My heart wouldn’t stop its jump rope skip-skip-skipping. At best, it was driving me nuts. At worse, I was starting to get dizzy. Ten days of this nonsense, I was tired. I laid down. The beating grew more intense and when I felt my own pulse, the skipped beats were creepy to feel: bump, bump, bump, silence, BUMPbump. I had had enough.
A good friend took me to Urgent Care. I’ll tell you this: one way to get seen quickly is to have heart issues. As I was hooked up to monitors and asked myriad questions, I heard a familiar laugh. The person in the bed next to me, separated only by a thin, striped cotton curtain, was that of Marcus Walker. His familiar plucky tone and good-natured conversation were hard to miss. What’s more, Marcus had been sick. My red-haired friend was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma last year. I was not all too surprised to be sharing triage with him.
“I’d know that voice anywhere. Hello, Marcus,” I said from behind the curtain. “Who’s that?” he said. I could practically hear the smile before I saw his face. Without regard to the norms of feigned hospital privacy, I found the seam in the curtain and poked my head through. His smile broadened.
I was shocked to see his face had thinned so much since the last time I’d seen him, in November at his benefit in Tacoma. ”Jesse! It’s the world-famous photographer! How are you doing?” he asked as if I had just met him on the street. “Wait, you’re here, so you’re not doing well.” His tone changed to sincere concern. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Yeah, I think I’m okay. My heart is giving me fits. Dance party in my chest, that kind of thing. But how are you?” I asked. He knew I wasn’t just being polite. “Yeah, well. I have cancer,” he said candidly and shrugged with sideways smile. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry you’re having heart trouble,” he continued. “I’m okay, really. I’m sure,” I assured him. Me, with my stupid heart skipping problem, assuring HIM I was going to be okay.
My nurse wanted to check more vitals and I had to close the curtain. “You hang in there, Marcus. We’re all rooting for you,” I said to the curtain.
“I sure appreciate it, Jesse.” Amid the wires and tests, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. He was gone before I could catch him.
And today, Marcus joined that big playwright in the sky.
His wife, Lauren Walker, wrote a beautiful tribute to him on her facebook page, excerpted below:
Marcus Scott Walker was born on October 29, 1957 and died March 11, 2011 of metastatic melanoma. He was raised in the fairy tale town of Ashland, New Hampshire and the pastoral community of Laurel, Washington, and had the idyllic childhood that we all dream of. There he fished with his father, set wheat fields on fire, raised pigs, played the violin, listened to his mother’s analysis of religion and television and rode his bicycle ten miles each day to deliver the Bellingham Herald. More importantly, his loving family set the example that he would follow for kindness to all people in the local community and world…
Also from her tribute: Please send donations, in lieu of flowers, in his name to Partners in Health http://www.pih.org/haiti or to the Burton Community Church P.O. Box 13134 Burton, WA 98013. A memorial service in honor of Marcus’ life will take place on Sunday, March 20th at 5:00 p.m. at Mason United Methodist Church, 2710 North Madison Street, Tacoma, WA.
In the past twelve hours, the world has known so much suffering. I bet you anything, Marcus is somewhere out there helping in his own way. We miss you, friend. Peace to you and yours. I am comforted in the words of Thomas Campbell, “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”