(This story was published in 2001).
By: Chuck Martin
Eloquence be damned, for now, at this hour, late, late Wednesday night, when I should be in bed, sleeping. This is a bit of a brain/emotion dump.
I just realized that I knew Mark. Not well, but we played football and basketball together. He pretty much always played both sports in his rugby shirts. I was on his team when we were in L.A. playing against the L.A. Motion.
My mind spins now, in a seemingly different way than yesterday, when I was awakened by a friend's phone call at 8am, imploring me to turn on the TV. The images then were shocking, and I kept a live video stream going all day on my computer at work, with the latest audio and video, but my work keeping me at least semi-sane.
Last night, I realized I had a friend who was on business in NYC. I called, and I felt gratified that he answered. But then I was stunned to hear him tell me his story, that he was staying in the hotel next to the World Trade Center, than he had seen the jets slam into the edifice, and that he literally ran for his life as the buildings fell.
This evening, I talked to a good friend, who runs our gay basketball program, and he told me about Mark, but I really didn't make the connection until I saw the face. Then I knew. And that new, stronger, different somehow, shock set in. The tears well up. The dizziness of the feeling sinks in.
I didn't know Mark all that well. I think I first played basketball with him, part of our regular Sunday evening games. I was a regular, he was sporadic. He was big, yet graceful. His voice boomed over the court, yet he always, always seemed to be smiling.
We got involved in football, flag football. Now there was a big load. I was always glad, when we scrimmaged, when he was on my team. When he knocked over an opponent--a frequent occurrence--once the play ended, he would be the first one back to help him back on his feet.
And he could move too. For being so big, he was also quick, both on the basketball court and the football field. Whether a quick plant heading up the lane or a silky juke to shed a defensive back, he was always in control of that massive, athletic body.
The words "gentle giant" come to mind to describe Mark. Although an imposing presence physically, he was a calming presence in all other areas. I don't think I ever saw him get upset. Certainly I'm been involved in my share of combativeness over the years, occasionally going beyond the friendly trash talking and jostling. Mark would step in and make things right. He would say the right thing, in the right way, and his larger size didn't ever need to be a factor.
Does it take losing someone you know to turn the surreal into the real? I don't know. It certainly makes it a bit more personal, a bit more real, kind of like coming out makes gayness a reality to those who were previously ignorant. There is definitely a sense of mourning, that this world has lost the goodness of a fine man. One of many such losses, but one, in this case, that hits closer to home that I want to admit, than I want to believe.
Many years ago, during my senior year a college, I took a choral class, ending the quarter with a performance. The men had to wear black pants, a white button-down shirt, and a bow tie. I added a red ribbon to the ensemble, wanting to make a statement and ready to fight to make it. But the instructor/conductor passed by before the concert and simply asked if I was wearing that for anyone in particular. I said no, and then I wondered if I should be happy or sad about that answer: happy that I didn't know anyone who had dies, or sad that I had not gotten closer to enough people that I hadn't know anyone who had died.
Now, I know.
As best as I remember the line "How we face death is at least as important as how we face life." From the reports being pieced together, Mark faced death head on, doing his best to control it, wrest it from its hold on him and his fellow passengers. While he ultimately lost his own personal struggle, his actions apparently saved the lives of many, many more. And now, I just struggle to face death--his--half as bravely as he did himself.
Chuck Martin is a writer living in San Francisco.