The light just went off, that old major airline seatbelt signifier of settling down, of woes left behind like microscopic dust particles in an imagined inner-eyelid rearview mirror. Sure, they'll dance there, kick up, grow, morph into problems you've not even had the foresight to wrap your skull's insurance policy around, then inevitably blow up in your face the minute you return. For now, though, it's vacation — specifically a landing strip in divorce-happy Reno en route to the sloping chalets and Columbia Sportswear of Tahoe — and I've got that thing again, the bell-chime in my blood platelets that sings sweet songs of elsewhere in the foreign air. There are doubts — notably, the fact that sometime in the packing frenzy of our too-big carry-ons and dropping off our two canine babies at the kennel, I lost my little fake diamond symbol of my little fake gay marriage — but even that's not enough to flatten the choruses of escapist possibility throbbing in my ears.

"Isn't it just a little bit ironic that I lost my wedding ring and now we're in Reno?" I check my Morissette checklist while ostensibly living out my Mad Men fantasy.

"No," Alan's face is carved out of the side of a desert mountain. "It's just a material thing."

There's a faint hum of ABBA, forever apropos of nothing, soundtracking our airplane dismount, and we both sort of stifle a married-couple laugh in the direction of the Asian passengers wearing swine-stopping surgical masks and iPod headphones. It's just a moment, one of many tiny moments dotting the absurd internationalism of purchased context-hopping, and it's nice that it means nothing, that it has no consequence.

"Oh yes, I'm sure my life was well within its usual frame," Agnetha is actually cooing from within Alan's own jacket pocket. Hilarious! "The day before you came."

The song sticks.

We must have hopped a rental car and wound our way through the Nevada terrain, intermittently interrupting our altitudinous ear-popping with touristy refrains. Those lenticular clouds bubbling over the mountaintops don't look like clouds at all, but rather ghosts or UFOs, I would have laughed, just imagining the beauty of things so small. A dead squirrel in the road would have only been a distracting blot in the otherwise cinematic postcard scene, nothing with which to trouble the bubbles of my fizzing brain.

Before the phone call came.

The weekend might have lit up with bacchanalian swells of neon financial climbs, then fallen down with the asses of casino folk who, with dollar bills, are inclined to measure time. Alan, in a hat, would assume his classic gambler's pose, tossing die for craps with his arm extended in a pause that froze. He might have come back up to the hotel room, tossed his winnings on the bed and disrobed like he had before the same.

Before the phone call came.

I, of course, would have found some nostalgic way to distract my tiresome cares. Queensrÿche and Lita Ford waxing guitar-grind apocalypse downstairs. "Let your freak flag fly," warbler Geoff Tate would find a way to incorporate a lonesome philatelic audience member during the show. He'd then hairline his ponytail through some patriotic motivational speeches between songs I'd rather not know. The crowd must have eaten it up, like when Lita Ford squealed, "You're going to love me black and blue," sang a song called "Patriotic SOB" and asked, "Isn't Queensrÿche bad-ass?" too. I'd grumble, sway and fall apart as haggard women were literally knocked by security to the floor; "Close My Eyes Forever," a guilty pleasure, nothing lost or gained.

Before the phone call came.

Admittedly, we'd have to leave the Harrah's concourse once or twice. We'd travel to the capitol, rattle through a railroad museum with an engine called "Whistling Billy," which would have been rather nice. Further down the highway we'd see signs advertising an attraction called the Suicide Table, we'd laugh about driving off cliffs and ending it all, but why? Things are presently so stable. The sky would be so wide and bright, our lives so free of fear and blight and pain.

Before the phone call came.

"Who's that?" Alan stares at me staring at my phone just as we climb out of the elevator and into our first hotel room night in Tahoe.

"It's the vet's office," I illuminate, giddy in the musical madness of the moment. "They must have found my ring!"

What happens next is almost indescribable but for the deadening silence and blurred visage of time being yanked from itself, all 14 floors below us disappearing and leaving us hanging there as little specks of helpless, hateful dust. We must have cried aloud at the news, Alan's mountainous resolve avalanching down into a fetal position in the hallway, "No, no, NO!" echoing off the disappearing walls leading to a presumed idyllic sanctuary. I don't know. It happened so fast.

"I have some tragic news about Josephine, and I don't know how else to say it." The phone grows heavier by tons with each passing millisecond.

For five days we'd be left to fester, bloated beyond recognition with the news that our youngest dog, the little-but-giant Josephine who was all but our very own beautiful offspring — the vulnerable manifestation of love and beauty that only we shared — had been allowed to escape from the kennel and was subsequently struck dead by a passing motorist. Each remaining vacation moment would be a tragically bad stack of arrhythmic couplets meant to maintain life on only the simplest terms, the loveless waltz of a '60s miscarriage at a particularly obnoxious dinner party. At least that's what I think it would look like in the darkness of insurmountable grief. In truth, I couldn't see a thing.

The light just went off.

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