Every Sunday, for more Sundays than I can recall, my parents would stuff my siblings and I into the back of their economy car and drive us over to my grandparents house for dinner.
With the smell of pot roast lingering in the air, my mom and grandma's laughter would bounce off the old linoleum floors while my grandpa and my dad hunkered down on velvet furniture in the living room, watching whatever western they could find on the television. My siblings and I would be sprawled on the carpet, with our chin in our hands, eyes glued to the screen.
I've watched every episode of Gunsmoke and Bonanza as well as every movie the Duke ever made. And then I've watched more.
Spaghetti westerns helped shape me into the person I am today.
That sentence explains everything that is wrong with me. And everything that is right.
When I was 14 years old I painted a ceramic bust of John Wayne's head and built a shrine around it.
When I was 15 years old I asked for (and received) a giant framed poster of John Wayne's head to add to my shrine.
When I was 16 years old I secretly hoped some tall cowboy would stride into my school and call me 'little lady.'
He did and so I married him a few years later.
It was then I learned about the invisible line between cute and creepy. Interested and obsessed. Apparently I crossed it. Or so I was told.
You dodged a bullet, Nash. Be grateful.
It's funny the things that fill your mind, the memories that come racing back, in the small hours of the night, when the world is dark and you are supposed to be sleeping.
Instead, wide awake, you alternate between trying to smother your head between two pillows and cursing the one thing keeping you awake and evoking all these memories:
The dog asleep beside your bed, snug as a bug inside his metal crate.
My devil dog. I should have named him 'Pilgrim.'
It's not his panting or his occasional sleepy yips that keeps me awake. It's not the rhythmic huff of his giant beastie breathing or how he gets up, walks a few circles and then flops down so hard the world shakes. None of that keeps me awake. In fact, those are the things that chase away my demons and keep my nightmares at bay by reminding me I'm not alone.
It's the sound of his nails, rattling against his crate bars.
It's the same sound of some Hollywood cowboy clanging his tin cup against the one-room jailhouse bars.
Every night I'm trapped in a Spaghetti western.
One where there are no cute cowboys named Duke. Not a Festus in sight. There is no pot roast in the oven, no velvet furniture, no television with rabbit ears on top and the tingle of my grandmother's laugh echoes only in the memories of those who loved her.
And still, every night, as Abbott rattles his bars, I lay awake, remembering those lazy Sunday evenings. I'm kept awake by the reruns of my life; remembering instead of sleeping.
And every morning as I pull myself from bed, exhausted and sleep deprived, I'm torn between smothering my dog with a pillow and smothering him with gratitude for reminding me of how much those spaghetti westerns mean to me.
One thing is certain, as I stumble to the kitchen to try and wake myself up with a jolt of coffee. I've got one John Wayne impression perfected:
It's a hidden talent. Blame it on the Duke and my damn dog.