We Showed Up

There’s a huge advantage to living nearly halfway across the country from the rest of your clan when you are 21 and you are a brand new dad. This formative experience fosters deep bonds between you and the other two members of your unit.

Being so young and suddenly thrust into the role of parents forced the two of us to become really clear about our lives and our love for one another. Yes, I suppose we could have gone in the opposite direction, but what we lacked in money and resourceswe more than made up for in devotion to one another and our newborn baby boy, Mark.

When I look at photos of the two of us from the early 1980s, I’m struck by a couple of things. First, I’m amazed at how young we both looked. This was the stage in life when many people our age were getting started on a career, and contemplating what grad school to apply at. For the two of us, it was cobbling together enough cash to pay our rent, keep one of our two clunkers running and on the road, and later, how best to sync our dual work schedules so that Mark could have a parent home, spending time with him and nurturing his spirit.

On the steps of our duplex in Chesterton, IN (circa 1986)

After I fell out with the God people in Hammond and Crown Point, Indiana, I landed a job working in a prison. While Westville Correctional Center sure as hell wasn’t glamorous, it offered decent wages and even more important for our young family at the time—access to health insurance and our first HMO.

This was long before Mark Zuckerberg broke the internet with Facebook, and Twitter was something that birds were best at. If you wanted to communicate with the ‘rents and the rest of the extended family back in Maine, you wrote a letter, dropped it in the mail, and waited a week or longer to get a reply back. If you wanted instant communication, you rrang up a family member on your rotary dial phone,

Our first apartment was in a complex near Hyles-Anderson College. If anyone ever wanted to produce a sitcom about the wacky ways of American fundamentalist Christianity, they couldn’t have found a better group of weirdos to model their series on. Actually, life at H-A was really kind of boring for people like Mary and me. The real fun was being had by our preacher at the time, Jack Hyles. While he was railing against sin of all sorts and the evils of rock music, he was supposedly bringing his secretary into his office for regular trysts (or perhaps, they were simply discussions about his “counseling” schedule). And his beautiful wife, Beverly, kept beaming her beatific smile. Looking back, I realize it was probably chemically-induced.

Hyles, a megolomaniac who never missed an opportunity to lift himself up as being the epitome of a “man of God,” spent years enabling his “serial adulterer” son. Aren’t God’s people the best?

For a young couple barely into their 20s, some of this shit was nearly too much to fathom. But, we weren’t hallucinating, either. No, we were being introduced to a theme we’d encounter time and time againthat Xianity is masterful at producing fraudulent behavior. I’d wager that the biggest frauds I’ve ever known loved to run to church every Sunday.

But enough about hypocrites. Sinclair Lewis has that story covered, although this one is a nice update, and a common theme, post-Hammond.

When Mark was three, we started missing Maine. Back in my Indiana days, I was a regular reader of USA Today. While a “McPaper,” the daily news blurbs about Maine indicated that things back home were heating up, economically. Both of us figured that we could find jobs equal, if not better than, being a med tech in a prison, or a breakfast hostess at Wendy’s. Mark didn’t care either way. All he knew were that his two parents loved him and had his best interests at heart. We took him to the beach, made treks all across Northwest Indiana and along the Lake Michigan shoreline into Chicago, always in search of fun things that didn’t cost much money. Whether we stayed in the Hoosier State, or high-tailed it back to the Northeast, he had a deep and abiding trust in his mom and dad.

Looking back on that time from our current vantage point, I think we made the right decision to load up the U-Haul and head back across the country. I still remember it like it was yesterday, with us pulling the old Ford, coughing smoke, up the long driveway at Mary’s parent’s house in the big woods in Durham, in August of 1987. We were greeted by family members from both sides, eager to help us unload four years worth of married bliss into the half-finished second floor of “the house that Joe built.” We’d live there for 14 months before crossing the Androscoggin and renting a place in Lisbon Falls.

Our lives in Maine connected us to T-ball and then, Little League. When Mark was eight, he began playing hockey for Casco Bay Youth Hockey. Mary and I learned what it meant to become “hockey parents.” One always remembers those 4:30 a.m. drives to North Yarmouth Academy and a frozen ice arena.

Back in Maine, Mark got to spend time sitting on the bench with other men, watching his older-than-the-rest of the guys pitcher-father try to rekindle his old mound magic, competing against college kids. Mark’s future high school baseball coach, then a 19-year-old part-time outfielder for Coastal Athletics in the Twilight League, taught Mark to juggle.

High school became a blur, between hockey and baseball, and Mark heading off to hardcore shows, and yet, we managed lots of meals together around our old kitchen table. What I wouldn’t give to have Mark bust through the door after practice just one more time, go to the kitchen stove, lift the cover of a simmering pot and ask, “what’s for dinner?,” as he did countless times between 1998 and 2002 (and even after).

Children grow up, and eventually they leave home and fly away. Mark went to Wheaton College, a three-hour drive away. We made every effort to visit him on weekends, especially during the compressed spring college baseball season. We rarely missed a home game in Norton, and even took to the road, following the Lyons to Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts. Extended family always made it over to Gorham when Wheaton and the University of Southern Maine hooked up in one of their battles on the diamond.

When baseball was over and Mark went out to California, both Mary and I took separate trips and got to spend a magical week with Mark (and Gabi) in Los Angeles. Having a dog nearing the end of his life necessitated this. And perhaps, we both got to have Mark to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t if we’d visited California together.

One of the things that I thought Mary captured so well during the celebration of Mark’s life at Brown, was how she felt about being “Mark’s mother.” He made you feel special being his parent. Like you were the best parent in the whole world.

Not only did we show up for Mark, he later reciprocated. Countless trips home to Maine, when he was living in Boston. During his time in California, he missed one Christmas. But then, the news that he’d been accepted into Brown’s MFA program in creative writing. Baby boy was only three hours away, once again!

Providence became Mark’s home. We made trips down to see him, as he moved around the city. One day, he announced he was buying a house. Mary and I couldn’t believe it. The kid we feared might become homeless at one time, was now a homeowner.

There are so many things that I could list that nail what it means to live without Mark. His hug that squeezed the air out of you, or reaching around his huge shoulders. His wacky sense of humor and his always trying to get his over-serious dad to smile and laugh. Or later, his trips to Bryant Pond for the Tarazewich Christmas gathering and nighttime hijinks. I could go on for several more paragraphs.

Or, I could simply say that what hurts the most is not having Mark showing up anymore, and not being able to show up for him.

Note:
Speaking of showing up, Mark’s last book, “I am a Road” has been reprinted. I hope fans of Mark’s writing, or those who’ve never read one of Mark’s books will grab a copy of this one. I consider it Mark’s best writing, and this one captures his first walk across America, back in 2010, in Mark’s inimitable style. Rest in power, Mark!!

Being Present

Losing someone you love, as Mary and I loved Mark, creates a holeone that beckons to be filled. We were a close knit unit of three, now reduced by a third. Percentage-wise, the number is 33, Mark’s age at his death. This is merely another random detail aggressively forced upon us by the universe, without solicitation, or any offer of negotiation, let alone any thought for our welfare or benefit.

Our experiences as brand new members of the Grieving Parents Club have helped us to learn firsthand to understand why parents that have lost a child unexpectedly would look for ways to assuage their pain and the waves of grief that threaten to swamp them. We also live in an age where there are a host of pharmaceutical remedies and of course, there’s always the option of legal self-medication, too.

Someone that I don’t know that well, but who offered me some unexpected kindness and empathy this week, shared a bit of his own story about members of his family and how they chose to deal with the grief of losing a teenage son 20 years ago. The mother drank herself into alcoholism and the father tried to cope by filling their garage and yard with “toys” of all shapes and sizes. Neither of those were solutions capable of bringing their son back to them. Fortunately, they were able to find a more positive approach further along in their own journey along grief’s highway. Continue reading

Beyond Words

It was three weeks ago last night when the state trooper drove down our darkened driveway and knocked on our door. Three weeks ago, our lives were forever altered by the actions of a woman who from this report and information available online, shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of her SUV. Mary and I shouldn’t be left to grieve the death of our son. But here we are.

Grief has been written about and described in various ways. Linda Andrews, who wrote a wonderful book on the subject, describes it as “a deep dark hole.” At times, it feels like that.

Linda’s a friend, and I actually served as a consultant when she was developing the idea for Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve. Mark did the layout and design and developed a website for her. She’s stayed in touch with Mary and I since Mark was killed. The other day she sent us this:

The death of a loved one shifts the whole foundation of our life. Nothing is as it was. Even what was most familiar seems in a strange way unfamiliar. It is as though we had to learn a new language, a new way of seeing. Even the face in the mirror seems the face of a stranger. Continue reading

The Celebration

I’ve written an obituary for our son. Then there were several days worth of interviews following his senseless death along US 90 in Florida, when he was struck and killed by a motorist. Mary has been dealing with all manner of details related to Mark’s life (and death), too.

Yesterday, we gathered with hundreds on hand at Brown University (and many, many more watching the celebration on live stream) and told what our son meant to us as parents. So did an amazing gathering of people from across Mark’s life.

Program cover-The Mark Baumer Celebration of LIfe

Two weeks out from losing Mark, today is similar to every other day since we received the news that fateful Saturday night. We’ll never not remember the date, time, and what we experienced then—a sense that time was standing still. Continue reading

Dadtalk

Mark and I had countless conversations when he was out on the road.

On his first crossing back in 2010, I’d send him emails every day. These might be commentary on the prior night’s baseball game, things I was observing across that day’s news cycle, and questions about what he was seeing as he trekked across America one foot at a time.

We discussed this in early October when we last saw each other. Mary and I had driven down to Providence and spent the day with him. It was a beautiful day on some many levels—this is was also our last time seeing him and hugging him. To be hugged by Mark was something I’ll never forget and miss so much. Oh those shoulders!

A trio of Baumers.

My routine this time had me emailing him in the morning after I’d wake up and get a cup of coffee. I’d sit in my darkened office illuminated with an overhead desk lamp and bang out that day’s first note. I’d sometimes send another one or two shorter blasts. I warned him that I’d probably send him way more shit than he had time to respond to. He knew his dad and he was probably thinking the same thing, but he’d never crush my spirit by saying anything mean. Continue reading

Death by SUV

[Due to my site being hacked, I’ve had to repost a couple of pieces I wrote about Mark, as I was processing my grief in the aftermath of his death. The world is truly a cruel and heartless place at times. This was originally posted on Jan. 25.–jb]

As a late-blooming writer, I’ve maintained a commitment to working on my craft. Along the way, I’ve read a myriad of books that spoke about the writing process. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that talks about writing through grief, or possibly, how to put words on paper when your heart’s been ripped out and run over several times.

That’s a pretty shitty metaphor, I know. I’m just trying to paint a word picture of what I’ve been feeling since 10:30, Saturday night, when the trooper from the Maine State Police knocked on our door and delivered the news to Mary and me that our beloved son, Mark, had been hit by an SUV in Fort Walton County, Florida, and killed. Our lives as they’d been up to that moment were forever altered. Continue reading

Our New President

We’re barely 24 hours into the term of our 45th president and it’s clear to me—the next four years are going to be one wild ride! It’s possible that life as we know it in America will have disappeared, with no guarantee that there’s a pathway back to restoring it.

I had to work yesterday, so I only caught snippets of Inauguration Day. I did see the swearing in of Pence and Trump. And then, I got to watch his address during lunch.

I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps naively, I held out some glimmer that our new president was going to offer his plan for bringing together a divided people. Not even five minutes in, it was clear that Trump had no interest in unity.

No unity here.

Granted, as one commentator said, for followers of Mr. Trump, he serves as a “kind of Rorschach test” in that they tend to see him in whatever way they want to believe about him and various issues. I’d concur with that. Continue reading

Plans for the Near Future

Last week my insurance license arrived in the mail. You can now find me on the State of Maine website for insurance if you do an agent search. I now feel “official.”

I once held an insurance license for both life and health back in the mid-1990s, but I let it lapse. At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about sales and in hindsight, the company I was selling for really didn’t have a very strong stable of products. Part of that was due to insurance laws in Maine at the time. However, other reps did very well because they kept it simple and worked their plan.

Passing my insurance exam was the first step for me. To be honest, I hadn’t thought beyond simply getting a passing score. I was tunneled in—selling our house, moving 26 years of belongings to a new location, and fitting work, study, and freelancing into what was a roller coaster three month ride. That was all I was capable of carrying to the close of 2016. Continue reading

This is not a Movie Blog-Manchester by the Sea

In this time of fake news, depressing politics, and the melting of the polar ice caps, compartmentalization might be the only way to live and not to go nuts (or postal). Drugs are another option that increasing numbers of people are turning to in order to deal with pain, isolation, and a myriad of other social ills enhanced by capitalism run amok. Might I suggest a third way?

Finding an avenue of escape from the cares of this world (while waiting for Jesus’ return) by locating that rare local theater that hasn’t been boarded up due to the interwebs is getting harder and harder to pull off. Luckily, we now live in a town that still has one of these wonderful, big screen places hearkening back to the day when all movies were projected onto big screens. Seeing a flick in a theater—sharing sharing that experience with other human beings simultaneously—is still how I prefer to watch my movies. Not on off the face of my smartphone or screen on my laptop.

Winter time is movie-going time for Mary and me. Once we come out of the cave in the spring, we rarely step back into darkened movie auditoriums. It’s not like we see a ton of movies, but December to March is when we watch the bulk of our films for the year.

Last Saturday, we saw Manchester by the Sea at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema. I love this space. It has a nostalgic feel partly because it’s a place that I’ve been watching Hollywood fare since the late 1970s. Fans of in-person viewing should thank their lucky stars for owner Barry Norman. There aren’t enough people like him keeping old-school escapist entertainment alive here in the 21st century. Continue reading

Less Dreck

When you begin your journey hosting a blog, the experience is a heady one. You—just a solitary individual armed with a keyboard—think the world and your readership will sit at your feet and hang on each and every word. Actually, you probably don’t have quite those lofty aspirations, but there is a certain confidence (arrogance) that what you set down for content matters. It usually doesn’t.

The start of a brand new run through spring, summer, fall, and then, the close of yet another year, offers a chance to revisit how/why you do things. I’m reconsidering my own blogging schedule and what passes for content.

For awhile now, posting twice a week—on set days at that—seemed like the best plan. I’m not certain that convention is necessary any longer. Since I no longer really care to serve as anyone’s paragon of a writer these days, self-imposed deadlines have become a bit of a drag. Continue reading