Friday, January 05, 2007

The Survivors

I got an email from my friend Eric the other day telling me that my friend Mark's brother Carl was going to be in town Wednesday, and wanted to get together with some of Mark's friends for dinner. We were to meet at Tecalitlan, a Mexican restaurant on Chicago Avenue that Mark had always liked.

I've mentioned before in this blog that Mark was murdered in a botched robbery in June last year.

When I got there, Eric and Matt were already there. We had a chance to talk before Carl got there. It seems that there have been some shocking-- but good-- developments in the case. I also found out that Mark suffered a lot less than had originally been thought-- he had died pretty quickly. Cold comfort, I guess, but it gave me a small measure of relief knowing that he suffered less.

Carl arrived with Aaron. It was a little awkward at first-- this group of people hadn't been together since August, when we held a candlelight vigil in memory of Mark. Also, we hardly knew Carl. He was six years younger than Mark. We had all met him for the first time while dealing with taking care of Mark's house, and at the services.

As dinner went on, things loosened up. We realized that Carl had really just been getting to know his older brother when he died. We began telling Carl stories about his brother. As we finished dinner, we headed out to a brewpub and continued the conversation. We began talking about how each of us had met Mark. One of the guys, Aaron, was ten years younger than Mark, and had not met him until the mid-nineties. Some of us had known Mark over twenty years. Mark had an amazing group of friends he'd collected over the years, and many of those friends had become friends with one another as well. That was one of his unique qualities-- he was generous in sharing his friends.

We talked a little about the grief each of us had been dealing with, and came to the realization that we'd all avoided seeing one another since the services because it was a reminder of our loss. And we all realized that it had been the wrong thing to do; we badly needed one another, because we were the ultimate support group. Each of us realized that the other guys in this little group understood exactly what we were going through, because they were going through it too.

We told stories to Carl and to one another and finally laughed until we cried.

In the course of the evening, we found that Carl had been going through terrible marital difficulties that had started before Mark's death. Carl was able to tell us how Mark's parents were doing-- much better, he told us. It had really helped them to find out how many people counted Mark as such a close friend.

We told Carl what was so wonderful and unique about Mark-- his incredible range of knowledge and interests, his creativity, his determination-- he built a web-design business from nothing. How damned funny he was. And how he collected people he liked.

We also came to the collective realization that Mark would have been pissed off at us if we continued being sad. He would have told us that the best way to remember him would be to live and to live well.

I felt like a ten ton weight had been lifted off of me.

As the evening wound down, I found out that the grave marker that our college friend Lorelei had designed had finally been placed at his grave. Matt promised to email me a picture when he got home.

"Atwood" was the nickname Mark bore since college-- it was the name of the small central Illinois town where he went to high school. The design at the top-- a row of lines with a single line running through them-- represents how one guy touched so many lives.

For a long time I didn't think I'd ever be able to go to his gravesite again. It was the place of the saddest moment of my life-- when we put his remains in the ground. But I think I can do it now.

I think that this spring I'll be ready to visit his gravesite. Mark didn't know that he'd be leaving us early, but he did leave behind what we needed to survive losing him-- the friendships that developed among the large group of people he collected. When I visit, I'll have good news to bring him-- he needn't worry. We still love him and miss the hell out of him, but we did what he would have demanded of us-- we survived.


Bubs said...

Once again, I'm humbled by what you write. It's a gift, you know, to be able to endure and digest events like that, find meaning in them, and then describe them to others.

Dale said...

He was lucky to have had you all as friends as well. I'm so glad you got together with each other. I echo Bubs' comment completely.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a beautiful way to honour your friend - to gather in his memory and to share laughs and stories. I think I would be pleased to have my friends do the same for me.

I had a friend who was killed weeks before her wedding and I know our group of friends found it so comforting to gather and to talk about the times we had shared.

And the gravestone that your friend designed is so perfect in its simplicity.

Mob said...

That was a wonderful post, Christ, what a thing to have had to live through...

I'm sure that it means a lot for your friend's brother to get to see a different side of him through the eyes of people he touched so deeply.

Johnny Yen said...

Bubs and Dale-
Thanks-- it's just good to feel like I can breath for the first time in six months. I'm really glad I got together with those guys.

Thank you. I think he'd be happy. It is an elegant grave marker, isn't it?

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. That is sad, particularly that it took place around what should have been a happy time for her.

It was funny-- we started out trying to help Mark's brother and ended up helping ourselves too.