This article is dedicated to anyone who has ever lost someone close to them. For me, this article is dedicated to Marty Walker: close family friend and someone I looked up to as a kid.
Today I commemorate my friend Marty Walker. He was a father, grandfather, friend, veteran, and so much more. Some of his ashes will be buried in Fort Logan National Cemetery. It has been five years, four months, and 26 days since Marty took his own life and we have lived without him. I miss him every day. This post goes out to him, everyone who cared about him, and anyone that has dealt with the loss of someone important in their own lives.
It’s hard to know where to begin because I don’t have a first memory of Marty that I can recall. My parents met Marty and his wife Georgette after moving to Denver and getting introduced to them by my dad’s sister Jill. They became fast friends well before I was born. Marty and Georgette have always been a part of my life in a way that’s impossible to describe. Like McDonald’s or “60 Minutes,” they’ve always just been there.
We would split holidays between our own home and theirs and it always just felt normal. I saw them more frequently than I saw most of my own extended family, which made them more like my own family. I always enjoyed seeing Marty, Georgette and their kids (who were a fair amount older than me) at least three times per year. I heard the story of their ill-fated, rained-out trip to Lake McConaughy from before I was born more times than I could count and how Marty and Georgette’s kids spent the entire time jumping on the beds.
Holidays used to be a time of immense stress for me. I had weird food anxiety as a kid, and holidays always meant sitting at the table awkwardly eating only dinner rolls and fretting over what everyone else was thinking about my lack of appetite diversity. But Marty and his family never hectored me, never made me feel worse, and always made me feel like one of the family – not like the weirdo who only ate bread at holiday feasts.
Marty also gave me my first job. He was one of the owners of a printing company in Denver, and during the summer when I was 16, offered me a job in the bindery. I accepted, and I had no idea how hard this job would be. It’s basically factory work, on your feet for 10 hours straight, using a perfect binder, saddle stitch, or folder, and either feeding the pockets, catching and stacking, or wrapping pallets. My saving grace was that I was 16 (and thus, was prohibited from working overtime) and that I was personal friends with Marty. No one really fucked with me.
Once I was older, I knew Marty as a friend. Since he was primarily my dad’s friend, seeing a man who might as well be your uncle as a fellow man can be strange or feel ill-fitting. But with Marty, it never was. I always looked forward to our conversations, always felt energized afterward, and somehow always managed to feel on the same level as a man I spent my entire life looking up to. I’ll never forget that.
On December 27, 2008, two days after Christmas where I had spent the holiday at his house, Marty killed himself. As a 27 year-old, I was fortunate enough not to have experienced anything like that before, so it hit me as hard as anything had ever hit me before. A week and a half later, I wrote this. In the comments section under that article, my dad – Marty was his best friend – wrote this:
In the middle of the night I awoke following a dream — the single most realistic dream I’ve ever had — Marty called me and I talked to him. I awoke and wept.
My best friend of 35 years gone but still with me. The rest of the world has somehow become a pallid shade of gray, and standing out in sharpest clarity is his absence. Last night I asked him where he was and he said he couldn’t tell me, “I don’t want to jinx it.” It was so Marty.
I stood in my hotel room last week, uncontrollably weeping at our loss. The matters at hand were of no consequence to me, the dithering, arguing, cajoling that is Washington stock-in-trade devolved into non-sensical braying of jackals.
Son, your pain and mine and your mother’s, are testimony to the selfless joy he brought us. Unlike you, I have experienced deep loss, it is always new, startling and inflicts indescribable pain. As I write this I feel the huge hole that has been pulled from my being.
We share this grief as we have shared so much in your 27+ years. At the risk of platitude, I affirm that this is part of life, we get a peek into the abyss and recoil. Later when the pain has dulled, the mystery and wonder of this existence remains, and we hold on a bit harder to those we cherish .
I share that not with a desire to dredge up old feelings of sadness or cast an unnecessarily maudlin pall on an otherwise fond recollection of my friend, but rather as a reminder of the ultimate homage to someone important in my life, written with unimpeachable eloquence by his best friend. The sting of loss never disappears entirely, but rather gets overruled by fond reminiscence –the warmth of happy fire sparked by the raw emotion of pure tribute brought on by the suddenness of loss.
I am done shedding tears for Marty. I cannot continue to put myself through the emotional wringer as I have repeatedly for my friend. And while part of me feels shame because of this, my inability to extract sadness from within means the good times have usurped the melancholy, and all that remains is my fond affection for my friend.
Some residual anger remains when I dig deep into my emotions – why did you fucking have to leave us??? – but mostly I just feel gratitude for the time I had with him. I think of you fondly, Marty, always.
Rest in peace, my friend.