Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the Loss of a Good Friend

Yesterday morning my phone rang with bad news: my friend Mark passed away over the weekend.

I knew someday I would get this call.  I haven't spoken with Mark directly for many years, and the recent news I heard of him was rarely positive.  Back in the days at OSU, we all partied pretty hard.  Mark never stopped.  In recent years he accelerated.

Mark had been a roommate, a co-worker, and a good friend; I'd go so far as to call him a brother.  Not having been there to witness his indulgences in the latter years of his life, I spent the afternoon inundated with memories of the times we shared.

Like the time he was eating Chinese food, and he gave me a bite.  I had never eaten Chinese food before.  "Rick, you like hot stuff, don't you?" he asked.  Of course I did.  "Try this."

He gave me the pepper from his General Tso's chicken.  The little peppers that you aren't supposed to eat.  The infernal little buggers that make food hot by just being in the same room.  Not knowing any of this, I popped the pepper in my mouth and bit down.  It was like chewing rope.  I munched harder.  If he could eat one, I could eat one.  Seeds flowed through my mouth, and apparently they were holding blowtorches.  The sound of a steam whistle filled the room as smoke billowed from my ears.  I ran to the trash can and spit the pepper out, knowing it could cause all the garbage to spontaneously combust but not caring.  I didn't curse at Mark or anything, because it hurt too much to breath.  Good times.

I'm not the world's fastest learner, so it should not come as a surprise to you that several years later there was a near-repeat occurrence.  I happened on Mark enjoying Asian cuisine again - this time sushi - and he offered me a bite.  Of wasabi.  "You'll like it, it's like guacamole," he assured me, and even used a tortilla chip to scoop up a generous portion. I don't think I ever ate off his plate again after that.

We went on a road trip once.  We were going to meet some of Mark's old friends in North Carolina to go camping.  We had no real time line and no real agenda, though.  Mark came home from work the day before we were going to leave.  "Do you want to go see the H.O.R.D.E festival?"

"Where is it?"

"Cumberland, Maryland.  We have to leave right now if you want to go."

Ahh, those were the days when you could just pack up and take off for a week on a whim.  We drove through the night and kicked off our road trip with some amazing music.  There are many stories I could tell from that trip, but two stand out in my mind, and the rest are probably incriminating...

At one point we were driving around Virgina rather aimlessly.  We were somewhere outside of Richmond when we both ran out of cigarettes.  Miles of highway passed beneath us as we searched for an exit so we could buy more.  We were both engulfed in hardcore nicotine withdrawal when we saw something up ahead.  A giant pillar, a hundred feet high.  Too small to be a building.  As we closed in on it we could read the black letters against the red and white background: MARLBORO.

Yes, it was their manufacturing plant.  This fit in perfectly with our agenda-less travel plans.  We stopped and took the free tour.  And at the end of the tour, we each got a free pack of cigarettes.  In times of sadness and loss it is important to remember that sometimes fate smiles on us all.  Just hold on and keep heading down the road.

(NOTE: That plant makes enough cigarettes in 2 1/2 minutes to reach from Richmond, VA to San Francisco, CA if they were laid end to end.  That's an impressive amount of cancer.  It's even more impressive that I actually remember that fact.  Also worth noting, I quit smoking many years ago, the day after my bachelor party.  No patches, pills, or special gum.  I used the only thing that really works: will-power.)

Later, on the way home, we were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Mark was behind the wheel.  A light rain was falling.  We were both tired; neither of us spoke.  I saw something in the road ahead, lying in the middle of our lane.  As we got closer, I could see that it was a puppy, perhaps a beagle.  Its eyes were open, and I looked right into them as Mark drove over the dog's lifeless body, careful not to hit it.

Several minutes passed in silence.  I turned to Mark.  "Are you still thinking about that puppy?"

He nodded.  Several more minutes passed in silence, both of us contemplating life, death, and how cute puppies can be.  And regardless of circumstances brought that puppy to its end - lying in the road, in the rain - it looked peaceful.

Mark, wherever you are, I hope you also found peace.

And I'm still thinking about that puppy, too.

#

16 comments:

Jeffrey Beesler said...

It really sounds like you had great times with Mark. Glad you decided to share them with the world.

Jason said...

One of the fondest memories I had with Mark was a road trip we made from Columbus to Boulder, Colorado in 1994 - the two of us, all in one straight shot, no sleeping. We were so excited to get to Boulder to see friends who had moved there before us and to explore the mountains we had heard so much about. I still have the Jeep we made that trip in and last night as I took out the trash, I looked at the Jeep and I burst into tears thinking of Mark and I driving together. Mark was going to move to Boulder after that trip but those plans were to be delayed for a couple of years. For many years I was upset Mark didn't move to Boulder with us in 1994 and have always wondered if that would have made a difference in his life. I so wanted him to continue to be my roommate and be close to me. I hope Mark has found peace and I'll love him always.

Laurel said...

I'm so very sorry, Rick. As you know, Just went through something similar. There really aren't good words...the best I can do is tell you that I hate it for you and his family.

kdrausin said...

I'm sorry.

Mike said...

I remember the sing-alongs on Worthington Street. His favorites - "Henry" by New Riders of the Purple Sage, and "Me and My Uncle" by the Dead. I still know almost every word of both by heart.

Rick Daley said...

Jay, thanks for sharing that.

Mike- Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard was heavy in the rotation, too. Mark and I had a good twenty or thirty songs we played regularly, and we could cycle through a dozen without ever saying a word about what the next one would be. One of us would transition in and the other would just follow. Too bad neither of us could sing.

Sharon said...

As I know you- I'm sure you will share lots of your great memories with Mark's family/friends... I think at times like this-just knowing a person had such an impact on others could mean so much to them.
I'm so sorry to hear about this, but hope that he is in a better, more peaceful place now. This is a really tough world to be in...

Bane of Anubis said...

Condolences, Rick... great memories you have, though, in some ways, that makes it harder, I've found.

Anonymous said...

I'm an old friend of Mark's from NC. Thank you so much for posting these memories!!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. I'm glad that he has you to remember him. :)

Anita said...

I like the way you remember him and I hope someone writes a tribute like this one to me when I die.

My good friend died of cancer last month. I can still hear her laugh in my head and I so hope I always will.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks to all who have expressed their sympathy. Many people have been affected by Mark's passing, and that goes to show the positive impact his life had on us all.

Crimey said...

Rick, I'm really sorry to hear about your friend passing. It's nice to be able to focus on the good moment you shared.

I love this one "Of wasabi. "You'll like it, it's like guacamole". My first experience with wasabi taught me a valuable lesson.. :)

Eric said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss. True friends are rare, and the only good thing about losing them is knowing that a piece of you goes with them as well, a tie to all the good times you've shared. I'm sure somewhere your friend is holding the gate open for when you arrive - with a hot pepper dipped in wasabi in one hand and a mischievous gleam in his eye.

Dave Demarchi said...

Percy, my friend, your memories make me smile... in a bittersweet manner.. which means that it touched me... as did Mark's life.
I have fond yet clouded memories of you and Mark playing bass/guitar around (many) a campfire.
It is great to have reconnected with you recently and, although it was before this tragedy, it strikes me all the keener now.
I have never run with a better caliber of people as I did back in the day and I am glad you (as many of them are) are doing so famously. The years melt away the moment I hear of any... thing from those I was lucky enough to be involved with during those very important times.
My best to you and your family.
D.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful sentiments about Mark. He truly was a one-of-a-kind boundless spirit who encouraged everyone he knew to go out on the proverbial limb every once in a while... I remember when Devon was about 2 he fed him a jalapeno as we watched, and the contortion of his face was one of the most hysterical sights I have ever seen! We laughed 'til we cried... including little D. :) I hope he has found peace... much love to you, friend, Nancy B.