Chamaco: A Remembrance (d. June 14th, 2016)
I don’t know how old Chamaco was when he first came to me May of 2006. I’d already had Peanut, a black mutt, dropped into my life a few months earlier in February, and Chihuahua Barney would follow a few months later in September. All three dogs were drop-bys the year before my mother would die, as if the Universe was saying, “Get ready.” Their love would keep me from drowning when my heart was cracked wider than I could bear.
Chamaco was singular for being disposed of from the window of a moving car by a jealous rival. An animal intuitive told me Chamaco had lived happily with a young woman before me, but a small man, who couldn’t stand sharing his woman with a dog, entered the woman’s life, and Chamaco was kicked out of this love triangle.
I suspect the story is true. Chamaco knew how to toss the bedcovers with his snout and let himself under. His nails were perfectly groomed. And to top it all, he came with an annoying insistence to French kiss, which I put a stop to at once.
My then-neighbor, Dave the Cowboy, plucked homeless Chamaco off our street and introduced us in the driveway between our houses.
“I found a Chihuahua,” Dave said proudly as if he’d bagged him himself. He was carrying his prey with outstretched arms as if he was afraid of catching ticks.
“Give him here!” I scolded. The poor creature was trembling. “What’s his name?”
Little Dude, I thought, Too goofy.
“He keeps escaping through the bars of the fence, so I keep him inside.”
“I’ll keep him for you till you find him a home,” I said. But I already knew he’d found his true home when I held the dog tightly. He was as warm as a stone sitting in the sun and radiated a vibrant, intelligent energy.
I looked into the dog’s amber eyes and told him, “You will never be afraid again.” The dog met my eyes and answered, “I believe you.”
Almost immediately I named him “Chamaco,” which funny enough, translates more or less as “Little Dude,” but doesn’t sound as goofy in Spanish, I swear. Its more precise translation is “kid.” Chamaco was every bit a Chamaco, a brilliant spark from a bigger, eternal conflagration.
Even then I remember el Chamaquín as a handsome creature with eyes a deep, flaming amber and a coat the two-toned black and tan of a Doberman’s. He was too big to be a true Chihuahua, I thought, and luckily had not inherited the Bette Davis eyes of that breed. Instead, he had the intelligent gaze of a black panther. And though he was only as tall as the top of my boot, he was commanding, with perfect proportions and a brave demeanor.
I’m sure Chamaco had some Xoloitzcuintli, Mexican hairless, in his ancestry, because of bald spots on his back. What hair he did have was coarse, except for snout and legs, and some of it stood straight up like a metal broom. Exceptional of hearing, he was recklessly courageous, and often the first of my pack to sound the alarm.
Chamaco was as serious as Buster Keaton and rarely laughed. He barked only when he meant it, a sudden train of rising sounds surprisingly high-pitched that ended with his snout and tail trembling in high alert.
A serious accident cleft Chamaco’s life in two. He suffered a bad limp from a dog fight with Barney, his rival. The fight left him crippled for a day with a twisted spine. He survived with one lame leg, which he managed to hitch along like an afterthought when he walked.
Hard to believe he’d once been as frisky as a flea, leaping amazing Baryshnokovian heights, scampering at full speed to run away from home to play with his dog buddy Napoleon and steal cat food set out by neighbors for the strays. He’d sneak back remorseless and wait at the front gate quietly for someone to notice and let him in, as if the spanking he’d get was worth it.
Chamaco was smart alright. Smarter than a dog and smarter than a human too. He looked at me with a gaze so intense it smoldered. I’m crazy about you, he seemed to say. I never had a dog who looked at me like that. Come to think of it, I never had a human who did either. He loved the way Pepe le Pew loved the cat.
When I decided to move to Mexico in 2013, some unwise wise woman told me I needed to give up all my pets. Reluctantly I did a Sophie’s Choice, but some pets boomeranged back to me. The wise woman was wrong. Eventually I gave her up instead.
But before I knew to listen to my own intuition, Chamaco was packed off to live with Macondista Erasmo and his partner Pajarito in New York City. In photos Erasmo sent, Chamaco looked hip in his new Manhatten digs, went for long walks, gave up table scraps and was, as a result, bien buff. He was living the life I couldn’t give him, I reasoned and sighed.
Then, almost as if I’d wished too hard, he returned to me when Erasmo had health issues. After a long plane ride from D.C. to Houston to Mexico, Chamaco joined me and his Texas dog colleagues, Peanut and Dante in San Miguel, and met new Chihuahua rivals, team Ozvaldo and Luz.
He adapted to Mexico quicker than I did, buoyant as the Guanajuato clouds, as natural as if he’d been born here. He’d watch me closely every morning and knew when I put on my shoes, I was going out. Then he pirouetted and whined and begged shamelessly for me to take him, a whimper that spoke of the darkest sorrow. Worked every time.
Dante and Chamaco, my old-timers, were the only ones allowed to go with me on my daily walks into San Miguel’s center, throwing themselves on the cool Mexican tiles under the bank manager’s desk after the long walk in the heat, or waiting with me at the bakery door while I shouted my order to the cashier. Even with the gimp leg, Chamaco descended the steep hill into town and climbed up again without complaint. Polite, sociable to humans, he was tolerant of other dogs if female.
I don’t know why, but Chamaco was a sucker for foreign chicks, especially French poodles. His last crush was with a too-young Minature Pinscher he met at an art gallery window on Hernandez Macias. Lucky for him, she was into older guys. It was an innocent affair, just a bit of nuzzling through the filigreed window gate, Chamaco’s tail trembling like a cobra. Sweet to watch and heartbreaking in retrospect.
Once I was installed into my new house, December 2015, Chamaco started to die poco a poco, so I wouldn’t notice. The renal failure he’d fought for two years finally won. We were expecting el viejito Dante to go first, not Chamaco. The “Monkey” had been sick for so long we forgot he was sick. It was as if he’d waited for me to move and find my home before he decided his job was done.
On his last night, I woke and found him standing in the hall. He had the saddest expression. “I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can,” he seemed to say. "Ya no puedo. I can’t anymore.”
Then I knew.
“You will never be afraid again,” I said the last time I held him.
He is remembered for many things, among them, the adroit skill of plugging caquita inside the holes of walls here in San Miguel. But above all, I will remember him for his passion. I miss him every day and only console myself because I know he is still here in my house. He has been reported seen or heard by my sixth-sense staff.
One day he will come back to me in the body of another animal. A dog again, Chamaqui? Or will you love me in another form? What would be large enough? Even the sky could not hold all the love you sent and continue to send me.
June 13, 2017
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato