I return to San Francisco with little resolution, not greatly changed, nor with particularly more hope.
I didn't tell anyone I was coming back. So no one was waiting for me at the airport. A fact that created a swell of self-pity. I guess I should call a car. I am the kind of person who discusses my disdain for Uber and Lyft and then gives a respectful pause before ordering one, the way a person might say a quick prayer when they passed a cemetery or cross their chest when passing a church. The pause is a gesture that makes me feel moral (that was more than most people gave), but I didn't really fool myself.
As I got into the fake cab, I began to hear my stomach gurgle. I knew I had food poisoning. I always, always got food poisoning in Mexico. A doctor in Oaxaca once told me I had given it to myself. I was neurotic. He was so upset by my Western fragility. We were talking about the quality of water, but each time he responded to one of my comments he said "water" with a punctuated offense, like we were having a coded conversation very much not about water, which I guess we were. I was always upset that after decades of eating food prepared by my Mexican grandmother's unwashed hands, all that poop hadn't given me a lick of immunity.
My dramatic, thrill-seeking self (borne of my dysfunctional family) wanted this stomach issue to escalate so my body could be as sick as my heart was broken, but my anxious I-hate-vomiting self won. I reached into my bag and pulled out the precautionary antibiotics I had gotten for just this occasion. A white friend had suggested just this and I was amazed by the wisdom of the people around me. But I was also ashamed that I needed it and that I was the kind of person who listened to white people's third world travel advice.
As we get on the freeway I see a little brown chihuahua in a blue harness trotting around on the strip of green between two converging streams of traffic.
STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. THERE WAS A LITTLE CHIHUAHUA BACK THERE. WE HAVE TO GO BACK.
The driver (being not a professional and all) begins to break and I am then horrified by his inability to drive safely. He gathers his bearings. Says ok. I will turn around.
He drives fast, running a red light as he turns and circles back. There is no easy way to get back to that on-ramp, he tells me.
I begin to imagine all the possible scenarios.
The chihuahua has no tags and despite my tepid efforts to find his owner I cannot and we become best friends. The universe has given me the chihuahua I always wanted but was too afraid to get lest I regret having expressed desire only to find out that I am indeed as unable to love anything as I thought.
Or the chihuahua has tags. I call his owners and they cry tears of joy when we return him. And I cry too. Happy. A hero.
Or another person who also has always wanted a chihuahua or perhaps is a serial kidnappers of chihuahuas sees him sooner than I had and by the time I return there will be no trace of him and I will convince myself that I had made the whole thing up because I am a woman after all.
We finally arrive at the green strip. He puts on the emergency lights. He gets out of the car with me. I am gently treading, afraid I might scare the dog or something. I don't know.
The driver has wandered up ahead of me and after a few seconds he turns around, and there is an expression on his face like he is about to lie to me or say something to make me forget what we were doing there, and that's when I see the little dog's body on the road.
He runs back to me. Hugs me. I let him. "I wanted him to be ok," I say into his gross sweatshirt that smells like sweat. "I did too," he says, crying all the tears he's been saving for months and months, tears that had been waiting for a moment like this when it's unquestionably acceptable to cry.
We get back in the car and he drives me the rest of the way home.
ABOUT THE BOOK
I release a new chapter a week on Thursdays - unless I'm exceedingly overwhelmed or whatever I write is so epically terrible I'm too embarrassed to put it on the internet.