I met Mark for the first time in his temporary apartment near the Space Needle. He was living at Pete Gross House, an apartment building for people receiving care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He was about to undergo an experimental treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. Greg and I were meeting with him to learn about the treatment, and how we would support him as his 24/7 paid caregivers over the next several weeks.
Mark was tall. Really tall. He said he was around 6'5", but had shrunk since he had been ill, originally measuring in at 6'9". He had that shrugging, curved posture of the very tall, compensating for everyone else's depleted altitudes, often shining up there with a bright, welcoming, open-mouth smile.
Mark was a lifelong friend of my partner's mother, and brother to Gregory. My partner, Gregory Mark, is the namesake of this brotherhood of dry-land farmers in the Palouse in Eastern Washington. Now, what comes to mind when you think "farmer"? Overalls and pitchfork? Well, replace those overalls with a Speedo, add a bald head, lean frame, and that big smile, and you'll get closer to the picture.
In spite of Mark's 'be here now' presence, he would have always rather have been in the water. When the crops lay fallow in the winter, Mark was happily swimming in the warm ocean waters of Kona. He was a world-class swimmer in college, and continued coaching young swimmers for the rest of his life. Greg and I were appalled when he told us that he scuba dived solo, a no-no for divers who follow the rules. But Mark would have rather died out there than here on land, unencumbered by a buddy, washed out in the tepid seas. My theory is that Mark decided to live long enough to catch the swimming events of this year's summer Olympics. Only then could he rest.
Mark liked the Toyota RAV-4, which could accommodate his height while hauling a load. He liked the organic yogurt that he got at the co-op, the one with active cultures. He like pretty women, and he always knew what the weather was in Pullman. He liked to be prepared and equipped. He liked a good soft-boiled egg. Once, not long after his second round of treatment began, I made him a lunch of canned chicken noodle soup and saltines. You would have thought I had just perfectly grilled a grass-fed steak from his favorite rancher. At that point, he was just happy to have an appetite and the facility to eat and enjoy it.
I didn't know Mark well at all. I'm hardly one to write a remembrance. But so many people around the country did know and love him well. As Greg and I stayed with him during his treatment, we spent much of our time listening to him on the phone, updating his vast network of friends who devotedly checked in on him and wished him well. I'm grateful that Mark didn't suffer for long, and I'm sorry for the loss that his friends and family must endure.
Mark died in his home on September 4, 2008.