Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Man and His Dog

I'm a pretty big movie buff, but my life has helped me to put that on hold over the past few years. I still enjoy a good movie, but the theater experience is a commodity these days, one that I don't get to experience as often as I would like. Of course, the cost of going to the theater to see a film rivals dinner at as moderately priced restaurant and when your time and dates are limited, the dinner usually wins out.

All that to say, I generally get a chance to see movies that are mainstream if I have the desire. Red Box and I are friends. I have also grown friendly with my local public libraries which not only give me a good dose of films but also offers them in HD with Blu Ray...for free. Unfortunately though, I movie browse the way that I shop, with an idealistic eye. In other words, knowing that movies are due two weeks later, I somehow always manage to think that I have more time than I really do to watch all of the movies that I check out.

Last time I was at the library, I checked out "Marley and Me." I had heard things about it when it came out, but never had the chance to see it. Frankly, there are some movies of which I know the outcome that are mood pieces, I just need to be in the right state of mind to view them. Tonight felt like the right night to watch "Marley and Me."

Now, I rarely ever go into movies "cold," not knowing the basic premise and plot. "Marley and Me" was no exception. Of course, anyone with kids knows how your perspective changes pretty drastically when you have that as the lens through which you look at life. So, I knew what I was in for, or at least had a vague idea that tears would most likely be involved with the viewing of this movie.

I nearly announced to my wife at the end of the movie, "And that's why we'll never have a dog." Thankfully, sometimes I actually think before I say something. I thought about it and even convinced myself that my mind was made up, but I have lived too much life to really think that I can say "I will never" and actually get away with it. After all, I grew up with a dog.

His name was Smokey. He was a German Schnauzer and we got him from a family in our church. He had had some issues with children in the neighborhood where he used to live, potentially having had them throw rocks and other things at him. He wasn't crazy about kids for that reason, but he took to my brother and I just fine. When my parents discovered that I had allergies, they were glad for a short-haired dog that did not shed. So we kept him.

One time, when we were on vacation, he stayed across town with some friends of the family. Somehow he managed to get loose and make his way across town to our house. Smokey was a smart dog. We always knew that he would come back when we let him outside.

My family went to Florida during a February vacation one year. When we arrived home, we let Smokey out to do what it is that dogs do outside. It was snowing at the time, and he didn't come home. My dad searched and searched. He called for him and heard nothing. This was so unusual. So we waited.

I don't remember exactly how long we waited, but it must have been long enough that winter was gone. One day we got a phone call from another family in our church. The railroad tracks that took trains from New Haven to New York ran behind our house, some kids had spotted a dog that they thought might be Smokey on the tracks. My dad took the call and hopped in his car.

It seemed like among the longest moments in my life. It also may have been the first time that I ever saw my dad cry. I remember that we were standing at the top of the stairs when he came home. I heard the downstairs door shut and there was a pause which seemed longer than usual before I heard the double doors to the upstairs open and heard my father begin to ascend. One look at his face gave us the answer that we had dreaded, the answer that we had hoped and prayed was not true. It was a pretty awful day.

Not too long ago, my dad brought Smokey up in a conversation. He actually mentioned his crying and the heartbreak that he experienced that day. Of course, we have all been through much more since then, but dogs capture your hearts, if you let them. We let Smokey into our home and he did just that, he was part of our family.

I don't know if I will ever agree to let my kids have a dog. As 40 looms in the not-too-distant future, I almost feel as if I would be backtracking. I mean, most people use dogs as their litmus test for kids. If you can take care of a dog, maybe you can take care of a kid. Now that I have 3 kids, getting a dog defeats that purpose. They usually can't let themselves out or feed themselves, no matter how old they get. You still have to get babysitters for them, no matter how old they get.

And one day, when the day arrives for them to come to the end of your life, they tear your heart out because they loved you unconditionally when the rest of the world kept telling you that you never measured up to what they thought you should be. Yeah, I could see myself having a dog, but I don't know if I could handle all that it means. I guess it comes down to whether or not I will believe the words of the great poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson who said, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

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