Home > Life, Maybe there IS a God... > You Travel With My Soul, Mark Werden…

You Travel With My Soul, Mark Werden…

I woke up the other day from a dream where my mother was the embodiment of all the Disney femme fatales…. Cinderella, Snow White, Belle…. All the women who’d been given an unfair shake up front and ended up carrying off the prize and living happily ever after.

What does that have to do with anything? I’m not sure, but maybe it makes about as much sense as the events of the past week when I lost yet another old high school friend. That makes 5 in the past year+. The first four were tough, but this fifth one is a doozy…

I first met Mark Werden when he came to the Walpole Middle School from North Walpole in 7th grade along with his classmates. I was a year ahead of him. It was our first experience with “integration” and everything we Walpolians had known to be ours now had to be shared. But they made it easy for us; they didn’t want anything but our friendship.

Mark was a handsome boy with dark features and curly blondish hair. He was taller than most of the other boys and refined in a way that seemed unusual for someone his age. “Preppy” was the style of the day and no one wore a turtle neck under a tailored shirt with corduroys better than Mark did. He was the model for all things prep.

Jammed into the 12 x 12 foot band room with about 20 other kids, Mark and I were trumpet players in the band. We would snicker and cower when our music teacher would become enraged and threaten to throw a heavy Manhasset music stand. It didn’t help that her actual target was Rich Neilsen, who was sitting next to us experimenting with his gum by blowing bubbles through his mouthpiece.

Junior High was awkward for all of us but Mark always made me feel like I was a little less strange. At our dances, held once in a while on a Friday night where we would aimlessly shuffle around the gym floor to songs from Boston, Dan Hill, Styx, and England Dan & John Ford Coley, Mark would always graciously accept my invitation to dance. Slow songs only — I didn’t do that wacky-chicken gyrating stuff — and I remember the feeling of his thin wool sweaters against my cheek. He smelled so clean and though my feelings for him were entirely fraternal, I felt close to him like I never had to another boy. It was a pure love for another human being.

We moved up and out, on to high school. By then, Mark was becoming a striking young man and won the role of Charlie Dalrymple in “Brigadoon” his freshman year. His tenor voice had begun to fill out as had his legs beneath the kilt that was his costume. He was becoming major swoon material!

Over the next few years we performed together in choir, band, stage band, etc. Mark was ever present in my life, like a little brother. He’d come to me, a trusted older sister, and tell me about his struggles then ask me questions about what to do. He was so gentle, so guileless, and always in the company of a gaggle of girls. Little did we realize, he was their femme fatale…

As was true for many more of us than we realized at the time, Mark was gay. He hadn’t acknowledged it for himself any more than the rest of us had — it was rural New Hampshire in the early 80s, after all — and with that came a messy period of trying to come to terms with it. I lost track of him and the details of his life after that, only periodically hearing about sightings of him from mutual friends. My mental radar simply wasn’t picking up his signal.

About a year ago, through the magical reconnecting properties of Facebook, we found Mark again. He and his partner of 8 years, Brad, had been running an antiques store in Philadelphia and everything seemed to be going great in his life. I still didn’t have any direct contact with Mark but felt sure we’d have an opportunity someday soon.

Then came word a couple of weeks ago that Mark had been admitted to the hospital suffering from a bout of pneumonia. While there, his heart stopped and it took 15 minutes to revive him. Though he remained alive on life support, it was clear that too much damage had been done to his brain while it was deprived of oxygen. On Monday, Dec. 7, in the company of Brad, and Mark’s immediate family, the life support system was turned off.

There are still many blanks left to be filled in for me about Mark’s life, but there is something so satisfying to my heart about the purity of my memories of him, about the innocence of our lives during the time that I really knew him. Many of us probably feel that there are parts of our lives we’d just as soon take to our graves with us but as I compare notes with my peers of the day, there is a forgiveness that erases our missteps, that only remembers our mutual experiences as teenagers, and reminds us of what really matters: our friendships and that early recognition of fellow soul companions.

Regardless of our time apart, Mark has been with me and will continue to travel unconditionally with my soul and I will rest in the knowledge that he is with me always….I love you, little brother….

  1. December 10, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    This is beautiful, Ellen. I’m having a rough time with it again today, and somehow this helped. I guess it helps me to realize I’m not alone with my pain (misery loves company).

  2. Tina
    December 10, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Hang in there Ellen. I mourn your loss as your friend and pray for peace with you and your home-town village.

  3. Sean OHearn
    December 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    INCREDIBLE – as always, Ellen – perfectly expressed – THANK YOU – xoxo SEANIE

  4. Matt Moore
    December 10, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    A perfect and so true expression as to the thought and memories we all are having now. Thanks Ellen

  5. Tom Avril
    December 11, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Thank you for that lovely tribute to Mark. He and I were teachers at Cardigan Mountain School, and for one year we were dorm masters together. An exhausting job, but Mark always kept me laughing during the bleakest moments of that icy New Hampshire winter. He helped run a top-flight drama program in spite of lukewarm support from the leadership at a jock-centric school. He was loved by everyone. This is a huge loss.

  6. December 11, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Thanks for filling in one of those blanks, Tom. I missed out on Mark’s Cardigan days though I wouldn’t doubt he would have pushed for his ideas. I’m glad you got to know him too….

  7. Tommy Sutro
    December 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    What a moving tribute to Mark. Your words are perfect in so many ways as you capture the essence of his character and I thank you for sharing. I knew him well a long time ago, but we lost touch as our lives went different directions. Am so sad he’s gone. Teaching w/ him @ Cardigan Mtn. School for 3 years we became good friends. There were lots of laughs in the library teacher’s room, shared dinners @ other faculty member’s houses, and along w/ the Matthews many “solving the problems of the world” over drinks into the wee hours of the AM. His enthusiasm, talent, spirit and sense of humor were hallmarks I will never forget. What I remember most was his sincere sense of caring for others. He really wanted to help those around him. We will miss him very much.

  8. Donna Gay
    December 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Thank you Ellen. That’s beautiful…sniff-sniff!

  9. Cheryl
    December 13, 2009 at 4:32 am

    He was a kind kind and gentle guy. Thank you Ellen, yet again for your perfection with words that express the feelings that many of us are experiencing.

  10. Keith
    December 14, 2009 at 12:46 am

    Once again Ellen, your heart speaks the words we are all feeling. Mark was, and remains a great guy from the other side of the tracks…. I rmember being in a summer reading program with him in the huge North Walpole library… his laughter lives on through all of our memories

  11. Xavier Mathews
    December 19, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Ellen, Thank you for doing this. It was shocking to hear of Mark’s death, and it has taken some time for us to really accept the painful truth. As noted by the previous moving comments, Mark was a special person who we will always remember with great affection, and whose loss will be felt long into the future. Like others at Cardigan Mountain School we treasured Mark’s presence in our lives. His “Hey, how’s it going?” greeting was warm and positive in a way that cannot be expressed in print. He was both fun and serious, and made an impact wherever he went. Although our lives went their separate ways, there was always the knowledge that our friendship, like the Todd Rundgren song, goes on forever. “Ave atque vale” Mark. We love and miss you. -Judy and Zee Mathews

  12. heather Hauser
    January 4, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Ellen, thank you so much for your post, I am glad to have found it. Mark was a good friend at Hartwick college and so much of what you said was true for me too. He would come over and we’d borrow his sweaters, hang out, be his date for dances, etc. He was such the gentleman, with manners gold and so well dressed. He had a huge heart and a great sense of humor. In college Mark still had not been comfortable with being gay and I never thought much of it until a few years later at a friend’s wedding we danced and I heard from her that he had officially “come out”. We did not keep in touch after that but I would hear about his jobs, etc from mutual friends. Mark loved his friends and family very much. He had so much to give and made a lasting impression on me from our short 4 years together.

  13. Syrene
    December 8, 2010 at 3:36 am

    Wow…………Ellen I am speechless after reading this… such a tribute to someone who touched your life, I graduated in the early 70’s from Fall Mountain and had several friends who were gay and not accepted by peers, it broke my heart than just as it does today..may your memories of him stay with you forever my friend!

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