Thanksgiving, Day 6: The Boys

I talked today with a friend of mine whose dog is ill. Ill to the point where the vet is marking time in months. It’s not impossible that the dog will pull through – they’re doing as much treatment as they can – but my friend and his wife are in the position of having to consider what sort of arrangements they will need to make when the all-but-inevitable happens. It’s a terrible thing to watch someone you love die, be they human or otherwise, and just in emailing back and forth I felt my chest tighten up to remember the pets I’ve lost. If it were within my power to make it not be so, I would do it.

Alas, omnipotence is still ever-so-slightly out of reach.

Of course, talking about this led me to thinking about my own pets, Milo and Cooper, and the fact that one day The Boyfriend and I are going to have to have to deal with the same thing. We have chosen to bring these two short-lived beings into our lives, and part of that responsibility is knowing that we will one day have to see them out. Milo is a pug, with all of the design flaws and general ridiculousness that goes with the breed and shortens its life. Cooper is a carrier of the feline coronavirus, the bug responsible for Feline infectious peritonitis, which is an incurably fatal disease that most recently robbed the internet of its beloved Nyancat.

Being a pet owner means accepting that you will likely outlive your pet. Knowing that, it is so very important to be thankful for the time you have with them.

Milo came first, before The Boyfriend and I moved in together, flown up from a breeder in Kyushu. He really was adorable, as all puppies are, even when he was chewing up every godsdamned thing that was within his reach. And as much as I was warned that pugs were “one-person dogs,” Milo really liked me and got all excited when I came over. We’d go out walking in the park, and the three of us would enjoy the time outside.

When I moved in, Milo was perfectly happy to split his attention between the two of us. I’m the Food Guy, and The Boyfriend is The Walking Guy. Milo loves us both with the wild enthusiasm that only a dog can have, and we’re lucky that he feels the same way about Cooper.

I was in the middle of recording a podcast when The Boyfriend called to tell me he’d met an adorable little black kitten while walking the dog. I came out and met him and the cat, who was sitting very calmly and comfortably nearby. The Boyfriend and I looked at each other and thought, “You know what we need? A cat.” I picked up the kitten, and he let me carry him all the way back home.

As you might expect from a stray cat, there were a whole host of exciting medical bills waiting for us. He had a persistent cold, sneezing constantly and watery-eyed. He was underweight, so we had to wait a while to get him neutered… And then there were the tapeworms.

Once we got all of those dealt with, though, Cooper became the lord of the house (as all cats do), and has grown into an affectionate, social, and fearless cat. He loves to “play” with Milo, which Milo might not always be aware of, and he knows the household schedule like clockwork.

Together, these two make the place just that much better. Sure, Milo makes funny noises and smells weird, and Cooper believes that 4:00 in the morning is a perfectly reasonable time for everyone to get up, but I truly cannot imagine what our home would be like without the two of them.

But I know that that time will come. Eventually we’ll have to see The Boys off, and those will be terribly sad days indeed.

When those days come, and I’m an absolute wreck – and I will be – I will take at least some solace in knowing that all of our lives, human and otherwise, were enriched by being with each other. Together, we had better lives than we would have had apart. They will join Weedle and Poe as companions who will live in my heart for the rest of my life, for whose time on this earth I will always be thankful.

Of course, there’s no reason thankfulness has to wait until then.

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On Finitude

I debated whether I should post this, to be honest. It seems like I’m letting more hang out than I really should, given the circumstances, but that’s the purpose of this blog. I may not update it as often as I should, but it’s the place to go when there’s an idea in my head that just won’t leave. And if I have to vent to someone, the ceaselessly hungry internet is as good a someone to vent to as any.

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Here’s the setup: the school I work at hires full-time teachers on a three year contract. Because it is a private school, run by a private university system, they are beholden to private sector labor laws, the effect of which is that they are allowed to let teachers go after three years with little more than a bunch of flowers and a sincere “Thank you.” The legal logistics of it are murky, of course, but the take-away is this: my time at Ritsumeikan Uji will end in April, and there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing I can do about it.

There is the matter of finding a new job and being able to remain in the country, but that’s not all that’s on my mind right now. With the sure and certain knowledge that I have a deadline, a thought popped into my head that seems vividly appropriate, but at the same time incredibly insulting: “This is how terminally ill people must feel.”

Oh, I should have been a chemistry teacher…

If you are terminally ill and you just read that and thought, “What an asshole,” I will grant that you’re probably right and I apologize. But the questions that flooded my mind seem to be the same that one might think when seeing the end of their life approaching.

Why didn’t I make better use of my time here? Don’t get me wrong – I did a lot and learned a lot and tried to stay involved with the school, but at the same time I know I could have done more. I could have gone against my nature and been more sociable. I could have spent more time with clubs. I could have taken more advantage of the school’s resources and connections to better myself as a teacher. I could have done more than I did. Why didn’t I? Because I was wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of being a teacher. Because I valued my free time now over improvement for later. Because I was lazy and short-sighted, perhaps.

What do I do with the time I have left? If I really were an asshole, I’d just slack off. Take the attitude that since nothing I do matters anymore, then why do anything? But that is contrary to my nature – I can’t do that any more than I can stop eating for the next seven months. What I do may not amount to a hill of beans in the long term, but here and now it’s important, and it’s important that I continue to remain dedicated to it. And there is a part of me that wants to wax hyperbolic [1] and carry a bell around with me, ringing it through the halls while I cry out, “DEAD MAN WALKING!” But that would just be ridiculous.

Think of the CHILDREN!

What about the kids? I’ve taught a lot of good kids at this school, and they go beyond being good students to actually being interesting people. One of the biggest reasons I tried for the permanent position was that I wanted to have a chance to teach these kids again, and to see new interesting people emerge over the years. After three years, I was just starting to get the hang of this gig, and wanted the chance to really flex my creative muscles and find better ways to get the students both using English and interested in it.

On top of that, what do I tell them? At some point, they’re going to start asking about next year and whether I’ll be teaching their class. Do I hedge and dodge and make them wait until the end of the year, when the departing teachers are sent off to a farm upstate? Or do I tell them ahead of time? Or am I seriously overestimating their opinion of me that it would even matter to them?

What’s going to happen to all my stuff? This may sound kind of petty, and I suppose it is, but over the last few years, I’ve built up quite a body of work, lesson plans, and even full courses. I was the drama teacher, one of the few advanced reading teachers, and built the curriculum for the regular first year classes. I made an inordinate amount of lesson plans, many of which I’m quite proud of. What’s going to become of all that work? Who’s going to take over the drama class, and will they know what they’re doing? Who’s going to take over my reading classes, and will they be able to keep them interesting and fresh? Who will keep refining the first year curriculum so that the students get the tools they need to do better in their second and third years? Am I leaving all of what I built in the hands of people who will build upon it, or will it all be shoved into a cabinet somewhere to be forgotten?

Damn GPS. Every frackin’ time…

Where do I go from here? After this, what? The chattering monkey in my brain is convinced that nothing better can come along. This was a great place to work, with wonderful co-workers and facilities. And the pay was good, too. After this, what do I do? Do I go back to the eikaiwa purgatory from whence I came? Do I work part-time, teaching English to businessmen? Do I leave teaching and find something else? Will I stumble across something even better than this? Do I live with a bunch of cats in a van down by the river, eating government tofu and slowly going mad? I have no idea, and that kind of uncertainty doesn’t do me any good.

Keep in mind, though, this is just the way my Scumbag Brain works. If you’ve been following along, you may recall the freakout it had when I got this job – wondering whether I’d actually be good enough to do it, if I’d shame myself out of a career, all that. And that worked out just fine. Better than fine, really. It became a job that I deeply, deeply wish I could keep.

So perhaps this, too, will all work out for the best in the end, no matter how many doomsday scenarios I can spin out. Perhaps in a few years I can look back at this entry and marvel at how anxious I was about something that, ultimately, wasn’t that big a deal.

Let’s hope so.

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[1] As is evidenced by the fact that I’m sitting here comparing the loss of my job to dying.