From 1993 to 2009, I taught English at community colleges in the Puget Sound region. Once in a while
I run into or communicate with a former student, though I would really only say I made friends with one or two of them.
Mark Chambers took my poetry workshop twice. I’m pretty sure we both confessed that our first impression of the other was that they were gay. He was ten years or so older than me and invited me to social events from time to time. He was in class when I made an offhand remark that I had always wanted to shave my head, and that if I appeared on campus bald, it meant I’d been hired for a full-time, tenure-track job.
To my husband’s dismay, he egged me on once I had been hired for that job, volunteering to photograph the event and coming along with me to get my temporary tattoo.
I saw Mark for lunch once or twice between 2010 and 2013. He and his wife, Oda, came to see a play I directed in 2011, which makes me glad.
Today, I received this message:
Hi Pearl, this is Oda writing from Mark’s FB. Don’t know if you otherwise heard, but Mark died a week ago monday. What is your email and I’ll email the obit.
I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear of Mark’s death, as he’d lived with a terminal disease for about three years. In my Facebook messages, I was reminded that we’d had quite a detailed correspondence off and on.
Below is the second half of our messaging, starting more or less at the beginning of the end. Tomorrow, I’ll share the first half.
February 11, 2013
Don’t I know you?
March 18, 2013
Shit, every time I push the return it moves the writing to the send space. Just noticed that Press Enter to send button down below. oops!
Anyhoo, yes we should get together sometime. I’m almost entirely in Carnation nowadays. It’s so beautiful here. You could come up! Go for a walk in the woods. It’s enchanting. You can’t imagine!
Okay, yes you could imagine. But still…
And yes sometime I will be in town and would love to have a moment or two to look you in the eyes.
As for talking, well, that’s fucked up!
Here’s the bad news. (If you don’t want bad news stop reading now.)
I got sick somehow a year ago, after a while we figured it out, it’s ALS. Shit! It affects everybody differently but with me it started in all places, my lungs and voicebox. I’m not able to talk normal anymore. I’m garbled. You’d say to me, what? I guarantee you’d say it. So that sucks really bad but that’s life and for me, the end of it! (still trying to enjoy my sense of humor.) My doc hasn’t given me an end of life date yet. I have a few more years. But I sound drunk all the time. Actually a good way to hide my being drunk!
The point of all this is I’d love to see ya but it’s just fucked and writing is just a fine way to communicate.
I’m sorry about your dad, btw. I still secretly love ya and wish you the very best!
March 19, 2013
Life is indeed fucked up. I’d still love to talk to you, though if you prefer typing, I can communicate reasonably well in writing.
I was telling somebody about you the other day, about how you pushed me to justify my own written syllabus, and the phrase “prescription from prejudice” came to mind.
I can live with bad news. I’m working on a concept right now I call “Good Grief,” which at this point is either a stage show (stand-up tragedy) or a podcast, or a blog, or maybe a book, or maybe just a Fb group… I decided that since something I’m really good at is crying, I might as well try to make it into a living. My therapist suggested I become a professional mourner—ironic because I’ve thought of myself as a potential professional laugher, though both impulses can arise from a similar place.
I’d love to see you, and Carnation. I have lots of time these days. If you’re up to it, let me know I can come out.
I secretly love you too.
March 20, 2013
I thought about you all day yesterday, and here’s something I wanted you to know: I haven’t seen you for the last time. I’m not ready to be done having live conversation with you. If talking is awkward and slow, I can deal with that—after all, I spent the fall listening to my post-stroke father telling long, detailed, and often obscurely meaningful stories. If you’re up for it, I’d love to come see you before I go to NYC on 4/9 for a week. Please please please let me come to Carnation.
March 26, 2013
Sure you can come up. I’d love to give you a tour. I got a pretty good cold going on right now,,,, maybe next week I’ll be well and we could have a visit? I’m booked on Tuesday but after that am open. And day work?
March 27, 2013
Friday the 5th would be perfect. How does that sound?
That would be fine! Come for lunch? Wear rubber boots…the woods are wet. What time would you like?
11 a.m. would work really well.
okay! It’s about 50 minutes from Seattle. See you then!
October 21, 2013
Are you truly online right now?
yes good morning! I am.
OK, thank you very much for the [dinner party] invitation. I’ve been meaning to write you an email but am lazy but thanks for it. Very Much!
Here’s the latest: I’ve totally lost my ability to be understood. It’s a bad deal and I’m not going to go meet people I don’t know when I can’t speak. Frustrating at best. So thank you but no. On the other side, I’d love to see you again. I have several new items to look at: new kitties, a new pond and my golf cart.
When I invited you to dinner, I had a feeling you wouldn’t necessarily join in, but I wanted you to know how much you mean to me. (Also I wanted you to know I’m still clever.) I’m thrilled to hear you want to see me again; I want to see you too. When is good?
And will I have to / get to do all the talking?
yes you will! actually i’ll make mumbling noises and you can guess what I’m saying.
I don’t have a manuscript to show you.
But I might have a solo performance piece I can try out.
As for a day I’m pretty much free. Let’s make it a non rainy day if we can. So we can go in the woods.
A manuscript? Love to read it. A solo private performance? Fantastic!
This Tues or Thur afternoon would work. What’s the forecast?
reread you said “don’t have a manuscript.” why NOT?
I’m writing one. An autobiography. YOu can rip it up for me sometime if you would…I’m only up to age 14. That’s the easy years. It’s harder now because I have to describe drugs sex and rock and that’s hard.
The writing is slow and painful. I feel an obligation to myself, my family, my father, and of course, YOU, to get something done. In the meantime, I’m creating a solo performance piece for a class, and my dad is the obvious and only topic for me.
I have to get the kids out to Bothell now, but if I can come tomorrow afternoon, I’ll block out my calendar and hit the road around 11:30.
that’s good. see you then!
A big kiss.
oh. back at ya! now get out of here!
February 12, 2014
Are you receiving visitors these days—that is, would you like a visit from ME?
March 18, 2014
Pearl! How did I miss that message? Duh! Anyways the answer is yes. I love to see you. And… if you happen to be free this coming Saturday we are having a party here. You are now officially invited. Sorry for the late notice. Bring Steve or any friends you want. 7 – 12, Saturday Night. If you are booked I understand. We can meet for lunch sometime…xxoo…m
I will see who I can corral. It might just be me, but I wouldn’t miss it. Is there a named occasion?
I’m turning 60! on Monday…
Crazy huh? 6 0
I didn’t know they made people that old.
Thank god it will be my last birthday. Don’t need to worry about getting older…
I guess there’s always a silver lining…
For me it is a dark grew lining.
a little tarnished
Exactly. 60 years old is not shining silver.
I went to Mark’s birthday party, and I felt terribly out of place. Many of his friends had been gathering since college, so for more than 40 years, and everyone wanted to talk to Mark, who was holding court with an iPad on the second floor of his barnlike garage, where a microphone was set up for tributes and live music. After a failed attempt to read something witty that nobody listened to, I went outside and burned broken-down furniture in a bonfire for hours.
That was the last time I saw Mark. His memorial service is on Mother’s Day, and I don’t know if I’ll go, but I will find my own way to mark his influence on the chambers of my heart.
He’s a Buddhist, so all we have to do is wait for his next incarnation into a meat suit, so another silver lining.