Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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That Was My Year What Was -- I Think

December 31, 2008

A whole lot of things are different at the end of 2008 from the way they were at the beginning, that's for sure. My Rhodry is gone. Ten-month-old Travvy is sprawled on the same opened-up sleeping bag (color: a very autumnal burnt orange-brown) on the same bed that Rhodry used to sprawl on. Their routines are different, though. Rhodry was my canine hot-water bottle: he'd curl up on the bed and make me a cozy spot to crawl into a couple hours later, but after I'd been in bed just long enough to be dropping off to sleep, Rhodry would decide it was too warm and go off to sleep somewhere else. Travvy most nights starts off sleeping by the front door, his body blocking drafts and his head pillowed in my boots. At first light he's standing at the side of the bed, waiting for an invitation; after I pat the bed and say, "Come on up, Travvy," up he jumps. He settles in to snooze. Round about second light I say, "Breakfast time for the puppy?" and he's all ears and eyes and quivering nose. "Go to your crate!" He goes to his crate, I pull on my dark red fleece robe (maybe the smartest article of clothing I ever bought), feed him, and go downstairs to brush my teeth and put my contact lens in.

Digression: Yep, that's "lens" singular. In April I had cataract surgery, and with the implanted lens I can now see, and even read this computer screen, without any correction. That's new since January 1; in fact, the last time I could read something a foot away without glasses on I was about 10 years old, which was long before I was intimate with computer screens. The retina attachments of 2004 have left their legacy, though: letters are a little wavery and, outside, the yellow line down the middle of the road has a ruddy tinge that my left eye doesn't see. Because of the discrepancy between right eye (about 20/35) and left eye (don't ask -- 20/150?), I need the contact lens to equalize the two before I don my reading glasses. I'm thinking of springing for an extended wear lens that I don't have to take out at bedtime -- I can't read in bed because so often I fall asleep doing it, and Trav didn't help the situation by chewing to death the very old pair of glasses that I kept for this purpose.

Trav no longer ransacks the wastebaskets between the time he finishes eating and when I come back up the stairs. The pupster is growing up and (I dare to believe) all that patient and occasionally not-so-patient training is paying off. Rhodry never was a morning dog. I was usually awake before he was, and on overcast or rainy days I'd rouse him around 10:30 or so and tell him he had to go out whether he wanted to or not. Travvy is up-and-at-'em not long after daybreak. He's also a puppy, with plenty of energy to burn. My morning routine has changed; I'm walking more than I have since before I got Allie more than nine years ago. Every morning, rain, shine, snow, or bluster, we walk. If time is short or the weather really bad, we do the 20-minute loop down Halcyon Way to the trail behind the West Tisbury School and back by the Dr. Fisher road (or the reverse). When there's plenty of time and the weather isn't bad, we head down Halcyon Way, cross Old County Road to the big field at Misty Meadows, circle the field, and come back via Pine Hill. That takes just under an hour. A shorter variation takes the trail that parallels the road and doesn't circle the field; say 40 or 45 minutes for that one.

I didn't move in 2008 -- thank the muses! -- but Allie did, and that's like a mini-move for me too. We're still adjusting to the new place. It's got its pros -- much closer to home, and much cheaper than the old place -- and its cons -- trail access isn't nearly as good as it was at the old place, mainly because I now have to ride on and cross roads to get to the good trails. Allie and I can manage; the problem is that ponying Travvy even on New Lane / Tiah's Cove Road (a minor road, yes, but also narrow and winding and with traffic that tends to go too fast) seems too risky, and getting into the state forest involves crossing the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road. Trav was turning into a wonderful trail-riding buddy at the old place, and when he went off chasing rabbits or deer he always made his way home. Now "making his way home" would involve crossing a major (by Martha's Vineyard standards) road. That seems even riskier. My 10-month-old, 75-pound puppy is showing some signs of being underexercised; a tired puppy is a good puppy, and a puppy with energy to burn is a puppy looking for excitement. I'm thinking of getting him a harness and me a how-to book.

On January 1 of this year I had one living parent. Now I don't. The absence of my father doesn't feel like all that big a change, but then the death of my mother in 1996 didn't either. People kept telling me that my mother's death would hit me eventually, but it never did, so I'm not expecting a big crisis this time around either. Both my parents, and especially the relationship between them, have been so deeply embedded in my psyche for so long that they aren't absent at all: more often than not, they're the conundrums and roadblocks I have to confront or finesse in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Neither one was a significant part of my day-to-day life. It's those day-to-day people I miss when they leave, even the casual acquaintances whom I no longer see at the post office or the grocery store.

The mysterious coincidence remains: Shortly after I adopted Rhodry, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died a year later. Just before I set off on the road trip that led to Travvy, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died three and a half months later.

Changes will follow for sure from my father's death, but the big ones will happen in 2009. The house my siblings and I grew up in will be sold, and because the house -- a rather modest structure -- is in a very high rent district, each of us will get a significant sum of money from it, even after the back property taxes and estate taxes have been paid. I dare to hope that I'll be able to set up a little annuity for myself whose income will enable me to work part-time and have more time, energy, and focus for writing. That'll mean a big challenge: I'm so used to scarcity and "I can't afford it" that coping with "enough" might take some serious turning it over and inventory taking. I'm (almost) entirely ready.

Which brings me to the most momentous and portentous change in my life since the first day of the nearly bygone year: Sitting on my lap is a copy of a novel with my name on the front cover. The Mud of the Place, by Susanna J. Sturgis. I wrote it. The cover says so. It's pretty good: the blurbs on the back cover and inside the front say so, and so does a review in the Vineyard Gazette. For five years (which doesn't count all the years I was convinced I couldn't write a novel because I'd never break "the 40-page barrier") finishing a novel was the big goal. For the next five, the goal was getting it into print. Now? My job, should I choose to accept it, is to get it, and me, out into the wider world. How? Damned if I know, but I've already started. I've survived gestation, labor, and birth; how can I not raise the kid?

 

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