Thursday, October 02, 2008

My Back Pages

The picture?

Probably 1984. I'm not certain. It was taken one rainy Memorial Day weekend at Arthur & Barry's old farm house in Atwood, New York. Nolan, my schnauzer, still had her puppy coat. I'd just crawled out of bed to walk the dog. She never did like getting her paws wet.

I might be 29 years old here, perhaps 30. I can't remember my exact age, but I can remember how the cold wet grass felt on my bare feet and I can clearly conjure up the smell of wet puppy. I also recall how Robert and I hurried back upstairs to our tiny guest bedroom, skinning off our damp clothes and jumping back into the ancient iron bed and each other's arms as the puppy whimpered a bit and then settled into a sleepy heap on the floor.

That morning, 24 years ago, crept in my thoughts during my shower today. I generally wake up in a fog, groggy and sensitive with sleep. I need a bit of quiet and solitude before I can face the world. By the time I'm in the shower, I'm planning the day and ready to strategize my upcoming battles. Today, as I gazed out my bathroom window through the morning's hazy Autumn air and worked my Brazilian Rosewood soap into a lather I remembered today's date.

I nodded and took a deep breath.

A few Octobers ago, I wrote a small piece here entitled My Best Friend. As is my wont to do, the title comes from an ancient Jefferson Airplane song. It briefly detailed the years that Barry and I spent together before he died at the age of twenty eight, some twenty one years ago, last night. My great friend and blog mentor, Joe, graciously linked the post in his blog and I was visited by several hundred people in short order. Forty or so of them were thoughtful enough to express condolences and outrage. One reader even admired the tie Barry wore in the faded Polaroid I included.

Shortly after the piece was posted, I received an e-mail from Arthur. We had not been in touch in several years. A friend of his had followed Joe's link and forwarded the post to Arthur, now relocated to Fort Lauderdale. He was deeply touched and told me to watch the mails.

Some weeks later a large brown envelope arrived from Florida, containing a short note, a color copy of Barry's 1979 New Hampshire driver's license, and neatly folded within, the narrow Thai silk tie that Barry is wearing in the photograph. Arthur had a notion that I might want to drape it over the picture of Barry that graces the top of my piano. Instead I put it away, to rest along side a cache of old photos, notes and letters, ephemera that Barry and I exchanged. It held way too much power for me to view everyday.

It's unfathomable to think that we've not laid eyes on each other in all this time. Twenty one years later, I wonder what we'd have been like today. Back then, I would sit with him, laughing in the face of oncoming tragedy, then go home and cry until I could no longer. I wonder what two such young men might have grown to be, if both their lives hadn't been so cruelly waylaid, one way or another.

Even as i was blogging it, I knew I was not happy with the tone of the original piece. In fact I said:

"it doesn't convey our life, the humor, laughter, the sadness and pain of that time. I'm just not able to capture the very essence of Barry, in the much same way I can't remember the sound of his voice, no matter how hard I try".

Tonight, alone, I sit here and try to comprehend the dark and complex emotions I've been steeping in all day. Once again, I'm not happy with what I've written, if perhaps for different reasons.

An hour or so ago, I retrieved the tie and knotted it around my neck.

A deeply foolish and sentimental gesture, I know.

It's hard for me to look back at those days and I mostly avoid doing so. Most of the stories I could tell of that era don't include anything that even resembles a happy ending. I have great difficulty relaying the horror of those days to the bright eyed and eagerly curious young men I meet today.

Someone should, though, even if it's just a sentimental old fool like me.

24 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I wish you wrote more. Your posts are always so wonderful.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Supreme11 said...

sheesh.....you are having that Reese Witherspoon movie affect on me again.....and boy do you look foxy there!

9:12 AM  
OpenID bstewart23 said...

Thank you for digging into your ephemera and reporting.

I can't, even today, twenty years later. Still. I start and then... Can't.

So, thanks.

Also? Grrrrrr!

9:42 AM  
Blogger SubtleKnife said...

A deeply foolish and sentimental gesture, I know.

Sentimental, perhaps, but what's wrong with that? Foolish, never.

Thank you.

9:43 AM  
Blogger evilganome said...

You just reminded me of a friend, gone almost 25 years now. And you're right, I don't think anyone below a certain age can relate to what we went through, or the loss. But someone should let them know and who is there but us.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

My younger friends just can’t grasp what we went through. They find it hard to understand the period of my life when I did not got to clubs to see friends because we saw each other at funerals and memorial services every week end.

I thank you for this post.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous iain said...

I'm with david. You write so movingly, and someone has to tell this story.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Ice John's World said...

Thanks for sharing another great post!

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. Wear that tie more often, and may it bring more good memories than sad.

1:44 PM  
OpenID nowholdon said...

You moved me to tears, and you are no fool the love you feel still resonates and stirs others like me to emotion. All the best im in NY and I owe a drink to anyone who moves me that way.
DON

11:45 AM  
Blogger Birdie said...

I am moved to sorrow by your eloquent expression of a rite all of us eventually will share. As time progresses we have more terrible anniversaries to mark upon our calendars, and we bond in shared grief.

This story must be told. They won't understand fully, but you must continue to tell everyone who will hear, to perhaps prevent that one anniversary for someone else. Thank you.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember when Joe posted this the first time, and how moved I was at the eloquent writing and my own haunted memories.
Thanks for sharing this again...It made me cry like a little girl just like it did the first time.

6:11 PM  
Blogger xiaomi said...

I know very well that you do a very good job of relating your experiences to kids like me and as I've said before, I cannot express how much I appreciate it. I'm sure I have no ability to fathom how difficult this task is for you. Despite my efforts to learn and understand, I don't know if it's possible for me to know really what the reality was without first facing something so terrible. I can do my best to try to understand though. When I try to imagine I'm often bewildered. Even if my generation can't really know the reality of the times that preceded us, it's still intensely valuable for us to listen. This knowledge and memory is an enormous gift. We have so much to learn from. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. It's a wise man who does so, not a fool.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Only the young are photographed with lilacs. They are a key. Can't you recall the scent of them on that Memorial Day, made stronger by the rain? Doesn't that bring you back where words fail? Doesn't that let you hear his voice again?

5:23 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Hope you had a nice birthday, Mark!

11:35 PM  
Anonymous iain said...

Mark -- when are you going to write again for us?

8:19 PM  
Blogger Knucklecrack said...

That was beautiful, Mark.
Thank you.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Zacki said...

Amazing post. You stopped me in my tracks today with this. It's beautifully written, and wanders the same way our minds do when recalling the past. I think I'll read it again...

9:51 PM  
Blogger Jeremiah Moss said...

who could punch that face just for loving diana ross?

6:17 PM  
Blogger p.alan said...

Never let us forget Mark. You might think you would have no listeners, but I know for sure you'd have many. I wish I could hear you tell your stories in person, but your posts will have to do... and I thank you sincerely for your thoughts. I know they can be difficult to recount.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

I would appreciate it if these stories were recorded better and laid down for those of us who were not yet adults then and avoided the crisis years of the 80's. I have been out for over ten years now and the legacy of those years is safe sex information and an awareness that sex is potentially deadly and we need to be cautious. But your post shows how the reality of that era deserves to be remembered for what it was and what it actually felt like through those that survived it and the recollections of those that didn't. Thanks.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

today is my first visit to your blog. thank you for the stroll down memory lane. i'll be back...

chubby hubby

11:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm so glad to have found you. Saw your picture in a Los Angeles pride brochure and was chilled that you had survived the '80's. Many good memories of us in the Village in the '70's before I moved to LA with Jerry.

2:41 PM  
Blogger oruboris said...

I wish you'd write more-- I like your author's voice, despite your self criticism.

I wish you'd finished that book...

5:38 AM  

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