I grew up on a court in a well-known suburb of Woodbridge, Ontario. The kind of court where everyone more or less knew each other, because between me and my 3 older siblings, we were friends with all the other kids on the street.
We’d play ball hockey on the road, or basketball, or just go back and fourth between each others houses. As long as we were all home by the time the street lights went on, we were pretty well able to do what we wanted.
My three best friends on my street were all exactly 1 year older than me. There was my next door neighbour Jessica, and then our friends Adrian and Marc who lived a little further up.
There’s only something like 15 houses on our entire street, and that already covered 4 of them.
Adrian and Mark were best friends, and I’d say for a number of years I considered Jessica one of mine, which is to say we’d hang out together often and then meet up with the guys if we saw them out, or vice versa.
I had the kind of childhood where I was used to being around a lot of different people often, having dinner at friends houses and getting to know their siblings and parents decently well. In a way, you could say I was raised by almost every single person on my street; Ferrari Court.
We did normal things. Jessica and I would do dance routines to popular pop songs on my family’s trampoline, play hide and seek in each other’s basements, or friends would come over for a swim; we were the only one with a pool, so my house was a common hangout spot for everyone.
And we spent a lot of time just on the street where all our parents knew where we all were.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Mark Salvatore, but I have a couple very vivid memories of my time with him.
I remember sitting on the grass in front of his house and pulling strands out, sticking those strands between our fingers and blowing on them to make a whistle sound. I don’t really know how to describe it, but if you ever did it as a kid you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Marc would laugh his ass off, which always made me laugh, too, so I’d take another strand and do it again and again.
I remember going to his house and seeing all his toys.
While a lot of my friends from school were often envious of the things I had; the pool, the yard, the dogs, and so on, I was envious of what Marc had.
He had the biggest plush toys I had ever seen. A full sized Clifford the big red dog that seriously stood from floor to ceiling. He had Connect 4. And he had that anxiety-inducing game where you set a timer and had to fit all the blocks into the hole of the yellow board before it ran out; if you didn’t get it in time, the board would pop out and you’d lose.
That game literally made us both shake, but we had to play it and try every time. I can still see the way his face would twist into nervous anticipation.
In his backyard, he had a turtle sandbox. I loved that sandbox, but we didn’t play in it often; normally if I was at his house, we’d be inside.
I considered Mark one of my best friends then, even though Adrian really was his; they spent a lot more time together, I think.
I remember one day I went over to Mark’s house again and we were playing in his front yard. He brought out a game we played often. It’s a domino’s style game but it uses The Lion King pictures and you create The Circle of Life. It’s essentially just a matching game, very easy, too easy for us, we’d always finish it so quickly but we loved those films.
That day after we finished playing Mark handed me the box.
I can’t keep this, it’s yours!
“I want you to have it.”
I kept it in my closet for years.
A short time after Mark gave me this game, I got the worst news a kid could get.
A new kid had moved in beside Adrian, one we all didn’t really talk to much because we just couldn’t relate to him, or something; he was the same age as my friends, which meant I was still the youngest. He was a little spoiled (rich coming from the rest of us, I know.) but really it was just the way he spoke about stuff that irked us, bragging about things as he got them. The rest of us weren’t braggers, but clearly he was just trying to fit in on his new street.
Jessica and I were walking home from school as we did back then and had made it just about far enough down the street to be standing in front of Mark’s house when we heard someone calling us from behind.
It was Sean, the new kid.
I’m certain we rolled our eyes before we turned to see what he wanted, I actually think we even kept walking.
“The news were at my school today; Mark died!”
He seemed excited.
Even as a child I would lose my temper a little quickly. I was pissed off. Jessica asked him to explain and I kept walking.
I don’t think he had much more information than that, he was just really excited kids were being interviewed at their school.
Later that day as I sat up on the tall stools in our kitchen, I asked my parents about it. I don’t remember the exact conversation, or if I was the one who asked what happened or if I was told.
Mark died of Leukaemia at about 7 years old. Or that’s what I remember; I myself was so young, too.
I didn’t even know he was sick.
In retrospect, all the big toys make sense now.
I don’t remember crying about it. I just didn’t understand.
I remember walking over to Adrian’s house with Jessica one day after this to see him. His parents told us he wouldn’t come out of his room; he had been crying since he found out. Truly devastated.
I don’t know the date but I remember getting to the top of the stairs of the funeral home and seeing the rows of people. I remember waiting in line for my turn to see him.
I remember walking up to the casket alone.
I kneeled on the bench.
I put my hands together.
Do you know how small a 7 year old with Leukaemia looks in an adult casket?
Tiny. Even tinier than me.
They had done a good job preparing him for the service. He was well dressed, the best dressed I’d ever seen him in a small black suit.
On the lid of the casket his family had put photos of him growing up. I saw Adrian in plenty of them. I saw me in 1.
I don’t think I have any pictures of myself with him now, or if I do, I’ve never been shown them.
I don’t remember thinking a single thing as I looked at him other then, “why am I only in one picture?“. When I think about this I kind of feel like an asshole. What a selfish thing to think.
I don’t remember the rest of the service.
I continued to live at my parents house until I was 23 years old, going on 24.
I pass his house every day.
When I used to see his dad, for the first few times, I’d wave to him.
He wouldn’t wave back.
His dad was a smoker, and they smoked inside the house. I can still smell it.
I’m not saying that’s why Mark got leukaemia at all, but I think that’s why it was so hard for his dad to see the rest of us continue to grow up on our street. Every year a little older and a little taller than Mark.
I moved back home recently again so I still pass his house every day. I can’t help but look at it. I took that picture just yesterday.
Somewhere along the way the Game of Life went missing from my closet.
I suspect my mother threw it out thinking I was too old for such a silly child’s game; I asked her about it once, she didn’t know.
I wish I still had it. It’s the only thing Mark ever gave me.
I think a lot about that day and whether or not he knew he was dying when he did that. Obviously he had been in and out of the hospital but he never told me about any of that, not that I can recall.
He seemed so healthy that day.
Recently I reached out to the funeral home I was sure held his service; they’d since rebranded, and that home moved down the street. I reached out to them, too, but they don’t keep a record that far back they said. 1997 or 1998 wasn’t that long ago in my mind, I’m not sure how they could think that was enough time to discard such valuable information.
I’ve been trying to find his grave but it’s a tough name to find when you live in an Italian community; so many Mark’s, so many Salvatore’s – that’s actually not true, I can’t find the name at all; I’m not sure that’s even his last name but its what I was told it was by Adrian’s mother recently.
His parents still live at #24 but I don’t have the heart to ask.
Imagine that conversation?
“Hi, I’m not sure if you remember me, but 24 years ago I was friends with your dead son.”
I try not to look at his dad when I see him, as though I’m embarrassed for being on this street still while Mark isn’t.
I don’t really think about death very much, but I do think about living. Mostly, I think about why we’re here.
Why did Mark only get 7 years, and I’ve been granted 31?
What kind of teenager would he have been? What would he have gone to school for?
Maybe he would’ve been a doctor. Something more valuable to society than the way I’ve spent my time.
And, if he had made it to 32, would we even still be friends?
I like to think so but I know that’s just to comfort me.
When I was little and I’d look up at the clouds from my bedroom window, I’d imagine him up there.
I still do. Especially when I see a cool cloud.
“Do you see that dragon, Mark? That’s a cool one, right?”
Sometimes I like to think he’s the one shaping them, like the way we’d shape the sand in the turtle sandbox.
When I started smoking in my late teens I felt like an idiot.
Mark died of cancer, idiot, what are you doing?
I don’t think people understand how important your first friendships are. And how devastating they are to lose, no matter when the happen. Fortunately I only smoked for a couple years, unable to bear the thought of what someone like him would think of me.
Sometime in my teens I had to attend another funeral; a neighbour that lived behind my parents house had passed away suddenly and quite young. I think he had a heart attack but I can’t totally remember, I didn’t personally know them that well.
I remember walking up the stairs of the funeral home behind my sister.
I remember stopping suddenly in my tracks feeling faint.
“Are you okay?”
We kept walking and I felt uneasy.
We turned the corner into the room where the service was being held.
It was the same room.
I started to cry.
I think that was the first time I ever cried for Mark.
I held them back, not wanting anyone to notice me. I didn’t even know this man.
I pass this funeral home regularly, too.
I’ve been to one other service there, this time in my mid 20’s.
It was a wake for a friend I didn’t know terribly well but every time I saw him and spent time with him, we got along great.
His name was Angelo.
He died of brain cancer.
Didn’t know he was sick, either.
Thank God I didn’t have to walk back up those stairs.
[Edit October 21st 2021]
Since the writing of his blog post, I did finally reach out to Marc’s family, and as it explained why I was having so much trouble finding him; his name is actually spelled Marc Salvadori, not Salvatore as I previously was told – I finally went for a visit, too.
As it turns out, Marc was a little older than my memory recalled. And now I know his birthday, too.
January 17th, 1989 – November 23rd, 1998.
Beside where he rests is a stained glass window of some saints; one’s reading a book, one’s giving Jesus water while another watches and there’s a random pack-donkey.
I told him in this image, I’m the donkey.
5 thoughts on “House #24: Marc Salvadori*”
I do a little bit of grief counseling in my line of work and I would think Mark’s father would be comforted by a visit from you. Sorry you lost the game. I know how that feels.
Ah thank you, I appreciate it. I keep considering it but I’m really apprehensive about it, not sure even I’m emotionally ready to do that type of thing even after all these years (or because it’s been so many years…)
I understand. It will happen in time if it is supposed to happen.