Requiem for Mark Stephen

I called him Mark Stephen (his first and middle names); he called me “my little Rusty Dusty,” a reference to my reddish hair and freckles and my skinny frame that was so much smaller than his broad-shouldered muscular one. He was dark-skinned with large luminous green eyes. Looks wise he was way out of my league. Still, he had been the one who approached me. He was my first boyfriend; the first man to tell me he loved me; the first man I loved; the first man to break my heart.

He once dared me to hold his hand as we walked across campus. When I did, he admired my bravery. I was a junior in college, he was in his second year of law school when we met. He gave me his phone number. (I still have that piece of paper somewhere.) He stared at me for a minute in stunned silence and then said, “So you gonna give me yours?”

“Oh,” I said embarrassed.

He took me to lunch on the Mosholo the next day. That night he asked me to go for a ride. He parked under a tree and leaned over and kissed me.

Once when I remarked on his driving (I couldn’t drive at the time), he got out of the car, an ancient Toyota Corolla with a manual transmission, and told me to get in and drive. I’d never been behind the wheel of a car before. I had my first driving lesson in rush hour traffic on Chestnut Street in West Philly. He was remarkably patient, if a bit smug, as I stalled out repeatedly and struggled to change gears.

After seeing Star Wars, he took to insisting I address him as “My Lord.” Laughing, I obliged from time-to-time.

We dreamed of a future together. I wanted kids, though not biologically my own. He said OK. We’d live in a large brick Tudor, and we’d have two kids and a dog, and I’d drive them to school and the vet in a Mercedes station wagon.

He was my first love. I was his talisman, his good luck charm, and his safe space all in one. When he was interviewing for jobs, he took me with him. When he was invited to interview with a law firm in NYC, he snuck me into his room at the Grand Hyatt. We had dinner by a fountain in their elegant restaurant. When he interviewed with the Security & Exchange Commission in Washington, DC, I drove down with him. After his interview we drove to see the White House, because he said, everyone takes their family to see the White House.

Once when Mark disappeared for several days, I called his mother. She had no idea where he was either but pointed out he had disappeared on her many times. “I’ve always said,” she said, “If you want to know how a man will treat his wife, look at how he treats his mother.”

We had our up-and-downs, and multiple breakups. The last time we tried to reconcile, we were laying in bed, revisiting old dreams. He told me he loved me and was happiest when with me, but he said, “I think the problem is, you’re not goodlooking enough to hold my attention.”

With those words, that first love and my dreams of white picket fences and toddlers romping across sweeping emerald lawns and copper pots on a La Cornue range, bubbling with dinner, died. We’d never be lovers again, but the friendship continued.

I remained close to his mother, travelling to Atlanta last July to surprise her at her 90th birthday celebration. So, when she called three times last Monday in a 15-minute period, I was worried. I called her back. “Mark has left us,” she said.

The tears that fell from my eyes when I hung up the phone surprised me. I know I’ll cry some more. Then, I’ll fly to Atlanta on Wednesday to support his mother and to bid this man, my friend who was such an important part of my life, farewell. I take comfort in the knowledge, that as with my parents, and Aunt Terpe, there is Mark in everything I do.

Rest with the angels, my lord.

Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash


Popular posts from this blog

Catching Up With...Stacey Thomas, the Philadelphia Wedding Chapel

A Fatherless Father's Day

Gay Pride Month - Virtual Roundtable