Mark was my cousin. We were almost exactly one year apart, both ‘scorpios’. We grew up just a half an hour a part in the same county. We we both the first born and our mothers were sisters, twin sisters many people had assumed because they were so much alike. We were basically the same size even, which is to say, not terribly tall. We both had two siblings. And we were both the head strong creative ones in the group. And we were both lucky to be born with some brain power to make up for our less than tall size. My educated and intelligent dad always suggested that my mother was the smarter of the two. That makes some sense because Mark and his siblings were all very bright too. Well, my uncle is also a very sharp guy too, but there clearly were some powerful genes in the female derived part of our ancestry. We even both went to Penn State, even living together for a stint. And we both loved to write and create.
All of this makes it hard to believe that we grew apart over the years. But it happened. I ended up moving to the southwest, partly to get away from the east coast rat race, partly to put some distance between my father and I. If you remember Mark’s uncle from some of his blogs, well, that’s my father. He’s the judgmental liberal guy that alienates and fights with everyone around him. Bright and educated, but handicapped by ideology and frustration. My father’s nickname for Mark was Marcus Aurelius.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, Mark and I saw each other every few years, when I’d make a trip home and I’d last seen him at my recent remarriage. But we had lost the close relationship we used to have. In my mind, he would always be my cousin, we’re young, we’ll catch up in depth later. When he e-mailed me several months afterwards, I thought “yeah, I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to tell him, we’re going to get caught up”. But I was busy and for months, couldn’t think of where to start. Then I heard he had cancer. This is worse. Now I REALLY don’t know what to say. Fortunately, things seemed to get sorted out rather quickly and he was declared to be cancer free and on the mend. And I felt a whole lot better about my irresponsible inaction. With my new baby imminent, we’ll have a whole lot to get caught up on.
Then, suddenly, just a month after my baby was born, he had a relapse. Enough was enough and I wrote him a note to check in on him and let him know I was there to talk and wanted to catch up. My note never made it through, never was returned. He collapsed days after his new diagnosis and died quickly, much as his mother, my aunt, had died before him. And I’ve been dealing with the guilt ever since. My refusal to believe my cousin could die at the young age of 44 cost me my chance to reconnect.
One of the things in his e-mail to me was his excitement about writing for RedState and for his own website, RightSided. It had never occurred to me that Mark was a conservative or a Republican. We had never spoken about politics. But he had found out that I had gone down largely the same path, likely through the laments of his liberal uncle. And I’d read his blogs sometimes at night, just to see what what was getting him riled up, every once in awhile finding a post about what his crazy liberal uncle said this time. In Uncle Mike’s house, there has always been a picture of Mark and his siblings dressed in Revolutionary War costumes and it was still there when I went to see my uncle. It never occurred to me that Mark would grow up to be a revolutionary, but then, maybe I wasn’t reading the clues literally hanging in front of me.
Mark’s passion for blogging got me to thinking. I’d never been a blogger, never wanted to be. I just like to write. But then, that’s all blogging is. It made me think that I owed it to him to do some writing of my own to keep his memory fresh and his spirit alive. He never had children to take up his cause. So I contacted Erich and he returned my e-mail. At first, I felt dissuaded because he wasn’t willing to let me slide right into Mark’s spot. In essence, he nicely gave me the challenge to earn it. While at first, that dampened my drive, I continued to mull over what to do. After all, if a tribute falls in the woods, does anybody read it? But later, after doing a little ripping and tearing on Huffington, several people said, in essence “take it to RedState, they’ll like you there”. And so I rolled it around in my mind once more and decided to do it, even if no one saw it. If nothing else, it is good for MY spirit. And maybe a few of Mark’s fans will chime in so I can know more about the people his life has touched.
I remember how Mark and I called each other “city slicker” and “country hick”, like we were brother’s separated at birth and raised under entirely different circumstances. One of my favorite memories was him playing Joy Division for me and I made the comment “that guy sounds like he’s going to kill himself”. “He did”, he said. Mark was always into music in a big way. I remember jamming out to Aerosmith in his basement in high school before I really knew who Aerosmith was and he’d already collected all of their music. I remember when he got me in trouble for shooting out some windows on the farm with my BB gun too. I remember those sleepless late nights staying over at Grammy’s and going to the candy store together or pushing each other down the hill behind her house. And I remember going on video taping adventures in college. It makes it hard to believe he just went away one day. But this is a cautionary tale for everyone – don’t lose touch, don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today. Because you never know when the chance will be taken away.
If there are some of Mark’s friends out there, feel free to chime in, I’d love to hear from you. I hope to channel some of Mark’s spirit and energy, though, I don’t know that there will be a natural similarity or not as I am more of a Jeffersonian libertarian than a Republican conservative. But I am Mark Kilmer’s cousin and I have something to say.