“Is everything okay?” Jack asked as I paused three steps past the front door. It was dusk. I had bounded up the steps from the parking lot of his Bed and Breakfast in O’Fallon, Missouri. The nightly news buzzed in the background from the three big screen TVs in the living room and bar. The scent of grilled meat hung in the air. Three dogs sat hopeful at ends of the dining table. On the honeywood walls upwards of thirty geese, ducks, deer and fish hung in their permanent poses. When I arrived a few hour prior, I had wondered what it would be like to be a taxidermist. What an artful way to handle death, I’d thought.
With clutched toes at the entryway, I stared at Jack. On the other side of the long counter, he held a dish in his hand from the hamburgers and sausages he’d made for us not long before. Four of the guests, visitors like me for the Great American Eclipse, put down their utensils at the ten foot dining table.
I clenched my car keys tighter and said, “Yes, I just need some help.” It has been my habit for me to say yes, always yes, everything is okay. I hate asking for help. I hate admitting when things aren’t okay.
But I’ve found it can be easier to tell a stranger you need help than ask someone you care about, over and over again. Even though I know better, I feel in any given relationship you only get so many “help” cards to play. I always feel like I have more cards I need to play than I actually do. I try not to pull them out unless it’s urgent. But this was urgent.
The night before I had woken in Chicago from a nightmare about arriving at the end of my journey, only to find my little dog Hoopla near death. I have had anxiety dreams like this all my life, but you can’t control what happens in the dreamtime. I have also had psychic dreams about major events in life: I dreamt about 9/11, about a car crash I had in college, and my father’s death. But I’m not always clear which dreams are prophetic, and which are just anxiety.
So there I was, looking down the long table at my dinner-mates, patiently frantic. All eyes were on me; it was embarrassing.
“Can I just get a few people to help me push my car?” I asked.
Maybe twenty minutes before I was sitting around the same table. Another guest, Carrie leaned over and told me there was a rainbow outside. Her husband Brian was across the gravel path at the lake with their Boxer. He texted her to come outside and see it. Carrie and I had been chatting about our journeys and where we were going to watch the solar eclipse. But after that comment, I decided it was time to step outside for Hoopla’s evening walk. A rainbow was surely promising.
I snapped Hoopla into her leash, and walked down to the Lake with Carrie. Her dog Chelsea was diving in and out of the water, swimming like a champ. His short legs and thick torso were perfect for water. Hoopla took an interest, and when I walked to the edge, I thought I might just take off her leash. The drive from Chicago had taken seven hours, and she had sat in the backseat bed like a trooper. She needed to play, and here was a playmate. Where was she going to go? We were two miles from the highway, and the property was a huge hunting site of forest, prairie, and lake. Why not?
When I unclicked her leash, she was ecstatic. She pranced down to the shoreline and barked at Chelsea. I took a deep breath into this pastoral wonderland. In all these amazing places, I’ve kept Hoopla six feet from me on her leash. She gets the recall commands, turns her head, and often runs when I shout “come!” But her little huntress desires are hard to beast. If there’s a bird, a squirrel, or a rat, she’s off. She always comes back, but she doesn’t listen when there’s something to catch. She’s can’t handle the freedom she wants, but she’s still a happier dog when she can run at her own pace. And here she was, doing exactly that.
As Hoopla rolled her nose along the shore like a dust-buster, I stood on the shoreline relishing the company. Brian and I walked up to the ferry-like motorboat and mused about a life where this was your front yard. He told me he and his family planned to stay the next night too. I wondered about changing my plans and swimming here post-eclipse. After spending the few days in Minneapolis uncomfortably lonely in the company of others, and my birthday solo in a quiet Iowa city, and I appreciated this. I feel too old to stay in Hostels, I’m cranky and private. But when you travel solo, it’s not always easy to find kindred spirits. This was the first time since Georgia I found myself in a group of open minded travelers. We were all here to witness an astronomical miracle.
When a group of guests pulled out of the parking lot to drive back to town, I was caught off guard by Hoopla’s redirection. She bolted away from Chelsea, the lake, and me. I’ve seen her do this once before when we stayed in a gated complex in Los Vegas. That time, the car slowed, and I got her to come back to me with a loud shout and a dog treat. The women on the gravel road noticed Hoopla, and slowed down. Again, when the car stopped, I got her to come my way with a visible dog treat. But as she chewed it from my hand, the guests gassed their car to drive to the highway. I didn’t even have time to grab Hoopla before she was off again. The car sped from 15 to 20mph, and so did my little dog. She moved like a tiny cheetah, and kept pace like tin cans jangling behind the painted car of newlyweds.
My nightmare came to mind. I had a flash of dog carcass, an embalmed poodle head on the side of a wall. I envisioned ending my trip the next day. And I moved.
With my sorry-ass bad-knees pace I ran after, shouting “Come Hoopla, come!” I waved my treats in the air, and even threw some after her. She was impervious. As the car turned from the property’s gravel driveway onto the public road towards the highway, she followed. “Hoopla!” I shouted. At nothing but dust. She was gone, and I my panic escalated. Brian asked if my keys were handy, and I said yes. I always say yes. He told me he’d go down the street on foot, and so I went back to get my keys and drive after her.
Back in my room, I couldn’t find my keys. I couldn’t focus on anything. My mind was hurtling worst case scenarios at me. It was only two lanes, but a mile or so up from the property was a main artery. Were they in my purse? If my dog ran after one car, what would she do with many cars? Maybe I threw them on the bed? How many dogs die getting run over by cars? Were they in the bathroom? What would be the point of this spiritual journey if I lost my K-9 copilot? Why did I have a dream about her getting hurt last night? Jacket pocket, the last place I checked.
I walked past Jack, past the guests still eating dinner, and down to my car. In the driver’s seat, I backed up for my three point turn, and heard a loud thud. Then I couldn’t pull forward. I gunned the gas, and smoke rose up behind me. Fuck. Seriously?
The lot was on a hill, and around the outside were breaker bumps, what my family calls “road tits.” I was stuck. I bounded back into the B&B, and that was when Jack asked if I needed help. Yes. I explained the situation, and Jack leaned in intently.
“You’re going to need more than a few people pushing your car to get out of that pickle, “ he said. “I’ll help you drive after your dog, but let’s wait to take care of your car.” Jack has two dogs, Lexie and Snowbell. As a hunter, he prizes himself on hosting hunters, families and travelers with dogs.
I walked back outside, and everyone else followed to see what I had done. Who does this? Me. Another guest, Homa, came out a second later, and told me to get into her car. Jack, she informed me was getting his truck to tow me over the curb. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about my car right then, so I climbed into her 4runner and we headed down the long driveway towards highway 79.
And then, before we even reached the end of the driveway, Hoopla turned the corner, and hurtling towards us. Homa stopped the car, and I got out to catch her. Now I had to deal with the giant ordeal of my car. But I didn’t care, my dirty misbehaving anxiety-provoking anxiety dog was tight in my grip. She was wet, happy, covered in mud from the lake. It took everything in me not to cry. I clicked her into her leash, and began walking towards the B&B. Homa asked if I was okay, and yes, I said, yes. And I was.
She went to go get Brian, and I walked back. At the parking lot, I found Devin, Carrie & Brian’s fifteen-year-old son, hunched next to Jack by the hood of my car. I stood for a second at the bottom of the hill with Carrie, and Homa’s sister Nida. Carrie said the men wanted to be men. If that means they want to help, I thought, great. But at the bottom of the hill, we agreed it would be best to just push the car. I had backed over a curb like you’d find in any grocery store parking lot between two opposite spots. I stood with the women watching the boys prod at the front of my car. I asked Carrie to hold Hoopla’s leash so I could go investigate. Jack and Devon couldn’t find a great place to attach the tow line to my Mazda 3. Jack said he found one spot, but it might be plastic under the engine. He asked if I was okay with it. I just didn’t know.
About then Brian and Homa arrived, and Brian hopped into the mix. He told us he is as a firefighter, and I felt like this would be over in no time. He is used to this kind of thing. Great. With the tow-line attached, we all agreed on neutral, if it didn’t work, Brian said, we could push it. Yep. He asked if I wanted to drive, or if I wanted him to. I gave him the keys. He hopped in the driver’s seat, and I watched. With the door open, Brian shouted, “I’m in neutral.” The next second, Jack pulled slowly, and the line snapped off my car.
At that, Brian and I agreed, manpower – or as it turned out – womanpower. Jack moved his truck out of the way, and Brian stayed in the driver’s seat. Devin took Hoopla’s leash. Homa, Nida, Carrie and I all stood at the back of the car, ready to lift. Brian shouted “I’m in 1st” and we all heaved. With a giant harrumph, the car was clear. Brian pulled into the spot I had backed out of twenty minutes prior. And we all clapped.
I came down to St. Louis to watch the solar eclipse. I chose this place to stay because it was gorgeous. I had no idea I would be surrounded by so many helpful people. In envisioning my copilot’s end, I confronted my paranoia about being too much work, too frantic. After a shower and a shot of bourbon, I sat around the fire later with the same guests. Homa offered my a pair of eclipse glasses as she’d heard I had none. Carrie invited me to join her family at the Chesterfield Amphitheater the next day. I don’t know where I picked it up, but I have always felt like I should be able to handle everything on my own. I simply can’t. I don’t want to anymore. Asking for help is not admitting insufficiency, but admitting you are part of a collaborative human organism. A clear gift of this eclipse, and this journey altogether, is learning how to be frail and brave at once. People want to help, I’m learning to let them.