In the summer of 1999, Jules and Demetria and I were on a long road trip through the Louisiana and Texas. I had never been to the South before and I found it quite mysterious. I had never experienced humidity before, for one thing. And the bugs down there are mind-blowing. I remember being astonished by the number and size of the bugs I saw, but mostly I was amazed by the sound. We have crickets in Utah and they sing quietly on warm nights. The crickets they have in the South are something else, entirely. I honestly don’t know how anyone in Texas gets a good night’s sleep in the summer.
We arrived at Juliane’s Dad’s place in Beaumont, Texas, and decided to go out and soak our feet and legs in the pool. My legs were covered in large and swollen mosquito bites and I was really suffering, so it sounded like a great idea. That is, until Juliane handed me a net on a long pole and told me it was to scoop the frogs out of the pool.
“I’m from the desert.” I told her, looking down at the net in my hands. “We don’t scoop frogs in the desert. I’m going to need more instructions.”
A few flung frogs later, we were sitting on the edge of the swimming pool cooling our feet and sipping beer. After a little while, Jules hopped up to let the dogs out. That was another thing about that trip. Everyone we stayed with had dogs. Big dogs. I grew up in a house with cats and staying with dogs was completely new to me. The Beaumont dogs were especially frenetic. They whipped me with their tails and they licked me in the face. I thought they were going to push me into the pool a couple of times.
After a while, I had to ask Jules to pull them off of me. She tugged them toward her by their collars and let them lick her face.
“Good dog,” she said. “That’s my good boy.”
They settled down and we got back to our conversation. It was some point after that when I felt a hard little raised speck on my arm. It was dark and I couldn’t really see it, but I knew what it was.
“Oh shit! I have a tick!”
“Are you sure?” Jules asked.
“Look, it’s here on my arm. Can you see it?”
“Oh yeah… what is that?”
“Fuck fuck fuck. I’m going to get Lyme disease. This is what I get for running around barefoot in Texas!”
“What does that have to do with anything? It’s on your arm. Let’s go inside and get a better look…”
Juliane’s father and step mother are both doctors, but they had gone out for the evening. I was sitting on a stool in their kitchen and we were trying to figure out what to do. Then I remembered something that my dad told me.
“My dad said that when he was working at Outward Bound, they used to find ticks. And he they would light a match, blow it out, and burn the tick with the tip, but they found that it worked better to pour cheap wine on them.”
“Really?” Demetria sounded skeptical.
“Yeah. Because if you burn them, you might kill them. And then, because they have burrowed in, you still have to dig their heads out. But if you can get them to back out, that’s the best way. And Dad said that he would put cheap booze on them and then they would ‘back out happy.’”
“We can try it,” Jules said. “Of course, my dad doesn’t buy cheap wine. So we might want to keep this hush hush…”
Jules found a shot glass and set it on the counter. Then she left the kitchen to go to the wine cellar and returned with a bottle of white wine in a plain and expensive looking European label. We opened the bottle and poured a shot of wine. Then Deme flipped it over quickly and held it against my arm. We all watched intently to see what would happen next.
The tick didn’t move.
“Shit. Do you think it’s dead already?”
“I don’t know. Give it a minute.”
We sat in silence for another minute or two. And then something strange did happen. The little thing seemed to change shape a slightly and drift away from my skin.
“What the hell?”
Demetria lowered the shot glass and I inspected the tick, which was no longer as hard as an exoskeleton should be. I was now able to pull it from the arm hair it was sticking to.
“Um, guys? I’m sorry. That was a false alarm. It isn’t a tick.”
“What is it, then?”
“I think it’s a dog booger.”
“Shut up. You just made me pour sixty dollars of wine on a dog booger?!”
“I said I was sorry!”
Of course, at that point, there was nothing to do but drink the rest of the wine. I don’t actually remember drinking it, but we must have. I do remember swearing them to secrecy because I was so embarrassed and just a little bit terrified of Juliane’s dad. He was even more intense than the dogs – though in a different way, obviously. But if he noticed that the bottle was missing, he didn’t say anything.
I didn’t get comfortable around dogs until after I got Wensley, and that was many years after that trip. It’s funny to me to remember this, because now I’m the girl who always stops to pet the dogs. Matt was teasing me a little while ago about my dog love. “Uh oh, all conversation must stop – Rachel saw a dog!” It’s true, I’m a complete dog dork, and I’ve interrupted many perfectly good stories with my outbursts. But in my defense, there was a dog.