by Clint Penka
"Oyster Rock" by Josette Urso
My first memory is that of a very young boy sitting on the floor turning the hands of a clock forward. I am the boy, and I am three years old. I try to make the big hand point to the 12 and the little hand point to the 3. I do this because I was told when the clock looked like that, Marc would be home from school.
This is the beginning of my relationship with my brother. It is a time of youth and innocence, a time of happiness. I remember walking to and from school together when I was in first grade and he in third. Each day we would lug home some found piece of treasure, which was to be used in the building of the "Super Car" whose plans existed only in his mind. I never knew how the pieces would fit together, but he had my trust, so I helped him with the carrying.
This was a simple time when two brothers and a sister could find enjoyment jumping on a bed playing a made-up childhood game. I'm sure Cindy cannot remember this, as she was no more than two years old at the time, but Marc and I would pretend to fight, she would stop us, and we would all sing out, "Cindy saved the day."
In the scary world of the streets in which we grew up, Marc was my protector. We, of-course, did everything we were told not to. It was here that I came to believe that my brother had no fear.
In what would be a long history of political rebellion, Marc's first act occurred during this time. The empty lot next to our Bronx apartment building was our play area. We spent many hours there with our friends, constructing all sorts of imaginary worlds, acting out the usual fantasies young boys will. We fought dragons, captured evil pirates, and saved the world from insidious dictators, wiping out whole armies with sticks and a couple of rocks. One day a bulldozer appeared. Our world was to be taken from us. Marc planned and led a campaign to sabotage the inevitable development which would take place. We did everything a small group of boys could do to that machine to make it stop, to make it go away.
In contrast to our city life was our "Shangri La", our perfect world in Monroe. Marc's time spent here, surrounded by his family, outside of the city, protected by the innocence of his youth, was to be his happiest. Here an area of trees separating our families' houses was his forest waiting to be explored, the small lake with its trucked in sand, his ocean. If allowed, he would have lived in the woods around his summer world.
This was a time and place where Marc was at ease, content, and excited about the world. We hiked into town, swam, and fished. We caught fireflies in jars, fed bumblebees sugar water from our hands, and dug giant holes behind our Aunt's house. Here Marc experienced a sense of family and security he would forever remember, and forever struggle to duplicate.
As all children must, Marc grew out of the magic of childhood. As he became a teen he faced a complex time, a time when our society witnessed some of the greatest events in the history of mankind, but also experienced the questioning and ultimate collapse of some of our most fundamental beliefs. It was during this time of political and moral turmoil that Marc developed his sense of ethics. Like them or not, agree or disagree with his decisions, regardless of the consequences, Marc always did what he thought was right.
As Marc matured so did his pursuits. His interests became philosophical and esoteric. He sought out knowledge as if it were an entity on the brink of extinction. It was not enough to read, he had to experience. He tore through his early adulthood, leaving little in his wake. He experienced amazing things; his writing reached a level where it could only be truly understood by other academicians.
He understood his gift. He knew his knowledge and his writing were his life. He never stopped seeking and he never stopped writing. He left behind an unfinished auto-biographical novel. Mirroring Marc's experiences, the main character, Jacob, seems to be both the protagonist as well as the antagonist. I'd like to read from what I believe to be the opening of that book...
"Jacob turned young when he was 15, until then he had been an old man and at 44 he was still to young to understand that man completely. It was 1971, his birth as a child. In most of the country it seemed like the sixties were hardly over, while in some places the sixties continued, like a ghost dance.
The Hudson Valley was one of these places. Vermont was another."
One of the many areas of interest to Marc was the desert and all that it embodied. Native American culture and beliefs played an important part in his life. Whenever he visited Phoenix he spent a week alone camping as far from civilization as possible.
Native Americans see life's path as a circle. The journey from birth to death a continuous line rejoining itself at its exact point of origin. We all experience times of love, success, and exuberance, as well as pain, failure, and disappointment. The beauty of this philosophy is that throughout life we are always an equal distance from the circle's center. It is this center which each of us must define for ourselves. For Marc it was the desert, for here he found his peace. He wrote...
The desert is a perfect example of a situation that one cannot control, and I have never tried. In this labyrinthine vastness is the power of the sublime; it is bigger than big. This power will threaten any ego that needs control or that would measure itself against the vastness. I have seen people reduced to loneliness and terror in places where I have spent a week by myself. Offering oneself up, knowing that one is fundamentally good, making no claims and acknowledging this power infinitely greater than yourself - transmutes the loneliness to solitude, and the terror to respect.
In conversations with my mother Marc conveyed to her his thoughts about death. He told her not to fear it, that he didn't, and that it was not always a bad thing. And so Marc's circle has reunited with itself, his journey, completed. In his Desert Journal he wrote," ... the desert is the only refuge of the nomad, a home made of wandering. My spirit shall await me here." In an entry one year later, upon returning to the same spot, he wrote, "This same campsite is a measuring point in time. Perhaps to catch a glimpse. Perhaps to be ok."
Marc will one last time visit the land which gave him the gift of peace. His awaiting spirit will embrace him as he becomes one with the earth he loved and respected.
Throughout my life Marc played the role of both a God and a demon. In the end, I realize he was just a man, not too much different from myself. I was wrong thirty-six years ago when I believed that he had no fear. I now see that his life ended very much the way I remember it beginning. Once again he fought an insurmountable power, he tried to make it stop, to make it go away... but it was not to be.
Marc found his way home. His last act was one which gave him great relief. As the euphoric feeling he had been seeking for so many years slowly took over his body, he knew he had finally found a way to make "it" stop, to make "it" go away. He felt a calming sense as he took his last breath, a breath that carried him to eternal peace.
Memorial services are a way for survivors to say, "Good-bye". But how do we say, "Good-bye" to Marc? Well, first you cry. Then you cry some more, and then ... you cry some more. But, in the midst of the tears, from somewhere deep inside comes the knowledge that Marc would not have chosen to live his life differently. He told this to my mother during his last visit. He knew what he was saying. She knew what he was telling her.
For my Mother and Steve, knowing that they did all that was humanly possible, sacrificing to afford Marc every chance, giving him the opportunity to attain his PhD and to live his last months in the city of his dreams, will provide them a sense of comfort in which to begin the process of healing.
For my Father, knowing Marc in a more innocent time, remembering their days together when the love of a little boy for his father was a bond that no force could break, will give him the strength to mourn and, I pray, eventually find a way to accept the loss of his son.
For my sister Cindy, knowing she dealt with a very difficult situation the way her heart directed her, the way she felt was best, knowing that her love for Marc never diminished, will bring her strength.
For me, I will remember the good times. I will remember my brother's strengths and all that I admired about him. Whether he knew it or not, I spent a good portion of my life trying to live up to his ideals, trying to be accepted by him. I will always remember the young boy who was thrilled by the book, The Hobbit, and the man who gave that very book to Michael on his first birthday, inscribed with the following...
"In days to come when your parents read this to you (one chapter a night - no more, no less) remember that your Uncle Marc was with you for your first Christmas and your first birthday. Please know that there will always be green meadows, oak trees and red apples. And know that there will always be monstrous villains, and always - improbable heroes. There will also be many more birthdays, in a lifetime of stories. I hope to share them with you. All my love, Marc."
And so, I say, "Good-bye" knowing that in my own way I will make sure the stories of our lives will be shared with Marc. I say "Good-bye" by hugging my son a little harder and giving him an extra kiss at night. I say, "Good-bye" with a heavy heart, hoping that I did everything I could, and hoping that he knew that I loved him.
We all say, "Good-bye" on this day, a very special day, for this would have been my Grandmother Betty's 91st birthday. We give to her today a precious gift, we send Marc's soul. I know she will take good care of him.
Marc was many things at many different times, but he was always a writer, a brother, and a son. To all that he was, let us all say, "Good-bye".
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