Coming Home

A dragonfly hovers over the white rose bush as a lone cricket begins its evening song. The cool, end of summer breeze drifts over the front porch while Ella sits at my feet. She stares out at the road, her nose twitching as she sorts out the smells in the air. A rock and some pieces of mulch lay beside her. Only minutes ago serving as chew toys, they now lay forgotten due to her always changing interests. She currently has one thing on her mind. Her mom coming home.

The setting sun softly touches the pages of my book, turning them orange. Traffic seems to pick up, and the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioning unit now drowns out the crickets. I look away from the words in my book and glance at Ella as she watches a man walking a dog down the sidewalk. He’s wearing an orange sweatshirt and carries a small Bluetooth speaker in his pocket turned up as loud as it will go. Rap music blasts throughout the neighborhood as he passes. 

As he walks behind our lone standing tree in the front yard, the music fades, and I notice a single branch has turned red with color. Leaves once full of life now wilt with the first signs of autumn. 

The sun sinks lower behind the house and shadows arc long and dark across the grass. Ella grows with a familiar restlessness knowing her mom will be home any moment. 

Finally. I smile as the Jeep slows in front of the house. It turns into the driveway, its headlights shine onto the porch and Ella’s tail begins to slice the air with pure excitement. An amount of excitement I’m pretty convinced no human has ever experienced. She stands up. Her tail begins to spin in circles, faster, like a helicopter taking off from its pad. You can hear a door slam, muffled by the walls of the garage. Ella’s mom is home from work. 

As soon as Erica rounds the corner of the garage, Ella can no longer contain herself, and she sprints off the porch and down the walkway to say hello. Erica bends down, her face slathered with puppy kisses. 

Usually we can point to our mouth, tell Ella, “kiss,” and she will give a quick lick of acknowledgement, but when her mom gets home, there is no stopping the rush. 

After a minute of kisses, petting, and more tail wags, Ella bolts out into the yard and runs in a handful of circles. Erica joins in and they chase each other, only stopping to flash a quick smile for the camera. A smile that says it all. I am happy you are my mom, and I am happy you are home. 

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A Letter to My Wife on Valentine’s Day

I have the privilege of turning thirty this year. I’m not excited about it by any means, but it’s inevitable. My wife turns twenty-two, however, we joke that she’s the older one of the relationship. Her knees are going bad, her eyesight turning more blurry. Even on our honeymoon, one night at dinner, I must have looked the younger one as I was carded by the waitress and she wasn’t. On the plus side, I wouldn’t rather fall apart and grow old with anyone else, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere but with her on our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. We will always keep each other young at heart. 


My Wife, My Love,

          You are one in a million. More so even than that. You are one among all stories of lives written in the history of the world, and I get to be the fortunate soul married to you. Imagine that. Me, married to someone like you, getting to celebrate the most romantic day of the year. Who am I to be so blessed?

          Your vintage and mature individuality challenges me on a daily basis. Pushing me to be better, to strive for perfection in all I do, especially when it comes to loving you. Because you deserve nothing less.

          There is no one else comparable to you. From your wholehearted honesty to the quick wit that helps keep me on my toes. When I was younger, I sometimes tried to imagine the type of girl I’d marry, and tried to imagine how great of a life it’d be to share with someone. You by far surpass all I’d ever hoped for in a wife – and a friend – to share each day with. You are someone my brain did not even have the capacity of dreaming up. Your beauty on the outside rivals the same beauty found within you. It’s as if the last flash of light from each sunset as the sun sinks below the horizon was somehow bottled up and used in creating that unique shine in your personality. Or perhaps God already decided on creating you, and after seeing your alluring existence, you became the influence in His creating the sunsets we sit and watch together. At least that’s what I like to think.

          I love you, today, always. Every bit of who you are. Every smile, every laugh, every little wrinkle found in the corners of the two most beautiful eyes I’ve ever looked into. I love you because you’re you. And I hope that as the years pass, you will always know how strong that love for you is. Being in love with you will never grow old as I will only grow old loving you. 

                                           Always Yours,

                                           Dustin


The Lab Assistant 

None of us would be able to get anywhere in life without help. The help of family, of a close friend, or a stranger on the street. Help with homework, help with raising children, help getting a job, a house, or a car. When we try to do too many things on our own, especially during life’s hardest moments, we can become arrogant and selfish, pushing away those closest to us. Pushing away those who’s love and support we need most to get us through the hard times. But, no matter how self-centered we become, or how much help we reject, there’s one sort of help that can never be ignored. One kind of help that will always come back again and again. A unique kind of help that, no matter how many times we tell it no, will break us down into the humblest of beings.


I admit I get a little jealous that Ella, our almost three-year-old lab, gets more kisses from my wife than I do. She even gets more cuddles and hugs, but believe it or not, Ella assists with our relationship. She helps bring my wife and I closer together than we’ve ever been, and it’s because she teaches us how to focus on others instead of ourselves. Ella has taught us how to better put eachother’s needs ahead of our own, which is exactly what helps make a marriage so great. 

Whenever we take Ella to the open-air mall for walks, her wagging tail speeds up with every person we pass. She brings joy to all people in her path. Some stop to pet her on the head while telling her how good she is or how cute the flower on her collar is. And yes, she enjoys the attention, but you can tell by the way she looks into their eyes that all she wants is to make them smile, and make them see that the world is not so bad. For some of those people, meeting Ella just might have been the best part of the worst day of their life. Having Ella with us at the mall – or wherever else we may go – is like taking a lighted tealight candle into a large, dark room. The candle itself may be small, but the light it gives off is remarkable.


 I truly believe God created dogs for the purpose of assisting us through life. For softening our hearts and teaching us how to treat each other with the kindness and selflessness we all deserve from one another. I wish everyone in the world could meet Ella and share her passion for life. Life is short, and Ella’s life is even shorter. Although she doesn’t know that, she still lives each day to her full potential. It’s as if she really does understand the limited time she has, and the strong influence she has on those around her that can help impact and change lives during that short time. If only we could all live this way, and create the same unparalleled quality of life.

We hope to get Ella into therapy dog training soon. This way she can further help and assist those in need of a smile. She can do what she does so well on a higher level. To be so selfless, putting everyone’s feelings before hers, and make all those she comes into contact with that much happier. It’s truly an amazing thing to learn so much from a creature that cannot speak but yet can still say so much

Ella, Too

It was a chilly day in May 2014 when Erica and I made the trip to an animal rescue located in a small town a little over an hour from our apartment. The drive seemed like it took days. We had been full of excitement, and lacked patience knowing that we were about to pick out a puppy who would spend the rest of its life with us but wouldn’t be ready to bring home for another week. Nonetheless, we were still pretty ecstatic to meet our soon-to-be dog child.

During the few months prior, we had stopped in at multiple shelters and rescues looking to find the perfect dog that we could take home. None of the animals really seemed to share that connection you have when you know it was meant to be, and so we continued to look. We also ran into the trouble of rescues not letting us adopt due to the fact we lived in an apartment and didn’t have a fenced yard. This was frustrating. We knew that we could provide a great life for any dog regardless of not meeting the rescue’s criteria, but it didn’t matter. Some of these places seemed to be willing to hand over a dog to anyone who owned a house and fence. You could run a dog fighting ring in your back yard, but as long as the yard was fenced, feel free to adopt as many dogs as you’d like! If you would treat the dog as your own family and raise it with the utmost care and love, but lived in an apartment, forget about it. You obviously would never take it outside of your small living quarters to run and play.

With my mom’s many rescue connections because of her job as an animal control officer, we were able to visit this last rescue knowing the apartment thing wouldn’t be an issue. We pulled into the drive, and as we got out of the car and approached the front door of the house, we were greeted by a kind woman and three happy dogs. They had seen us pull in and took us right into the garage where the rescued dogs were kept. Multiple areas in the garage were closed off with small fencing to create separate pens, and each pen contained anywhere from three to six puppies of different breeds. Some were ready for adoption, and some were even younger with a few weeks left to go. In each pen, there was an area boarded off full of cedar chips for the puppies to potty train. Each pen also contained a few boxes full of blankets where the pups could hide in and sleep.

As we walked through the garage, we came to a pen containing six little black lab mixes. Three boys and three girls all doing their own thing. Unsure of how much interaction we were allowed, we waited for the woman to tell us it was okay to get into the pen with the dogs. We then opened the gate to step in and were suddenly rushed by the most enthusiastic bunch of little wagging tails and floppy ears. Erica – never having a dog for a pet while growing up – squatted down as the pups jumped all over her, and with the biggest smile on her face, began to soak up every second of playtime.

While we played with them, we pointed out what we liked about each of their tiny, individual characters, and which one we thought would be right for us. Two of the boys were very energetic, jumping all over us and biting at the key lanyard hanging from my pocket, while the third boy was more calm, laying on the blanket in the box. One of the girls was the same as the two boys. Lots of energy and a fascination with biting human fingers. A second girl was the same as the one boy laying on the blankets, just relaxing like no visitors were there to see them.

And then there was the third girl. Not too rambunctious, and not too lazy. She seemed to love playing with the empty toilet paper rolls strewn about the pen, and enjoyed stretching on her hind legs while resting the front two on your lap to reach up and lick you on the face. This one particular pup was full of kisses, and so full of love. Her markings compared to the others made her even more unique. She was solid black with patches of white on all four paws, her chest, on the front of her neck, and a grayish-white chin that made her look as though she was an old dog that had already lived life to the fullest, but living it in a puppy’s body.

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As we held her in our arms, she looked straight into our eyes, soaked our faces with kiss after kiss, and we knew that she was the one who would be coming home with us in a week. We continued playing with her, and it just felt like it was meant to be. I don’t remember how long we stayed to visit our new baby, but Erica and I both had a hard time leaving her there when it was time to go.

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The next week dragged on, and with a whole new excitement, we drove back to the rescue to bring Ella home with us. She whined at first, but it didn’t take long before the lull of the moving car rocked her to sleep.

It’s been almost three years since that day we brought our puppy home, and Ella has lived the best life a dog could ask for. She gets to go to the dog park on a regular basis, rides everywhere in the Jeep with her head stuck out of the window, goes on trips to the mall, swims and dives for rocks, goes camping, sleeps in our bed every night between Erica and I, and so much more that you’ll definitely be hearing about during the life of this blog. We didn’t know it at the time, but the day we brought her home changed our lives forever. Imagine yourself as a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel. You meet many people in a lifetime who will help shape you into who you are and what you will become. It’s absolutely amazing how one animal so full of love, and yet so full of simplicity, can take that drab vase you’ve become and add a color and pattern to your life that you never knew existed. For us, this is who Ella is. 


 

You

My wife, Erica, was still in high school when we met. She was just getting ready to start her senior year, but wasn’t sure of where she had wanted to go to college. Although where she wanted to go was undecided, she did know that she wanted to major in Radiology. After we met and she began her final year of high school, she had narrowed her college choices down to Ferris State University and Oakland University. At the end of 2012, with me getting a job at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, she decided on Oakland University.

I’d like to think that me getting a job just a few miles down the road from the school influenced her final decision, but she tells me that she had been leaning towards Oakland over Ferris anyway. Even so, to me, it was just another sign that we were meant to be together.

Erica finished up high school and continued to live at home the remainder of the summer before moving into the dorms at Oakland in the fall of 2013. She studied there for a year while satisfying her love for animals working at PetSmart’s Doggy Daycamp. She enjoyed working and playing with the dogs, but after awhile she decided it was time for a change in both her job and the career path she was headed down.

After the first year at Oakland to pursue Radiology, Erica changed her major to nursing, and moved her studying to Macomb Community College. At the same time, she also landed a job as a Nursing Assistant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and has been there since.

I do not remember exactly what spot in Erica’s timeline when Ella arrived into our lives, other than it was in May 2014, and Ella was my wife’s first dog. But, I do know that Ella brought out something different in her. A side of her that I hadn’t seen up to that point. The way Erica was with Ella was exactly how I could picture her someday with a child of our own, and how well she treated that little, white hair chinned pup made me fall in love with both of them even more than I already had been.

Me

I do not consider myself a lucky man. Blessed, yes. Extremely fortunate, yes. But not lucky. Why? You don’t meet the perfect person to spend your life with based on luck. That is something planned by God Himself, and changing garbage in an art store changed my life.

I graduated Kettering University in the summer of 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. While finishing up college, you kind of get it in your head that the first resume you hand out will end up landing you a high paying job with a top dog company. Wrong! Like everything else, finding the right job took time. And for me, it took a few interviews and eight months. Even then the position I accepted wasn’t an engineering job, but at least it was a foot in the door. I didn’t end up using my degree for another two years.

During those eight months between graduation and starting my first real job, my aunt let me work part-time at the local art store she managed in order to save up some money. I was responsible for maintenance work that consisted of cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, painting, and emptying trash on a daily basis. I’d go in before the store opened, do my rounds, and then spend the second half of the day at home searching for jobs online.

Also during this summer, I had ended a six-year relationship with a girl I had been dating. You’d think being in a relationship that long would take you somewhere. Well, it did. Right into the path of my future wife. However, I don’t recommend prolonging a relationship when the last two years of it become negative and depressing because of the mood of the other person involved. In my case, suffering through that last little bit was worth it in the end since the timing seemed impeccable. Again, another reason I don’t believe in luck, but that it was planned. Had I left the relationship sooner, my intentions were to move to South Carolina and begin a life there. If that were the case, I may never have worked at the art store and met my wife as soon as I did.

It was when I least expected it and wasn’t looking for another relationship so soon after ending one when it happened. That’s when my future wife walked by and first told me “good morning” while I stood there changing out a trash bag. But, more on that later. 

After that, the remainder of the eight months flew by and I found myself moving from small-town Houghton Lake to the metro Detroit area in order to begin my first job as a contract hire with Chrysler. Like I said, it wasn’t an engineering position. I was responsible in helping create the bill of materials used in the plants. Essentially a list of parts used to help build the vehicles. It was a great start, but I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to use the degree I paid so much money going to school for.

Working directly with a lot of the engineers in the bill of materials group for about a year and a half landed me my first engineering position as a steering wheel design and release engineer. Although it was really exciting to help design the latest and greatest in steering wheels for the newly named Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, higher management ruined it for me. The position slowly became less enjoyable, and after almost another year still being a contract hire, I wanted something direct, something more permanent, and a job that I could enjoy. So, I applied for a direct hire opening as a prototype build engineer, got the job, and am still in that position today. I really enjoy what I do, and yes, like any other job, it has its down days, but having a great group of friends to work with makes the position that much more enjoyable. 

The last four years at FCA have allowed me to lead a very accomplished personal life up to this point. I’ve lived in two different apartments and have owned a home. I’ve gone from having a girlfriend, to having a fiancee, to having a wife. And in May of 2014 my girlfriend, at that time, and I adopted a daughter named Ella. To some she is a dog, but to us she is a child. More human-like than some humans we know. And, much like my wife, she has changed my world completely around. As a matter of fact, it is because of them both that I am where I am today. It is because of them both that I can be as happy as I am, and as excited about life and what’s ahead than I’ve ever been before. They are the reasons I want to share our story.