Monday, May 27, 2013

Dog Beach: The day I wasn't doing anything wrong

I was talking to a friend the other evening about close calls and I remembered a dog in Costa Rica that wanted to kill me.
In the early 90s, Sophie, my beautiful girlfriend at the time, and I were laying on the beach on the East Coast of the country, getting some sun.
There were no people on the beach, partly because there were giant tree trunks rolling in the surf. There had been an earthquake in the middle of the rainy season, so root systems in the rain forest relaxed their grip in the wet soil, causing trees to topple when the earth shook.
Trees along river banks toppled into swollen streams and flowed out into the ocean, where the action of the waves broke off their limbs and smoothed the trunks into 1-ton rolling pencils. And they rolled in the waves like baking pins, ready to crush any swimmer who got in the water.
So we stayed out of the water, laying on towels, looking up into the blue Central American sky.
I had my eyes closed, listening to the waves as she quietly read a paperback.
Then Sophie said something like, "Look at that dog running down the beach." Sophie is a mellow person; she states things without much fanfare.
I turned my head to the left and with my head inches off the sand (I was laying on my back) I spotted it. It was far down the beach, a little brown thing, heading our direction. There was a mist on the shoreline, so the effect was cinematic; a hero dog in flight on his way to save a drowning swimmer. All that was missing was a TV crew and background music. I kept my head off the sand and stared.
"Huh," I said.
"I think it's coming this way," Sophie said pleasantly.
That was certain. No owner, no one else around, just this juggernaut on four legs, barreling my way.
"I know they don't really have a rabies vaccination program here like they do in the states," said Sophie, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.
"No kidding," I said, as the dog's intentions became a large question mark in my morning.
"Yeah, every now and then a rabid dog would walk into town where I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and everyone would run into their homes," she said pleasantly. "It was really ..."
"In Costa Rica?" I asked, sitting up, trying to stifle a whisper of alarm budding in my chest.
"No, in Ecuador," she said. She also kept her eye on the dog as it rushed through the mist toward us.
"Huh," I said again, but I heard a laugh build in her voice.
"Here in Costa Rica, though, I bet it's the same as Ecuador as far as rabies. You know, they don't have veterinarians in every town, you know, this isn't the states," she said.
I got up and kneeled on my blanket. The dog was now 200 yards off; I would have to make a decision soon.
"Sophie, what do you think this dog's intentions are?"
There is something about the way Sophie laughs, a sound that describes both wonder and building excitement.
"I don't know, but I don't see a collar or a registration tag on that one, do you? If there was a registration tag on the collar, it would tell you if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies or not. Since the dog has no tags, you have a 50-50 chance."
"I am thinking it might be good to prepare to run," I said.
"I don't think the dog is interested in me," Sophie said, returning to her paperback. "You don't remember last night, do you?"
Sophie would ask that often in the morning back then. Blackouts used to piss her off. My blackouts, I mean. She wouldn't talk to me in the morning after a night of well, heavy socializing. Her favorite question to me in those days was, "You don't remember what you did last night, do you?" Sometimes there would be something for me to worry about. Often, though, she'd ask that question just to make me worry. I'd beg her to tell me what I'd done and she'd refuse, leaving me hanging until I learned what it was or learned that I'd behaved perfectly fine (for a blackout).
"What does this dog have to do with last night," I asked her with the pain-filled voice I used whenever we had this discussion.
"You don't remember?"
"No, Sophie! Or I'd know!"
The dog was close enough now to see the sand kicked up by his paws as he narrowed his body and picked up even more speed.
"OK, the dog's name is Bob Marley and you were teasing him. He belongs to the bartender at the Sunset Room and the dog was tied up outside on the front porch. You were growling at him and jumping at him and he was barking like a crazy animal. People told you to stop teasing him, but as usual, you didn't listen. You kept jumping at the dog and teasing him."
"Oh, no, don't tell me that. Tell me the truth!" I begged, having only seconds to decide.
"I don't lie," she said.
I bolted up the coastline when Bob Marley was less than 100 feet away from our blankets. I launched my run just in time. Sure enough, the dog raced right past Sophie, who was laughing harder than I'd ever heard her laugh. The dog was too fast; there was no hope. I ran into the waves and dove underwater. A log rolled right towards me but I swam under it. The dog entered the surf after me but backed off, snarling and yelping. If I tried to exit the water, the dog came into the surf, growling, showing his teeth, daring me to come onto the beach.
I had to keep my eyes on the rolling trees in the surf behind me so I wouldn't break my back. I looked over at Sophie, who had returned to her paperback. She had a smug smile on her face, an "I told you so" on the edge of her lips.
"Sophie please help me," I pleaded. "The dog doesn't hate you. It hates me. Can you call him over to you?"
"No way," she said. "I didn't do anything to that dog. You did. That's between you and him."
I was stuck in the water for a long time. The dog lay down in the sand, keeping his eye on me. If I came toward shore, he got up and charged into the surf.
They talk about the hair of the dog in the United States. The phrase came to mind more than once as I dodged tree trunks and tried to reason with the dog.
Obviously, at some point, the dog trotted off or I would still be in the surf instead of in the dog house, where Sophie kept me.
I remain grateful that I have not had a drink in many years; I have not had periods of memory loss since the day I stopped drinking.
-- John Guerra

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