5 a.m. The alarm. Eyes open in the dark, time to get up. My body resists, but then I think of my roommate, he of the inept social graces, he of the passive-aggressive note-leavings, he of the barking dogs and the Golden Girls on stereo, he who can shove his whiny petulant deadline up his ass, a place so dark and tight there’s a yellowing waiting list for admittance. I jump out of bed. This trip is right on time.
6:30 a.m. Two vans, four humans, and two sweet and troubled dogs pull into the Potrero Shopping Center lot for Peet’s. XL coffee and bagels from Noah’s. Marti manages to spill half her coffee down the leg of her white shorts. We watch as a bagel crumples up on itself in the toaster conveyer and catches on fire. We slip out into the cool morning, divvy up drivers, and toss bagel crumbs to the dogs as we head over the Bay Bridge.
7 a.m. Laurie listens as I recite the note from memory, offers solace and confirmation of my roommate’s emotional unbalance, as we both have the privelege of working with him several days a week. I vent it all; my instinctual, immediate dislike of him buried by my more pressing need of a place to live following my split from the Ex, his silence in the house, his bitchy, pious notes, his refusal to make eye contact with me at work (a ray of gratitude that he works in another department), his unannounced subletting when he takes a month-long road trip, his renting the third bedroom to a couple equally socially dysfunctional, his dog’s high-decible crying when left alone, his silence following my mother’s death, the inane Designing Women reruns he watches daily on the other side of my pocket doors, his refusal to acknowledge my presence when we see each other out around the city, his silence and avoidance and general air of queenly disgust that he carries with him like a blighted gift from God.
Why the hell did I do it for so long?
11 a.m. Boris the lab mutt is with us; he has severe separation anxiety and we’re hoping he’ll find a home out in Utah, or stay with the sanctuary for life. In exchange for him and Karma, a Rottweiler mix with stranger aggression, we will bring ten dogs back to San Francisco where we’ll find homes for them. Boris sits between us, rests his head on my forearm, and beseeches me with brown eyes. I smile, his tail wags, and he places both paws on my leg and begins to climb up into my lap while we’re doing 80. Laurie pulls him back, but not before his head nudges the gearshift, pushing us into neutral while I press the accelerator and wonder why we’re slowing down.
2 p.m. Central California gives way to Nevada desert. Boris pants.
4 p.m. We pull into an absurd casino amusement park truck stop an hour outside Vegas; a rollercoaster winds its way over an artificial lake, in which is reflected a 50-foot tall tiger promoting a magic show at the adjoining hotel. As I sip my Starbuck’s iced chai and pump the van full of Chevron, I watch in disbelief as a monorail train glides high over the lake, bound no doubt for the casino next door. As I tighten the gas cap a man walks by, his belly pushing out his t-shirt’s ageless question, “What part of NO don’t you understand?!?” Shoot me if I talk about “doing Vegas” sometime.
5 p.m. I have brought only four CD’s. Twelve hours on the road; you do the math. I turn the volume down on Rooty on it’s fourth rotation out of respect for Laurie, whose eyes are closed behind her sunglasses. Her head dips lower. I enjoy driving people when they sleep.
6 p.m. Traffic slows suddenly and we crawl in silence past a white SUV, resting on its roof in the middle of the two-lane highway, lit wildly by the flashing lights of an army of cop cars. Red dust on its doors.
7 p.m. We pull into the green valley of Kanab, motels and gift shops lining its sleepy streets. We gratefully check into the Shilo Inn, Boris and Karma rolling in the grass, tongues out, eyes soft.
10 p.m. After a nice big enchillada dinner we return to the motel and I unpack in my own room, Boris following me around. I sit in my underwear and flip on the television. Oh, good, Carrie‘s on.
We spent most of the day in a large covered shed, in the shade, evaluating dogs. We test them for food guarding, affiliation, and handling. We can bring ten dogs back, far less than the number they offer. I watch the testing and sit with the dogs waiting their turn; they all do well with the strange male affiliation. The strange male being me.
The sanctuary is spread out over 3000 acres in Angel Canyon; a beautiful area carved from red cliffs. Kanab Creek flows through the valley, lined with lush green trees. The air is hot and dry; a world apart from San Francisco.
I sit with a santuary employee at lunch. 600 animals. They’re always looking for help. Few people want to live out here in the middle of nowhere. “You have to have what you want to live out here,” she says. I consider a life out here in the sun and the red cliffs, spending my days with abandoned dogs. I can’t say it’s what I really want. I still love my city.
Walking the sandy paths among the dog runs I find myself worried for my writing; it’s been tough lately, and what I produce seems plain and disjointed. I haven’t written the next assignment for my class, letting the distant deadline answer my worries. Real life, work, apartment searching, AA meetings, friends. The writing needs more room to breathe; I need to sweat it through, I need to carve sentences out of red cliffs and green grass. Waiting for inspiration is waiting for Godot.
I didn’t know Boris before this trip. He curled up with me last night in the motel room as Carrie burned down the school.
He slept peacefully all night, waited for me while I showered, circled the motel’s grassy yard with me. When we left him at the sanctuary today he yelped and yelped, bouncing behind the gate of his run. I push my hand through the chain link fence and he nudges it, panting in the heat. I didn’t mean to get attached.
Later a group of us meet up in Kanab for dinner. It stretches on for nearly two hours, and I just want to sit alone somewhere for awhile. I realize that I can’t talk about troubled dogs for hours and hours; something in me turns off, out of necessity or fear or irritation; there’s so many damn dogs, so many that need help.
In the motel again, alone now, checking my voicemail at home. No messages. I need a place to live. I keep thinking I’m forgetting something, I’m escaping some responsibility by being here. I need to relax. I’ve done what I can, the bases are covered, there will always be more work.
Did I say we’re bringing back ten dogs tomorrow morning? It’s actually going to be 13. Two vans, four people, thirteen dogs. Will you forgive me if I cut this short tonight? (And tomorrow night, too, I would guess).
It’s good to be home. These are the best dogs. My co-workers named this big goofy, adorable Chocolate Lab after me, McAllister. It’ll be hard to see him go. This trip came at the exact moment I needed it; getting me out of my sick home and throwing me out in the hot desert canyons of Utah, finding dogs to save. I am dirty, exhausted, unshaven, covered in dog hair and slobber. I feel great. I missed you all. Especially you.