When he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heav'n so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
|In the quiet spaces of my day, I find myself saying his name, barely audible. It isn’t spoken as a greeting or an announcement. I think it is basically a means of contemplation, and I am always surprised at how it makes me feel to say it. Markey’s death on July 23rd created an aching emptiness in my heart and mind, and a lingering sense of regret for a life cut short. I guess I am firmly entrenched in the “denial” phase of my grief cycle. It is not only his death that was tragic, but a fair portion of his life as well, and I cannot find a way to accept this. I cannot claim to have known Markey well or intimately. I do not know how he came to be at the place he was, or what decisions he made that shaped his journey. I have my theories, but above all, I firmly believe he deserved better.
|I am proud to call Markey friend, although I am sure that I loved him more than he cared for me. No matter, I knew him at a time when we were all becoming ourselves, the years between 1972 and 1974, in high school. I saw him twice after graduation, the last time around 1981. I cried when I said goodbye to him that last afternoon, and he assured me I would see him again. I never did. I lost touch with him over the next 25 years, although at times he was actually living very near. We did not have many friends in common, so although I tried from time to time, I was never able to locate him. It was not until 2009 that I finally found him again, in the worst way possible, by reading an internet blog about his beatings while living on the streets of New York City. The first time I saw the photos, I could not even recognize my friend, or perhaps would not, so I dismissed the reports. The second time, the face was unmistakable, and I wept openly. How could this happen? How could it be? And these are questions I now ask myself over and over, of his life and his death, and the answers are hard to come by. For days, I have been recalling long lost fragments of my past, in the hopes of finding him there. I have come here to record them, perhaps for posterity, but mostly because I hope that they will help me find some light in all this darkness.
|One of my high school memories of Markey involves my discovery of his notebook, which was just sitting on top of his bag outside the gym one day. Markey was nowhere in sight, and I could not resist leafing through the notebook with a sense of illicit joy. I was delighted to find Markey’s hand-drawn cartoon work, and the drawings were very, very good. This surprised me because Markey was not in any art classes that I attended. But what I remember most was one frame in which a character said to another "I sell you my seester for a neeckle". I laugh every time I think of that. On the back of the notebook, Markey had penned the lyrics to the Who’s Behind Blue Eyes, and he had gotten some of them wrong. When Markey appeared, I pointed out the incorrect lyrics, and I can still remember the daggers he shot at me! It is the one and only time I remember Markey being angry with me. But the reason I think I remember this incident so clearly is that it taught me two very important lessons - that Markey was enormously and naturally talented, and that I never wanted to see that look in his eyes again.
|In the summer right after high school, Markey called me out of the blue. Could he come live with me and my mother? He was terribly unhappy at home, and needed somewhere to live until he started college in the fall. The answer, of course, was yes. I cannot recall much of Markey that summer, as my days were filled with work, music, sex, and drugs, and neither of us spent much time at the house. I do recall one evening that I decided to make an audio tape for our mutual friend Plums, who had moved away during our junior year. Markey and I sat on the L-shaped sofa taking turns holding a magnetic tape recorder, speaking into the tiny holes at one end - talking to our invisible friend as if she was in the room with us. Toward the end of the roughly 20 minute “conversation”, I noticed that Markey had fallen asleep as I was speaking. I decided the tape was probably long enough anyway, and said goodbye to Plums. Then, I woke Markey and said “Say goodbye to Plums”. Still half asleep, he spoke softly into the holes “Goodnight, Plums. See you in the morning.” I don’t know why, but this strikes me to this day as terribly sweet. Markey could certainly be brutally honest, like the time that Plums and I visited him in NYC a few years after graduation. We took him to a nice restaurant near where he lived, and I was wearing denim overalls (I was on vacation, after all). Markey took one look at me and commented “I guess in your case, you can take them out, but you can’t dress them up”. Still, when I recall Markey, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of his gentleness, so I am either romanticizing, or was able to see clearly through the rough exterior to what lay beneath. He had a wonderful, soft voice, and piercing eyes, and like so many others, I found him irresistible.
|Greg and I visited with Markey in 1981, and talked for a bit in his small NYC apartment. There was another, younger man there who seemed genuinely in awe of Markey, a fact to which Markey seemed oblivious. I have read recent accounts of others that felt that Markey was like a flame to so many moths, and recalling that visit, I can definitely see what they mean (and I count myself among the moths). After a short time, we all grew restless inside, so we went up on the roof to smoke a joint. The air was cool and the sky was dark and clear. I cannot remember what we discussed, or if we spoke much at all, but it was very peaceful looking out over the buildings and then up into the sky, and I was so happy to be with my friend. I don’t know why the memory of that rooftop stays with me even now, but Greg remembers it too. I guess it is just one of those perfect moments frozen in time.
|In the fall of 2009, I was most fortunate to have located a writer in NYC that knew Markey, and on October 11th, Jessica was kind enough to allow him to call me from her cell phone. I did not recognize the voice of my old friend, and there was much that he said that indicated to me that he had a tenuous grasp on reality, but he seemed very happy to be talking with me. There were some moments of lucidity in the conversation, but I wondered if he truly remembered me, that is until he said goodbye using my full legal name. Few people even know my full legal name, I use it only on documents of an official nature, and never in casual conversation. The fact that he remembered it after so many years brought tears to my eyes. In the months that followed that phone call, Jessica did everything she could to improve Markey’s situation. She often took him to dinner, gave him a place to shower, and washed his clothing for him. She found him a writing assignment, and he seemed delighted to be writing again. Jessica was also able to arrange for a city-provided residence for Markey, and I was relieved to know he did not have to be on the streets through the brutal NYC winter. In the months that followed, he emailed me a couple of times and his writing became clearer with each email. He truly seemed to be improving. I convinced myself that he would be okay, and that I would see him again. I imagined offering him a warm glass of chai latte as he sat in my own living room in the not so distant future.....
|My last email from Markey was dated April 11th, 2010:
|I emailed him several times after this, but never received a reply. Jessica told me that he was still writing and staying at the “res”, as he called it, but was drinking heavily.
|These days, I look around at all that I have in my calm, controlled, comfortable life. I think about Markey when I lay down on my clean sheets at night, look out at my pool in the sunlight, or open my fridge full of food. I believe that he too deserved all these things, yet he had none of them. But mine has been a relatively ordinary life, based on safe and practical choices. Instead of pursuing my passion for art, I have worked for decades in front of a computer monitor, because it was easy and afforded me nice things. I have rarely ventured outside of my comfort zone; taking risks is difficult for me. I don’t think Markey would have suffered my bland existence gladly. I don’t think his mind would ever have been able to accept the drudgery, no matter what the compensation. His was a spirit that was born to be unfettered, and the end may have been tragic, but I don’t think his life could have been lived with any less intensity. They say the brightest flames burn out the quickest. Markey was an awesomely bright flame.
|In the few emails that Markey wrote to me between October 2009 and April 2010, he was more affectionate than I remember him ever having been in our younger days. He even said that he loved me and missed me. Back in our youth, his reaction to me seemed rather aloof compared to my obvious affection and admiration for him. Even years after we left high school, he teased me for having a “crush” on him. This contrasts heavily to his demeanor in his last months, and I prefer to believe that towards the end of his life, I was dealing with the “real” Markey more than I ever had in the past. That belief fills me with great comfort, even in the deep sadness I feel knowing that I will never see him again. He was one of the most unique souls I have ever met. I am grateful for every second I spent in his company, and I will never forget him.
This page playing a sample of As Time Goes By by Bruce DeBoer