How a Dog Curbed My Leaps


Leap Before You Look has long been my motto. The image of me jumping into new experiences, absent of dithering or second guessing, helps to explain my 17 moves to other homes and cities; and my half dozen jobs, some lasting barely three months.

I was always proud of this swiftness, which combined with my safety net, If it doesn't work out, I can always move back/quit, allowed for these jumps.

And in several of the residential escapes, that's what I did; I sublet apartments to leap before lease end, and after only one year of our marriage, I shifted my reluctant second husband (a born-and-raised city kid like me) to a small town 40 miles west of Chicago. There, I lasted 10 months.

In each of my moves, I delivered to my dubious friends, who had been witness to my somersaults, rational reasons. They listened empathetically and simply awaited the eventual landing back home.

One significant leap tossed me out of my home state to Los Angeles, but that vault reversed in 9 months and I resumed a life in Chicago that had only been briefly interrupted.

With advancing age, and career choices waning, I sought less chancy endeavors to test out. I signed up for classes in writing a half-hour TV comedy, improvisation, singing, and more capers that each lasted one semester.

So it was no surprise to anyone when months ago I wrote a $100 deposit check (total $250) to a Hyde Park church in order to hold a seat for me on a 12-hour bus trip to Montgomery, AL. After reading "Just Mercy," by Bryan Stevenson and learning about his Legacy Museum project, I became a supporter of the man and his work.

Brushing aside my 81 years, and the rigor of my torso seated for that length of time, I boasted about my ability to make decisions quickly and my desire to learn more about our country's shameful past with slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration.

The expiration of my driver's license was the impetus for my next leap. Although I no longer own a car, and haven't driven in two years, and travel via public transportation, Lyft and Limo, something in my aging heart demanded I possess a license. For safety's sake, I arranged for a driving instructor to pick me up, sit beside me as I re-learned Rules of the Road, and escort me to the test (total $215). This was to occur at 6 a.m., which meant I'd be leaving my apartment before sunrise and be gone for at least four hours.

I believe now, that along with my stated reasons, both of those decisions steamrolled over my budget to reinforce my "badass" image. Surely, only a unique and courageous woman of my age would leap into these adventures.

Then, I adopted a dog. And this badass yielded to Doris' momma. The thought of leaving my 1-1/2-year old skittish Terrier/Jack Russell mix for extended times, whose frequent stares reinforced a puppy-life of abandonment, saddened me.

As example, when I recently joined my family for a four-day celebration in Los Angeles, she stayed with a dog walker who cared for her throughout the day and overnight. Daily photos couldn't mollify my longing and I vowed, that unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn't desert her again. So, I cancelled both the Montgomery trip (As amends, I donated my deposit to a scholarship fund.), and the pre-dawn driving lesson.

When friends asked about my reversals, I didn't blame Doris, my torso, or trepidation behind the wheel. Instead, I threw the spotlight on money.  "Between the fees for the trip, and driving lesson, and the charges for dog care, I'd be out of pocket nearly $500," I said, as earnest as someone facing a loan officer.  

Of course, money was a lame excuse, but one I thought others would buy.  My "living beyond my means" portrait brought desired consensus and sympathy.

 Now I wonder, what will become of my Leap Before You Look catchphrase? Will I now settle in as an aged woman who endlessly weighs pros and cons before taking the first step? Or, will some endeavor be so enticing that I'll be able to justify storing away little Doris with a surrogate?

I'd really hate to think that intrepid Elaine has disappeared and in her place is an elderly, mushy dog mother. Perhaps in time, with Doris abandoning her shelter shyness and expanding her trust in others, I'll revisit my two cancellations.

A flight to Montgomery, instead of a bus trip, and a friend's car for a driving test are rational possibilities. Not leaping, but prudent and still slightly adventurous.