When I was in college, I frequently felt very lonely and out of place. My parents were in Germany. My brother was getting his master’s degree and he lived over three hours away. And he did his best to reach out and spend time with me.
I am not criticizing my brother.
But the important thing I took from college was how to start speaking for myself. Even if those words were in broken, awkward fragments and fell across harsh syllables because I frequently say just the most worstest thing. In fact, I seem to think that this might be my super-talent. It’s not writing. It’s not analysis. It’s just saying something that, in my head, sounds wonderful. But when I actually lay it out for the general population to hear, I am face palming myself and wondering why in the world would I have ever thought that was the right thing to say?
When I was a college freshman, I met the first of the two Marc/Marks. This Marc was in my anthropology class, an amazing experience that I thought was going to have nothing to do with my future career as a fantasy writer. But, hey…I needed to have a gen ed requirement.
I spent a semester in awe, loving every moment of the class. I was fortunate (blessed) to be in a class with a professor who has, since then, won award after award for his excellence. He is a man for whom I have the highest level of respect and would love to sit, once more, in his room and just listen to everything he has to say. Because he is that great. I learned so much and so many of his lessons I still use in my English classes today. Because he is that great.
But this blog post is not about the Legendary Anthropology Professor. No, it’s about the Marc/Marks of my life and how important they were to me.
The first Marc sat several rows down from me, in the front and center of the class. I don’t know how it started, but I somehow overcame my shyness and struck up a conversation with him. And then, I learned that he never received letters. And he wanted letters. So I promised to him that I would be his “on-campus-pen-pal” and, soon after, wrote him a letter. Several days passed, and I received something in return.
At the time, I was trying to find a new name for myself. As much as my parents love my name, I LOATHE my first name. Which doesn’t make sense. But I do. I really HATE my first name. Always have. It just doesn’t fit my sense of self perception. I always felt like a Sarah, wanted to be called Sarah. Ironically, that was supposed to have been my name until Mom fell in love my current name and, well…good-bye Sarah. (Note, I still don’t think of myself by my name, if that makes sense. If not, that’s just me being awkward again).
In the spring semester of my freshman year, I tried to go by the name Renee. Because I loved the name Renee and no one knew me by my real name so I could go by any name I wanted. Plus, I had created a really cool character named Renee. I thought it would be neat to try on her name.
Now, I can hear you all out there in reader-land thinking….This chick’s crazy. I’m not crazy. I just really hated my first name. And my middle name was my dad’s first name. I needed to find some way to be completely and utterly myself. No sign of the people to whom I was related. Just me, myself, and my stupid first name.
Over the course of the next six months, Marc and I exchanged many letters, of which I have every single one glued into a scrapbook in my office right behind where I am sitting. I can still see the precision of his printed handwriting, my foreign new first name on the envelope. And I loved those letters then as much as I still treasure their existence now. As I think about this, I wonder if it’s because they were letters that were associated with me and only me because of the fact that I was me. They weren’t from my parents or my family. They were not written to me out of a sense of obligation. They were written to me because one person felt a little bit lonely and I must have heard that echo because my loneliness was so miserable.
I remember I got a hold of some white string and made him a friendship bracelet, much like the ones I used to make in high school. I think I was bored. I don’t know. I sent it to him in a letter and he wore it constantly until the day he lost it at his job. His letter to me mourned the loss of the bracelet, a simple set of knots that my husband call double half hitches or something like that.
Marc made me feel valued without me giving anything of myself to him other than a bracelet made out of four strings and whose knots were made by perpetual 4-shaped loops. His warmth, his compassion, his sense of self were lovely. And, most of all, my relationship with Marc had nothing to do with romance. I cared about him in a very rich way, but I never presumed that we would have a romantic relationship. And because that lack of equation was constantly present, I could be very honest with him.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, I met Mark number 2. We were in Inner Varsity Christian Fellowship together and, I have to admit, I couldn’t stand him at first. I don’t know what first impression set me all off, but I, at the time, wanted nothing to do with him.
But then, IVCF took a trip to the beach and, at one point, I finally overcame my fear of Jaws and the ocean and went in the water. Mark nearly got a foot in the face when he grabbed my ankle. I don’t know that I have ever screamed myself so silly then. That nearly destroyed any possible friendship I might have had with him, but the Sunday night we came back to campus, I got out of the car I was riding in and immediately passed out.
Into Mark’s arms.
I came to and my darling friends Irene and Greg pretty much carried me up three flights of stairs to my dorm. The next night (maybe a couple of nights), a thunder storm rolled across the campus and, without thought or concern for my welfare, I went out to play in it. Yes, I was nineteen years-old and knew better and didn’t care. I played like a child and exulted in the joy of dancing in warm, late summer rain. Walking barefoot through gutters flooding with sun-warmed water (even though it was night) and laughing hysterically as the water coursed down my skin, soaked through my clothing, and just took away everything….
It was wonderful. Because, this was only three months since the betrayal had happened (see yesterday’s blog for insight) and I was wounded horribly inside and impossibly finding a way to heal. The next thing I know, God must have directed my steps, because I went searching for Mark. The person I had spent so much time avoiding was now someone I had to find.
My friends and I found him and, over the course of minutes..hours…my friends’ presence diminished and my world completely focused on Mark.
What a fantastic friend. What a great man.
I was wrong. I was so horribly wrong and I am so blessed that he was able to see past all of my stupidity because that night became the beginning of a friendship that was life-changing.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, Mark and I did almost everything together. I had someone to whom I could confide, someone to whom I could speak my mind and be myself and not be afraid to be myself. Mark inspired in me the love of random road trips which, to this day, is something that has saved relationships. In fact, if the Boy needs to talk to me about something but he needs privacy, compassion, and non-judgment, he merely says, “Mom, I need to take a road trip” and I will drop everything and we are out the door.
Thank you Mark.
Mark and I saw plays together, ate meals together, went to different beaches together. I would sing and he never told me to stop or criticized my voice (and I don’t have a great singing voice). He read my poetry, listened to my dreams about my future novels, and encouraged me to write and write and write some more. We talked about everything, and I mean EVERYTHING because Mark just didn’t judge.
He wrote me letters. Got me books. Gave me music. Gave me a rock on which to stand when the relationship that I thought was going to lead to marriage collapsed the day before my birthday. He held me when I cried, prayed with me when I was weak.
He was my friend.
By the time I was a senior, Mark visited me at least two to three times a week. He would come to my dorm room, steal all my pillows, and would sometimes just hold me.
It was love. It was compassion. It was a real love that held no demands or expectations. He knew my limitations and never, once, questioned them. He respected the boundaries I set out and never, ever crossed them.
He truly let me be myself and understood the nature of my loneliness and stood as a guard against it. He was my friend in the most sincere and realistic points of that word.
I miss Mark. In the twenty years since we graduated college, a mis-understanding took place that divided us. And then, he bridged that gap. But I got so caught up in my stupid world that I didn’t keep up with him.
But last night, his name popped up on my Facebook feed. And I was swept back twenty four years to a night in the rain when I danced in puddles and leapt with laughter that couldn’t be stifled by the fact that I am incredibly awkward and really don’t fit.
I was swept back into evenings in a stairwell where we talked about life and anthropology (Mark was also an anthropology major like the other Marc) and the dreams for our futures.
I was swept back to a warm dorm room with a reading lamp that was shaped a bit like ET (a telescoping head) and Mark sitting on my bed, his arms wide, holding my hairbrush in one hand. Because he knew that if he brushed my hair that I would relax and eventually fall asleep and surrender to peace and quiet…leave behind the frenetic energy that was (and still is) my daily existence.
Every person needs a Mark in his/her life. Even Mark must need someone. And I hope that he has that friend. Because, even though we don’t really talk anymore (not due to hard feelings but because I am as dumb as a box of hair), I still have all those beautiful memories that, right now, are bursting into bloom and driving away any darkness that couldn’t hope to exist next to such a wonderful man.