The Column of Disquiet - Cranes in The Sky (A Vacation in 10 Parts)
So what's happening here requires a little bit of explanation. Many, many years ago, when my Next Ten Words editor and I worked together at the Southern Minnesota Scene magazine, and I had my monthly column, "The Bearded Life," there were months where there would be some technical difficulties getting my column to post properly to the website. In those months, I would just post it myself, in its entirety, here on Anhedonic Headphones.
Since leaving the Scene, and beginning my work for The Next Ten Words, we haven't run into any technical difficulties until now. There is currently an issue with the site, and my editor, bless his heart, encouraged me to just post this here for now.
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I tried to run it away—thought then my head be feeling clearer
1. A Sigur Ros CD is filed under ‘rap.’
We’re in Baraboo, Wisconsin—we’ve been here now for roughly 24 hours. It’s Thursday, though, at this point, I am already uncertain on what day it is, and we are in the Spin Shack, a small storefront in the downtown area, dedicated to the sale of used DVDs and video games, as well as used CDs and mostly old, second hand LPs.
The atmosphere in the shop is thick—it’s warm, a contrast to how cold it is outside, and the air is stale and musty; not ‘Goodwill’ musty—the kind of stench that sticks to the clothes you buy there and you have to wash, like, three or four times to remove it.
No, it’s a different kind of musty—like recently unearthed things that had been stored in a basement for a very, very long time.
The fluorescent lighting above is absolutely sickening; casting a bleak tint onto everything it touches.
I never bother looking through used LPs in a place like this—I’m a snob, or whatever. My wife kills time by rummaging through the racks as I look through the CDs quickly—they’re poorly organized, and by the time I’m finished with ‘rock and pop,’ not really seeing what I was actually looking for, I happen upon some questionable organizational decisions: a good chunk of Mark Lanegan’s solo canon is filed under ‘blues’—I guess I’d never think to put him there, though you could make a strong argument that he is a blues singer of some kind.
Then there is the aforementioned Sigur Ros album—the cover shared similar artwork to their 2002 ( ) album, though it was a in a slim jewel case. I glanced at it too quickly to understand exactly what it was—a small amount of internet research revealed it is a one-track promo released in advance of the ( ) album—but that doesn’t explain why it was filed away under ‘rap.’
Maybe the shopkeeper—a thin woman with messy brown hair—did not know what to do with Icelandic post-rock.
This shopkeeper is otherwise occupied while I browse. A chatty customer has entered and sidled up to her, discussing, at length, how to unload an old collection of LPs, and while she talks to him about what she looks for in old records, and what determines their actual value, another customer has wandered in—obese, he wears a t-shirt and gym shorts, his swollen and revolting feet absolutely crammed into floppy soccer slides. He nervously paces back and forth at the counter and waits for the shopkeeper to come over—he smells like he hasn’t showered or practiced any form of hygiene in a week. He sells back a video game that the store will sell for $4—this young man receives $1 for his troubles.
He takes the dollar and quickly exits the store.
I buy a 2016 remaster of the Soundgarden album Down on The Upside1. The shopkeeper tells me it’s a Japanese import2—or at least, among the records she purchased on a recent trip to Japan and is reselling in the store. She tries regaling me with an anecdote about the shop she purchased it from—I don’t remember it now. And even though I willingly hand over the money, I know that this is not a ‘Japanese import,’ though to this woman’s defense, it’s not exactly false advertising.
It is simply a European pressing of this remaster that she happened to purchase while in another country.
We are all running away from something
2. A year ago, my wife and I went on a vacation—the first vacation we had taken together in roughly a decade, because ‘trips’ don’t count: a trip to visit members of your family, or a trip with members of your family isn’t a vacation.
We spent almost 40 hours on a train, going from St. Paul to Seattle, Washington, where we stayed for, like, two and a half days, and then we took another train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, where we spent less than 24 hours in the city before flying back home.
A year ago, my wife I and went on a vacation, and I wrote a thing about it—a long thing that was kind of about our travels, but also about how you can never truly take a vacation from mental illness—i.e. the debilitating depression and anxiety that I suffer from, and how those things continue to effect you, even when you are taken out of your element.
In the train station, leaving St. Paul, I saw an intense looking young woman with a very young child strapped to her chest in some kind of elaborate child carrying apparatus. On her back was a very large backpack, and at her feet, was another large bag—the look on her face, at the time, led me to believe that she had seen some serious shit, and that she was running away from something; that we are all running away from something,
That phrase, more or less, became the conceit of the entire piece.
A year later, we are all still running away from something.
I tried to work it away—but that just made me even sadder
3. Solange Knowles—the younger sister of Beyonce Knowles—apparently wrote the song “Cranes in The Sky” roughly eight years before it was included on her breakthrough third full-length album, 2016’s A Seat at The Table.
Knowles explained, after the album’s release, that in what would have been 2008, she was handed a CD of instrumental tracks by songwriter and producer Raphael Saddiq. One of the tracks featured was structured around drums, bass, and a synthesized string arrangement. She said after listening to it in her hotel room the evening it was given to her, she wrote the song—and when she went to work on A Seat at The Table, she contacted Saddiq for some additional production on a few of its songs—“Cranes” being one of them.
The album was released, as a whole, with little advanced notice, at the end of September 2016—“Cranes in The Sky” was issued a week later as a single from the album, with an accompanying music video. Knowles would later go on to perform the song—though nerves would cause her to fudge the order of a few of the lyrics—on an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” and in 2017, she won a Grammy award for “Best R&B Performance.”
It took me a while to sit down with A Seat at The Table, but when I finally did, the first time I heard “Cranes in The Sky,” it knocked the wind out of me.
It’s one of those songs that stops time—maybe it’s just how simply hypnotic the percussion and string progression are, maybe it’s how wounded yet powerful Knowles’ voice is—maybe it’s both of those things and more.
I was moved by how visceral it is—both the beauty, and the pain, she effortlessly fits into it.
A Seat at The Table is, at its core, a concept album about identity, empowerment, independence, grief, and healing, all juxtaposed against Knowles’ own world view as an African American woman who has seen, leading up to that point, her share of successes and failures, both personally and professionally.
“Cranes in The Sky” isn’t even the album’s centerpiece—it arrives very early on, and lyrically, it finds Knowles incredibly pensive, reflecting on everything she has done to try and run as far, and as fast, as she could from her problems—only to find that she can never really outrun them.
They are always there.
The titular ‘cranes’ in question are not the bird, however, though it isn’t difficult to picture them soaring in the air during the song’s refrain, as her voice, and the music, swells and rises when she sings the phrase, “It’s like cranes in the sky.”
No, the cranes in question are those you would find at a construction site—in the song, Knowles is specifically reflecting on her time spent recording the album in New Iberia, Louisiana; a quiet town that was in the midst of a growth spurt, becoming a congested, construction filled city.
The mechanical cranes in question were everywhere she looked—“it felt very heavy,” Knowles said. “They were an eyesore…disruptive to a place that I found peace in.”
We are all running away from something
4. Prior to this vacation, I had never been to Baraboo, Wisconsin before, and had limited experiences in Madison—in 2004, I went to see Damien Rice and The Frames perform at the Barrymore Theatre, and there were the handful of times I found myself in the rundown Greyhound Bus station during my early 20s.
Every vacation begins with an idea—a convergence of things that would attract you to a specific place.
With the Pacific Northwest, the ideas began piling up: a tour of filming locations from “Twin Peaks,” visiting a rabbit rescue, touring the Fieldroast factory, the Museum of Pop Culture, venturing to the ‘Vegan Strip Mall’ in Portland—and the food.
If we’re being honest, that trip was primarily structured around the ridiculous amount of vegan food readily available to us—pizza, donuts, burgers; for a week, we ate (and overate) like royalty.
Once you have the ideas, you have to do the work to put everything in place; transportation, lodging, tickets for tours or events—the flight back from Portland to the Twin Cities was practically free because my wife used her airline miles to cover the cost. However, other things begin to add up, no matter how thrifty you try to be: tickets for the sleeping car on the train, AirBnBs, a rental car, a bus pass, museum admissions, money for various ephemera to bring back, and the cost of regular meals out.
And, at this point, there was the large sum of money we handed to Chloe, the college student who was going to live in our house and watch our rabbit, Annabell, while we were gone.
We wound up picking Baraboo and Madison because we were looking to get far enough away from home to make it feel like a vacation, but go somewhere close enough that we wouldn’t have to fly or spend two days on a train.
My wife Wendy is usually the one who is really pushing the idea of travel—and the more she spent researching this part of Wisconsin, we were both surprised by the amount of places we’d be able to eat, and other things to do when we weren’t eating.
This trip, though, also involves a train ride—a much, much, much shorter one. It’s the first thing we booked tickets for, actually, when planning the trip. It’s some kind of touristy scenic train ride, leaving from a Railway Historical Society in what amounts to the middle of nowhere in central Wisconsin—we structure the entire trip around what was advertised as the ‘Autumn Color’ weekend—making promises about a train ride through a rural area of Sauk County for ‘leaf peeping in style.’
And if there’s one thing that Wendy loves more than anything else in this world, it’s ‘fall color.’
I tried to keep myself busy. I ran around in circles—think I made myself dizzy.
5. The vacation begins and ends, of all places, at the Mall of America; not because we, like, really enjoy spending time there, or needed to buy overpriced, resold Supreme shirts3 before heading to Wisconsin.
No—we go there because we simply have the opportunity (and take it, twice) to eat at Earth Burger again.
The drive to Baraboo is uneventful: we try to play a game of highway bingo with the old timey game board kept in the glove compartment, and our secondhand, antiquated iPod malfunctions a number of times—once freezing up completely, requiring a difficult re-start, then, once back up and running, opts to play the songs from Music From “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”4 in alphabetical order, rather than numerical.
At a rest stop, probably an hour or less outside of our destination, we take a short break to stretch and use the bathroom.
As we are leaving, a man walking into the rest stop points at me and exclaims, “I like your beard man!” I thank him, as he continues—“I just shaved mine off this morning. I don’t even recognize myself.”
“Why on earth would you do such a thing?” I ask him—he tells me he did it for a job interview.
I tell him I hope he gets the job.
As we’re getting resituated in the car, we see the recently clean-shaven man leaving the rest top, heading back to his own car, with his wife and son. The son carries a small bag of chips, purchased from the rest stop’s vending machine. He proudly holds them in his hand, and walks with a kind of youthful exuberance and swagger that can only be described as charming—the kind of excitement that could only come from a child.
We arrive in Baraboo well after 5 p.m., and by the time we haul our luggage up the narrow, creaking stairs of the AirBnB where we are staying, it’s after 6. By then, we figure out that for the most part, the town—at least the downtown area of Baraboo, has already shut down for the day. The natural food and supplement store closes at 6, and the 100% vegan restaurant5 (yes there is an all vegan restaurant in Baraboo of all places) has weird hours during the middle of the week—closing at, like 3:30 p.m.
Out of mostly desperation, we settle for a ‘family restaurant’—the kind of place that has a little bit of everything, but doesn’t exactly excel at any of it. It’s small and cramped inside—stopping just short of being a total hole in the wall. The building itself was, at one time, a lunch counter; those fixtures are still in place, though we are seated in a booth against the wall, not at one of the two actual counters with stools surrounding them.
The lighting is very, very low, making it hard to see, and from the wall behind the counter, a television tuned to Turner Classic Movies plays an old Russian film with the sound off, but the closed captions on.
We rarely, if ever, go out to eat, due to our myriad dietary restrictions and needs—but for the next five days, even at the restaurants that offer only vegan food, Wendy will have to explain her tree nut allergy over, and over, again—a dialogue with wait staff that she will grow weary of having almost instantly.
In this hole in the wall family restaurant in Baraboo, we order an appetizer of hummus, pita bread, and vegetables—but does the hummus have pine nuts in it? We continue to flag members of the restaurant staff down, asking additional questions or making additional requests—we’ve been in town less than an hour and I’m sure the staff of this restaurant knows we are not from around here and probably want us to leave.
For dinner, we order a plate of angel hair pasta with what we hope is plain marinara sauce—we split it, both wondering silently what, exactly, is in the sauce. We know it really isn’t meat—we would have become violently ill if it had been—but the sauce has a bizarre texture that makes us both uneasy.
The evening ends with us watching an episode of “Ghost Adventures” on our computer. The mattress in our room is large, but too firm for Wendy’s tastes.
Neither of us sleeps.
We are all running away from something.
6. The cacophony of Ian’s is almost too much at first, and it takes much longer than it should for me to make a futile attempt to acclimate myself.
We’re in Madison now—it’s a Friday night, around the dinner hour, and I have easily forgotten that people go out to eat on a Friday night, and we are in a large city, in a restaurant near the University—downtown, spitting distance from the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Ian’s is small—smaller than it should be for a place that is, at this point, bursting at the seams with hungry people. It’s noisy, and I can’t really focus on much of anything—this kind of reaction to crowds and noise—where I am, like, on the verge of just shutting down completely—is happening more and more to me and kind of becoming a real problem. Loud soul and R&B music plays from overhead, and one hundred different conversations coming from all ends of the restaurant become an indistinguishable murmur.
Ian’s serves pizza by the slice, and we are in a very, very long line, trying to figure out what vegan pizzas they have available this evening.
Leading up to dinner—this very moment, standing in line, I was already trying to come out of an anxiety relate issue from earlier in the day; the congestion and noise in the restaurant certainly aren’t helping.
Wendy is trying her hardest, yet again, not to lose her patience with me, and my anxious behavior.
Despite my best efforts, the food is delicious; Wendy has a slice of macaroni and cheese pizza—it’s dairy free, though it tastes almost too good to believe it. I have a slice of cheesy potato—I’ve burned the shit out of the roof of my mouth, but it’s amazing, and I realize I should have gotten another slice6 of it.
The line is still long, and slow moving, but I get back in to get one more piece of pizza. Behind me, a couple—a man and woman—file in behind me. They’re not married—neither are wearing rings; they’re moderately dressed up for being in a pizza by the slice place, so maybe they are going somewhere fancy later. They’re getting a little too close to me in the line, craning their necks and heads, frantically looking to see what kind of pizzas are available for the evening—like, close enough to my personal space where kindly requesting that they ‘get the fuck out of my shit’ is not out of the question.
Overhead, an Amy Winehouse song plays—I only know that because I hear regularly when I’m at work. The woman sings along to it—not harmonizing, but in unison. Her voice is not pleasant, and I don’t dare look behind me to see if she is singing at the man she’s with, or if she’s just absentmindedly singing, and he is doing something else.
Later, as I am finishing my additional slice of pizza, the couple sits at a table near ours, and I realize how short and frail the man is—he has blonde hair, kind of sloppy, in need of a cut; he, like so many men, lazily wears dress clothes. They hang on him poorly.
The woman has a face not unlike Sarah Huckabee Sanders—she looks absolutely disgusted with everything she sets her eyes upon, including her food, and her male companion.
I feel a sadness, possibly unwarranted, for both of them.
We are all still running away from something
7. It’s Thursday morning and we’re at the top of what is more or less a small mountain when Wendy loses her patience—with me, because of how long my legs are and how I have been walking faster than she is able to; with the weather, because the wind coming off of the lake is cold as shit and cutting through us; with her boots, because they’re not hiking boots, but they are the boots she brought on the trip to wear while hiking—they were purchased on clearance from a Target at least four years, and she’s worn the soles down enough that there is no traction whatsoever left, and a crack has formed in the heel on one of them.
We’re at the top of what is more or less a small mountain—at the time I thought we were up a lot higher than we really were. The internet claims this path—the ‘Balanced Rock Path’ in Devil’s Lake State Park, is only, like 500 or so feet high; but we’re at the top of this small mountain when she loses her patience—with me, the weather, her boots, and herself.
It’s Thursday morning and we’ve been on this vacation for less than 24 hours—one of us is already falling apart and I’m sure as shit surprised it isn’t me, but my time will come soon enough. We’ve spent a better part of the morning in state parks around the area, hiking,’ which is really playing against type for me, since I am not exactly one who spends a lot of time out of doors.
At the top of the Balanced Rock Path, we stare at the balanced rock in question—one large chunk of quartzite, perfectly yet strangely balanced on top of another chunk. Wendy expected it all to be much larger than it is, and I wonder when, since I have walked up a path on a small mountain, I can start outfitting myself exclusively in North Face apparel.
After cleaning up, we spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening in the quaint downtown area of Baraboo. We wander into a gift shop that sells wares made by local artists—I spent more than I maybe should have on a wood cut print of a rabbit, and Wendy chats up a woman from the International Crane Foundation who is busy getting a pop-up shop of crane related merchandise situated in the back half of this store.
She strongly encourages us to visit the organization’s center.
After dinner, we alternate between reading, and watching another episode of “Ghost Adventures” on the computer. We have little, if any, mobile phone service in Baraboo (and in Madison, it will turn out), and the Wi-Fi the AirBnb provides isn’t working well on our phones.
The hardwood floors of our room, while charming, creak the instant you even think about stepping on them. Not that we need it with how cold it’s been out all day, but there is an alarming amount of dust adhered to the blades of the ceiling fan7.
The woman who runs this bed and breakfast (it’s also a photography studio, and her family’s home) has two dogs, and in our reservation, I expressed our excitement about getting the chance to meet her canine companions.
We never meet the dogs. We never even meet the woman who owns the home. It’s all every hands off.
Neither of us have slept since leaving Minnesota—and even in our own home, in our own bed, we don’t sleep.
We leave Baraboo early Friday morning.
8. It’s Friday afternoon and we’re stuck on an unheated train car in the middle of fucking nowhere.
We are on our ‘scenic train ride’ through rural Sauk County, only there is little, if any, fall color for us to marvel at. Many of the trees we see from the window of our train car have already lost their leaves. The sky is unfortunately overcast, and the air is cold.
There is really no ‘leaf peeping’ to be done—only somber gazing across the drab, and desolate landscape.
The website for this scenic train ride told us to anticipate that we would be gone for roughly an hour. The train comes to an awkward and sudden stop around 15 minutes in, and one of the crewmembers bellows to us that it’s the end of line. He’s not joking—the track just stops.
We’re stopped because we have to wait for the dining car to arrive— teaming with rich white people, presumably; we are told by a stout, energetic man who works on the train, the dining car runs separately, and once it arrives, a track switch has to occur. We’re also told that the dining car goes very, very slowly—maybe five miles an hour down the track—because the rich white people aboard certainly do not want the ice in their water glass to be disturbed by going any faster than that.
We are assured that it will be a 15 or 20 minute wait, and we are encouraged to get off of the train, and wander around.
15 or 20 minutes turns into roughly an hour. Other passengers on our car seem to be dealing with it better than others. Two older women behind us being to fire off hot takes about the situation we have found ourselves in, speaking in voices much louder than necessary.
This is certainly an inconvenience for everyone involved, but I begin to look at my watch, and I can feel my anxiety rising faster and faster.
Prior to us leaving for vacation, the host of the AirBnB we are staying at in Madison inquired as to what time we’d be arriving—based on an hour scenic train ride, and an hour drive still to Madison from the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin, I told her between 3 and 3:30 p.m.
It becomes clear we will not meet that time frame.
There is a moment where my phone actually has a signal, and I quickly send this woman a message letting her know it may be closer to 4 p.m., or even later than that. Her response, which comes through a few moments later, begins with ‘No worries,’ but despite how cordial she is being, there are still worries, and I am now an anxious mess, on an unheated train car.
We return to the train station shortly before 3 p.m., and the energetic rail line employee is apologetic, though it mostly falls on deaf ears.
Before departing for Madison, I tell Wendy I want to use the bathroom; she indicates that she wants to look through a small museum adjacent to the train tracks, full of old rail cars and other ephemera.
“I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” I tell her.
Somehow, in the time it takes me to visit the men’s room, she sees all she wants to see from the museum, but our paths do not cross; she goes into the women’s room, and I go into the museum, and try to figure out where she is.
My demeanor has gone from anxious to frantic, as I try to navigate the narrow walkways that are set up between the long train cars parked in this building. I can’t figure out where she is—and neither of our phones are currently working. A moment passes, and I get a text from her saying she has gone to the bathroom, and I begin running toward the door of the museum.
From the door, I can see her walking toward where we had parked. A single train car coasts down the tracks, causing another delay. Rather than yelling to get her attention, I wait until the train has passed, and I take off running toward the car—like, Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible style running.
In doing so, I cross through a particularly muddy area near the parking lot—pressing mud into the tracks of my boots, and splattering small flecks of it on the cuffs of my jeans.
Wendy asks why I was running, and why I’m so frantic.
I don’t have an answer for either question.
We drive to Madison.
9. It’s before 10 a.m. on Friday—overcast and cold, and two gigantic cranes are sounding off alternating calls at us, practically playing off of one another, like jazz musicians.
We are at the International Crane Foundation. Neither or us know anything, really, about cranes, but we have the time—the restaurant we are eating lunch at won’t open until 11, and our scenic train ride isn’t until 1 p.m.
For almost the entire time we are at the Foundation, we are the only people there—save for the staff. When we arrive, we attempt to purchase admission for the morning, but are stopped by the woman Wendy chatted with the previous day in downtown Baraboo. She remembered us—“You actually came!” she exclaims, which leads me to believe she tells a lot of people to visit the International Crane Foundation, and that many of them do not.
We are let in as her guests, and proceed to follow the winding path around the grounds. Two species of crane are kept inside because of the temperature outside, but the other 13 are presumably just beginning their day.
Many of the cranes at the Foundation are either endangered, or on the verge of extinction—there are two of species of crane in each enclosure, and we slowly make our way around to each one. We greet the cranes by saying, “Hello friends,” or “How is your morning going so far?” Some of them are very timid, slowly and gracefully walking from the back of their designated area, all the way up towards the front, to get a look at us.
Some of them are incredibly curious, getting right up to the fence that keeps them from us—one slides its huge beak through the fence; we’re not sure if this crane is convinced we have something to give it, if it is simply returning our greetings, or if it is trying to tell us it is unhappy living at the Foundation.
Every crane that calls to us makes a different sound—they are all a fascinating blend of beauty and dissonance; both somber and haunted, while being whimsical.
As we continue making our way through the grounds, I cannot help but think of “Cranes in The Sky,” though I know the song isn’t about this type of crane. I think about the song’s absolutely hypnotic rhythm, pounded out with precision on a drum kit, and the gauzy way the synthesized strings slowly sweep back and forth. I think about the way that Solange Knowles layers her voice in the moments leading up to the song’s powerful refrain: “Away, Away, Away, Away, Away.”
I think about what the song means to Knowles herself; I think about what the song meant to me the first time I heard it, and what it means to me right now.
I think about the line, “I tried to run it away.”
An Interlude. It’s Saturday, a little after 9 a.m., and we’re in Madison. We walked to breakfast at a diner near the place where we are staying, and upon returning, the homeowner is up, making herself breakfast—her cats, Joey and Dino, greet us at the front door. Dino more or less stays out of sight for the remainder of Saturday when we’re around—but Joey and I become pals almost instantly. Roughly two years old, he’s a handsome, wiggly, affectionate boy, who I take to calling ‘Young Joseph.’
Mary Sue, still in her pajamas, makes conversation with us in her kitchen. We tell her our plans for the day—the Farmer’s Market near the Capitol, and then visiting a farm animal sanctuary8 around a half hour outside of town. She asks if we’ve ever been to Madison before—I quickly lie and tell her no, we haven’t.
Wendy corrects me; not in detail, she tries her best to explain the reasons that brought us to Madison on a Thursday in April.
The thing about grief is that it never truly leaves. From the moment it enters you, it becomes something you are always getting over. –Hanif Aburraqib
10. This is the part of the story that I haven’t told—that I haven’t been ready to tell, in full.9
This is the part of the story where, in Monday, April 2nd, I walk into the living room and find our companion rabbit, Annabell, choking and gasping for air—frightened and stumbling around, with a long strand of snot, or spit, dangling from her nose and mouth.
It happens again two days later. Then again, two days later. Then again, three days later—this time, she struggles for nearly an hour.
This is the part of the story where, on the urging of a veterinarian that we barely know—not even our regular vet, but one who had been helping us during this confusing and stressful time, we go to Madison, Wisconsin.
On the phone, I tell her about the latest choking episode, and how serious it was, and she tells me she’s at a loss on how she can help us. “You have to go to Madison,” she tells me, to see specialists at the University Veterinary Clinic.
This is the part of the story where my wife and I drive for four hours, with a sick rabbit, huddled in her carrier.
We arrive at the clinic, and she is given a preliminary examination. The veterinarian we are working with is young and fresh faced—he looks like the kind of guy who was probably in a fraternity while in college.
He tells us that they will need to sedate her and perform a C.T. scan to determine what may be causing these episodes.
He tells us that the clinic is very busy, and that it may be ‘a while’ before they are able to perform the scan on her. He is not clear on how long ‘a while’ is.
This is the part of the story where I start to lose it—I lower my voice, and I lean in close to him. I tell him that we got in the car and drove for four hours, and that we have nothing in the way of provisions for an overnight stay, and no place to stay anyway. I tell him that we haven’t slept, and haven’t eaten, and that I understand and appreciate just how busy their clinic may be, but that this all needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.
This is the part of the story where I give him a long, hard, cold look that implies, in this moment, I am not to be trifled with.
This is the part of the story where, while she is being sedated and examined, we are told to go find something to eat. We don’t know our way around the city, and don’t want to drive very far, and are more or less forcing ourselves to eat, so we find a Subway nearby the University campus.
Neither of us have had Subway in over six years—we split a foot long sub with minimal vegetables on it. We drive back to the clinic’s parking lot and eat it in the car. Wendy winds up with crumbs all over her jacket; we try to rest our eyes for a little while, and we can’t help but laugh at where we’ve ended up.
This is the part of the story where we say we hit rock bottom.
This is the part of the story where we are told Annabell has an upper respiratory infection, though at no point are we told how this could have happened.
This is the part of the story where, over the course of the next 28 days, we force her to take antibiotics; where we force feed her what is called Critical Care—goop that you mix up to feed to small mammals when they aren’t eating regularly; where I sit with her, for 20 minutes, every evening, while she is in box10 with a nebulizer running into it, an effort to keep her nasal passages clear; where we cancel plans to stay home and monitor her health.
This is the part of the story where, over those 28 days, we start to see improvements and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves, and on Friday, May 11th, there is a moment when I can tell that something is about to go wrong, and everything begins to fall apart.
This is the part of the story where, over the next 17, there is a slow decline in the progress that we’ve made.
This is the part of the story where, on Monday, May 28th—Memorial Day—my wife and I take turns holding her so that the other can force themselves to try and eat something for dinner.
This is the part of the story where my wife, more or less, stays awake with Annabell in her arms. And at 1:30a.m. on Tuesday, May 29th, she nudges me awake and tells me that it’s time.
This is the part where we watch Annabell take her final breath.
A number of weeks after Annabell passes away, Wendy and I make a list of things that we want, or in some cases, need, to do in the next year. Some of them are household projects that we’ve been intentionally avoiding, simply because they would be too disruptive for a companion animal living in our home—like getting a new front door, or looking into new flooring for the living room.
Some of them are just tedious projects we’ve put off, mostly because I would have rather spent my time hanging out with Annabell, as opposed to doing something like repainting the shed near the back of our property, or sanding and re-sealing the back deck.
‘Go on a trip or something’ is one of the things we write down. We eventually decide on Madison because we want to give it another chance and not always associate it with something horrible that happened.
At some point, after Annabell passed away, I was explaining to someone that we were taking a year to do things around our house, and to go on a vacation in the fall. They called it ‘guilt-free traveling.’ It seemed a little callous at the time it was said to me, but I understood the intention. Of course, there was always guilt when we were away—I could barely leave the house for the evening to go out to dinner without feeling bad about leaving Annabell by herself for a few hours.
But this is the part of the story where there is no rabbit sitter hired to stay in the house, and be on the receiving end of countless ‘How’s everything going?’ texts from me; there is no check written out for hundreds of dollars for this person’s troubles.
This is the part of the story where the living room light is no longer on a timer to come on and turn off on its own—it hasn’t been for months. This is the part of the story where we turn the furnace off for the time we are away, coming home to a 54-degree house.
This is the part of the story where the silence can be absolutely deafening.
Grief never truly leaves you.
A year ago, I said that we were all running away from something.
A year later, we are all still running.
1. Down on The Upside, released in 1996, is probably best known for housing three of the band’s most well known singles—“Pretty Noose,” “Blow Up The Outside World,” and “Burden in My Hand.” It is also home to my favorite Soundgarden song—“Zero Chance.”
2. Clarifying point—‘Japanese Imports’ are a thing; many compact discs have a Japanese Import bonus track, and Japanese pressings of vinyl usually have a number of aspects that make them appealing to collectors.
3. There is what I refer to as an ‘urban streetwear store’ at the Mall of America; it’s on the third floor, and I’m not sure how long it’s been there for. Street wear, on its own, is always very expensive since you’re paying more for the credibility the name gives you, but this store marks things up double, sometimes triple what they actually cost. I think the woman who runs the store knew I was not a ‘real buyer,’ since she treated me like common trash while I was browsing.
4. The soundtrack from “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” is one of our go-to fall albums.
5. The restaurant in question is called The Cheeze Factory. The food was incredible, but what is even more incredible is that a town of a little over 12,000 people would be willing to support something like this.
6. We both also had slices of a more traditional pizza that had marinara sauce and mushrooms on it. It was fine, but really pales in comparison to the other, more inventive pizzas offered.
7. The moment you check out of an AirBnB the site become very thirsty for you to review the place you stayed—I gave our host in Baraboo high marks, said I was sorry we didn’t meet their dogs, and gave them a 4 out 5 or something in a specific area simply because of the fan blades. The host sees this feedback, and I am not sure how happy she was to hear about it. But you know, clean your fucking fan blades.
8. The Heartland Farm Animal Sanctuary was a lot fun—too much info to shoehorn into the main part of this piece, but we met lots of very good animals, including ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, emu, donkeys, and a miniature pony, among others.
9. Here’s the thing—like all of these stupidly verbose things I write, they ‘start out being about one thing, and wind up being about something else.’ Truthfully, I guess I knew I’d have to face writing about this specific grief sooner or later, but part of me wasn’t expecting so much of it to turn up here. It seems worth mentioning that these events really do deserve their own stupidly verbose column sometime in the future—however, it takes time. It took me around three years to properly find a way to write about the passing of our first rabbit, Dennis Hopper The Rabbit, and another three years to write about the passing of Annabell’s sister Sophie.
10. Quick logistical point of clarification—I was not comfortable with this at all, but we placed Annabell in a large cardboard box, and we covered it with a blanket. I would slip my hand into the box, under the blanket, to pat her during these 20 minutes. The nebulizer hose was connected to a hole I put in the cardboard. We were never really sure if this was helping her, or just 20 minutes of her day spent in a box she didn’t want to be in with a loud ass machine running, pumping steam into her face.