I spoke with a licensed mental health professional over the phone, who asked me one question to determine if my dog, Bucky, was eligible for an emotional support certification.
“Tell me why you scheduled this call?” the doctor asked.
“Well, Doc, I moved across the country, and everything was amazing,” I said. “Then my life went to shit. Everything that could go wrong, did. And then some. I just need to get home for the holidays. It’s been a year from Hell. The only things keeping me sane is the thought of Jersey for Christmas and my dog. He reminds me to get out of bed. He takes care of me more than I take care of him. I’d take him everywhere if I could.”
It wasn’t a lie.
Bucky wouldn’t survive as luggage on a flight. That’s what they do to dogs. Toss them in with the luggage. Not inhumane at all. Between the loud sounds, isolation, and air pressure, Bucky would certainly have a heart attack. I mean, the guy lost his composure at the sound of a plastic bag.
“You’re not suicidal?” the doctor asked.
“Not at the moment,” I said.
But I also had no one who could watch Bucky in California for the holidays.
The doctor followed-up with a few more questions, mostly to check my mental stability, and then he gave me information on free mental health services. He also approved Bucky for the emotional support certification.
All it cost me was two hundred bucks, an hour of my time, and my Second Amendment rights.
Three weeks later, Bucky and I arrived at the airport.
We had no issues in the car.
Zero waiting in the screening line.
Not one problem going through security.
My concern was how Bucky would react to being trapped in a flying aluminum tube.
We got to the terminal early, so Bucky and I split some beef jerky.
He laid down on the floor, exhausted from spending the entire day at the beach.
Hopefully, the little guy would be too tired to notice he was flying.
At least, that was my plan.
Bucky and I were the last ones to join the boarding line.
He let out a little yelp when we entered the tunnel before the plane.
The pup couldn’t stand enclosed spaces.
When I was sober, I couldn’t either.
The tunnel walls connecting the terminal to the airplane collapsed around us.
Bucky’s hair stood up on his back.
I wrapped his leash around my wrist, pulling him closer.
Maybe I ate too many edibles.
A middle-aged woman pointed at Bucky. “What’s it for?”
She took off her glasses as she inspected us like we were criminals.
I gripped the leash tighter, pretending I didn’t hear her.
“What do you have it for?”
It’s illegal to ask someone why they have an emotional support animal.
“Ahem,” the woman said.
Some people standing in front of us halted and turned around to witness the drama. Something new. Something exciting. Are we safe? What’s going to happen? Are the cops going to come? Everyone wants a fun holiday travel story to tell.
I removed my headphones. “Sometimes I get sad. He helps.”
She wasn’t worth the fight.
“Life isn’t that hard.” The woman turned her back. “Guy needs a dog because he’s sad. What’s this country coming to?”
I clenched my fist.
Bucky let out a tiny growl.
I kneeled down to calm him down.
He didn’t relax.
As soon as we boarded the plane, Bucky spread his legs and paws out as far as he could, refusing to budge. I stepped around Bucky and used both hands to pull him down the aisle.
“It’s his first time,” I told our disapproving fellow passengers, watching from their seats.
Bucky trotted along behind me for a few rows before he planted himself.
My shoulder jerked back.
Bucky attacked the leash.
Shaking it back and forth.
I wrapped the leash around my wrist and yanked him towards the back of the plane.
He released his grip and lunged ahead.
Good thing we had only fifteen more rows to go.
When we arrived at our row, the two men in the middle and aisle seats stood up and waddled to the aisle behind our seats. I lifted Bucky up, to his dismay, and squeezed down the row and into our seat. We didn’t fit. The two men returned to their seats. Bucky twisted and turned to see the face of the stranger next to him. Bucky whined in his face. He stomped his paws. His cries intensified.
“It’s all right, bud,” I said.
I massaged his head, but Bucky whined louder.
He tried to duck under my arms and face the window.
I held him as tight as I could.
“Is that dog whining?” the woman in front of me asked.
“Nah, it’s me,” I said. “I hate flying.”
“Is she okay?” a nearby passenger asked.
I hated when people assumed the gender of my dog.
There’s no way I could fly like this.
Every passenger would murder me before we landed.
And rightfully so.
“I need to take him out,” I told the men sitting next to me.
We weren’t flying to Jersey.
Dogs weren’t meant to fly.
I wouldn’t be coming home for the holidays.
The two men in my row slid out of their seats.
I picked Bucky up and placed him back in the aisle.
My head was down as we walked towards the exit.
A walk of shame.
Without the satisfaction.
“I think your dog farted,” I heard a woman say as we walked down the aisle.
I turned around.
The bitch from the line.
“I don’t smell anything,” I said.
She sniffed the air just as Bucky let out another nervous fart.
I smiled for half a second.
As Bucky and I were about to step off the plane, a flight attendant stopped us.
“Not flying with us tonight?” she asked.
“He’s freaking out. We’re crammed in that seat. I’m going to buy two seats for the next flight to give him more space.”
She placed her hand in front of me.
“We’ve got one passenger in the last row of the plane, but we can move him. You two can have the three seats in the back row. All to yourself.”
A Christmas miracle.
The flight attendant made her way to the back of the plane.
I smiled as I waited in the front.
Holding up takeoff.
Dog on the flight.
And getting special treatment.
It felt first class to me.
A relief came over me.
But it didn’t last long.
When the flight attendant came back, Bucky and I followed her to the last row.
Once again, I dragged Bucky all the way down the aisle.
I threw a blanket across our seats and placed him on top.
Bucky whined as he paced in circles on the seats.
At least he had more room to panic.
As soon as the plane moved, Bucky barked.
Not a loud one.
The flight attendants thought it was cute.
But I was the asshole with the whimpering dog on a red-eye flight.
Bucky put his head down.
His ass letting out terrified gas with each breath, stinking up the joint.
Ever been around when a nervous dog unleashes a fart?
It’s a word that rarely fits.
But does here.
I stroked Bucky’s head along his back to his ass.
I pulled beef jerky from my carry-on bag and fed it to Bucky.
Rubbed his belly.
He let out a constant dull whine.
Which was always accompanied by a fart.
His chest pounded.
Bucky is going to have a heart attack.
I’m going to kill my dog for Christmas.
Bucky sprang toward the aisle.
I caught him by his neck.
He squirmed, trying to escape my grip.
It was taking a good amount of my strength to hold him back.
The whining intensified.
The flight attendant came back to pet Bucky.
He stopped slithering as she pet him.
Bucky liked blondes too.
“He’s so cute!” she said.
Then something called her to the front of the plane.
As soon as she left, Bucky’s whine returned.
He started trying harder to escape my grip.
“Can I try to pet him? I know it’s weird, but I’m great with animals.”
A fit, attractive man in his mid-forties leaned across the aisle toward Bucky. There was a young, attractive woman wearing a sleep mask passed out next to him.
“Sure,” I said.
I was running out of beef jerky.
I was open to all suggestions to calm the pup.
He reached across the aisle and started petting Bucky.
“I’m Wyatt. This is Bucky.”
He scratched Bucky’s head rhythmically.
Bucky leaned into John across the aisle.
He rubbed his face on John’s arm.
“As a kid, I had pet birds, chipmunks, snakes, and squirrels. Anything and everything. Animals just respond to me.”
Bucky fell asleep.
John told boring tales of his pet animals.
I did my best to listen and stay engaged, but I had no interest in Happy the fucking squirrel.
Bucky eventually fell asleep.
So, I kept listening to John.
And he enjoyed talking.
“You’re not from California then?” John asked.
“I can’t remember being born,” I said. “I refuse to rule it out.”
“A runaway,” he said. “I left home thirty years ago. Never went back.”
John told me about his business, and how sales is the profession that always has customers.
He went on and on.
I had to listen.
“You seem like a spiritual guy,” John said after the flight’s last call for food and drinks.
“Only when I need something.”
He gave me a half-hour speech about religion, his views, and his belief in reincarnation.
I nodded along.
Just keep my dog asleep and alive, John.
I’ll listen to you confess murders and not say a word.
“My son was working on a project on Abe Lincoln. And he reads me the Gettysburg Address. And . . . I’m telling you, I remember giving that speech. There’s so many little things I remember about that speech.”
“What are you on?” I paused to see if anyone was listening. “I want some.”
John pointed to the open-mouthed woman sprawled out in the seat next to him. “She hates flying more than me. She took a shitload of valium. I get it on the way back. We brought our kids. We can’t both pass out.”
Loved to see it.
“I know it’s crazy, but I used to have these dreams,” John said. “I remembered being him.”
“Yeah. It’s the strangest thing. I had them as long as I can remember.” He pointed at his wife. “She told me I should see someone, like a spiritual guide or something. I started with a medium. I went and saw this shaman in Asia to make sense of it all.”
“What did they do?”
“Well, I’m not supposed to talk about it. What’s the first rule of fight club? Ha. Kidding. I had to drink some special tree root and go into one of those sauna huts. They did this weird ritual. It was wild. I felt sick at first. The sickest I ever felt.”
I shook my head. “What did it do?”
“The shaman concluded I’ve lived many lives, and believes I have some cosmic spirit connection to our sixteenth president.”
“Wow. That’s crazy.”
I’m no history buff, but I was pretty sure that he wasn’t Lincoln.
But not wanting Bucky to die, I continued. “What do you remember?”
Like a bullet to the back of the head, perhaps?
“Just snippets. They come and go. I dream about it sometimes. I need to buy a journal to write this stuff down.”
“Be careful, that’s dangerous,” I said.
“I always belted the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school. I was so proud. Like I had a hand in creating it.”
Whatever you say, Abe.
John must have sensed my boredom. “This is actually my second wife.”
“Got sick of Mary Todd’s shit?”
John laughed. He told me about his first wife. Ah. I don’t remember her name. Then he told me about wife number two. We chatted for the rest of the flight about the usual sports, politics, and our glory days. He stroked Bucky’s head the whole time. He even gave him some beef jerky when he woke up.
I followed behind John when we left the plane.
He was tall.
He was lanky.
Maybe he was Abe.
When we reached the terminal, I said, “John.”
He turned around.
I reached out and shook his hand.
“Thank you for what you did with my dog.”
John knelt down to pet Bucky one last time. “It’s no problem.”
“I thought he was going to die.”
“I know you’d do the same if it was me.”
“In case you really are Lincoln,” I said. “It’s been an honor, sir. And thanks for freeing the slaves.”
John flashed me a smile before he disappeared with his family into the airport.