Monday, June 30, 2008

Eulogy from Mark's Memorial Service--by Liz Gold

I’m honored to say I have been a friend of Mark’s for almost twenty years. Everyone here today has been touched by Mark in some way, and carries a little piece of him in your heart. He was a very private person, so there are parts of him none of us will ever know. But I wanted to share with you a little bit of the Mark I knew.

When I first met Mark, I was leaving an unhappy marriage and just beginning my own personal journey. I had a lot of darkness inside me, and I was drawn to him because he wasn’t afraid of that—it was something we shared. Somehow sharing the darkness cast some light into our lives. About a year after we met, my brother committed suicide, and Mark hung in there with me as I plunged into my own darkest hours.

In those days Mark’s life revolved around being a dad to his daughters, Jessica and Rachel. They were his world, and he loved being a dad—well, most of the time, except when playing referee to the never-ending inter-sister battles. But there was a lot of laughter, too—the girls cuddling up to him in the morning on his bed, making a “dad sandwich.” In fact, his bed doubled as the living room since he gave them the only bedroom. He was a full-time dad, attending teacher meetings to advocate passionately for his daughters, taking them ice skating and to movies. We’d go to Time Out in Westlake and as we ate our burgers they’d run around checking in with all their friends at the other booths. Even doing laundry was a weekly family affair since they never had a washer or dryer, and Mark did his best to make it fun.

Living in Westlake wasn’t always easy. One time, after the girls were grown, Mark was walking home carrying a big laundry bag on his shoulder, and a policeman pulled up to see if there was stolen merchandise in the bag. (People in Westlake don’t walk to do their laundry!) Mark’s Audi spent a lot of time at the mechanic, and at one point (when for some reason I had two cars) he borrowed my '66 Volkswagen beetle. The girls made him drop them off a block away from wherever they went so no one would see them in it. For a joke, he made sure to honk and wave anytime he saw them walking with friends. So they would duck whenever they heard a Volkswagen coming.

Rachel was always bringing home animals, from palm-sized kittens fed hourly from a bottle to lizards and snakes. She had amazing skills in raising and doctoring animals, but, her love of animal life ran smack up against Mark’s obsessive cleanliness, and most critters didn’t get to stay long. Jessica’s maternal instincts ran more to human babies, and it was good that she often found toddlers to babysit since Rachel was intensely resistant to being mothered by her older sister.

Mark was neat to a fault, as his daughters will tell you. He wore out a new vacuum cleaner every 6 months. When Prozac first came out and Mark’s doctor prescribed it for him, it gave him insomnia, and he was up half the night cleaning behind the refrigerator with a toothbrush. The scary part was that neither Mark nor any of the rest of us were sure at first if there was anything abnormal about that behavior.

Years ago, after Mark had made an earlier suicide attempt, my partner and I rushed to find him in the ER. He had tubes pasted all over him but his beard was trimmed and his hair was perfectly combed. Moreover, his bills were paid and his apartment was in perfect order.

Mark had the soul of an artist, which meant that he was a complete failure as an independent contractor because he wanted to make every construction job into a work of art, which ended up putting holes in the wallets of both him and the client. The back door of my old house in East Austin needed some work because the wood frame was rotted. Now it has a fancy Greek pediment over the doorway even though no one will ever see it unless you climb up and look over the 8-foot fence.

When the girls got older and moved out, Mark finally did turn his hand to art—in fact, he turned his apartment into a combination art studio and aviary--with not so much as a chair for visitors. Amazingly, even his very first sculptures—whether in wood, clay, or stone—were breathtaking. Unfortunately, he never finished these works and we never managed to steal them before he had a fit and destroyed them. As you may have noticed in the slide show, we did find two unfinished works of his, one on a massive rock in the wooded area near his apartment, not far from where his body was found.

He was also an artist with a story. Many of us spend a lot of time in rooms where each person gets a few minutes to share. Mark often waited until near the end of the hour to speak, but when he did, his stories were beautifully crafted, rich with humor and metaphor, treats to take home and savor for days.

He loved his job and his coworkers, and if any of his colleagues are here, I want you to know that in that part of his life he was the happiest in the last few years that we ever saw him. It was funny—he avoided getting close to people and yet he loved people. He was hilarious at imitating the way people talked. At one point he taught woodworking at Marbridge Farms to developmentally disabled men. Mark adored the way these childlike adult men were so incredibly open-hearted and loving, and he told wonderful stories about them. Maybe he was so guarded with his heart because really it was just like theirs.

Then there were the birds. I never really understood birds until I was around Mark. Mark’s ex-wife, Catharine, tells me that Mark had birds all his life. The first one I knew was Dagwood, the cockatoo, who would cuddle with Mark in his arms in his bed as he made these amazing bird noises. I think maybe Mark was part bird—a little vain about his appearance, reserved, coyly looking down or to the side instead of straight at you, disliking it when people poked their fingers in his cage, walking with effort as if maybe flying would have come more naturally. The last few years, he called the birds his “boys,” and he couldn’t ever come visit me because he couldn’t leave “the boys.” He loved beauty so much, and intense colors—I think maybe deep inside he had an inner, flamboyantly beautiful macaw.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people say they would like to have known Mark better, and would have been happy to help if only they’d known how much he was suffering. But the fact is, Mark ran away from people, and you had to be really persistent to be his friend. I was his best friend for years, and every week he and I would go to the same 12-step meeting, and every week we’d go for coffee afterward. Yet at the end of every meeting he’d scurry out to the parking lot—looking like he was barely moving but gone in a flash—and I’d have to run after him or he’d drive away. He always seemed surprised to see me there again the next week—and yet I know he loved me. When I moved to New Mexico a few years ago and then got cancer, it was hard to stay in touch because I couldn’t run after him to the parking lot anymore.

I don’t think he was afraid of being hurt, but of hurting us. A few months ago, when he started having problems, he called me. He told me there was a young man who was trying to be his friend, and he was worried that it wasn’t a good idea. I think he knew that he might have to leave. He was trying to protect us from himself and from his demons, which he thought the rest of us couldn’t handle. And maybe he was right. Mark had the courage to look unflinchingly at the darkness inside himself, and how many of us can say that?

Mark witnessed a terrible crime in his childhood. It was not the kind of thing a person ever “gets over.” My grandaddy was in World War I, and a shell exploded right next to him, putting a hole in his head. He was never expected to live, and his whole body was full of shrapnel—sharp fragments of metal. When they started putting security in airports, he had to carry a doctor’s letter, and I can remember seeing a security guard wave a metal detector wand over his shoulders and back and arms and legs, and there was metal everywhere—the wand was squealing like crazy. I think Mark had emotional shrapnel, and every now and then it would break loose inside and start moving around and tearing him up. During those times he really questioned God, a God who could permit such terrible things to happen as he had seen. But he always came back to the conversation. And no one worked harder than he did at staying alive—going to therapy, going to meetings every single day. He worked it.

When someone takes their own life, we tend to blame ourselves, to think of things we might have done that might have changed the outcome. Or sometimes we blame other people or institutions—anything to feel like somehow we could have had some control over death. But with Mark, I think of it in a different way.

When my granddaddy—the one with the shrapnel—was 80 years old, he would still shake his head, saying he was never supposed to have lived, and he was grateful for every one of those 80 years because every one was a gift from God. And that’s how I think of Mark. I think it’s amazing that he lived to 2008. It’s a miracle.

And I think it’s because of each one of you that he made it this far—because of your love for him and his love for you. He stayed alive long enough to see his daughters safely delivered into womanhood—as you can see, they are both beautiful young women. The girls remember that when they were little, they used to take turns walking around in Mark’s big old cowboy boots, and I think now they can finally fill those boots, and each of them carries a big part of Mark inside her.

And yes, he hurt us by leaving, as he was afraid he would. But my life is infinitely richer for knowing him. And it’s our job now to honor him by proudly carrying the memory of him, and the lessons he taught us, through the rest of our lives. And, like it says in the passage that Mary Ann read, he’s right here, with us, and he always will be.

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