Rewriting History

Part of my packing up to move involves deciding what to keep and what not to keep from my journals and memorabilia piles.  I’ve been trying to get them down to a maximum of 2 plastic tubs, even less if possible.  The process that works for me is to go through it all, wait some months, go through it again, etc.  Each time I have a better sense of what’s really important to keep, and what’s not important, and I can get rid of more junk. Memorabilia is significant because it contains family stuff, teaching appreciations and successes, and reminders of old friends.   The journals tell the story of my life, but it’s a skewed story, as I mostly wrote when I felt upset or discouraged or confused.

Having made it to 60, many of my issues as a younger person, just don’t matter any more.  I don’t really want to keep a record of my depressions, horrible relationships, and difficult situations.  I realize more and more that I am not interested in Drama, whether in my relationship, my kids’ lives, my future, or my past.  It is stressful, exhausting, and non-productive, and I think was a contributor to becoming sick.  I can now throw out the journal that documented all my ex’s faux pas when we were split up and trying to figure out how to raise our children, having such enmity between us.  I can throw out the journals about my constant thoughts and evaluations of my last relationship both while I was in it, and as I was leaving it.  I am still somewhat interested in the ones I wrote when I was younger, and I’m interested in the ones that talk about my children when they were younger, so I’ll keep those for now.  But so far, I’ve gone from about 8 tubs to two, and those include some photos (although I’ve thrown out many albums and lots of the pictures for the same reasons I got rid of the journals).

Now I’m excited about the project of writing stories to go with the pictures and journals I’ve kept, stories that explain who those people in the pictures are, why they were significant to me, stories that show how I’ve become who I’ve become, with journals reminding me of the important transitions.  The writing of these will be strictly for myself, maybe my kids if they’re ever interested, and will allow me to condense that pile of journals and photos even more.  They’ll never be published unless I choose to self-publish.  But I think they’ll help me to focus on the significant stuff of my life, so that I can let go of all the other stuff.

Not all of the stories will be happy ones, however.  I will have to write some of the hard ones as well, especially if they are major contributors to the person I am now.  One story I’m planning has been responsible for my guilty heartache for almost 40 years, and involves my first dog.  She was quite a wonderful companion, and grew up free and easy out in the country in Michigan where my husband and I lived.  Although we were gone most of the time, (I went to college full time and worked 35 hours a week as a waitress on top on that), Lucy seemed to have a great life, wandering wherever she wanted all day, coming home to greet us in the evening, have her dinner and sleep comfortably on our bed (a pull-out couch, tucked in a corner of our 8 x 40′ trailer).  She loved my parents’ farm, she had seven puppies, and she traveled everywhere with us in the car.  She was half catahoula (Louisiana stock dog) and half Blue Heeler, and a dog who preferred people to other dogs.

Unfortunately, when we moved to PA, she had to be confined for the first time in her life, because we had to live near dangerous roads, and that was both confusing and horrible for her.  She would chew everything in sight if left in the house, and she would bark and chew and spend all her time trying to get free if she was chained up outside.  We were ignorant twenty-some year olds, and didn’t think of making a run for her, or re-training her to stay in the house.  Once she chewed a piece of aluminum siding completely off the house, and once she escaped, running around town dragging a ten foot long chain behind her.  Finally at the last place we lived, our kind, young, next door neighbor started taking her for long walks on the nearby golf course whenever he could, so she had something to look forward to when we were gone from the house.

It was when my husband and I split up, that things got really hard.  He moved to Chicago, and about a year later I moved to Minnesota, and couldn’t take her with me.  I didn’t want to burden my parents with her, although I’m sure they would have taken her.  I didn’t ask my neighbor, because I thought he wanted the single life with no obligations, and I found a guy with a farm who would take her, which seemed perfect..  But she was getting old, and she’d already been through a lot, and now when I think of it, I’m sure that was asking too much.  The new owner called soon after he took her and said she’d growled at a child who came to visit him, I said that was very unusual, but she was probably a bit traumatized (understatement of the year).  I couldn’t take her back because I was leaving the next day and I was so worried about myself and the move, I couldn’t even bear to problem solve.  I never knew what happened after that.

I have never forgiven myself for that.  I should have taken her to my parents’ or given her to my neighbor, Jack.  Or I should have taken her with me.  I made a terrible mistake abandoning my wonderful old dog, and I’ve often thought about her with guilt and sadness.  Sarita says she is a dog, so I am forgiven (because that’s what dogs do).  I hope that is true, and that she is happy in her next life whatever that may be.  But I still feel awful.  I read on Facebook recently, about a young boy re-writing the story of what happened at a store when he was frightened by a dressed up “character” in the store.  When he got home, after talking with his mom about the experience, he consciously changed the ending, instead of cowering in fear, he did something fearless (actually, he peed on the character, such a boy thing to do…).  And that is how he told the story to others.  Psychologists supposedly support this method of increasing confidence and bravery and say that it can have long term effects on how a person deals with difficult situations.  So I wonder, can I re-write the story of what happened to Lucy?

As I begin my writing adventures, I have found lots of pictures of Lucy, her puppies, even her in the act of having her puppies.  I have pictures of her on the farm, and at our trailer, in the good days of her life.  I could write this story with the ending that her new owner brought her back to my house, found I was gone, and ran into my neighbor instead, giving Lucy to him.  Or I could have the story end with Lucy running away and finding her way back to our house, where Jack saw her and took care of her for the rest of her life.   Both of these endings are actually possible, if not necessarily probable.   I am not denying the reality, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to make up for what I did to her in my present relationship with my dogs.   However, could I go into my new life being able to have a little more peace around this?  I could even go so far as to change the ending by bringing her with me to Minnesota, or never moving to PA in the first place, and rewriting that whole chapter as well.  Writing may just be my new best friend.  I will always have Lucy in my heart, and I will always be conscious of how sensitive I am toward my dogs and their well being.  But maybe I can do that with a little more kindness towards myself.

It’s a very interesting process, deciding what intimate parts of my life to keep (in hard copy), and what parts to let go of as I get ready to start over.  Even more interesting thinking about how I can re-write parts of my life (I guess that’s called fictionalizing), for the purpose of letting go of some of the deepest grief.   I don’t know if it can actually work, because everyone learns to live with deep grief about one thing or another, but it seems like a coping strategy that might be worth a try.


2 thoughts on “Rewriting History

  1. Vanessa

    Oh, I so identify with your Lucy story. I have had pets that I know I didn’t do right by and the guilt haunts me, too. This is what keeps me from totally becoming the crazy cat (and other pet) lady I could easily be. I will no longer allow myself to take on the great responsibility of an animal if I can’t be reasonably sure I can take care of all their needs for all their lives. I had to learn that the hard way, though. It’s also probably why I over-indulge the pets I do have. They are fine with that!

    1. susandaleal Post author

      Hi Vanessa, I know it’s taken me a long time to respond to your comment, but it has meant so much to me. I am relieved that I am not the only one who has such guilt, and I, too, am sure that my relationship with the dogs I have at present is partially determined by what I’ve done in the past. It seems like sometimes, the hard way is the only way we can really learn. But I’m grateful for the animals I have, and sometimes think my little pup Penny might be a sign that I am finally forgiven by Lucy. I did write the story, by the way, and wrote it from Lucy’s point of view, and gave it a very good ending. And I do feel some relief… I look forward to getting to know you more once we move, Vanessa, and so appreciate that you read these posts.


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