As I approach the old barn, I take a moment to breathe it all in. The yellow paint that has somehow degraded to a sick green color, the windows barely hanging on, the wood creaking with gusts of wind. My hands squeeze the beautiful red collar that belonged to my best friend, Charlie. Even though my eyes witness an abandoned barn, my heart feels nothing but bittersweet memories, warmth laying on my shoulders, and relief in my breath.
My grandfather gave my parents some land as a wedding present. Right after the wedding, twenty years ago, they arrived to see a small, cute yellow house, and a large, creaky old barn. One day, after a year of unsuccessful attempts of getting pregnant, my dad went to the barn to clear his mind. This is when he heard some small cries coming from the barn, getting closer to the source. As he entered the barn, he noticed one horse still awake, Lily. He went to go see what was wrong with her, and before he could even utter a word to calm her, he looked beside her and saw a curled up, cold and shivering, beagle pup, hiding in the hay. Lily neighed at my dad and stepped aside for him to enter and pick up the pup. As soon as his little eyes looked up at my dad, he could feel nothing but sadness for the lonely soul, and brought him inside to meet my mom, as well as some food and water.
Not even three months had passed since my parents found Charlie, when they finally received the news that my mom was pregnant, and they were ecstatic. The puppy was so shy and hesitant to be near my parents until he saw my moms’ belly get bigger. Since my dad named Charlie, my mom had the pleasure of naming me Maxwell. Charlie slept next to my moms’ growing belly every night until one day I came home. It took me three years to say his name correctly, but Charlie always knew when I was talking to him. He would be a pillow for me when I was crying, he would jump around when I was playing, and he was just always around me. The only times he wasn’t with me, was when he was playing with our horse, Lily. Never in my life have I ever seen a dog and a horse get along so well together.
Charlie wasn’t very good at learning tricks, unfortunately. My parents never really had time to teach him and I was too young to figure out how. In fact, the only trick he was good at was hiding whenever he’d hear the vets’ name. Every other minute of the day, Charlie would be either playing with me, running around with Lily, or asleep with me. My mom used to say that the Charlie didn’t have to learn tricks to be a good dog, he just had to be happy, and he was pretty good at that.
I started learning how to work in the barn, and Charlie was always by my side. He was still playful, but he also learned how to work with me. I could barely carry a pail of milk sometimes, and I would feel him put his head under it and gently lift it up as I walked, so it wouldn’t be so heavy. If Charlie saw me starting to yawn, he would bunch up some hay across from Lily and try to make a make-shift bed for me. When I was at school, Lily would play with Charlie until I got home. There were even a few times when I caught him sleeping on top of Lily as she slept. As I got older, my parents didn’t want Charlie sleeping with me anymore, but Lily sure didn’t mind the company, as she was one of the only horses left at that point.
My trance is broken with a large snap I hear, and some metal hitting the ground. I snapped back to present day, noticing myself just sitting on some scrapped wood, alone in this empty old barn. Looking around to see what snapped off, I notice the dog bowls we left here, so many years ago. There was some dirty water filling them to the brim, but somehow, it was still in the same old place, right next to the trench where we would let the horses drink.
My dad was always struggling to keep the farm running smoothly and work on his career at the same time. My mom worked the farm and was a substitute teacher at the school in town, so her days were pretty busy most of the time too. I remember when I would just lay down in the barn with Charlie and Lily and I would just read out loud all the teaching material my mom had laying around. Once I was in the fourth grade, my dad had started selling so much of the farm off, it was almost empty. I don’t blame him, but I noticed the sadness in Charlie and Lily as they stopped having so many four-legged friends around. Soon, my mom just stopped working the farm and became a full-time teacher at my school, and my dad was a little less stressed when we got home. Charlie made sure I was never lonely.
When I was sick, Charlie would not leave my side. The nights where I couldn’t sleep in my bed, I would go to the barn and sleep next to him, and Lily didn’t seem to mind another body in her barn. When my granddad passed away, he snuck into my room and slept with me for a week, until my mom caught him. I remember coming home from school one day, to find my mom and the vet in the kitchen. Sixth grade was becoming a bit difficult for me, so my mom always had me go straight to my room to study for an hour every day after school, but that day was different because I was not home alone when I got there.
My moms’ eyes were watery, and I heard Charlie whimpering outside, so I bolted out towards him, leaving my backpack on the couch. The vet, Dr. Brown, soon followed me into the barn and saw me on my knees, holding Charlie, as we looked at this huge tarp on the ground. Charlie was the only live animal in that barn, and my heart suffered such a huge stabbing pain as I realized that he was the loneliest he has ever felt. Dr. Brown was speaking to me as I just sat there, with tears on my cheeks, but I do not remember hearing a thing he said. I only remember Charlie on my lap with his face buried into my shirt, and my eyes fixed on Lily’s hoof, sticking out of the tarp. Before I knew it, the Sun was setting, and my dad got home, and put a heavy hand on my shoulder. He took a breath, and started helping Dr. Brown put Lily on the truck and haul her away. I slept in the barn that night, and it took a week for Charlie to finally start wagging his tail again.
My parents had come to me, sitting in the barn reading to Charlie once, the day before I started the eighth grade. My dad had his hat in hand, and let me know that we would all be moving away in a year. I didn’t think about it much at the time, I just understood that we had no more reason to stay on this barren farm anymore. It wasn’t until just a year before today that I learned that it was planned for a few weeks before they told me. Apparently, they had talked about it with Dr. Brown while I was in school, and they decided that a house closer to the city would be better for everyone.
Not even three weeks since they told me the news, did I start noticing Charlie started sleeping a lot more often than he used to. My mom had been giving him pills without him or I knowing, and I was just told they were vitamins. I think I knew they weren’t vitamins, but I didn’t know what else they could be, so I didn’t question her. Charlie had become more sluggish, more tired, less himself. I would still read to him, but he would be snoring by the third page, and I wouldn’t bother waking him up.
On my last day of school before winter break, I came home to a familiar van in the driveway. I was excited to be done with school for a while, but that smile melted away as soon as I saw Dr. Browns’ van in the driveway, and my heart sank as soon as I saw my parents in the kitchen, sniffling. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. They wouldn’t let me see Charlie one more time; instead they just hugged me as Dr. Brown sat there in sadness, staring at the back of his van. All the warmth my parents gave me, but all I wanted was for Charlie to come up to me and greet me with his wagging tail and his little paws on my pants. My heart sank that day, and it took so long before I could start putting his toys away. The last thing I ever did with Charlie was promise him a walk through the farm the next day, after school. I wish I had just walked with him then and there, instead of going to bed.
I sit here, in this abandoned barn, because I hear it was sold again, to some neighbors that wanted a bigger farm. I want to say that this barn holds the memory of my greatest heartbreak, of the deepest cut my heart ever had, but I would do his memory no justice. I could not have grown up how I did, without Charlie. He was the reason I loved waking up, the reason I never felt alone, the reason I didn’t care about my bruises, cuts, and headaches, because he was there to comfort me. I love Charlie, to this day, as my dog, my best friend, and the reason my heart is so strong.
As soon as I had graduated high school, we moved closer to a suburb near the city, and I had to make brand new friends all over again. My dad got a promotion at work soon after, and my mom became a principal at the middle school near us. I told every one of my new friends about Charlie and Lily, and they loved them too. Talking about Charlie made me feel better, knowing he brought me so much joy, and knowing he was once lonely too, until he started trusting people. He was scared when my dad found him, but as soon as he found something to love, all of his personality came out. Charlie learned to trust people, and he helped me learn to trust too.
The Sun starts to set as I get up and start heading towards the barn door. I’m about to leave the state for college, and I’m very scared of all the new things that await me, but this collar in my hand makes me feel like I’m not alone. I know that I’m stronger than I think, because if I ever start feeling sad or alone, then I feel like all those years Charlie spent making me happy, all that effort, was for nothing. I will not fail his memory that way; he deserves better. From now on, everything I do is for him, is because of him, because I love him. Charlie tried his best to make me happy, and it worked, because he is such a good boy.