I was a good dog by Mark Marty Rathbun

by Mark Marty Rathbun

“When I was five years old my mother jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. She did not survive the impact and her body washed up on shore a couple of days later. My mother’s suicide had a definite effect in shaping my later life.

“In the wake of this loss, some of my most lasting childhood memories were of avoiding social situations because of the pain inflicted by older boys teasing me about my mother “kicking the bucket.” My two older brothers never recovered. After living tortured childhoods both went insane in their early twenties. Scott, eight years my elder, has been institutionalized for “schizophrenia” most of his adult life. Bruce, four years older than I, was locked up in mental institutions several times, and finally was stabbed to death after a bar room brawl at the age of twenty-seven.

“I think my impressions of my mom were also influenced by the fact that I was with her through most of the time she was enduring her personal hell…She would have her psychotic episodes, then run off with me in the car, calm down, and express her thoughts to me as we drove down the redwood-lined roads of Marin County. I got the idea she thought it was safe to talk to me… I guess I was kind of like a good dog. A good dog is there for you when nobody else wants to be. He’ll understand (or seem to) when no one else can or will. A good dog doesn’t invalidate your thoughts, doesn’t analyze and judge your words. A good dog just listens and acknowledges — non-verbally of course, with a lick or a nuzzle-up with the snout. Sometimes, given its inability to speak and limited facial expressions, you miss the acknowledgment unless you are really tuned in to the dog’s wavelength. I guess that is why I always liked dogs. I have always told my innermost thoughts to my dogs. And not a one of them ever condemned me, no matter how off the wall my views might have been. Dogs are the best listeners God ever created…I was kind of like a good dog.

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