Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Like A Hitchhiker

Che (rhymes with Ray) was ninety-eight in people years when he died. Near the end, he'd just topple over; legs spreading out like he was on an icy pond. 
Claire said, "More rugs might help."
Jesse said, "Che could wear those no-skid socks, Mom."

I found Che at a Budget Motel on a December morning many years ago. It was a Saturday. I was on my way to a funeral. My friend, Donna was working the front desk, moonlighting to pay off student loans. I stopped by, just for a minute, to tell her about Dawn, my seventeen year old student. Dawn and two other girls were racing a guy in another car. They hit a telephone pole. All three girls died.

Dawn was a loud, gum-chewing girl with big hair. She'd come into my remedial math class, throw her arms around my shoulders and say,"How ya doing today, Ms. J?" 
I wasn't the best fit for teaching a high school math class, remedial or otherwise. But the kids and I, we got along. I like to think I was put in that class for other reasons besides algebra.

I saw Che sitting in the corner, behind the front desk. He was a skinny, overgrown puppy, velvety black fur, chocolate eyes.
"He doesn't belong to anyone. They call him Buck."Donna said.
"He's a stray. I think some construction guy is going to take him back to Georgia when he's done with the job he's on."
"But if you want him..." she said, nodding to the dog.

I slipped my red scarf through his collar and walked out into the cold air. Thin snowflakes were falling. The dog jumped up front and we rode in silence, crossing the river into New Jersey. He was like a hitchhiker, all quiet and looking out the window.

At the church, I left him in the car. The pews were crowded with students and teachers from school. I could see Dawn, down in front, laid out in her casket like Sleeping Beauty. Her blonde hair spread out over the red satin. Pink cheeks, ruby lips. I kept thinking about the dog in the car. I walked up to Dawn's mother and told her how sorry I was, how much fun Dawn had been, how awful this must be. 
She took my hand, looked me in the eye and said," Dawn is home with Jesus."
Her eyes were shining. 

Che was in the front seat when I came out. It was snowing harder now. The sky, a plum purple. I opened the door to let him out. He licked my hand. We walked behind the church. He peed three times and then we drove home. 

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