I awoke the morning of Feb. 21 thinking how I needed to get up to let Max out. But instead of the tick, tick, ticking of his small claws against the hardwood floor as he paced about or the occasional bark to warn me that I had better get moving (actually, he hadn’t barked in months), there was only silence.
A day earlier, Max took his final ride to the vet. Unlike previous trips, he didn’t make a fuss. He rested peacefully against my wife's bosom. Afterwards, Wanda and I returned home alone. The blanket used to keep him cozy and comfortable for the ride over now folded flat and as empty as our hearts.
My 24-year-old son, Jonathan, had already said goodbye in his own way.
Maxwell. Maxwell Samuel. Maximilian. Max-a-roo. Max-a-rooski. Max-Max. Maxie. Max. He was family.
On the night we adopted him, Jonathan, then 8, sat in the backseat cradling Maxwell in his lap as I drove home. His mood oddly pensive. He then asked whether we would ever take Maxwell back to visit his brothers and sisters. I wasn’t prepared for that question. Perhaps Jonathan noticed, as I did, how the mother had stood by motionless and silent as we reviewed her rambunctious litter of puppies, knowing that she was about to see another one leave for good and powerless to stop it.
I said, well, no, we wouldn’t be making any return visits and that we were Max’s family now. “So, we have to make sure to take really good care of him,” I said.
After a moment, Jonathan replied, matter-of-factly, “I would be sad.”
But care for Max he did.
Two years later, Jonathan and Max were staying with his cousins, who lived in University Estates (Flint's newest subdivision), while Wanda and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary in Cancun. One fine day during their stay, Max apparently saw “18 inches of daylight” and made off like Gale Sayers when someone cracked open the front door. He was out the door in an instant and headed up the street. Jonathan, along with cousins Ramona and Harrison, running after him, calling for Max to come back.
Max ran on. He eventually made it to the subdivision’s entrance, exited and continued across the five-lane north Saginaw Street, a major north-south thoroughfare in the city. Jonathan trailed him.
Meanwhile, Ramona and Harrison ran back in a panic to tell their father that Jonathan had gone after Max, crossed Saginaw Street and into an area of Mary and Root streets. The old, distressed neighborhood of rundown houses and many vacant lots was off-limits for the kids.
By the time his Uncle Chris made it outside and headed in the direction to find them, he encountered a sobbing Jonathan coming back across the street with Max in his arms. Jonathan had finally tracked him down inside an old garage and scooped him up.
We’ll never know, thankfully, what might have happened to Max had Jonathan not tracked him down that afternoon in that strange, unfamiliar neighborhood. But because of Jonathan’s actions that fine day, Max gave us 15-and-a-half years of sheer joy, moments of frustration, laughs, enduring companionship and love.
Jonathan’s little “brother,” Max was family. We miss him dearly.
(c) Bob Campbell/bobcampbellwrites.com
Bob Campbell, an essayist and novelist, likes his bourbon neat. His debut novel, Motown Man, was published by Urban Farmhouse Press in November 2020.