Jazzy and I fell into a comfortable routine last September, leaving Davis Friday afternoon after her radiation treatment, spending the weekend at home in San Francisco, and heading back to Davis Monday morning. It reminded me a bit of when I was a kid and my family made the annual pilgrimage back East to spend summers with my grandparents. To avoid the heat, my dad wanted to leave at the crack of dawn. My mom would make a thermos of coffee while he carried me to the car, still in my footie pajamas, and gently laid me in the back seat. I would wake up just a little, all wrapped up in a Disney Aristocats blanket with my head snuggled on a pillow, and listen to my parents chitchat as my mom poured my dad a cup of coffee and then one for herself.
I’m still not a morning person, and Jazzy’s not a morning pit bull – on those Monday mornings, she would curl up in the back seat and snore all the way to Davis. She got to know the exit and distinctive curves of the road that lead to the oncology wing, and she would sit up, take a big yawn, and look out the window as we pulled into the parking lot. Even after everything she’d been through, her desire for human attention outweighed any negative feelings she had about the place – while other dogs were pulling back on their leashes and trying not to go into the building, Jazzy was dragging me inside, her big butt in full wiggle mode as she scanned the waiting room for her beloved techs.
After leaving Jazz for her first treatment of the week, I would stop at Cindy’s for breakfast, then at the Nugget market for groceries, before heading to the Stone Villa, which had become a Days Inn during our stay. Fortunately the staff stayed the same, and Roopa, the manager, always had encouraging words. “I know she’s going to be OK,” she would say in her soft, reassuring voice. “She’s strong and positive, just like you …”
Once our room was settled, I usually had about an hour before picking Jazzy up, so I would head downtown for lunch. The first time I drove to Davis on my own, I barely ventured past my motel (I inherited my mother’s dismal sense of direction), but by now I was quite the expert. One day I stopped at The Great Wall of China, which the local newspaper said had a terrific buffet that included, of all things, the “best fried chicken in town.” My fried chicken addiction in full force, I headed straight for the fresh, crisp pile of poultry parts, grabbed a few other items and settled into a booth. Kickie called to make sure we got to Davis safely (she was my father’s longtime girlfriend after my mother died, and since my father’s death three years ago we have grown closer than ever). She asked how “her grand dog” was doing and I told her that, as Jazzy entered the final treatments, the side effects were beginning to show ever so slightly in the form of burn marks around her lips. “It’s so hard,” I told her as I picked at my food, my appetite suddenly waning, “because I can’t explain to Jasmine that I’m doing this to save her life.” As Kickie and I finished our conversation, the well-dressed gentleman seated in the booth behind me got up to speak with the manager before leaving, and when I put my iPhone away, the manager approached me. All I could figure was that the gentleman had complained about me being on the phone.
“Excuse me, miss,” the manager said. “I just wanted to let you know that the man who was sitting behind you paid for your lunch.” I was visibly shocked. “He did? Why?” The manager explained, “Because he said it sounded like you were going through some tough times with your dog.”
First the flowers from the Nugget market checker on our first day, and now a complete stranger had paid for my lunch. I had dreaded spending a month in Davis initially, but as the weeks wore on, I realized I had grown to love the little town, the simple life, the kind and generous people. My attitude was changing, too – gone was the city edge, replaced by a sense of calm. I didn’t feel the need to honk at the car in front of me when the driver sat there for three seconds after the light turned green; I wasn’t irritated when the woman ahead of me in line at the market dug through her entire purse for the exact change (“I knew I had 26 cents!”); and I even got used to the heat – of course, an air-conditioned room and my daily swim made that a little easier.
The best part of each day, though, was watching Jazzy slip and slide across the shiny floor of the oncology waiting room, her tech finally letting go of her leash so she could leap into my arms and shower me with kisses as if she hadn’t seen me in years. Jazzy had loved her daily ground-squirrel chasing adventures in the big empty field adjacent to the hospital, but as the tender burns started to develop around her lips, sticking her nose (and sometimes her entire head) in the holes was no longer an option. Instead we walked over to the horse stables where she had made a new friend – a beautiful sorrel mare that I called “Chestnut.” The other horses weren’t interested, but Chestnut had obviously lived around dogs – she would come right up to us, lower her head, and nuzzle Jazzy’s cheek through the fence.
After a brief love fest, Chestnut would trot back to the hay troughs as Jazzy watched longingly. “Ready to go for a walk in the arboretum?” I’d ask, and Jazzy would smile up at me, blue eyes twinkling, as if to say, “Chestnut who?” There were ground squirrels and lizards in the arboretum, after all, and even if she couldn’t chase them and stick her head in the holes – and even if the sweltering heat had me sweating like a sumo wrestler in a sauna – we were still enjoying another lovely day in Davis.