When Marshall Wayne Lee was at his lowest point and suicide seemed the only way out, Antigone the basset hound gave him something to live for. Now he’s giving back
A few years ago, Marshall Wayne Lee almost took his own life. But he couldn’t go through with it, thanks to the love of the basset hound he rescued, the one he named Antigone Puppleupagus.
This past Sunday, Nov. 15, Lee and Antigone pedaled into Dallas on a cross-country bicycle journey intended to raise awareness about the causes they each now champion — suicide prevention and Basset rescue.
On Oct. 1, Lee — with Antigone in pup-trailer tow — set out on their 2,500-mile journey from Chicago to an undecided location along the Pacific Coast.
"We are not sure where we’ll end up," Lee said, "but when we see the ocean, we are done bicycling."
Lee, a gay man with a master’s degree in English, was unemployed three years ago. He sent out hundreds of rÃ©sumÃ©s and, over the course of an eight-month period, didn’t receive a single phone call from a potential employer.
He said, "I was depressed and struggled with suicidal thoughts every day."
Lee said he was afraid to go to sleep — not because of the bad dreams, but because he was afraid he would have to wake up and see another day.
"It was every day that I had about two seconds after I awoke where I was ok, and then, I would crash," he said.
He said he would progress to spending the next 15 minutes panicking about unemployment, and then the next two hours making suicidal plans.
As an aspiring writer, Lee said his suicidal thoughts would just keep coming: "Why get out of bed. I’ll never get a job. HR won’t help. I’ll never be published. You should just kill yourself."
So he devised plan after plan to end his life. But each one fell short.
"I would come up with a scenario of how I would do it, but it would always come back to my dog and who would take care of her," he said, adding that he had no friends with whom he had daily contact. No one would realize he was missing, so no one would come looking for him, and no one would be there to care for Antigone.
He said, "Nobody would notice I was dead."
Fortunately, Lee never came up with a suicide plan that would work. And he knew that if he just gave Antigone to his parents, the dog would remind them of their suicidal son.
"I always say she is what saved my life," he said.
After a year of unemployment, and applying for almost everything from jobs folding T-shirts to jobs requiring a master’s in English, Lee finally found a job as a data entry clerk.
At the end of September of this year, though, he found himself unemployed again. But this time it was by choice.
He took a voluntary layoff with the end goal of relocating and spreading awareness across the country about suicide prevention and basset rescue.
In the last two years, Lee has fostered 13 bassets and he knows how powerful pets can be in our lives.
"Fostering is not just about the dog you are saving, but about the adoptive parent," he said. "And you don’t know what good you may do for that person."
One potential adoptive basset parent asked him why a pet owner would give up one of his foster dogs. Lee replied, "I know what Antigone has done for me, and I wouldn’t want someone to miss out on that."
They said, "Good answer."
Lee has developed some of the physical endurance he needs for his cross-country ride by participating in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walkathon, a national fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The 20-mile walkathon raised $2 million last year in Chicago for programs designed to understand and prevent suicide.
Lee rides his bicycle anywhere from 8 to 65 miles a day, he said, adding that he averages about 50 miles a day. With at least 1,400 miles to go, he said it will take at least another month to reach his as-yet-undetermined destination.
But Lee, 41, will know his destination when he gets there, and at that point he plans to rent a car and drive on into the Northwest — either Oregon or Washington.
He said his only requirement is that there be gay square dancing in the town he moves to.
He said he is looking for that special place now.
"You can’t be drunk and square dance at the same time," he said, "and I really don’t like to encourage drinking."
But Lee does encourage "anyone who is touched by suicide, to do the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walkathon, as it is a healing gift for the walker."
He said suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death in the nation in general, and it is No. 3 among teenagers. Lee came out at age 19 and he knows it can be difficult.
But it’s not impossible.
"If a teen is out there, struggling with coming out, it’s not worth taking your life for. Know that somebody is there who can help you," he said.
Lee said LGBT people should trust their families more, and he believes that most of them will come around. He said the ride has transformed his own family.
While Lee is on the phone with his mother, she tells him, "Your father is at it again." Lee explains that his father has been proudly telling everyone about his son riding across the country for good causes.
Antigone, who is 16, would also like to encourage folks to support the basset rescue cause through the North Texas Basset Rescue in Grapevine.
Her motto is: "Basset rescue is human rescue." She is maintaining her own bicycle blog at AntigoneBasset.Blogspot.com.
For more information, see the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention online at AFSP.org. Their Hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK. The North Texas Basset Hound Rescue is online at BassetRescueDFW.org.
Renee Baker is a licensed orthopedic massage therapist and can be found online at MMTherapeutics.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.