Bern and I had arranged to swap houses with friends who lived in Berkeley, California so we were going to drive cross-country with our car sick dog.
We carried boxes and bags out of the wooden house, stacked them in the driveway, loaded them into the Volkswagen, changed our minds, unloaded and carried them back inside to exchange for other boxes and bags.
As we packed, Harpo sat rigid beside the car, as if I’d told him “Sit! Stay!” Ropey saliva hung from his mouth, puddled in the dirt. In the year we’d had him, from the day I picked him out of a littler of orange and white Brittany puppies, he’d barfed whenever he got into a car, even if it wasn’t moving.
Every single time.
We’d been to the vet. We’d tried dramamine. When that didn’t help, we tried Rescue Remedy, acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, massage, treats, conditioning techniques and everything else anyone suggested.
I couldn’t make it out of the driveway with him. After the two mile trip from our house in the Tisbury woods to Vineyard Haven, we had to clean the car. When we took him to Ithaca for Parents Weekend with Jack at Cornell, Harpo left home Friday sleek and fit and returned Sunday gaunt and lethargic. His ribs showed. His hip bones stuck out. His eyes and paws looked huge.
“I don’t know what to do.” My friend Tricia and her Brittany, Benny, had come to help us pack. We made coffee and sat on the sofa, looking out at the pond.
Benny lay on his back on Tricia’s legs, his head dangling upside down off her knees. Harpo ignored his friend to sit by the door, staring at the car. Tricia said she would care for him.
“But we’re not coming back for months!”
On the third morning of packing and unpacking, I got in the stuffed car and covered myself in a triple layer of beach towels. Bernie lifted Harpo, trembling and already sodden, onto my lap.
We backed down the driveway. We drove to the ferry. We drove from Woods Hole to Boston, from Boston to Ithaca, from Ithaca to San Francisco. We drove along the sinuous California coast roads, through mountain passes, along rivers.
I realize as I write this that there’s no real suspense in the story. The reader probably guessed a while ago that Harpo stayed with us. That we coped somehow. Maybe we found a better treatment for this car sick dog. But from the moment Harpo got into the car and we left for the ferry that morning, he was never again sick. Not once. He’d watched us pack. He’d figured it out. And to stay with us, he’d willed himself well.