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The One About The Dogs - I could have been something

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January 22nd, 2008

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03:30 pm - The One About The Dogs
I'm going to tell this from the beginning, for once.

Let's say you're twelve years old. All your life, your father has been raising you and your older brother to be one particular grown up thing that is very difficult. Even an entire life in pursuit of these skills doesn't come close to a guarantee that you will be successful. Look at your father, for example.

You're not as good as your brother, but you love him, and your parents, and you're happy to fly below the radar. You're the youngest child, you're adorable: blond, freckles, innocuous in every way.

Then you're thirteen, maybe, or twelve -- I've heard as young as ten. These are details that will remain unclear until the end of your story has been well-documented for years. Now, at mid-point, it only matters that you were children and you met, and this thing that your father wants you to do so well, this boy, we'll call him Marv, is better than you and your brother put together. He is already a star, has nary a thought of growing up unfamous, and takes his talent for granted in the best, effortless way. For some reason he goes out of his way to befriend you. It bothers him, you think, that you're quiet, that you don't crowd him the way others do. He sees something in you and thinks it should be communicated more loudly. He never really succeeds there, but he does become your voice, and answers questions for you when you don't know what to say. This will come in handy later when you're interviewed for the paper, always together.

Every word of this is true.

You grow up together, but not really. A Marv sighting is a special occasion, but you stay as close as you can. In fact you shouldn't be close, really, you have different lives, but it happens anyway, and you later won't really be able to remember how. You will tell people it happened overnight. The truth is, you never really do become friends. Marv is overbearing and a show off and pretty vain and very pushy. But you fall in love with each other, and light up whenever you cross paths, and it looks like friendship from afar. Also you're both boys, and you were not properly warned about your ability to fall in love with another boy. The fact that you love him dawns so slow that by the time you catch on it's too late, you've already agreed to get an apartment with him.

You're hired by the same company, which receives millions of applications and selects only forty new employees each year. And still the two of you are only clerks (we'll call the succeeding levels Associate, Junior Partner and Partner) in an extremely unstable market. Marv was offered more money and a better chance to succeed elsewhere, but he turned it down to join you in this crapshoot, and is still not the least bit anxious.

So you move in together, and pretend not to be in love, but nobody's watching, really, and then when you're less cautious, no one even seems to care. And living with Marv is a miracle after so many years of seeing each other in irregular snatches, usually with both your fathers present. He's a miracle, and he's going to tell you years later, just before asking his high school girlfriend to marry him, that he thinks God wants the two of you to be together, and no matter what he does afterward you will always believe this wholeheartedly.

You have the girls back home because you've always had them and they're lovely and understanding. They are war brides you don't really plan on returning home to. You and Marv forget each other's birthdays every year, but the girls send cards. You're fond of them.

At the end of your first year of work together, all the company bulletins are writing Marv up as a future star. You're a nobody, just hanging on, but you're glad for this and you duck behind him when you can. Marv is full of himself, grows his hair long and buys a brand new truck. He likes to ride around and sing country western songs off key, all the windows open and the air conditioning blasting, and you're okay with all of this as long as you're in the passenger seat. The two of you stay in town during the company's winter hiatus, and your mothers catch on, but they don't mention it out loud, just give you sympathetic looks at Christmas.

You're both promoted over the holiday, and you're transfered to the company's office on the east coast, in a run down resort town that you both love immediately. You overpay for a tiny apartment on the beach and explain about the view when people look too long at the single bedroom. Work feels effortless, like summer camp. You and Marv are the social nucleus of the Associates, though really it's only Marv, and you're just Marv's favorite, for reasons the others can't discern. There is sand everywhere, all the time: on the floor in the shower, in both your tiny beds, between the cushions of your rumpled sofa. When you touch Marv's hair you come away with salt on your fingers. You already know it's the best year you'll ever have, and sometimes it's hard to enjoy it enough, knowing things will never get better.

A Partner retires at the Company Headquarters, and because of the nature of the job he was doing there, only you are fit to replace him. You are promoted to Junior Partner and given a plane ticket and told to show up at Headquarters early the following morning. You tell Marv that it's a fluke, that you'll be back in a week. It's your secret, from Marv, from your brother who is floundering, from your father most of all, that you would stay on as an Associate forever if you could, living in an apartment small enough to keep Marv always within arm's reach, eating Kraft macaroni every night, buying fireworks and video games with your paltry per diem. But they're proud of you, and you go.

You do well enough to go mostly unnoticed at Headquarters, where you are only the assistant to a Partner. But one Senior Partner takes a liking to you and mentors you, surprising everyone. You're terrified all the time, and Marv is depressed on the telephone every night, doing poorly as an Associate, distracted by your absence. He's afraid he'll never be promoted, and you're afraid of everything, suddenly. Marv cries on the phone and his father flies out to the beach to comfort him. You're living out of a hotel room on the sixty-first floor downtown, lying on your stomach with your nose pressed to the giant window until work begins or Marv calls. You've never understood the pursuit of success, and wish that Marv didn't need it so badly. The traffic copters that fly by are troubling, and you miss the ocean.

A month after your promotion, a Partner falls ill and Marv is rushed to Headquarters to replace him. He's been consistently underperforming, but he is still looked upon as a great hope for the future of the company.

He arrives and immediately, let's say, hits a homerun. He is beloved by the company, the customers, and you want to corner him and kiss his face and tell him how much his success means to you, more than your own. But his family and his girl arrive to celebrate with him, and you are not accustomed to sitting among so many others who love him. At the end of the night he comes to your hotel room, lifts you off the floor and promises that the two of you will never be apart again. You know, too, that you will never again be together the way you were at the beach, or the fall when you drove to the desert in his new truck and spent months in a rented apartment. He had cooked for you and you had cleaned up afterward. That, you know, is over. There are people paying attention, now. Not just your families and your coworkers, but hundreds of thousands of people, who would share the truth with millions more if it was offered.

It's the people who are paying attention who make this worthy of history. The two of you are unremarkable, even considering your rare talents. It's these onlookers' story more than yours, and I'm so sorry for that, so often.

You and Marv reinvigorate the company. Marv is beloved in the community like a savior who was prayed for, and you are adored by proxy, because whatever people think, it is clear from the beginning that the two of you are a set. Marv attempts to hide nothing, and the two of you rent an apartment and keep your shoulders together at work, go to dinner with each other's families, wander shopping malls on your off days. This is how you come across the dogs, by accident, after lunch at a sub shop in a long strip of stores, walking together and finishing your sodas, looking forward to the drive home and the attention you'll give each other on the couch before falling asleep with the television on. Marv sees a pet store and wants to have a quick browse. This is something the two of you have always done: wasting time in pet stores. You follow him inside.

It is obvious, to you anyway, that you buy the dogs because they are so like the two of you at first glance. One is mellow with watery eyes, the other is happily frantic, jumping around the cage he shares with his brother, pawing at the bars. Neither of you convinces the other to buy them. It's a mutual decision made mostly without talking, and you walk out cradling the sweet, quiet dog, while Marv wrangles the wilder brother, who licks his chin.

What you name the dogs is mostly irrelevant. For the purposes of this account, we'll call them Flotsam and Jetsam. Flotsam is yours. Marv is immediately competitive, claiming that Jetsam has a handsomer bark, something you would not have even thought to notice. You take the two of them home and spend the afternoon keeping them out of trouble as they introduce themselves to the apartment. They both fall asleep on Marv's stomach around dinnertime, and he grins at you while you call for a pizza.

Later that night, pressed between Marv's back and the couch cushions, the dogs curled around each other under the coffee table, you think that this was the best thoughtless decision the two of you have ever made. These dogs are brothers, will grow up together and cannot be separated. They will be a reason to stay together when people ask.

It will astound you, later, that you thought he would stay.

(this will be continued)

And this is the poem I wish I wrote for you:

It’s not the loudly lauded innovation at your desk
nor the largely candid speech at your best friend’s wedding
to the love of your life.
It’s not what you said to her in the dark—
and forget that lecture on will and striving
to the weak and woeful. Immaterial,
the quiet talk you had with the janitor
last New Year’s Eve day at the office,
the windows dilated, glittering with city.
It isn’t even the carefully rewritten letter
to the son who was bound to let you down again—
that lovingly resigned salutation.
No. It’s really not the words
you manage to spit out
that shape, typeset, and bind your life,
but those you’re made to eat.
The words you take back in
and choke on all alone.
You know the ones,
often starting with I’ll never ever,
often ending with never again.
Those words that measure the distance between
what you thought you’d think,
what you wanted to not have,
what you felt you’d feel,
and what you do.

-- J. Allyn Rosser

I'm tempted to bold the especially relevant lines, but I've been doing too much of that for too long, where you're concerned.

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