The Weight of Gray

It’s as gray as gray can be outside. The sky hangs heavy in gray. The temperature is hovering around a somewhat breezy, freezing gray. The trees are a bare and skeletal gray. All this grayness has left King Ranch, Little Foot, and I all a bit gloomy-gray ourselves.

We bundle up Little Foot into his navy blue, bear sweater and dinosaur mittens while slipping on our own jackets so we can go wander around outside in the gray outdoors. I grab a couple of apples to share with the donkeys.

Little Foot wanders straight out to the pecans that cover the ground beneath the pecan tree. He likes to pick them up and throw them down one-by-one. King Ranch follows closely behind him, sticks and shells cracking beneath his boots.

Bunny and Tee saunter up to me nosing for the apples I have in my jacket pockets. I hold them out and they each take two to three bites before both apples are gone in loud crunching. They continue to nose at my pockets looking for more. 

Little Foot is suddenly tugging at the back of my jeans and I turn around to see him holding a small stick up towards me.

“Is that for me?” I ask, holding my hand down.

He grins a toothy grin, pushing the stick a little higher.

“Oh thank you,” I say.

I take the stick and he purses his lips. Holding his hand back up, I give the stick back to him. He quickly grabs it, studies it for a moment, and then holds it back up to me.

“Thank you,” I say, taking the stick from him again.

He makes a sound that’s somewhere between a grunt and a laugh while tucking his lips into his mouth. He reaches up. I give him the stick.

This goes on a few more times. Each time, he smiles a little wider. Each time, I say “thank you.” I think he’s learning to share.

His normally blue eyes are slate gray in reflection of the sky. Everytime he looks up at me to either retrieve or relieve the stick, a silver gray flashes at me in pure, playful curiosity. Those eyes are seeing so much these days – not just lights, shapes, and colors anymore. They’re starting to comprehend so much. Words. Feelings.

How amazing this is to witness – the maturing of a creature. The other day, King Ranch asked Little Foot to “grab that ball.” In a stack of several other toys, Little Foot grabbed the only ball. It’s astonishing how quickly toddlers turn into their own people.

Little Foot takes the stick one last time before hustling over to King Ranch who is still beneath the pecan tree. Moving as quickly as his boots will carry him, Little Foot holds the stick out to the right while saying “Dadada.” As he approaches him, King Ranch scoops up Little Foot and embraces him.

“That’s right,” King Ranch chuckles, “I’m dada.”

Little Foot giggles.

I watch them from several yards away – Little Foot in King Ranch’s arms – as they walk together around the pecan tree chattering about something that I can’t quite hear. King Ranch and Little Foot’s ears stick out from the sides of their heads in exactly the same way.

Bunny pushes her snout against my arm and I turn around to both of the donkeys still standing with me. I squat down between them. Bunny lays her heavy head on top of mine and Tee lays his in my lap. They’re being extra snuggly today. Maybe it’s because of the apples. But maybe, like Little Foot, they’re comprehending much more than I could imagine. Maybe they’re picking up on the ongoing stress we’re experiencing. Either way, I appreciate this.

I appreciate it all so much: King Ranch bonding with Little Foot. Little Foot sharing the stick with me. The donkeys being so affectionate.

This place is not lacking love. Not in the slightest.

I have a hand on each of the donkey’s jaws when I notice King Ranch standing in front of us. He’s smiling at me. I smile back and stand up. Little Foot is once again sorting through pecans. King Ranch puts his arm around my shoulders and I lean into him.

I’ve had happiness on my mind for days – what it means to me, when it’s appropriate, and how it changes our perception of circumstances or even life itself. Although I’m still mulling over my ideas, what I DO know is that when I’m with my family, I am happy. The grace and pure, genuine nature of all of them – King Ranch, Little Foot, and the donkeys –  grounds me. Humbles me. Makes me happy.

I am so very grateful for my family…so very happy and blessed to call them my family. All of them: human, fur, and feather.

It is so gray today. Strikingly and hauntingly gray. Beautifully and peacefully gray. Lovingly gray.

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Happiness and all of Her Friends

“Happiness is a choice.”

I’ve seen this quote frequently on social media and the internet in many different forms. Most of them are images which include a picture of a woman standing in lush forestry holding a bouquet of flowers in her hands while the breeze perfectly volumizes her hair. Others are intricate scripted letters on top of Instagram-filtered sea shores or sunset backdrops. It’s as if ‘happiness’ equals peace. ‘Happiness’ makes one beautiful. ‘Happiness’ is what’s right or the best choice.

Since moving up here to the ranch, I’ve had the privilege of being able to slow down. I don’t find myself sitting in hours-long traffic jams. At night, I hear crickets instead of highways. The sky is an explosion of stars and cosmos and for literally hours, we can stare intently into its greatness.

This slowdown has allowed me to take a deeper look at myself. I’ve more clearly started to understand my own anxiety, that I’m a people pleaser, and that I at least try to be an encourager. All along, I’ve repeated the phrase over and over in my head, “Just be happy. Just be happy.” I’ve been drawing strength from this. Confidence. I feel like if “I’m just happy” than I’m doing something right.

Now, I disagree with that idea.

‘Happiness’ is a wonderfully enjoyable emotion that as living creatures, we all experience and share. It is what happens when you hear a joke that strikes your sense of humor. It’s what your dog is feeling when they wag their tail as you pull into the driveway. ‘Happiness’ is what I feel while having an awesome casserole that King Ranch whipped up from the most hodge-podge pantry ingredients like pastas and cheeses and breadcrumbs and feeling full from its nourishment.

‘Happiness’ is Bunny and Tee braying uncontrollably when they hear us coming out into the pasture because they know we probably have treats or at least ear rubs coming their way. I am ‘happy’ when I finish giving them carrots and they proceed to nuzzle me and/or follow me around the yard. ‘Happiness’ is Little Foot realizing that he’s learned how to tell us that the cow says “moo”, and proceeding to repeat it over and over with an increasingly large grin on his face. ‘Happiness’ causes tears in our eyes as King Ranch and I realize just how much Little Foot is comprehending these days.

What happiness isn’t is a choice. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ about our savings account quickly dwindling yet somehow still being too much to qualify our family for financial assistance with health insurance. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when I read articles about donkeys being illegally sold for meat in Nigeria by the thousands and knowing that right now, there is literally NOTHING I can do to help. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when mass shootings are reported on the news. What do you tell the families of those killed or injured? “Just CHOOSE to be HAPPY?” I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when a stray dog bolts onto our property, grabs our largest egg-laying hen by the neck, and takes off down the street. I am, however, ‘happy’ that King Ranch ran after them, retrieved the chicken like a knight in shining armor, and then spent days nursing her back to health.

Happiness is nothing more than an emotion. It’s on the same level as sadness, anger, and fear. They’re equals. Happiness, I think, just feels better than the others.

Happiness won’t soothe your hands that are white-knuckled and cramping over the steering wheel when you’re driving in 25 degree weather, shivering in pain, because the heater’s busted, but you can’t risk spending the money to fix it. Happiness won’t make it easier to have to shovel up an already rotting, dead, floppy rooster from your backyard; nor will happiness take away the guilt you’re experiencing while wondering if there was more you could have done to save him.

Indeed, happiness is a blessing. Happiness should be treasured. Happiness should be celebrated. But happiness shouldn’t be degraded and simplified into being a ‘choice’ – no more than anger, sadness, or fear should be ignored, bottled up, or thought of as a personal sign of weakness.

Why don’t we illustrate these other emotions or put them on beautiful internet memes to encourage people to embrace as well? Why are there no pretty women in pictures captioned ‘Get angry’ or ‘I would be sad, too’ or ‘Dear God there’s a spider as big as my hand in the bathtub’?

I am angry that our country’s healthcare system is so broken that it is costing us tons of money that we don’t have just to get our child treated for his illness. I am worried about how we will continue to pay our bills if one of us doesn’t find a job soon. I am sad that I cannot afford a plane ticket to go visit my brother in Colorado whose wife is about to deliver my newest niece. I cannot simply ‘choose to be happy’ about these things. And why would I want to? Why should I? Would that make me stronger? Or better?

Instead, I will celebrate happiness when happiness is justified. I will embrace anger when the need arises. I will proceed cautiously with fear when things are uncertain. I will allow sadness when tragedy occurs.

I will accept all emotions that I am armed with equally because they are a part of me. We are equipped with them for a reason. For confidence. Empathy. Awareness. Protection. Connection to one another.

I will no longer ‘choose to be happy.’ I will ‘choose to be honest.’ And if I’m being honest, right now I am happy that King Ranch is playing firetrucks on the floor with Little Foot while I’m sipping some really good breakfast blend coffee. I am sad that Little Foot’s ears hurt and I can’t make the pain go away more quickly. I am angry about the across-the-world donkey slaughter because who could, in their right mind, harm such lovely creatures? I am worried about our finances and what the coming months will continue to look like.

I am confident in and grateful for all of my emotions and the roles they play in my life. I don’t feel guilty about my fears or angers. I am thankful that I’ve got the tools I need to properly and productively deal with difficult situations.

I am okay with all of that. I am not weak for being a buffet of feelings. Nor does that make me pitiful. Right now, it makes me, me.

At the end of the day, I guess I’m over this idea that we all should “just be happy” and that if we’re not, that it’s some sort of a personal weakness. It’s not. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be beautifully complex. It’s you. It’s us. It’s alive.

Be happy. But also get angry. Respect fear. Allow sadness. Appreciate all of your layers. They’re all lovely. Happily, angrily, fearfully, sadly LOVELY.

Today, I “choose to be me.” Flustered, giddy, exhausted, unsure, grateful, curious ME. And I’m putting this image out there to encourage change. 🙂

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Pieces of Peace

I’ve trapped Bunny and Tyrion into a small paddock near the garage by luring them with carrots. My intent is to try and get their harnesses on them so that we can restrain them and trim their hooves. I hate that I have had to resort to manipulation, but if we don’t trim their hooves, the overgrowth becomes injurious to them.

What’s odd to me is how opposed to the harness both Bunny and Tee are – Bunny more so than Tee. I don’t have enough experience with livestock, however, to know if this is something in which all equine have an objection, strong or otherwise.

At the sight and/or sound of their harnesses, the donkeys scatter away which is why I’ve had to lead them here into this small fenced in area that has a large tree in the center of it. The ground is covered in dried up leaves and packed-tight clay.

I start with Bunny. I pull her harness out of my coat and she immediately dashes towards the gate which is closed and locked. Her ears are pointed straight up and her eyes are scanning the fence for an escape route.

“It’s okay, girl,” I repeat over and over to her in as calm of a voice as I can.

She trots to the gate, then to a corner, then to another corner. Tee is standing by the tree, clearly anxious, with his ears straight up and eyes wide. I’m avoiding positioning myself behind her because one swift buck and I’m a goner.

I hold out another carrot and she stops and stares at me. She’s not looking at the carrot – she’s looking at me.

“It’s okay, girl,” I say and take a step towards her.

At this moment, I recall something that the probably 20-something year old, blonde, and surprisingly gruff farrier told me last time she was here. I remember her deep-southern twang saying: :

“You gotta watch their eyes to see their next move.”

Bunny’s eyes are fixated on mine, still, so I take one more step towards her – leaves crunching under my boot. Her brown eyes dart left, so I side step, but she pushes me out of the way and runs catty-corner across the paddock.

“Come on, girl,” I say walking back towards her, holding a carrot out. Tee snorts, shakes his head, and trots past me to join Bunny in the corner.

“Come on, Bunny,” I beg, “It’s alright.”

She lowers her head and looks right at me once more. I squat down and plead with her, “Come on, Bunny, it’s okay girl. It’s okay.”

I’m letting the harness dangle towards the ground in my left hand, the buckles clanging like tiny cymbals, while holding out the carrot with my right. I glance at the carrot which is shaking – partially because my hands are always quite shaky, but also because I think I’m nervous.

Then I remember something else the farrier said:

“Donkeys are highly intelligent. They know if they can take advantage of you. They know your weaknesses.”

I shove the carrot back into my pocket and stand up straight.

Bunny’s eyes dart right, so I side step right. Her eyes dart left and she takes a step, so I hop left. She snorts and backs away from me as far into the corner as she can.

“Bunny,” I say with more authority, “Bunny, it’s okay.”

Tee trots to the corner directly across from where Bunny and I are scanning each others eyes.

Bunny snorts and jolts to the left. I side step in front of her. “No Bunny,” I say and raise my hands up to her face level.

She dashes to the right. “No, Bunny,” I say and block her path.

She lowers her head and snorts. I don’t know what this means. I’m suddenly aware that my heart is throbbing in my chest – with their large ears, the donkeys must be able to hear it pumping frantically.

“Bunny,” I say, taking a step towards her.

She throws her head up and I wrap my arms around the top of her neck, pulling the harness over her snout. She shakes her head from side to side, and me along with her, so I use my left arm to pull her head down against my left thigh. She tries to pull away, so I squeeze harder. “It’s okay,” I say, gritting my teeth and fumbling with the buckle behind her ears – my hands shaking. “It’s okay.”

She raises her head a bit to where the side of her face is pressed into my chest. I’m trying desperately to push the the strap through the buckle but my hands are shaking too much to aim properly.

She snorts and stomps her front hoof. I pull her in tighter to my chest and grip the harness as tightly as I can.

Suddenly, she relaxes. Her head is against my chest and I feel the muscles in her neck relax. She’s stopped fighting.

“Atta girl,” I say, releasing the grip on my arm slightly and a large exhale at the same time.

I push the strap through the buckle and secure it. As I remove my arm, she slowly raises her head and lays her ears back.

I reach into my pocket and pull a carrot out. She looks at me for a moment – right at me.

“Good girl,” I say, “good girl.”

She takes the carrot from me and I step back.

This reminds me of the times I’ve had to take Little Foot to the pediatrician to get his vaccinations. When I have to hold his arms down while the nurse shoves a needle into him, I always watch his face instead of the nurse’s hands. He usually smiles at me until he feels the prick and then as if the world is crumbling around him, his face turns red and tears well up in his eyes. He searches me for answers and comfort and all I can keep doing is holding him down while telling him that it’s okay.

Little Foot can’t understand why I’d hold him down on a cold table under bright lights so that some mean ole’ nurse can stab him with something. I want so badly for him to know that it’s for his own good.

Just like the donkeys can’t understand why I’d strap something over their heads and proceed to poke and prod at their hooves. I wish I could explain to them that it’s for their own good.

It makes me wonder what it is about my life that I lay awake at night obsessing and sometimes crying over when really, it’s something happening that could be for my own good.

For example, King Ranch still hasn’t found a new job – neither have I – and we’ve both been endlessly searching. Why are we still in this situation? Why hasn’t something worked out?

I imagine what Bunny must have been thinking when I blocked her in the corner of the paddock. Or what Little Foot must be thinking when I’m looking down at him on the pediatrician’s table.

Although I don’t know if I can subscribe to the idea that King Ranch and I are in this jobless situation “for a reason,” maybe we can make one. Maybe we can pretend that this is a good thing. Better yet, we can turn it into a good thing.

We have had a lot of time together over the past two and a half months – even if much of that time has been scanning the internet for jobs. We can still look over at each other and laugh when Little Foot makes a silly sound or laughs at his toys. We can have a cup of coffee together every morning. We can bounce ideas off of each other. We can just be together more right now.

It’s weird to think that we probably (and hopefully) won’t be in this situation again for a very long time. And in a weird way, it will almost be sad when one of us finally lands something because then our days together will once again be limited to the weekends. Although much like Little Foot and Bunny, the time apart will, at that point, be for our own good because we’ll be on our way to back on our feet again.

Sometimes the harder it is to understand, the more you have to just let go. Maybe that’s what Bunny did when she pressed her head into my chest – maybe, just maybe, she felt the beat of my heart and the warmth from my hands and knew that it would be okay.

I think of life sometimes as a Chinese finger trap – the more you tug and pull, the more tangled you become. If you just relax and breathe, then you understand how to set yourself free.

Peace doesn’t mean that it all makes sense or even feels good. Peace doesn’t equal happiness. Peace doesn’t prevent sadness. Instead, in peace there is strength. In peace there is hope – even if it’s in pieces. In peace, there is freedom.

The donkeys are out trotting around the yard now in their harnesses. I’ll be chasing them down again soon to remove the harnesses from their faces. For now, I’ll just watch them run free. They’ll be okay. They’ll be just fine.

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Two Drivers, Two Rivers, and Two Donkeys – A Donkumentary Vol. II

It’s nearing 3 o’clock in the morning and I’ve just taken over driving our 2007 Subaru after stopping for gas in some mid-Illinois town in which I don’t know the name. My eyes are slowly adjusting back to the dark highway after squinting underneath the fluorescent gas station lights – greenish spots float in the edges of my sight. King Ranch has adjusted the passenger seat to accommodate his height a bit better and Little Foot is sound asleep in his car seat.

We’ve been on the road for 7 hours making the drive back to our ranch in Texas from spending two weeks with King Ranch’s family in Michigan for Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a difficult goodbye when leaving his parent’s house because we know that we can’t just randomly have a weekend get together with them – scheduled time takes planning and money. We all smile and act like it’s okay, but really, I believe we all feel sad that we don’t live closer to each other.

I accelerate onto the highway in which there are absolutely no other vehicles while flipping on the car’s high beams. King Ranch taps a few times on his phone screen to resume our spot in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. We’ve been listening to this book on both the 20 hour drive up here and now so far, for 7 hours back. We’re at the point in the story where Bilquis is running frantically away from the Technical Boy. I start to imagine the scene before my eyes – long, toned legs atop slowly shredding feet scrambling along the asphalt – knowing that somewhere behind her is a speeding stretch limo.

Suddenly there are headlights – real ones – that speed up behind our Subaru. They swerve around us. Out of habit, I slam on the brakes although the speeding car is way out of reach by now. This jolts King Ranch awake from what I imagine is light sleep.

“You okay?” he half-way shouts, sitting up.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m fine.”

He pats my leg and leans back again. I hear our dog, Thing One, sigh and adjust in the seat behind mine – his collar falling with a tiny tinkle. I turn off the high-beams.

I won’t give spoilers, but in a few minutes time, we learn what happens to Bilquis and it really does upset me. I just keep imagining it – it – her final destination. I turn the high-beams back on just as we’re passing a massive carcass of some sort off the the right – a wolf? Dog? I pass too quickly to get a good look, but it is brown and white and has pointy ears.

Driving at night always makes me morbid, especially when I’m not driving through a city but instead, a mix of woods and fields and sometimes hills. I don’t know why, but I often wonder how many dead bodies must be hidden in those vast acreages of land that seems mostly undeveloped.

We continue to travel for another hour or so before I shake King Ranch’s left thigh. He snaps awake.

“I’m getting tired,” I say.

“Do you want me to drive?” he asks, sitting up straight and rubbing his eyes.

“You’ve hardly slept either,” I say, gripping the steering wheel with both hands.

“I think I’d be alright,” he says.

“We should stop somewhere. Little Foot will be awake soon, anyway.”

King Ranch pulls the lever on the side of his seat which thrusts the back of it straight up. He rubs his eyes again and taps his phone a few times. The bright screen illuminates his unshaven face. He’s so tired – dark, brown circles hanging heavily beneath his eyes. I’m sure mine look similar only my eye bags always have a purplish tint.

“Where are we?” he asks.

“Somewhere in Illinois,” I say.

“I think we’d do better just to push through,” he says, turning off his phone and dropping it into the cup holder between us. “I really just want to get home.”

“Well,” I say, “I don’t think I can drive for too much longer and I don’t want to leave this all on you.” I sit up a little taller too. The yoga pants I’ve been wearing keep riding down in the back and it’s driving me absolutely bonkers.

“I think I’d be -” he suddenly stops. “Cairo?” he asks.

“Huh?” I say.

“Cairo, Illinois?” (I should note that he’s saying ‘Kay-roh’, not ‘Kai-roh.’)

“Yeah, I’ve been seeing signs for it. Why?”

“Because that’s where Shadow stays with Jackal and Ibis!”

I smile. “Yeah, I guess it is – I hadn’t made the connection.” Damn my inattention to detail.

“The river delta,” he says. “It’d be cool to stay there.”

He pulls up his phone again, clicks away, and says he’s found a hotel. After calling them and learning they have one room available, we re-route our navigation system to lead us to the Quality Inn that is both pet-friendly and offers complimentary breakfast. It will be 38 minutes until we arrive.

I’m thrilled. I want nothing more than to get out of this car, pull my freaking pants all the way up – or actually, just take them all the way off – and sprawl out somewhere in which my eyes need to not focus on a thing. Plus I really want to take out my contacts that are suctioned against my eye balls and put my glasses on instead.

King Ranch taps a few times on his phone screen and suddenly ‘American Gods’ is back in chapter 7 where Shadow meets Sam.

“This is when he’s travelling to Kay-roh,” King Ranch says.

We re-hear Shadow and Sam’s conversation in the diner as the signs leading to Cairo tell us we’re closer. Shadow correctly guesses that Sam ‘casts bronzes’ and I’m really not sure what that means. I assume it means she makes things out of bronze and I think that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I could do something like that and make it successful.

Both King Ranch and I are trying to figure out our lives as 2016 is getting going. I’ve worked in a big-time corporate setting where I got literally hundreds of emails a day. I’ve tended bar where I became quite talented in making both vodka and gin martinis.  I’ve taught yoga full time – for a while, 26 classes per week.

I enjoy teaching yoga. I enjoy tending bar. However, now that I’m a mom in a new place, the needed schedule for those careers just isn’t ideal. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be damned if I ever coop myself up into a dimly lit cubicle where I type away at a machine in which my significance is pushing paper somewhere in the middle of please and thanks.

I’m truly hopeful for this year. I’m hopeful that King Ranch and I find our footing. The cruelty of life stands no chance against a New Year’s wish. We’re only hours into what we’re still calling ‘our year.’ I’m truly hopeful.

“Take the next exit,” the GPS commands.

I steer off the highway onto an exit with a lonesome, orange street light. Turn left. Turn right. Turn right and our destination is on the left.

The lights of the overhang that I pull under must be bright enough to wake Little Foot because suddenly he’s making a sort of cry, sort of sneezing sound. King Ranch steps out of the car and heads toward the front door as I shift into park.

“It’s okay, honey,” I say to Little Foot while reaching my hand back to touch his curly hair.

He grunts and sneezes a few more times and Thing One sits up with an awkward stretch. I fling my head side to side and crack my neck.

King Ranch slowly jogs back to the Subaru and sinks down into the passenger seat.

“Apparently it’s flooded around here so the manager didn’t show up,” he says.

“Can we not stay?” I ask.

“No, we can. But they gave us a discount.”

“Why?”

“I dunno,” he shrugs and looks out the window. He points in the direction that I should drive. “I wonder if Neil Gaiman stayed here when he was writing his book?”

“You think so?” I ask, backing into a parking spot. Thing One stands up and shakes.

“It’s the only hotel that popped up on Google maps,” he says. “I bet he did stay here! We should look for clues.”

I love this about King Ranch. He gets so tickled by close encounters of his idols. For example, a month before I found out that I was pregnant, King Ranch and I went to a ‘Jeff Bridges and the Abiders’ concert at a small venue in Houston. Jeff Bridges, along with Bill Murray and Kevin Spacey, is King Ranch’s favorite actor. He quotes ‘The Big Lebowski’ almost religiously.

After the concert, King Ranch stood in line with his big, fancy camera out waiting to meet Jeff. He was appalled by all the drunk fans who crowded Jeff and clearly made him uncomfortable. But as the saying goes, nice guys finish last – by the time Jeff reached King Ranch, he was ready to call it a night. King Ranch managed to get a picture with him, but was sorely disappointed that all the pushy fans got more of his time.

We get out of the car and it is unbelievably cold. The icy breeze blasts us as we scramble up the outside stairs. I’m holding Little Foot bundled in a blanket and King Ranch is holding onto Thing One’s retractable leash. Thing One pees on every single post.

Inside, the halls reek of stale cigarette smoke. We find our room and King Ranch fumbles with the key before opening the door.

I place Little Foot down and he takes off running for the a/c unit. King Ranch hits the bathroom and I flop down, face-first, onto the King Sized bed. Little Foot’s foot steps click-clack over towards the side of the bed, so I roll up to see him smiling from ear to ear.

“Dut!” he says, raising his hands.

I flip over and make a silly face at him while glancing at the clock on the bed-side table: 4:54am.

King Ranch washes his hands and throws himself on the bed next to me.

“I seriously bet this is where Neil Gaiman stayed,” he says with a grin.

I smile and pick Little Foot up to plop him on the bed in between us. He’s chatting and drooling uncontrollably. Thing One rolls into a ball on the small, teal sofa next to the bed with a big sigh.

At some point, we all fall asleep because suddenly, Little Foot’s chatter wakes me up. I roll over to look at the clock. 6:33am.

“Ugggghhhh,” King Ranch groans. “Noooo”

“It’s 6:30,” I say. “Little Foot, go back to sleeeeep.”

“Dut!” he says and taps my nose with his fist. “Dut-un.”

I reach for Little Foot who begins to giggle. I know that he won’t go back to sleep now. He’s ready for this day.

After brushing our teeth, putting our pants back on, and having a quick continental breakfast in the front lobby, we pile back in the car – me driving again.

“Let’s go this way,” King Ranch says, pointing at a map pulled up on his phone. With his index finger, he traces a green path that goes right between the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. “It’ll bring us right to Cairo. Maybe we’ll see Jackal and Ibis!”

I smile, “sure.”

We pull out of the parking lot and indeed the area is flooded. Off to the right, brown water has crept up around several pine trees that I don’t believe are supposed to be under water. There are all kinds of plastic specs floating in lines. The road winds and we approach a short tunnel that unevenly spaced above it says, “CAIRO.” I remember Gaiman’s quote – “…he drove under a bridge and found himself in a small port town.”

“Okay, this is pretty cool,” I say.

King Ranch is sitting up straight and smiling.

We pass by ‘Historic Cairo’ and the government buildings that look like cookies. We pass a two-story brick building with dozens of different colored headstones in the parking lot.

“I bet that’s where Jackal and Ibis would live,” King Ranch says and scrambles to snap a photo with his phone.

What we don’t pass is a whole lot of activity. This town seems mostly abandoned. Disheveled buildings are barely held together and most windows are in some way, broken. It’s sad. Interestingly sad.

We find ourselves pulling up outside of the ‘Fort Defiance State Park’ which sits right at the meeting of these two massive rivers. As told by the Quality Inn attendant, indeed this area is flooded as well. More and more trees are sitting in flowing, brown water that don’t look as if they’re supposed to be submerged.

Two impressive bridges lead out of the park on either side – one crossing the Ohio and one crossing the Mississippi. They’re phenomenal, intricate bridges that I imagine were built around the same time as the Golden Gate bridge – but really, I have no idea. Architecture is not something in which I have any sort of familiarity.

The one that leads over the Ohio river is blocked off with dirt and road signs saying, ‘Road Closed’ so we drive over the other. It is quite grand. I’ve never seen a river so massive – so powerful. It looked more like a lake. Glitter bounced off the surface everywhere – a million diamonds.

As we exited the bridge, we passed a sign welcoming us to Missouri. Our GPS tells us we’re only 9 and a half hours away from home.

We continue to listen to ‘American Gods’ only we’re back in chapter 8 so we can hear Shadow’s story from Cairo. It’s pretty darn close to what I had originally imagined.

It’s now 9:30 at night, and we’re on the final road before out county road. My high-beams are on again and Little Foot is impatiently chattering. King Ranch and I have what I believe is a bit of cabin fever and are talking to each other in silly accents – mostly a combination of pretty poor British and Scottish accents. We’re also cursing like sailors because we know that very soon, Little Foot will be repeating us and so we want to get it all out of our system now. We’re saying all the really bad curse words very slowly and heavily articulated on the wrong syllables. Plus, cursing in a British accent is way more fun.

We pull up outside of the house and King Ranch hops out to pull open our rusty gate. Thing One is standing on the back seat whimpering because he smells home. Little Foot is in an all-on scream now.

I pull into the circular driveway and smile as I shift the car into its final park. Home.

King Ranch closes the gate with a squeal as I pull Little Foot from his car seat. Thing One darts across the yard to pee on absolutely everything.

It’s dark and cold out and I look up to see more stars than ever before. It smells like someone must have been barbecuing earlier – smoky and spicy.

Swinging our arms in front of us to clear potential spider webs, we walk out towards the pasture to see Bunny and Tee who are sauntering up to the fence.

“My GOD,” King Ranch says, “They’re HUGE!”

I laugh out loud. “Oh my God,” I say.

Bunny and Tee are enormous. They’re almost as wide as they are tall. Two massive potatoes with sticks as legs.

“Have they just stood in one spot for two weeks eating hay?” King Ranch says.

I reach over the fence with my free hand and pat Bunny’s head, “I guess so.”

I open the gate to the pasture and both donkeys shuffle into the backyard – their girth unbelievably impressive. Tee, as suspected, goes straight for Little Foot. Little Foot croaks like a dolphin.

Bunny leans all her weight into me as I pet every inch of her face. We nuzzle for some time. I’ve missed the donkeys so much. I’ve missed home so much.

I always expect things to be different when I come home from a trip, no matter the length. So far, it looks like the only thing that has changed are the donkey’s measurements. It’s adorable. A bit concerning, but mostly adorable.

Bunny lays her head on top of mine and I begin to well up. What a lovely greeting.

“Welcome home,” King Ranch says, softly smiling at me.

A tear streams down my face. “Welcome home,” I say.