I was twelve years old when Max came into my life. The long-awaited school break had finally arrived, and for weeks I had been pestering my parents relentlessly for a dog to share the summer vacation with. My frazzled father eventually succumbed to my constant pleading, and to my delight we set off early one morning in the direction of the local animal shelter. I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of dogs which greeted us exuberantly upon our arrival. Each one vying for attention as my father and I walked slowly through the compound. I wanted to take all of them home with me, but unfortunately knew I must choose only one.
And then I saw Max. He was lying motionless in the corner of the cage, the picture of despondency. As I approached he tentatively raised his head to ascertain if I would continue walking past, like the myriad of others who had come before me. I paused and looked at him directly, calling to him softly. With a look of disbelief he slowly stood up, taking a few hesitant steps before suddenly rushing to the front of the enclosure, pawing fervently at the thick wire which separated us.
To the casual observer Max was perhaps nothing more than a scruffy mongrel, but to me he was the most beautiful dog in the world. We spent countless hours that summer happily exploring the creek which flowed amiably nearby. In the evening Max would lay at the side of my bed, his soulful brown eyes gazing earnestly up at me as I spoke to him of my future plans and dreams.
The deluge of summer rain came unexpectedly that year, bringing three days of torrential downpour which incessantly pummeled the roof of our home. When the sun finally appeared I was eager to venture out with Max to explore the newly formed landscape of emerald green shaped by the sudden storm.
My parents instructed me in no uncertain terms as they left for work to go no farther than the yard until the creek had returned to its normal level. Ignoring their warning, Max and I were soon walking expectantly toward the creek bed.
I was shocked at the creeks transformation. This was not the gentle meandering stream I remembered, but a seething, brutal swell of roaring water rushing ferociously across rocks and fallen limbs to the whitewater below.
For a fleeting moment I felt the primordial fear the power of mother nature is capable of evoking, but youth and inexperience prevailed, and foolishly I made my way toward the turbulent river. Max seemed exceptionally uneasy, stopping frequently and barking loudly, as if trying to dissuade me from continuing, his instincts more finely tuned than my own.
As I walked beside the swirling torrent my confidence grew, and I edged ever closer in hope of a better look. I didn’t notice the jagged rock protruding menacingly from the undergrowth, and tripping, tumbled head first into the frigid water. I was stunned by the violent force of the current as I was enveloped within its powerful grip. In desperation I tried to swim, only to find myself being propelled further down the creek, the weight of my tennis shoes and jeans dragging me under with each futile stroke.
I could hear the frenzied barking of Max as he ran alongside the creek in pursuit. It was then I realized I was drowning, my lungs near bursting as they desperately gasped for air as I repeatedly plunged beneath the surface of the water.
As blind panic set in I suddenly felt something touch me. It was Max. He had leaped into the frothing cauldron and was now swimming next to me. With my remaining strength I placed my arm around his back and clutched his fur as he pulled me to the safety of a shallow enclave within the creek.
As I stood in the shallows with Max I was overcome by the realization that I was still physically intact, still breathing the warm morning air, the life affirming touch of the sun’s rays reassuringly enfolding my trembling shoulders.
I never told my parents about my close encounter with death that day. I was far too ashamed, and I knew they would be consumed with anger and guilt. It was a secret best kept between Max and I.
As that summer passed, and the years of youth unfolded into manhood, Max and I remained inseparable. As I placed flowers on his grave the morning he died, I imparted a silent prayer of gratitude for our time spent together. He had not only been my best friend and companion, but a giver of life. A life I was determined would be lived to the fullest, forever cherishing the loving memory of a dog named Max.