This is the last chapter in the story of how The Witch tried to ruin our lives by leaving us stranded in hell. You can read about the part of the adventure starring The Mighty Truck here. Read the part starring Mom and her bucket list here. Read about The Witch’s revenge here. We pick up at the moment when your hero is sprung from the doggie dungeon, and The Witch has a case of amnesia.
“Can we please get out of here now?” I begged when Mom rolled over and wiped the sleep out of New Witch’s eyes.
“Yeah. I need a run to help me remember that this isn’t the end of the world,” Mom said. Then, to the New Witch she asked, “Is there a track nearby?”
“There’s this place about a mile down the street,” New Witch said. “It’s got like facilities and stuff.”
“What kind of facilities?” Mom asked. “It kind of looks like an empty lot in the satellite photo.”
“I don’t know. Facilities. What do you think I am? God?” snapped The Witch.
“Well…” Mom thought for a minute about whether she expected a Witch to know more or less than God, and then decided that it was probably best not to say. “Fine, we’ll check it out,” she said to make a good impression on New Witch.
“Okay,” New Witch said. “I was sick of learning about your boring life anyway. I can’t believe I’m stuck with a loser like you. If I have time, I’ll find out more when I’m back on wifi.”
When New Witch ordered us into the car kennel at the Facilities, I looked out the window to make sure that Mom would have what she needed to run her feelings out. Next to the car kennel, a pair of railings disappeared into the kind of hole in the ground that they plant buildings in. Inside the hole there was some mangey grass, and a whole lot of naked dirt decorated with old potty paper and crusty clothes.
“Are you supposed to run in that hole in the ground?” I asked.
“There’s a paved path down there,” Mom said, stretching out her neck to peek over the edge. “This will have to do. Tell you what, I’ll run past the truck every couple of laps so you can see how I’m doing.”
“Deal,” I said, turning my copilot’s chair into a coaching chair and getting ready for anything.
Mom flushed down the hole, and I settled in to think about everything I’d learned about The Witch the day before. All this time I’d thought The Witch had been along for the ride, she had actually been leading Mom on an invisible leash, ordering her around and telling her where to go, what to do, and who to talk to. An adventure didn’t exist unless The Witch measured it, and Mom wasn’t even allowed to have her own memories without The Witch there to hold them. True, Mom led me in a similar way, but I didn’t think The Witch loved Mom like Mom loves me.
Mom looked wretched when she ran by for her first check. “What’s wrong?” I sniffed through the crack in the window.
“My audiobook cut out after just 2 minutes, and Spotify hasn’t downloaded yet! I have nothing to listen to!”
“If you’re listening to someone else’s adventure, you’re missing your own,” I told her. “Don’t run with your ears, run with your eyes. The point of traveling is to see new things, remember?”
“Fine…” Mom said, disappearing back into the hole.
When she next emerged to run through the car kennel, I barked through the window, “Did you see anything exciting?”
“There’s an old towel stuck in a bush down there that I swear is covered in dried blood. Promise me that we’ll never come back to downtown Las Vegas again,” Mom said.
“Don’t look at the ugly things, pay attention to how your body feels,” I barked after her as she dropped back into the hole.
The next time she ran by, she looked like she had seen a ghost. “How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I’m running really well, but…” she stopped and looked around to see if anyone was listening.
“I coughed, and my tampon popped out.”
She was talking about the tadpole that she sometimes wore in secret places for mysterious reasons. Man-dogs are supposed to be grossed out by things like that, but I was always kind of curious about it. When I was a puppy I even ate one to see what it was like. Then I had to go to the hospital where I threw up a lot.
“It’s just hanging out there in my shorts,” she explained.
“Can’t you put it in a poop bag and throw it away?” I asked. That’s what she always did when I had a potty issue in public, and I didn’t think it was that big a deal.
“I can’t go fishing through my shorts. Someone might see! There are children here. And no bathrooms.”
“Oh. Um…” I said. I never did understand why Mom always hid when she went potty like it was something to be ashamed of, so I was at a loss for advice. Instead, I told her to do what any man would do if he unexpectedly found himself with a tampon in his shorts. “Be tough and don’t let a little thing like that stop you,” I coached.
“Gross,” Mom said, but she followed my advice.
The next time she came back to the truck, she was walking. She disappeared into the Butt House and came out wearing new clothes. “Come on,” she said in the voice that meant she didn’t want to talk. “Let’s find somewhere nicer for you to stretch your legs.”
The Truck turned its tailpipe on The Strip and fled toward the mountains where its coat of dirt wouldn’t be out of place. The next time it stopped, we were at an entrance tardis I’d never seen before. A woman came out and announced, “This isn’t a driving park. You’re going to have to walk to see the scenery.”
“That’s what we came to do,” Mom said, looking confused. “Do people really come here and get mad that they have to get out of the car?”
“Yes, all the time. Red Rocks down the street has the scenic drive, so they come here expecting the same thing.”
“Wow,” Mom said.
“Red Rocks gives me bones when we visit,” I wagged from the copilot’s chair. “Do you have bones here?”
“Your dog will love it,” the woman said, giving Mom an unappetizing map rather than a yummy bone.
“I’m sure he will,” Mom said, putting the map in the trash bag and following The Witch’s directions to the car kennel.
I kept Mom on leash as we walked through the desert so she wouldn’t get so lost in her thoughts that she couldn’t find her way out. For once, I was the only one who was stopping to sniff the sights.
“Hey, don’t I look handsome today?” I asked. “Don’t you want to take some pictures?”
“Oh yeah,” Mom said. “Sit on that rock there.” She pointed The Witch at me without pointing her eyes, and then disappeared back into her head as The Witch disappeared back into her pocket. She was so lost that she didn’t even tell me to move along when I stopped for long, leisurely sniffs and micro-pees.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“I’m just so discouraged,” Mom said. “I know that losing those photos wasn’t the end of the world, but it feels like I’ll never survive.”
“Who cares about the five billion, three hundred and ninety-seven million, eight hundred and sixty-two thousand, nine hundred and thirty-one photos you took in Death Valley. You still have a zillion, billion other photos of me looking just as handsome,” I reminded her. “And if that’s not enough, you can take even more. Didn’t you buy The Witch that could hold the most memories?”
“Yeah, but I promised we’d never go back to the walking rocks, remember? And we went through so much to get there; the trolling, the scary drive, the hike, and all the problem solving. I know no one cares about those photos but us. But I care a lot.”
“But we have the memories stored in our own heads…!” I reminded her. “And no one can flush those.”
“I know,” Mom said. “I don’t think it’s really about the photos. It’s about that scummy hotel, and losing my job in such a demeaning way, and how I’m still fighting with them for the money they owe me, and the fear about what will happen next, and the worry that I’m pushing you too hard, and the guilt about leaving you alone in the truck when I run.”
“Do we need to go back and live in the dungeon forever?” I asked.
“No, we checked out this morning.”
“So the dungeon is over. Are all the jobs in the world used up?” I asked.
“No, I’ve got some pretty good prospects. It looks like we’ll have a couple of things to choose from.”
“Has the money dried up?” I asked.
“No, we have plenty left to get us through until I find something new.”
“Don’t I look graceful walking today?” I asked, showing her a light-footed trot.
“Yeah, your elbow is looking a lot better.”
“So it sounds like some of the problems are already over, and the rest will be over soon,” I said. “I thought that not caring about fancy hotels, or showering every day, or indoor people potties made you feel strong because not needing fancy things is a kind of freedom.”
“It is, as long as I’m the judge of my life. But it was so embarrassing running through that casino in my pajamas, dodging through people who were all dressed up. I just wanted to disappear, but I had to ask for directions every couple of minutes. And it’s not just that. When I’m telling an interviewer about all the hard work I’ve done… if I say just one thing that sounds different from what they’re expecting, none of my accomplishments and competence matter. They can reject everything I’ve ever worked for in my life if I say my lines wrong.”
“But that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means that they don’t understand,” I said. “You know how you’re always trying to show me how to up-up on something tricky, but most of the time I find a different, better way? They’re not looking for the person who can up-up through the most tricky trails, they’re looking for the person who will up-up they way they think it should be done. You just need to find the place that lets you up-up in your own way.”
“I know. I just feel so lost without my phone, it makes it feel like everything else is falling apart too. Not having access to wifi made me feel poor and vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt before. And then getting cut off by all those limos outside the Bellagio parking garage in our truck that’s dirty on the outside and filled with old food wrappers and empty drink bottles on the inside was humiliating. And then coming back to that horrible crumbling hotel with people dealing drugs in the parking lot. And then running in that god-awful hole in the ground with used needles in the dirt and a wet tampon in my shorts like a turd… I just don’t know how I fell so far.”
“You were just in the wrong place, like a penguin in the Sahara,” I said. “What’s wrong isn’t you, but where you are. I know what will cheer you up! I bet I’d look really handsome sitting on that rock.”
I up-upped onto the rock and looked dignified while Mom pointed New Witch in my direction. “Turn this way so your face isn’t in the shadow,” Mom said, waving her hand where she wanted me to look. “Okay, look up a little more.” She held her hand above her head and did something interesting with it to get my attention. “No, wait. Jump on this rock instead so I can get the mountains in the background.”
When she was done and we were back on the trail I said, “You know how sometimes you take my picture and it doesn’t get how handsome I am? Does that mean I’m not handsome?”
“Of course not. It’s just about how things are lined up behind you. And I need to pay more attention to lighting since you’re a black dog.”
“I think that you feeling bad is a little like that,” I said. “You’re just sitting in the wrong spot facing the wrong way. If you keep walking, today’s problems will be a tiny detail in the background. Then you can fill the rest of the picture with things that make you happy again. You just need to find the right place where the light hits you right and you have the right things around you.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Okay, so you don’t want crowded places or fancy things in your portrait. But what do you want in the picture?” I asked.
“I want nature, and the fitness to do things that excite me, and fulfilling work, and work-life balance so we have the energy to write, and quality time with you of course.”
“And what’s the light that makes even your black bits shine?” I asked, pretending like it was a coaching question so Mom wouldn’t suspect I didn’t know the answer.
“Are you talking about purpose? That’s a hard one to answer because it keeps changing as I get older.”
“The sun moves with time too,” I reminded her.
“Okay, I don’t want to need anything impressive like a fancy title or big house in the frame to make the picture worth taking. I don’t really care what‘s in the background, but I want it to be a nice picture no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I can get a lot of satisfaction by expressing warmth in a boring business email, or convincing a soulless call center worker to do something creative to solve my problem. Kind of like how sometimes we can find beauty in a detail on an ugly trail, or an affirming lesson on a miserable hike.”
“That’s it!” I said. “You’ve just been taking the wrong picture. You were in a place where only fancy clothes would make the picture worth taking. I don’t think there are any lessons worth learning on The Strip. Quick! Let’s go back to the country. You’ll feel a lot better where everyone drives dirty pickup trucks and wears sensible shoes and clothes that let them move any way they want to.”
Oscar the Coach