I am hiking a trail in the North Floridian woods. My dog is beside me. The longleaf pines go on for miles. I am here to walk my dog, take in the fresh air, and, God-willing, pull a hamstring.
The weather is cool and dry. The sky is so clear you can touch it.
A young couple is ahead of me. I have been trailing them for a mile and I have formed some opinions about them.
For one: they are in love, I can tell by the way they hold hands and lean onto each other.
Second: they are in fantastic shape—I have been trying to keep up with them and I am exhausted.
My dog and I pass a swamp. There is a sign beside it that reads: “Beware of alligators.”
I pause to observe. After a few minutes, I see something in the water. It’s a dark shape that sort of looks like a shiny log.
We keep walking.
Gators don’t scare me. Once, I lived in an apartment that had a pond behind it—actually, it was more of a drainage ditch. There was a hand-painted warning sign next to it that read:
“YALL MEMBER BOUT THE GATORS.”
Rumors claimed that a gator once crawled out of the pond and ate a Yorkshire Terrier named Izzy. Everyone in the apartments retold this horrific story, but nobody knew if it were true.
Until one day, when my uncle came to visit. I came home one evening to find him out back, sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, holding a fishing rod with a raw chicken breast hooked on the end.
“Are you outta your mind?” I said.
“Ssshhh,” he said. “I wanna see if there’s really a gator out here.”
There was. After an hour of tempting fate, the thing came crawling out of the water faster than a Chevy Impala.
My uncle dropped his pole and scaled the gutter pipe all the way to the third-floor balcony that belonged to elderly Miss Johansen.
Miss Johansen happened to be standing on her balcony in hair curlers, smoking a Winston.
“Hey, big boy,” she said to my uncle. “Are you just gonna stand there, or are you gonna buy me a drink?”
And they lived happily ever after.
Anyway, my dog and I hike ahead until we see the young couple again, they stand so close together they look like one person with four legs.
When the girl sees my dog she becomes excited. She turns around and heads straight for us. People cannot resist Thelma Lou. Many have tried; most have failed.
“Oh, look!” says the girl. “A dog!”
Soon, their hands are all over Thelma Lou, who is getting a full-body massage, free of charge.
And I learn a little about them. They are newlyweds. They just met in February, and were married after only six months dating.
I ask why the quick engagement.
They exchange a look.
“Well,” she says, “I have a kinda… A problem…”
“She was sick,” her husband interjects. “We didn’t think she was gonna…”
“We wanted live to the fullest,” she says.
Their words hang in the air.
“You know,” he goes on, “we figured: why wait to get married, right? You never know about tomorrow.”
No, I guess you don’t.
They ask about my dog, and it’s nice to have a change of subject. I tell them a little about what daily life is like with a bloodhound.
It’s not for the faint of heart. Yesterday, my dog destroyed a sofa, stole a rack of ribs from my neighbor’s grill, and peed on a pile of clean laundry I’ve been meaning to fold for a few months.
This makes them laugh. I enjoy seeing them laugh. So, I go for two and tell them the story about my uncle, a gator, and an elderly temptress in hair curlers.
Finally, the girl says to her husband, “I want a bloodhound.” And she sounds resolute when she says it.
“I’ll start looking tomorrow,” her husband says.
These people don’t waste time.
Before they leave, they give Thelma Lou a few more belly rubs. The girl hugs the oversized bloodhound with her eyes closed.
She tells me, “The doctor told me I was in remission this week, and it was like getting a second chance at life. I think I just really needed to pet a dog today.”
I could ask more questions, but it’s none of my business. I shake their hands. They disappear on a long and winding trail.
Life is short. I sincerely hope you enjoy every minute of yours.
Just watch out for gators.