When he met me, he stood so close to the lunch table that I had to look straight up him, as one might look up the contours of an overhanging cliff, which meant that he had to look straight down at me, as one might look over the very edge of the cliff. May I also report this of my perspective? Mark folded the band of his underwear over the waistband of his dress pants for only God knows what reason. His trousers were bunched in a kind of panic of fabric behind the buckle of his belt.
Back then he was being dismissed from the faculty for making impositions on female students. Back then he was writing these students sweaty letters in print as small and hard as buckshot asking for Christian forgiveness over any misunderstandings about any perceived impositions. In attempts to deliver the letters, he followed women in the afternoon dark of early winter to dorm lobby, to parking lot, to cereal aisle, to coat check room. He met them in the coffee shop or the pizza place and stood explaining himself in such a way that they had to stream around him, as if they were the fish and he were the refrigerator that had dropped from the sky into their creek.
Where were his friends in the department? This is the question he begged of me when we met, without begging me where I was directly. I suppose he thought there I was, across the table, which must have been somewhere for him. But here’s how I was there: floating and floating away from him with every meeting and with every piece of bad news I gathered about him. There I was in the ascendant stretch of my career, after all, and with vain ideas of why I was rising and why he wasn’t.
To my former colleague Mark: Mark of the faulty trousers, Mark of the sprung zipper which opened by cruel, silent command of the stars. Mark of the underwear band with the yellow and black dashes, of the dandruff on the tinted glasses, of the clasped hands and the tears of frustration, of the fingernails bitten to the scabby quicks, of the malady-laden life in general: carpal tunnel casts like a two-handed bowler, blue stress-fracture boot, styes weeping curdled milk.
I of the corduroy jackets and the four-in-hand knots. I of the pressed khakis. I of the shapely wife. I of the photogenic first child.
Mark and I now remind me of a joke:
Man falling to earth asks man rising from earth—“You know anything about opening a parachute?!”
Man rising yells back—“You know anything about lighting a grill?!”
I think of Mark dropping, heavy as a barrel, and me, on my way up, not realizing I’ll return.