He was a street waif, abandoned by those who no longer cared enough to feed him and offer him a place to call home.
His right ear had a permanent tear where he’d just missed being killed by another who wanted what he’d found to eat.
From an early age his teeth and gums were infected from chronic poor nutrition. It wasn’t uncommon to see ugly bulges along his jaw line where this or that tooth was abscessed. He’d learned to just chew on the other side until he was able to work the sepsis and accompanying pain out. He’d had those bad teeth checked; yet to correct as an adult what had never been treated when young would have meant several thousand dollars’ worth of dental intervention. Marko didn’t own a wallet. He had no money to put in it if he had. His breath was putrid, bordering on toxic, from his poor eating habits and resultant severe gastric and dental issues.
Marko wasn’t very big, but he was a tough little guy; he’d gotten used to pain, accepting it as just part of his normal daily routine. Though reserved and less trusting, he never laid his ills on those around him. He did his best to be a friend to any who’d let him. When the pain got too insistent to ignore, he was wise enough to find a quiet place and just lay down until it passed. If he had a blanket to lay on, great. Life on the street has few comforts so he got by with little.
On the streets, one seldom has many friends.
I remember when Marko’s best bud died of a brain tumor, it hit him hard. I was working in my office when I heard a strange, high-pitched wailing. I went to see if he was all right and found him sitting alone on the floor in the middle of the family room, head raised, eyes closed, moaning in an inarticulate effort to let the hurt in his heart out. He didn’t know I was watching, and I stood there bemused for a moment, wondering if I should stop such strange behavior.
Then sanity mugged me and I rethought. What if he’s right?
Who of us might not find solace and healing in doing likewise?
On the streets, neither does one have many possessions. That would explain why Marko attached himself in fierce loyalty to a 12-inch high, stuffed Elmo doll. His natural demeanor was one of more-or-less calm detachment until anyone got close to his doll.
Then he’d bristle and growl, giving glimpses of the street-wise, tough little dude from the ‘hood.
Oh–did I forget to mention Marko was a miniature dachshund mix we’d rescued?
We never knew for sure, but I secretly thought him mixed with a Shetland yak. He came to us with triple-thick black hair matted and tangled. His feet resembled snowshoes. Once he began eating decent food – what he could chew – he sported a fireplug body, unlike the sleek curvature of our dappled, blue-eyed mini-doxy who became Marko’s brother: Buddy II.
No matter how often we brushed Marko, we’d end up collecting handfuls of thick, fine hair. Nor was it odd once every few months to find and cut out tangled and matted fur, especially behind his ears. It seemed as though the hair on his ears, flanks, feathers and tail grew twice as fast as all the rest. All in all, he was a funny-looking little guy with a heart twice as large as his diminutive stature.
Marko loved his dolly. Once he knew nobody was going to take it from him, he packed that little red Elmo all over the house with him. He’d have taken it outside had we not forbidden it. There were too many weeds and bugs through which to drag it. Upstairs, downstairs, wherever Marko had last been, you’d find his dolly. He loved his dolly.
And me. Up in years, he was having noticeable trouble getting up and down the stairs. Nevertheless, he quietly let it be known that anytime I was working in my downstairs office, he would work his way down and I’d hear the soft jingle of his collar ‘brass’ as he came in to lie down on his deceased best friend’s old bed.
Marko loved anyone who’d love him back. He held a special spot, though, in his hungry heart for my daughter, Cass. Whenever she was here, they were twins. Even when in pain and not feeling on top of his game, Marko’s sharp little chortle of a bark would bounce off the walls whenever Cass offered him and Buddy some noms.
You know, it doesn’t take much to hold someone’s heart if your love for them is genuine.
She’d captured his with a piece of Pupperoni.
By now you’ve figured out I’m referring to Marko in the past tense for a reason.
Yesterday I took our brave, odd-looking little fighter from the streets with the horribly-scarred heart for our last ride together.
We spent some time during the day playing – well, trying to play. His body was shutting down and he had rarely come out from under the bed where he slept other than to get a drink and try once more to eat. Mostly he swallowed the softest pieces whole because he could no longer chew up his food.
A couple of years ago he’d tangled with a cocked mousetrap and it partially crushed his breathing passages. When I had the vet check his teeth (ka-ching, ka-ching…), I also had him look at the nose thing. He said basically outside of costly surgery, there was nothing we could do. He said if it was not seriously impeding Marko’s breathing, to just monitor it.
We did. It steadily got worse, and along with everything else happening in our little pal’s daily life, we finally agreed it was time to love him enough to no longer let him suffer.
He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to traverse the stairs; he wanted to be with his humans and his next-best bud, Buddy II. He didn’t understand why his body wasn’t working like it should; he just knew he only felt like laying around.
He got brushed and brushed. He was petted. He was given his favorite noms. He was loved on, and even Buddy tried to get him to play one more time. Oh, yeah. And when we went for our last ride together, he had his red Elmo dolly along.
It was the last thing his fading eyes saw, and my hand stroking his thick fur and my voice telling him I loved him were the last things he felt and heard.
When I returned with just his jingly collar and his dolly, Buddy didn’t understand at first. He’s young and was used to Marko disappearing for long periods because he didn’t feel good. I laid Marko’s old dolly and his collar on the living room floor. They’d help Buddy transition and have his brother’s scent on them and give him a little comfort.
This morning it began to dawn on him. Marko’s gone. He’s moped out in the yard they both shared, where they chased birds and squirrels. He’s ambled through the house, tail drooping, double-checking in all Marko’s fav spots to lay and be left alone.
He’s getting it. Marko’s gone. Buddy’s too young to have known loss and has no idea how to mourn. He doesn’t know how to keen and wail, letting the loneliness and pent-up hurt out.
For all his odd appearance and funny ways, Marko had learned how to let his grief out. He mourned for Buddy I.
So who cries for Marko?
That would be me. I ‘get’ loneliness and pent-up hurt. (Marko, little companion, I’m sitting in about the same spot you did. Am I getting it right? After all the deaths I’ve attended across the years, it was hard for me to tell you goodbye. I really miss you . . .)
© D. Dean Boone, July 2014