11 years.

I’m sick on my couch with a fever trying to beat this nasty bug that has laid me flat for most of the weekend. I debated if I would write this blog post at all, but I can’t allow myself to let today pass without mentioning what it means to me, especially as outside a cold cold pacific northwest kind of rain is falling. I think most of us kicked out folks, most of us who have runaway, been thrown away, or escaped in someway have a date that sticks in our mind, one that we watch creep closer on the calendar each year. For me it’s February 11th.  There are other days, one in September when I left my birth mother’s home, but that one tends to impact me less.

On Monday February 11th 2002 my entire world changed. My dog trainer who was my first attempt at building my own family, and who I had been living with for six months since leaving my birth mother’s home called me at school and told me never to come back to her home. She had read my carefully hidden journal and discovered that I was queer. I never had a chance to explain myself, though really I don’t think there was anything I could have said. She gave me 72 hour to rehome my dogs, I was homeless, no job, no car, 17 years old.

I had no options. Within 24 hours I went from Sunday at an agility trial – the last time I would compete, to Monday where I was
homeless and worst of all dog less.  I have a few pictures from those years and amongst the few bits of my past that moved from a leaking storage barn and then with me from punk house to punk house was a VHS tape of some recorded runs – mostly from very early competitions. A couple years ago a dear friend who’s also a filmmaker offered to try to digitize the VHS- and it worked (I’d been afraid it was too damaged to save).  Here is a short clip from some early novice runs of Snickers and I – this is the first time I’ve ever publicly shown any of this footage:

 

 

“Did you know that a pack will fight to the death to protect one of its own? They will forgo escape routes to stay behind. They do not leave, no matter the pain. The ultimate trust. They will never give up until their bodies fail. Perhaps I was human after all. I’d saved myself, but failed my pack….” – Kicked Out

 I have a strange relationship to February 11th. It’s both the day that the rural dog agility trainer girl that I was died, and the day that the queer activist was born. Within days I would find my mission to work in queer communities that I hadn’t even known existed. This year, as every year on this day I take stock of how far I’ve come what I have made of myself and what I hope to accomplish in the year to come. This year has brought the release of Roving Pack which in so many feels like the ideal follow-up to my first book Kicked Out and the perfect book to release as my first solo title, there is of course too the release of Leather Ever After. This year brought touring Roving Pack through Europe-something sitting alone and broken a decade ago I never could have imagined would be something I would have accomplished.

This year has also brought with it some special full circle kinds of growth. In the last few months I have “come out” about the work that I am doing with dogs, owning again that working with them is one of my oldest passions, and that I’m ready to take it back after having it ripped from me a decade ago.  Charlotte has been a HUGE inspiration, and I’ve written before how I believe that Snickers brought her into my life for this very purpose, and now as always I’m determined to do that little guy right, to make him proud.

Since the beginning of the year I have been assisting with a local dog agility class, taught by the kind of world-class trainer my agility
obsessed teenage self could never have imagined I would ever have the opportunity to meet, let alone work with. I’m beyond thrilled that I had this kind of opportunity come into my life, and am excited to continue this path. Since adopting Charlotte a year and a half ago I’ve been upping my training game, getting really into teaching her tricks, completing Trick Dog Titles and owning to myself, friends, and chosen family that long term I’m interested in training. I’ve also in the past few months taken the first steps to bring that old dream to life. As mentioned above I’m assisting with local classes and I’m also working to complete my Trick Dog Instructor certification. I’m not sure where this path will lead me, but it feels good to be putting effort and energy in the direction and to be recapturing stolen dreams.

A few months after I lost my dogs I tattooed a paw print for each of them onto my right bicep. A few months after that on the back of my left calf I had inked into me an elite level course map surrounded by the words “I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance” a Garth Brooks quote that has taken 11 years to feel completely true. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t still hard, but I also have made peace with the loss. There were years where thinking of training was simply too painful, and as much as I hate to admit it there are some wounds that for me time has been able to if not heal then solidly scar over.

February 11th is a day that I doubt will ever pass without my noticing. It’s a day where I am perhaps a bit more tender, where I am more gentle with myself, where I hold my dogs a little tighter, tell each member of my chosen family that I love them one extra time.  It is because of dogs that I learned how to build chosen families in the first place, and a more than a decade later what I know most of all is that I am not alone.  It’s been 11 years since I ran at my last trial, 11 years since I lost my boys, 11 years since I sat more alone than I had ever been in the dark on a strange couch too afraid to sleep not knowing if I could survive the night, or the day that would follow without them. 11 years since I promised myself, promised them that if we couldn’t be together that I would tell our story, that I would survive, that I would do whatever I could to do work in the world that would make it right so that others wouldn’t be separated the way we had been.  I’m my own biggest critic, but even I believe that I’ve done those dogs proud, that I’m doing right by their memories