Several things happened in the span of a few moments that Jane later looked back on as the reason her life was changed for the better.
This was the fourth Sunday in a row that Jane had been scouring the countryside, visiting breeders of purebred dogs, on a quest to find her life-long companion. At 42 years of age, Jane saw this as her last chance for happiness. Her last chance to have something alive to share her life with. She always added that caveat ‘alive’ when formulating her plan because she had concluded that oversized pillows, soft blankets, occasional bottles of red wine, and talks with Siri did not meet her needs as they were all inanimate objects and incapable of reciprocating the amount of affection she craved.
She knew she was difficult but she gave up making excuses for her organized – some called it anal – way of life. After the most recent, disastrous, short-lived ‘thing’ with Ben – she didn’t dare call it a relationship – Jane decided that it was time to take the bull by the horns. She spent several weeks, and almost a case of good red wine, examining her life. In a spiral-bound notebook she bought at Staples, she made lists, lists and more lists. Lists of her bad traits, followed by a list of her good traits. There was a list of places she could go to meet people. A list of personality quirks she wanted to avoid in other people. A list of her quirky traits that she needed to tamp down.
One evening, after three large glasses of a heavenly, full-bodied Shiraz (she found it easier to admit to three glasses rather than entire bottle), feeling self-aware and righteously in-tune with her inner self, she made a list of the traits she would be willing to change. Re-reading it early the next morning, she ripped it out of the notebook in disgust, crumpled it in a ball and tried to stuff it down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink with a wooden spoon. Over a large mug of coffee, with a renewed promise to herself to cut back on the wine in the evenings, she started a new list. The first item was “Do not drink wine and get philosophical about my life”.
Ben was a disaster from the get-go. Who in their right mind, especially an overly-introverted single woman of 42, goes to a speed-dating event billed as the largest of its kind in Ottawa’s history? Jane had bravely bought a ticket in advance, on-line, and then when the evening was upon her, she reluctantly went because she didn’t want to forfeit the $75. Another thing to put on her list – don’t be so miserly with your money.
The lobby of the Shaw Centre was teeming with people, all of them standing alone, with their complimentary glass of wine. Jane was thankful that the lights were dim, praying that no one could see the sweat in her underarms, which she hoped was not showing on her Joe Fresh, navy blue dress. She met forty-five men in just over three hours and only one, Ben, asked for her number. That in itself should have been telling. Holding back tears, she left the Shaw Centre and took the bus home.
On their first date, Ben didn’t say much. He really only became animated at the end of the meal as he did the math to figure out how they would split the bill. On their second date, he opened-up and told Jane that what he admired the most about her was how rigid and emotionless she was. “I really cannot deal with other people’s emotions,” he informed her just as their main courses arrived.
On this fourth Sunday of shopping around for her life-long companion, Jane was miles from home in unfamiliar countryside. Her iPhone had just died which angered and frightened and disappointed her because she prided herself on always being prepared – a holdover from her days as a Girl Guide. Jane never left home without a fully charged phone. As she aged, Jane was becoming more frightened of everyday things and one of her biggest fears was a dead phone. Not that she had anyone to call. Or anyone to text with (except that random stranger who had texted her in error last week). Her iPhone was her connection to the world. News. Maps. Instagram. Gmail. Pinterest. Facebook.
She squinted at the long country road ahead of her and recognized nothing. The sameness of the cornfields, barns, silos and the occasional copse of birch trees could be anywhere really and Jane chided herself for not paying attention on the trip to the dog kennel instead of relying on Glinda. Glinda was the name she gave the woman who spoke to her through Google Maps. And right now she missed Glinda’s voice and directions. She tossed her dead phone onto the passenger seat and it bounced against the car door and then onto the floor.
“Damn,” Jane whispered. She always whispered when she cursed, not wanting to upset anyone. But then something came over her and she yelled, “Damn!” Her face flushed and she felt a small jolt of adrenaline, which oddly made her feel good. So she yelled again. “Damn!” And then she smiled just a little bit and thought about adding loud cursing to her list of personal improvements.
She remembered something a friend had told her years ago. He said that he liked driving down roads he’d never traveled before and he sometimes deliberately got lost. He considered that an adventure. So what if I’m lost, she thought, I need an adventure.
At this thought, Jane’s foot slammed on the brake and she sharply turned the steering wheel to the left, turning onto a gravel side road that had appeared at a very opportune time. Why not, Jane wondered. Why not have an adventure? These brave thoughts felt empowering and she pushed hard on the gas pedal. A cloud of dust formed around the car as the tires dug into the gravel.
She slowed a little, deciding to enjoy the scenery and see where this adventure took her. As she drove, Jane thought about the dog breeders she had been visiting. Her research had been typically thorough so she was armed with all the requisite knowledge of the breeds she believed would be most suitable for her. But as was the norm for her, Jane had been unable to make a decision. Labrador? Standard poodle? Long hair? Short hair? Sporting dog? Lap dog? Today she had visited a breeder of Boxers, a dog she was attracted to because it reminded Jane of herself. Ugly. Tending to overweight. Shy. But she didn’t bond with the puppies and felt disappointed as she left, wondering if she’d ever find the perfect dog, the right companion, the animal that was willing to wallow and share her misery.
But on this county side road, with the car windows down and the summer air blowing her hair around her face, where purple loose strife coloured the ditches, and a field of yellow mustard suddenly appeared, Jane’s mood lightened. An adventure is just what the doctor ordered, she thought as she drove. She would keep visiting dog kennels, and not give up until she found the perfect dog. A purebred companion. A puppy she could train. Take to obedience school. Who would grow up and greet her every day with a wagging tail when she returned home from her ho-hum civil servant job. A loyal beast who would never leave her side and who would sleep at the foot of her lonely, queen-size bed.
Jane’s happy thoughts were interrupted by a sudden movement alongside the car and she straightened up, gripping the steering wheel with her hands in the ten and two o’clock positions as she tried to peer out the passenger window. Something was out there, running beside the car. She braked to slow down and the back end of the car swerved in the gravel and Jane squealed. Her fists clenched the steering wheel. If she had remembered the driving school lesson she would have turned the steering wheel in the opposite direction of the swerve but Jane was on an adventure, and had been happy in the moments before the swerve so her brain was not performing at her normal, serious, staid level.
Later she said it was happiness that put her car in the ditch. She really had no other explanation. Because only moments after sensing something running beside the vehicle, Jane and her car were in the ditch. Parts of her serious brain function returned and she estimated the car was tilted at a twenty-degree angle, so the car was in no danger of rolling over. However, the angle did make it difficult for her to get out of the car. After a struggle to unsnap her seatbelt, Jane realized that she wasn’t going anywhere as the driver’s door would only open a few inches before getting stuck in the weeds.
Now what, she wondered. Stuck in a ditch. A dead cell phone. Lost in the country. Some adventure, she thought wryly.
“Damn,” she whispered and crawled over the central console onto the passenger seat and on her knees, peered out the open window. Something very large and hairy stuck its head in the window and licked her face. Jane pulled back, surprised and looked at an ugly dog. His hot breath filled the car and she reached out a hand to touch him. Jane scratched his ear.
“Where did you come from?”
And in that moment, a life was changed for the better. Jane’s. And the large, ugly, short-haired, mixed breed dog who she eventually named “Lost.”