Turning onto High Drive, I see Chester Kanaley in the mirror of my 1992 Mazda Miata waiting for me on my doorstep like he does everyday after school. I hop out and slo-mo run over to him with “Chariots of Fire” playing in my head. He lifts his head and gazes at me with his dark brown eyes. I drop my brick-loaded backpack to the ground and lay on the doorstep with him for a solid 10 minutes before going inside to start on more chem SR2QRs.
Whether it’s been another day of crying over my chem grade or a rare happy day from an unexpected perfect score on an English quiz, my golden retriever is there to greet me with his tail wagging. People say dogs are a man’s best friend, but I think they’re more than that. Chester is my best friend, but he is also my therapist, vacuum cleaner, cuddle-buddy, blanket and brother.
A few months after my old dog Cooper passed away in 2008, my dad flew back to the same breeder in Virginia to bring Chester home. I remember eagerly waiting up past my bedtime for my dad to return with our new baby at 9:00 p.m. after carrying him home on the plane.
Eight-year-old me was dying to name him Bowser, after the Super Mario Bros villain, just like how my younger sister Rose wanted to name our little sister Caroline “Ariel” when she came home from the hospital for the first time. But the moment I saw him jump out of the car and stumble into the snow, that innate brother/sister connection kicked in and I knew he was a Chester.
Now 110 lbs of love, Chester’s dog-sized brain tells him he is still the size of a puppy and is a lap dog. He likes to sprawl across my body while I’m watching “How I Met Your Mother” and act as my personal blanket, or tackle me to the ground when I play with him. But even when I feel my bones crunching underneath him or a paw landing on the wrong spot, my heart agrees with him. My brother is a lap dog.
My family’s love for this dog is unbelievable to some people. I mean, it’s not like any of my friends throw birthday parties for their dogs like we do. But if my sisters and I get to have birthday parties, why shouldn’t Chester? We invite his best pals, two golden retriever brothers Sterling and Bentley, and bake a doggy birthday cake for them to share. Chester’s become so accustomed to opening birthday presents that now even on other holidays like Christmas or someone else’s birthday, we always wrap a couple treats and a tennis ball up so he can unwrap it. Because Chester is everyone’s favorite sibling/child in our family, we do this type of thing to make him happy.
Our annual summer trip to upstate New York should theoretically be just a four hour plane ride, but we drive 18 hours both ways just so we can take Chester to his favorite place in the world, Seneca Lake. Fitting five people, a slobbery dog and our suitcases in a minivan for a whole day isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s worth it to see him leap off the dock to join us in the icy lake water as if he were a lifeguard trying to save us from “drowning.” Even if that means he plays pranks on us by making sure not to shake the water off of him until I’m within range to be soaked in wet dog water.
I gotta say, Chester is a purebred who brings me pure joy. The thought of leaving for college in a year freaks me out just as much as any other teenager, but he’s the one thing I’ll miss the most.
Chester is more than just my best friend. I would take him on a thousand walks and clean up all the dog poop in the world if that meant I could stay by his side forever. No matter how rough my day is, I know my brother Chester will be waiting for me on our doorstep to make everything better.