An I Remember for Mark Baumer
My friend Mark Baumer died a year ago walking alongside the road in Florida. It’s been a horrendous year in a lot of ways and the only thing I could think to do was a bit of an exercise piece that we did in Gale Nelson’s class at Brown. It’s called an “I Remember” and there are certain rules: 1) You pick one topic for the whole thing (in this case Mark) 2) You begin each paragraph/item with “I remember” 3) You limit each paragraph/item to four sentences (I break this on the last one). It’s just a way to think about someone that meant a lot to me and that will continue meaning a lot to me and to others. Much love to Jim and Mary Tarazewich Baumer.
I remember that Mark was the first person to reach out to me via email after we’d gotten into Brown. He found me through Seth Abramson’s blog and decided to email me after looking me up. He didn’t have any questions, he just wanted to introduce himself and say he was looking forward to meeting me. He seemed polite, if a little strange.
I remember meeting him at Brown’s orientation, along with most of my new classmates. All the writer’s gravitated towards one another, some kind of force which pulled us to the same place, it feels like now. It was steamy out in early September. Mark wore a white t-shirt, I think, and this was a perfect example of his lack of pretention. We all sat at a table getting to know one another and I asked some annoying demographic questions.
I remember finding out about and meeting up with everyone at the Graduate Center Bar, including some of the second years in the MFA program. Drinks were supposedly cheaper there. Mark asked if I wanted to play darts, which I had never done before. One of my darts landed sideways and he took a photograph of it on his phone and posted it on his blog, saying he felt bad beating someone at darts in front of my wife.
I remember Gale Nelson’s pedagogy class where Mark read something he wrote into a mirror on the day he was leading mock workshop. I have spent the last eight and a half years confused by and in awe of Mark’s natural otherness. Whatever planet he came from must have been a strange one. I still have a hard time believing he never drank or did any drugs at all.
I remember well Mark asking to borrow a pen while in Gale’s class. I was slightly annoyed when he chewed on it until he told me it “looked pretty tasty.” He brought me back an entire box of Pentel pens from Maine. I used only that style until I switched to fountain pens, calling them “my Mark pens.”
I remember Mark was the first person from the program that we invited over. It was for the Georgia-Florida football game and Margaret and Jerel came too. We lost and he apologized on the way out the door, thinking he was bad luck. Jenn made pumpkin M&M cookies with just blue and orange M&Ms so we could “ritually consume the enemy.”
I remember a couple of long walks across Providence with Mark my second year since neither of us had a car. He was running everywhere at the time but I’m not a runner so I insisted we walk, which he did, of course. I think he was living out behind the KFC on the west side of town at the time in the back of someone’s house in a strange suite. I think he had a four-poster bed.
I remember when he ate nothing but pizza for a while. He invited folks over regularly for pizza, which he got quite good at making. Mark’s little obsessions were always intriguing and never seemed particularly odd at all for him. I thought he used too much cornmeal but then he only added more just to spite me.
I remember I was under-employed and we were living in Mystic, CT with Jenn’s aunt and uncle and I got a message from Mark at 3 fucking a.m. that the New Yorker’s blog had used my photo of Keith Waldrop in an article by Ben Lerner. Mark helped me navigate dealing with Wikipedia’s copyright folks. Mark was really annoyed that they hadn’t given me credit but I told him I just uploaded it to there because I’m not a photographer. “But you could be a photographer,” he said.
I remember a few meals at Nice Slice when we were living over on Prospect Street and I was working at Roger Williams. Mark lived right around the corner at the time but I barely saw him. I was driving a lot and he was busy being Mark. We walked around College Hill after we ate and talked about how bad soda was for us. He had a job at the library and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing.
I vaguely remember when he got the library job. He was hired to do some kind of coding but there was some kind of delay. I’m not sure if he ever got to doing real work, though knowing him, he was probably doing all kinds of work the whole time. I recall he said he was in a basement space somewhere, cut off from the world of the library.
I remember a walk across Providence with Mark and Andrew and Darren and Mark finding a basketball goal and lifting it over his head. He had on a grey Penguin winter hat that I would later find in my office mailbox. When I tried to tell him it was his and not mine, he said it only looked like his, but I’m pretty sure he was the one who put it in my box to begin with. Still wearing that hat. I never thought to wash it, I think, even though Jenn told me too.
I remember when Mark decided he was going to use our summer funding (which was about half our normal first year pay) and walk across America. We talked about the route and he was sure that taking US 80 from Savannah was the better route since he wanted to go to L.A. I told him it would be hot and he said it would all be hot, even if he walked a northern route. He started prepping for the walk by dressing like he was planning to dress for it.
I remember when he got back from his walk to L.A. His legs were huge and his skin was leathery. His hair was long and kind of matted and he was shades darker. I told him I had walked across Providence one day and he said that was just as good. Anyone and I would think they were being sarcastic— maybe he was, but it felt genuinely kind, as ever.
I remember Mark planning an AWP offsite reading so that we could all get funding from Brown (sorry, Brown). It was scheduled for midnight at the Washington Monument. I fell asleep and I don’t think anyone else went. Mark posted video of himself running around in the dark.
I remember Mark and Darren being the only people to show up to a little music thing I did at a bar we all frequented. It was a Sunday night and a lot of people said they’d come but no one but those two did and they stayed the whole time. I got paid $35 and the bar owner was pissed I didn’t have an audience. I said “But my friends Mark and Darren were there, though.”
I remember waking up on the day of my MFA thesis reading with Darren and having an email from Gale asking if we had done whatever had been done. Turned out Mark printed out some text and I guess taped it to the front of 68 ½ Brown Street to advertise the reading for the night. I told Gale that Mark better not get in trouble on my behalf and that I would gladly accept whatever punishment. Gale asked if I really thought anyone was going to get in trouble.
I remember Jenn calling to tell me that Mark had died. I was standing in my home office staring at my guitars and debating which to pick up and play and the phone rang. She had seen it on Facebook from Brian Evenson maybe. I thought I was having a heart attack.
I remember my Dad calling and saying something and my brother calling and saying something but I don’t remember anything else from that day. I sat in a chair and watched random TV shows the entire day instead of attempting to do anything else. I’m not sure I can recall anything else. I tried to call friends but no one picked up.
I remember when I found out he had gotten hit on the side of the road in Florida. On my last phone call with him, I told him not to go to Florida because it was an awful place and that no one should go to Florida ever. He said I was biased because I was from Georgia and we laughed. Don’t ever go to Florida.
I remember I started drinking bourbon in the morning before Brown had his memorial on. It was the only thing I could think to do. I don’t remember when I stopped drinking that day but I know it was gross and I cried a lot and ended up laying on the floor. I do remember Claire Donato and Blake Butler talking on my computer. There was a double-bass.
I remember sitting quietly in my therapist’s office after that. I had done a good job talking to her for a while but I sat quietly that next session. I told her I didn’t get why Mark was dead and that I was alive and that I don’t think I’ll ever be ok with that. Typing now, I’m still not ok with it.
I remember reading about survivor’s guilt and feeling like I hadn’t earned that, even. That I was not a survivor and that I hadn’t been close enough to Mark to justify feeling anything other than grief, that my feelings were invalid somehow and overblown. Mostly I just drank more until I couldn’t feel feeling and I didn’t stop that for months. Maybe I still don’t deserve to feel this way.
I remember unwisely looking at the photograph of the car that hit Mark online. The windshield was cracked and I lost it sitting in my living room and surely poured myself a drink because I could not deal with the fact that my friend was that crack and that I was cracked and that we were all cracked. She couldn’t have paid attention for thirty fucking seconds and not taken a life? Was she on a cellphone?
I remember Mark’s cellphone number on a sliding phone that he had. 501-USA-Info. We joked that he would get a lot of calls from people thinking it was an informational line. We wrote up some fake questions that people would ask such a phone number such as “How is USA doing today?” The phone had a full keyboard on it which seemed like the coolest thing at the time.
I remember the first time I laughed about something Mark had done after he died. It took me 11 months to remember him and smile instead of feeling sad. I was drunk on Halloween telling my friends I was wearing my Mark hat. They smiled politely because what else can you do?
I remember thinking that survivor’s guilt was a waste of Mark’s memory— that perhaps the best way to honor my friend was to start doing some good in this world, to stop sulking and feeling like I was bad and he was good and start doing better for others. Mark had once said not to let the darker thoughts get you because life is too enjoyable.
I remember the last time I saw Mark. He helped Jenn and I move out of our tiny apartment on Prospect Street before our move to Illinois via Georgia. He stood in the trailer we had rented to see if he could stand up and he couldn’t. I gave him a bicycle that my brother had given me because I knew damn well I’d never ride it. I took video of him riding around in the parking lot and he shouted things about Lance Armstrong doping and I was trying not to laugh because I didn’t want the camera to shake.
I remember he wouldn’t stay to eat dinner with us and said he was pretty sure he had a bicycle helmet in his basement of the house he owned. We all hugged and said we’d see him the next time we were in town, which we didn’t because he had started his last walk, this time for climate change, when we came for C.D.’s memorial. I wrote about community for her memorial and broke down crying in front of some of my heroes that day and I remember thinking we had formed a new community of people that had been at a place at time that made and effort to stay connected, even when it was hard across distance. I remember thinking that I’d probably be back in Providence again because there was always something and that I’d just see him then.