It was slight, almost imperceptible Malcolm’s limp at first. I kept asking my girlfriend, Anna, if she saw it, too, as we walked along the Charles, and she said she didn’t and that I was being neurotic and too maternalistic. Which in hindsight probably wasn’t too far off the mark. If I could’ve bubble wrapped him without a PETA intervention, I may just have.
Still I took Malcolm to a vet in Watertown, MA, and walked him all over the clinic like a show horse and they didn’t see anything either. Sad as it were he was like a shimmy in a steering wheel that you can’t reproduce when taken to the auto mechanic.
I knew it was there. But at the time I was thinking it was perhaps a recurrence of his OCD which he was diagnosed with back in Texas that the bitter cold New England winter had exacerbated. Or Malcolm had Lyme Disease which is exceedingly common up here that can lead to a degenerative neuro-muscular melt down.
I vacillated for a couple of weeks half convincing myself nothing was wrong yet half knowing something was.
Three things happened next.
My dog got cancer. My girlfriend left me. And she took the truck.
In some cruel cosmic irony, this Texas boy, who within six months of moving up to Boston, became a country song.
I remember when Anna and I first moved up to Boston in 2003, we were looking for a place to take Malcolm and Murphy for a hike and surveying a map we saw the Emerald Necklace, a sprawling almost contiguous swath of parks designed by the great Frederick Olmsted.
We got lost looking for Back Bay Fens and saw a beat cop at a convenient store. I pulled into the parking lot and asked him for directions, which in a thick, sweetly grating Boston accent he gave us smilingly.
“Thanks but, say”, I asked him, “I’m not from around here but I can’t help but notice that there aren’t any street signs in this city. Why is that?”
Without a second’s hesitation he replied, “If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be here.”
Maybe he was right. I shouldn’t have been there. I should never have left my native state of Texas. But just like playing a country song in reverse doesn’t get your dog, your girl, or your truck back, one cannot undo the order of things.
I finally insisted that the vet in Watertown take X-Rays on Malcolm to be sure and when he delivered the diagnosis, I remember saying, “Wait, what?”, as though my comprehension needed to catch up to the reality.
I didn’t even know dogs got cancer.
Sure enough the vet showed me the star burst pattern on Malcolm’s radiograph, an image permanently etched in my memory. Through my tears I asked a question that, although I didn’t know it at the time, would design and determine my fate for the rest of my days.
YBD’s Notes 1: I’m an honorary New Englander now and as I write this, in the wee hours of the morning, the great foghorns on the Narraganset Bay bellow nearby and rock me with pleasure.
YBD’s Notes 2: I didn’t realize until writing this vignette that Back Bay Fens was where the final mile of our walk began. Ironically, it wasn’t our first choice. The Esplanade was. Funny how things work out.
YBD’s Notes 3: I find people who use tragic circumstances to further a personal agenda distasteful and even though I am a transplant, I just want to let the people of Boston know that I stand proud with you. And to that beat cop, “Maybe so. But I am here.”
2 Dogs 2,000 Miles