Funny how quickly the years click by, and before you know it, you become a “senior citizen” and maybe even a “geriatric patient.” Well, those labels fit me, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed my status as a happy, congenial old fellow – well loved, respected, and admired by my family.
I’ll admit I was surprised when the rest of them decided to take a vacation and leave me in our neighbor’s care. It’s true my sight and hearing had failed significantly, and I’d been diagnosed with heart problems. But otherwise I enjoyed my daily walk and considered myself fit and sharp for an oldster my age.
The plan seemed logical enough. They needed time away and assumed I would prefer being in familiar territory rather than join them or stay in a temporary care facility. A neighbor would visit twice a day – at breakfast and dinnertime. It made sense.
Our relationships had reflected nothing but mutual honor through the years, so why should I doubt their motives? I swept away any temptation to think I was being treated as a nuisance.
Several days passed uneventfully, and I looked forward to a sweet reunion upon their return. Then one evening, when they were probably catching fireflies on some faraway lakeshore, a mega-storm broke loose back home. Rock-hard pellets of rain began to descend in thick sheets without warning.
My irrational fear might have seemed unwarranted to an outside observer, but for several years I’d been afraid of storms, especially electrical storms. This one seemed perched directly above the house, as if to unleash all its fury on ME! As the wind howled and lightning struck the rods on the old dairy barn - twice - I was sure my eardrums might burst. The cracks and thunderous booms terrified me down to my toes! I paced frantically in circles until eventually the fear factor rose to an unmanageable level. I charged off into the night in a faltering attempt to run away from it all.
Mud splattered my feet and legs as I lumbered awkwardly through the rain, knowing all the while my actions were senseless. I can’t explain why I fled AWAY from shelter. All I can say is this: old age equals paranoia.
Finally I stopped running and looked back through cataract-thickened lenses that only magnified my tormented thoughts. The farm buildings – house, barn, silo, corncrib, storage shed – stood like dark sentinels outlined by momentary flashes of lightning. Collectively they represented a haunting truth: abandonment.
The sky pulsed almost continually with jagged streaks of light. Wet wind whipped my face until my already blurry vision failed. I’d lost my bearings! Where was my family? WHERE??
My heart pounded explosively with each gasp of breath. I huddled on the wet earth against the row of tall field corn and turned my back to the sky.
II. The Narrator
Well-rested vacationers arrived home ready to affectionately greet him, but their hopeful anticipation immediately shifted to dread. The neighboring caregiver sat on the back porch bench, waiting to share the news.
“He’s gone ...”
“OH NO … you mean he’s missing?”
“Had a real thunder boomer last night …”
They searched every nook and cranny, but did not uncover even a single clue.
How could they have been so foolish! It might have been fun to include him on their vacation - the consistently patient, optimistic, and accepting member of the family. With a sense of shame, they confronted the truth. They’d neglected him – the unconditional lover - in favor of their own convenience.
Immediately they notified the legal authorities, the neighbors, and even the postmaster - the one who knew all the latest local news in their sleepy little town. Worried and saddened, they were also ashamed of their obvious neglect. He was gone - had left no trace - and it was their fault.
III. The Guilty
Four days ago he bolted in an attempt to escape the terrifying lightning, thunder, and torrent of rain – no doubt driven to despair. I remember how he used to magnetically cling to me during a storm; I remember those wild, insecure eyes.
But today the only tangible reminder of seventeen years of shared commitment, loyalty, and camaraderie is my poster hanging on the local post office door: “LOST! Black Australian Shepherd with white feet and bobbed tail. If you see this dog, please call 456-9876.”