Ride or die (from the smell).
Bukowski said, "You get so alone sometimes it just makes sense."
And when you're covered in dog shit standing next to a huge dead bird on an Arkansas highway, with nothing around you for miles but farm crops wilting in the sun and the hollow ticking of your hazard lights coming from somewhere a few lifetimes away -- well, friend, you're about as alone as it gets.
Let's back up a day.
Penny and I were trucking along like two muppets thrown into a cross-country caper together, our fuzzy heads bobbing and big eyes squinting through a cracked windshield against the sun.
We got along just fine and it turned out we shared plenty of similar interests: late-70's soft rock, cuddling, antagonizing other dogs.
We had a lot of highway to cover, with one overnight planned in Kansas City before beating it to Memphis. I took my time, stopping often for water breaks, food breaks, pee breaks, and general pulling-over-to-wander-around-lots-next-to-gas-stations-and-smell-cow-shit-on-the-wind breaks.
We had to agree to disagree about the "no farting in the car" policy.
Penny was doing great in the car and was a champ at binge-watching Shameless with me in a shabby old Victorian house where we were Airbnb-ing for the night before braving Arkansas.
That's why there was no way to foresee the disaster that loomed before us 90 minutes outside of Memphis.
First of all, Arkansas is a bummer. It's hot, dusty, and devilishly red. Striations of crumbling red clay raked the low hills, as if an earthbound god sentenced to the state was dragged through the land, kicking and screaming.
I pulled back onto the two-lane highway after what should have been our last pit stop before hitting the outskirts of Memphis, where my friend's mom Ellen was expecting Penny.
Penny was getting restless and I didn't blame her. She hopped into the front seat, whined, and hopped to the back again.
Then came the smell.
It's a distinct smell dog-owners know well: the smell of something from inside suddenly being outside when it shouldn't be.
I knew at once what was happening before I had to turn my head.
Penny was shitting in the car.
But it wasn't just shitting. As I swerved to the shoulder and jumped out of the car, I saw what I'd dreaded.
Penny's innards had liquified and sprayed onto the backseat, the seatbelts, the doors, her bed, the back of my seat -- and now the console, the window, and wherever else her panicked paws were taking her.
I've been told I hold steady in emergencies, and didn't fail myself this time, either.
I walked around the car to excavate the dog and the first thing I saw was some massive bird twice the size of a seagull mangled and decaying right in front of the door.
In seconds, I had Penny acquainted with her new neighbor and immobilized on the highway shoulder thanks to some quick maneuvering involving her leash, the passenger side door, and a heartfelt slam.
With Penny MacGuyver'ed into safety, I unpacked what I could to start cleaning out of the car. Shit was everywhere. On the seat. Around the seat. In the seat.
The smell was extraordinary, second to none in terms of strength and offense. I almost admired it.
I took a moment -- a few moments, really -- to survey the circumstances.
Penny was covered in shit. I was covered in shit. My car was covered in shit.
The bird's feathers ruffled in the hot, weak wind. I burst into enraged tears before cursing again and searching my car for cleaning supplies.
My inventory included an Ikea bag, a gallon of water, some baby wipes, and an old blanket.
After more swearing, I splashed and scrubbed what I could before I had to face the inevitable: getting back into the car and driving on.
With a hand scrubbed raw by the grace of baby wipes, I picked up my phone.
"Ellen? It's Rachel. Yeah, we're gonna be late for dinner.."