I have got a real problem. I’m stuck. Literally stuck. I need to get a story done about the tiny house guy, one about the Burdett playground, one about the teachers losing tenure, one about how the school funding issue is affecting the local district, and then there are various other stories.
But I’m stuck in the past, reliving the week I found out my brother was lost. This is the week leading up to what would have been his 37th birthday, and I can’t stop thinking about him.
Tuesday night, I went to see Divergent with my daughter. It was a wonderful movie, and I saw interesting parallels between the storyline and what is happening to our educational system today. (But that’s probably influenced a lot by the sheer volume of information I’ve taken in, including both the Kansas house and senate bills, commentary from various media outlets, responses by the Governor and various legislators, interviews with local school administration, and the “man on the street.” )
I mean, I was pretty consumed with that topic, and then, as we’re leaving the movie theater, I see a flier taped to the door. Our local theater offers “Retro Movie Night” on the third Tuesday of each month. Last month, it was The Breakfast Club. But for April, it’s The Big Lebowski. That’s what caught my eye.
At my brother’s memorial, one of his beer brewing buddies talked about how that was one of his favorite movies, and his friends had nick-named him “The Dude,” based off the character in the movie that reminded them of him. At least when he was relaxing with his friends. In February while I was out visiting my mom, we watched the movie together, and yeah, I could see that easy-going spirit in the character that matches what I remember of my brother.
I looked closer then, and it turns out, the movie is being shown on his birthday, April 15.
Perhaps it’s a sign? I’d like to think it’s a sign. It got me thinking, it’s time to start drinking his beer.
When Mark went missing, he had a batch of home-brewed beer going on his kitchen counter. He’d been doing it for a few years at that point, and it was something I looked forward to at Christmas. After the Search and Rescue people concluded their search, his beer-brewing buddy came over to my sister-in-law’s house and bottled it when it was ready. She gave me nine bottles at Christmas time.
When I got home Wednesday night, I opened the first one. I’d been saving it, because Mark always made a point of telling us that it needed to sit for a few months for it to taste it’s best. I opened it, and with it’s first breath of air, came to life, pushing itself out of the bottle and running down the sides. It tasted rich, with a tiny bit of bitter. I can’t even remember what kind it was, because he experimented with several varieties that he liked.
My son came in and talked with me before bedtime while I was sipping the beer. I let him have a few tastes, and we talked about his uncle. We shared memories about the last time he got to spend time with him.
We had this great family reunion camping trip at the beginning of June, 2013. We weren’t sure until that week that Mark would come. But a few days ahead of the date, my mom told me he was coming and bringing his oldest daughter with him. He stopped by our house before heading to the lake, and John opted to drive to the lake with him. They talked a lot, and John will always remember that time spent with him. It was great to spend that time with him, and each of us have great memories of that weekend. Memories of fishing, playing, hiking, drinking beer, hanging out by the campfire, sharing stories, playing with the kids at the edge of the lake.
The last time I saw my brother was a few months later, for Labor Day. We all got together at my other brother, Brian’s house. The next day, he and Brian hiked Long’s peak together. That was the last time Brian saw Mark. And a few weeks later, he headed down to the Sangre De Cristo range to climb the Crestone Peak or Crestone Needle. He went alone, and we know he made it to his camp, and he likely enjoyed one or two of his beers that night. They found a few of them with his things when they found his tent.
It’s been almost seven months since that night we imagine him cracking a beer to enjoy, probably after eating some fish caught at the lake nearby, and having a good night of sleep before setting out on his climb the next day.