My difficult brother, Mark, died in the St. Croix, in the islands that he loved last week. He died alone of lung cancer, emphysema, and general organ failure, and I expect in excruciating pain after refusing any palliative treatment or a move off the island which would have given him more time. He systematically cut himself from all family and refused all calls from family at the end. Though he would occasionally accept gifts, he would not return the favor. He never met any of his many nephews and neices.
I have been brooding on Mark for the past week. There are two easy ways to misread him. One is to see him as a romantic Jimmy Buffett character as some of the younger nephews and nieces are inclined to do.Jimmy Buffett knows that his characters are not romantic — they are sad failures justifying their failures with sad excuses.
The other way to see him is bad which is even dumber in the long run. For Mark, things started hard and they just got harder. When he was born he couldn’t drink milk, either mother’s or cow’s. He had to drink a soy preparation known as Mulsoy which he loathed for four or five years. He used to compensate by eating spoonfuls of dirt in the back yard. The doctors said he was compensating for missing vitamins. He was also unable to eat eggs. I don’t think in all of his sixty-some years he ever swallowed one.
In grammar school, although he was bright, what was mostly noteworthy was his criminality. At Jean D’Arc Academy which he attended after me, he was caught after enabling two high school girls to steal their tuition and run away to Florida and was expelled. At Bishop Sheehan he blew the doors off the men’s room walls and was expelled again. After that his brief academic career was spent at Oliver Ames in Easton. He left school permanently at sixteen. He had discovered the joys of the pot smuggler’s life, which he was to identify with ever after. My first wife, Bronwen, said the first time she met him was when he was having a fistfight with me on the steps of the Barnstable County courthouse. As he was underage and I was not, I had agreed to stand up for him. But I was furious because he had called the judge “Asshole” because of his refusal to listen to Mark’s speech on the injustice of pot laws.
The rest was doubtless mostly inevitable and a cliche — expansion, a big federal bust, acquittal by an attorney named Albert (“Bert — don’t call me Al!”) Capone, decline, exile to the Islands, and a sort of long goodbye. All this is true bu doesn’t take into account one thing: in his twenties, Mark fell in love with a girl named D. K. She wasn’t bright but she loved Mark with all her heart. More incredibly, Mark loved her back just as fervently — I’m not sure she wasn’t the only person Mark loved that much, or loved at all.
And then she got cancer. And died for two horrible years. In the end she could hardly eat or be touched without breaking a bone. I think she screamed for most of her last month. And it broke Mark, helpless to do anything about it.
He was not all bitterness and anger, of course. He was a talented if unfocused musician and even attended art school for a while. He kept ,e in touch with the music of Tom Rush, which I still enjoy. Ironically, Rush almost bought Libby’s house in Jackson Hole many years later. He enjoyed science fiction and watching birds.
So when you see pictures of “Marccus”, smiling like a shady character out of a bad movie, and are berating him for never giving a damn about anything, remember a scared little kid who couldn’t make anything come out right, and hope that both of them are at peace.