I told a big truth and a big lie all in the same day, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I was on my way home after a busy weekend at the AVMA convention in DC. Somehow, after 10+ years of this blog and a book and constant writing, I had figured out that hey maybe storytelling is kind of your thing and there might be a way to help my colleagues do the same. So I spoke about the importance of storytelling in our work, and it was great, and it reminded me of my roots here at pawcurious.
I’ve been writing so many things that I hope are useful, negotiating murky waters around heart disease and warning people about algae, and I worried in all of this that there was simply no reason to write about other, non life-threatening things. And then I worried that the time of the blog is long past, that no one cares anymore, and I worried because there were too many other priorities, and I worried about the time I wasted worrying, and all the while this space is here, waiting, because my voice retreated to a small cave and wouldn’t come out because it was too intimidated by Instagram stories.
I missed it. Maybe your meditation is running, or knitting, or watching the Great British Bake Show. Mine is here, and I’ve neglected it. The world has changed in innumerable ways, but it’s good to have a space to return home to, dust the cobwebs away, and realize it’s still standing. Maybe all my worries are true, but I guess this is my long way of saying I remembered this week that it doesn’t actually matter.
But back to the convention: It was a good show and I was in a good mood despite my usual apprehension about travel. I am known in some (all) parts as the God of Travel Chaos. It’s bad. It’s “I post my itineraries on Facebook so my friends can avoid heading out on the same flights” bad. I have experienced emergency landings, busted tires, drunk pilots, heart attacks on board, snipers, you name it. I expect terrible things as a matter of course, so it is a delightful surprise when occasionally the clouds part and I have an uneventful trip.
Reagan airport was overpacked with Sunday travelers, crammed into every seat at the gate and spilling onto the floor with their cinnabons and their airpods. I was standing off to the side, playing my usual guessing game of “heading home or going on vacation?” (super easy on a DC – Portland route) when the man next to me said, “I hope I don’t get stuck behind her.” I turned, and saw what could have been Dave Letterman’s disheveled second cousin staring apprehensively at a crying baby.
I gave my reflexive answer: “Well, now you’ve jinxed yourself!” but something in his tone was different from the usual irritable traveler rant. He said it without anger so much as fear, as though that baby’s cries might be the very last thing to push him over the brink into a major breakdown. He’d been at the bar for a bit, clearly, but it hadn’t taken the edge of his anxiety as he jittered from foot to foot.
“Do you have earphones?” I asked, and he pulled a jumbled wad of earbuds from his pocket. The left bud sat nakedly out of its foam cover, a painful prospect for a five hour flight. He shrugged, then sighed, and the part of me that normally finds an excuse to stop talking to strangers receded. Maybe it was his obvious anxiety, or his too-long wrinkled khakis pooling at his ankles, or maybe it was this:
“Wanna hear a dad joke?” he asked. “I wrote it myself.”
Sure, I said. It was a terrible joke, as they always are, but I laughed anyway. Encouraged, he told me three more, each worse than the one before, the crying baby forgotten. Pre-boarding had just begun.
When he ran out of jokes, he asked me to help him figure out when he was supposed to board, pulling a wrinkled pass out of his pocket and shaking out a few bar peanuts. “I can’t wait to get home to my dog,” he said, and that’s when I said it. The truth I never reveal at airports, not once, not ever, since 1998. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because I got burned a few too many times with exhausting conversations/counseling/consultations.
Yep. I told him I was a vet, because in that moment, he needed to hear that.
He was almost happy now, telling me all about his mini Aussie and trying to find a picture but coming up short because he couldn’t figure out how to use his phone. He gave me his email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or something like that. He had a dog loving friend now, and that made his day better. “See?” I said. “Just a few hours and you’ll be back together with Lucy.”
Then he got glum again. “Unless we crash,” he said, mouth dipping into a frown.
That’s when I did the other thing. The lie. A big, big one.
“Don’t you worry,” I said, praying silently for forgiveness. I took a deep breath. “I’m good luck on planes.”
“Really?” he said, eyes lighting up.
“Yep,” I responded. “Hundreds of flights, haven’t crashed once.” Which is technically true. I know lying is bad, but I don’t know, I feel like this might be one I get a pass on.
He asked if he could give me a hug, and I said sure. We made our way onto the plane, he in row 20, me in row 22. The baby was, you guessed it, in 21B.
She slept the entire time.
We didn’t crash, not once. And we arrived half an hour early.
I still don’t think I’m a good luck charm for anyone, not when it comes to travel, but maybe Gerald was mine. After all, he gave me the story strong enough to bring me back home.