Marcus was my first artistic friend. Granted, it is hard to brag on the artwork of four year olds but I remember his skill exceeding the rest of those in our age group. We were in the same preschool class which was inevitable since his parents and my parents attended the same church.
He was always doodling pictures of monsters and he had imaginative stories to accompany each piece. His parents would frequently invite me over to their house for lunch after church and the earliest memories I have with him were in his yard re-enacting epic sagas of his invention.
He was also a big Star Wars fan. One day, for show-and-tell, he brought in a Millennium Falcon playset. It was one of those huge plastic beasts large enough to fit action figures inside of it, with removable panels to see the cockpit and other sections of the interior. Back in 1983, it was the holy grail of Star Wars toys and cost more than my parents would have ever spent on a gift for me. I had a Han Solo action figure. And Chewbacca. But Marcus had their ship, their home, the place where they belonged.
From that moment on, I thought Marcus was the coolest kid my age. In 1987, he was the first in my circle of friends to see The Monster Squad and Spaceballs. Afterwards, he told me about all of the most salacious parts of each movie and the phrase "Wolfman's got nards" quickly became an inside joke.
Unfortunately, geography drew us apart. He and I were districted for different elementary schools, so once preschool was over we would only see each other at church. We both developed friendships with classmates that we interacted with more frequently. A few years later, we attended the same middle school, but by then we rarely interacted.
Over the years of our childhood, his personality changed. Once the most comical and outgoing of my peers, Marcus grew to be more introverted and soft-spoken. By the time we were teenagers, he didn't speak much. At a rewards ceremony for our wrestling team when we were in ninth grade, Coach Iverson praised his skill on the mat and gave the most accurate description of Marcus's personality that I've ever heard. Coach said, "When Marcus joined the team, I didn't know much about him. But after working with him every day for the past few months, I still don't know much about him."
Even in youth group, Marcus maintained his brevity. He and I didn't hang out much but he was always someone I respected because of our shared status as youth group misfits. Like me, he wasn't one of the popular kids. Due to his quiet and unassuming persona, he was often overlooked or ignored. He did not go to any of the youth camps or retreats but he would show up for other events like attending Mariners games or parties held at the church.
At one of our white elephant Christmas exchanges, he brought a big heavy box that everyone assumed would be the best gift. Instead, it contained a large rock (miniature boulder) that he dug up out of his yard. Even in silence, he was a practical joker.
Once a year our youth group held an all-nighter. My favorite memory with Marcus happened at one of these all night parties.
On a Friday night, all of the teens gathered around dinner time at the church where we played group games that only 90's era church kids would understand and snacked on the type of foods potheads buy when they get the munchies. One of the leaders led a quick devotional then we piled into church vans to travel to our first destination: the Family Fun Center in Edmonds. We spent the evening with mini-golf, batting cages, and arcade games until closing time. We returned to the vans and headed off to the next location.
Around midnight, we arrived at a gym facility rented out from a local campground. Inside was a basketball court, volleyball court, a couple ping-pong tables, an air hockey table, a foosball table, a collection of Nerf footballs, and several of those rubber balls once used for dodgeball. We were trapped there until 5am and no one was allowed outside.
I don't know which of our youth leaders thought it would be a good idea to herd a bunch of sleep deprived teens into a gym in the middle of the night and expect them to be sporty for five hours, and I don't know if they would do the same thing today. What I do know is when we left the gym, most of us were exhausted and would have preferred bed instead of breakfast.
Sleep would have to wait because our leaders took us all out for breakfast. During the 20 minute ride in the church vans while we drove from the middle of nowhere to the Denny's in Everett, half of us dozed off and the rest were were silently staring out the windows like zombies.
We typically held these all-nighters in late January or early February. That meant the mornings were cold and frosty as we climbed out of the van and stumbled into Denny's. The coldest of our all night excursions happened during my junior year of high school and it was on this trip where Marcus uttered one of the funniest statements I have ever heard.
The van he and I rode got to Denny's first; our leader made us get out of the vehicle and wait in the parking lot for the other van to arrive. We stood there, shivering, complaining of the low temperatures, and observing our breath form clouds as it escaped our lips.
Then Marcus spoke: "My nipples could cut glass."
All conversation ceased. Everyone turned and stared at Marcus. For some of the kids in our youth group, they had never heard Marcus say more than one or two words at a time, let alone a complete sentence. Furthermore, our church was extremely conservative. Mention of certain body parts was taboo and the nipple was one of those parts of which we shouldn't speak. To describe nipples as being as hard as a diamond or tungsten steel was definitely verboten. His comment broke the ice - literally and figuratively. Suddenly, no one cared about the cold. We were laughing by the absurdity and audacity of what Marcus had to say.
When we were four, Marcus gained my admiration for his Star Wars fandom. When we were sixteen, he cemented my admiration for saying things no one else was brave enough to say.
Why do I share this story now? Because it is that time of year. The nights are long and the air is frigid. For those of us in North Idaho, this is the season where single digit and negative temperatures are normal. Through the years, that one out-of-nowhere comment has stuck with me. And last night, in my apartment, it was the only way I could think to describe how cold I felt. My nipples could cut glass.
It is not a phrase of my design. I am neither funny or creative enough to create such a remark on my own. I can only thank my childhood friend Marcus for his inventive eloquence.