Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mark Castle: 1954-2005 (Part Two of Three)

It was about 10:00 PM when we found the card from the coroner’s office in our door.

We called the number on the back of the card and paged the investigator, knowing that this was unlikely to be good news. But it was worse than we could have imagined. Mark’s body had been dumped out of a car late at night almost a week earlier, with no ID. He had fresh needle marks in his arm, but no signs of foul play. The coroner ruled it an overdose. It took them a few days to identify him from his fingerprints, and then they didn’t know who to call. I still don’t know how they found us.

He was discarded like trash in the streets, left behind like an old couch somebody didn’t want to bother having hauled away, so they just abandoned it on the sidewalk.

The thing we loved about Mark right away when we first met him was his writing, his ability to tell a story, his skill in the perilous business of transforming experience into meaning. That first night he and Sheri came to our place, he read a long firsthand account of the 1960's and the “Summer of Love” he had written, entitled “Peace, Pot, and Microdot.” It was a story about freedom and the aftermath of freedom, about how plenty of drugs and free love and optimism had not, in the end, been enough to change the world. It could have been the basis for a documentary. Mark had talent, although his writing was rough and needed some grammatical work. But for someone who had only finished eighth grade, he was amazing.

Here’s a sample from a piece he guest published on the blog, “Vietnam Revisited:”

Our government would lead us to believe that the US wins all the way around (in the Iraq war). But what of all the American lives we are losing? Who is really going to benefit in the long run? Why do we let our government, at the cost of American lives and in the name of freedom, use us as pawns in their own personal board game, one that seems to be a combination of Risk and Monopoly?

On the whole, we Americans have become far too complacent in managing our country’s affairs. But the government is only part of the problem; we are the other side of the equation. We are so wrapped up in our lifestyles—our cars, clothes, toys—that we are reluctant to rock the boat, for fear of losing what we have.

It was only later, when his endless talk began to wear on us, that we started to see another side to Mark’s storytelling. Mark talked in order to stay in control of the situation. I honestly believe that he felt, deep down, that if he ever stopped talking, if words ever failed him, his life would spin completely out of control into that void of silence. He was always one word ahead of disaster. He was talking himself down off the edge, day after day.

I think that people whose lives are spinning out of control feel a deep need to tell their story. Putting the events of their lives in the form of a narrative is a way of trying to regain some measure of control over their destiny. Telling their life in the form of a story gives the sense that there is meaning and purpose and direction, and not just random tragedy after random tragedy.
(The Poor Talk too Much, September 24, 2004)

Sheri’s relationship with Mark started falling apart about the time things started to turn around for her, about the time she hit bottom and started to rise. Mark was angry when she left him to go into the rehab program. I wrote this about the two of them during this time:

Mark had a violent father. He hated his dad, and yet at a certain level I think he still believes the lies he learned as a child: that violence is the only way to get through to people sometimes. And Sheri had an abusive step-father, who conditioned her to the patterns of living with an abuser. The most difficult thing about trying to live in community with people like this is the recognition of how difficult it is for them to get back on their feet. You try to address one need, and it's like picking at a loose thread in a sweater: it just goes on and on forever. They need so much more than food and shelter, the basics; they need to learn a whole new way of living. They need models of the kinds of healthy relationships that they never experienced. You could spend your whole life working with just one person. And in the end, it might not be enough.
(Blessed is the One who Comes, February 12, 2005)

From the time we first met Mark, he was a parole violator, though we didn’t know this until much later. He had served prison time for possession of a fairly significant quantity of heroin. He had violated his parole early on by failing to report, because he was "dirty:" he had lapsed and started using heroin again. But in November, he enrolled himself and Sheri in an outpatient methadone treatment program, and things started to turn around for them both (methadone is a heroin substitute that comes in liquid form). Some of the desperation that had characterized their life on the street faded, as they shed the burden of a fifteen-dollar-a-day habit. Before methadone, if they had a good night panhandling, they would buy both heroin and food. If they had a bad night, they only bought heroin. Heroin was the one constant in their lives, the speed of light in their personal universe. Sheri’s success in the detox program the second time around was probably partly due to the fact that she had already dealt with her heroin habit, and was now fighting just one addiction, alcohol, instead of two.

After Sheri went into the detox program, Mark did some stupid things that made him conspicuous in the neighborhood, a bad idea if you’re a parole violator. Eventually, he got picked up by the police, and was sent back to prison for a few months for his parole violation. While he was there, he wrote some very hurtful letters to us that were hard to read. He blamed us for breaking him and Sheri up, and even made some veiled threats. I didn’t write to him while he was in prison until the very end, because I didn’t know what to say, because I was hurt and angry and a little bit afraid of what would happen when he got out.

Mark was released from prison on July 31, and immediately tried to go into a supportive housing program where he could get drug rehab therapy and anger management classes, but there were no beds available. Instead, they put him in a roach-infested, crime ridden hotel where drug use was rampant. He stayed there for over two weeks, trying to stay clean, waiting for a space in the rehab center to open.

And then, apparently, he wavered.

(To be continued...)


olympiada said...

thank you for the stories and the links to the previous post. i am going through my own dark night of the soul right now and was strengthened by reading this. it is very real and recognizable. more so then a lot of other stuff i see out there.

Johanna said...

This is intense. And pretty painful. I think a while ago, you had said you had a message for me from Mark. Do you remember that? or am I just dreaming? If you still have it, could you email it to me when you have a moment?

Peace, brother.

Mimi said...

May his Memory be Eternal. I'm so sorry.

Sampson said...


Found it and sent it via email. Let me know that you got it.


raphaelthesinner said...

I just discovered your blog and "Wow" is about all I can think to say.