He pulled the laces tight on his running shoes and finished tying them.
With a deep breath, he opened the door to the outside world, ran past the portal while giving the door a shove and made it halfway to the street before hearing a satisfying slam behind him.
Onto the asphalt and down the road he ran in a quick, half-block sprint before stopping at a gate. The wooden gate ended a privacy fence next to what used to be his home, the latch set into a post up against the house. He could hear a dog barking excitedly and scratching the wood.
“Slow down Rosy. Take it easy, you’ll be out in no time,” he said as he opened the gate and grabbed the large dog by the collar.
He walked her through and shut the gate, snapping a leash on the excited animal’s collar and shouting “heel!” before the canine could take him for a drag around the block.
They ran together down the street to a dirt road, the man and 109-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback – one of a dog breed known for hunting lions.
Making a left turn at a new little league baseball diamond, on the pair went until the road tapered into a path winding up into hills covered with sage, grass and little else.
The man knelt and took off the leash saying “sit” in as firm a voice he could muster while trying not to laugh at the dog’s excitement.
The dog obeyed with eyes and tail betraying an anxiousness to bolt.
“Let’s ROCK this joint!” the man said and the dog bolted ahead as the man sprinted and then slowed to a jog under a clear sky and bright sun.
Ahead, the orange-haired canine capered, running the first part of a figure eight and snuffling for mountain lions or other critters.
Dust puffed up as her paws struck the ground.
Streaking at full speed back to the jogger, the dog gave a little push against his left leg, causing the jogger to stumble, then ran the second part of the figure eight – making sure no critter was trying to sneak up from behind.
Again the dog tried to push against the jogger, but this time he was ready and darted aside like a matador in a bull ring.
On the game went as the pair ran up into the hills.
After a good 30 minutes, the two came to the top of a sage-covered hill where the jogger slowed to a walk, circling an old mine shaft filled in with debris. Around the shaft’s mouth colorful poppies and wildflowers grew.
The pair stopped and looked at the town and airport stretching from left to right below – watching a plane take off and rise up until it flew parallel to their perch.
The man sighed.
This would be their last run together.
“Rosy, I’m gonna miss you,” the runner said, kneeling to hug the dog tightly and pat her belly.
The man sat and began to cry as the dog licked his face.
“God, I’m sorry for the mess I’ve made. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Can’t you do anything about this?” the man cried out, looking up into the sky as if expecting to see God’s face there.
Broken lives, a broken marriage and broken vows lay in the man’s wake, including his own, and now he’d lost his job at an engineering firm.
Now he’d come literally running back to God.
He thanked God for getting a job quickly – hired over the telephone to work at a Texas newspaper. But that meant leaving Hailey, Idaho, a town he’d come to love and a natural fit for the canine that truly had become his best and only friend.
He sat next to her and stroked the weird fur ridgebacks get their name from.
He recalled what he was running from – a divorce and dark cloud.
The wife got the dogs and all the property. The couple had no offspring, thank God.
They did have many friends at the Episcopal Church they attended. Or she attended now.
He felt ostracized despite his repentance and request for forgiveness made to his wife. In his mind ostracism was deserved. He had few friends left at church, if any.
All the man would leave Hailey with would be his van, clothes and little else.
That didn’t bother him – what did was losing his job due to downsizing and not finding another.
“God, any reason you couldn’t help me with the Hailey job search? I should have listened to you,” he said as he continued stroking the dog’s fur.
“Why couldn’t I stay true to you? Why is it so hard?”
Of course he knew the answer to that one.
He’d broken a vertebrae in his back while working and successfully pursued a worker’s compensation claim. Two surgeries later and his back had mended well. In fact, due to the physical therapy he was in the best shape of his life since his teen years when he worked out twice a day with the high school swim team.
Before his injury, his obese wife had made fun of him and his pot belly, ridiculing him in front of friends and relatives and calling him her “Minute Man” in reference to what little sex they had and his performance.
In front of friends and relatives, he recalled. Some had even laughed at the joke.
When “Minute Man” had the opportunity to leave town on a business trip, he didn’t hesitate for a second.
He didn’t exactly keep up a relationship with God as he tried to fit in with his other team members writing a technical manual.
They liked beer and raucous comedy.
At some point he stopped wincing at hearing God’s name used in vain.
He had already used painkillers after surgery and then beer to dull the pain of going home to who he saw as an enemy who nagged mercilessly. Drinking a little more to fit in didn’t pose any difficulty.
On assignment, both his writing and drinking skills were admired and even praised. And he was in good shape.
Then there was a bar.
There was a flattering, beautiful woman who’d read a lot of the same literature he had.
There was the best sex in his life, a brief relationship and a voice in the back of his head screaming at him to stop because he knew better.
He ignored the voice and God.
For a few weeks he had his fill of pleasure up until the beautiful woman told him it had all been a fling to see if she was still desired by men after her 40th birthday – not to get her wrong, she thought he was handsome, fit, fun to be with and a great lover. He’d shed the “Minute Man” nickname but with the wrong woman.
“I can’t see you anymore,” she said, using a classic line that instantly turns men invisible.
She was in a committed relationship with a wealthy guy coming back to town from a business trip.
Ah, the irony.
There were tears and gnashing of teeth on his part. And booze, lots of booze. None of his team members wanted to hang out with him anymore as he wallowed in self-pity and forgot about his wife.
The secret of the affair was out, too.
Like many followers of Jesus do when they stray from him and into pain, the man came back.
He begged God’s forgiveness but could not face marriage with the woman he’d betrayed and who would now have something to hold over his head – no matter how justified she may be.
He told his wife and apologized.
He lived in his van for a while until finding a room in a house down the block from where he used to live.
At the engineering company he’d been praised after the successful trip as part of a team writing and publishing the technical manual. But word got back about his behavior. He found himself working in the engineering company’s mail room.
A few months later, he was truly down-sized.
And he came to God begging for help, for the pain to go away and for help forgetting the memory of his stupid passage into pleasure.
Once, while out running down the street instead of up the hills, his wife drove up alongside to “give him one last chance,” asking if he was sure he wanted to go through the divorce.
She had become an angel, turning to God in her pain too.
But the man’s pride and memories of how married life had been led him to forgive her when asked – but not to go back to living with her.
The divorce proceeded.
And here he sat on a hilltop crying, yelling at God and hugging his dog goodbye before his final run out of town.