone under stretched mange and scar. This was a round, butterscotch-colored, floppy-eared, fat, soft pet bunny, with big shiny black eyeballs that trust and trust. Somebody’s pet. And upon hearing our voices in the dead of night, in the worst part of town, it came out from under a cactus and hopped all the way to the street to greet us. Came within one foot of us.

Oh my God, I whispered. It’s the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life!

We watched it sniffing and nibbling weeds and, oddly, rocks, and thought about what its story might have been. Its face was blackened, a little roughed up, as though someone, perhaps an abusive boyfriend, had dropped it out a car window to torture a woman. Or to hurt a child. I have known men like this, tried to change men like this, loved them as an act of self-hatred.

We should take it home, he said. It’ll be dead by morning if we leave it out here.

Cars whizzing past, wild dogs roaming about, two hawks in the tree behind my house, and hungry, desperate people, drugged and boozed beyond recognition, into monstrous shapes flapping through the night behind their shopping carts and upon their stolen bikes.

We tried to catch it. But the bunny did not wish to be caught, only to be fed, perhaps, or seen. Something. We followed it two blocks, and lost it beneath a truck in a yard that we did not want to enter, because the gun in Tyler’s pocket would not be much use against the gun that might find us from inside someone’s home if we trespassed.

We have to just let it go, I said, my heart aching for this small scrap of pure innocence, hopping around in the worst part of town, alone, in the middle of the night. Practicing my Buddhism. Acceptance being the key to inner peace, and inner peace not being the same as happiness but rather just the absence of suffering. Pain comes. That is inevitable, but suffering only comes from wanting what is to be something else.

Levi had only wanted to keep everyone safe. He had not wanted fights, but fights always found him. A soft, tame, dark-eyed spirit, appearing in the worst part of town, in the darkest part of the night. Come and get me.

We kept walking. For more than an hour. We walked all the way to Ridgecrest, and along the sidewalks as the sprinklers watered the wide grassy median. To the parks. Past the beautiful homes, in the beautiful part of town, and I prayed that soon I would sell this book, this film, something, and be able to get myself back to a place like this, with a man like this.

We went back, and sure enough, the bunny came to find us again, hopping out into the street. So odd. It was not where we had left it. And still it found us, and came to us. And this time, Tyler caught it. With his bare hands. He has the largest strongest hands I have ever held, hands that bend metal into the sculptures he makes. He just sold one, a massive dragon, to George R.R. Martin, the man who wrote Game of Thrones. It is beautiful. Tyler doesn’t have a manager or publicist, but if he did, everyone who loves that show, those books, would know about his art. He is the artist hired by other artists, to make beauty for them.

The bunny kicked and scratched, and Tyler held it out, firm but gentle. We released it into the guest room, with water and lettuce. It hid behind the drum set, and I remembered when that other boyfriend, five years ago, knowing I was on blood thinners and could die from bruising, had grabbed me in anger and thrown me into a different drumset. The pieces of the stands and edges of the cymbals and bruised and cut me then.

Tyler wrapped me gentle in his arms. People make fun of me, he said. Because here I am, a hunter, but if I find an injured dove or a baby bird, I have been known to love it and raise it and set it free. 

He comes from a world that raised him to hunt, and he is good at it, because he is one of those people, competitive, brilliant, who is good at anything he tries to be good at. But he appeared in this world with a heart and soul that hurt for things. Bodhichita. He touches in himself the tenderness of pain itself, and allows it to make him compassionate, but also resolute.

Tyler spent the night last night, for the first time.

We laughed, we loved, we walked.

He told me about Levi.

We brought that bunny home.

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Yes, I’ve Written a New Book

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I’ve just about completed the rewrites on my newest novel. Hoping it finds a good publishing home. This is not the real cover, just one I made, because I like to make stuff.

Many of you have asked whether I am still writing, now that I own a small bakery. I am. Today I will finish rewrites on a new young adult novel, and send it off to my new and wonderful agent, Andy Ross.

Here’s a taste, the first few paragraphs of the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it. This book feels important to me, and I have confidence it will find a good publishing home, sprout wings, and fly. With your support and love, of course.

This is not the actual or final cover, just one I made because I like to make stuff and it felt powerful. 🙂

CHAPTER ONE

The Feast of Fifteens.

Everyone says it is supposed to be the happiest week of a young woman’s life, when she is cinched and pinched and brushed and bound up, made beautiful by billowing skirts, and hauled by oxcart through the maleza, or dark green jungle, to North Coast. To men.

She is to be paraded along the cobblestone streets of Kill City, around the square, and taken to the mango-colored temple with its three steeples and darkly tolling bells. Then, she is presented to the world by her parents, along with all the other Fifteens from all the other villages. I’ve never seen any of these things in real life, only heard about them, been groomed for them, aimed from the moment of my first earthly wail as I exited my mother, direct at my destiny as an inamorata, or querida, as sure and true as my father’s spear had been aimed, so many times, straight into the heart of a big marlin or tuna.

So why, if this thing was supposed to be so wonderful, did I feel nothing but fear and sorrow on this day? Perhaps it was because I had never been a normal girl – according to my parents and everyone else in our small village. I had always had a “mind of my own.” That’s exactly how the people said it: “That Maricela, she has a mind of her own.” This was said with a frown or a scowl, for a mind in a girl was not a good thing at all, and a mind of her own, well. That was plain sinful in our village. I was never sure whose mind they would prefer me to have, and though I longed to ask them, I didn’t. I was smart enough to know that I ought to hide my smarts. I had learned long ago that there was little point to questions among my people; not only did not one seem to have any answers, but the very act of posing a question at all was dangerous, especially in girls. These days, I kept things to myself. This didn’t mean I felt nothing. I felt all the things. All of them. Deeply, horribly. I had just gotten very good at hiding my feelings, and my thoughts, and – well, myself. My true self. There was no room for that person here in Hundred Fires, on the island of Kubao.

As little girls, my best friend Jacinta and I had played “Feast of Fifteens” with our dolls, sitting in the dark brown dirt outside our thatch-roofed homes, preparing for the future. Our mothers had dutifully sewn the pretty, curvy little cuquitas for us out of burlap, taken from sacks of rice they acquired at market, down the beach, by trading the fishes our fathers had stabbed quiet in the turquoise sea. All women in our village made such dolls for their daughters, cutting curly black hair from their own heads, to weave onto the doll’s scalps, giving them an eerie realism. Sometimes, at night, my eyes would catch the shadow of my doll, sitting on the shelf, and always it seemed she was staring at me, always it seemed she had a scream struggling to escape her face; our dolls did not have mouths. Only eyes.
Our mothers allowed us to use the boars’ fur hairbrushes and flat-irons heated in the cookfires, to smooth the bend from the dolls’ locks, until they were made more desirable, straight as the edges of a knife. For the inviting pink dots of health on each of the doll’s cheeks, our mothers pricked the tips of their own fingers, with sewing needles, artfully squeezing life from their own veins, wherever it was needed.

“That one there, she’ll make a beautiful inamorata for a rich man,” our mothers would encourage us, when we’d made our dolls behave lovely. “Now, Maricela,” my own mother often said, “just be sure to teach her the steps of the comparsa, and make sure she can cut up a chicken right, have her cook the black beans neither too dry nor too soupy – yours are still far too soupy, love – and, of course, help her to softly sing the prayer of forgiveness for all the Maker’s daughters. That’s it! What a perfect little lady you are, to have made your dollie as perfect as you.”

There might be a hug for me then, if I did everything right, though my mother, a thin, hard woman who had never to my memory used her smile, was not usually one for hugging. Mostly, she just watched me with silent worry, her dark eyes constantly seeming to warn me of something. She looked at me as though I were a song no one wanted to sing. I did not know what it was about me that made her do this, only that she seemed afraid of me, or of what I might do. When I was younger, I’d hold onto her, and pretend that this was comforting. I’d take her hands and place them on my shoulders, or try to force her arms to wrap around me the way other mothers’ arms wrapped around their own children. But her hands and arms were flopping things that never stayed where I put them, always too heavy and tired to do anything but work. Jacinta and I would hold each other, when no one was looking, as though we were each the other’s mother, for her own parents were as cold and unfeeling as my own, and she, like me, was a girl with great swells of feelings and ideas and other unacceptable occurrences inside her. We brushed each other’s hair sometimes, and hummed. We had held hands when we were much younger, but the patriarch stopped us from doing this when we reached thirteen and were no longer considered children. Affection between women was forbidden.

Early on, I had promised my own future children that I would hug them every chance I got, and when no one was looking, when there was little risk that I would be accused of the sin of sentimentality, I would hold my doll to my nose, and breathe in its scent of forgotten rice, foreign dust and my mother’s blood.

Latinas! Stop Feeling Guilty for Charging What You’re Worth.

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Crunch the numbers. Figure out what you’re worth. Then ask for it. No guilt.

Next month, I’m taking a very big step and launching my new company, SCONES de NEW MEXICO, a boutique scone bakery specializing in local all-natural New Mexico ingredients and flavors. With just two employees (me and my son) we will be renting out a commercial kitchen, hand-crafting and selling a limited number of scones – no more than 360 per day – via mail order and also wholesale to local Albuquerque and Santa Fe retailers such as cafes and grocers. I’ve been perfecting the recipes for the past couple of months, getting all the licenses, paperwork and details ready.

Today, I asked some friends to do a test run order on the company’s new website to see if it works. Several jumped to. And then a couple of them complained about the “high” cost of shipping – one even doing so with a frowny face. My immediate instinct was to feel terribly guilty; I wanted to apologize and promise them something extra, the way I’ve done all my life, to everyone about everything. I wanted to sacrifice so they’d like me. I didn’t want them to think I was greedy. I didn’t want them to think I would take advantage of them. I felt awful.

Then I caught myself. And shook myself. Why was I doing this to myself? I wasn’t charging an unfair or unusually high price for anything. I had done all the math, carefully, and the prices I’d come up with were not only completely fair, they were also quite competitive.

It costs 40 cents in good, clean, honest, local ingredients to make one scone; I can make 64 scones in one hour, by hand (I don’t use industrial mixers or anything like that, just little old me grating frozen butter by hand, kneading dough by hand, etc.), and I am paying myself $25 an hour, or a very modest yearly salary of $52,000 – about half of what I was making as a reporter twenty years ago. Additionally, my son has asked a meager salary of $10 an hour, doing the backend web stuff, processing orders, doing purchasing and delivering and shipping the scones.

Wholesale pricing is generally calculated as cost of supplies and labor, times two. Factoring in the $400 per month in kitchen rental, that amounts to about $1.10 per scone, times two – $2.20 as the wholesale price. I charge local retailers slightly less than that to carry our scones, just $2. These retailers will likely mark the scones up by double, meaning a $4 scone – completely unique, local, all-natural, lovingly hand-made and delicious – at your local independent coffee shop or food co-op.

For my mail orders, which ship anywhere in the United States, I decided to charge $3 per scone, selling them in boxes of 8 scones, for $24. Of those eight extra dollars above wholesale, I am spending $2 in packaging and labels and stickers, per box. Because the scones are without preservatives, fragile and perishable, they must be shipped to arrive within two days. The cheapest way to ship in two days, at least that I’ve found so far, is to send the scones priority mail through the United States Postal Service, for a flat rate of about $13 per box. This means that for a box of eight scones, a customer will end up paying $37, plus another couple of bucks in NM sales tax. So, basically $39 for a box of completely original, unique, homemade scones.

Now, I understand that for a society used to getting industrially produced donuts, filled with preservatives and made by machines, for fifty cents at Walmart, this can seem expensive. But is it? Is it really? Think about what you’re actually getting here. And how quickly. Also, what else do we normally spend forty dollars on, without blinking an eye? A tank of gas. Dinner out, for two. Taking two people to the movies and getting popcorn and drinks. A couple of good lipsticks. Half a pair of good running shoes.

I’ve carefully modeled my business after the only other similar company in the nation, Seven Sister Scones in Georgia. Like my company, theirs was started when one woman began experimenting with creative scone recipes and her friends and family loved them so much they suggested to sell them. They’ve been on QVC, and have a large and loyal mail-order following. They also charge $4 per mail-order scone, compared to my $3 – and their scones are exactly the same volume as mine, though theirs are round and mine are wedges. They charge $48 for a box of one dozen scones, plus shipping (and that starts at $18 for the cheapest method). Last I checked, they were processing about a thousand online orders per day. So there is clearly a market for what I’m doing – maybe just not among my friends (ha!). I have to keep reminding myself of this. A lifetime of indoctrination in “being nice,” guilting myself into poverty, and giving everything away at great cost to myself is quite a monument to surmount.

I am bracing myself to do the thing I’ve had difficulty doing all my life – on account of having been raised with a scarcity mindset that comes from never having enough as a child. I am going to brace myself for the backlash I am sure to feel as a Latina businesswoman who has the audacity to ask a fair rate for what her time, creativity and labor are worth – backlash because in Latino communities we are frequently expected to give everything away, especially if we are women.

I would like to remind everyone that Latinas in the United States currently make 50 cents for every dollar earned by a white man; part of it is that those in power like to pay us less, but part of it is that we have been conditioned to politely accept less, too.

I will not do that anymore.

I am proudly asking for what I’m worth, like any other businesswoman with a wonderful, delicious product to sell. My scones are worth $39 a box. Don’t eat them all in one day, or even in one week. Freeze some. Have two a week. Ten bucks a week. You spend more than that after two days of Starbucks coffee!

I am going to brace myself to just smile when people complain or try to make me feel guilty; I am going to learn to explain, calmly and with love, that truly good things, world-class, hand-hewn, uniquely creative, delicious things that cannot be found anywhere else, cost money to make. And to buy.

And they’re worth it.

You’re worth it, and so am I.

 

You Won’t Believe What I Told My Agent…

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How my last agent treated me…

One of my favorite writers of all time is Dean Koontz. I think he’s brilliant, and underrated by the literary establishment. I also think he is smart enough not to care what the elitists think of him; after all, he kills a literary critic in one of his books by having him impaled with a garden gnome. Yay!

For years, I dreamed of landing at the same literary agency as Koontz. Finally, last year, I did it. I ended up there after submitting a young adult partial manuscript to the head of the company. He loved it, and called me from the beach on his vacation to say so. He then handed me off to a children’s book agent who worked under him. I was ecstatic, because she had also been the agent of record on a very big middle grade book that I loved.

The excitement soon began to wear off, though. First, she took months to read anything I sent. Then, having read it, she called to tell me it wouldn’t work because no one was buying such strong female protagonists, or dystopian, or whatever. So I rewrote the book, per her suggestions, only to have her not read it for another six months and then get back to me to suggest I write something else altogether.

So I did, a whole new book. Completed it, sent it in. Crickets. She was too busy with her bigger authors, and didn’t quite understand the book I sent her, and was uncomfortable having that conversation. When we finally did talk, she said she had changed her mind about the first book, that publishers were actually looking for feminist books in the wake of #metoo, and could I go back to that?

I told her I worked best with an agent who communicated frequently and directly and could help me edit and hone the book. She told me, essentially, that she was too big for that much work, that her authors could afford to hire outside editors to do that. She offered to give me names of independent editors. I told her I was flat broke, subbing in the public schools to make ends meet. She didn’t care. She also had an arborist on staff at her estate, and her mother voted for Trump. This is when I realized we would never understand one another.

She told me she was big enough to get only already-perfect books from her writers, that she didn’t have time to work closely with me. So I scrapped that second book, and wrote a third book, after asking her EXACTLY what she thought would sell. I wrote the hell out of that book, too. Sent it to her. She said she would get back to me in a month.

Two months later, still nothing.

I nudged her, and she said only that she was pleased I’d mixed Hispanic and African American elements in the book, that she hadn’t read the whole thing but would get around to it eventually.

I felt my heart fall.

I explained to her that the African elements were actually Cuban, that the book was a fantasy world based loosely on 18th Century Cuba. She was surprised there were black people in Cuba. This told me she had absolutely no idea who I was as a writer, or what my entire existing book career had been about. I had to explain to her that the same ships that brought humans from West Africa to New Orleans also docked in Havana. She was uncomfortable but acted interested. I could tell she really wasn’t.

And, I realized, she was really, really the wrong agent for me.

I had written and sent this woman three entire books in one year, and when she’d bothered to read them at all, she had not understood them. And not understanding them meant she didn’t understand my market, or me, or, I realized, how to sell what I had to offer. Rather than say any of that, she just ignored me, maybe hoping I’d go away.

 

So, this week, I fired her.

I am pleased to say I have found a much, much better fit, in literary agent Andy Ross. I sent Andy the same novel this week, about the fantasy world based on Cuba, and he read it, literally, in one day, and immediately sent me back a page of notes – very good notes, excellent notes. And he began those notes with this:

I finished The Matriarchas. I really love it, and I think it’s going to make a great YA novel.  To me, it’s almost Mozartian in the equipoise between the elements of voice, craft, and story. The flow seems so natural, almost effortless (although I know making it feel like that to the reader takes lots of effort).  I remember that quality when I was reading your other books. 

My other agent – the “big” agent at the “big” house – had never actually read my previous books. She just knew a couple of them had sold really well, and wanted me to make her some money too. I finally realized there are two kinds of agents – the ones who are nothing but salespeople, who might as well be selling pickles or cars; and the ones who are truly readers, with artistic souls, who sell books because they love books. Andy is the latter. My first agent, Leslie Daniels, was also the latter, so much so that she eventually left agenting to become a writer herself. I haven’t had a good agent since, and my career has reflected that. I’ve been writing a lot, but selling nothing.

Being an artist, a writer, has been an interesting journey. There have been so many things I wish I’d known, but didn’t, things I’ve had to learn the hard way. The latest one is this: Just because an agent has been successful with other people’s books doesn’t mean they are going to be successful with yours; and just because a big-time agent doesn’t seem to get you or your work that doesn’t mean they’re right. Or the right fit.

I feel terrible that I have wasted more than a year waiting for this other agent to get motivated to sell my work. I wish I’d been more demanding, sooner; I wish I’d had the confidence to move on, sooner. But at least I finally came around to standing up for myself, and my work, and finding a better fit.

Artists are only as successful as the people representing them. If the person representing you doesn’t understand you or your readers, they aren’t the right fit. If the person representing you has a completely different process than you do, or can’t be bothered to get back to you in a timely manner, they’re a bad fit. Even if they’ve had huge success with another author.

Thank you, Andy Ross, for being amazing! I’m working on the polish, and we will soon be taking this book out to editors and publishers. I have a good feeling about it.

Lesson learned.

Topaz – Our First Day

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Three days ago, I killed my best friend.

I didn’t do it myself. I paid a woman $400 to come to my house to do it for me. I held my best friend’s head in my lap, and watched as the woman, a veterinarian, administered first one “medication,” then another. As my best friend’s breathing…just…

Stopped.

I have been in a daze of grief. Things demand my attention, injustices here and there, people talking about me in this newspaper or that, for whatever the hell. I don’t care. All I care about, the only thing that matters, is Topaz.

Fourteen years ago, as I drove through Albuquerque, I was hit with knowledge. Sometimes this happens. I just get information from out there. It lands fully formed in my head. Sometimes this information comes out in the form of books. But that day, it was a knowing of a thing, a thing so odd I could not help but feel there was some divine guidance in planting it.

You must go to the East Side Animal Shelter in Albuquerque. There, you will find an adult female red dog, medium in size. She is set to be euthanized. You are to save her life, and she will save yours.

I was married at the time, so I called my husband and told him. He sighed and said nothing. Already, we were moving apart. He had found my obsession with synchronicities as they occurred with eerie regularity during the writing of my first book, to be uncomfortable. He was a staunch atheist, a rationalist, someone who put no stock in any “woo woo” thing.

I went to the shlete.r

I had never owned a dog, not as an adult, and only a couple as a kid, mostly looked after by my mom. I asked at the front desk if there were such a dog, and a volunteer’s eyes lit up.

“As a matter of face, yes, right this way.”

Topaz was seven years old then, or at least that was the best estimate they could make at the shelter. She was curled in the corner of her cement pen, a beautiful dog with the reddest fur, and a whitish face, with black all around the eyes as though she’d been visiting Sephora’s eyeliner counter. A narrowish snout, and a trim, strong body. Unlike the other dogs who barked as we passed, desperate to be home, Topaz seemed thoughtful, world-weary. She had eyes of great kindness and depth, eyes like I’d never seen on any dog, and on few humans.

“Her owner brought her in a few months back,” said the volunteer. “We’re not supposed to tell you the dogs’ stories, but I will say this. She lived with a couple, and the man was abusive. The woman finally left him, but she and the dog were living out of a car, and she said she just didn’t have the money to feed her anymore. She brought her in here, crying her eyes out, and begged us not to put her to sleep. And between you and me, no one has been interested in her, and she’s scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow.”

I adopted her on the spot. She walked well on a leash, and when I asked her to get up into the back of my SUV, she did so with one muscular graceful leap, then curled up as though she had always been with me.

So began 14 years of friendship, with a soul so deep and loving and beautiful I honestly don’t know how I am going to get over the fact that three days ago she stopped breathing as I pet her. Her eyes, so long home to a benevolent and patient soul, suddenly gone to stone. I am lost without her. I don’t know who I am anymore, without her. Through a divorce, single motherhood, abusive relationships, a failed career, multiple moves, even homelessness and a suicide attempt, she was the one constant source of love and friendship I had.

And I killed her.

She was 20 years old, and her kidneys were failing. Her back legs no longer worked, and she had spent 48 hours in the same spot on the living room floor, where she had collapsed. I’d known it was coming, watched her decline for the past two years. But I didn’t want to believe it, and she, loyal and always more worried about others than herself, masked how much she was suffering, so I wouldn’t worry. In that last day, she lost control of her bladder, and lay in a puddle of her own urine. Her mind was still fully in tact, and she looked from the puddle to my eyes with an apology, with shame.

“No, no,” I told her. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re still a good girl. The best girl.”

Topaz in her prime had been a superb athlete, and well-trained with a great understanding of many words, dozens of words. The vet who came over told me I was doing the right thing. That for a dog with such athletic brilliance, who had lived to chase bunnies and gophers in the mountains, for a dog so smart and proud of herself for not only knowing the household rules, but also enforcing them when other dogs or the household cat broken them, this paralysis and incontinence was not only terrifying, it was horrifying.

It was not how Topaz wanted to live.

The choice was miserable. She was still alert. Still tried to lift her head so say hello when I came in the room, still tapped her tail two times on the floor in an attempt to wag her friendly smile. But unable to move, tense with waves of pain she could not name, panting nonstop as her heart seemed to race with anxiety and disease.

I have never watched anyone die. I don’t understand death. I don’t understand where the light goes. My own experience of it tells me there’s something beyond, and I know this must be true for dogs as it is for people.

More than anything, death puts things in perspective. People are still crowing about that sexist writer, wanting me to chime in, and I realize…how horrible that I wasted the last days I had with my beloved best friend, how terrible that I could have been cuddling with her on the floor and feeding her pork chops but was instead spiking my coritsol levels recounting a story about a man that would not change anything, that would only bring into my life an onslaught of criticism and anger and hatred.

I am done with that kind of thing. I have no interest in being a warrior, not that kind of warrior. The world is full of enough hatred and cruelty, and my voice in protest does nothing to change any of it. The only battles I want to wage now are battles of loving kindess, to those in my actual immediate world. I am done with the frantic horrible buzzing of public life, it has never been a safe or kind place for me. I am too fragile for its lack of nuance, too rainbow for its black-and-white, too incapable of lying, for my own good.

You will save her life, and she will save yours.

Topaz DID save my life, at least once. Probably more than one. Literally, and figuratively. I will write more on that later.

I should have spent those hours with Topaz instead of blogging about that writer. I should have spent them giving comfort and love to the one creature in the world who loved me back. As I typed for an audience of strangers, some of whom would love me for a day or two, many of whom would not, my best friend lay struggling to breathe. I should have held her. I should have known what truly mattered.

I am going to blog about her in coming days. I would like to write a book of anecdotes about her. Topaz was a beautiful soul. Whatever writing talent I have must be used, once I’ve regained my emotional strength, to tell her story, if for no other reason than so that I will never forget her.