Tag Archives: vacation

“How I Was Nearly Beaten, Mugged and Kidnapped in Nicaragua” … OR … “How I Spent My Wife’s 30th Birthday”

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For the longest time I’ve had this ridiculous hero fantasy wherein I find myself in a hostile situation with various other civilians – the two most used locations in my brain are a gas station robbery and an airplane during a terrorist take-over.  I hear stories about these things happening all the time; I read the news articles, I’ve seen the YouTube clips uploaded from security cameras, I’ve watched the Caught on Tape! TV specials.  Everything is calm and then, just like that, you’ve got a gun in your face, piss in your pants and the register is hanging open.

I always hoped that if I were to find myself in a real life crime-drama scenario that I would be the guy who Did the Right Thing.  I tell myself that I would act honorably and valiantly but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that says, “When sword meets steel, you will fold.  You will hide behind a rack of candy bars and sports car magazines and you will squat down and shiver and pray and wait for it to be over.”

I tell that voice that it’s wrong.  That I’m made of better material but… until it happens… you never know what you’ll do.

Two and a half weeks ago while visiting a foreign country, I finally got to see if The Voice was right…

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For my wife’s 30th birthday we wanted to do something exotic… something extravagant… something adventurous.  We talked about Red Lobster but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about skydiving but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about having a Latin American themed birthday party complete with pinata that looked like Jade but we said, “NO!  Bigger…. but let’s save that idea for 31…”

BELOW: A photo journalistic approach to some of the awesome things we thought about doing for Jade’s birthday…

Petting a camel.

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Having a staring contest with a seal.

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Going camping.

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Wearing masks.

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Breaking things.

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Around this time we serendipitously ran into a couple at an ice skating arena one night who told us they’d just returned from honeymooning in Nicaragua.  “Nicaragua?” I say, “Isn’t that a war-torn, poverty stricken, wasteland?”  The husband shrugs and the wife says, “Yes and no.”  They pull out their iPhones and show us pictures of an exotic paradise, photos of extravagant beaches, videos of adventurous hikes, swims and ferry rides.

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We were sold.

“The only thing you gotta remember,” they say together ominously, “Is that everyone there is really poor and they’ll steal things from you… not because they’re violent but because it’s a course of survival…”

Two weeks later we’d purchased our tickets and two weeks later again we found ourselves airborne, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, heading for a land who’s foreign tongue we did not speak.  I felt like Indiana Jones and my wife was that short Asian kid that follows him around, always helping him out of trouble.

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Neither of us had experienced international travel before besides the one time my wife visited the Bahamas and the single time I was in southern Texas so neither of us really knew what to expect.  Everything was new and revelatory; virgin territory.

On the plane I sit next to a Jehova Witness who just retired two days ago.  To celebrate she was moving to Nicaragua for three months.  Thinking about her I realize that she’s still there now (at the time of this writing) and it makes me jealous.

The captain buzzes over the intercom and tells us we’ll be landing in twenty minutes.  Jade and I push up the window, expecting to see Strange and Foreign Nicaragua, a land covered in jungles and vines and explorers carrying machetes but instead we only see a phosphorescent orange glow emanating from the city; a color that screams the word “HEAT!”  Traffic slowly crawls below us, cars and trucks and motorcycles.  From above it looks like LA at night… or Miami at night… or New York at night….

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ABOVE: Nicaragua by day, which is more what I was anticipating when I opened the window.

The plane lands, everyone stands up, Jade and I grab the only thing we’ve packed – a backpack per each of us – and exit the plane.  It’s then, as I step into the terminal, that it all hits me very hard.  I am in a foreign land.  I don’t know anyone and, most noticeably, I can’t read any of the signs.  Letters that I have been familiar with my entire life strategically reorganize themselves to stand out like strangers on boards that might as well have been blank.

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ABOVE: Bookstore in the airport.

The airport is quiet.  There are few people and no security.

Outside we find a man that the hotel has sent.  He holds a sign with our name on it and, as we approach, he introduces himself as, “Mumble-Mumble, I speak very fast Spanish.”  I place my hand against my chest, feeling like Tarzan, and say, “Johnny,” and he says, “Yonni,” and I nod.  My wife says, “Jade,” and he, like everyone that’s ever met her, says, “Jane.”  It’s good to know that the mistake transcends language and culture, making us feel right at home.

He takes us to an unmarked car and opens the doors for us.  PS, we’d read stories about taxi drivers picking travelers up, driving them into dark alleys and mugging them so i was ready for his attack… if it were ever to come to that…

The man, Mumble-Mumble, drives us through a large city called Managua and it’s unlike any I’d ever seen.  Homes and businesses in various states of disrepair are found on every corner.  Domiciles that most would find uninhabitable are everywhere; we see toddlers walking in ruins, families eating in filth, couples enjoying the night air, surrounded by debris; corrugated steel, cracked wood and rubble.

We pass a street corner where a small gang of eight year old kids are washing windshields for money.  On the same corner are women covered in short dresses, long hair and thin sheets of sweat, selling themselves on a humid night.

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ABOVE: This picture was not taken at night… but all the pictures that were taken at night were dark… so you get some day time photos.

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ABOVE: For the low, low price of just 85 cordobas, you too could enjoy the processed goodness of a quesoburguesa doble!

Jade and I begin trying to converse with our driver.  The three of us speak slowly, trying to find familiar words and phrases; shaping things with our hands.  He tells us he has diez hermanos or ten brothers.  He tells us that the children working the streets are the children of drug addicts who can’t take care of them.  He tells us that Marc Anthony is playing a show in town tonight.  He tells us we should go.  He says, “Trabajo!  Trabajo!” and snaps his fingers and dances but I don’t know what it means.

He turns off the main road onto a dark street and the solitude of our situation creeps under my skin.  We pass abandoned garages and dark homes and broken windows; patched up fences and homes with no doors.  A group of six motorcycles blow past us, their engines tearing through the silence of the night and the driver tells us there will be a motorcycle convention in the center of town tomorrow but all I hear is “There are motorcycle gangs everywhere.  Watch out!”

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ABOVE: The outside of our room at Hospedaje Naranja.

He takes us to Hospedaje Naranja (Hotel Orange), where we’re staying the night, and walks us to the front door, who’s gate is locked from the inside.  A woman cautiously peeks around the corner before recognizing her friend, smiling and pulling the dead bolt.  Jade and I step inside and the woman quickly latches the door behind us with a nervous giggle.

She speaks fluent English, checks us in and asks if we’re hungry.  She suggests three restaurants and, little do I know, but this is the first of several choices that will ultimately lead me to an undesirable end.  We choose the closest; a Peruvian place three doors down the street and our fate is sealed.  The woman says, “Very close.  Very safe.”

We put our bags in our room and walk the half a block to the restaurant.  It’s now 9:30pm and dark.  Every car I hear approaching is a kidnapper, a thug, a villain ready to Do Crimes.  We enter the restaurant and order our food in the best Spanish we can muster.  Jade orders wine and I get a shot or trajo of whiskey.  We order a pasta plate and share it.

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The woman who owns the restaurant approaches our table and asks where we’re staying, asks what our plans are, asks how the food is.  She sits down at the table and tells us that her tablet (knock-off iPad) is broken and it’s erased all of her family photos.  She says something about batteries and RAM and wireless signals.  She asks if we’d like her to pull some herbs from her garden to make us a fresh and delicious tea but we decline.  Jade, because she’s genuinely not interested, me because I’m afraid she’s going to slip me some kind of date rape toxin that will render me useless before I wake up handcuffed to a bed with a man named Tony rubbing his dirties all over me.

The woman sighs, disheartened, and then we take another turn closer to the pit.

I say, “Is there a bar around here?”  The woman looks at me quizzically and says, “Bahr?” and I say, “Yeah, uh… drinks?  Beer.  Cerveza?” and she says, “Bahrr?  AH!  Pub!?” and I say, “Yes!  Si!  Si!  Pub!” and she tells us that there’s one on this very block.  She draws an invisible map on the table and says, “Go right and right and right.  Not far at all.”

The night is young and, maybe it’s my one shot of whiskey or the fact that I’m realizing that my fear of all Nicaraguans has been unfounded and that everyone truly is kind and gentle but the pub sounds like a good idea.  The taxi driver was friendly and helpful.  The woman in the lobby was generous and wonderful.  The restaurant owner and our waiter were both smiling and genuine people.

“This is Nicaragua,” I think.  This is how life should be.  I’m projecting my anti-trusting violent mindset onto these people.  I’ve watched too many movies.  Seen too much TV.  People are people and people are kind.

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The woman says, “I will take you there,” and we say, “Okay,” and she grabs her coat and then we’re in the dark street and then we’re walking towards her SUV and then Jade is saying, “Wait, what is happening?  I thought she was walking us?” and then I say, “Yeah, but she’s driving us.  It’s okay.  She’s nice,” and then the woman is on the other side of her car and Jade and I are standing in the dead street with both doors open and Jade is whisper-shouting, “We don’t know her.  She could take us to some factory and sell us into sex slavery and men will stick it to your maize-hole,” which of course is a Spanish joke if you can translate it and I say, “Don’t worry.  Everyone is so nice!  She’s just going to give us a little ride!” and Jade says, “I don’t want to.  I don’t want to go,” and, looking back… I’m really amazed at how stupid and careless I was about to be, crawling into a car with a stranger.

Luckily, we never saw how that story ended because, like all good stories, the unexpected occurred.

Suddenly, the woman, out of my line of sight on the driver’s side of the car, screams.  SCREAMS.  She hasn’t stubbed her toe or slipped or broken her ankle.  This scream tells you immediately that something nasty is happening.  Again.  SCREAMING.  In my mind, I remember it all in English, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.  It seems like she would have shouted in her native tongue but all I can recall is, “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  No!  Stop!”

Jade says, “What-” and I begin to hesitantly walk towards the back of the car… and then from out of the darkness a man appears, slightly heavy set, Latino fella.  Late 20s.  The image is blurry and I’m having a hard time processing what is happening; everything has gone from calm and unsure to chaotic and unsure in literally seconds.  I see the man and I see the woman and they are struggling.  The woman is hanging onto something – her purse – and the man is pushing her away from it, trying to break free.  She’s struggling like it’s her newborn child he’s trying to pull away and, finally, he succeeds.  He grabs her dress by the shoulder and violently throws her to the ground.

The entire exchange happens in one or two seconds; I walked around the back of the van and then saw a man overpower a woman and throw her to the ground.  It was very fast.  Everything else moves at an incredible rate… everything else moves faster than I can process; faster than I can make decisions or weigh pros and cons.  It all just…. happens.

But this is my moment.  The one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

And when it is upon me, I don’t think, “Here is my moment,” and The Voice never speaks up.  There is no internal dialogue of whether I will act or not.  Whatever is inside… just exists.

The man turns and begins to run and I immediately break into a sprint after him, my Dad sneakers slapping the hot concrete like pistons.  And then there is suddenly a motorcycle with a second man in the street, waiting, but I don’t slow down.  I don’t know where it came from or when it arrived or if it was there when we exited the restaurant but I am certain that my runner is heading straight for his getaway driver.

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ABOVE: This was not the robber… believe it or not, we did not pull out our cameras during this ordeal.  This is just a random man on a bike.  Although, the bike looks similar and the man looks similar…. so…. maybe…….

I’m out of shape but The Thief is even thicker in the center than myself so I’m able to close the gap between us just before he reaches the bike.  He pauses momentarily to skip and hop into the air; the plan to land on the back of the bike and his friend to, of course, escape into the darkness with their loot but…

…I don’t know where the truth is in this following section and I don’t know where my wishful thinking is – everything is a gray blur – but I’ll give it to you how I remember it and how I hope it happened.

The Man slows down to leapfrog onto the back of his accomplice’s bike and, as he does so, glances over his shoulder.  This is the first time, I believe, he realizes that he is being pursued… and it shocks and surprises him and causes him to stumble, foiling what would otherwise have been a practiced and flawless landing on the bike.  In the background, echoing, I can hear someone screaming.  Maybe it’s the woman from the restaurant, maybe it’s my wife, maybe it’s both.

The man stumbles and, instead of hopping smoothly onto the bike, lifts his foot up and catches it awkwardly after seeing me.  He lifts his foot again and lands half sideways on the seat, hop-hopping to keep his balance, the back of his left knee draped over the seat prematurely, the driver now struggling to hold things upright.  I catch up to him and, as I’m running, begin to pull my fist back.  I’ve never hit anyone in my life and it’s about to happen.  We are on an impact trajectory, folks.

The Man holds out his left hand, trying to block me and, with his other hand, pulls back his fist and begins to say, “No!No!No!No!” and then this is the first time that everything slows down.  Finally, the fast forward is done and a clarity rolls through my brain.

I see two men standing in front of me that are clearly capable of very dark things.  I see two women standing behind me, the latter of the two pressing 50.  I see myself stopping these two men and then me standing in a street with both of them coming towards me.  I don’t know if they have knives or guns.  I don’t know anything.  I don’t know anyone.  I’m in Nicaragua.

And then I see my children, in my head, clearly.

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ABOVE: The two things that I love most; my children and my hammock……… Oh, and Jade is nice too.

And then I realize that whatever is in that woman’s purse is not worth losing what I have at home.  I don’t care if she has a hundred thousand dollars in there and three gold bouillons and the Busch’s Baked Beans family recipe.  I suddenly realize that that purse is going to go away… and I am completely okay with that.

I pull my punch and take a step back.  The guy sees me hesitate and hops the rest of the way onto the bike.  I assume that our exchange, his entire pause, was roughly seven seconds.  Just enough…

The bike revs and the two men wobble and then take off into the darkness just as a third man appears over my shoulder; this one running directly towards the motorcycle.  Like the others, he too came out of nowhere and it only takes me a moment to realize that it’s the waiter from the restaurant.  He shouts and the bike revs and takes off but he doesn’t stop.  He cranks his arms and chases the bike for a solid 20 feet.  His arms outstretch… the bike picks up speed… he’s closing the gap… as the bike finds its balance… and then just before the bike is out of his grasp, he wraps his fingers into the shirt of The Thief and throws him to the ground, pulling the entire bike sliding onto the concrete with a bang and a hissssss.

Looking back, I wonder if the two criminals were thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking, which is…. seven seconds.  If we’d only had seven more seconds… if that stupid American hadn’t…

In those seven seconds they would have been able to ride free and clear.  As is, they did not.

Two, three, four, six, nine, twelve men suddenly come running from behind me; various restaurant workers who heard the ruckus.  The driver stands up, pulls his bike up, hops on and takes off, leaving his partner in crime lying in the street, alone, as the twelve men encircle him before dragging this would be felon to the curb and begin beating him mercilessly.

Jade and I slowly step backwards, towards the other side of the street and disappear into the shadows, retreating back to the confines of our hotel.  For the remainder of the night we lie in bed and slowly flip through 93 channels of Spanish television, hoping to learn a few phrases for the coming week but the only word I’m able to pick out is ayuda.

Help.

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At midnight I shut the light off and try to go to sleep but merely stare at the ceiling for what feels like hours.  My heart rate has long since returned to normal but I still feel as though adrenaline and fear are pounding through my veins and my brains.  I hear a noise outside and go to the window.  Nothing.  I crawl back into bed and hear a scamper from the room next door.  I listen and wait.  Nothing.  I get up and use the bathroom, make sure the window is locked and secure.  I double check the lock on the door and then peer out from behind the curtains slowly.  I hear a motorcycle approaching and wonder if it’s the same man, coming back to the neighborhood to pick up his limping and beaten friend.

I crawl back into bed, under the cold sheets and wonder what it’s like to live in a world where this occurrence does not throw you into a state of panic and fear and unease.  I think about the men that came running from the restaurants and realize that this wasn’t the first time this had happened.  This wasn’t An Event.  This was A Lifestyle.

This was Managua.

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Kaidance: Epilogue

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Three days after burying Kaidance we’re driving out of town on I-90, pointed for somewhere in Montana.  The van is quieter, cleaner and smells better but neither of us can shake the feeling that we’re abandoning our pet.  Logically, we know we’re not.  We understand life and we understand death but I think it’s the mourning that confuses everyone.  Driving away feels so… permanent.  Real life.

We hit a tourist attraction called 1880s town in South Dakota and stop for lunch.  I let Clementine out of the car and walk around the property with her, unleashed.  I sigh at the simplicity of the process.  Clementine runs up and jumps on a couple of strangers who immediately bend down and begin petting her.  Clementine, always the conversation starter.  She disappears under a dead train to chase a cat while I talk to this older couple about their adventures.  In case you’re wondering, they’re in their 60s, from Wyoming, headed to Washington and then back to Texas.  They have children all along the route.  They have a small camper they’re towing with them.  They’re living in it for the next three months.  I am jealous of their lives and secretly wish to be old.  To be retired.  To have the ability and freedom to run for three months without permission or consequence.

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We order a round of bacon cheeseburgers to go and hit the road.  I turn around and see Clementine staring out the window and suspect that she suspects that something is up.  I shout her name and pat my lap and she jumps into the driver’s seat and I quietly pet her for the next five hours until we arrive in Montana.  I’m fairly certain she’s depressed.

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A week later she’s eaten nothing more than a few scraps here and there.  She won’t touch her food and I’m not even certain she’s drinking water.  I hope it just has something to do with homesickness or carsickness or vacation overload; being around so many strangers and strange houses and strange dogs.  I shout her name and she doesn’t come.  I shout again.  Nothing.  Eventually I find her sleeping under a table in the dark.

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A week later we arrive back home just before midnight after an incredibly long eleven hour day on the road.  We drove from a campsite somewhere in Idaho back to The Valley.  Normally we wouldn’t do this but it just felt like everyone needed some space; cabin fever beginning to set in.

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I open the front door and am greeted with a blast of heat that my thermometer claims peaks around 105 degrees.  My house is not what one would call “insulated properly” so in the summer it’s an oven and in the winter it’s a freezer.  With no one around to open doors, turn on fans or, at the very least, try to battle the heat with the pathetic AC window unit, my home has turned into an Easy Bake Oven / Human Incinerator.  I gasp and fall to the floor, dragging myself, clawing myself over the hardwood and tile until I reach the backdoor and rip it open.  Cross breeze.  It’s incredible how wonderful 92 degrees feels after coming down from the triple digits.

Kaidance’s bed lies abandoned on the kitchen floor, a 2 x 3 ft genuine Orthopedic mattress.  She may have died of cancer / overdose of fatal poison but her back was in perfect condition.  The children still haven’t asked about her, which surprises me.  It surprises me that, even after seeing my brother-in-law’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, they didn’t at least inquire as to the whereabouts of their own dog.  With the proof of the empty mattress I’m certain the pieces are going to click… but they don’t.  Their lack of observation shocks me.

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I pull out Clementine’s dish to feed her for the evening, a task that Rory typically helps me with.  I fill it with salmon tasting nuggets that look like Peanut Butter Crunch and set it on the ground, feeling as though the chore is only half completed.  Rory looks at me and says, “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I say, “What’s that?”  I don’t know why I answer this way.  I heard him.  I heard his statement.  It’s just that, now that it’s here, I’m trying to figure out the best thing to say.  How honest should I be with a 2 year old?

He repeats himself.  “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I squat down and say, hesitantly, “Kadie doesn’t live with us anymore.  Kadie lives with Jesus,” and then, not certain if I should say it or not, I blurt out, “Kadie died.”  Rory repeats it, “Kadie died?” and I say, “Yes,” and he sits down and plays with his trains while I keep crying.  Stupid tears!

I pull out a broom and mop bucket and clean the floor of the last tracks of mud Kaidance will ever make.  With every swipe, I erase a little of her presence from the Earth until… she’s gone.

Six days later we’re still trying to get accustomed to life without a big dog; the baby gate has come down, Clementine roams the house and sleeps with us at night.  Our house and floors are eternally cleaner but there are more leftovers around.  After dinner, Jade jumps in the shower with Quinn, who asks to be picked up.  Jade complies.  Quinn asks for the bathroom window to be opened.  She says she wants to watch Kadie.  Jade sets her down and says, “Kadie is with Jesus,” and Quinn, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t want to live with Jesus.”

Jade strolls into the living room in her dead great-uncle’s housecoat that still smells like cigars, even after 45 years.  Quinn has a towel wrapped around her head and nothing else.  The towel is so heavy, her head tilts largely forward, forced to watch her feet as she walks.  We all lie on the couch together and feel The-Baby-In-Mommy’s-Tummy.  Rory places his hand ever so gently on her stomach and says, “Baby,” and it’s so sweet until he starts pushing so violently that I have to quickly restrain him and wonder if he didn’t purposefully lull us into a false sense of security.

Quinn turns to me and says, “Daddy, Kadie dead.”  I take two breaths and then nod.  This is the empire that I have built, the hole that I have dug.  “Yes, dear.  Kadie is dead.  She’s with Jesus now.”  The following conversation plays out like so…

Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus.
Jade: Well, you do… but not right now.
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus right now.  I don’t want to die.
Jade: You don’t have to worry about dying, honey.  Not for a very, very long time.
Rory: I can’t die!
Jade: Uh…….well, honey… You can die…
Rory: I don’t want to die!!!!
Jade: Don’t worry, you probably won’t, not for a long time.
Rory: I can die.
Me: It’s okay, Rory.  You don’t have to worry.
Rory: I can die……but I don’t want to!
Me: Neither do I.
Quinn: I want to live with Jesus!
Jade: Well, yes… but not right now.  Right now… let’s just play with Baby.  Remember the baby in–
Rory: I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!

Then, my daughter, who I legitimately suspect of being able to see into the spirit realm says, “Kadie does not want to go.  Kadie does not want to leave home,” and Jade says, “This conversation is over.”  We ultimately distract them with Skittles and beef jerky.

It’s been nearly a week since we’ve been home and Kaidance’s dog dish is still sitting on the counter and her bed is still sitting on the floor.  I know that it all has to go but I’m finding it difficult to corner a good chunk of time to walk it all out to the garbage can.

I still suspect Clementine of being depressed, although I think she might be coming out of it.  The Effexor I’ve been crushing up and placing in her food certainly seems to help, although I wish she wouldn’t drink so much.  She has escaped our yard twice from parts unknown since we’ve returned, has rolled in mud / poop once and has taken on a propensity for farting.  I believe there may be a strong possibility that Kaidance, in her last dying breath, expelled the Black Smoke Monster that had been living inside of her for so long and passed the torch to her smaller canine companion.

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This letter is to you Clementine.  I’m watching you.  I have my eyes on you.  I know your games.  I learned the rules from The Master.  Behave… because I know a guy that knows a guy… that knows a vet.

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The Green Mile

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The phone rings.  The vet is ready when we are.  It’s 5:45pm on Sunday.  We ask her to meet us at The Farm in two hours.

The clock is ticking.  What do you do with your dog for the final two hours of its life?  She’s too weak to really walk or play and she can’t see.  It’s 90-something degrees outside and, since she can no longer control her bowel functions we can’t take her indoors.

We lie in the grass and pet her and talk about her and tell stories about her and I think it’s the closest thing to a funeral you can give a dog.  She moans and wheezes the entire time and I watch bugs crawl all over her body, treating her like she’s already dead.  I put my hand on her ribcage and feel her heartbeat, wondering how many pumps it has left.

I feel mournful and sad but in control.  I feel like I have it completely together but I know the worst is yet to come.  An hour and a half.

Earlier in the day my wife and I had dug a hole.  “Hole”.  A grave.  Kaidance lazed in the grass nearby and slept while we worked.  At one point I glanced over and she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.  I shouted her name but she didn’t respond.  “KAIDANCE!” I shouted again.  Nothing.  I walk over to her and nudge her with my foot.  She blinks.  She’s alive.

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It would be just like this dog to give me the final “screw you” by being disobedient even in death; passing onto the next world on her own accord when I’ve orchestrated this whole beautiful thing.  I turn around and keep digging, through the top soil, through the clay, through some roots.  It’s a very textbook operation.  I turn to my 8 month pregnant wife – who is using a spade to flatten the edges – and say, “It’s better than I thought.  I thought I’d be a mess but this is sort of cathartic.”  She agrees and stomps on the top of her shovel.

It’s now around 7:30 and we decide to make The Long Walk before the vet shows up; get her comfortable Out There before hand.  I try coaxing Kaidance to follow me but she seems reluctant, maybe even more so than usual.  I loop my finger through her collar and start walking very slowly while whispering, “C’mon.  Good girl.  It’s okay.  C’mon”.  And she follows me.  Off the driveway, through the yard, past the electric fence, into the pasture, towards a small grove of trees.  It’s not exactly The Green Mile but it’s definitely The Green Block and a Half.

This is it.  20 minutes and counting.

The first purchase my wife and I ever made together was a striped comforter.  It’s come with us from house to house over the past ten years but, as we’ve upgraded our home, the blanket has slowly found it’s way to the back of the closet.  Every year or so we pull it out while doing a spring clean and say, “Maybe we should donate it to Goodwill….no….no, it’s too emotionally valuable.  Put it back in the closet.  We’ll talk about this next year”.

And so it goes.

But today we’ve found the perfect use for it.  Today it stops being a comforter with high emotional value and it transforms into a shroud.

We lay the blanket out on the grass in the field about ten feet from the grave and, since she won’t sit on her own anymore, we force her backside down.  I set a white Burger King bag down on the blanket and something turns over in my stomach.  The Last Meal.

I say, “Look what I’ve got for you,” and pull out a Whopper Jr.  I tear it in half and feed it to her.  She swallows it in one bite, barely chewing at all.  I tear the half in half and give her the first piece.  A pickle drops on the blanket.  She sniffs it out and picks it up.  I feed her the final bite of the Whopper Jr.  I pull out a second one and the exercise repeats itself.  My wife and I continue to talk about her and joke about how bad of a dog she is.  I pull out a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast croissant and feed it to her.

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I say, “You’ve never had one of these,” and I pull out a King Sized Snicker bar and unwrap it.  I break it into quarters and feed her the first bite, the second bite, the third bite.  I put the fourth bite in her mouth and my wife says, “Last bite” as she’s swallowing it and I immediately feel a sense of loss, like it should have been cherished more.

But it’s gone.

I start to choke up a bit.  We get her to lay down on her side and I think I hear something in the distance.  I look.  Nothing.  I huddle next to her and I pet her behind the ear and my wife pets her muzzle and I put my hand on her heart and I feel the beating again and I just want it to be over but I feel so guilty for wanting that and then I definitely hear something and I turn my head and I see a truck pulling into the driveway and it’s so real and it’s happening now and panic washes over me and tears start running down my face and I’m sobbing and I’m hugging Kaidance and I’m telling her how much I love her and I’m whispering in her ear and I’m telling her that I’m sorry and she’s so good and everything is spinning around and it’s all so surreal.  The sun is setting and there is a breeze and it couldn’t be more beautiful or horrible.

I turn around and the vet is walking towards us and I know this is the end.  This is what the last week has been leading up to.  We’re here and it’s now and it’s happening.  The vet is blond and tells us that she’s very sorry.  My wife and I are both puffy and salty with tears and we both mumble something about, “Thank you so much for coming out here on your day off”.

She sits down on the blanket with us and hours has turned into minutes has turned into one minute.  The final minute and I’m not ready to let go and I don’t know if I can do this.  I lean down and whisper, “It’s going to be okay, good girl, good girl, good girl,” and the vet pulls out a syringe filled with something intensely blue and she tells us that it’s a high grade anesthetic and that it will be just like going to sleep.  I put my hand on Kaidance’s heart and the vet asks if we’re ready and there’s no way we are or ever will be but we both nod yes and she sticks the needle into her leg and words just start pouring out of my mouth.  “I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance.  Good girl.  I love you so much,” and I can’t say it enough.  I can’t get it across.  Every bad thing I’ve ever done to her is flashing into my mind.  Every time I’ve ever yelled at her and every time I’ve thrown her outside for tearing into the trash and every moment of our stupid road trip where I asked her to stop breathing on me and I just want her to stay here and be okay and I just want it over with and it’s done.

Before the vet even pulls the needle out, Kaidance has stopped breathing.  Her heart has stopped beating.  No matter where I put my hand, I can’t find the labored thump-thump.  I lay my forehead against her and I weep.

The vet walks away and Jade and I are left in the field alone with our dog.  We try to shut her eyes but it’s not like in the movies.  They just stay open.  We sit with her for several minutes and we both cry and pet her and say those final words.

Jade picks up the Burger King bag with the old wrappers in it and lays it down on the blanket by Kaidance’s chest and says, “We should bury her with this.  She would have wanted it,” and it’s so stupid but she’s so right.  Kaidance would have wanted an old Burger King bag.  We wrap her up in the Striped-Comforter-With-High-Emotional-Value and we each pick up a side and there is definitely a reason they call it dead weight.  120 pounds is much heavier than I was imagining.  I step into the grave and I grab both ends of the blanket and I lower her in.

We each throw a couple handfuls of dirt on and then we grab the shovels and for the next 15 minutes we move dirt and tell more stories.  When we’re done we stand above the grave, the sun just dipping below the horizon and we say a couple more things.  “Kaidance, we loved you and we valued you.  Thank you for your protection.  Thank you for loving us.  You were a terrible dog but we loved you.  We will think of you often.  We probably won’t miss you, but we’ll think of you often.”  I say the last part mostly in jest because I need to laugh.

We grab the shovels and we begin walking back to the house.

Alone.

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ABOVE: The last photo.

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Brown Desert

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There’s a strip of desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that runs dark for about 300 miles.  It’s an area of the Earth so void of hope that no one has ever bothered to develop; it’s no man’s land.  Anything goes.  Mad Max.

It’s in this stretch that Kaidance suddenly begins breathing heavily; goes straight from her average, low volume wheezing to full on post-marathon panting.  Like a floodgate that has been switched, saliva begins dangling from her mouth in long tendrils.  Droplets of spittle bounce off her tongue like confused raindrops and begin covering the top of our cooler.  It’s day one of our Fantastic Voyage to Take Kaidance Home to Heaven and we’ve been traveling for 2 1/2 hours.  In case you’re uncertain, this is definitely foreshadowing.

Your Woman by White Town begins playing and, as though on cue, Kaidance sticks her slobbery jowls between our seats like Donkey in the first Shrek movie and just begins to……. exist.  And I could never be your woman.  No, Kaidance, you sure couldn’t.  Her putrid breath heaves onto us.  You can feel her stank exhale resting on your skin like a thick Georgian humidity.  She mouth-dribbles on the cooler.  She mouth-dribbles on the arm rests.  She mouth-dribbles on my wife’s Diet Coke and, if you know anything about my wife, you know you don’t mess with her Diet Coke.

Homey don’t play that.

She shouts something incoherent, threatening the life of the canine.  The panting gets louder.  My wife cracks a new, untainted DC because she’s certain some of “that damned dog’s” mouth water has poisoned the well.  The panting gets louder… louder… louder… it has successfully drowned out the radio and we’re beginning to grow concerned that the noise of her breathing is going to wake up the children.  Something by Nirvana comes over the speakers but I can barely make out what song it is.  This says less about Kurt Cobain’s choppy vocals and more about the noise of a pervert hissing in my ear.  Why is she standing so close to me?    Kaidance has her mouth full open, jaw unhinged, tongue dangling 16 inches past her teeth, a waterfall of saliva in full stream running down her chest and into a bag of groceries.  There goes the fruit.

My wife says, “This is disgusting.  Dog, you are disgusting.  This couldn’t be any worse” and I say, “Don’t tempt the universe” and my wife says, “What’s that?  What is that smell?”  I think perhaps she’s making a Teen Spirit joke, what with Nirvana and all but then, no.  It’s a fart.  No.  A shart.  No.  A turd.  No.  A bunch of turds.  No.  Diarrhea.  For every ounce of saliva that Kaidance has splish-splashed on our belongings, she has perfectly matched with The Liquid Brown.

Softer than any velvet and more pungent than the strongest cheese, it’s on the door, the floor, the blankets.  It’s week old green eggs and ham.  It’s Operation Dumbo Drop.  It’s The Devil Inside.  It’s a hot dog factory where everyone has BO and bathes in horchata.  It’s……. still coming.  The Spray.  She’s a sprinkler with a pulse, a faucet filled with rusty water, a fire hose gone wrong, and I’m gunning it at 80mph down the freeway into Oblivion.

My wife turns to me and says / sobs, “What are we going to do?” but she already knows the answer.  She already knows the horrible, inescapable answer even before I say it… she knows.

Nothing.

It’s 10:30 at night and there’s nothing between us and civilization but 60 miles and a trillion specks of sand.  My wife gags and rolls down a window.  She gags again and says, “I think I’m going to puke”.  She sticks her head out the window and starts making these loud breathing noises that don’t sound dissimilar to Kaidance and her wheezing.

I turn the volume up on the radio.  Something soft by The Shins juxtaposes everything that’s happening.

Like a turd, the next 45 minutes are long and smelly.  Finally, we find a lone gas station that’s lit by a solitary flickering bulb.  Horror movie’s have started here for sure.  We clean the van out.  The kids wake up.  Kaidance lets the concrete know who’s boss.  Clementine runs away.  The kids go back to sleep.  The dogs get back in the car.  It’s midnight.  Everything stinks, the upholstery is clean-ish but covered in a sticky residue.  Pandora’s box has been closed… or at the very least plugged up.  We only have 23 more hours until we reach our destination.

This is vacation.  Welcome to Paradise.

This story and a million like it are what I will remember about Kaidance long after she’s gone.  Some people have stories about hunting dogs and farm dogs and family dogs and wonderful little dogs that fit in purses and lick you on the lips and wear sweaters and know fun tricks.  Not Kaidance: Destroyer of Hope.  No.  She is a breed of cruel, dastardly perversion all her own.

Below, I’ve compiled a quick list of memories I have with my dog, both the good and the bad.

Kaidance, this is your life…

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1. When you were a puppy you would sleep on my pillow, curl up next to my ear and snore.  That’s a cute one.
2.  I remember taking you to the park in Denver on a winter day, the snow standing taller than you.  Another cute memory.  You were so tiny.
3.  One day you ate my friend’s pet turtle.  She was pretty upset.  That’s a sad memory, for sure, in case you’re keeping tally.
4.  We took you to The Turtle Girl’s parent’s house and you did that diarrhea thing you’re so good at all over their brand new white carpet.  They said it wasn’t a big deal but I could tell… they were pretty upset.
4.  Jade had spent a considerable amount of time on a three tier cake for her Cake Making 101 class.  You knocked it off the counter and ate most of it moments before she left to present for a final grade.  You also ate my celebratory “I beat cancer” cake that my favorite nurse gave to me.
5.  I remember you pulling a bottle of vegetable oil off the counter, tearing it open, drinking the whole thing and then dropping peppermint patties all through the house.  PS. Peppermint patties = more diarrhea.  This happened while we were out so by the time we got back it had all dried into these dusty  rocks that had stuck to the floor like anal barnacles.

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6.  You went through a phase where you tore open the trash every single day.  Even if there was nothing in the bin but newspapers, you simply didn’t care.  This was frustrating.
7.  Towards “the end” when you were no longer able to control your bladder, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to let you out at 11pm, 2am and 5am like a newborn baby.  This too was pretty frustrating although I do understand.  Even at 30 it is rare that I don’t get up at least once a night.
8. You were never a dog that could be taken to someone’s house for a social function.  When you get excited you drool… and you get excited about pretty much every thing.

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9.  Once, when I had cancer and was having a particularly tough day you suddenly crawled up into my rocking chair with me, completely unprovoked.  You’d never done it before or since.  It was very thoughtful of you and was exactly what I needed.

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10.  I once purchased 20 Whopper Juniors and gave them all to you on a platter.  I know it wasn’t healthy but I’ve never seen you happier than on that day.

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11.  One day I left some carrots on the counter.  You pulled them down and then pulled down Jade’s favorite turquoise ceramic bowl.  She was upset.  At both of us.

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12.  You once sat on my pillow and when I pushed you off there was a brown starfish where I put my face.  Why do you do these things to me?
13.  You are one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen and you love pushing yourself between people’s legs like a bridge.  It freaks newcomers out.
14.  You used to sleep on the bed with us and would full on stretch out, taking up every square foot you could.  I would typically curl into a little ball and try to work around you.

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15.  You’d get so excited when we pulled out your leash, you’d jump onto your hind legs and bark… and then when we got to the dog park you’d just lie down next to us and observe those which you considered inferior.

You’ve been with Jade and I since 2002 and, as evidenced by this list, have taught me a considerable amount about patience and grace, which I’m thankful for.  In a very backwards way, you’ve helped me to become a better father.  Trust me when I say that being a parent of 2 1/2 year old twins is 90% patience and grace and 10% damage control.  Whether my kids are destroying an object that I’m fond of, pooping on my couch, waking me up at 2am to pee, or hogging the bed with their strange sleeping aerobics, you did it first.  You forged the way for these pioneers.

Am I surprised that you blew the stinky all over the inside of our new mini-van?  Absolutely not.  I know your track record.  Like a moth, you’re going to go out big and I’d expect nothing less.

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Dirty Dog

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I’m sitting in my car, alone, in a grossly lit parking garage.  My lips are curled back and pulled down, tugging my face-skin tight.  My nose crunches in on itself and everything goes blurry.  I’m doing that thing humans do when they’re sad; I’m crying… alone… in a parking garage… in the building where I work.

There’s a banana sitting in the passenger seat and, since I’m sort of hungry from an early lunch, I lift it up and start to peel it.  Tears streaming down my face, I quietly whimper and take a bite of the fruit.  FACT: You can’t cry and eat a  banana at the same time; you feel too foolish.  It’s like the two cosmic ends of the universe are colliding right into you – the mournfulness of tears and the comic genius that is representative in 1000 people slipping on banana peels over the years.  One must break.

I prioritize my hunger, finish eating the banana, set the peel down and then pick up where I left off with the crying.  I start my car and, through blurred vision, navigate out of the garage and start my journey home to my dying dog.

Kaidance is an eleven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that has been with my wife and I since we were in college.  She’s moved across the country with us, she was there when we got married, she was there when we had children (and when we were trying to have children, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-dog-in-the-room-while-you’re-having-sex-joke-wacka-wacka).  She watched me go through cancer and enter remission and has also dealt with her own battle which, sadly, she is finally succumbing to.

Over the last four years she’s been, like the Fast and Furious franchise, sick but active.  However, over the last four weeks, we’ve watched her go from an overweight bitch with a penchant for food and destruction to an overweight bitch who is blind and has trouble standing up and sitting down.  Even when she lies on her bed she just moans like every breath is killing her and I suppose, in some regards, it is.  That whole Ticking Clock Syndrome each of us suffers from.  Every second is closer to our own endings but there is something reassuring about not having any idea about when it is; next week, next year, next, next, next.  Not Kaidance.

Kaidance doesn’t have anymore NEXTS left.  This week Kaidance has only The Lasts.  The Last Bath.  The Last Night of Sleep.  The Last Walk.  The Last Meal.

My family and I are leaving on a road trip very soon.  We’re leaving Los Angeles and heading to South Dakota to see my sister’s new daughter.  From there we’ll hit Montana to see my sister-in-law’s new son.  When we leave LA we’ll have our two kids in tow along with our two dogs; Kaidance and a cocker spaniel named Clementine.  When we return, we’ll have only two children and the cocker spaniel.  When we get to South Dakota, we’ll stop at my mother-in-law’s farm and she’ll call her vet.  The vet will come out to the farm and we’ll put Kaidance to sleep somewhere in a field.  I will dig a grave and I will bury my dog.

We’re doing it this way because I cannot stand the thought of taking her to a vet clinic.  THE SMELL ALONE.  She hates going and begins shaking compulsively when we pull into the parking lot.  It’s not fair that her last feelings would be those of fear.  She is more valuable to me than that.  She is better than a cold steel table, the reek of cleaning supplies and a needle.  I just need her to know that we love her and I just want her to be as comfortable as possible.  Kaidance is not JUST A DOG.  No dog is JUST A DOG, the same as no person is JUST A PERSON.  Emotions, impulses, instincts, feelings; love, excitement, joy, hunger, thirst, fear.

Kaidance has five days left to walk the Earth.  She has seen her last Monday.  She has seen her last Tuesday.  The numbers on that stupid clock are getting smaller and smaller and sometimes I wonder if she can’t tell something is up.

Over the following week I’d like to share with you all the reasons I love and hate this stupid dog and my final journey to take her home.

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