“A stripper from San Antone”, I answered excitedly to Theresa who had left the balcony to take the empty plates into the kitchen.
Theoretically if you go back far enough in time you can trace the origin of everything.
I was two bottles of wine into a perfect evening of grilled swordfish steak and her husband, Ray’s, guitar when Theresa had asked me how our travels really began. They were one of our host families for a few nights as we passed through the Washington DC area.
Hudson and Murphy, my trusty travel companions known endearingly as The Fuzzybutts, and I were hiking a contiguous trail system from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital some 315 miles of a low grade, nicely manicured pathway that is part of the Rails to Trails network.
At that point we were on the second stretch known as the C & O towpath that ran right between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, used years ago to run coal up to Maryland, and the Potomac River. It had been in disuse for well over a century and the lock houses and gates are now mostly in ruins. And the waterway that once was the Canal is now pestilent and pea porridge green that smells of swamp stink and host to mosquitoes the size of sparrows.
Still, so much history and beauty we had found on the trail but it was nice to be out of our tent for a few nights and with such kind and gracious hosts.
Initially, I answered, as I had so many times over the roughly 1,700 miles we had trekked up to that point and to so many hosts and kind strangers we had met along the way, that our story began with Malcolm, a Great Pyrenees I lost to metastatic bone cancer in 2006.
I think Theresa sensed there was more to it so she pressed. “No, I mean, how did it really begin?”
And that’s when it hit me like one of the super-sized semi-trailer tractor trucks that almost plowed into us on the road pretty much weekly. On a good week.
I shook my head in startling realization as I hadn’t really thought about it. Not in any of the months since we left Austin, Texas in March 2008 or the many miles we had logged since, because moving forward doesn’t lend itself to looking backwards.
But I was thoroughly enjoying the company and our conversation and it seemed like the right night to reflect. I stroked the big wedge shaped heads of the Fuzzybutts sprawled out next to me on the deck, poured myself another glass of wine, and began regaling Ray and Theresa with how our story really began.
Lindsey was an exotic dancer from San Antonio, Texas. She was a woman of exceptional beauty and intelligence with a biting wit to boot and we took off the second we met. But we were like two brilliant stars that, when brought too closely together, they collapse and although our affair was brief, Lindsey and I remained friends throughout the years.
In the fall of 1997 I received a call from Lindsey and true to her nature, she got straight to the point the second I answered the phone.
“Do you want a dog?” she asked impatiently borderline impudently.
But I answered in my usual fatuous way with her, “Why, what’s wrong with it?”
She went on to tell me some crazy story about how she and her sister while taking a trip into the hill country found these cute puppies and they both got one but her sister wasn’t taking care of it or something to that effect. Just listening to it was exhausting and it sounded complicated to me so I asked if I could think it over.
“Nope need an answer now”, she replied tersely, as though I was merely one on a long list of prospective takers and she had no time to court me.
At the time I was living with my brother in Castroville, a small Alsatian bedroom community southwest of San Antonio, and even though we had an entire acre fenced in, the truth is I didn’t want a dog. I’ve always lived the ‘work-hard, play-hard’ lifestyle and my many passions consumed just about every spare second I had.
Plus, I’d never had a dog in my adult life and had no desire to start then and there. Add that to the fact I was in school pursuing a BBA and had little time for anything else. It was at that point in the conversation my mind had already begun constructing a spreadsheet with a cost versus benefit analysis when something inside of me spoke, I swear unconsciously and unwillingly.
Such a simple decision made in a flash of a second would ultimately send shockwaves across time touching thousands and thousands of people throughout the world. It was a decision that would nearly cost me my life but restore my faith, and it was a decision that would one day save me and change me forever.
Next week: Chapter One. I Don't Even Like Dogs