Love At First Sight.

Posted by on Mar 6, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Sebastian came to me in a round-about-way, an act of fate some might say. It was the fall of 2000. And at the time Marc and I were living in a 9 ½ foot camper on a piece of property we had just bought that spring. Talk about close quarters. At the time we were clearing the land ourselves, and working every free hour of the day, getting ready to break ground for the construction of our dream home—a modest sized log cabin. It was still early in the fall season when Sebastian first stepped into our life. The weather was undecided. A light rain fell, with the periodic sun breaks giving one the allusion that summer was still close though it had passed some months before.

Usually I’m ready for the changing of each season, and fall is one of my favorite. But with the construction looming, I’d been praying for an Indian summer. I wouldn’t have complained if the clear skies had stayed a few more months, allowing us the ability to work till 9:00 in the evening with full light. That didn’t happen, and before I knew it, the evergreen forest around us was bursting with the color of orange and red. The air suddenly turned damp and chilly, often downright cold and it was pitch dark by 5:30 PM. Those days of fleeting sun had vanished. And sitting at a 1000 feet elevation, to boot, we were always 10 degrees cooler than everyone else in town.

Welcome to Yacolt, Washington!

Essentially we were camping in off-and-on crappy weather. Granted we had the basic necessities—we were dry, and we had water and electricity. And if we were lucky—meaning if the stars aligned just right and the rained stopped—by day’s end we might find ourselves sitting around a camp fire, eating whatever I managed to whip up on a very tiny gas camper stove.

When we were not so lucky, we were stuffed in that camper like a can of sardines, trying to co-exist in an area no bigger than our soon-to-be master bedroom closet. We weren’t complaining, yet. We had signed up for this adventure, and expected it to last at least two years. All we could do was brace ourselves and hold on for the ride!

There were three of us living in this tiny space, my husband Marc, our four year old lab-mix Winston and Me. The plan was to live on to the property, work on our dream, together, and hope that by projects end we were still married. We’d heard all the rumors—“Building a house together is the true test of any marriage”. Sure, the idea of spending the winter out in the middle of nowhere was a bit unnerving, but we weren’t completely cut off from the world. We had cell phones with a full bar’s worth of reliable service, and family 15 minutes away. We had a tiny shower made for a small child, and food available in a fridge plugged in at a shed that Marc had constructed a few months prior. It was red-neck camping at best, but we were happy—mostly.

We had met Sebastian a few months prior at my mother’s house, where we’d been living—also in the camper—while we cleared the land. I remember the day well.

Exhausted from the day before, Marc, Winston—who slept in the camper with us—and I were still hibernating when a car pulled up my mother’s gravel drive. Doors opened then slammed. Voices, sounding of a few different ages, excitedly chattered outside the camper. Right away, I recognized the adult woman’s voice to be that of my first cousin Danielle. The higher pitched voices were no doubt that of her motley crew—her kids.

Wondering what had everyone so excited, I peeked through the blinds and saw Casey, Danielle’s husband at the time, cradling a beautiful golden Lab puppy in his arms. My heart skipped at the first sight of Sebastian. Right away, I assessed him to be about 10 or 12 weeks old. A baby! And not just any baby, but my favorite kind…a puppy baby. I couldn’t get dressed fast enough.

Now Danielle is my mother’s sister’s kid, or rather my Aunt Sharon’s daughter. As far as the family history goes its noteworthy for me to say here that my aunt’s two kids—Danielle Michelle as the oldest and Jenny Sue the youngest—and I practically grew up together. Off and on, we lived together as the two sisters were single moms, and stuck together when times were rough. My first cousins felt more like sisters, and though they were both much young then me, we were close.

The passing of time has put distance between us since then, but when we do come together it often feels like old times. The teasing and jostling pick up where it last ended. Reminiscing, I can often be heard griping about all the “kid” things they did to the “teen” me. Like when Jenny broke into my teenage sanctuary and ate all my thought-to-be hidden gum! She always found it, no matter where I hide it. Or, how Danielle always wanted to play with my makeup, whether she was allowed to or not, and or make me sit through her 100th dance routine she’d just made up two seconds ago!

Course, I was constantly accusing them of coming into my room and touching “my things”—usually my treasured Elvis collection—which in turn would get them in trouble, possibly even the dreaded spoon to the behind—pack backs were sweet back then—but through all the complaining and fighting, the love was always there.

After that glimpse of Sebastian, I got dressed quickly. My mind was already doing the math. Halie, Jasmin, and Joey, I thought. Danielle’s family of three had just become four! I smirked. Danielle was a woman who could tell you anything about birthing babies, but a dog was another story. She hadn’t owned many. And try as I might, I could only think of one pup—Cinnamon—and that was back when she was a teen and living at home. If I wasn’t chuckling devilishly, I should have been.

When I walked into my mom’s house the place was all a-buzz with the new arrival. The kids were so excited, each reaching and six tiny hands stroking his fur. I could tell by the easy way the pup handled it all that he was going to be a typical Labrador, easy going and devoted to the end. He merely lay in Casey’s arms, tail barely wagging and his eyelids drowsy from the affection.

For a moment, I wondered if he wasn’t going to just nod off, and then someone said his name. Sebastian it was, but it sounded more like Sha-bastian when Danielle or the kids said it. (To this day she pronounces his name Sha-bastian.) Upon hearing his new name those deep brown eyes rolled up from where his chin was resting on daddy’s arm and he looked at me. The fact that he didn’t bother to waist the energy to rise made me chuckle. I said howdy, cooing more than anything else, and he merely wagged his tail. It was so Sebastian to relish a dose of lazy time, course I didn’t know that then.

My first few thoughts upon meeting Sebastian were mixed. First I wondered if Danielle knew that a three syllable name was not the best to give to a dog. They say keep it short and simple, but the kids had picked it and it wasn’t about to be changed. As it turns out, it was perfect. His rather sophisticated name added a touch of wit to the legacy of the worlds most talented and furry court jester.

My second thought was one filled with annoyance. I couldn’t believe my mother was allowing this new dog in her house when my Winston hadn’t been allowed to put so much as one paw on her carpet since we’d gotten there. In fact, I think I commented on that very fact and was quickly put straight. If I could hold Winston like Casey was holding Sebastian then he was welcome. Winston weighed 65 pounds. When she couldn’t see, I carefully rolled my eyes.

My next reaction to Sebastian was one of my true heart, I wanted to hung him, squeeze him, and cuddle the very breath right out of him. I’d always wanted one just like him, except in the color of chocolate. He was a beautiful color, rich like caramel and silky soft to the touch. I don’t remember if I held him that day, but I do remember listening attentively as my cousin told the story of how she picked him out.

He was the first puppy to come to her, she said, racing faster than all others to get in her lap. Explaining, Casey gently put Sebastian down on to my mother’s carpet—I added the infraction to my growing petition on Winston’s behalf—and I could tell right away that Sebastian was going to be a big boy. He had the longest legs I’d ever seen on a pup his age, and feet that were as big as the palm of my hand. His tail was thick like the grip of baseball bat, a weapon in the making. And he was clumsy, unable to maneuver his tree trunk like body with any kind of grace.

“The breeder said he shouldn’t get more 65 pounds,” Danielle said.

Seated at the kitchen table, I gagged on my beverage. Struggling to catch my breath, I didn’t bother to hide my laughter. In true Danielle style, she ignored me, and again repeated what she’d been told as if to counter act my mocking. When I pointed out that he had those feet to grow into, not a single look of worry washed over her face. She was not about to be deterred. Today was a happy day for her and her family. They had a new baby, and whatever was to be would be, that’s how she saw it, and with that, she scoped up Sebastian and left.

I’d be slacking here if I didn’t tell you, my cousin Danielle could light up a room with her smile alone. Her dimples could charm the devil into knocking on heaven’s door, convinced he just might get in. That day, Sebastian had put a smile on her face like I’d only seen at the birth of her children. All kidding aside, I was truly happy for her and her family.

After she left, I went out to my humble abode, back to “my” dog and my husband. When I walked in, Winston’s face lit up and his nose went right to work. I ignored his look of disgust that I dared to drag such a smell into “his” camper, and instead got busy telling Marc what he’d missed. My husband rolled over from where he’d been napping and listened with interest. I could tell by the way he was smirking that he’d already formed an opinion.

“Well, she’ll be calling you, asking you to take him soon,” he said matter-of-factly before turning his back to me and continuing his nap. I shook my head. No way!

Those first few months passed nicely. Daniele and I spoke several times a week on the phone. It was fun sharing something in common with her, and I enjoyed our conversations about dog food options and questions like whether she “had” to leave the water out all the time—Sebastian drank so much he would regurgitate it all over her house—made me laugh. I gave advice when I could, and shared many after-the-fact chuckles with her. As his puppy antics accumulated, so did the stories and the phone calls. Our long chats during this period were some of our best, and I look back to this time often with fond memories.

My favorite story of all was when she called to say he’d eaten her wedding ring. I’d say he was probably four or five months old at the time, and Danielle had just told the family that she was pregnant—with twins! As you can imagine, I was already doing the math. Danielle’s four, counting Sebastian, was about to become six. And though the babies were still months away, Danielle was already up to her neck in ciaos. Our daily chats now consisted of her talking, and tending to her other three other three children while deal with morning sickness, and also chasing Sebastian. Her sentences were often interrupted by short spurts of cursing.

“Sebastian! That damn dog! Oh, I don’t think I can handle this Tricia! How do you do it? My kids are easier!”

At the time, the family was living in a three bedroom ranch style house. It was a nice neighborhood with a good size back yard—for the kids, but not for a fast growing Sebastian.

The frantic call, I knew was coming, came one afternoon as I was doing something too unimportant to remember now. Her fingers were swelling, she said, so she’d taken her wedding ring off. (Wait for it). I listened intently, already guessing where this was going, as Danielle went on to explain that Sebastian had a habit of sleeping under the bed—barely fitting these days—and she remembers taking her ring off the night before, but come morning it was gone. She feared that she may have accidently knocked it off the night stand in her sleep.

Do I think he could have eaten it? Would a dog eat such a thing? The sound in her voice told me she was just about at her wits end. I took a moment to ponder my response. She had a lot on her plate, what with three kids at home and two in her belly, and a husband that worked well into the evening hours. Add all that up, and add a dog that wasn’t potty trained and was teething. I feared Sebastian had two paws out the front door, and didn’t know it.

First, I tried to sound as if there was still hope, explaining how she may be able to get her ring back. She’d have to watch Sebastian’s potty time, I told her, and at the mere mention of dog poop, I could almost hear her gagging on the phone.

“I’m pregnant, Tricia!” She grumbled.

I had no other advice for her, other than taking him to the vet and that route seemed expensive and uncalled for. She asked if I’d come and check his poop for her, to which I openly laughed. I love you, but I don’t dig through dog poop!

“Get Casey to do it,” I said, as that sounded like a man’s job to me anyway. Needless to say, the ring was never found.

As our conversations continued, we talked a bit more about why Sebastian’s was acting out. We discussed the idea that his bad behavior was probably a case of him being bored and needing more exercise.

“Labs are busy dogs, they need a job,” I explained. I understood there wasn’t much she could do alone so I offered to help. (Did you see that coming?)

Something had to change. Up to this point, Sebastian was breaking free and racing around the neighborhood. The heartbreak of having to tell the kids that he gotten hit or was lost played over in all of our minds. And since Marc and I were now living out on six plus acres, it seemed only humane that I come and get him from time to time. So, in a few spoken words, I became an official doggy sitter.

With Marc’s predictions still fresh in my mind, it was agreed that I’d pick Sebastian up that next morning and dropped him off that night. I admit the writing was on the wall, but I was firm in my denial. I really didn’t want the added responsibility of a new dog. We were already cramped, and Winston was fully trained, no mess no fuss. I was determined to help, to do whatever was needed to keep Sebastian with Danielle and those kids.

So it was in the winter of 2000 that I loaded Sebastian up in my car for the first time and headed for play land. Unknowingly it was to be just one of many adventures we’d share together—done Sebastian style.