Hard to believe it’s been three years since we were last in this charming colonial town in central Mexico. Patzcuaro’s character and allure remained, but some things, as they do, had changed: a shop closed here, a restaurant moved there, a new hotel here, Nora Jones singing at our feet down there. It’s true. As we were taking Tai for his morning walk through the pretty Plaza Grande one day, we suddenly realized the jazzy songstress was serenading us from little green speakers popping out of the ground. The sound quality was as clear as the cool mountain air; we could have easily been tricked into thinking Jones was standing right there by the fountain, her soft sensuous pipes floating across the leafy square, lamenting the mystery of why she didn’t come.
These are the kinds of sounds and sights that stick with you when you’re strangers in a strange land. From now on, whenever we hear Nora Jones crooning her rueful ballad, our minds will inevitably drift back to that morning in May, strolling through a peaceful plaza before the day fully erupted into its usual hub-bub.
Minor transformations and ground-level sound systems aside, the puebla magica was the same mix of modern and time-worn, Judy and Lee were the same warm and welcoming hosts, their unique home was as cozy and comfortable as ever, their dog the same intriguing combo of tough exterior/soft centre. Tai was still a creature of habit: same morning walk, same curb to drop a load, same insistence on kicking back in certain spots outside during the day, same snore-infused cuddles on the couch in the evening, same fear of thunder and fireworks, same mysterious wandering in the middle of the night, thudding around upstairs like he’s rearranging furniture (I’m convinced he sleepwalks). Physically, however, he was different.
Last summer Tai was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. Not quite sure what that was, we researched it and were stopped cold. Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in the blood vessels, and quickly and aggressively spreads to the spleen, heart and liver. Survival rate: six to eight weeks from diagnosis. Our hearts fell. Then we realized we were reading the prognosis associated with the internal form of this cancer. Tai’s was dermal, which meant that, despite the occasional big black blob (aka tumor) that formed on his underbelly and legs, he was not doomed. Unless the cancer mutated into the internal kind.
For now he was fine, except when the blobs burst. Then we’d find ourselves trailing after him with wet paper towels to dob the trickles on his skin and the blood spatter from the floor. Since he’d bleed through the night, we’d often awake to what looked like a crime scene. Thankfully his bed and ours were well-protected with old sheets and towels.
Even if, remarkably, he didn’t appear to be in pain, he certainly was aware of his condition. He almost seemed embarrassed by the bright red polka dots he left in his wake, no matter how we tried to comfort and reassure him that it wasn’t his fault. Not that we (and Judy and Lee) didn’t try everything to stem the flow. We all experimented with bandages, wraps, gauze, you name it. At one point, we rigged up a diaper, which worked wonders for the rugs and furniture, but not for the big guy’s ego. They all helped only when applied, but it was important to occasionally air the lesions, and that’s when the blood-letting would begin.
So it was just something new for us to adapt to, and Tai, like all creatures great and small, is nothing if adaptable. He weathered it all with admirable patience and aplomb; it’s what he does. From the day Judy and Lee found him, wounded and wandering the beach, he’s been a survivor. The still-visible scars are a testament to his survival, a sign that he recovered. And he’ll recover from this. He has to, there’s a chair upstairs that needs rearranging.