We sit, my husband, Jack, and I, in our old-people recliners, watching CNN and petting the fur- covered, 150 pound trunk-less elephants we call dogs at our house, contemplating another winter in the high desert of Arizona.
“You know what?” I ask my husband rhetorically.
He doesn’t answer. We’ve been married long enough that, first of all, he knows one of my lead-ins to a discussion about our lives when he hears it and, secondly, he’s trained his brain to simply filter out nine tenths of what comes floating out of my mouth.
Knowing this, with no encouragement whatsoever, I continue, “It feels like we’re just sitting here waiting to die.”
He turns his head and looks at me.
A minute later, he says, “Yeah. It does, doesn’t it?”
After breakfast, I say, “Let’s move to someplace green and warm with a beautiful blue ocean.”
This, right here, turns out to be the equivalent of saying, “I’ll bet we could strap these two giant dogs to our backs and, even at our age, we could just leap right across that rocky abyss over yonder. Don’t worry about those loose boulders. We’ll be fine.”
By noon, I’ve been on the computer and found Bocas Del Toro in the Republic of Panama, a thousand tiny islands in the southern Caribbean, right across the border from Costa Rica. Palm trees, pale, cerulean-blue water and monkeys. Too close to the equator for hurricanes. Plus, every internet site assures me, they speak English. Our new home? By early afternoon, Jack has called a realtor and set up an appointment for her to come out, take a look and tell us what we might get for our adobe brick house and five prickly desert acres.
We keep doing our research about Panama. Everything looks good. It’s affordable. The political situation is stable. Noriega’s in jail in Florida. Right? The government has set up lots of appealing incentives to encourage immigration and investment. The islands look beautiful. White sand beaches and clear blue water. The place looks like heaven. And they speak both Spanish and English. Hard to believe, but, what do we know, we’ve never been there.
We did live on the Caribbean coast of Mexico for six years. In a trailer set up in a tiny beach community called Pamuul. Gringos, all gringos in this place. Lots of Texan spoken there, but nothing but Spanish outside the community. Of course, Panama has had a huge community of Americans for years because of the canal. So I guess they learned English while our forefathers were fighting off yellow fever, building, and then managing, the waterway for a hundred years. Yeah, that makes sense. That must be how an entire, albeit tiny, Central American country became bi-lingual. The internet wouldn’t lie. Right?
Okay. So, a week later, the house is on the market and we’re booked on a reconnaissance flight to Panama for the first of November. That’s forty-seven days away. I was going to say we were making progress, but, in retrospect, moving toward our chosen goal is probably closer to the truth.
You need to know about these dogs we have, these Italian Mastiffs or Cane Corsos. Chesty and Rocca. But before I can tell you about the dogs, I have to fill you in on a little information about my husband.
Jack is a former Marine. He served in Vietnam. Well, he was there when there was a lot of shooting. Who the hell he or any other military personnel were actually serving over there is still up for debate. The point is, our government sent him and, in all ignorance and patriotism and innocence, he went. Into the quagmire. Six months in country, he disarmed a landmine the Marine Corp way. Put his fingers in his ears and stepped softly with the toe of his combat boot. Or, so he tells the story. At any rate, he died and, given the place he was leaving at that moment, he was happy to go. Except the damn corpsman dragged him out of the nice, warm, peaceful light and slam back into the pain and stink of the jungle.
So, it’s thirty years later and, except for the constant pain and raging PTSD, he’s pretty much gotten over the whole war experience thing. He’s still pissed at the corpsman, but he’s managed to live with it and make himself a good life. There’s not much to be done with the physical pain, but one of the ways he deals with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is by having service dogs. Another way he handles the residue of the trauma is to make chronically impulsive life changing decisions based on nothing more than an overriding sense of boredom. But you have, perhaps, already caught on to this.
The dogs are trained to let him know when someone is coming up behind him, to cover his back when he’s in public, to distract him when he gets anxious and to reassure him when he’s nervous. It works slick. We haven’t had to flee a grocery store leaving a full cart of food since he got the first dog. We even go to movies now. And restaurants. Of course, he still sits with his back to the wall and he persists in believing that the name of Ted Turner’s ex-wife is Jane Fucking Fonda, but, really, he’s pretty much recovered from the whole war trauma thing.