I was 22, and I was a missionary in La Serena, Chile. Christmas was fast approaching when I suddenly got transferred. I was replacing someone who had to leave early. As I got settled into the new area, with a new companion, we went to meet with the ward mission leader in the area. He was young, hadn't been home from his own mission for too long. I'm usually pretty easygoing. People don't usually bug me, but by the time we left this guy, I was annoyed. His dad was in Oregon, and he was going to be leaving in a number of months to join him. He wanted to know everything about the United States. I wanted to know everything about our ward. We were NOT on the same page. Every time we ran into Marco, I would cringe. He was always full of questions, "Hermana, do you eat a lot of hamburgers in the US Like how many times a week?" I tried so hard not to let my eyes roll too much. Then there came the day that we had some baptisms lined up. Awesome miraculous people. All we needed was for Marco to fill the font and set up all the seating. And be there. Early. I told him several times as he laid into his ongoing interrogations on how do you say this in English and how do you do that in America, that he needed to fill the font several hours ahead of time. It fills slowly. We go about an hour before the baptisms and what do we find? An empty font and the seating facing backwards. I was unhappy to put it mildly. You do not want to get me angry. Angry little people are scary. There were a few girls from the ward with us, and afterward, they told their mom, "It was like that part in the Bible where Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple. Chairs were flying! " It's true, I turned on the font full blast, and started chucking chairs to the corner, then set them all up as fast as possible. Then when all is ready, hours later than scheduled, Marco comes sauntering in like all is fine...
So a month later when I was getting ready to go home, and he kept asking me for my photo, I kept telling him-NO! He couldn't understand why. He begged, cajoled, and pleaded, but I did not budge. Because I was young and I still had a lot to learn about forgiving. I left without giving him anything.
Fast forward about a year. I'm home, studying at BYU. Whenever I was late getting up on Sunday, I'd hop on over to the Spanish ward that met later than my own. One day I walk in and who is there? You guessed it. My favorite Chilean. At the time, I thought, "Of all the people I'd like to see again, and who do I see?..." He's thrilled to see me, so I chat with him for a while after church. That night I go to the good old ward family prayers they have on campus, and who is there? Marco again. Turns out we're in the same student ward. Hooray. My lucky day. I try to be polite, but I don't do a very good job. One thing I could say about him even then, whatever he was into, he was very enthusiastic. He was always happy, smiling. Clueless that he drove me nuts. Because he was pretty self absorbed, and thought he was pretty cool. At that age, if a person thought too highly of themselves, I usually thought it was my personal responsibility to bring them down a peg. So, I would get in a few digs whenever I could to try to produce some humility. Then I studiously avoided him.
That is until a few weeks later, when who should show up at my door? Marco. He was in the throes of homesickness and no one cared about him here, and it was so hard, and how was he ever going to stand staying here, and... you get it. His facade was gone. His optimism had melted. He was crushed. He was desperate. And I was the only person in all of Provo, Utah that knew him. And I have a soft spot for lost little puppies. And it was refreshing to see him so humble. So, I got some eats going and we talked and I tried to encourage him. He left feeling happier. And that was the beginning of a change of heart. After that, he stopped by all the time, and we'd talk and laugh and eat and I'd poke fun at him, and he'd poke fun at me, and I would bluntly tell him what I thought about anything he said and did. He'd ask me for advice. He was such a nut!
His big goal in life was to get married. Oh, how he wanted to find a wife. A perfect wife. Some gorgeous tall svelt blond blue eyed model of a woman with multiple talents who is sweet and patient and spiritual. (I would have to ask him to excuse me while I got a drink to get rid of the after taste of that vomit in my mouth.) He had all these crazy ways of trying to get cute girls' attention, like he would walk by them and casually drop a pencil in hopes of her picking it up and giving it to him. Or, once he decided to join the ROTC, because certainly he would stand out in a uniform and that perfect girl would notice him. I told him the commitment involved in the ROTC might just be too high a price to pay for that possibility. So, he tried another tactic. He wore a big chunky sweater with a bright pattern every day. Everywhere. We were taking a Poly Sci class together at the time that was huge, in a big auditorium, and every freaking day he would wander around before and after class trying to get noticed. I told him he would get noticed, alright. Girls were going to wonder how bad he smelled after living in that sweater month after month. He saw my point. The sweater became history, thank goodness!
Marco was a very talented musician and one thing he did real well was play the bongos so he decided to position the bongos in his window where they would be seen and hope some future wife would ask him about them in the parking lot as she walked by... It's pretty sad how desperate he was, isn't it?
As it turns out, a guy noticed those bongos and invited him to try out for a performance group on campus. He came to me for advice. It took me a long time to talk him into it. It would be a great experience with chances to travel, perform and get some assistance with school as well. No brainer, right? But, gee it's a big commitment. However, it just might happen that he would make some really great friends through this and who knows? Even meet some girls? And not even have to drop pencils to have an excuse to talk to them? He joined. Whew! It was great. When he got back from tour, he came right over and told me all about it. He had a great time. He set me up with some guys from the group and we'd go out dancing. We did a lot of off the wall things too. He got me to help him make a video of his experience on campus. I remember filming everywhere imaginable and doing lots of nutty things. Once, I don't remember what we were doing but we found ourselves going past our turn on University Parkway at about 2 a.m. The street was empty, so he just backed up half a block and turned while I told him he was a maniac.
One summer he decided to take a job on a fishing boat in Alaska. I don't remember if that was the time that he left me his car, or if it was when he went on tour, but he actually was reckless enough to lend me his car for a month or something like that. It survived me! He survived the fishing boat, too!
One time I'm sure he didn't leave the car was when he went home for Christmas. He was hoping to bring his sister back to visit for about 2 weeks afterward. He needed a place for her to stay. So I asked our landlord if we could have her stay with us, and if she'd need to pay some kind of rent and all. She said it was fine. Then, after New Years, who should show up at our doorstep on a Sunday night at about 11 p.m.? Marco. He didn't convince his sister to come, but when he got to his apartment, he found his stuff outside. He had been evicted. Great. My roommates and I discussed what to do. I thought of calling my parents who lived out in Orem, but it was pretty late by then. In the end I thought it would be the best thing to put him up there, but one of my other roommates said it was pretty late, I mean, at this point it was only about 7 hours till morning. Why not just let him stay with us? It is against BYU housing policy, but since none of the four roommates had a thing for Marco nor he for us, what was the big deal? We discussed this, with many an interruption until it was about 2 a.m. and then there really wasn't anything else to do about it. So, we stayed up almost all night goofing off, talking and eating, etc. Then our landlord saw Marco asleep on our floor in the morning and she was furious! She was the sweetest old lady, but sparks were flying from her eyes as she said, "So here's your GIRL friend from your mission, eh?" I felt awful. So did my roommate, who interceded on my behalf. I finally got forgiven, but from then on, she had her eye on me....
Over the time we were in school together, Marco and I both dated different people, and then when we broke up, we'd have a wallow session or in Marco's case, several wallow sessions to get over it. Once I was dating a jerk, because I guess everybody has to try that at least once, and Marco was jealous. One night he even suggested that he thought we should marry each other. I told him no, because as soon as I broke up with this guy, he would go right back to taking me for granted and forget he was interested in me. He looked really hurt. Plus, I added, he really did need a tall model type, not half pint me, and while he was a fine person and a close friend, who was going to make a wonderful husband to someone, I was pretty sure if I was ever married to him, he was going to annoy the heck out of me. After a while, he realized that I was right. Probably because I'm not a tall blond Swede. But, the amazing thing about Marco was that even though he could be so shallow at times, when you got to know him, he was a downright charming human being. He was very intelligent and you could talk about any subject on earth with him. He had many talents and was always trying new things. He had a great sense of humor and this huge little boy vulnerability. He was always asking questions and sucking in the world like a sponge with his insatiable curiosity. He had so many ideas of things he wanted to do, places to go and see, and goals he wanted to reach, he didn't know where to start. Underneath it all, he was pretty deep and spiritual, amazingly. Plus, he was just fun. Most of my memories of Marco involve smiles and laughter. A lot of that laughter, I must admit, was at his expense, but even so... The thing is, even though I started out sort of begrudgingly trying to help him out, he ended up making a time in my life that was full of a lot of emotional upheaval so much more bearable than it would have been.
During this time, I spent a summer in Montreal and then a Christmas vacation there as well. I came home engaged. I called Marco. I was pretty excited to tell him my news. He didn't jump for joy. I told him his time would come too. Once you find someone, you have faith everyone else will too. You also realize there is nothing you can do to find that someone sooner or later, they just show up when they're supposed to. He was sure I was now going to wipe him off my slate of friends. So, we got together and I started to talk with him about it all and tell him about my fiance. I had been calling my fiance by his name, not Papi, but since we call him Papi here, we'll stick with that pseudonym, and not his real name. Suddenly the light switched on!" Oh!" He said, "Papito! I know who he is!" He just didn't recognize his grown up name. I'd been telling Marco all along that they knew each other and I wasn't going to stop being his friend now, like he feared. After that, he was pretty excited about the whole thing. Papi and Marco had known each other for years. They used to have Family Nights together when they were taking the lessons from the missionaries. They had gone through the youth programs at church together. So, he danced at our wedding. And, not too long after he found the gorgeous, sweet, wonderful wife he was looking for. He was so happy. He was his ever exuberant self about it, totally excited and absorbed in his new found love. I don't remember the details, but there was some problem with getting their rings done in time for the wedding and he came to us for some help. Papi had somehow collected a number of rings from some thing or another, so he lent him some, but they were not really that great, if you ask me. His fiancee thought the same, only more so, and he came back with his tail between his legs, disgraced to return the rings. Somehow it all worked out and their wedding was beautiful. We finally had Marco safely married off.
Eventually Marco graduated and they spent some of the following years in Utah and others in Oregon. I had started working for an over the phone interpretation company and I got him to apply too. He worked for them for several years. Sometimes we would lose track of each other but sooner or later, we'd get a call from Marco, or an e-mail. Once we met up at a Chilean party shortly after he'd moved to Salt Lake. Then as life usually does, it got too busy and we lost track of each other. One day about 4 months ago, I opened my e-mails and there was a Facebook friend request from Marco. I rolled my eyes, there he is again! I can't get rid of him...But this time I smiled when I said it, and I added him. He was so proud of his little family. He now has a boy and two girls. They were in Oregon and had lots of great pictures of family vacations, and fishing and Marco was still his same old effervescant self. I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook at all I must admit, so other than look through the pictures and drop a line, I didn't start any big conversations.
Then a few weeks ago, a got a call from Papi. Marco had been in a terrible accident and died on the scene. His side of the car was hit by a speeding car that lost control on a curve. He was taking his son to the movies. I've seen the pictures and his car was overturned, the front end completely obliterated. His son survived with minor injuries, but they were trapped in the vehicle till rescue workers could get them out. I still can't get the horror of that experience that poor boy went through out of my mind. I still don't know what I can do to help his wife, children, sisters and mom who are left behind. What can you do except pray for them? Or hug your own kids and hope they'll never have to go through something like that? Or if they do, that they will feel the comforting arms of our Creator to help them through?
One thing I do know. I'm glad Marco came to me that day so many years ago and begged for my friendship, and so very glad I was smart enough to give it. He taught me that there is so much more than what we see on the surface in other people- enough that it's worth giving people second chances, and the benefit of the doubt or permission to just be imperfect. Because there's so much joy in getting to know the good parts of people too. To me, even though he's all but twice as tall as me, and a few years older, Marco will always in my mind, be my little brother. Someday, when I get to the other side, if there's the equivalent of Facebook, I'll send him a friend request and he'll say, "Not you again!" Till then, I'll just remember the smiles, the laughter, and the good times.