Friday, November 18, 2011

Marley by Sue Bell

Today I lost my best friend of the last seven years, my beloved dog Marley. Marley was a true character with the ability to make me laugh until I cried. Today I just cry.

Our courtship began in 2004. My son was in the Marines and about to ship out to Iraq. I knew I was going to need something to distract and comfort me while he was gone. I could turn to drugs or alcohol for the first time in my life or run away to a faraway land. I decided on furry companionship instead. I wanted a rescue dog. I would rescue him and he would rescue me.

I found a place that had a website where they showed a picture of the dog and listed ALL of the dog’s traits, good and bad. I liked that because I had a long list of traits I did NOT want in a dog. I emailed them a letter including my list. The dog can’t bark all the time, he can’t be a runner if I open the front door, he can’t….. I ended the email with the promise that if they did not think ANY dog could meet my high demands, I would not get a dog.

Marley’s foster Mother responded with a message that she thought she had the perfect dog for me. A dog named Marley. She included a picture. It was not love at first sight. He had a face only a Mother could love. He had bug eyes that looked both right and left at the same time and an overbite on his bottom teeth. His tongue was long and curled in a coil when he was stressed or nervous.

My husband Rick and I were invited to meet him and a couple of other dogs that might work if we didn’t bond with Marley. We drove to his foster house in the San Fernando Valley and waited in the yard while the three dogs were gathered.

Out runs a cute white Llaso Apso and an eager Bassett Hound who immediately run over to me. Prancing to his own drum, Marley shows up and goes over to my husband first. I thought this was odd. Dogs ALWAYS come to me. It is like I am Mrs. Dr. Doolittle or something. This dog intrigued me. “Maybe this was a sign,” I thought.

Right after that thought the Bassett Hound headed toward my husband. 20 lb. Marley took out his fangs and growled like a rabid wolf. Oh Lord. My list included no mean dogs. The foster Mother quickly assured me that Marley would never bite the other dog, he was just claiming Rick for his own. My heart melted, but I was still a little scared that our relationship may end in unhappiness, but I decided to let Marley take me home.

Shortly after he arrived in our life, he swallowed a piece of rawhide whole and almost died. I nursed him back to health which bonded us deeply. I could finally see past the funny looking face and become the Mother that could love it.

Not long after, my son Garrett was fighting in the “Battle of Falluja.” The nights were especially hard. I sat awake most of the time, wishing I could fall asleep and forget. My husband went to bed at 10 and my daughter around midnight. After that it was just me and Marley. He was a very special dog. He and I had a communication. I understood him and he understood me. He knew I was in pain. He would just sit there with me and let me stroke his chest hair. My favorite part of him was that chest hair. It was like a thick patch of Italian Gigilo chest hair. I found comfort there. I credit Marley with getting me through that time.

What Marley lacked in looks, he made up for with personality. I could throw out every clock in the house and still tell time as long as he was around. He demanded his two meals, 45 snacks and one walk a day at specific times. The air would change as he stood on his hind legs and waved his front legs through the air. He put his front paws together like he was praying and swiped them through the air – and would continue to do that forever unless you got up and got him what he wanted. He has not had the energy to do that in at least a year. Last night I remembered that move and cried. It used to bug me sometimes when I was busy. I would tell him he should be a telemarketer or haunt houses. Now I wish he was haunting mine.

Marley had his dinner and then he shared mine. He told me when it was time to make my dinner also and then would “help” me in the kitchen. We moved around the kitchen together in a well-choreographed waltz. He anticipated where I would move next and never tripped me up until he got old and unable to keep up. He especially liked when I would make steak. I would let him lick the paper plate when we were done. He lived for that and let me know it with a howl.

At night he turned into a stalker. Opossums beware, Marley was on the prowl. When he was not chasing his nemesis, we had lots of talks together. I would ask him questions and he would bark an answer. What? I would say. Bark he would say. You want a booger I would say. Bark he would say. How about a hand full of sand. Bark he would say. Do you want a WALK? Bingo. He went crazy and barked in appreciation that I finally got what he was saying. He really, really tried to understand me at all times. You could see the wheels turning in his little head.

He loved his afternoon walks. He liked to pretend he ran this block. He threw the Rottweiler and Boxer down the street that “screw you chump” look as he peed in their yard. They barked a promise to kill him if they ever escaped that wall. When he got too old to make it around the block on his legs, my husband bought him an old wagon. He sat in that thing like he was king of the world and Rick pulled him like the servant he was to Marley. Rick loved Marley as much as I did. Like Marley helped me in the kitchen, he helped Rick wash the cars on a Sunday morning. Insisting he be in on the action.

When Marley was able to still jump up on the couch, he liked to have my husband on one side and me other the other. He would put his front paws on me and his back paws on Rick and “bridge” us. Rick would rub is back and me his Gigilo patch. He would get a big smile on his little face. That is how I will remember him. I know we gave him a good life and the love he gave us I will carry with me forever.

I love you Boo.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November War

Neil Young sang to me a story from the early nineteen seventies during the battle of Fallujah in 2004, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away. My my hey hey.” The base store in Camp Fallujah sold music and many of the old artists had greatest hits compilations and digital remasters that had been recently released. I built my Vietnam soundtrack and would try to imagine what this music had meant to another generation of warriors. I would wonder what the last song I ever heard would be, like Russian roulette, if I left for the day’s work without hearing an absolutely favorite song I would feel manic. I waited to burn out and wondered if they would remember me in years to come. I was sure I was going to die and every now and again I would catch myself daydreaming about the future and force myself to shut it down and remind my subconscious that there would be no future. We slept in places that would remind a person something sinister was waiting, a creeping darkness during the daytime. We would stack furniture over the windows of the houses that we set up in for the night. An old refrigerator with the stench of rotting meat would be pushed by a couple of Marines to block a door that might be opened by a curious foe in the middle of the night, like a zombie movie.
A black Staff Sergeant shared a smoke with me one night and explained that he would not release the stress of war through masturbation like the rest of us because he didn’t want to leave his babies in an evil place. The sounds of war would echo through the city twenty four hours a day and I would imagine that in any given moment, somewhere out there groups of young men like me were fighting for their life and I would wonder if the distant clatter of gunfire meant another letter to loved ones back home. The Marines didn’t take long to look war worn, with dirty blackened hands and uniforms that were so full of old sweat they could almost cut a man. It was the better part of a month before we took our first shower. A piece in me loved it all, the way that I like a good horror movie. I didn’t want to look and I didn’t want to know but I always did look and I know now. Some sort of fucked up Halloween where they shot at us for asking for candy, and we would kill them. Enemy corpses twisted and disfigured some from our guns and others from earlier meetings with some other trick-or-treaters. A young dirty face might turn to you and emphatically point out that an enemy’s dick had been blown across the street and the rest would laugh while slipping in the dead stranger’s fat.
I ran to catch up to a concealed position once, I tripped, fell and knocked myself out with the impact of my own radio hitting the back of my head. I came to quickly next to a corpse and the other Marines thought that was the funniest thing they had ever seen, and so did I. “Tin Soldiers and Nixons coming, we're finally on our own…” A song which I could not relate to in the intentions of the lyrics, na├»ve to the outrage but willing to reassign modern meaning. Collectively the young men knew that there would never be anything like this again. A license to kill and a Grimm Fairy Tale that played like broken piano keys live and before our eyes, we were ready to fight and I was ready to die, but never did. That would be someone else’s story and I could not believe it on the ride back to our ships with far less trick-or-treaters than we had started with. I could not wrap my head around being alive and what that would mean. None of this fades with age and I wish as hard as I wished to live but told myself I wouldn’t, that I can go back for one minute. Smell those terrible smells and check up on some old dreams. Surreal like a Man Ray image this war plays in broken pieces and comes back to life in November.