Sunday, June 29, 2008

To Marcel

Note: This is long and I don't really expect anyone to read it, except maybe those closest to me and to Marcel. But I needed to do this, for me.

I think I'm finally ready to try to put this into words. Tomorrow I gather with the many others who love Marcel, some of whom I haven't seen in a long, long time and I only wish it were under better circumstances. Tomorrow begins the rituals of saying goodbye, the public ones. The last three days have been private, shared only with Katie and Polly from time to time. So now feels like the appropriate time to try to put my thoughts, memories, and feelings into some sort of order, to document them at least.

I guess will start by simply transcribing from my journal what I wrote soon after learning the news and adding to it so it makes more sense:

I walked 3 miles in forty-five minutes to get to the place that seemed best to remember you, the park where we first got to know each other. I listened to Automatic for the People because its the album we discussed in one of our first conversations. I cried while talking to my mom at the beginning of my walk and realized the one thing I forgot was Kleenex. I packed everything I could think of into my bag: journal, waterbottle, iPod, phone, wallet, photographs, even my tattoo cleaning stuff because even though logically I know I have a place to be at 7 o'clock I felt like I may never stop walking.

"Try Not to Breathe" made me cry really hard. "Everybody Hurts" which is supposed to be one of those sad songs made the tears stop, but I decided that just in case they started again, I should stop for napkins. I thought about the Beacon being on the way, but I didn't want to talk to anyone I knew, so even though my shot of Patron wouldn't be free, I stopped at Healy's. I had patrons like me when I bartended in the afternoons. I was the weird tearstained girl in pigtails who stopped do one shot of tequila and then left with a bunch of napkins in my hand. I thought about explaining myself to the bartender so he wouldn't wonder like I used to, but that would mean spitting out the words again. I'd already called both my parents and my boyfriend to sob, "My friend Marcel is dead. He died in a motorcycle accident." And I couldn't say it again, not even to a stranger. Let him wonder.

I got here right as the album ended and saw that Katie had called a moment earlier. Why was everything so perfectly timed when everything is so very very wrong about it all.

Katie said, "Where are you?"

I said, "Under the tree where he talked us out of running away."

She said, "I'll be there in five minutes."

You were always there for me when I was troubled. Katie and I were dead serious about leaving that time. We were gonna leave that night. Walk to Canada via Minnesota. Everyone else who said they were gonna come chickened and tried to talk us out of it. No one could convince us but you. You tried after everyone else gave up. After we began to talk about starting our walk down North Avenue or Lake Street because you couldn't just walk up 290. You called us over to that tree. Squirrels darted around nearby because the squirrels always liked you. You acknowledged why were leaving and the others wouldn't. You acknowledged that what was troubling us was deeper than teen angst, which was why we were so determined to escape. You told us you understood, but then you told us why we shouldn't do it. There was some statement about how we both had bright futures after we fought through this, but knowing that this was similar to what everyone else said, you quickly changed tactics, and whipped out the Marcel logic. I don't remember anything exact about it, but it was a big metaphor about ducks. Ducks. That's all Katie remembers, too. And that it was extraordinarily convincing. We stayed. We didn't run away. We'd never seriously talk about it again.

I'd known who you were since those awkward years at Percy Julian Junior High, but I didn't really get to know you until sophomore year when I started hanging out at the park, wanting desperately to be friends with your group of friends. We also had Geometry class together. You sat one row over, a couple seats behind me. One day in the middle of class you just burst out laughing. I'd gotten stoned at lunch the period before, so I was half asleep when your random guffaw (it was kind of a cackle/guffaw because it was louder and longer than a guffaw, but too deep to be anything but a guffaw) jarred me awake. I turned to stare at you like everyone else. But unlike them, I started to laugh too. I thought your interruption hilarious and perfect. And I was stoned and thought maybe you were, too and maybe you were, but more likely you were just being Marcel. I think when the teacher asked you why you were laughing you just shrugged and he might have made you leave the room. I just remember wanting to be your friend so badly right then. We started to talk a bit after seeing each other around at the park. I ditched Geometry a lot because it was during fifth period lunch, but when I went it was cause I knew I'd get to talk with you. I felt so lucky to be your friend and was completely astonished when you wrote in my yearbook that year: "It's been nice half-knowing you. It's been a strange year, but I'm glad I met you and thanks for talking to me! It's always strange when I find someone who will..." So odd because I felt exactly the same way.

And it was a strange year and the circumstances that made it so that we only half-knew each other were unfortunate. The second half of sophomore year was awkward because of that person I dated that I don't like to talk about now. He had been friends with you and your friends and then totally turned on you all for reasons I never really understood and I got dragged with and put in the middle and it screwed up my chances to really be friends with some people who I really wanted to know. But you were above the fray. You always were. And in Geometry class, you let me pretend like my life was normal and so was our friendship. And when I couldn't be there for my best friend, you were. You saved her life. Literally. Did I ever thank you for that? Thank you.

I know I thanked you for all you did for me though and I'm so glad I was at least able to do that when I was in St. Louis a few years ago and we stayed up drinking and talking in your living room until dawn. Of course you gave me more patented Marcel advice then and on a few occasions thereafter and I'm not sure I properly thanked you, but I'm hoping you knew.

Junior year is when I really became close to you. You were one of the few people that I trusted. I was so completely incapable of trust back then, but you I trusted one hundred percent. There were all of these car rides. I drove everyone to and fro. I usually dropped you off last, partly because you lived closest to me and partly because I liked having those few moments where it was just you and me and your wise words. The snippets of advice and consolation that I needed so badly at 16 and 17 and you were one of the only people who could provide them. And I knew I could tell you anything and you wouldn't tell a soul, even Polly or Katie, if I asked you not to. And through those brief car ride conversations, we developed this special way of communicating. I remember one time I had a decision to make and I didn't want to go into detail, so before you got out of the car, I looked into your eyes and said, "Black or Brown?" And you said, "Brown would be the best choice, but you're going to have to go with Black." It made sense to me and I knew it made sense to you, too. Just like the duck thing and the running away.

There was also the incident with your ring. That person I dated gave it to me even though it wasn't his to give. When I was recovering from his damage done, I tried to give the ring back to you. You took it in your hand, examined it, told me why it was special to you and that you'd missed and then you pressed back into my palm and told me that I needed it more than you did and to return it when I was really ready. I believe I mailed it back to you from Madison when I finally moved there, but since those were still hard days for me it's blurry and I can't find the letters you wrote me while I was living there for the life of me. I might have given it back to you right before I left.

After that point, I didn't see you for almost six years. But then you were in St. Louis and so was my brother. And it was the town where I was born so I went back a bit and when I did, we'd hang out. We had new adventures, getting drunk at some party on the quad at Wash U. You found a lipstick on the ground and gave it to me. I said I liked the color but it was used, so you cut the tip of with a pocket knife. I wore it after that because you said it was okay. You took Ric and me to the City Museum, telling us it was a giant playground for grown-ups. We had more fun than I'd probably had since childhood. We took photobooth pictures which I've had on the fridge ever since. But when I came home after hearing the news I took it down and started carrying it around with me because when the sadness gets the most unbearable, I need to look at you making funny faces. And I've always been amused by the one where Ric moved so you can only see his t-shirt and it looks like we're posing with Robert Smith. Even though Jenny's wedding reception was in the City Museum, it will always be my place with you. I need to take Katie to play there. We always talked about going down there to play with you, but didn't. She'll need that now.

St. Louis, though it was my hometown for seven years, will mostly remind me of you now. I shared my childhood memories with you, brought you into them, which I haven't really done with anyone else. When I came back to visit without Ric, you were living near my grandfather's old house. We walked in the Botanical Garden together and I told you about my love for the Japanese Garden as child. I showed you my old house and you came on the mission with me to find the old Wizard of Oz playground, which I'd hyped up so greatly to you. We ran all over the park with the reservoir looking for it and then had to face facts that it was gone. I swore to you that it had been there and I wasn't crazy and you said you believed me.

You never acted like you thought me crazy even during those times when I really was. When I was looking for closure with those times in 2004, you were the one I turned to. Additionally, my relationship with Ric was falling apart and you were there with advice and clarity as always. You told me in not so many words that you were proud of me and I'd do great things. You told me on more than one occasion "Again and again, I receive confirmation that the only constant is change." You seemed better able to deal with that than I and I tried to learn from you. I promise that I will always keep trying to learn from you.

Oh Marcel....

There are many people you were closer with than me but you never made me feel any less significant and you changed me, helped me, marked in an indelible way-- the way few people did. You helped set me on this path I'm on and it's going to be so hard to walk it without knowing I can drop in on you or that you'll drop a line from time to time.

Montana.... I remember the way you spoke of it with reverence the summer you spent there. The big skies. But why'd they have to go and fucking swallow you? So many people love you, need you, miss you, were touched my you. And boom, motorcycle accident under the open sky and you're gone from us.

But you're not. You're too deep inside of every one of us. I will live my life with lessons learned from you. I will do my best to pay tribute...

I had to do a reading the night after I learned the news. I dedicated to you and swallowed a sob. Then as I read the scene where Michael and Louisa flee town on his motorcycle, I almost choked up again, not just because of that reference, but because I realized in that moment that I'd poured so much of my admiration of you into that character of Michael. I'd realized a while back when someone asked me where I got the names for my characters and I really thought on it, that I'd subconsciously named my two good guy characters Michael and Tom after my "little boys," two of my dearest guy friends in high school, but the idea of Michael, the softspoken man with wild, dark curls and coffee-colored eyes that can look right into you and a sense of empathy that so few have... That's you, Marcel. And no doubt you will continue to seep into the words I write always. You will live forever in that way, through each of the lives you touched.

I miss you. I thank you, my dear, dear friend.
L to R: Katie, Thea, Stephanie, Dave, Marcel and Polly at our feet. In front of Melrose Park Denny's. Fall 1995. The best of times and the worst of times, but mostly the best.

4 comments:

jmprince said...

This is a beautiful tribute and I just wanted to stop by and tell you how very sorry I am.

ALEXA YOUNG said...

If anyone can continue to breathe life into him, you can. Reading that, I almost feel like I knew him too. I hope that doesn't sound weird or cheesy or lame. I really just wanted to check in and let you know I'm thinking of you. XO

keri mikulski :) said...

I'm so sorry, Stephanie. Sending bunches of hugs.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thank you all guys :) hugs