Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbus Day

This is going to sound dumb, but I would skip this one if I were in your shoes.  It gets heavy.  I write it down not to give it to you, but to remove it from myself.  So tune in next week when I'll talk about our latest idiotic adventures, and also my new running partner.  Fair warning.

Okay, I didn't plan on writing about this today.  Or really ever.  But it's on my mind, and the more I think about it, the more it needs writing.  I realize this is my kids' blog, but the memory is insistent.  Two things stirred it up:  today's date, and a question from Jack last week.
Daddy, who is your best friend?
I can remember precisely where I was.  I was in the north end of a long, white hallway, the floor covered in a white ticked linoleum that would do a hospital wing proud.  The echoes of kids trotting to Sunday school reverberated through the entirety of the little Church of Christ in Fruitvale, Texas.

I made the goofy girl that was blurting out the news to everyone repeat it several times.  I had her say the name back to me over and over again.  Just to make sure.

He was two years my senior, and would have turned 38 this very day, October 12th.  His wife and four kids would have relentlessly hassled him with balloons and maybe a big stupid cake with awful blue piped icing that tastes like sugary ink.  The kind that makes you look like you ate a Smurf for breakfast.

But that was never to happen.  Mark (not his real name) had somehow gotten crosswise with some idiot from a nearby town, and they had retreated to an out-of-the-way stretch of highway a little to the south to settle up.  Because that's what you do in a little town when you're a tough, fast, 15 year old cowboy-in-training.

And Mark was tough.  I could remember when he broke his collarbone after, I believe, being thrown from a a horse.  I can't remember him even wincing, as he wore the comical little X-shaped brace for weeks afterward.  Later on, he played a little football and rodeoed.  Wore those crazy brushpopper shirts that were half Gene Autry, half M.C. Hammer.  He was sort of blondish and really, really good looking.  From what I heard, he could reel in any girl he wanted to with his raspy, twangy kind of voice.

I had known him since I could remember. 
Mark's mom had babysat me for years, and as an only child, I became effectively her fifth kiddo (and the second oldest).  We kids would play war and ride our bikes around the country road outlining their land.  It was a huge squarish track of molten blacktop not too far from my house.  We would dip into the woods (called artfully "The Trails") and play in the dirt and make all sorts of mischief.   My family had lived in the house beside Mark's.  The house I was brought home to when I was born, if my facts are straight.  The first (tiny) pair of cowboy boots I wore were hand-me-downs from Mark.

I had all sorts of new and different experiences as an adopted member of their family.  We got to put on these huge, dark-glassed welding helmets and watch his dad arc weld.  I went with them to vaccinate cattle.  (I cried.)  Mark tried to explain that they were
helping the cows, not hurting them.  Neither I nor the wild-eyed animals were convinced.  We were endlessly bucked by an annoyed horse around their house and front yard, leaving their brand new driveway full of deep horseshoe marks.  I think we got a few marks of our own after that.  I learned (and then forgot) how to rope a bale of hay adorned with a large black plastic replica of a steer's head.  Mark was very good at it.  I wasn't, but it was immensely fun anyway.  We irritated a gigantic and mean bull like it was a legitimate career path and scattered as the huge animal charged us.  Mark went over the barbed wire, I went under.  We got ourselves whipped for shooting the very same bull with our BB guns.  I'll let you theorize as to where one might aim when doing that sort of thing.

We had more camouflage clothing and accoutrements than non-camo ones.  Our kit was covered with pins and patches we had gotten at the Army/Navy store in Tyler.  By our markings, we were evidently US Army Rangers, had served (with distinction!) in South Vietnam, were expert Marine marksmen, and were all 1st Sergeants.  It was also rumored that I had done a tour in China with the Flying Tigers during WWII.  We ran around all day, every day bristling with BB gun rifles, broken six-shooter cap pistols, big Rambo knives and my wicked looking machete.  A real machete.  I lost the machete while monkey-climbing a fallen tree over a foul-looking creek.

Gravity ensued.

Mark was our leader, and was I his faithful lieutenant and best friend.  We were legit blood brothers, just like The Lone Ranger and Tonto.  One or two of his actual brothers trouped along with us.  Mark was fond of the admonition
"We're burnin' daylight!" which was of course true.  Our patrols would typically end with us in soaking wet Underoos being roughly hosed off in either of our respective back yards.  Then came the obligatory check for ticks.  And the application of the sticky, pink calamine lotion.  With that smell.  You remember the smell, right?

We grew apart in middle school, as kids separated by two whole years can easily do.  Besides, for anyone that knew me growing up, I was just a weird, weird kid.  I know, you're shocked.

By the time I set foot in Sunday school that bright-white morning, I had not spoken to him in many, many months.  Maybe even a year.

Apparently, the fight had gone badly for the out-of-towner.  As I said, Mark was a tough hombre.  The guy got in his truck. 
The details for me get sketchy here.  I never got the whole story from an eyewitness, and never really cared to.  Mark either decided it was a great idea to fling himself on the hood of the truck, or was perhaps hit and that's where he landed.  It doesn't matter much now.  My good friend ended up under the speeding truck, and was dragged a very, very long way to his death.

At the wake, I visited the house I had spent so much time in.  Mark's mom darn near squeezed the life right out of me.   There was an argument about his dad wanting to go out and feed the cows, with everyone finally relenting when he said plainly, "They still gotta eat."

All the grownups said what a good job the undertaker did with him.  He had lost a hand, I remember.  I could only stare dumbly at its replacement.  I see now their politeness, because a 13 year old me could barely recognize his friend.

I was a pallbearer for the first time in my life.  It was an honor I didn't fully understand.  His mother had asked.  I believe the other 5 were all Mark's older friends, boys acting tough, as I suppose they thought they were expected to.  I didn't know any of them very well, and I distinctly recall sitting silently in the back of a very full car lined completely in unsettling red leather.  I had never seen
real leather car seats before.

Inside Main Street Baptist Church - you can't make this stuff up - another of Mark's friends sat on a wooden stool and played guitar and sang a new song called
The Dance by some dude named Garth.  As it happens, you might have heard of the church singer:  a very young (and now Grammy-winning) Chris Tomlin.  I only found out a few years ago that he had gotten himself good and famous in Christian music circles.

After Mark's service, I cannot describe his mother's wailing at the back of the hearse, standing not 3 feet from me.  Nor will I repeat her words, words that I had forgotten during the 22 years before writing this.

It was said that for years afterward, the out-of-town
er religiously avoided our city limits.  There were those that had threatened his life, people that lived out on the edge.  People that one should take seriously.

Happy birthday, Mark.


Anonymous said...

There are no words. Just wanted you to know that I read it.

El Comodoro said...

Told you not to read it.

And thanks.