This past weekend I went to a funeral service for a friend I met while in college. His name was Mark and he was a goofy, awkward guy who always had a sneaky smile on his face, like he'd just played a practical joke on you, but didn't want you to find out. Kind of the way you'd picture your best friend's pesky little brother. There was more than one occasion when I found myself huffing and puffing for him to leave me alone while I attempted to finish my homework. He was funny as shit- always reliable to say something awfully inappropriate- and I remember having lots of laughs with him.
We worked together in the campus admissions office for two years. Over that period of time I got to see what a sensitive, caring, thoughtful, sincere person he was. And I don't mean that in a blinded, superficial way- like when a girl is talking about her boyfriend who's clearly a jerk, but she insists that he's really a "sweetheart." I mean it, genuinely. Mark was THE "nice guy" and everyone who met him could see it plain as day.
He was always doing really thoughtful things, like coming into work with baked goods that his mom had made. I remember one time in particular, he brought in two loaves of banana bread. One, he gave to the emplyees in our department. The other, he gave me personally, so my roommates and I could have plenty for ourselves.
And when it came to working, Mark gave it his all. Even though we were student employees, he took his responsibilities seriously. My friend Melissa worked down the hall in a different department, and she even admitted to bringing the "difficult" parents to Mark because he had a calming and reassuring way about him. There was one dad in particular who was a real asshole... Mark never even batted an eyelash at him.
After I graduated, I didn't see Mark anymore. We never ran into each other around town and it had literally been years since we'd been in contact. Randomly, two months ago, Melissa ran into him at Target. They caught each other up on stories related to people they both knew, myself included. That same day, I found a message in my Facebook inbox. The message said "Ahhhhhhhh-HAAAAAA! Found you." Of course. It was Mark. We messaged a few times back back and forth. And although my initial reaction to seeing the message was "Pesky Mark again..." it was actually a really nice surprise to hear from him. I had always remembered him as being a funny, sweet guy, so it was nice to hear the same goofiness come across in his emails. Upon finding out that I was unemployed, he quickly sent me advice on how to find paying blog gigs. He had also caught himself up on my personal blogging efforts and said that he was happy to hear about my "new butt."
In one of those messages, he mentioned the possibility of meeting with him and his girlfriend to catch up over coffee. I dismissed it, thinking it was just polite smalltalk. Looking back, I wish I would have taken him up on his offer.
His service this weekend was a somber event and any attempts I would have made to hide my sadness would have been pointless. I imagine that after crying for the past hour, my puffy face and melted makeup looked like a cross between Jocelyn Wildenstein and Joker Cat. Soon enough, the time had come for guests to give their condolences to his family. I didn't really know what to say, as I was sure that pretty much every other person there meant more to his family than I did. When it got to my turn, I gave my condolences, introduced myself, and told them how I knew Mark. His parents seemed genuinely happy and even said "Oh! I know you!" when they learned who I was. They said that Mark would have been very happy to have me there. I don't know if that was just the polite thing to say in a situation like that, but it made me feel good. I was glad that I was able to go to this event for Mark and I was glad that I had the chance to meet his family.
I'm sharing this story not to get sympathy, but as a reminder of how fragile, and sometimes unfair, life is. And knowing that Mark was a fan of writing and storytelling, I think he would truly appreciate this post.
I know he is in a better place and I look forward to the day when we'll get another chance to catch up over coffee.