Tales of the Great Water Bringer
Without exception, the homeless people I met in Austin were the kindest anywhere I traveled in the US during my odyssey through Covid America. I encountered a lot of desperation, especially among the homeless people as I traveled. They seemed to be more pushy, angrier–except in Austin.
There, they were perfectly fine with “no,” were not pushy, and were even kind. It surprised me.
While outside of my hotel, I was approached by an older man who asked for a cigarette–a natural occurrence outside of any hotel in a city when going for a smoke. It was the way he asked that made me say, “sure.”
Then, he sat down to talk to me while smoking his cigarette. My first thought was, “ah, crap.” Then, we started chatting and what could have been an uncomfortable situation dissipated into a nice encounter.
He began telling me about The Great Water Bringer.
“They” were stealing all of the water from the cities through great tunnels underneath. The Great Water Bringer, though, would soon purge them and return all of the water. He mentioned God, clearing up any confusion that I had that that was who he meant by The Great Water Bringer, and then he started talking about his dog.
At some point in the conversation, he listed his loves in order. The list surprised me. #3 was The Great Bringer. #2 was God. #1 was his dog.
I had always seen homeless people with dogs. In my mind, it was cruel at the worst, having to care for two with limited means. At the best, it limited survivability. The homeless man’s explanation clarified things for me. I still wondered about the one aspect, but unconditional love is a powerful force.
“Yes,” I thought to myself, “I’d beg twice as hard if I had a dog.”
He got up to leave, I gave him the rest of my pack of cigarettes and slipped him $20. Instead of leaving, he dug into his pocket and opened his palm to reveal a glass bead that he handed to me.
“I pray into this every day,” he said. “I want you to have it.”
I took it, thanked him, and he walked away.
I put the bead into my pocket thinking I just made out on the exchange.
…I never imagined I’d be in the same situation.
I first met my dog when she was named Soledad, “Loneliness” in Spanish. I was NOT getting involved. I had my own issues. Soledad was being kept in a yard next door to my apartment building, behind a fence, and she would put on a vicious beast act if you approached. As soon as you put your hand through the fence, as I was told to do, she would go on her back and show her belly. She might act vicious, but she loved being loved.
I had to bend some of the wire to fit more of my arm through so I could pet more of her and pet her properly.
A neighbor began bringing her food and water. Her owner was a young kid that was forgetting things like that. I started helping. Soledad also had no shade, so we erected a tarp.
I was not getting involved! I was only helping out. What’s a bag of dog food? I pass her on my walks so bringing a bottle of water to replenish her bowl was no big deal.
Then, my neighbor said she spoke to the kid, about how Soledad needed to be taken to the vet. She needed regular care. The kid did love her and seemed open to it. My neighbor then suggested I take her.
Are you kidding me? It would be the worst idea I had had in a long time. A dog? Yes, I was trying to stay in Tijuana, but the chances were looking slim. I would have to be back on the road soon. Might stay on the road if I could. A dog would complicate that. I only have a small apartment. I was broke.
The kid, Daniel, for all that he was neglecting her, loved the dog. He would never give her up. Soledad loved him, jumping four to five feet high into his arms when he did show up. What would it hurt to say I would think about it?
It was about four days after that I was taking Soledad to my apartment and making a vet appointment. Aye, a small apartment and food and water every day was far better than what she had. I was just going to help out. Temporary. I offered the kid help to get the yard cleaned up and erect a shelter. The sun was bad enough, but cold season was coming up. Daniel agreed.
I did not like the name, Soledad. The dog wasn’t lonely anymore and I wasn’t either. Destroyer came to mind as she had a fondness for my slippers, but I decided on “Dani,” in remembrance of love, compassion and generosity–the kid did do as best as he could, saved her from abuse and took her off the streets, so I thought it was a good tribute. I just couldn’t tell him. Apparently, there is something bad about naming an animal after a person in Mexico.
After a few times that I had “Dani” out and she was jumping into his arms, he started ignoring me and her.
I had a dog.
It was only temporary! My neighbor, Mexican and fluent in Spanish, facilitated the rescue and helped me take Dani to the vet. I explained my circumstances. She recommended a good no kill shelter in San Diego where Dani could find a good home. A stable home. Dani would need all of her shots first, and certification from the vet to get her across the border.
She was about 1 1/2 years old and was in okay health. She needed some good food, her nails clipped, a medication for worms, a medicated soap for her skin, and some TLC. She was okay with the medication, tolerated the baths, but was very appreciative of the TLC and showed tons of it in return.
I started thinking…No! This was only temporary. I said this as I made my way to the pet store and spent money I did not have on toys and training aids.
Only about 35 pounds, Dani is a small dog but very strong. Has to be part pit bull. She was a sweetheart inside the apartment, but put on a vicious beast act if she was startled outside or if someone came too close to me. Regular walks outside began to transform her inside the complex. She started making friends. A few.
After the last vet visit, with her certification to go to San Diego, my neighbor, who helped with everything and suggested the shelter, began ignoring me. It was sudden and complete. She would not even reply to my hello’s. I have no idea why.
Then, I broke my ankle.
I had Dani out for our very early morning walk. There was a light, misty rain. It was the first time it rained here in Tijuana. We were coming home, down a steep hill, and I missed the spot where the sidewalk went from concrete to tile. It was like ice, and I came down hard, my right foot twisting underneath me.
A few people were out. They rushed to help me. Dani would not allow them to get near and I was about to pass out from the pain. They finally tossed me a walking stick.
Dani and I made our way back to the apartment complex. It took about an hour to make it the three blocks. I wasn’t thinking. It was too early to call anybody and there were no cabs out. I have been through some painful situations in my life. That three-block walk was the worst, and I almost gave up a few times.
I made it. One of Dani’s friends took her to the apartment and another, both security guards, just about carried me to my apartment.
X-rays would reveal I had fractured my ankle and would need a cast for a minimum of six weeks, possibly eight, but no surgery. Rehab could take a few weeks after that.
Dani and I needed to figure out a new routine. I needed to start begging for money.
I had come to Tijuana for a job, but it had not worked out. It made sense to me to start my job search here. I had savings but they were limited. What would last a month in the US can last 3-4 months here. I also liked it here so began hunting for a remote position.
My time was up. I had enough money to make it through September and then drive back to Philadelphia where I had a temporary job waiting for me. Things had not worked out here with the career change, but I was not giving up. I would begin to rebuild in Philly, start earning an income, and continue work on my book, podcast and hunt for a position in health communications.
I am not going anywhere for a while. With the extra medical expenses, I would be out of money by the end of the month.
Very good at offering help, excellent at giving it, I give of myself, my time and my money when I do not have it to give. Asking for help is difficult. Accepting it even more so. If given the choice between accepting help and making that walk back to my apartment on a broken ankle and a half trained dog, I would walk.
I waited, hoping it was not broken, just a bad sprain like last time. I ordered the boot, crutches and stayed off the ankle as it swelled up and everybody was telling me to go to the doctor. If I could just hold out…
The crutches came a few days later, I got the immediate appointment at the clinic, saw that I had a broken ankle, and created a fundraiser.
It is not about pride. Nothing to do with it. It is about being self-sufficient and not depending on anybody. Depending on people is what gets me in trouble. Expect nothing of others and never be disappointed. I think that being disappointed is one of the things that had pushed me so far into the depression.
When you are told by your wife, who you helped fulfill her and her daughter’s ambitions, “why should I help a failing business” when you ask for extra help, it does things to you. –Besides asking for a divorce after her second vacation.
There were other, lesser encounters like that. When I was trying to rebuild, I reached out to a professional contact who had just publicly praised me, thanking me for helping him save his lab. I wasn’t even asking for money. I was only asking for 60-day terms on a few hundred dollars per month. I was told I was too much of a risk.
A few people did help me, but it hurt me to ask and accept. It is like swinging a 200-pound rucksack onto my back.
I did not have any choice but to start begging. None.
It began here in Tijuana. I have spoken before about the kindness and generosity of these people. That spirit exploded like pouring gasoline on a bonfire when they saw me hurt and in trouble. I began receiving food and extra help, yelled at for doing anything, and offers to do more. They want me to sit and not do anything. I have to explain that I need to be on my crutches from time to time so might as well do something or another for myself. They glare at me.
Friends began responding to the posted fundraiser. It quickly grew to the point where I could make rent next month.
The guilt began to weigh on me even more. That 200-pound weight turned into 300. With a bad ankle.
One of the reasons why I hate asking for money is that it makes me feel as if every penny has to go towards the reason the money was requested. My fundraiser was for living and medical expenses while I healed. I feel awful spending money on dog food or puppy pads, on the extra rolls of paper towels as Dani finds her new routine.
The first couple months I was here, I think I went through a roll or two of paper towels. With Dani, I was going through a roll every couple days.
I don’t know if she knew or not, but my cousin, Aime, a highly experienced vet tech who had been offering a stream of training advice, took away the guilt a couple days ago. She sent me money through Venmo, a “gift” to only be used for Dani.
It does not make sense. Every logical part of my brain is screaming at me. Dani would be better off at the shelter: they would walk her and find her a good home. I could heal easier without the bumps, jumps and cleaning. The financial burden would be less and finding a home far easier. Traveling would be easier as well. It is for the best of both of us.
Dani can be a pain in the ass. She stopped people from helping me! She is so strong that restraining her can be difficult for me which limits my options of others who can walk her, not that she’ll walk for just anybody. She is very picky over who she will make friends with and acts like a vicious beast with people she does not know.
The other day, when I took my first shower, I had to leave the shower door open to keep the casted leg out. I had given Dani a few baths in there and she tolerates it at best. She hates the water falling on her. While I was taking my shower, she came in with me and whined and licked the entire time.
She is a great cuddler and is careful of my leg when she is not excited. She rests between my legs or on my chest while I watch television.
A bed hog, she doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, that the right side is mine and the left side is hers. After I move her, though, and settle myself, she will wiggle her way underneath the blankets and find her spot for the night.
It all makes as much sense, or maybe even less, than a homeless person with a dog.
A line from a movie would pop into my head a lot when the depression hit, and I felt alone in my house or apartment over the years. My cat, Pretty, was alive then. Whether I was living with my family or had friends I could call day or night, it was Pretty that I would look at every once in a while, and say the line from For the Love of the Game: “It’s you and me kid. It’s you and me.”
I roll into my apartment in my office chair, my makeshift wheelchair and knee scooter. Dani lies on the sofa and looks up at me, softly, waiting for me to roll over to her to pet her and then she’ll crawl into my lap.
“It’s you and me, kid,” I tell her. “It’s you and me.”
Yeah, I am going to beg a little bit harder. I am going to work harder on the projects that might eventually produce a revenue. I am going to be a little better because I have unconditional love in my life.
It is worth holding onto.
It might not be logical, but it does make sense.