Saturday, August 16, 2008

travels with

I met my dog when he wiggled up to me in a strip mall parking lot in 1998. He was a sweet, blond puppy with a black beard and an unmistakable look of mischief in his eyes. His oily, wired hair stunk and could never be considered soft, but his face was so far to the left on the continuum of ugly that he actually qualified as the cutest thing on earth. The dog had come out of nowhere on this sticky summer day, wasn't wearing a collar, and I saw no sign of an owner. It broke my heart to walk away from him as he stared, wagging and wiggling at me from the asphalt carpark, but I managed to turn away, and entered the store.

An hour later, on my way back to the car, the scraggly puppy recognized me and clumsily ran my way. I didn't know what to do; he was clearly a stray and I couldn't just leave him there. Even though I could tell by the look in his eye that he would be a difficult dog, I'm a sucker for a sickly animal, so I ushered him into my car and took him home. Five minutes into the trip, he christened himself "Ralgh" after the action of losing ones gastric juices all over the back of a car seat and onto the leg of the really awful and evil prepubescent girl I was babysitting that day. By "ralphing" on the leg of this annoying little girl, he had beelined his way into my heart, and the rest, as Michael Jackson might say, is History.*

*Michael might also take this opportunity to say "He-e heeee! Ow!" but I'm not going to go putting words into the great man's mouth. What right have I to do that?!

Ralgh the dog has seen me through college and marriage, divorce and desolation. A year and a half ago, just weeks after the dissolution of my marriage, I was steeped in desperation and sadness. I opened my eyes one morning and spontaneously asked myself, "What will you do now, Eva?" and the answer came without thought and widened my eyes with realization: "I will travel." And that is the day that my journey began, first as concept, then as action, and next, as realization.

From the moment I made that decision, I knew that Ralgh had to remain a part of my life. I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, but I made a commitment to him that day in the parking lot, and I intend to see it through until the sad day of his death. He's not the type to travel as cargo in airplanes, so that left one option: ROAD TRIP!

Though anxious to an extent which I have never seen in a dog, Ralgh is really quite adaptable. He loves the car, maybe because he came from the streets, and he's not unique among dogs in his love of sniffing new places. I think Ralgh's going to love the Vantasy, and this trip has become as much for him as it is for me. If only I could teach him how to help me pack up boxes and fix RV refrigerators (He-e heee! Ow!).

Ralgh's nearing the old age of 11 years, now, and I've noticed him slowing down. He spends most of his time sleeping, and sometimes there's no trace of that mischeivous energy in his eyes. It's been replaced with... complacency. I might go as far as saying... peace? He still has his crazy moments, but he's slowing, and it's sad and scary for me to see. I let him off his leash last weekend at the coast and he ranandranandran, and afterwords he squinted, stumbled, and looked like he was having some sort of cardiac episode. I was sure he was going to die. I pleaded with him to walk a little bit, he complied, and after about five minutes or so he seemed fatigued, but better. I'm still not sure what happened.

The episode threw me into an unexpected depression. I want to be self-sufficient on the road, but I cannot, CAN NOT handle the death of my dog all by myself out there with no support. And I want him to live the Vantasy with me; this is his trip too. And what about protecting myself in the middle of nowhere? That's Ralgh's job, which he accepts enthusiastically. I can't lose him. He's all I have. I'm terrified.

But we can only press on. We'll prepare. We'll go to the vet this week. We'll start jogging together in the mornings, slowly, a block at a time. We'll take our evenings easy, and enjoy whatever time we have left together. And I'll let go of control, learn that the fates are out of my hands, and that whatever happens will be right.

"A journey has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness... All plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us... In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

- John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charley, an account of his journey across America with his French poodle.


Trina said...

I didn't realize Ralgh is about the same age as my cats. I love Ralgh. He'll make it, he has to, because when you get back I want us all to go camping together. Okay Ralgh? He-e Heeee! Ow! (I'm assuming that's how I'm required to end this comment.)

Sarah Bear said...

Wow, Eva! You leave in just a few days! I'm so excited that I'll be able to check up on you through this blog. Wonderful posts, and I love the title. So true, but I wish for you very very few breakdowns. You always have a couch in Chicago.

LiveWorkDream said...

Hi Eva, I'm Cija's friend, Rene.

Our journeys have many similarities. I don't know if Cija told you or not, but we decided to hit the road when our 9 year old Shepherd dog, Jerry, was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was given a four month prognosis, and he just now hit 21 months. We've been on the road with him for over a year now.

I share many of your fears about traveling with an old dog. But all we can do, as their humans, is to live each day as it comes, like they do, and go with the flow. It's the Dog Way.

Good luck on your trip. I hope we can cross paths at some point. I'll be following your blog. And if you need any support whatsoever, please don't hesitate to write.

Bon voyage,


Anonymous said...

I love Ralgh. I am glad that you came to some sense of acceptance by the end of your blog. Tough things will happen while your traveling, usually when you least feel you can handle them. I love the title and subtitle of your blog. It is so honest and genuine, and I can relate to it sooooooooooooo much. I swear, sometimes I feel like we are kindred spirits. Anyways, I will always be here for you. Email me any time, call me any time day or night... I am here. I know what you're going through. Maybe not to exact details, but the general traveling/vagabonding/searching... you know. *wink* You get me. I miss you! Keep in touch!