Marty, Dad, and Me
When I was a teenager, I remember my older brother telling me that when we were little we had a dog that never barked. He whimpered sometimes, my brother said, and howled during the day, but he never barked. I don’t remember our dog, except maybe that he was golden and that I maybe loved him. I remember thinking, even back then, when my brother and I fingered through the pages of old photo albums, that maybe our dog wasn’t just different because he never barked, but because he chose not too.
I am sitting across the table from my dad, coffee dividing us, mine dressed up in milk and sugar high-heels, his black and boring like the cover of the bible sitting open next to the newspaper on in front of him. The sound of steam rising from the mugs is like a spirit hovering over an expanse of water. These are our origins. I know my dad loved the dog. Marty, I think he said his name was, once. I break the silence. Dad, I say, tell me about Marty.
He peeks up from the bible, or the paper, it’s hard to know as his eyes float between the black and white print in front of him, maybe letting the stories of one bleed into the other.
“He was a good dog.”
That’s all he says. I finish my coffee and he finishes the One-Year Bible—five more times. I graduate high school, go to college, and come home only occasionally on the weekends.
My first semester is coming to a close. My dorm room a place void of all solace. I go home on a Friday evening after a long string of all-nighters to tie essays together has plagued my week. Sleep seems almost unnatural.
I am wrapped in the blanket of my childhood, a comforter with my favorite football teams logo screen printed on the front of it. My parents are kind enough to keep around this and other memories of a room I knew before I grew up.
I am drifting somewhere through a dream. A light flickers in the sky of my fantasy world and begins to burn a hole in the atmosphere of it like a cigarette. It’s not the sun—it’s a white light. My guess is I must be dying.
My eyes peel open but there is still that thin film like when you crack open an eggshell wrong. My world is fuzzy as I stumble foolishly toward the light that is seeping from underneath the door to my room.
I open the door to a well-lit kitchen, a steaming mug of coffee, a bible, the newspaper, the face of clock grinning 6:03, and my dad, sitting at the table in silence, wearing only his underwear.
It is in the kitchen that Marty, my dad, and I collide, and the expanse of five years collapses.
I look through old photos and nothing about our dog ever becomes any clearer. He was a good dog who never barked. I stand in a kitchen, looking over a scene I know better than the blanket I slept with every night of my childhood and it’s five years of Deja-vu. But it’s not. The bible has yellowed, the underwear worn and holy, and my dad: thinner, tired, grayer.
I rub the blurs out my eyes from where I stand at the edge of the kitchen. I picture my dad five years ago at six in the morning, preparing for three different jobs with his one coffee and the same book.
I sugar a cup for myself and slide into the chair across from him. He says nothing and I doubt things have changed. Five years later and I still have to break the silence. Good morning dad, I say.
“Good morning,” he replies.
How are you? I ask him, trying to stoke to life the conversations we’ve never had.
“Good,” he says.
Five years later of course the blurs are gone from my eyes, and this time, rubbed from my ears as well. He was a good dog—those are the words I hear in his response. But five years of burdens are mixed colorless and tasteless into the mugs of bitter coffee he has endured. His coffee is still black, but his silence is not absence. I hear silence and I hear the loud sound of man who chooses not to bark—the sound of a man who never complains. I never imagined a picture would get more crisp as time passed. I never thought I would rub my eyes and see clearly what I had missed every morning as my dad drank coffee and said nothing. But I did.
I never thought I would hear courage spoken through a still, soundless voice. When I think of the difficulty of three jobs, the duty of feeding a family, and the devotion to an unseen God – I think of my dad. Every morning he walks into the world half-naked, and half-naked he leaves. I’m still not sure if it is the Book or the underwear that he believes covers him.
Now, if I try to imagine men marching, their battles and their medals—I imagine white underwear.
I welcome your thoughts.