When I saw the name Mark and that particular destination, I knew who I’d be picking up. I’d driven Mark four times previously–three times to this one bar from his apartment and one time back home.
The first time I drove him, he texted me as I pulled into his apartment complex.
I am disabled, so it might take me a while to get to you. Please wait.
I actually didn’t have to wait long. Soon enough, he came out using a pair of canes. He was all dark. Dark hair and beard, black jeans and leather jacket. Even his canes were black.
A lit cigarette dangled from his mouth, and he paused to take a few drags before flicking it away and getting into the front seat. By his scent, it was clear he smoked a lot.
As I pulled away, the seatbelt buzzer went off.
“You gotta get your seatbelt,” I said.
“I can’t. It’s part of my disability. Sorry. That buzzing will cut off in a few seconds.”
Mark’s voice was raspy and deep. A smoker’s voice.
The second time I picked him up, I recognized him right away. He didn’t recognize me though.
“I take a lot of Ubers,” he explained. “Nothing personal.”
I forgot that second time about the seatbelt.
“Gotta get your seatbelt.”
“Oh, that’s right. I remember now. No problem.”
I’ve remembered since.
He wore the same black jacket every time. This last time was mid-June and he was still wearing it when I pulled up to the curb outside the bar. It was closing time–2:00 AM.
“Hey, Mark! I knew it’d be you. You remember me?”
“Yeah. How you doing?”
Mark was always friendly. Just not cheerful. This guy’s life, I could tell, has been hard.
“Good. I always take you to or from this bar. You must spend a lot of time here.”
“Yeah. I like this place.”
“So, how’s life?”
“Pretty sh–y, actually. In fact, life has been just about as sh–y as life can be.”
“Man. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So, looks like I’m taking you home. I know right where that is.”
“I guess. I’d rather go somewhere else, but I don’t think you’d want to go there.”
“What do you mean? I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
At two in the morning, I’m not always this amenable. But I was wide awake for some reason, and I just wanted to do what I could to make Mark’s life a little better.
“How about Woodlawn Memorial Gardens?”
“Did somebody die?”
“Yeah. My dad. Two weeks ago.”
“No way. I’m so sorry, Mark. And you want to visit him at two in the morning?”
“Yeah, I mean, if you don’t mind. I’ve tried to do it during the day when I’m sober, and I just can’t do it. But I’ve had like eighteen shots and I really need to talk to him about some stuff.”
“Sure, man. Let’s go.”
On the way, he told me about his dad. Born in Moracco. Served in the Israeli special forces.
“He had this scar on his arm. You know what a grenade looks like? With the bumps and sh–? Like in the movies?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“That’s what his scar looked like. A grenade went off right next to him. He was protecting his buddy who had already been wounded. He survived a f–ing grenade. Left this grenade-looking scar right there on his arm.”
“No kidding. That’s crazy. How’d he die?”
“F-ing cancer. Four different kinds of cancer. He fought it for four years, and we thought he was going to make it, then he got it in his bones and that was the end.”
We pulled into the cemetery and he directed me to a spot. He got out and used the flashlight on his phone. I didn’t watch him. I figured he’d prefer some privacy. Ten minutes later, he was back.
“Sh–. I couldn’t find it. I was pretty sure it was around here, but it’s so dark, I’m not sure. It takes a few weeks to get the headstone, so there’s just these red, white, and blue flowers they put there for Memorial Day. But I couldn’t find them. I guess they took them away. Can we try one more spot?”
He looked around another area for a few more minutes before giving up.
“It’s too dark. Or maybe I’m too drunk. F–! I really wanted to talk to him.”
“You know you don’t have to be standing by his grave to talk to him, right?” I said.
“I know, but…it’s just…you know.”
“Yeah, I know. Maybe come back during the day some time.”
“Yeah. I guess I got to. Anyway, thanks for taking me out here.”
“I don’t mind at all, Mark.”
On the way home he told me more about his dad. How he taught him and and his brother krav maga and self-defense.
“‘I’m not gonna be around forever and you boys need to be able to defend yourselves,’ he’d say.” Mark shook his head.
“He was the best father a guy could ask for.”
“You’re a lucky man, Mark. Not everyone can say that.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
As we pulled up in front of his apartment, he said, “Thanks, man. I appreciate you taking me out there. It sucks that I couldn’t find him.”
“No problem, really. Hey, Mark, I just want you to know that I’m a praying man and that I’ll be praying for you.”
“Yeah, man. I appreciate that.”
I didn’t know what else to say. It felt weak. Insufficient. I wanted to say something meaningful. Something that mattered. Maybe something he’d remember. But I had nothing.
Not that prayer is nothing. I wouldn’t pray if I thought that. And I did pray for him. It just didn’t feel like enough.