It was the eyes that grabbed me, that look from within as if it was thinking, “Hey, I know you … do you remember me? … Do ya pal?”
The little boy in me rose up from my past before I could stop him, plowing through the piles of memories he had been buried under for what, 40 years? Maybe even longer?
It was Blackie, sitting there in front of me, giving me that look that only a dog ready to play can give a human being. Fetch. Sit. Roll over. Belly rub.
It was Blackie.
Blackie would be more than 280 years right old now, and that’s in dog of years of course, but all of a sudden — in the exact instant of a memory exploding from the past, there I was, running around my front yard, stick in hand, throwing it, picking it up, wiping off the slobber of dog saliva and throwing it again.
Blackie was my first dog. Only he wasn’t my dog.
He was just a dog, a rambunctious black lab, who from time to time when I was a young boy would show up in my yard ready to play. I’d look out of the window of our country home, see him running around and I’d be out the door looking for something to throw.
Maybe I’d be bored and was sent outside to play and he would show up, bringing excitement and energy to my day.
How old was I? Five? Six? Maybe eight?
I remember the house vividly — it’s the first house I truly remember living in, the house I grew up in. I remember my bedroom, with the attic door that scared the hell out of me. I remember the stairs, leading up to the second floor. I remember the yellow colors of the dining room, which were once splattered with my blood after I cut my thumb and instead of covering it to stop the bleeding, I shook my paw wildly as a way to deal with the pain.
And, I remember Blackie — the dog that wasn’t mine, but was all mine just the same.
You know what I just realized? Blackie wasn’t his name. That was the name I had given him because he was all black. He could have been a Fido, or a Rover. Maybe he was a Spike or a Charlie.
All I knew back then was he was Blackie and I loved that dog and I’m pretty sure he loved me, even though he had an owner somewhere else in the neighborhood.
He would never lay at my feet, and I’d never have to kick him out of my bed so I could sleep. He would never eat my shoes and, thank goodness, I never had to clean up his shit.
I had the best part of having a dog. I got to play with him.
I don’t remember when Blackie stopped showing up at the house where I grew up. Perhaps he got too old. Perhaps he stopped getting off his leash. Perhaps I stopped looking out the window.
Over time, Blackie was forgotten, just another memory filed away, ready to be pulled out when triggered.
That’s what happened on Tuesday morning during my morning walk for coffee.
The dog was sitting on the corner with his owner, a black lab tethered to a leash. How many black labs have I seen over the last 40 years? Dozens, perhaps?
Only this dog looked me in the eye and I swear to Dog he recognized me.
He recognized me and I want to swear up and down I recognized him.
Instead, I’ll just admit that I remember him.
He wasn’t my dog, but he was … and for that, the little boy in me is so thankful that a memory is still so vivid and so real.