This has been a busy week for Cleo. In some ways it’s been a rough one. The unseasonable torrential rains and icy winds made prolonged outings impossible two days in a row. On both those mornings, I opened Cleo’s crate in the milky light of 6 AM and after her usual four point stretch, she went straight to the French door, asking to be let out for her morning constitutional. “It’s pretty wet out there,” I whispered to her, opening the door. The rain was thunking onto our roof and deck as though each drop were the size of a basketball. Even where it was slowed by the limbs of the giant Monterey Pine in our backyard the rain pattered and leapt back skyward after hitting the ground. In her sleep-fogged state (she is as slow to wake up in the morning as I am), Cleo missed all the soggy evidence of the downpour that first morning; she padded outside, froze, then pivoted and came straight back in. We stood, Cleo staring out at the rain, me staring at Cleo. She sniffed. She debated. “Just come up on the bed,” I suggested. No, it was clear, she really had to go! She took a step forward. Splat! A rain globule hit her square on the nose. She backed up in a hurry and sat down a couple feet from the door. Her left paw held up in supplication, she looked me in the eye, a crease of worry wrinkling her brow. “Mom,” she seemed to be saying, “make it stop!” She crept back to the door and gazed out once more, then, visibly steeling herself, she trotted out, hugging the side of the house, and rounded the corner, set to take care of business. She was out there for a surprisingly long time, given the downpour and gusts of Alaskan wind that shook the pine and rattled the bamboo. While she was out, I ducked into the bathroom to grab a towel. Her frantic pawing at the door got me back in a hurry. Paws wiped, warming rubdown and up onto the bed. Where she slammed against John, frantically using the comforter cover to thoroughly erase every remaining trace of rain from her face, legs and body. Once she’s fully awake, she has no problem going out into the rain. In fact, I think it invigorates her. But let’s face it, who wants to get out of a nice warm, cozy bed and take a cold shower first thing in the morning?
At School, the grey days have cast a pall over everyone. Cleo and I were so busy talking to students that at one point, I had to keep a sick student waiting outside my office, ashen and trembling, while I talked to another who was having an I’ve-completely-over-committed-myself-and-now-I’m-overwhelmed meltdown, using up most of a box of tissues. On Monday, Cleo played with a student who periodically becomes so exhausted from the daily strain of hiding his depression from his friends that he has to take a break. He presented himself at our door right before last period. “Can I sit in here?” he asked me. “I’m just not feelin’ it.” Though he didn’t want to talk, he did want to lie on the couch and play tug-of-war with Cleo and her stuffed otter. “She’s sweet,” he told me succinctly after I asked him to let me know if she was bothering him. When I next looked over to see how he was doing, he was asleep, one leg hanging over the edge of the cushions. Cleo slept just above his head, nestled in the pillows on the back of the couch. When he woke up a while later, the first thing he did was reach up to pat her. She opened one eye and regarded him with approval.
Another day, we entertained a champion runner who nearly passed out just after lunch. Between the fact that his resting heart rate is a mere thirty beats per minute and the careless packing of a lunch that didn’t have enough nutritional content, he wasn’t at his best that afternoon. He jokingly told me, “Sometimes if I stand up between heartbeats, my brain isn’t happy with me.” I couldn’t help being a bit of a nag and suggesting that taking the time to pack a lunch that could sustain him through the afternoon might be one of those life skills he’ll need in college next year. “Yeah,” he said, “my mom keeps saying the same thing.” A package of noodle soup, an active political conversation (he’s a pragmatic conservative; I’m, let us say, not), and a wonderful tussle with Cleo got him going again.
Perhaps the most touching encounter we had this week was with a young student whose family is moving out of state at the end of the school year. They are all terribly sad to be leaving, the student most of all, but adults sometimes have to make very hard choices for the whole family, and in this case, they are going where the father has found a good job after several months of anxious unemployment. The mother confided to me that when they told their boys that they would be moving, our student’s only response was, “But what about School?” I had refrained from saying anything to him for several weeks, hoping that he would find some equanimity with the inevitable. On Friday, the student met with me to discuss an essay that he was working on. As he packed up after our meeting, I decided to tell him how sorry I was that he was leaving. “Bernie,” I said. He looked up at me with his habitual grave expression. “I’m heartbroken that you’re leaving us next year.” He looked down at his backpack. I went on, “You are an excellent student and truly a lovely human being. You embody everything we value at this school.” He turned sharply away from me, an odd thing to do because he had also turned away from the door. It dawned on me: I had just made a thirteen-year-old boy cry. What would embarrass a thirteen-year-old boy more than crying in front of his English teacher? Probably not much. There was nowhere to go: I was between him and the door; he was between me and my desk. I tried to salvage the situation. “But you know, you will be successful wherever you are.” Without turning around, he hoisted his enormous backpack, almost bigger than he is, and slung it onto his back. He stared out the window. I was desperate! How could I help him save face? He flipped the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head. How could I smooth a road for him out the door without him having to turn around to face me? It’s not like he could back out of my office. Suddenly, I saw something click in him. He lunged forward. His hand shot out. What is he doing? flashed through my mind. Cleo, in her favorite spot on the back of the couch, was the perfect cover! Why, he couldn’t leave my office without saying goodbye to her, could he? As he patted her, I looked at the floor and scooted past him, around the edge of my desk, allowing him a clear passage to the door. He turned, head still down, hood still up, and headed for the door. “Have a great weekend,” I said, trying to put as much warmth and support into the insipid words as I could. He grunted and was gone.
I sat down next to Cleo and rested my cheek on her side. One eyelid opened and she regarded me sleepily. “You are so good,” I told her. “You are such a help. Thank you.” She heaved a sigh, snuggled her nose further under her arm, and closed her eye with finality.
It’s all in a day’s work. Wake me when the rain stops.