When It Comes to More Youthful Days…

When it comes to more youthful days..A friend’s mother once said that she “had no regrets” about losing him at the too-young age of 29. I know that she meant to say that she had no regrets about his life…and I can almost wrap my head around it. Almost…and then I’m inexorably dragged back to this: Of course she had regrets. To say otherwise is to live in some sort of fool’s paradise. 

Our friend Marty was a stunning, handsome young man in the prime of his life. He was a twin. Both he and his twin brother Mike had played football for their university, and they were both incredibly active. When we lost Marty, it was an unthinkable tragedy and it haunts me still to this day. To see such a beautiful soul cut down in what should have been the flower of his youth was…was….words fail me.
We met Mike and Marty when we were building our house in 1991. They had just moved up to Anchorage from Pennsylvania with their good friends Rebecca, Andy, and Mark. My father in law met them at church and, as was his wont, became fast friends with them all. PaPa Gene-O was like that.

Marty, Andy and John – Lifting the 9′ Bay Window into Place

Anyway, we were building our house. Mike and Marty knew framing and Andy was pretty handy himself. Mark was an artist, but that’s a story for another day. These were people of the highest caliber…can you imagine moving to a new city and BAM! you’re helping someone build a house? Not many people would do that.
Marty was amazing. He loved to hunt and fish, and he was strong. He and Mike quickly settled into the Alaskan life, and developed relationships with hunting guides and other outdoorsy types. They were soon guiding others on hunting trips. On one particular trip, he was caping an animal (skinning the head to have it stuffed by a taxidermist) and he slipped with the knife. In true Marty style, he treated it as nothing and wrapped it firmly with paper towels and fluorescent orange duct tape, and called it good. We were framing the walls for the downstairs rooms in our house, and PaPa Gene-O was unavailable, so Marty volunteered. Well, in the time between the injury and the framing project, he developed a serious infection that was dangerously septic, so he spent a day or two in the hospital, and the doctor put him on an antibiotic pump. Most people would have taken it easy and healed, but Marty wasn’t like that.
So there he was, all bandaged up, with that pump hooked up and hung on his belt….one hand in the air…helping us to frame the rooms. With. One. Hand. Wielding a framing hammer…that man could work.  He was amazing.
When we needed to have two large boulders moved in the front yard, we told Marty about it. He showed up with his truck and a tow strap…hooked the tow strap around the enormous boulder, and one by one, just dragged them into place, where they still are to this day…

The original location of the boulders

Their permanent location today.

On another occasion, we discovered that the head gasket had blown in our old Dodge Omni and we were facing a huge repair bill. Marty said not to be silly, he could talk us through it. And he did…one hand in the air (oh yes – he was still bandaged and on that pump!), he talked my husband through the entire process, and we were able to avert a huge repair bill.

Mike and Marty climbed Denali in the summer of 1994 with their mother. Joni has been blind for most of her life and normally relies on a guide dog to help her get around. On the climb, Joni was roped between the twins, and together the three made the summit of Denali. This is a remarkable feat for anyone, and even more so for a blind person. That was a great achievement in what should have been a great summer…

Then the unthinkable happened. In June 1994 Mike and Marty were hiking in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, on Barnard Glacier. They were threading their way through an area on the glacier, with Marty leading. A couple of huge ice chunks split off and came down on Marty. Mike was thrown forward and the only thing that saved his life was his pack. They never found Marty. Just like that, he was gone…and I am forever haunted by his loss. 

When it comes to more youthful days…I would have to say to the twins’ mother…yes, Joni, yes, I have regrets. Of course I have regrets. We loved Marty and Mike and it was truly horrific to see the effect that Marty’s death had on his brother. You see…they were identical twins. When Mike took his glasses off, it was all but impossible to tell them apart. They were both so full of life…and love…of course I have regrets. I mourn the life Marty was denied. I mourn the loss to his fiancee of the  husband that Marty would never be to her. I mourn the calls we will never get again from Marty. I mourn the loss of that friendship.
When Mike got back from Wrangell-St. Elias, he stayed with my in-laws. I remember my father in law telling me that he was afraid for Mike’s sanity and his very life during that period…and it was for all the world like seeing a man whose heart had been violently ripped from his body. We loved the twins deeply but I cannot even begin to know how Mike felt…just what I observed. The last time I saw him, that look was still in the back of his eyes. So, yes…I have regrets. Perhaps it is selfishness or…? 

When it comes to more youthful days…I regret that I didn’t tell Marty just how very much he was loved by us…so, my friends, even if you feel silly – tell people in your life how much you love them. Do it now…

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Sentence-Thinker-Upper, the ever-amazing Kristi Rieger Campbell of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by yours truly – Deborah Lovel Bryner of  Life is Like a Hand Grenade.


8 thoughts on “When It Comes to More Youthful Days…

  1. Thank you…I think so too. I'm just selfish..I wish Marty was still here. I think things would have turned out differently for Mike if Marty were still around.


  2. What a gutsy thing to do, roped between her sons like that. I want to try a lot of thrilling things, but this visually impaired girl may never make it onto the side of a mountain, at least one she's climbing.
    But what a loss that must have been for her, for his brother, and for you and all who loved him. So so sorry. The lessons you point out here, at the end of your post, are so important to remember.


  3. Thank you, Kerry. Marty was a rare, beautiful soul. We were blessed to have known him and I miss his brother Mike. Right now I'm trying to find out from Rebecca where Mike is, as I haven't heard from him for a couple of years. Yes, Joni is a gutsy woman, which explains a LOT about her sons! They were so thrilled and proud to have climbed Denali with their mom…and because they took their own photos, National Geographic wouldn't let them submit an article for publication. Apparently when one wishes to write for Nat Geo, one must have one of THEIR photographers along for the ride. Personally…I think another person on that climb would have changed the whole dynamic, and I know that Marty was not best pleased when he found that out. Oh well.. Yeah, the loss is huge. After Marty's death, my father in law asked me to transcribe Mike's journal of the event, which he had done at his therapist's urging. It was heartbreaking and I remember weeping every time I sat down at my computer to write…I didn't tell Mike that I kept a copy of the journal, which I suppose isn't exactly kosher, but it's both beautiful and terribly heartbreaking.
    Thanks for your kind words.


  4. Wow…he sounds like a really incredible guy, and ever so determined. I can quite understand why his awful death was such a huge loss to all of you who loved him, but what a legacy to leave behind. What incredible memories of his selflessness and strength. And what inspiration – to encourage people to demonstrate love more visibly.

    I'm so sorry you lost your friend, but am glad for his legacy, and for getting to read about him. Thank you for sharing his story.


  5. What a terrible story – he sounds like he was so full of life.
    You're keeping his spirit alive here.
    I'm definitely going to find out about Alaskan life soon – going for ten days in August!


  6. Yes, Marty was all about living life full tilt boogie – no stopping for weakness or circumstance. He was one of the best people I have ever known. He taught me a lot about living to your potential…I just wish we had had a few more years with him, but there you are…life's not like that.

    How awesome! PLEASE contact me when you get here – I would love to play tour guide. When are you coming? Is it a cruise or fly in? Do you know anyone in Alaska? So many questions! You can contact me at shermancityhall@yahoo.com. When you email me, I'll send you my cell number so we can get in touch. As I said, I would love to play tour guide. I'm very proud of my state. August is a great time to visit – although right now is even better. We're approaching our Midnight Sun stage – the summer solstice and near 24 hour daylight. In Barrow, there is 24 hour daylight for six months and darkness for the other six…and it's the most expensive place in the world to live (well, that may be a tad bit of an exaggeration…). In places like Barrow, everything has to be either barged in or air freighted, so staples like milk can cost $10 a gallon and gasoline is sky high.


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