I know today is normally Massage Monday, and I am sure you are missing it greatly, but today I want to share a real life love story in honour of Valentine's Day.
Back in August of 2008, I retired Jetta my first guide dog because she just didn't want to work anymore. I reapplied to Leader Dogs for the Blind located in Rochester Michigan and was registered for a class scheduled for the end of October. I had debated applying to a new school, but stayed with Leader Dogs for the Blind because my first dog and I had done so well. I was informed of another class starting at the end of September, but I wasn't sure if that one would fit into my schedule as I was away in Beijing China competing at my third and final Paralympic Games.
I was very excited to be matched with my new partner and was worried about the time between returning home from China and the next class. After thinking about it a bit longer, and consulting our swim team's manager to see when wen we would be returning to Canada, I decided to switch to the September 21st class. There was still room, but I was worried that we would be getting back to Canada on the 19th. Would I have enough time to recover from my trip? Would my heart be in getting a new dog after competing at such an emotionally charged event? It was something that I would just have to put my mind to and make work.
September 21 came very quickly and I was soon on another plane flying to Detroit Michigan. This plane was much smaller than the one I had gotten off of just three days before, but I didn't really notice. First of all, I was so sick with the flu that I thought I might collapse if I had to walk too far upon landing and my brain, how ever fuzzy it was, couldn't stop thinking about how much my life was about to change.
It had changed a lot with Jetta. She had been my partner for six and a half great and busy years. I had learned so much from her, including that I was much stronger and independent than I thought I was. What would this new dog have to teach me? I was fully prepared to give this dog the best life I could. I wondered what breed the dog would be. Would it be a boy or girl? What colour? Would it be big or would it be small like Jetta. My mind was fixed on one thing and one thing only; get my new dog and make this class the best learning experience ever. The next 21 days were all about my dog. Or so I thought. Wait, hold on now. Did you think I was writing this about Glacier? I suppose he could be considered the love of my life too, but he is not the central character in this particular story.
Upon arriving at LDB, I went straight to bed. Sunday was a travel day, so it didn't matter that I hid in my room and slept. I don't remember much about that day except that I almost slept through supper and probably would have if one of the instructors had not called me down. As I was walking down the hall, hazy from sleep and flu symptoms, I noticed there was a guy walking in front of me, who had apparently almost missed supper as well. I thought he was weird and kind of brushed him off as socially inept. Boy was I wrong. I blame the flu.
The next couple of days passed quickly and with the help of orange juice and a lot of water, I was pretty much better by Tuesday. I kept hoping that I would recover quickly because if you are too sick to work with your dog, the school can send you home and you would have to wait for the next available class. I was impatient-I wanted my dog.
Tuesday of that first week, I thought I should call home. On the way out of my bedroom, I noticed a plastic bag of items sitting on my desk and rummaged through. None of the things looked like mine and I was worried that they belonged to another student. The residence staff had gone shopping for things that may have been forgotten so I thought there had been a mix up. I brought the bag down to the common room, a place with a couple of booths, the residence staff's desk, pop and snack machines and a hot drink thingy that made hot chocolate, tea and coffee. I explained my concern to the staff member and she laughed saying that it was a "welcome" gift. Mr. K, who I did not know was Mr. K, was fiddling with one of the snack machines and said he had thought the same thing. I was so flustered I left without my calling card. Upon returning the bag to my room and discovering that I had forgotten the card, I went back to the common room only to find Mr. K talking to another student about "vending machine" surprise. Apparently the braille had been harder to read than he thought and his preferred item had not come out. Mr. K had only been blind for about two and a half years at that point and had only learned braille six months or so prior to his visit to Leader Dogs for the Blind. I laughed and said that I would be happy to read him the options next time. I bought my calling card and was about to leave whe he said,
"Hey , where are you going?
"Back to my room." I managed to mumble.
"Why don't you sit down and talk to me?" He said.
I didn't really know what to say, so I sat and talked to him. And talk we did. I walked away thinking that he was very interesting and that I would like to talk to him again. I really thought nothing of it.
I noticed him in the next few days. We would line up in the mornings and after lunch to load up the buses to go downtown to work. I won't go into details about our training because that would be enough material for a post of its own. I noticed in the line ups this guy who talked a lot, but didn't realise it was the guy that I thought was weird or had sat chatting to in the common room. Sometimes when you are learning voices, and a lot of new ones, you get people confused very easily. While we are waiting for our turn to train, the students are gathered together in one place and often section off into little groups just chatting to pass the time. I was no exception. I'm a pretty social person, although quite shy at first, and so I soon began striking up friendships. During this time I began to get to know Mr. K and discovered that he was the guy that I thought was weird and had had a two hour long conversation with.
I was under the impression that I was the only one there my age and the people closest to me was one guy who was 18 and a woman who was in her forties. I had been informed incorrectly. When I met Mr. K more officially and got to know him, I had no intention of falling in love. I had been single for five years and was very happy being by myself. I had every intention of growing old and being the Crazy Dog Lady all by myself. I had gone on dates, but usually found that the guys I dated weren't interested in a girl who could take care of herself. I think they saw blind girl and thought they could take care of me: not so much. So when Mr. K came into my life, there were a lot of walls up. I was at LDB to get a dog. It was a very serious thing and I needed to focus on my new dog, whoever he or she was, and I needed to give this new partnership 100 percent. It probably took a week and a half before my resolve broke, which isn't really that long, but when you are thrown into an environment like that, it is hard not to get to know people very quickly.
In that week and a half, Mr. K and I spent some time together just chatting, watching movies and other such things. One time we walked back from supper together and were deep in a conversation about politics or religion, or something that you're not supposed to talk about, and Mr. K said
"Ok we're at my room."
"Ok bye," I said and continued down the hall to my room. Mr. K later told me that he thought I would stop and finish the conversation and was completely baffled when I "blew" him off, as he put it. Poor guy. I was so clueless.
I kept trying to ignore the feelings I was having, but it was hard. The instructors even noticed the tension between us and started separating us. That made me angry. Mr. K and I were the ones doing the best with our dogs and instead of coming to us and expressing their concerns, the instructors just treated us like children. Sure we were spending a lot of time together, but we always tended to our dogs first. Who, as you know are Glacier and Roscoe. Mr. K and Roscoe had bonded incredibly fast and Glacier and I were hot on their heels. The bond that those two dogs have now is amazing and I am pretty sure it started in those early days. Roscoe and Glacier trust and love each other so much that they will even drink out of the water bole at the same time without any problems. I can feed them out of dishes that are next to each other and there is no grouching or anything.
Finally, Mr. K made me sit down and talk to him about the tension we were both feeling. He kept making statements like,
"If you were American you know I would have to date you," and I would say things like,
"but I'm not."
In our little chat, he talked to me about coming to visit me and my response was, "but I have cats!" I realised as soon as it came out of my mouth that it sounded very wrong. It's a wonder the guy kept talking to me-I shut him down so many times without even knowing it. He had just told me the day before how allergic he was to cats and I was actually concerned about him. He responded with,
"do you think cats are going to stop me from coming to see you?"
I had to concede that it probably wouldn't, but I expressed my concerns about our real reasons for being at guide dog school and we went back to trying to be friends. A few more days passed and Mr. K brought up the subject again. I was so afraid of labels, afraid of what that would mean and I didn't want a long distance relationship. I had done two of those before and I had sworn that I wasn't going there again, but he won me over. I look back now and I am so glad that my fears didn't win. I could have lost not only my now husband, but my best friend too.
Mr. K finally said something to his instructor and they backed off. I think they realised that we were both mature enough to recognise our primary purpose and tend to that relationship first. I left LDB six days before Mr. K did as I was a re-train and he was getting his first dog. Newbies have to stay a bit longer. It was one of the hardest good-byes I have ever had. I was a bit uncertain and was worried about what the future would hold. I was also excited and completely smitten. Glacier seemed reluctant to leave his friend Roscoe, but I assured him that we would see them soon. We talked a lot on the phone in the weeks that followed and planned for Mr. K and Roscoe to come to visit me starting on November 12th, but on October 28, just 18 days after I left LDB, Mr. K hopped a bus and arrived at my front door. We spent about five weeks together in that first visit. It was hard at times, but I knew that if we could make it through that time that we would be together forever. At least that was my plan. I had never believed people when they said "you just know," but I did by Christmas of that year.
We spent the next two years or so traveling back and forth to visit one another. Mr. K did most of the traveling as his school was portable and mine was not. At one point, when they changed the rules at the border crossings, we spent six weeks apart because Mr. K was waiting on a passport. It was the longest six weeks and we were both very cranky. I always teased Mr. K, and still do, that he is my Grumpy Bear and sent him a three foot Grumpy Bear Carebear as a surprise to try to make the situation a bit more tolerable.
In November 14th 2009, Mr. K proposed-that is another story-and we were married in a courthouse in July of 2010. Our wedding is going to be May 28th of this year and we are both very excited. We had wine made for the reception and the labels read,
"But I have Cats!"
So, you see? Love really does fall in your lap. It happens at the strangest moments and especially when you are not expecting it. If Mr. K had never gone blind; if I had not retired Jetta, or more correctly if Jetta had never retired herself when she did; and if I had never switched guide dog training classes, we would never have met or fallen in love.
Happy Valentine's Day :)