May 2, 2015, is ingrained in my memory like a bad tattoo. It was the day that tick took ahold of me and infected me with a debilitating disease.
It was a glorious spring day in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the best time of year to be a farmer. The crops were young, full of hope and potential. There was enough time in the week to prep, seed, plant, mow, repeat. Rett, my other half, partner in life and business, was at the market pedaling produce. I was working on the farm, the usual breaking stuff and fixing things. Each year, I have gotten better at the fixing part. The sun was shining but not too hot.
The best part of each day was when the sky turned golden, and the dogs would start jumping and spinning with excitement. I would change my shoes and hop on my bike or go for a jog. We would tuck into the woods where the air was cooler and our heads felt lighter.
We had three dogs, Milla, the boss, Oscar, the loyal protector, and Melvin, the lovable stinker who just showed up one day. Milla was arthritic in her old age and didn't venture on too many hikes anymore. But for some reason, that day, Milla wouldn't let us go without her. With Milla, a short jaunt turns into a lengthy adventure, taking our time, catching our breath, sniffing the mountain air and relishing the views. I was running late. A very important little guy was turning two, and his birthday party was that evening.
As we finally got back to the farm, I jumped into the car and went to town. The birthday party was a success. The kids ate cake, the adults drank beer, and everyone was happy. After the party, a girlfriend and I went out for tacos and margaritas. We talked about the state of the world and our relationships, politics and kids. It was the end of a long week, and I was feeling ready to wind down and get some rest.
I drove the long drive back to the farm where my dogs greeted me, and I poured myself a night cap. Some nights I get so excited for bed that I can't sleep. I threw off my pants and there it was . . . a tiny tick embedded in my left calf muscle. I have pulled many ticks off me before, but none had made me angry. This one struck rage in my heart. I cussed, pulled it out of me, flushed it down the toilet and went to bed mad.
It left a mark.
That Wednesday at the Farmers Market, the sun was beating down hard on the back of my neck, and I noticed some small bumps arising on my skin. I figured it was my delicate epidermis readjusting to the Spring UV rays. I was wrong. Within a few days I was covered in a red, burning, irritating rash. I was hot, tired, and cranky. It was May, and I was a farmer. My doctor put me on the standard course of antibiotics, Doxycycline for two months. Most things you read on the internet say this will cure most tick infections, if you catch it early.
They were wrong.
(Painting by the wonderful, talented, supportive Jaime Kaye Lockard AKA Riot Crrrls)
At the time, I didn't know the journey I was about to face. I'm glad I didn't. I also didn't know that was the last hike Milla and I would enjoy together. Sadly, she went to doggy heaven three months later.
Milla was not only the boss of the farm: She was a legend. I only knew Milla for the second half of her life, but that was enough time for her to gnaw at my heart. She was as tough as nails and sweet as pie. She was shot in the face and barely flinched. She ate goats for breakfast and turnips for dessert. She was terrified of thunderstorms and never hesitated to seek comfort on top of your face. She told you how she felt, what she needed, and never apologized for any of it.
Milla had spunk and sass till the morning she left us. She taught me that we gain more from being vulnerable, from sharing our needs. Strength is speaking up, and silence has only made me bitter. In being open about our struggles, we can learn and try to understand and support each other. No apologies.