My freshman year in high school my father brought home a dog, an Irish setter mix, with a deep burgundy coat and a long flowing mane of hair. We named him Jesse. Not long after joining our family he was sleeping under the car and my father backed over him. Yelping in pain, he sprinted off and despite looking for him for days, we couldn’t find him.
On the third day I found Jesse under the hedges in the front of our house. There was swelling around his neck the size of a basketball. Back then, taking a dog to the vet was out of the question due to a lack of finances and we all thought Jesse would be gone by morning.
We were wrong. Jesse recovered and every where I went, he went. When I started running, he kept pace. When other dogs came close, he would chase them off. I often ran between six and ten miles, and there would be Jesse, tongue hanging out, sometimes ahead of me, sometimes behind, but always there.
We often would play a game of catch, but not the way most people do with their dogs. In the front yard, Jesse would take off running and jump at my chest. I’d catch him and toss him far to the side, causing him to fly through the air. The moment his feet touched the ground, he bounded back my direction and jumped again, only to be tossed to the other side.
One day we were playing the game and my mom shouted my name. When I turned my head, Jesse caught me square in the chest and knocked me to the ground. He stood on my chest and licked my face happily. Finally, he’d won. And in truth, so had I. A boy and his dog.
I can remember the last moment I saw him. My parents had long since divorced and my mother had felt the house was too much for her and decided to sell it and move to an apartment in J-Town. By that time I had been hired by the post office and lived with my wife in my own apartment. I came by the house to help her pack up a few things. I remember glancing out the window and could see a storm on the horizon and I walked to the screen door to take a look.
The sky was the dark blue you get when the sun is behind you and the clouds are rolling in your direction. There was a corn field across the street and the dark green leaves and dusty yellow tassels moved in rolling waves with the increasing wind.
Jesse, his red coat glowing like the last embers of a winter fire, sat under the tree in the front yard. His eyes were closed and his muzzle was in the air. There was a lot more white around his nose, with him getting close to thirteen-years old. Maybe he was smelling the rain of the approaching storm. Maybe he knew with all the activity around the house, change was coming and he was trying to get a sense of the moment. There is, of course, no way to know. I stood there watching him for several minutes and then returned to packing boxes.
The next day my mother took Jesse to my grandfathers, where he would stay for a few days until she could find him a more permanent home. Jesse was on a chain at an out door dog house when he disappeared. We searched for days, continually checked the dog pound, and like the first time when he ran off after being injured, we couldn’t find him. This time, he never came back.
I always hoped Jesse had tried to go home and that he’d been found by a wonderful family and lived out his life happily. Intellectually, I knew this was highly unlikely. But it’s what I hoped. I was heart broken, never having had the chance to say goodbye to my dog. Even today, when I see the blue of a storm on the horizon, I think of him. There was such a view today. And so was he.