“We turn not older in years, but newer every day.”
Tag Archives: love
“It is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come.”
“Listen,” I said to my father, “you hear that?”
He didn’t know what I meant.
It was December 1972, and my 9-year-old self had never heard such quiet in a neighborhood. This week marks 50 years since my parents and I moved into this home in suburban Dallas. The area was newly-developed; former farm and ranch territory that comprised the hinterlands of a growing metropolis. Family and friends wondered how my parents had managed to find the place.
We had been living in a two-bedroom apartment above a garage in the back of a house owned by my father’s oldest sister and her husband. Located just north of downtown Dallas, it sat very near Harry Hines Boulevard – a lengthy industrial stretch of road that would later become more infamous as a haven for prostitutes and adult book stores.
My mother was in that apartment with a 17-day-old me on November 22, 1963, when she heard a cacophony of sirens and rushed to a window. She saw the tail of President Kennedy’s motorcade rushing down Harry Hines, unaware of what had just happened moments earlier.
On the day we began moving into our new home, my aunt made herself scarce. She had grown so accustomed to having us there that she couldn’t bear the sight of us packing up to leave.
It’s hard to imagine now, but not until we moved here did we get our first color television set. A month later we finally got our phone. I still have that number connected. In 1972, Richard Nixon won a second term in the White House; Watergate reared its contemptuous head; violence marred the Summer Olympics in Munich; HBO launched; Polaroid introduced the SX-70 one-step instant camera; and three of my favorite films – “Cabaret”, “The Godfather”, and “The Poseidon Adventure” – came out.
My parents were excited because they were now living the American dream of home ownership. My father was particularly enthusiastic to follow his mother’s tradition of gardening and quickly found paradise in the front and back yards. I was thrilled with the prospect of getting a dog. It was a promise my parents had made to me upon moving into the house. They fulfilled it the following summer when they bought a German shepherd puppy I named Josh. My mother had to swallow her phobia of large canines; having witnessed a man ravaged by a Doberman in the late 1930s.
My parents made friends with many of the neighbors, and I maintain a few of those friendships today. They each had that type of personality, especially my father – they seemed to make friends with most anyone. I, on the other hand, seemed naturally reticent to meet new people. Regardless, our home became a refuge for most everyone we knew. We often held parties and other gatherings; if for no other reason except to have a party or a gathering. Family, friends and neighbors relished visiting. This was a place where all good souls were welcome; where people could feel happy and safe. We had food (real food – not just chips and dips!), music, beverages, laughter and plenty of love. No one left here sad or dejected. Drunk and tired, maybe – but never glum.
When my father lay in a hospital bed in May of 2016, he reiterated that he wanted to die here – in this house. It was a wish I was able to grant him. My mother also passed away here in 2020.
A few years ago I told an old friend, Paul, that I suspected I will die here, too, albeit alone.
“What’s wrong with that?” he asked.
“Nothing!” I replied. It was more a statement than an omen.
So I’m alone now. This house is quiet. At a half century it’s showing its age. But it’s mine; it’s where I grew up and where my parents drew their last breath. It’s where so many people came to enjoy life.
It’s a house at 50, but it’s always been a home.
In 1995, the British pop duo Everything But the Girl released “Missing”, a song that would become their greatest hit. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt paired up 40 years ago to create EBTG. They found their title in the slogan of a store in their home town of Hull that promised to sell shoppers “everything but the girl”. I feel they’re one of the most underrated musical acts of recent decades. There was once a time – before the internet – when people could vanish from our lives and we relied on music like this to fill the void. Music always seems to fill the void of whatever or whomever we’re missing.
My old friend, Paul Landin, had discovered EBTG in the late 1980s and became instantly fascinated with them. He was especially enamored with Thorn. I know he traveled to England at least twice in the 1980s, but I don’t know if he ever saw EBTG in concert there or anywhere. Paul died in April after a year-long battle with liver cancer. Shortly after his death, a mutual friend, Mike*, sent a Tweet to Tracey Thorn advising her that “one of her biggest fans” had passed away. Paul and Mike had met at New York University in the early 1990s where they both studied filmmaking and found they had a mutual love of EBTG. They couldn’t have been more different: Paul, a Mexican-American born and raised in Texas and Mike, a traditional “WASP” from upstate New York.
A few days after Paul’s death Mike told me he’d dreamed of our old friend. “It might have been the edible I had last night,” he said via text, “but I felt his presence sitting across from me in the living room. He was smiling and he said don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.” Still, Mike lamented, he feels Paul had been cheated out of fulfilling his dreams of being a successful filmmaker/screenwriter.
Paul and I had a strange friendship; almost a love/hate type of interaction. I supposed that was because we were so much alike in many respects. Our fathers grew up together in East Dallas. Paul and I even attended the same parochial grade school in the 1970s (I vaguely remember him) and were altar boys at the accompanying Catholic church. We shared a love of good food and good cinema. As fraught as our friendship could be at times, I still miss him and his quirky nature.
Tracey Thorn’s reply to Mike* back in April
I miss a lot of aspects of my life. But isn’t that what happens to us as we get older? With more years behind than ahead of us, we sort through the intricacies and chaos of our lives and wonder how we managed to make it this far.
I miss the gatherings my parents and I used to have at this house. There often wasn’t a particular reason. Third Saturday of the month? Good enough! Family, friends and neighbors would convene upon this simple home and have the best time imaginable. We had food – real food! Not just chips and dips. People often brought dishes out of courtesy, but everyone knew they could actually have a meal. Ours became the fun house; where people could gather and always feel they were loved and appreciated.
I miss Sunday lunches with my parents. It was always a special occasion – even when I moved back here in 2007. We talked about anything and everything. Like music, food helps people bond.
I miss the 1990s and the excitement of heading into a new century and a new millennium. In some ways I miss the apartment I moved into in May of 1991; a relatively small one bedroom/one bath abode. For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own. I miss happy hours with colleagues at the bank where I worked in Dallas at the time. I still relish the period from 1996 to the spring of 2001, when most everything in my life seemed to go right. I know I can never go back (past perfect is only possible in grammar), but I wish I could recapture that feeling of freedom and happiness. I miss my blue and white lava lamp.
I miss the German shepherd, Josh, my parents and I had from 1973 to 1985. When we moved to this house in suburban Dallas in 1972, my parents had promised they’d get me a dog. Somehow I’d become enamored with German shepherds. My mother had a phobia of big dogs. As a child in México City, she’d seen a man attacked by a Doberman. But she swallowed her fears for my sake. Early on I noticed his eyes seemed to be tri-colored: mostly yellow-gold, but also green and blue. We didn’t realize how big he was, until we brought him inside the house. We would bring him in during the torrid Texas summers and (in his later years) during the occasional harsh winters. Putting him to sleep on Easter Saturday 1985 was one of the most traumatic experiences we ever endured. It’s not that we expected him to live forever, of course; we just never prepared ourselves for the end.
I miss my last dog, a miniature schnauzer I adopted from a former friend and roommate and named Wolfgang. I loved the sound of his breathing at night, as he slept. It remains one of the most soothing sounds I’ve ever heard in my life. My parents also fell in love with him, after I moved back here in 2007. My father especially developed a deeply personal relationship with Wolfgang. I realized how strong that connection was on the day my father died in June of 2016, when the lights flickered, and Wolfgang ambled down the hall. He stood before my parents’ closed bedroom door and turned to me. I knew my father was gone. Wolfgang died less than five months after my father did. I still maintain my father returned and got him.
I miss my father, George De La Garza, Sr. I love and miss my mother and everyone I’ve ever known and lost, but I miss my father the most. We had a unique bond that couldn’t be matched by anything or anyone. In my worst moments, I often wish he’d come back to get me. But then, all the plans I’ve made for myself wouldn’t come to fruition. And when I call to him and get no response, I realize it’s just not my time. I know. We could communicate without words.
So I continue and recollect the best moments of my past years and look forward to what I have left. Still, I’m always missing someone or something.
We all miss someone or something from our lives. Who or what do you miss?
It’s been 30 years since the group SNAP! released their signature song “Rhythm is a Dancer”. It remains one of my favorite tunes and was a favorite of one of my closest friends, Daniel, who died of AIDS in 1993. Another close friend, Paul (who died this past April), also liked it. It’s so emblematic of the 1990s.
Looking back – as I have the tendency to do – things were pretty good for me in 1992; a time before cell phones and personal computers were common and when the future seemed wide open, as the world moved closer to the new millennium.
My sentimentality may be getting the best of me now, as I’ve been going through some times these past few months. Still, music always has a way of soothing the troubled mind.
Wolfgang, then Docker, at just a few months old in 2002.
When I saw that little ball of gray fur crawling around Tom’s* bare chest, I didn’t know what to think. After he’d lost his older dog just a few days earlier, I honestly didn’t expect him to jump back into pet ownership mode. My friendship with Tom soured by the end of that year, 2002, as his health apparently started to wane. I never knew if he was being honest about that, but we had to part ways in January of 2003. He left me with some $700 in debt. But he also left me with the new puppy, a miniature schnauzer he named Docker. I had grown attached to him since that day in August, when I first saw him. We had agreed I’d take custody of him. I renamed him Wolfgang.
If Wolfgang was still alive, today would be his 20th birthday. He passed away in October of 2016, following a months-long battle with heart trouble. But I maintain my father came out from the Great Beyond and snagged him.
By the end of 2002, Tom had decided he needed to return to his family home in far Northeast Texas to recuperate from whatever ailments were plaguing. He had wanted to put up the puppy for sale, since he knew he couldn’t care for him. I looked at that tiny ball of gray fur one evening, and his large dark brown eyes told me we belonged together. I had started a new job with an engineering company in November 2002 and when I arrived home from work that Friday evening in January 2003, Wolfgang came bouncing out of Tom’s empty bedroom. The dog was truly mine.
And I was concerned, almost frightened. I wasn’t accustomed to having a dog around. I hadn’t had an animal since 1985, when my parents and I put down our sick German shepherd, Josh. We could never bring ourselves to get another dog again. I’d seen so many residents of that apartment complex with small dogs and longed to have one of my own. Now, here – I was an almost accidental pet owner.
We had a rough start. I wasn’t used to dogs anymore. I forgot, for example, that animal babies are like human babies in that they can’t control their bladders or bowels. So I’d get mad at Wolfgang for messing on the floor. And instantly regretted it. He’s just a dog, I’d remind myself.
And that’s what I came to love and appreciate about him – he was a dog. I eventually realized how comforting he could be; simply caressing his downy ears soothed whatever tensions had flooded my body and mind. Any pet owner can empathize with me. When I lived alone, his rambunctious greetings were an end-of-day highlight. After I’d take him out for a brief walk and changed his water, we’d return to the apartment, where I’d strip down to my underwear and roll around on the floor with him. His claw marks on my arms and back could testify to that. But I also understood I was pretty much all he had. I had my small collection of friends and my coworkers, but he spent most of his time alone. Thus, I strongly considered getting another dog. Dogs are pack animals and generally prefer the company of other canines. I’d also come to feel that – in my 40s by this point – I didn’t need to be around other people.
I grew so attached to Wolfgang I considered him my child; an adopted child, but a kid nonetheless. My love and devotion were so intense I seriously considered getting him a social security number to register him as a dependent. I also realized something else: he was the meanest little critter on four legs I’d ever known in my life!
Any concept I had about small dogs being little more than adorable playthings was shattered with Wolfgang. He was almost fearless. The name I’d bestowed upon him truly fit his boisterous personality. At most he weighed about 26 pounds (18 kg), but I know he viewed himself as the same size as that German shepherd. Strangely he had a voice to match. People who heard, but didn’t see him, thought Wolfgang was a monstrous canine. Every vocalization that came out of him was loud – even his yawns! You know you’re loud when someone can hear your yawns in the next room.
By 2007, my father’s health had started to decline. He and my mother were in their late 70s. That fall I made the decision to move back in with them; into this house where I had grown up. It was a difficult time, as I’m such an introvert and was used to living alone. I enjoy my privacy and personal space. But it turned out to be for the best.
Shortly after moving in, I underwent foot surgery. I placed Wolfgang in a room next to my bedroom and behind a dog gate. As attached as he was to me, I knew he’d want to accost me in his usual manner when I returned from the hospital. But hobbling in on crutches would have me too vulnerable. After I got settled into bed, I told my parents to let Wolfgang come into the room. Once he entered he slammed his front paws into the side of the bed, as if trying to ensure I was alright, before turning to my parents and unleashing a vociferous round of barks and growls. His lips were pulled back as far as they could go; something dog owners know is a troubling sign. I’d never seen him so angry. But I knew that was also a gesture of how much he cared about me.
As time progressed, I became more ensconced in this house, and Wolfgang grew into a central figure in the lives of me and my parents. That little dog somehow unified the household. No matter the issue, he always brought things into focus. My father developed a special bond with him; announcing Wolfgang was all the therapy he needed. Indeed, as he’d already done with me, Wolfgang provided a heartening degree of therapeutic consolation.
In early 2016, Wolfgang began experiencing strange – and frightening – seizure-like episodes. He’d struggle to breathe, as he’d squirm on the floor. The vet diagnosed him with a heart murmur and placed him on medication, which stopped the seizures.
Shortly afterwards, my father’s health took a turn for the worst and he was hospitalized in May of that year. He had suffered from gastrointestinal illnesses for his entire adult life and had major abdominal surgery in January 2008. He was relatively fine for a few years, before he started getting sick again.
By Memorial Day weekend 2016, I told his doctors it was time for him to come home. My father had said repeatedly he wanted to die in this house; the home he and my mother had worked so hard to get and keep. And I wanted to honor that wish.
Over the next two weeks, Wolfgang would wander into my parents’ bedroom and start to climb onto the bed on my father’s side. In his weakened state, I saw my father lift his left hand up and stroke Wolfgang’s head. And both would sigh.
On Monday, June 6, 2016, I had sat down to watch the local noon news. Wolfgang lay quietly beside the coffee table. Then the lights flickered, and I felt a strange drop in air pressure. I noticed Wolfgang lift his head and turn to his left. He then rose slowly and sauntered down the hall; he stopped in front of my parents’ closed bedroom door and looked at me. I knew then my father was gone.
Throughout that summer and into the fall of that year, Wolfgang’s behavior changed. He became more subdued and less rambunctious – something I attributed to his age. But I noticed he’d often look off into the distance and occasionally wander into my parents’ empty bedroom. And stare. I’d stare at him, knowing he was seeing my father. In the last couple of years before his death, my father would run his fingers through Wolfgang’s fur and tell him “we’re going to go together.” A secret, I realized – one he was relaying quietly to the dog, yet loud enough for me to hear. In my father’s formal obituary in the “Dallas Morning News”, I mentioned Wolfgang – describing him as a canine “grandson”.
During the last weekend in October 2016, Wolfgang became especially lethargic – and cantankerous. I became annoyed with him, but reminded myself again he was just a dog. Then, by Wednesday morning, I realized I had to take him to the vet; he was critical. As I rushed to the office less than two miles away, I begged him to stay with me; that I loved him more than most anyone else. But it was too late. The doctor couldn’t save him. I leaned over him and whispered again that I loved him and to go with his “granddad”, my father. The vet receptionist stood in the room with us and was already tearing up.
Then she looked up and seemed to sniff the air. “What’s that?”
I smelled it, too. It was the scent of Chaps – my father’s favorite cologne.
As tough as it was dealing with the deaths of my father and Wolfgang within a five month period, I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about either in the following years. My mother’s health continued to worsen, as her descent into dementia intensified. She finally passed away in June of 2020.
In the years since, I’ve realized how lonely it is without a dog. I miss my parents, but I also miss Wolfgang. During some down moments, I often see shadows of a small figure trotting down the hallway and think I need to limit my alcohol intake. But I’ve also seen that tiny character in my dreams; virtual somnambulations I know are messages from my father. Animals, it seems, are conduits for hope and love.
In the 1970s and 80s, Josh provided a unique brand of emotional support for various levels of my anxiety – from childhood into young adulthood. Losing him traumatized me more than I could imagine at the time and ranks as one of the worst events of my life. Losing Wolfgang wasn’t nearly as traumatic, since I knew he was old and suffering health problems that come with age. When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to start preparing ourselves for his death. We hadn’t done the same with Josh.
Stupid animals! They wrap our hearts around them, make us fall in love with them – and then go off and die. But they leave that stamp on our souls that we can never eliminate. But who would?
A generation ago people grieved the loss of pets in solitude. Yet we now view animals with a greater sense of appreciation. Wolfgang’s veterinarian cremated him and returned the ashes to me in a small wooden box that I now keep on the same dresser my parents used. A photo of him hangs beneath a photo of my father and me at a family Christmas gathering in the 1990s. Another photo of him sits between my parents’ urns on the fireplace hearth. A photo of Josh sits off to the left, looking towards all of them.
Happy 20th Birthday, Wolfgang!
Actress Megan Fox, best known for her roles in the Transformers franchise, and rap singer Machine Gun Kelly (Colson Baker) recently announced on their respective Instagram accounts that, after more than a year of dating, they are engaged.
“In July of 2020 we sat under this banyan tree,” Fox wrote in the caption of her post. “We asked for magic. We were oblivious to the pain we would face together in such a short, frenetic period of time. Unaware of the work and sacrifices the relationship would require from us but intoxicated off of the love. And the karma.”
It gets better – or worse, depending on your age category and romantic predilections.
Fox continued: “And just as in every lifetime before this one, and as in every lifetime that will follow it, I said yes…and then we drank each other’s blood.”
Call me old-fashioned, but what happened to engagement rings? Blood?! I would have preferred a shot of tequila and a hand job – not necessarily in that order. But again, I’m old school when it comes to love and romance.
And I feel so sad for that banyan tree; having to witness that kind of psychosis on full display. Let us hope and pray it can get the proper therapy and go on to lead a happy arboreal life.