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My song for Midge

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"Smiling Midge" by Louisa Ann Studios.
Waiting for something to happen.

Midge has a special history. She is an inspiring example of true friendship, loyalty, overcoming personal challenges, acceptance, forgiveness, unconditional love and family. Midge is also a gi-normous pain in the ass. But, she is precious to us, and we are grateful to have her around after a second bout with cancer.

Thanks to the Charlotte Street Animal Hospital in Asheville. ❤

The puppy in wolf’s clothing

The day Midge came into our lives was one of those days when the stars, God, the Universe, Higher Power or Mother Nature herself laid down an edict that August 31, 2010, the Berry family, living in rural Ohio, were to receive a gift.

Like most gifts from God, in that moment, we were totally ignorant about what we we’d been given. In fact, For the next 10 ten years, this dog would stand loyal against drug addiction, abandonment, divorce, poverty, Autism, single parenthood, profound loss, cross-country moves, business start-ups and more.

Midge would prove to be more of a support than any relative or friend, in ways I could never have fathomed that summer day. In fact, she was a gift I initially tried to give away.

Who knew that a gift from God could be such an enormous pain in the ass?

Coming outta the box

My ex-husband coaxed Midge out of the cardboard box where she was hiding on this hot August afternoon.

It was our youngest daughter’s seventh birthday. He had seen Midge lurking about for a few weeks in the small Ohio village where he worked.

The six-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever showed her baby teeth and acted all Raging Bull when Matt crawled into the box. It was an act. An act she would perfect, like Meryl Streep, as time passed.

I was picking up supplies for the birthday party, when my cell phone rang. “I have a surprise for you,” said Matt, with a little hesitation in his voice. We already had two aging big dogs.

Midge was introduced to everyone at Louisa’s birthday party. Looking back, it was a terrible way to introduce a rescued dog. She was surrounded, literally at the center of a circle, by a combination of 12 friends, kids and family members, plus two old dogs and a couple cats. And, what’s worse, it was a child’s birthday party.

This wasn’t exactly a quiet, zen transition for a puppy, who had been fending for herself for weeks, maybe longer. We all studied Midge, who periodically shook, shivered and growled.

I looked around the room for any takers. Pure-bred lab up for takers.

At the end of the day, against all my better instincts, Midge was ours.

Barbie’s best friend

Louisa named Midge after Barbie’s best friend. Later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Louisa poured most, if not all, of her energy into her Barbie collection. Barbies soothed Louisa’s anxiety and gave her a safe place to escape life’s overwhelming stimulation. Her Barbie collection of dolls, castles, beach houses, campers, planes and more rivaled any Guggenheim exhibit.

If Sotheby’s kept records of the largest Barbie collections in the United States, Louisa’s surely would be in the top five.

Midge gave Louisa another outlet for her anxiety, attention to detail and her desire to fit as a “normal” kid. The coolest thing about Midge, I would learn over and over, she wasn’t a normal dog. She had a bum back paw, terrible anxiety and a questionable pedigree. Midge was a sorta mess. This, however, made her the perfect dog for a kid with a developmental disability.Midge was born with a club foot. Midge had only two toes on this foot with a large pad of sensitive skin. Midge’s full name became “Midge Two-Toes Berry.”

Livin’ her best life

She musta thought she had landed in dog heaven. Midge had a devoted person in Louisa, willing to bathe, brush teeth, snuggle and offer whatever else the pup needed. Midge also had a pond for swimming, wooded trails, plenty of squirrels and frequent visits from deer and Canada geese.

Her two geriatric canine brothers were no threat to Midge. And, dealing with other dogs wasn’t a problem on our five acres. The situation was fairly perfect for an anxiety-ridden dog. She was quickly trained. Before long, Midge learned how to dock dive and retrieve logs. She was never asked to retrieve logs in her powerful jaws, but, apparently, loved the challenge.

Soon, we created a mantra for Midge, “I CAN retrieve that!” Midge’s devotion and eagerness to retrieve anything from a Barbie to a shoe to a sock to a log to just about anything she could fit between her jaws.

Life changes

Matt left. He left in a February, saying he just needed some space for a few days. And, he never came back. I learned later he was setting up house with a girlfriend. First, he set up house for the girlfriend, then he set up house with the girlfriend. He lied about it for the first six months after he left.

For the 25 years we were together, his drug addiction was always lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce and destroy. That’s how it felt.

When Matt threw himself into his addiction, he disappeared. It was his pattern. He became a ghost. For the next seven years, minus a few periods of clarity, Matt was gone.

On the infrequent occasions he came to visit the kids, Midge would light up. When he left, she watched out the front window. Sometimes, she would sit for hours, waiting. Midge was acting out what we all felt. She was confused, sad and patient. We all waited.

The long middle

Waiting for an addict to stop using is maybe one of the the most excruciating experiences a person can survive. But, survive you will. How you survive becomes the key question.

Two years into our new life, I was taking a walk on a summer afternoon. I remember the moment. We were tired. We were so tired.

The kids, the pets, friends, family; everyone was drained. As I approached our house, I stopped and observed. I realized I was stuck in an old dream. Matt was gone, but I was still in the same place, waiting on a dream that didn’t exist anymore.

I had a choice. I could create another dream, but it needed to be better than the first. This time, I needed to dig deep for the vision I had lost for myself.

When one person in a family decides to make big life changes, it doesn’t always equate the changes will be good for everyone. For Midge, my new dream meant losing her pond, her trails, her freedom and her home base.

Digging for a dream

Twenty-five years worth of memories were packed into a U-haul. By now, Midge was our only dog, along with two cats and two kids.

I’d spent five years homeschooling Louisa, after a traumatic episode trying to mainstream. Not only was I taking our retriever from a pond and trails, I was also taking my Autistic daughter away from her routine, friends and life.

I reached for my dusty journalism skills, hoping it would come back to me quickly.

For the first year, we landed squarely on our collective face. Total blowout.

I took a job in Up-Up-State New York and bungled trying to maintain consistency with homeschooling, supporting our oldest daughter and adapting to life as an editor.

I learned through hellfire and damnation that single parenting a child with special needs isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Louisa was homesick and depressed. We lived in a place with more than 200-inches of snow each year. I’d leave for work, and Louisa and Midge would stay home providing each other company.

Midge’s companionship for Louisa was paramount during this time. While I was finding my balance, Midge did what family members do, she showed up.

I’ll never be able to express my gratitude. This dog spent two years dealing with my late night grief back in Ohio, only to find herself the sole daily support for a grief-stricken child in almost-Canada.

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. For about 24 months, we floundered. My eyes were opened to a frightening world of single parenthood. I was front-and-center to what the world offers women parenting special needs’ children alone. It’s not a pretty picture.

Righting the ship

I signed divorce papers, had a little bit of a nervous breakdown. Just a small one. I finally received court-ordered child support after three years without, and we made our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Midge tolerated another six months of living in a houseshare with another dog, primarily confined to a basement because of her anxiety. Next, she tolerated moving into an apartment complex with a dog around every corner.

And, slowly, life got better.

I started working from home. We allowed the mountains to embrace and heal us. We rested. We laughed.

For Midge, the dock diving was replaced with swimming at the Biltmore Estate. The Ohio trails were replaced with hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Louisa started making friends. As she pushed herself to face her anxiety, she leaned on Midge. Certainly, we didn’t love Midge any less because of her anxiety. It’s annoying, but we love her just the same when she shows her teeth to some Chihuahua.

Midge serves as an example. A person can have terrible issues, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lovable. Through Midge, we’ve learned forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance and unconditional love.

It’s not perfect. She still needs a yard. But, today, Midge is healthy and spends most days, all day, with her people.

And that, my friends, is why Midge deserves a song.