I threw up at the bathroom in McDonald’s off of 85 in Atlanta, the early-shift clerk looking me over in pity as she wiped down the sinks. My first flight, and I chose one soaring to the other end of the country. Across desolate corn fields, miles away from any sort of emergency respondents… I blamed wanderlust for the predicament.
It hit me somewhere between stock ROI’s and cash flows, sitting in my summer finance class. Seattle. Why not?
Leaning over the bowl, I was kicking myself. The closest I’d ever come to the West Coast was the box of Aplets & Cotlets my great-aunt-something-another sent us every year for Christmas. This Georgia girl was comfortable with her air-conditioning, her sweet tea, and her peaches.
And that was the problem. Twenty years old, and I had never pushed myself to move, to explore, to change. I was stuck, and in the weeks leading up to the thought, I could feel myself sinking further and further down into the Georgia clay. Seattle, I thought, looked a lot like liberty.
The plane kissed the ground, 2100 miles from home, and I laughed. The Rain City welcomed me with sunshine, and I walked the streets with a new fondness for spontaneity.
I found three new loves on that trip—old graffiti, bone marrow, and a boy—but I stepped back on Georgia soil with a sweeter gift: The gift of flight, of movement, of courage.
In the Road
I almost hit her again the first time I passed by the dead dog. I swerved and cursed and quieted. The day had started off in a rain-drenched haze – the kind of morning you should stay in bed. I pushed the flash of tan curls and a pink collar out of my head, and pulled out of the neighborhood.
Turns out, you can’t update your car registration with a debit or credit card, as the sign posted against the flat wall of the tax commissioner’s office informed me. I cursed for the second time and turned my car around to retrieve my checkbook. Her image returned, and for a second, I contemplated giving up on the morning’s task. At least I wouldn’t have to drive by her again. I shook it out. Foolish. I need to get this done.
Because I knew she was coming, I speeded. Avoided looking down and across to her, more cat-like, now, from the other side. A quick key turn and jog up and down the stairs, checkbook in hand, and I speeded again. I passed by the first house in the subdivision and looked right. I thought I had seen the dog before, and I thought this was the house. In the window, someone was looking out.
I paused, car coasting for seconds. They would see her. I didn’t need to stop. Gas pedal again and then a brief shame. What if they didn’t?
If she’s still there when I get back, I’ll stop. Promised myself to abate the guilt, hoping they would see her.
Dead dogs almost never look dead from afar. She was still there. I parked to the side and put the hazards on. I would take her to the window-looker. I kept beach towels in the back of my car for my own dog. He has a tendency to lay down in mud puddles only when I forget my back seat cover. The towels were insurance, but I regretted my choice now. Both bright and rainbow. Not an acceptable delivery method of a stiff, soaked dead pet. I grabbed one anyway.
I surprised myself. I’m usually no good with blood, but I managed to pick her up in the towel with one breath. Dog brains look like vomit.
She didn’t belong to the man at the window. His dog barked at me from behind the glass, tear-stained face and pudgier than the one in the towel in the back of my car. He pointed to the house just across from where she had lay.
Relief turned to fear as I knocked on the door. They’re going to think I hit her. They’re going to think I killed their dog. Her sister barked at me from behind the door. I wondered if she knew already. Companions have a sense of these things.
A woman answered the door after shooing the other dog – same hair, same pink collar – into another room. She seemed flustered, and I tried to explain.
Do you have another dog like her? Pink collar? I found her this morning. Someone hit her, and I checked with the neighbor up the street, and he said she might belong to you. Hurried and trying to be gentle, failing and fumbling.
The nanny said that her owners had been worried about her. Miley didn’t come home last night, and the wife wanted her husband to leave early from work to look for her. I asked if she thought they would want her back and she confirmed. As I handed Miley– wrapped in a yellow, blue, pink, and red towel — over to her, she said it hadn’t hit her that she’s holding a dead dog. Cue the stream of tears and apologies from me. Now they’re really going to think I did it.
…But I would want the same if someone came across Huck in the road. Bawling now.
I can hear him and the youngest pup downstairs, wrestling (two of four dogs in total, and yes, we’re that house). He gives real kisses: straight tongue to mouth every time. I let him out of the crate when I returned, and he licked some of the tears away. I instructed him not to die like that, cold, wet, and abandoned by passersby, though I know it won’t really matter how it happens.