Posted by: heatherinparadise | July 26, 2012

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

When Scottie died, she took my desire to blog with her, along with some of my optimism and a tiny bit of my faith in the goodness in the world. It seemed monumentally unfair to me that she should have come through all the misery and suffering that she had, only to be denied the lovely, happy life she had ahead of her.  I struggled to find something good to come out of her short life, and in her honor, began examining my own life.  I have been busy in my absence, taking inventory of my life, my shortcomings and defects, trying to understand why I am the way I am, trying to make myself a better person. This will be an ongoing project—one that I hope will continue for the rest of my life, but I am feeling stronger, more confident, kinder to myself than I have ever been.

Recently, a somewhat wild, sick and malnourished cat with a broken tail jumped through a screen and into my life.  She was skittish and terrified, so it took me a full day to be able to pick her up, put her in a crate, and take her to the vet.  I had to keep her isolated from my dog, so she lived in a separate room that I entered four times a day to feed her, change her litter, and give her medicine. At first, I could not pet her or even pick her up without forcing the issue.  It took her three days to come out from under the bed/her hiding place to greet me when I entered the room.  After two years of life on the streets and distrusting all living beings, however, it took her only two weeks to completely trust me.  Two weeks to erase all the bad that had been done to her.  She lies in my lap and allows me to give her love.  Sometimes, she still hisses at me out of habit even as I am petting her, but still leans into my hand as I caress her.

I named her Abra, from the line of the poem that says “And though I called another, Abra came.”

In my life, I have collected strays, broken-winged birds, hurt kittens, starving dogs.  Without exception, these animals have been able to heal, to trust, to receive and give love and affection.  From this I can only conclude that animals are the only living things upon which it is safe enough to lavish love, to unreservedly give one’s heart.

It’s the human strays, the ones with hidden damage, too far gone, past rehabilitation, that you have to watch out for—for they are the ones that can really hurt you.  Even without meaning to, they will accept your heart, savagely feast on it, reject it as unsavory, and throw it away, all without dirtying their hands.  I have come to understand that humans are my only enemies and I mean to protect myself against them in the future.

I have said jokingly dozens of times that I prefer dogs to humans; that while it is true that no human has ever taken a shit on my floor, no dog has ever broken my heart. Jokes aside, that is a truism.

I won’t say that this is my last blog because it likely will not be.  What I know is that I have been an open book, honest to the point of self-injury.  I have not protected myself because I did not understand before the importance of self-protection, but I know now that the person I am is worth shielding and I must be more discerning about what, and with whom, I choose to share.

Thank you all. I regret this blog has proven unsustainable in its original format.

Posted by: heatherinparadise | February 18, 2012

Sleep sweet, Goodnight, Goodnight

As you all know, two weeks ago I became the foster “mother” to a puppy that my friend Laura and I rescued from Playa del Carmen’s dismal perrera.  This was the photo that sent us in search of her:

I called her Scottie after a couple of my closest friends, but refrained from calling her by that name once I very quickly found a permanent home for her, in Colorado (since her adoptive family planned to rename her).  She was to fly to Denver on March 22 in the company of dear friends who are, like me, passionate about helping alleviate the suffering of Playa del Carmen’s street animals.

On the day of her rescue, Scottie tested negative for the Parvo and Canine Distemper viruses, but the vet at Coco’s Cat Rescue let me know that she would have to be tested again for Distemper two weeks later, to rule out the possibility that she could have contracted the virus in the days before she left the perrera, which had recently had an outbreak.  A week later, I took Scottie to Coco’s again to get her first round of immunizations.  After taking her temperature and learning that she had had some gastrointestinal distress, the vet declined to give her the shots, telling me that we had to wait until she’d had her second Distemper test.

Mostly, she spent the next week right by my side, in bed or on the couch as I worked on my laptop.  She slept a lot and was lethargic, though I did my best to deny/defend/rationalize her lethargy when others commented on it.  She was never playful; she was never a puppy the way I know puppies to be.  Once or twice I caught her chewing on my laptop power cord and while I could not condone such behavior, I was delighted that she exhibited some signs of normal puppyhood.  I bought her a tug rope that was impossibly big for her, but she did half-heartedly chew on it once or twice when I waved it in front of her face, as if to appease me, to say, “Ok, lady, if this is what you want, I’ll chew the danged rope.”  My heart melted one morning to find she had, at some point during the night, pulled the stuffed chicken toy I’d bought her into her crate; her home base, secret fort, sacred space that was the first place she ran to feel safe, where she slept when she wasn’t sleeping next to me.

When she first came to me, she ate the way a drowning man reaches for a lifebuoy: Desperately, grasping. Even after a few days taught her that this food would come like clockwork, she still got excited each time I brought her bowl, and I would hide and peek around the corner to watch her eat, charmed beyond measure by the way she seemed so amazed at her good fortune to find such easily-gotten food, her tail wagging with every bite.

I did what I could to pretend she was not terminally ill.  I missed a scheduled vet appointment that would have confirmed the continuation of her fever and swollen glands.  Her diarrhea, probably my fault because I gave her food or a chewy treat she was not used to.  The roughening skin patches on her side that grew larger and more coarse, perhaps that was some mild infection I could treat with a topical ointment.  Anyway, what dog doesn’t get eye gunk, and you can hardly call a little runny nose on a dog something to worry about. The vet told me a week ago that coughing was a bad sign, which she had never done, so I was able to feel smug and triumphant all the way up until last night, when her coughing and sneezing awakened me a few times.

Today, Scottie tested positive for Distemper.  Lety, the caring, compassionate vet at Coco’s sadly, but honestly let me know how slim her odds for survival were, and what progressive stages of suffering this small creature would be in for should I choose not to humanely euthanize her.  I was a bawling, confused mess; I had focused my energies only so far as finding a way to let her go to the loving home that was waiting for her in Colorado, but never dreamed I would be the one faced with sending her to her death.  Scottie trusted me only as much as she had ever trusted any human, which is to say, not that much, but still she weakly wagged her tail and leaned her head into me as I held her against me for the last time.

I realize that I am distraught and that, as a result, my words are overwrought, and I’m not unmindful of the fact that some will say, Come on, she was a dog, and you only knew her for two weeks.  I can’t refute this—she was a dog and I only knew her for two weeks.

But I loved her.  Her short, mostly-traumatic life mattered, and she changed me.  I am too tired and wrung out to tell with any accuracy how important to my life was this little one who did not belong to me, so I will just give up and try to stop crying.

Sleep sweet, dear Scottie. Goodnight.

Posted by: heatherinparadise | February 12, 2012

Four-Eyed Forties

When I was a little kid, I remember longing to have glasses or the need to use a wheelchair or crutches.  Knowing what I know now about psychology, it’s obvious this was a longing for attention that I did not get at home, a classic trait in a child who felt abandoned by a parent at a very early age.

I used to try to lie on the eye tests that were given at school, but this never worked–my eyesight was always deemed fine and I never got the cool purple-framed glasses for which I longed.  As an adult, thankfully, my longing for glasses went away, although I suppose this blog is proof that the ‘longing for attention’ thing never really did. O.o

About a year ago, I started noticing that companies began printing can labels in a much smaller font, and that the only way I could read them was to hold them at arm’s length from my body.  Squinting also made them legible.  Soon, I noticed my bedside light must have been broken, since reading in bed became next to impossible, as the text was too blurry to see.

One day, a friend casually remarked, “Hey, did you notice that you squint a lot?  I think you should get your eyes checked.”  I became indignant:  “Nahhhh, not me!  My eyes are fine!”  After about six more months of squinting and holding things at arm’s length, I did a little research and discovered that vision changes at 40 are common and that many people (even those who’ve never had vision problems) at that age begin to require reading glasses.  I filed that away, but continued to struggle and refuse to admit I needed glasses.

Fast forward to this past Christmas, when a girlfriend who is my age came over to wrap presents.  She had her readers atop her head and tossed them to me to try.  As soon as I put them on, well, it was a miracle.  There was no denying any longer that I need reading glasses.  I’m 41, still feel like I’m 18, but facts are facts:  I’m old and it’s all downhill from here.

If I’m being honest, I think they’re kind of cute!  Yay, I finally got my glasses!

Don't I look smarter already?

Posted by: heatherinparadise | February 10, 2012

Sandwichon–I Just Can’t Eat Thee

One of the things that’s kind of a bummer about having lived here in Mexico so long is that I no longer notice things that once would have stood out to me as being very different from the way things are in the country of my birth.  These things have become normal to me, fuzzy background details, just the way things are.

Well, today I got to thinking about something common here that is still bizarre to me, even after all these years:  Sandwichon.  Sandwichon is a savory “cake” made of white bread, filled with various meats (typically ham/cheese, tuna, or chicken), cheeses, and vegetables, and “frosted” with a mayonnaise-based dressing.

Sandwichon photo from

In the major grocery stores, massive sheet cake sized sandwichons are displayed–you simply use a spatula to hack off the piece you’d like, put it in a take out container,  have it weighed, and you’ve got your lunch.  I cannot aptly describe how unappealing this massive sandwichon looks after a few pieces have been cut out of it–it gets messier and runnier (and warmer, they are not stored in a cooler) as the day goes on.

photo credit

I must state here and now that I LOVE Mexican food.  I have eaten and loved many, many authentic Mexican dishes over the years, but I cannot bring myself to try the sandwichon.  I don’t really know what it is about the sandwichon that so offends me.  After all, the ingredients are all things I have eaten at one time or another on a boring old sandwich.  Whatever it is, I just can’t get behind this traditional dish.  In fact, I don’t even really like looking at it.

Walmart Sandwichon photo from

Posted by: heatherinparadise | February 6, 2012

Saving Scottie From Death Row

Long time readers of HiP will know that I’ve been involved with a number of Playa del Carmen-area charitable projects since I moved here almost 8 years ago.  Primary among these have to do with the various animal organizations–I’m a soft touch when it comes to defenseless creatures.

After the hectic pace of the Holidays, combined with the extra work of high tourist season, I decided after I was finished with the ChristmasDreams Project and after the Vidas/Candi spay/neuter clinic in January that I was going to take a break from volunteering for a while, to focus on myself and my own work and personal projects.

And then I saw this picture.

Tiny little puppy, all alone in Playa del Carmen's horrible Perrera

Sylvie, the founder of local animal organization SOS El Arca visits Playa del Carmen’s perrera, or dog pound, almost every day to bring food for the dogs and to take photos in the hopes of finding homes for the animals there.  She’s unable to take on any more animals at her refuge, but she’s still dedicated to helping these dogs when she can.  The perrera in Playa del Carmen is a depressing place–animals are scooped up off the streets, put into small cells and then their time left is limited.  If they are very sick, they are euthanized immediately.  If they’re obviously someone’s pet who just got lost/loose, the owner has a short time to find their dog and pay the ‘ransom’ to get their dog out.  If no one comes for the dog, within a few days, the dogs are euthanized to make room for the next batch of dogs that come in daily.

I see Sylvie’s photos from the perrera every day, but as there is no way to rescue all animals, most of the time I have to painfully look away/put the dogs out of my mind.  But there was something about this photo that moved me–I think it’s that the puppy is backed all the way into the corner, scared and small, with only the two walls to touch her.  I knew I had to foster this puppy until I could find a home for her, so my friend Laura and I decided to try to save her.

First we had to determine if the puppy had been euthanized or not–she was supposed to have been put down on the day her photo was posted.  There was an error in communication and we missed the 4 pm deadline to speak to the vet at the perrera–we waited on pins and needles to see if the puppy was still alive.  When we found out that the vet had had car trouble and didn’t go back to the pound to do the daily euthanizations, we were overjoyed, and called him right away to let him know we’d be by first thing in the morning to collect the puppy.

Thankfully, we were able to show a photo of the puppy to the perrera workers and they went in to get her and bring her to us–I could not have been able to stand seeing all those poor animals on Death Row, their sad eyes begging me to save them.

I was so happy to see her little face

Dr. Carlos, the new vet in charge at the perrera, seems like a kind and compassionate man.  In the past, perrera directors have been difficult to work with and antagonistic towards the various animal charities trying to help, but Dr. Carlos works with SOS El Arca and Tierra de Animales to save as many as he can.  He also gives the dogs food and water, something that wasn’t possible before.  We brought a 25kilo bag of dog food in exchange for the puppy.  He explained that when there aren’t too many dogs and there is space at the pound, he does his best to let the animals live as long as he can, up to 14 or 15 days, in the hopes they will be able to find homes/be saved.

Dr. Carlos, doing the best he can for the stray dogs at the perrera

She was so terrified. Her scrawny little body just trembled.

We drove straight from the perrera to the vets at Coco’s Cat Rescue.  They did tests on her for Parvo and Distemper–thankfully both negative.  They gave her a can of food (cat food, which was all they had, but she didn’t care!) and she ate it like she’d never eaten before.

Yes, I'm a dog, but I like cat food. Wanna make something of it?

All ribs, hipbones, and knobby spine

Coco’s lent me a crate and I brought her home to my 2 room apartment. She has to be kept apart from Vinnie, my dog, for at least a week, to avoid Vinnie getting parasites from her.  Keeping the tradition of naming animals after friends (and my penchant for giving ‘boy’ names to girls), I named the pup “Scottie” after a couple of my closest friends.

Scottie is around two months old, with long gangly legs and expressive, Bambi-like eyes.  She looks like a baby deer when she stands up.  She’s still timid and shy after the hell of what she’s gone through in her short life, but it was only a few hours with me before she would wag her tail when I came into the room to check on her.  She’s already doing her business on paper that I lay down for her, and when she eats, she is so joyful to come by such easily-gotten food that her tail wags the entire time until her bowl is clean.

From concrete Death Row to a King Sized bed--alllllright.

While I thought hard about keeping her, my current living situation is not conducive to having even one dog, nevermind two.  Financially, I struggle even with the burden of keeping my own dog happy and healthy, so despite my love for Scottie, it is in her best interests for me to find another home for her.  Furthermore, if I love this one, get her healthy, and then let her go, perhaps I will be able to continue to foster animals and save more and more, one pup at a time.  Several of my amazing and wonderful friends, unasked, simply sent money to help care for Scottie–my faith in humans is constantly renewed by the lovely people I am lucky enough to have in my life.

If you would like to adopt Scottie, or know someone who would like to adopt her, please let me know.  Adoptions to the US and Canada are easy and possible, and she will come to you fully immunized, healthy, and will be spayed.  This little girl is so grateful for every ounce of love and affection she’s getting and I know she will make someone a fine companion.

Making herself at home on my bed and in my heart

Posted by: heatherinparadise | January 25, 2012

Unicorn Seeks Unicorn

Prior to the last year or so, I’ve never really dated.  I was a serial monogamist–a good girlfriend, meeting my long term boyfriends at work or through friends.  My last relationship, I was friends with the man for a time and then one day realized I liked him liked him.  So I’m fairly inexperienced at the whole single dating scene and I have come to realize one very important thing about myself:  I hate dating.  I mean, I HATE it–more than exercise, more than dieting. I hate dating more than I hate things touching me in the ocean.

In the last year, I’ve gone on dates where the man was 30 minutes late and showed up wearing a multicolored vest.  I’ve had dates where the man was clearly unshowered, a date with a man with bad breath, with a man who told me my D-cup breasts were small (REALLY?!  How big do you want them to be, jeez?!).  I dated a man who told me he didn’t believe male dogs should be neutered, only females, and a man who told me he didn’t ‘believe’ in using condoms (uhhhh…bye bye).  In short, I’ve gone on some  bad dates with men with whom I’m truly incompatible.  I’ve  had ONE great date in the last year, and it was with someone who lives thousands of miles away, so the prospects of a 2nd date are slim, until such time as he comes to visit.

Ironically, it was something my last bad date said that stopped me in my tracks and made me vow to stop kissing frogs.  We were having dinner at my place–I cooked one of those rare, stellar meals where everything came out perfectly–and he stopped in the middle of our conversation and said, ‘Heather, you really impress me.  You’re smart, beautiful, funny, well-traveled, and you can even cook.  You’re really impressive, the whole package.”  I thanked him for the compliment, but later he committed several of the sins I mentioned above (I won’t say which) and I decided not to see him again.

Because he’s right; I am the whole package.  I’m not perfect, but I’m most of the things he mentioned and even more, and I’m always working hard on bettering myself.  Why would I waste my time with someone who doesn’t bring his A game?  I’m not second string, why have I been dating the bench sitters?  It’s not easy to find a good man in Playa del Carmen, but you know what, it’s not easy to find a good girl, either.  I’m rare as a unicorn and until such time as another unicorn appears, I’m not interested in dating at all.

I’m officially off the dating market.  I’m marrying myself. We get along well and the sex is great–and I promise never to leave myself.

Posted by: heatherinparadise | January 13, 2012

Open Heart Surgery

(for Nancy Ann)

As a little girl, falling down meant
you would appear like magic,
a petite miracle bearing Band-Aids and hugs,
your voice a gentle hymn that calmed me
You’ve skinned your knee,
Show Grandma where it hurts.

Grown up now, I still want to run
at the sight of these tiny butterfly closures
like wishes holding your wound together.
When the doctors split you open,
sawing through muscle and bone,
they saw something no one else, not even you,
has ever seen–your heart,
fluttering helplessly inside
the cage of your chest like
a broken-winged bird;  your heart
with its unchangeable catalogue of events–
that quickened at the birth of your firstborn son
and, years later, tightened
into a fist of misery when he took his own life,
leaving behind only the space
he once occupied,
a paper doll cut from the page
and lost.

Unlike your jagged paperweight of pain,
my rage has rounded edges;
having no memory of him
allows me to hold his death like a gift,
a wordless warning of what not to do to my children.
For you, these unbalanced years
are still just crooked litanies of grief
that cannot comfort you,
his name indelibly written
in the sacred journal of your heart.

And when I stand here before you,
my arms full of flowers and
the weak salve of my love,
wearing green eyes and bone structure you helped create,
I am doing something I learned early from you:

I am saying Grandma, show me where it hurts
as if it was that easy.

Posted by: heatherinparadise | January 11, 2012

My heart

My heart doesn’t look both ways when it crosses the street.  My heart ran away from home at 17 and never looked back.  My heart did all the work but failed to turn in the final paper required to graduate.  My heart sometimes wears its underwear two days in a row and just puts on extra deodorant instead of showering.  My heart is lip-synching, but only knows half the words. My heart once saw David Schwimmer in a crowd at a rock concert or maybe it was Fisher Stevens. My heart always wanted to learn to play drums and still secretly thinks it would be great at it. My heart loves spicy food even when the burn comes later.  My heart is why the caged bird sings.  My heart still plays with Barbies.  My heart took a road trip alone to New Orleans and didn’t once stop to ask for directions. My heart will never believe in the designated hitter.  My heart knows things it will never tell.  My heart listens to Journey when no one else is around.  My heart knows it was Shakespeare who wrote the plays of Shakespeare.  My heart has a list etched into it that contains your name.

My heart is whistling so it can pretend it’s not afraid.

Dear Woman in My Neighborhood Whose Unleashed Dog Got in a Fight with My Leashed Dog,

Look, that sucked.  It was late at night and I was taking my dog out for a walk after having left her alone in my apartment for a number of hours, so she already had anxiety about needing to go pee.  Furthermore, the neighborhood dogs were all howling/barking, so that adds to the drama.  We were just outside my dog’s territory–our house, and as I locked the gate, your small, unleashed dog came bounding up to my dog.  I was apprehensive, since I did not know how your dog would behave or how my dog would react to a strange dog approaching her in the area she already feels bound to protect.

The ensuing dog fight let both of us know how our dogs felt about each other.  After we managed to separate them, as you know, I unleashed verbal fireworks the likes of which Calle 28 has possibly never heard.  While I’m not proud of myself for cursing, I am giving myself a pass because I was so upset at what was such an avoidable occurence.

I certainly didn’t appreciate your coming back around again a bit later to somehow try to make what happened my fault.  I’m sorry you got bit and I’m sorry your dog got hurt–part of why I was so upset is because I don’t enjoy dog fights and I don’t want my dog to either get hurt or hurt another dog.  If we would have been able to calm down later and talk rationally, I would have said these two things:

1.  Don’t ever put yourself in the middle of a dog fight–you are guaranteed to get bitten.  You don’t even know which of the dogs bit you–I kept pulling my dog back, but your unleashed dog just jumped onto her again and again.  At a certain point, it’s got to be on, since I’m not going to just allow my dog to get hurt because you weren’t in control of your animal.

2. Leash your dog, period.  You derisively made remarks about my dog not being perfect and needing a muzzle.  No, my dog’s not perfect.  Dogs are unpredictable, which is why she’s on a leash and always under my control.  My dog doesn’t need a muzzle, your dog needs a leash.

I have stewed about this and felt bad about it for days, but the bottom line is that none of this would have happened if only you had chosen to follow the law and had kept your dog on a leash.  For my part, I promise to try to not come so unhinged should this happen again–I can imagine it was frightening to witness my almost totally out of control temper (totally out of control would have been me hitting you when you touched my dog) and for that, I apologize.

Heather and Vinnie
Responsible Dog Owner and Normal Dog

See, we're nice when we're not provoked.

Posted by: heatherinparadise | December 31, 2011

Letting it Go–The 2011 Edition

Recently, one of my friends posted on Facebook what a good year 2011 had been for him–reading this, I was briefly taken aback because “2011” and “good year” were such incongruent terms in my life.  It was momentarily hard for me to imagine that a year that had been so full of suffering for me could have been, at the same time, a great year for someone else. Although I am blessed with a sunny outlook and true gratitude for the good in my life, I entered 2011 with a badly broken heart and the ensuing months were an at-times grueling exercise in ‘getting through it.’  It has only been in the last three or four months that I have finally felt the fog dissipating and the heavy concrete lifting from what I thought was its permanent place upon my chest.

Each year, one of my dear friends, Maria, holds a ‘Let it Go’ ceremony on the last day of the year.  In the past, participants would write all over a helium balloon the things they wanted to ‘leave behind’ in the old year and not carry with them into the new year–things like anger, fear, heartbreak, what-have-you.  This year, we learned that balloons cause harm to marine life, so we decided instead to write lists of the things we would be letting go of and burn them, and like the mythical phoenix, our new resolve could rise from the ashes.

We gathered this morning at a small Mayan ruin in Playacar, on an incredibly gorgeous, sunny day across from the sparkling Caribbean Sea.  After a brief, but personal and touching ceremony, each of us burned our lists and let it all go.

My friends, I wish you peace, love, prosperity and good health in this new year and may you find the strength to let go of the things that are weighing you down and holding you back from happiness and the things you want for your lives.  I believe in me and I believe in you, too.

It was a beautiful day to let go

The Lo gets a ride on Kat's strong shoulders

How many years have you seen, dear tree?

I got chills thinking of how many rituals and ceremonies these ruins have seen

Shawn lets go

Burn, baby, burn

Loretta lets go

Kat lets go

Maria lets go

My list was thoughtfully-created and well-burning.

Finally, I would like to leave you with one of my favorite poems by e.e.cummings:

let it go – the
smashed word broken
 open vow or the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

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