Those words broke my heart in half and they made me so angry. “Why did it have to be Markus?” I railed uselessly. He was only fifteen years old and without doubt, one of the best kids I ever knew.
There was a period of five years, from June of 2003 until June of 2008 when I had the privilege to work with Terlingua’s kids. Oh, what a time we had. We started as “The Terlingua Youth Club” and earned the distinction of being “The Boys & Girls Club of Terlingua” after two years. Yes, we were affiliates of The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and proud of it.
Markus was one of the kids who made it magic. Every. Single. Day. He had a grin that was infectious and an innocence that was everything wonderful about children.
Of course Markus’s life was not perfect. Living in Terlingua is hard in some ways, and being a kid there has its advantages and drawbacks. Markus was the most resilient child you can imagine. No matter what happened in his life, he would pick himself up and continue on. He was a child who intended to live with his attention turned towards the good.
When other kids whined, “There’s nothing to do,” Markus would find something, often involving a ball. Like nearly all the other members of the club, he resisted doing homework, but homework came first, then snack time, then playing and programs. One firm directive of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America is to help and encourage students with homework. If they had no homework, they could read during that time. The message in this was threefold: Education is important to your future. Continued learning is vital. The club is here to help you.
Markus had a shy streak and a sideways grin that melted my heart. I always wanted to hug and kiss him because of his adorableness but he never stood still for much of that.
I saw Markus this past September in Midland when he and his mom and stepdad came to a book signing I did there. He was so tall and handsome and seemed older than his years. But of course, he was.
That same shy, sideways grin still greeted me. He gave me a hug, but it was fast. He was anxious to move on—typical Markus.
Back in the youth club days, we (the staff) used to wish we could take him home. But we wished that about nearly all the kids. Nothing I know of will worm into your heart and soul more quickly than a child.
I have a shining memory of Markus that I hold dear. Someone donated a set of a doll house, its furnishings, and a few little dolls to the club. It was an irresistibly shiny, let-your-imagination-run-wild sort of thing. One day when no girls were playing with it, Markus sat down with it. When we saw him, he was talking out loud the way kids do when their imaginations are running free.
When “caught,” he mumbled that he knew dollhouses were for just for girls. Au contraire, we insisted. Dollhouses are for playing make-believe and every kid loves that. He shrugged and ran off to do something else. A few weeks later, another little boy was caught playing with it, but he was busted by older boys with a bullying streak.
Markus stepped past those larger kids and said in a voice that meant business, “Anybody can play with the dollhouse. You don’t have to be a girl.”
That little six or seven-year-old spoke with the conviction of a grown man and totally diffused the situation. Everybody went off to play or eat or get in different trouble.
Amber shared this fond memory with me. At Christmas we always asked the kids what they wanted. We threw a party and gave them little gifts. Most of them wanted expensive things that didn’t fit in our budget, but one year Markus wanted a basketball. The club had many, but this one would be special. It would be his.
We gave him a basketball. He was so excited he could barely contain himself, yet he let all the other kids play with it first. He understood the concept of sharing and graciously shared his good fortune.
I believed you were destined for the greatest of things, Markus. But maybe you were only destined to be great as far as your time here allowed. So the rest of us are left behind to mourn your passing. The only way I can combat the sadness is with gratitude. I am so grateful to have known you.
Following the tradition of young Markus Irwin, I will pick myself up and continue to move forward in my life. May you rest in true peace, beautiful child.