I hadn’t seen my old buddy Mark Morton in awhile, so I decided one
day to drive out to his apartment in Norwalk and take him to a party
I’d been invited to. This would give us a chance to get caught up.
Among all my friends from back home, Mark has had the worst luck
in life. When I first met him, he was living with his mother,
grandmother and older sister, Brenda, in a small house a few blocks
from mine. His mother worked 12 hours a day in a candy factory, and
her paycheck and her mother’s Social Security kept the family afloat
for a few years. Then Mark’s grandmother died.
Her job more important than ever, Mark’s mother put Brenda in
charge of taking care of him while she was away. Mark was a
hyperactive, mischief-prone sixth-grader, and after a couple of
months of dealing with this, Brenda threw up her hands and started
spending all of her time at her boyfriend’s house. This was right
around the time Mark dropped out of school.
Those brief years when he was home alone all day were a boon for
the rest of his friends. Whenever the mood came upon us to ditch
school, we’d go hang out at Mark’s, where the cartoons were always
blasting and the candy from his mother’s factory flowed.
He and I became great friends during this time. We were both big
dreamers, and would talk for hours about our plans for the future.
I’d tell him about how I would one day be the greatest writer who
ever lived -- that or a rock star. Mark would tell me how he would
one day be either the kung fu champion of the world or the first
astronaut to discover life on Mars. Nothing seemed impossible. The
future was a wide-open road, and even though we were taking our
education for granted we knew -- we knew -- that someday we would
rise to greatness.
Then Mark’s mother died. It was one of those lightning-quick
cancer horror stories with which we’re all familiar. She was
diagnosed with stomach tumors one day, and two months later was dead.
Mark almost never spoke of his mother after that. Suddenly it was
as if this woman who had been the central figure in his life had
never existed. This puzzled me to no end at the time, because I knew
Mark had worshipped his mother, would fly at anyone with clenched
fists if he so much as suspected her name was being disparaged.
I’ve since come to understand that there are some heartbreaks so
profound we find ourselves unable to deal with them. Instead, we lock
our grief in a box and bury it deep within us, where it festers and
slowly poisons us over time.
Mark and his sister tried to stay together in the old house for
awhile afterward, but soon Brenda moved in with her boyfriend. Mark
took a job at a pizza parlor and found a small apartment in Norwalk.
The hits kept coming and coming at him, though these new troubles
were less the result of bad luck than bad personal choices. Looking
back, it seems what happened next was an inevitability. Mark met a
girl one Friday night, and nine months later was a father at 17. It
was about this time that he started to drink heavily, and that’s
where his troubles really began.
It seemed Mark couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without
stepping into trouble. I’d get a phone call that he’d been arrested
on a DUI. Or that he had broken his arm in a bar fight. Or had been
arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. The more I heard about his
behavior, the less I would go out of my way to see him.
“Dude!” Mark greeted me at the door when I showed up to take him
to the party. The sight of him was something of a shock to me. It had
been about six months since we’d last gotten together, and over that
time he’d put on a beer belly and his facial features had become
puffy and red. But it was good to see him. We talked and laughed
about old times, and got caught up on the present. Mark told me
things were going well for him -- he’d gotten a great new job and
that he had a beautiful new girlfriend.
“Dude! And she drives a Fiero!” he exclaimed.
We left for the party in my car -- no way was I going to be at
Mark’s mercy should he get drunk. We’d been driving awhile and were
passing Rose Hills Memorial Park when Mark said, very softly, “That’s
where my mother is.”
I looked over at him. “Really? She’s buried here? I didn’t know
that. When was the last time you visited her?”
“Not since the funeral,” he said.
“Let’s go see her, then,” I said, pulling off the freeway.
So we parked and got out of the car. All around us were rolling
green hills filled with headstones and plaques. I suggested we drive
to the office to find out where she was buried.
“Yeah -- wait, no. She’s over here,” Mark said.
So we hiked over a small hill, then Mark turned left and we
crossed over another hill. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks, and
there, at our feet, was his mother’s grave.
We stood there a long time. Mark’s eyes were filled with tension,
the way he would look sometimes when trouble was closing in on him.
He crouched down and started plucking away weeds that had grown
around the edges of the headstone. I thought to myself that he might
finally speak of his mother then, might say something about the pain
of losing her. But instead, he just stood up and brushed the dirt
from his knees.
“How did you know where the grave was, Mark?” I asked him. “You
said you hadn’t been here since the funeral.”
Mark was silent for a long while. Then he reached up and tapped
his chest with his right hand.
“I could feel her touching my heart,” he said, and nothing more.
And we left.
That was 20 years ago. I still get news about Mark from time to
time. I’ll hear that he was arrested on yet another DUI. That he was
on the run from some very bad men. That he’d been picked up for
assault and battery. I decided years ago not to visit him anymore. It
just wasn’t worth the risk.
But still I think of those days when we’d hang out for hours at
his place, watching cartoons and eating candy. We’d talk about the
future, that open road that could take us anywhere -- would take us
anywhere. It would take us to the heights of fame, to fortune. It
would take us all the way to Mars.
* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,
is a Times Community News editor. Reach him at (909) 484-7019; or by
e-mail at email@example.com.