Ugh, June. The way you kidnapped Spring. I only have so many Springs left, and you came and smothered this one in a sticky summer soup.
I overdressed at Mark's funeral because I still wanted it to be Spring.
"Good thing you brought your jacket," Lynn kidded.
In February, Mark turned 59.
In April, I turned 39.
"I bet you'll retire soon," I wrote him. Although we hadn't seen each other in over a year, I could sense the fatigue in his words and in the silence cushioned between them. Words. I have a year and a half of written words with Mark. For some, words wouldn't be enough, but for Mark and I, words were plenty. We both reveled in written words.
I'm a pretty girl. I have a cheeky sense of humor and a disarming smile. There were moments, I could tell, that I caught Mark's attention like a shiny thing to a bowerbird.
I'm also a complete loner. There were moments, I could tell, that Mark thought it was a shame that such a shiny thing would remain so hidden from the world.
The love of solitude is difficult to explain. Many years ago, my ex, who loved people but struggled to communicate with them, said to me, perplexed, "I don't understand how you're such a loner because when you're around people, you're like a fish in the water."
People are ponds and lakes, and some of them are even oceans.
I hold my breath and swim in them, despite myself.
I could feel the ripples of whatever was going on with Mark early on, from very far away.
In April, I sent him a video about David Hockney and Vincent Gogh. I knew Mark, like David, was from Yorkshire. I knew Mark, like Vincent, loved Provence. And I have an encyclopedic memory; I especially enjoy the confluence of unrelated things. Sure enough, Mark gushed about how he loved Hockney and how his home in Provence is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Before we knew anything, I rallied dozens of colleagues to send Mark some kind words. I knew Mark, confident and irreverent as he seemed, had a real soft spot for attention.
"But why?" colleagues asked me, "Is he hospitalized?"
"No," I said, annoyed by their callowness, "But I don't think it's good."
In May, Mark was hospitalized and diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We sent Mark flowers and a collective gift, A History of Pictures, a picture book by David Hockney (and Martin Gayford). I wanted Mark to understand that the collective gift was actually from me.
Mark's cancer spread to his liver, and it ravaged his body more quickly than anyone could humanly process.
On the evening of June 1st, he passed away.
Over the past 15 years, I've worked as a designer in tech with some sense of disdain. Let alone; I've always despised the idea of working a 9 to 5 office job. Approaching 40, I still clutch onto the wild notion that I'm destined for bigger and better things, that some Dickens-style miracle will befall me.
Because of this, I held Mark, as I do with many colleagues, at arm's length.
I'm sure that Mark saw this in me. I'm sure that it amused him.
In the state of Covid-compelled remote working, I started to connect with Mark with written words. We occupied an incorporeal digital space that spared me the harsh physicality of his illness and death. At the time of his passing, Mark already felt like a spirit to me. At his funeral, I felt ashamed to realize I hardly knew anything about his friends and family. I never asked.
There was a black and white photo of Mark from his childhood in the 1960s where a recognizable soul peered out at me through big brown eyes. I could have asked more questions, but that wasn't the nature of Mark's and my friendship.
We just knew each other, profoundly and instinctly.
I know that when I am being myself, unapologetically, Mark is somewhere next to me, cheering me on.