My mom called me yesterday morning to give me the staggering news that my cousin had died in his sleep the night before.
Mark and I were the same age. We grew up together, sitting at holiday dinners around the miniature square table that our grandparents bought when we and my other two cousins, David, and Mark’s younger brother Aaron, were toddler-sized.
The four of us sat at that ridiculous “kids’ table” until the boys’ legs wouldn’t even fit under it anymore. I think Mark, the largest of us, only graduated to the big table after he brought a wife home with him.
Thanks, Jodi, for getting the rest of the cousins invited into the grown-ups’ company, too.
My earliest memory of Mark took place in my bedroom, when we were about four years old, and the adults banished us from their conversation after dinner.
(I’m seeing a theme emerge here.)
Anyway, while unsupervised Mark and I decided we both needed haircuts. He played beautician first. I always felt a little gypped that I’d barely gotten one snip in on his mane before we were caught and the parents took the scissors away.
I may have a problem with grudge-holding.
Mark and I shared a slightly off-center sense of humor that caused some eye-squints and head-shaking among our family members. His dad told me about the time he and Mark passed a display of sample doorknobs at a home supply store. Mark took a step back, put his hand over his heart, and yelped, “Ack! It’s a Jehovah’s Witness nightmare!”
Because of his marvelously kooky perspective on life, I could joke with Mark in ways other people might not appreciate.
Once Mark and I went out in a boat on his parents’ lake. We were nineteen or so, and after a while Mark became understandably weary from rowing, so I offered to take the oars for a bit. “Are you sure?” he asked, always a gentleman.
Before long we passed a group of people our parents’ age, sitting out in their lawn chairs and enjoying an afternoon beside the water. I decided to get Mark back for the hair-cutting debacle.
(I already admitted I have a problem with grudge-holding.)
I yelled at him. “That’s pretty good! You take me out to the middle of the lake, then tell me if I won’t put out I have to row back!”
His eyes popped and he hissed, “Shut up! I know those people!”
Despite all the mischief we managed, Mark was always a solid rock and leaning post when you needed a friend. When I found out that my college boyfriend, who I thought was The One, had a couple of other Ones as well, Mark was a shoulder to cry on and the person who told me I deserved way better. Then, when I stupidly took the groveling weasel back, and six months later he stepped out on me once more, Mark stood by me again. I sobbed that I’d been so stupid to let that lying snake into my life again. Mark said, “No. You were forgiving. You offered him a second chance. That’s admirable, and shows what a good person you are. The rest is on him.”
Thank you, Mark. You always looked for a reason to see the best in people. Even when your foolishly lovesick cousin had actually been really, outrageously stupid. I’m going to miss that about you.
It hasn’t really hit me yet that Mark is gone. That Jodi has lost her husband and their daughter has lost her father. That yesterday I lived the first day of my life without my cousin on earth with me.
I imagine I’ll say “Goodbye” to Mark in moments and fragments, like when we pull out the card table for the kids during family gatherings.
I’ll see them there, with their cousins, and wish I could have just one more meal around that old, little table with all of my cousins.
Go with God, dearest Mark.