Undercover Detective — What’s That Smell?

At the gate for a departing Buenos Aires flight, I notice a strange smell lurking. It’s the same odor that haunts sidewalks and city buses. A blend of urine, sweat, and bodily filth. It’s a whiff of poverty out of a place, in an area where passengers pay close to $1,000 just to get on a plane. Perplexed, I glance at the people around me.

On my left sits an older Hispanic couple looking at an iPad, the man wearing a crisp button-up and the woman a soft lavender shirt. On my right, a twenty something pale girl with dirty blond hair and faded jeans chats with a stranger behind her. Like a true undercover detective, I shuffle my bag and lean in to see what direction the smell is coming from. Nothing checks out.

Until I turn around.

A little animal carrier lies empty next to a young girl a few rows over.

Houston airport, we’ve got a problem: it’s a smelly cat.

Leashed and frozen in a tense position —the cat fixates on an invisible force on the carpet. Just another day for a cat brain, but I wonder about the girl.

“Oh didn’t even see that cat there! Are you going to Buenos Aires?” I say to the protector of the smelly cat.

“Yes, I am,” she says, her eyes are tired and she looks defeated. I take a seat next to her.

“How’s it going traveling with your cat?” I ask.

“Not good. She threw up and had an accident in there,” she says, pointing to the carrier. “She freaked out on the last flight and it was 3 hours long. I had to clean this in the bathroom, it was a mess. I don’t know how I am going to get through this next 8 hour flight,” she shakes her head.

It’s easy to wince from an awful smell.

It’s heartbreaking when you realize this smell signals a soul (or two) in need.

I want to help this poor girl, so I offer some sage advice on potential ways to drug the cat.

“I remember one time a cat owner told me about how he would crush up Benadryl and give it to his cat before flights,” I tell her. “They sell Benadryl here too!”

Her eyes lite up at the sound of this sweet secret. “Oh my gosh…really?!”

“Yea, I would Google it to make sure it’s safe,” I say, acknowledging my haphazard advice.

“Okay, thank you I’m going to look into it!” she says, energized and filled with zest.

I continue on my way, passing out surveys and talking with other passengers. But I wonder about this girl and her cat.

It’s hard for me understand the bond between a human and a cat.

One time I woke up to a cat trying to sleep on my face at a kid sleepover, and it’s been a rocky road for me and cats ever since. Curious to hear if my cat drugging advice checked out with Google, I walk back over to the cat girl.

“So what did the internet say about Benadryl?!”

“It was mixed. It could help her, or it could make her freak out more. I’m not going to risk it, we’re just going to go all natural and get through this,” she says, a little more chipper than before.

“Good call! How did you decide to bring your cat to Buenos Aires, anyway?” I ask.

“I had to bring her with me. I will be gone for 3 months, and the last time I left her for this long she ran away for 2 months and didn’t come home until the day I came home. I don’t want her to do that again,” she tells me. “I couldn’t leave her again.”

She feels for this cat, and I feel for her. I think about how hard it must be to have a pet that will run away in a depressive boycott if you leave. She loves her cat too much to let her walk out of her life. So the girl pays the money to bring her and suffers alongside her little animal who is so nervous she’s made herself sick.

And there it was, all the evidence I needed right in plain sight.

I thought I was on a mission to get to the bottom of an intrusive odor. Turns out, there was no bad guy, no object, or animal to point to in disgust.

There is nothing gross about love.

From the outside, it’s difficult to understand someone else’s love. If there’s anything I’ve learned from trying, it’s that love is messy. Love is irrational. Sometimes it smells, it hurts, and it sucks.

But love is deep. Our hearts hang on tightly to the connections — the partners, pets, and people — we’ve given our whole selves to. We are willing to do whatever it takes to keep our loved ones by our side.

So we hold onto the ones we can’t live without. And sometimes they freak out, they vomit, they get scared. They are vulnerable. They may run away, they may hurt us.

But love is patient, love is kind. Sometimes it’s smelly. And when sh!t hits the fan (or more literally the floor), others are quick to judge.

It’s easy to wince from an awful smell.

It’s eye opening to look deeper. To see things as they are. To find an example of great love. The messy, complicated bond that ties souls together at the heart.

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