In tenth grade I was a mess. I was very small and quite erratic: mentally, socially, physically and spiritually. I knew there was a god out there but after the suicide of my friend, I couldn’t understand the game plan. I stayed up most nights either wandering the lake my family lived on or driving my mountain bike over to Bill’s house.
As you can imagine, I made a seemingly easy target for bullies.
I had made friends with a girl in my grade. I never made a move or asked her out. I was simply happy to have a friend.
Her boyfriend wasn’t so happy about it.
One day in gym class I was running down the field and he took me out. I ended up a tangled mess of elbows, knees and rage.
The gym teacher saw what happened and looked the other way. He disliked me chiefly because I was not likable at that age. The guy that took me out was one of the football players. He was one of the “good kids.” My claim to fame was that I had quit the wrestling team and had many social/ societal/authority issues.
In other words I was an outsider.
I picked myself up and headed inside. In the locker room this guy, let’s call him Football Head (FB), said he was going to kick my ass.
Later that afternoon I ended up at Bill’s house, as usual. I was talking to him about what to do. FB was bigger than both of us and was kind of friends with Bill – they were both on sports teams together.
Our friend Michael Marsh overhead this conversation. He asked who we were talking about. I told him the story and didn’t think much about it after that.
I was ready in school the next day for FB when he came up to me. I had been here before. We moved a lot growing up. Bullies always take their time to start a fight.
It’s best to hit first.
As FB walked up to me I clenched my fist, gritted my teeth and sunk lower in my stance.
He reached out with his hand for me to shake. It just hung there like an unopened letter.
I looked at the hand, suspended in air. Not making a move.
I’m sorry he blurted out grabbing my hand. The look on his face was nothing but fear. He shook my hand and said, I don’t want any trouble. I’m sorry.
He left me in the locker room stunned.
Later that day, back at Bill’s, I told him the story. Bill just shrugged his shoulders. We went over to Marshy’s house to see what he was up to. I told him what happened.
Marshy said, of course, Guito (that’s what he called me). I told him he was on the list.
Yeah, I have a list of people that do bad things. And I’m going to pay every one of those people back.
But I thought you guys were friends?
Friends? Not really. Besides, he shouldn’t be picking on you, he’s much bigger. I hate that. I hate when people make you feel this way. Yep. I told him I moved him up to number one.
And that was that. I never had trouble from FB again.
I guess a couple words of explanation are due?
Marshy grew up on Fair Street in Otego, New York. He was an outlier. He was on the fringe. He was also a little too smart. After scoring very high on the SAT’s he was courted by universities and the military.
Instead of accepting these offers, he decided to live underground, literally for two years.
Along the way, he lived outside in negative 30 degree winters in upstate New York. Decided to flatten out the back lawn because the angles of solar reflection were interfering with his thoughts. There was the time he tied a loaf of bread onto the frame of his bike and pedaled from Cape Cod back to upstate New York because, as he joked, it was all downhill.
Marshy had a long and complicated personal and family history with mental illness. So when he said you are on the list, there was no doubt that there was an actual list. Marshy’s story also makes his decision to help me all the more meaningful. Basically, every kid wants to fit in. Every kid wants and needs people to like them. By helping me, a complete outsider, Marshy jeopardized what little he had in common with the more popular kids. And that sort of uncommon courage sums up Marshy, himself.
Years ago when my first mentor died (http://th3rdforce.com/?p=384) I went back to upstate and stayed at Bill’s family home. We knocked on Marshy’s door. To be honest I was apprehensive. I had never called to check in. I knew he wasn’t doing well. When he opened the door he came outside and told me about his latest project – putting aluminum foil on all of his plants and taking massive quantities of rare mineral salts. He joined us for dinner later that evening.
What I remembered about that evening was that instead of making me feel uncomfortable, he complimented me on how good I looked. He was deeply interested in how my life had worked out. He asked me a lot of questions about being married. Having kids. At the end of our talk, he looked pleased. He told me, I’m glad you are OK because you really see things. I knew what he meant, outlier to outlier.
These stories about Marshy I shared with you all are part of the glue that binds that group of friends I grew up with. We share these stories with each other when we visit. We don’t talk about characters in TV shows or movies. We share the real-life stories of our friends because in reality, these heroes are the only people worth keeping company with.
Another thing that Marshy did for me was again give me a different perspective on life. A few months ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I called the hospital room but could not get to him. He blocked all calls.
Bill and his father went to visit Marshy. The visit didn’t go well. Marshy had lost what little traction he had with this reality. Mr. Donnelly left the room and Bill told me it took maybe 20 minutes to get through the anger, frustration and paranoia.
The demons had taken over.
In the end though, Marshy made his last appearance. He came back for a few moments before losing himself against the tide.
That final lesson?
Well there was no doubt Marshy was in pain and was suffering terribly from his cancer and his inner demons.
We all know that light is the only way to dispel darkness. And for me, pain is simply the darkness we choose to share with ourselves, by ourselves.
Marshy not only asked Mr. Donnelly to leave, but eventually refused further contact with Bill after a few more weeks.
He ended his life as he wished to. Alone in a room by himself on April 18, 2015.
But you see it didn’t work. He closed that door but we were still there, talking about him and sending him good thoughts.
I thought, driving to work the other day, in what way am I closing doors on the ones that could ease my pain? In what ways are my own decisions leading to more pain?
Bill and I will continue to share these stories. We will continue to keep the memory of our friend alive, in real time.
This morning I told a very cleaned up version of the story of “the list” to my kids. My youngest got quiet for a minute. I looked over at her. Hon, I said, what are you thinking about?
Her eyes were hooded and she was lost in thought. She smiled. A list poppa! Your friend was so lucky he had a whole list of people close to his heart. I can’t wait to hear him.
Yeah, when he tells god to look after you because he’s not here anymore, I’ll hear it.
With that, all 8 years of her walked up the stairs and got ready for her school day.
Goodbye my brother. You will be missed, but more importantly, you will live on.
Photo Credit: www.deviantart.com