We were invited to crash a wedding this week. It was tempting. The guy sitting next to us on the plane leaned over and said, “Come on, it’s okay. Crash our wedding. My bride to be will be cool with it, I promise,” he grinned and held out his hand, “Cecil, really.”
He got up and went to the bathroom in the back in the plane. He stood in line. All over the plane heads popped up.
“Brother, Dude, I’m still hung over from last night,” a haggard-looking guy called.
“There is no way we can crash their wedding, Paul,” I said my eyebrows raised. Every single popping head was African-American.
“I guess we couldn’t fade into the background,” Paul said reluctantly.
Cecil was from Los Angeles and twenty-seven members of his family were on the plane. The bride had arrived in Zihuantanejo the night before.
“Google it,” Cecil said confidently. “Just say Texas billionaire, Zihuantanejo. It was cheaper than home. The bride,” he laughed, “picked it out. Gorgeous view, I guess. Bride happy, groom happy, you know?” He nudged Paul. Paul’s head bounced up and down.
Then a voice came out of the loud speaker, “Doctor or medic to the back, please.” Then it wasn’t just Cecil’s family who popped up out of their seats. We all did.
“Oh, God. My brother-in-law, no way, she’s going to kill me.” Cecil sat down and put his head on the tray table. “Please tell me it’s not a heart attack.”
I stood on my chair to see better. Paul scowled at me.
“He’s okay, Dad,” a voice from the back called. “Medic guy said it was dehydration.”
“Thank you, Lord,” Cecil said. “I told him to stop the drinking last night.”
Over the next three hours we heard all about Cecil and his family. He had seven children and it was a second marriage.
“Two sets of twins,” he groaned. “what was God thinking?”
As he talked, Shonda popped up, her long braids, flying behind her. “Dad, we there yet?”
“Chemistry major,” Cecil sighed. “I thought she’d be the artsy type. Her twin brother,” he motioned to the handsome boy across the aisle about the age of our youngest son, “he’s majoring in music. Viola, I think. I’m not sure how it’s different than the violin, but I guess it is.” He reflected. “Don’t tell him I don’t know the difference. Probably important, you know?”
Paul and I were enchanted by this family that ebbed and flowed down the aisle. Cecil was the center—the anchor of the family.
“Seriously, guys,” Cecil said to us, “if you don’t feel comfortable at the wedding, come to the turtle release in Treconnes on Sunday night. I hear it is pretty special.”
“It is. You have no idea,” I said.
“Amazing,” Paul said.
When we landed in Zihuatanejo, Cecil’s family trooped off the plane carrying various musical instruments. They waved to us as they filed by. A little girl, a grandchild, smiled shyly at us as Cecil tickled her stomach. Her head arched back showing great gaps between her teeth.
“Paul, I don’t want to crash the wedding. If you invited someone I didn’t know, you’d be a lonely man sleeping on a bumpy couch even if it was our honeymoon.”
Paul cocked his head. “Entirely possible.” I raised my eyebrows. “Likely?” He posed. I squeezed his knee.
“Okay, you don’t have to convince me,” Paul said. “I’d like to see Cecil again though. He’s a nice guy. Let’s plan on seeing them at the turtle release.”
Faker,’ I thought. ‘You are as in love with this family as I am.’
Sunday came and Paul and I stood in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the tour. We knew from two years ago a van would pick us up and take us to the small town of Troconnes, thirty minutes away. The guide would face backwards while the driver drove and explain about the Olive Ridley turtle rescue program. When we arrived at the sanctuary, we would dig up a well of turtles, allow them to rest and gain their strength, and then release them at sunset. In the meantime we would celebrate and play in the surf.
A taxi pulled up and man exited. He came forward he hand outstretched. “My name is Francisco! I am your tour guide! You may call me Frank, which is American you know,” he shouted, “or call me Paco, my Mexican name.”
“Where is the big family?” I asked.
“Where are the bride and groom?” Paul inquired.
“Oh, they were too big a tour. Another guide took them to Manzillo. You need a private tour guide! Me, Frank or Paco, whatever you like!”
“Paul, I don’t want to go.”
“We paid already. We’re going.”
The entire drive to Troconnes Paco or Frank (take your pick) yelled over his shoulder at us as we passed lumbering trucks full of coconuts.
“They are pulled from the beach out of the way of predators and they incubate for 45 days. Half of them are male and the other half are female. It depends on the temperature, of course.”
“Of course,” I mouthed to Paul. I looked out the window.
After Paco parked the tiny taxi, Paul and I straggled to the enclosure and settled on the ground in front of a stake that had the number September 1 on it. It was 45 days later, and deep in the sand, the turtles had hatched out of their eggs. We dug down into the damp hole and carefully pulled the tiny turtles to the surface. Paul’s hands were more gentle than mine. I scraped the side of the sand wall feeling for errant turtles that had gone sideways not straight up.
“Seventy nine,” Paco crowed as if he had done any of it. “Come now and have your snack while we wait for sunset.” He walked ahead of us shaking his shoes with each sandy step. He led us to the restaurant on the beach.
“Paul, it was supposed to be perfect. We were supposed to see Cecil and Shonda, and her brother who plays the viola,” I hissed. “Now we have Paco. What happened? Why didn’t we get the tour with them?” I hated Paco. I detested his memorized list of turtle facts.
“They will return here ten years from now,” Paco announced. “Of course that is only 3% of them.”
“Of course,” I mouthed again. Paul laid his hand on my shoulder.
We sat at a table looking out at the waves while the turtles began to come alive in the buckets next to us. They raised their heads and looked around. Piled six deep, their flippers pounded against the sides of the plastic walls. Insistent, their little bodies scrambled, trying to climb the six inches out of the buckets. Their eyes blinked wet and black.
“The tour includes a snack and two drinks. You may order now. Not margaritas, however. Beer or soda pop.”
“I’d like a margarita, please,” I announced as the waiter came over. The bucket of turtles continued humming next to us. I didn’t look at Paul.
“We release them at sunset,” Paco said, “so they can follow the road to the sun.” He beamed and bit into our quesadilla. I kicked Paul under the table.
I was shaking with anger. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to see Cecil and his children shout and laugh when the turtles began to run towards the water. I felt helpless.
A dog ran up to me begging for scraps of our tortillas. I kept my hands in my lap. Paul pointed towards the dog while Paco continued to prattle about his expertise as a tour guide. I got up and left the table. I sat down on the sand.
“And, I take older retirees for three nights into the mountain towns to see the monarch butterflies,” he proclaimed.
The dog followed me and lowered himself to his front feet and raised his rear into the air. His tail wagged back and forth. His tongue panted and he pushed his nose into my hand. Suddenly, he tackled me and I cried out scared. Paul stood up and looked at me. I waved him off. It was okay.
I watched the dog who licked me with equal parts sand and dog drool. I longed for the easiness I have felt towards dogs my whole life. I reached out and stroked his head. He leaned into me. His weight was substantial and I leaned back. It wasn’t fair. It was supposed to be perfect.
Emmie was seven weeks old when she came to us. Solid black, short hair, and intelligent eyes, she was meant to replace our golden retriever of thirteen years. We were so happy. We were going to be the perfect puppy parents. We missed our old dog who had passed away, but this was our time to start over.
When she was little, Emmie was scrappy. She chased the cat, Lily. We plied her with mountains of toys and she snatched them from us when we teased her. Her little growl was cute. We taught her early to walk on the beach with us, but as she grew older she jumped on us her little teeth like needles. When we punished her, she jumped again and again. It didn’t matter what we did, she never backed down.
One day I was feeding her and, as I dropped the bowl to the ground, I reached to pet her. She turned and attacked me. She snarled and lunged for my hand grazing it with her teeth. I stood back against the wall and held my throbbing fingers.
We went through puppy classes, obedience training, even private lessons with a police dog trainer. But, nothing helped. By the time she was nine months old, we had her on a long leash in the house so when she snapped at us we were several feet away.
Paul loved Emmie. He walked her twice a day. Even though the trainer said to keep her on a tight leash at all times, he let her run on the beach off leash. It was the only time she was free. He loved watching her launch herself into the water after a ball. He believed she would be okay.
Each night Paul and I debated whose turn it was to put her in the kennel. We had to take the leash off her, and because we had to reach into the kennel to unhook it, it was a tense transition for her and us.
“I’ll do it tonight,” Paul grabbed the leash and led her towards our bedroom.
The next sound I heard would change our lives, and in some ways, I don’t think we will ever get over it. I heard a deep growl and a cry of pain. I ran to our bedroom. There was a pool of blood next to the kennel and Emmie was standing inside. I followed the trail of red splotches into the bathroom where Paul sagged against the counter, his hand in a stream of water that flowed red and fast. His face was grey in shock and I could tell he was trying not to vomit. The bite was to the bone.
We had only one choice the next day. Paul took her to the vet even though I offered. That is an example of Paul’s character. If you know him, it makes sense. The hardest jobs are the ones he will do.
“It is time to release the turtles,” Paco beamed.
Paul and I carried our little buckets of turtles to the water’s edge. A Mexican family with a small boy who asked his mother why I talked funny came to join us. We tipped the buckets over and the turtles began spilling over the edges. They tumbled, one after another, and gained speed when the foaming water flew in to cover them. I sat with my new friend, the dog with the sandy drool, and watched the turtles spin their flippers towards the road to the sun.
Ignoring Paco and his musings, I thought about Cecil, Shonda, her brother, the toothless grand daughter, and the bride we would never meet. I stroked the dog’s back and hoped their turtle experience was perfect—just like it was meant to be.
“I have another fact for you,” Paco said standing in front of me and blocking the sun. “Look there,” he pointed to the sand dune next to the turtle enclosure. “See those tracks? Those are the tracks of the turtles who escaped the pen before we could save them. They decided on their own when to go to the ocean.”
Under my hand the dog shook his coat and sand flew everywhere. I closed my eyes and felt his heart beating, steady and sure, through his body. He sighed and laid his head in my lap.
The dozens of turtles we released continued on their journey to the water. They didn’t stop even when tossed by the frenzy of the churning water. Perhaps Emmie was one of the ones who decided her journey without waiting for the others. For her it was the perfect time; for us, it was the time we had to accept.