As was always the case in college, finals arrived quickly after Thanksgiving and I somehow managed to keep my gpa high. I have no idea how Mitch performed on what I suspect were not only his first, but last college exams. At the end of that quarter, in addition to the usual stress of enduring finals, we were emotionally and financially strained. And although there was no way for me to realize it at the time, I was increasingly psychologically strained from being unwittingly guided down the slow and steady path of manipulation by my new husband. I learned to absorb all blame and grasped for quick explanations and solutions to offer to appease any discontent.
After finals we had three weeks before the next quarter was scheduled to start. In an effort to ease the financial strain, I volunteered to go to Salt Lake and work for the two weeks before Christmas. Since the summer before my senior year of high school, I had resorted to temp work to earn fast cash on my time schedule. Which meant, by the time December of 1995 rolled around, I had a go-to temp agency with whom I had a good reputation for being a diligent worker.
Shortly after finals, Mitch and I parted ways as he stayed in Cedar City to work and I worked as the receptionist in some sort of aircraft manufacturing plant near the Salt Lake airport. I stayed with my parents but felt miserably lonely. Despite the considerable bumps and arguments, I was still optimistic about our future together and blamed anything and everything but him for our problems. I even blamed myself. I knew I had a short temper and an inability to bite my tongue. Of course he fought back. At that point, just past three months into marriage, it had not yet even occurred to me that we might not last. I blamed all our problems on the stress of adjusting to marriage, the stress of no money, the stress of Mitch starting school, the stress of Mitch's brother living near by. I did not see that there was any irreparable damage between us. When Mitch came back to Salt Lake to collect me before Christmas, I was excited to see him and happy to end my loneliness. I was confident that the $400 or so I had earned would buoy us up.
At some point over those two weeks, we made the impulsive decision to move to Salt Lake. I was registered for winter classes at SUU but as soon as the idea was floated that we move - I pounced on it. I instantly decided that moving to Salt Lake would solve all of our problems. We could both have jobs, those jobs would pay more money, we would be further away from his family, we would be far away from his heroine addict menacing brother on whom I heaped all the blame for Mitch's wavering testimony and odd behavior, we would be closer to my family, we would be closer to my friends and we would be closer to two of his "good" brothers and his best friend. It was quickly decided and settled - after Christmas we would move to Salt Lake. Things seemed to fall into place easily and we found an apartment in the same four-plex as my only other married friend without even looking.
I dropped my class schedule at SUU without a word to any of my professors. Professors with whom I had developed great relationships. One professor in particular had pulled many strings my freshman year to not only get me a scholarship but to also procure me a housing grant so I didn't quit after my first quarter of school for lack of money. I dropped out of SUU one conducting class short of a music minor and only two quarters short of graduating. Not only did I not tell my professors I was leaving, I did not tell any of my friends I was leaving. Like most college towns, winter break leaves campus fairly empty so there was no one around to tell about my abrupt change during the few days we were there around Christmas. Marriage had already removed me from the rock climbing scene I had loved so much but I still ran into friends on campus and tried to go climbing on occasion. But the timing of our decision to move didn't give me a chance to say goodbye to anyone and I never saw any of those friends again.
With that move, I gave up rock climbing, I gave up my music minor, I gave up a smattering of other non-transferrable college credits, I gave up several friends, I gave up playing in the jazz band, I gave up playing the saxophone, I gave up regularly playing the piano, I gave up relationships with professors, I gave up a nearly perfect gpa, I gave up early graduation and I gave up the college town I loved.
But for some reason I knew it was what I had to do to fix what was wrong with my marriage.
For some reason, before we returned to Cedar City for Christmas and to pack up, we went to the Utah Humane Society. This was the first of my many attempts to reach out to a four-legged creature in an attempt to fill the lonely void that was my marriage. Perhaps I wanted to stop and look at the dogs at the Humane Society to gain something with the move, even before I fully realized all I was about to give up. There were yippy, excitable puppies who were confident they were leaving soon. But there were also many sad and rejected eyes staring out of cages as well as many mean and angry eyes menacingly glaring and barking at anyone who walked by. Then there were the closed eyes. The defeated dogs who were resigned to their circumstances and kept their heads down, facing the back of their cage with their back hunched toward any curious onlookers. These dogs had lost hope. I was looking at the stages of my marriage in all those eyes - the innocent excitement, the sad shock upon discovering reality, the flashes of anger over the injustice and finally, defeat.
We were told we needed the consent of our landlord to pick a puppy so we turned to leave. It was an unseasonably warm December day when we walked out onto the sidewalk toward our car. The sun was shining brightly and a large woman was leading but mostly dragging a very reluctant and dirty German Shepard mix dog toward the doors we had just exited. My heart jumped. You are only supposed to take dogs away from this place, not abandon them here I thought. We started talking to her and discovered she didn't want the aptly named, nervous creature Meeka. So we took her. No paperwork, no landlord checks, we just took the leash from this woman so Meeka wouldn't land in a cage. I didn't think of the consequences of this decision. I just wanted to save her.
We returned to Cedar City shortly after finding Meeka to spend Christmas with Mitch's family and to pack up our small apartment. Meeka was a stinky, gas plagued dog who was scared to death of us. But I loved her. We snuck her into our apartment and I did my best to convince her this was her home. She spent most of her time curled up in a small ball with me stroking her head and scratching behind her ears. She spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day with us but then, on December 26th, the day we were scheduled to drive to Las Vegas for Gretchen's wedding, she ran away. Meeka woke up early that morning to go out and I lazily asked Mitch to take her out into the parking lot to do her business. Instead, Mitch let her out on her own without following her. A few minutes later I asked where she was and when we opened the door she was gone. She simply vanished. I ran all around the neighborhood calling her name. Mitch and I drove around Cedar City, stopped at the animal shelter and enlisted his family in the hunt. There was simply no sign of her.