The night I moved to Mexico, it was snowing. I stood in line at YVR with my best friend, who is now Godless Dad, resting my bag on a giant animal crate stuffed full of my other best friend, Rocky. My stomach was in knots. I was about to hand over my baby dog to a bunch of pothead baggage handlers, trusting them to get my sweet furball safely on the plane and to Cancun.
Earlier, I’d done the rounds of friends' houses, sipping drinks and dishing out goodbye hugs. I’d finally gotten home around 1 am and had to leave for the airport at 4 am, so I just sat around and stared at shit. I didn’t have a computer or a bedroom or anything to actually do, because I’d packed up my entire life. So, I just kinda sat there and freaked out about Rocky on the plane. I was so worried about it that by the time it was time to go I’d gotten myself pretty worked up. It’d snowed all day and all night and it took extra time to get to the airport because it never snows in Vancouver. Ever. No real infrastructure in place to deal with snowfall swiftly on the odd occasion it does occur. Very few salt trucks, plows, etc. A ten-minute drive to the airport turned into a 40-minute ordeal. I just got more nervous.
I was terrified that when I took Rocky out of his crate to have it inspected he would bark at the ramp guys and I wouldn’t be able to get him back in. He didn’t even squeak, though. When he resisted getting back in his crate, I just lifted him and he got in and was fine. Not a sound, nothing. Just “Mom, are you fucking serious?” big, brown, puppy eyes that melted me. I let them take him right away so I could at least try to get it out of my mind.
Understand, he was not “just a dog” as some heartless, loveless, joyless assholes might insist. He’d picked me out as his human one day fifteen years ago when I visited the SPCA, looking up at me amongst snarling pit bulls, the whites of his eyes showing as he rested his fuzzy little chin on his paws. He picked me. His eyes said, “Ah! There’s my mom. See ya, suckers.” and I piled him into my car and took him home.
He was there with me through breakups and college and starting my business. He was by my side in the aftermath of my assault and the loss of my grandma and the birth of my son. He was as devoted to me as any living being could be, watching my every move with those deep, chocolatey eyes, and never any further than a few feet away from me every moment we were together. When I cried, he brushed against me. When I laughed, he wagged his tail. There was more moral support in that four-legged beast than in any single, solitary human I’d ever met. He was not just a dog. He was a part of me. An appendage. He was my heart.
So, naturally, the idea of throwing my anxious little furman in the cargo hold of a plane headed to Mexico made me want to vomit.
The 19-year-old, pimpled baggage handler whose boxer briefs were billowing out of the top of his Dickies, wheeled my baby’s crate away. I could see those soulful eyes peering out at me as he disappeared around the corner. Clearly, I was a monster. What loving parent would send her little guy to cargo while she rode coach? The guilt was unbearable.
At this point, I was faced with the seemingly impossible task of lugging everything I owned to baggage check, kissing my future husband goodbye, not knowing when and if I’ll ever see him again, and then shitting myself in a tiny seat in Air Transat coach between two obese rednecks from Port Alberni while I worried about my furbear down below.
In their overly friendly Canadian way, the couple drew my story out. I told them I was moving to Mexico indefinitely. I told them I’d been there before a few times. I told them my dog was in cargo. I assured them that Mexicans didn’t just eat burritos and that they weren’t going to get kidnapped out of their hotel room.
When I asked them where they were staying they said “The Mayan Riviera” and I tried to hide my rolling eyes. That’s a couple hundred miles long. Any specific place or were you just going to stop for the night when the old rucksack starts feeling extra heavy?
When it came time to fill out our immigration and customs forms, they turned to me for help and our conversation hit a level of absurdity usually reserved only for Bible lessons.
“I was born in Ontario so should I put that as my country of birth?”
I wish I was joking. I wish I could tell you that my memory is failing me and I made this up to fill the gap. I didn’t. I recall vividly the day a hick from Port Alberni asked me if Ontario is her country of birth, while I tried to keep myself from vomiting out of sheer terror for my dog below. It only got worse from there.
“It’s asking for my passport number. Should I put down my passport number?”
“Date of birth… hmmmm, should I put today’s date?”
My godless friends, the utter defeat on her husband’s face practically spilled onto the cabin floor. I could see little pieces of him dying with each new question she asked me.
I was exhausted because I hadn’t slept all night but every time I fell asleep Mrs. Newborn poked me and asked if I wanted a drink, a piece of gum, headphones. When the plane was finally landing, I almost praised god as I chanted in my head, land, land, land, land, land, now, now, now, now, now, Must. Escape. Redneck. Canadians. Now.
Waiting in line at immigration was excruciating. I just wanted my pup. I ran through to the baggage claim the second the officer stamped my passport. Scanning the room, my heart raced.
Where is he? I thought. He couldn’t be missed. He was in a giant crate plastered with “Live Animal” decals and his name emblazoned across every side. I stood at the carousel assigned to my plane and tried to conceal my overwhelming anxiety. A man helped me collect my bags, and the crowd began to thin.
Where is my baby…
I wandered a little, peering around corners and studying baggage handlers for any sign of my dog. My heart was pounding. My hands were sweaty and trembling. I couldn’t see him anywhere.
After what seemed like forever, I finally heard it.
Thud, Thud, Thud, Thud…
I perked my ears and craned my neck to hear where it was coming from.
Thud, thud, thud, thud…
I turned slowly, trying to take in everything so I wouldn’t miss him, and then I saw it. His huge crate, labelled, ROCKY, wobbling back and forth with the power of his tail smacking against it.
Thud, thud, thud, thud…
He’d spotted me before I had spotted him and was happier than I’d ever seen him before. I ran to him and, unable to open his crate where I was, I sniffled through a million, “Hi baby”s and “Good boy”s and scratched his wet, happy nose through the cage door.
I can honestly say, more so that giving birth; more so than reporting my sexual assault; more so than the death of my best friend, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Putting my furriest beloved family member in the cargo hold of a plane, and sitting above him for six hours wondering if he was still alive or if he was terrified, it was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do up until a couple of weeks ago when I had to decide when to put him down.
As I wheeled him through the Cancun airport, everyone took notice, and some even shouted, “Rocky!” when we passed, reading his name on the crate. My mom and dad met me outside, where I could finally let my beast free. He bounced off of us all, the waggiest dog to ever wag, right there at that moment. All that worry had been for nothing because my best friend was just fine.