Henry & the Wolf Doctor – Part 2
Such is what Roberta Collineur, Ph.D., D.V.M. faced when she put on her stethoscope for another day of healing animals, hoping in the process to perhaps heal herself as well at Doc ‘Dinosaur’ Henry Steiner’s clinic. The half-White, have Indian Metis misfit who never fit into any world except the ones she created herself had endured one Alberta winter and conquered another since her arrival in Knife Bend. The truck that got her stranded there was fixed, but kept breaking down again, as if the demon inside the engine found a comfortable home in ‘Cowboy Hank’s’ garage and new home ten miles outside of town, a section of land that had been over-farmed, but after being left alone for 2 seasons, with Mama Nature’s help, was rapidly coming back to the way the bufallo left it. Terri, Cowboy Hank’s still ace mechanic and persistent neohippie optimist, who the Great Spirit had to work overtime to protect from the REAL world, said that the spirit of the truck was saying to Roberta, through the rumblings it did each time the engine was resurrected…’I want you herebe, like, not nice to Mother Nature to leave each other again.’
As for the young animal who was in the road that made her swerve into a ditch that stranded Roberta in Knife Bend two years ago, Promethius had turned into a healthy, happy and, when he wanted to be, obedient wolf-dog cross, who considered himself more human than canine. Mahegan, Roberta’s ‘first’ dog who was named Tripod by his previous and abusive owner, tried to teach Promethius that listening to the humans was the best way to be liked by them, but Promethius taught his older adopted brother far more about being a dog. Things like that missing one leg was no excuse for not running as fast as he could to follow horses and herd cows, celebrating the round up with a thorough roll in their soft, brown droppings. And though humans said they didn’t want you to make noise and play loudly with each other was just what they said, and not what they really wanted, or needed. And that when the humans got that isolated, lost look on their face, wanting to be alone, that is when they needed you most to nuzzle next to their feet and wait for when they stopped crying, or were about to. And that when caught doing something the humans had on their real ‘thou shalt not list’ like eating meat left on the table before it could become ‘table scraps’, or chewing up a pair of shoes that really didn’t go with their wardrobe or feet, try looking cute. Then helpless. Then needy.
As for Doc Henry, if the saying ‘be true to yourself and you can’t help but be true to everyone else’ was REALLY true, than he was the truest creature on two or four legs in Knife Bend. The older he got, the more energetic he became, and he was pushing 65, maybe 70 at this point. Every day, the over-the-hill sawbones, redneck and very White animal doc who had been a fixture in Knife Bend for twenty years became louder in voice, bigger in gestures and even more sure of his medical abilities than ever. No one boasted about his humility with more confidence than he did, but to be fair about it, he was a know it all who seemed to always be right. Or at least smart enough to turf off what he didn’t know and couldn’t do to Roberta. Tasks like telling him the molecular action of each new drug the pharmaceutical companies were trying to get sold to the veterinary public. And exploring branches of medicine that he made fun of, but allowed Roberta to employ, such as acupuncture, herbology and even aroma therapy. And communication skills with the public, like having Roberta ‘making nice’ to people who he didn’t want to be nice to on the phone, and doing ANYthing with the computer, as Doc Henry’s cyberskills stopped at being able to two finger type, very slowly, his password on Yahoo, which he still called ‘Yoyo’.
On this day, old Doc Henry was doing his veterinary dharma, or as it was called in still Redneck Country Music loving Alberta, his ‘first love’, appropriately named such by all of the women who failed to become his second, or third love. Roberta looked at the appointment book that had got from empty to filled in between and over the page margins within an hour after opening time, at 8 AM sharp. The still-nocturnal Ph.D., D.V.M. who preferred to read John Steinbeck and The New York Village Voice until the wee hours of the night rather than Zane Gray or The Western Producer over a 6 AM breakfast squinted her eyes to make out Doc Henry’s writing. “100 Pregchecks. Two horse geldings. Bloated calf. Wire cut. Three calvings/C sections.” All to be done of course before lunch, on the road, leaving Roberta to, according to Doc Henry’s phone message in his usual prairie ‘naval talk’ went, “keep the ship on course and the rudder steady”.
“He could have said keep business going and try not to kill anything that wasn’t supposed to die,” Roberta said to herself as she took off her Cree Grandmother’s Native fringed buckskin coat, replacing it with a washable jean jacket picked up at the thrift store. It made her look like a hot rodeo bunny to any of the old cowboys or young bull riders who came in for vaccines or antibiotics on their way from their chosen places of Work at their home ranches to their obligatory factory jobs where they were SURE of making a profit at the end of the day, week, or year. Roberta gazed up at the white garment that hung on the shelf, way behind the patient file cabinet, which held files that were still on paper. They would never be put into computerized bank, unless it was over Doc Henry’s ‘waterlogged body after it’s been returned back to Davy Jones’ locker’. The blindingly white garment had her name on it, in clearly-stated letters, sewn on by hand by the pharmaceutical company that she bought the last round of medications from, the font as impressive and professional as the writing. “R. Collineur, Ph.D., D.V.M.’ It was a custom fit lab coat, sent to her when she worked at Alpine Clinic, the ‘professionally-run’ veterinary clinic across town, according to the ‘professionals’ at the Veterinary Association, and the other ‘professionals’ who preferred to wear suits on their chests than their hearts on their sleeves, that she left to support its bitter rival enterprise, ‘The Good Ship Doc Henry’. No matter how many research publications Roberta wrote in grad school or could ever write now, she was ‘Doc Roberta’ to everyone else here. An honorable, kind and respected position in a town where most everyone’s position was equal. Where everyone, as long as they weren’t a ‘professional’, listened to everyone else. Where everyone worked hard at something they believed in and liked for, well, at least most of the day. Such was not what Roberta could say about her own life now, and she did not know why. Even when she looked into the eyes of Mahegan, then Promethius. The Heinz 57 mutt and the wolf-something cross nuzzled in next to her leg, begging for some of the birthday cakes and cookies left by clients who understood her. And other well meaning souls who gave her gift-wrapped bottles of 40 proof brandy and high quality weed who, well, didn’t understand nor know about the worlds she had come from, and vowed to never return to again.
Mahegan gobbled up the gingerbread cookies from the top of the cake as fast as she could throw them up in the air. Promethius let the pieces of cake hit the floor before lapping then up and then proceeded to clean the dishes they were on so Roberta would not have to scrub them. “I hit the big 30,” she said to them, gazing into a mirror. “I still got my long hair. My could-be-if-I-really-wanted-to-get-a-lobotomy model figure. My, as Doc Henry called them once when he accidently gave me a compliment, ‘mermaid arms that are as strong as any yoman’s on the quarterdeck’. But not my…well…what did Katzanzakis, the guy who channeled Zorba the Greek and Last Temptation of Christ into print call it”?
“Kefi?” Terri said as she came in, her small framed four-foot-seven body towered by bags of cat and dog foot that made her 3 feet taller.
“You know about…Kefi?” Roberta asked Terri as she unloaded the bags of food, enjoying the simplicity of the labor and joy of life that was as unobtainable now as Doc Henry going through full day without saying something ‘nautical’, insulting the hippies, feminists or gays, or doing another effortless veterinary task that by most people’s standards would be called a miracle.
“Yeah. Like in the movie, ‘Kefi’s Garage’,” Terri continued, as Roberta took note of four cars and two pick ups on the road outside the window, edging their way across the gravel road to the clinic, all with animals in them. “An old indy film I rescued from the throw out bin at the library that was made in Saskatchewan, with Gordon Tootossis in it. About this old Greek cowboy who—”
“—Yeah, I know,” Roberta interrupted, impatient with Terri’s slow and optimistically country speech, needing to get to the meat of the matter faster than she could dance her way to it. “This crazy Greek Canadian cowboy in the movie defends his kefi, his Purpose, big P, his vitality, big V, and his humor, big H, against a world that tries to take it away, or tries to starve him out of it. Yeah..Kefi. Something I wish I still had.”
“But you do,” Terri replied. “You got kefi. You’re a great vet. You do fantastic work. Everybody says so, and knows so. Even Henry, when he doesn’t think you can hear him. He says you’re better than anyone else who ever worked for him. And, when he has a few too many beers at the bar where I work after hours, he says you’re better than he ever was, or will be.”
“As a vet?” Roberta asked, afraid of the answer.
“Yeah….As an animal doc. You can’t be as good as you are at what you’re doing and not love it, really love it. Right?’ Terri asked.
Roberta thought about telling Terri the real answer to her question, but…as her Grandmother once told her, sometimes a Medicine Woman has to let people believe what they want to about her, even when the medicine woman is in need of healing herself.
Roberta subjected herself to another look in the glass over the medicine cabinet which insisted on being a mirror in the morning light. Fifteen years had passed since she was a drugged out whore who willingly worked for her Yuppoid pimp mobster husband Kurt the suit, who had ‘rescued’ her from the arms of a White father who had considered Roberta his trophy wife, against the wishes of her Native mother who committed suicide. Ten years had passed since Roberta’s awakening from the demonic slumber that had been her life when she was determined to go to her grandmother’s funeral, leaving behind all of Kurt’s money and connections to a comfortable life. Two years had passed since her leaving vet school and grad school, an experience that required every ounce of tenacity, brain power and ‘mystical’ intuitive persistence. And, according to all measurements, she had successfully completed her ‘real life’ post-doc with Doc Henry in Knife Bend, a town and experience more raw and challenging than ANY of her professors, or teachers, back in University could ever imagine.
With all of her now finally published biomedical research articles in mainstream and alternative veterinary journals, Roberta could, if she wished, go back to the University and teach the clinical and research faculty far more than they could ever learn in their professional millieu. But…she didn’t want to. And even though it would be noble and needed work, as was what she was about to do in 2 and a half minutes with six patients in real medical need, what was Work, big w, was now labor. Something done, like breathing, or taking a shit, or filling your stomach up so you could keep breathing, then have to take another shit. Veterinary medicine, something she once was fascinated with, was now just…a job, that was draining her with each patient she treated, especially the cases that went well. Like Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan who said, “each time I kill another German soldier with my skill as a solder, that’s one step further from home it takes me.”
But…Roberta was in the business of saving lives. Maybe that was the problem. It was a business. Or worse, a proceedure. Or even more confining, a moral responsibility void of passion. She had considered other options as to the explantion for what had happened to her. Maybe it was burn out, something that happened to overworked vets after they put in a decade of 72 hour weeks, and or according to the stats, and Doc Henry’s well intentioned chavenistic mathematics, ‘4 years of 50 hours a week work for women who should know that the only sailors who can endure a lifetime of duty on the veterinary ocean are, by biological design, men.’ Or maybe it was biological, and she wanted a family of her own rather than take care of other people’s families. During her colorful ‘druggy’ days, she voluntarily gave up her baby for adoption when she was 15. After awakening from her stuper 5 years later, she had tried desperatey to find her beloved Daniel for nearly a decade. Every animal coming into her care being, for a few magic moments, became that Daniel. But her real Daniel was growing up, and wanted nothing to do with her, perhaps deservedly so. Besides, when Roberta, today, was asked to take care of anyone’s kids, it was a chore that felt….irrelevant, even though they all lovingly called her ‘Auntie Roberta’. And as for Cowboy Hank’s asking her to marry him, for the fifth time…Roberta’s self-observed image that made her still say ‘maybe, but I don’t know yet’ involved her being with several little Robertas or Hanks at home, teaching THEM how to be a success in life rather than being one herself.
Mahegan nudged over to Roberta, pushing away her a veterinary magazine, perhaps moved by Roberta’s Grandmothers spirit, or perhaps doing so because of the remnants of birthday cake icing under it which he licked up after bringing it down to the floor. “Compassion burn out,” Roberta recalled from on the front cover as she let Mahegan, then Promethius, lick the icing off the back cover. “The result of mentally anesthetizing yourself from the pain in this being a vet when you have to see animal suffering or put an animal to sleep when you have to and get the needle into the arm so it’s done fast, which also numbs you from playing with the puppies or kittens or colts or calves when you get them better.”
“Huh?” Terri said, having heard Roberta, not understanding a word she had said, but knowing that Mahegan and Promethius just wanted to play.
“When one door closes, another opens, right?” Roberta speculated and voiced as the potential cure for the ailment that had sterilized her soul. Her eye wandered to Cowboy Hank’s newest CD cover, containing songs he was trying to get out into the world as…somebody else. Certainly not the “Hearty Party” country star he had been before he faked his own death and disappeared into the fabric of Knife Bend, blending in, still anonymously, as naturally as a spotted owl merges into the woods. “Explorations”, as the CD cover said, contained music he played on the guitar, piano and fiddle so easily and with so much vitality. He promised to release it only after Roberta provided him with lyrics, and her voice, her REAL voice. The Voice she had as a child, way back when, during those golden years with Grandma, and the ‘spirits within forms’ she taught her to see in the woods, and the Spirit of vitality that, well….had to be inside of Roberta SOMEwhere. Reachable SOMEhow.
But….business before pleasure, or Passion. The first car pulled up, Deathhound Jones, death-obsessed Goth turned self-taught healer by Roberta, bringing in a dog bleeding from the arm. A pick up behind her with a cow owned by Clyde Johanson with a calf inside her that was having ‘issues’ about coming out and facing the outside world. And self-appointed white-haired animal rescuer Norma, with five litters of pups for vaccinations, three of which were dropped on her doorsteps, two of which were looking poorly which she ‘acquired’ from backyards of junkies and oil rigger drunks who were too busy to notice them missing.