Back in the day, when my parents and my brother decided to get a dog, I wanted no part of it. I didn’t want the responsibility that came with a pet. My parents wanted it to be a family decision so I said it was fine with me, so long as they understood I was to have nothing to do with feeding him, cleaning up after him, or anything else. I was young, and it was a bold move, but I got what I wanted.
Or so I thought.
The dog, a springer-spaniel and black labrador mix, was a puppy of the Ronzios’ dog Brandy. His coat was solid black, save for a small patch of white around his muzzle, and one white paw. They named him Max.
I still remember Max crawling around inside a cardboard box the night we brought him home from my Aunt and Uncle’s house. I don’t recall ever being in the presence of something so small, so fragile. Even at such a young age he was already exhibiting the kind of unbridled exhuberance that would become the cornerstone of his personality. It was hard to keep him in the box, just as, today, it is hard to keep him in his cage.
I’ve watched Max grow up from that little puppy to a wild and crazy dog who got his dick stuck in the rich neighbor’s black lab in front of my brother’s friends, and I’ve watched him grow older, lose a bit of his hearing. I’ve watched as I’ve become a stranger to him in the years since I moved out.
This week I volunteered to feed Max while my parents are away on vacation. It means a twenty minute trek across the Merrimack Valley every afternoon, but I’m happy to do it. It makes life easier for my parents and for my Grandma, who would be the only one around to do it otherwise.
What I’ve come to notice in these past few years is a lingering sense of regret for not wanting to be a part of this special dog’s life from the beginning. I was swiftly approaching my teenage years when we got him and I wanted nothing holding me back from the crazy life I’d planned to lead. I look back on my choices now though, and I don’t think they were as good for me as I thought they would be.
As I fed Max today I was overwhelmed by a melancholia. He was strangely quiet as I pulled into the driveway, he himself overwhelmed by the prolonged heatwave, and it got me thinking about the inevitability of things, and of my Auntie Lil’s E-Mail to tell me they’d put Max’s mother Brandy to sleep. It got me thinking about this wonderful creature that’s been a part of my family’s life, who hasn’t received the love from me that he is due.
So I’ll do my best to let him know that I’ve always cared this week. I’ll bring him his food and his water, and pet him, and let him jump up on me with all the youthful energy that remains within his shaggy body. I’ll do my best to make up for years of not doing anything at all.