It all started back in kindergarten. I was freakishly tall... a head and shoulders taller than everyone else, except for Mark. We saw eye to eye. We were the token tall kids that got to do everything that no one else could reach. I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame because we were alike, he was kind and gentle, and when he smiled, he made me smile. Back then he said he wanted to be a dentist, so I decided I would be a dental assistant so I could work with him and be with him always.
We lived with only three houses between us and the route we walked to school ran somewhere down the middle. I would wait for him at the intersection, and we'd walk the remaining quarter mile together. After school, we'd walk home together. One particularly brazen day at age five, I kissed him at the intersection (on the cheek, as I recall) and ran the rest of the way home. Mark told his grandmother, who lived with him and his family. She said I was a wild girl, and he shouldn't be spending time with me. (I didn't hear that part until we were adults, so obviously he didn't heed her warning.)
As early, as elementary school, I knew he was special in a sophisticated, refined, vintage-y way. He always gave beautiful Valentine cards instead of those juvenile things most gave. He had an attention to detail and creativity that was different than most boys. His handwriting was impeccable. His clothes were always clean and never in disarray... shirt tucked in, collar straight, pants hanging perfectly, all layered in the preppy style that was the rage then. His hair never got too long and it was always neatly combed. I loved all these things about him, and it wasn't long before other girls noticed those things were pretty special, too. By then, I was over my crush and we had a strong bond of friendship.
As tweens and teens, we spent a great deal of time at each other's house or on the phone together. We were in most of the same activities together: band, chorus, pep band, drama, photography club, prom committee, yearbook committee, National Honor Society. Since we were part of the same clique, we went to the same parties. He was ever present in my life... we were in each other's orbit. I remember disco dancing to the Saturday Day Night Fever album on his porch. We did homework together and hammered out school papers on my Underwood manual typewriter that was so heavy that I'm surprised it didn't fall through the table and the floor. We shared secrets and gossip... we shared our lives.
He went away to college; I did not. But when he was home, we'd get together and catch up. Close to Christmas, I'd go to his family's house. He'd put on the Charlie Brown Christmas album, and we'd share an eggnog while we exchanged gifts, stories and gossip. That tradition continued long into adulthood.
We knew each other so well... 4o years of living, sharing, loving. We had numerous nicknames for each other. There were private jokes where a word or two could start the laughter.
Just over a week ago, while on the way to the hospital because of pneumonia, he went into cardiac arrest. After several days, it was clear he wouldn't recover. His family and partner said goodbye, and the machines that were keeping him alive were turned off. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I wanted more talk and laughter and hugs. I wanted more reminiscing and more memories. The pain of his death is so intense to me that it feels physical. I know that time will make the pain fade, but there are things in my life that will always remind me of him, and I will carry him in my heart forever.
This comes too soon, but goodbye, Mark, my dear friend. I hope you knew how much I love you. Too much time has past since I told you last.