My biggest regret (besides lacking psychic abilities necessary to save Matthew)? Not recording my dad’s toast at my wedding. I remember it – how the crowd roared with laughter, and how some inquired whether my dad (Marlyn, not to be confused with Marilyn), a conservationist, moonlighted as a stand-up comedian…
“It’s started over,” I said just after Matthew died. I don’t know what I meant… Our story? Our journey? In my grief fog, I’ve learned, I sometimes say stupid shit that’s incoherent.
“It hasn’t started over,” Mark’s dad, Doug, reassured me, “You and Mark’s, and Matthew’s, story began long ago.” I don’t know what he meant either. But his words were oddly comforting.
But it seemed true – Mark and I go way back (high school sweethearts). I know – offbeat me wished for a ridiculous love story too – like I met my husband peeing in the bushes during a traffic jam on the freeway. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of fun oddities here. And since our “story” lasts like 8 million years, I’ve tried to be concise (albeit choppy).
Mark and I met at after-school conditioning. He was a freshman. I was a sophomore. Mark played basketball. I played soccer. To friends, I was fun – hilarious. To guys, I was shy – didn’t speak. EVER.
My freshman year, a 7’0” tall guy, Ryan, fell in love with me ONLY because I was also tall (like 5’11”). I wasn’t impressed – to me, it was odd he played trombone better than he played basketball. But Ryan asked me to homecoming, and I accepted. I went home that night, crying, and told my parents to forbid me to go, so I could renege on my acceptance. They obliged, and I reneged. And in four years of high school, Ryan and I never spoke again.
I wanted to avoid a Ryan-type situation, so I ignored Mark, although I found him attractive – sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, and as Taylor Swift would say, “so tall, and handsome as hell” (though not 7’0”). Fall of my sophomore year, Mark asked if I planned to attend homecoming, and I quickly answered “no” to shut down any possibilities.
I still liked Mark, but I noticed he’d become extra chatty with my friend, Danielle, another tall blonde who played basketball. So I gave up on his stupid ass until winter of my junior year, when he called one Thursday night to ask if I’d attend “winter sports” with him that Saturday.
Apparently Mark was always enchanted by me – mostly by the sight of my ass in my sexy orange shorts. It wasn’t anything else, because we’d only ever spoken like ten words to each other.
I told Mark I’d give him my answer at school on Friday. My mom, Linda, forced me to accept Mark’s invite, while my dad questioned whether I’d fast-track myself to loser status by dating a younger guy.
After school Friday, Mark cornered me in the hallway to get my answer. I was pretty much as awkward as that girl, Deb, from Napoleon Dynamite. And I wore an oversized red t-shirt with polyester snap-away basketball warm up pants, which was HOT. I reluctantly told Mark I’d go.
When Danielle heard the news, she was DEVASTATED. Apparently she’d fallen in love with Mark.
Also, Ryan told Mark I was a mega-bitch.
Saturday afternoon my mom and I went shopping and picked out a black dress from Express. In addition, my mom insisted on purchasing me nude-colored panty hose to wear with my open-toed shoes. I guess my mom hoped I’d never go on another date. Or get married. Before Mark arrived, I did a piss poor job applying some make-up (I was scared of mascara at the time), and my mom helped me fix my hair in a dorky style.
I don’t remember one thing about the dance, but afterwards, we went to Mark’s house. I met his parents, Doug and Sharon, and we ate ice cream and watched a movie (so wholesome). It was all very sweet.
Mark and I agreed to another date – Applebee’s, on Valentine’s Day. That Valentine’s Day, two weeks after our first date, Mark gifted me a heart necklace, without realizing it said “I love you” on it.
We dated through high school and continued dating after I left for college.
My freshman year of college, I played soccer. My assistant coach, who was ~30 at the time, slept with most the team, which adversely affected my playing time (I didn’t sleep with Coach), so I transferred after first semester.
Mark’s freshman year of college, he played basketball. After one year, he followed in my defunct-college-athlete footsteps and transferred to my university.
During our two years apart, we fought hard. We were immature and dysfunctional. To exacerbate it, I, in my naiveté, went on a few “dates” with randoms (I believed they were innocent one-on-one lunches with “guy friends”, but Mark believed otherwise)… But the good outweighed the bad, so we continued dating.
Once we attended the same university, our relationship flourished. We studied accounting, and together we joined a co-ed accounting fraternity (you’re jealous). We did things like implement financial literacy programs on campus and prepare presentations on our results. We attended national conferences and, before panels of judges, presented against other chapters to determine who’d best implemented said programs. It was serious business, and we always won. How bizarre. How bizarre.
We loved each other, but still fought hard sometimes – mostly competed. We wanted to answer life’s most important questions like…
- Who’s a better basketball player? Mark
- Who’s smarter? Me = book smart, Mark = practically smart
- Who’d score highest on the CPA exam? Me, until I barely passed the easiest section, and Mark’s average score caught up to mine
- Who’d be more “successful”? Probably Mark
- Who’d earn more money? TBD
I think because we agreed on all the important issues, we focused on ridiculous things. It’s actually funny to even type this now. We’re not remotely competitive with each other anymore.
My senior year of college, around Christmas of 2006, Mark asked me to marry him. He thought he’d surprise me, but I knew it was coming. So I threw on an emerald green, button-down, collared shirt (one you might wear under a suit, to a job interview, at an accounting firm) and some denims in anticipation of our fancy dinner date at an expensive, big city restaurant.
Mark planned to propose on a horse and carriage ride he’d arranged before dinner. It never showed. So Mark drove to an empty carriage in a deserted parking lot under a street light (it was safe). We got out of the car, and he proposed next to the empty carriage. I said yes! It was perfect – all the awkwardness I’d ever wanted!
We married one year later on December 29, 2007.
In his toast, my dad shared some observations:
- He couldn’t believe we’d married “despite our mean-spirited competitiveness” in our early years.
- He recalled Mark’s attempts to impress him, whether it be by helping pour a concrete drain for the backyard dog pen (to drain dog piss into the creek) or by helping plant trees.
- He loved Mark like a son – he’d attended all his high school basketball games.
- He thanked Mark for introducing him to Under Armour and vowed to ditch jock-straps.
Mark and I were career-focused in our early years of marriage, and we agreed to start a family around age 29-ish. Life unfolded pretty well for us. Until Matthew died. Now, it seems, maybe we waited too long to start a family. Though, as Mark reminds me, if Matthew would’ve lived, I wouldn’t say such things…
And Mark’s probably correct. Our marriage has been amazing. Mark and I, as Zach Galifianakis sang in The Hangover, are the “three best friends that ANY-ONE could have”. Except, there are only two of us… We continue to support each other through this journey called life, including through debilitating grief.
I’m thankful for a husband who shows me unmatched kindness and compassion daily. I admire his passion for his family and career. I’m grateful for Mark’s silliness (he still makes me laugh). Mark never ceases to amaze me with his WEIRDLY diverse array of talents. And I admire his strong faith.
I’m thankful for a husband who’s lifted me up – motivated me to keep living. He cleans, does laundry, cooks, and pays bills on days I don’t have one ounce of strength left (there are still many). He supports me through my medical PTSD. He found me a personal trainer, and he emailed inspirational strangers from the internet hoping these things could alleviate just a tiny fraction of my pain.
And I’m thankful for the father Mark continues to be to Matthew – working to ensure Matthew’s memory lives on, and Matthew’s life makes a real, tangible difference. For every hour I spend blogging about Matthew, Mark spends at least an hour honoring Matthew in some way.
While we’re still incredibly shattered, I’m hopeful Mark and I will someday experience joy again – much of that hope comes from who Mark is as a man.
So, thank you, Mark, for being the absolute best father and husband we could ever ask for – Matthew and I are so lucky to have you.
So, where are they now? Some fun updates…
Ryan and I reconnected via Facebook. He’s an engineer and married a brunette shorter than I. I never figured out why he wore a top hat in his wedding photos – guess he wanted to be 8’0” tall that day. Ryan often “liked” my status updates, and I threw some “likes” his direction. Perhaps he no longer thinks I’m a mega-bitch?
Danielle and I drifted. She’d hoped to play in the WNBA but fell short. She played basketball at a small college and majored in biology. After graduation, she moved to Oregon, shaved her head, got tatted up, and pierced her lower lip. You could say she found herself. Or he found himself… That’s right, Danielle is now Dan. We’re happy for Dan, but we joke Mark and Kris Kardashian Jenner are the same person – they’re each ministers ordained by the Universal Life Church, and they each once stole the hearts of members of the transgender community.
Coach was fired after my sophomore year of college. It was confirmed – he slept with most the team. He moved away and eventually married, you guessed it, a younger woman. A few years after I transferred, I encountered him while refereeing his team’s soccer game in Minnesota – fun times.
Recently, after a seven-year slump, our co-ed accounting fraternity reclaimed national powerhouse status.
My dad, Marlyn, still enjoys planting trees. He also recently retired. He and Mark still complete projects together sometimes. He might still wear jock-straps, but for me to know for sure would be awkward.
My mom, Linda, is a fashionista. She’s appalled she ever suggested panty hose with open-toed shoes. She’s apologized for attempting to ruin my life.
Mark’s dad, Doug, continues to offer words of encouragement – sometimes still in response to my incoherent ramblings.
Mark’s mom, Sharon, recently retired from teaching and still enjoys serving ice cream.
And Mark and I? I updated already, but we’re making it, one day at a time… Missing Matthew… Doing our best to honor his memory…