|Of Hearts And Spines
December 26, 2017
I probably didn't need much to be reflective through this Christmas and New Year's season. The last six months have pushed mortality frequently to the front of my mind. However, on Christmas Eve I learned of Marc Hartnett's death. Marc and I were never especially close, and yet I wonder: why you, not me? Why me, not you?
I saw his obituary on Christmas Eve, published with few details of the death. The head shot accompanying the obituary showed a clean-cut still youthful-looking man. I wondered if it was a recent picture, Marc. If so, your death may have been as jarring to those who knew you as my near death was for those who know me.
At the end of the obituary, though, the destination for donations suggests that Marc, too, may have suffered from heart disease. Damn, Marc, you were always so wiry, almost frail; if that could happen to you, it's no surprise it happened to me. Yet I am the one waiting for 2017 to get its ass out of here, not you.
Thirty-three years ago, Marc and I loitered through London as part of a WVU study abroad trip during my senior year in college. Marc was the artsy kid, I was the literary nerd, part of a band of West Virginia hillbillies let loose in the big city. Marc, another guy, and I were roommates on the trip, the only case of 3 rooming together, if I remember correctly. Since we were all Morgantown kids, awkward introductions were not necessary. Given my trip to London six years earlier, I played the over-bearing know-it-all quite effectively as we visited theaters, museums, and historical pubs.
What I remember most about you, Marc, on that trip was that you were the brave soul I wanted to be. Your hair, your attitude, your tastes were more punk than I could ever be. While your coif could reasonably pass for local on King's Row, my pathetic mustache and goatee made me look more like the beatnik singer-songwriter who would have gotten his ass kicked by Sid Vicious. I remember clutching my unnoticed Boomtown Rats E.P. and Clash bootleg, as you got reactions with The Dead Kennedys, our middle-age professor horrified at what you brought on the bus.
Marc and I had known each other through grade school and high school, well before punk or new wave hit London, let alone Morgantown. He was the proper "punk"; I wasn't even a poseur "punk", too self-conscious to allow myself to stand out. At some point in the late 1970s, as punk/new wave washed ashore in West Virginia, Marc fronted a band of pimply-faced high school kids (is there any other kind?) in the commons of the Towers, one of WVU's housing units. Liquid Spine was as edgy as Morgantown would ever be. Even if he read the lyrics to 'Neon Heart' from a lyric sheet ("it's The Boomtown Rats, damn it, memorize it," I remember thinking), he was living freely, giving less of a fuck about society than anyone else. I just wanted to lay low and survive high school; even then I realized I was the one with the liquid spine.
When I read your obit, Marc, I tore up my basement looking for photographs or my journal from that tour. Both appear to be gone, probably tossed away after the septic tank overflowed. I wanted to return, just for a few hours, to London, to see if I am remembering you (and me) fairly. My mother, ever vigilant historian, would be so disappointed if she were still alive. Words and pictures are the only way to preserve who we were. To my defense, in her usually detailed journal, all she references is that I went on this class trip and that I looked great with my little mustache, the answer, apparently, to what happens when Slim Whitman takes on Soho.
It's the photographs I miss the most. Have you faded out, Marc, and I back in, like Marty McFly's siblings, 2017 ringing an end for you that somehow I escaped? Why me, not you? Why you, not me?