I turn down the radio, and quickly glance between the passenger and driver seat.
Per usual, Morrie’s head is positioned on the center console, resting atop his front two paws.
His tongue is peeking out – but just a little. His eyes are half-closed, squinting, as he waves his face back and forth in the air-conditioning. I start laughing, wishing I could take a picture.
We’re coming back from a hike at Chimney Bluffs, a gorgeous rock formation overlooking Lake Ontario. The lake was emeraldy today, the sky the most stereotypical shade of baby sky blue. We worked our way up the bluffs carefully, as the summer heat has left the edges of the cliffs dry and crumbly.
Morrie was eager, but careful, as we weaved up the cliffs. The trails were narrow, but worth the incredible views of the lake. We both stopped and marveled, which seems odd for a dog to do, but nothing about Morrie has never been normal.
He expertly hopped over logs and roots, while politely sniffing at fauna. He peered over the edges of the cliffs but continued, energetic and wanting to press on. I tried to mentally remain a few steps ahead.
The first hour was pleasant. But eventually, it was grew to be so steep, we both couldn’t fit on the trail. We headed back down, and while we were walking, we encountered a tired, older woman walking up with a chocolate lab puppy in tow.
“Hi there!” I called, chipper from a hike high. “Yours friendly?”
“Yes,” she said, a bit breathless. “Excitable, though.”
We met in the middle, and the dogs sniffed each other. I follow the woman’s eyes to Morrie. She grimaces.
“He doesn’t look very friendly,” she snapped.
I push down my cold yankee intuition and try to think about the sugar in Southern Iced Tea. That sweet, Melissa, I think. That sweet.
“He just has resting dog face.” I force a smile.
I can’t help but notice her tired eyes. She looks pretty, but her attractive features are weighed down by anger, resulting in an unpleasant scowl and a permanently furrowed brow.
Morrie takes a step back, and her dog continues to pull. Suddenly, she spooks, tripping her owner in the process. The woman lands with a heavy thud on her backside.
“Oh God, are you okay?” I rush over to her, but she waves me away.
Her friend, who had been a bit behind, catches up with two more smaller dogs. Morrie sniffs them nicely as the woman remains seated, and blurts out: “She is SO dumb.”
Her dog pants happily.
“You’re so stupid,” she continues to shout at the dog, as she pushes herself up.
I consider just walking away, but feeling obligated to her safety, I inform her that the trail gets steeper up the mountain.
“Morrie is pretty calm,” I explain. “A bit timid around the edges, but I still wouldn’t bring him up there.”
The point I’m trying to make, without insulting her dog or ability to care for it, is that he wouldn’t drag or trip me off the side of a cliff.
She discusses with her friend for a minute. I can still hear her as we make our way down, sliding down a particularly steep part of the trail.
“She’s just such a dumb dog,” her voice echoes through the trees.
The woman’s words bothered me for the rest of the hike, and the ride home. I didn’t believe that she felt such hate for her dog, but instead, that she was perhaps taking out her unhappiness on it. There she was, on a beautiful summer day, and a Tuesday nonetheless.
Despite the sunshine, the little flickers of dandelion floating through the fields and the birds softly chirping in the tall, statuesque trees, she was miserable. Whatever was going on in her day to day life followed her up that mountain, and refused to flee, even when startled by landing on it’s ass.
I get a lot out of personifying my emotions. My persistence has the grump and sass of Walter Matthau. He grumbles to every interruption, “will you just leave me alone?” as he drinks my black coffee and growls at Chrome for shutting down again.
“I don’t get this dang technology,” he complains, clicking every button and leaning in closer, as if he can figure it out by being two inches from the screen.
I know in order to be productive and happy, Walter needs quiet and space. He needs piping hot coffee and a lot of long walks in the woods without the constant beep or ding of an email or text notification.
My ego is a snobby socialite, flipping her long, blonde hair over her shoulder whenever she’s irritated.
“Um, but I’m hot.” she says to the suitors who don’t pursue her.
But to those who do, she puts on her annoyingly oversized sunglasses, snaps her gum and tells them to get lost.
“I’m busy,” she says to the nice, clean cut gentleman cut out of a J Crew catalog.
“But I like you,” he says, offering a bouquet of fresh cut daisies.
“Feelings are so lame,” she mutters, her eyes never leaving her phone.
Paris needs to be kept in check, needs to be humbled whenever she tries to disguise shyness with snobbery. I’m constantly ripping those sunglasses off her face, throwing that phone out of her hand, and telling her to pay attention to someone who’s just trying to get to know her.
And my anger? It constantly appears as a toddler who just really needs a nap. I imagine this woman’s anger to be the same. An exhausted, impatient toddler on the verge of a temper tantrum because it’s being dragged up a hill.
As she tries to focus on the hike, the toddler grouchily rubs it’s eyes and asks if it’s over yet.
“Stop ruining this for me.” she politely requests, as it screams and wails. “I’m trying to be outside more.”
“I WANT TO GO HOME!” it cries, clinging on to her back like a loud, sweaty backpack. As she tries to explain to the child that it’s a beautiful day, it continues to kick her with it’s feet.
“Do you want to play with the puppy?” I imagine her trying, putting the imaginary toddler on the ground.
“I HATE THE PUPPY!” It retorts, kicking the poor puppy, who looks adorably perplexed.
It’s difficult being a human sometimes. I feel for the woman, and wonder if she ever made it up the hill. I have empathy for her plight, a woman plagued by negativity when she’s just trying to have a nice afternoon.
Many times, I’ve just opted to leave my anger toddler at home. I try to be present in the moment I’m in, but like any concerned mother, it crosses my mind. I consider calling home and asking the babysitter if it went down for it’s nap.
I don’t, though, because whatever the adventure – the hike in the woods, the long drive through the mountains, or the day at the beach isn’t about anger. It’s not about the argument I got in with a friend or the strange sound my car continues to make, even though the dealership insisted it fixed it.
No, it’s not about the toddler. It’s about my desire to be out in the world.
So instead, I take a deep breath, and do my best to focus on the simple things. The way the light shines through the canopy, the way Morrie playfully jumps over the thick trunks of fallen trees. I hear the toddler, perhaps stirring in it’s sleep a little… and I just walk a little gentler.
I don’t wake it. I just marvel at what’s around me, quietly, to respect it’s necessary slumber.