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 resources—we 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.
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 again—that 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.
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.
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!!