He loved dogs.
I write this in past tense because I don't know where he is. Until recently, he lived in a house, alone, which was as he had always lived. But, today I learned he had been moved to a nursing home. Its name? No one knows.
We weren't friends. He was one of my teachers. In fact, I didn't really care for him or his class. He was quiet and opaque, aside from the frequent smirks and winks to his entourage of drooling graduate students who were dedicated, it seemed, to preserving his mystique. When I was done with his course, I vowed I wouldn't take any more from him. And I was certain he was out of my life. Good riddance, I said.
But after I was done with the degree, and got married, things changed. I was not just an alum, I was a faculty wife, with all the associations and duties that went along with it. And because my former teacher and husband were colleagues, there were the inevitable suggestions that we invite him over for dinner.
Which we did.
I remember dreading his arrival, wondering what I was going to say, how he was going to get along with our other guests. He didn't generally socialize outside of the university, and was famous for backing out of invitations he'd accepted...always at the last minute. Yet, he was at our door on time.
And although he was pleasant, he was as tight-lipped in our home as he'd been in class. Without his entourage, he seemed adrift.
My husband served drinks. Our other guests sat near him and tried to engage him in conversation. He politely answered their questions, but didn't offer much. The guests tried harder.
I was ready for a long evening.
And then my husband let the dog back into the house.
She was barely out of puppyhood, a Jack Russell a friend of a friend had found trying to climb out of a garbage can in alley. We had recently lost a dog, another rescue, to old age, and fell in love with this adorable little pooch instantly. But she was a handful, wired with terrier energy, and still working through behavior problems that came from being abused and abandoned. She was great with people she knew and trusted, but skittish around strangers. We always warned guests not to approach or handle her without her permission. She had never bitten anyone, but was quick to growl if frightened.
She did a few laps around the first floor before deciding that the living room was the place to be, and went directly to my former teacher and panted at his feet.
He burst out laughing.
The dog stood on her hind legs and rested her paws on his thigh, still panting.
He patted her head and offered her a little piece of cheese, which she took politely, and ran to another room to eat. A minute later she was back, tail wagging, mouth open, on her hind legs, yipping at him.
Tears ran down his cheeks.
He had to put his drink down to take out a handkerchief.
The dog reached for his arm. And on and off, throughout the evening, he and our dog entertained each other, and us, as they got acquainted.
Before he left, he thanked us and said he had never had so much fun. It was his birthday, you see—a fact we hadn't known, and this was a perfect way to celebrate it.
I looked at him differently after that, and asked him back many times. Even after the Jack Russell died, he was glad for the invitation.
The last time we shared a meal, a year ago, he had become terribly frail. My husband and I had taken him to lunch, and I had to help him in and out of the car. His hands shook, and his voice barely rose above a whisper.
He was fading—this odd, guarded, occasionally smug, brilliant, and accomplished man who was once famous, sought-after, revered by his students and colleagues, this man I didn't like. I could say that's the way life is, that's the price of aging, except for the fact that he has more than faded from our lives: he has disappeared.
And that breaks my heart.
We'll continue to look for him, but I hope that wherever he is, there are dogs. He did love them so.