what do calum, both my paternal grandparents, and my mom AND dad all have in common?

yep – the “c word”.

meaning “cancer”. not “cunt”. although a few years ago i woulda argued one of em fit the latter but those days are behind us.

i’ve seen all of em but dad go. only two of them actually from cancer…three of the five beat it, two passing from other non-related issues, and dad’s still with us. i’ve buried pets and parents, and grandparents and other family, both blood and chosen. but it’s always been parent and grandparent age people for the most part…although my one of my uncles passed in his thirties, but it was a freak accident.

this is the first time it was part of “my crew”. shit, he was actually younger than me. he’d only been diagnosed with cancer seven months prior. the last time i saw him he was considerably bigger than me, and that was the last time we’d spoke – at his dad’s memorial service. we had a falling out (on his end) i’ll never understand or comprehend, but he and i had a bit of social media interaction towards the end there and last week i was gonna surprise him at his mom’s but the weather was shit so i pushed till this week. it turns out the day i HAD planned on going by was the day he went into the hospital and never came out. by then he and reality, from what i got from his mom, were no longer on speaking terms. he might not have recognized me anyway.

i got a text when i was out with friends sunday night, forwarded from a friend but originating from him mom, that if we wanted to say good-bye it was time. i wrapped up with the boys and went straight from a bar stool to a hospital room three towns over. i’ll spare you the details of his condition, but i can say two things definitively:

1. i will never be unable to unsee that shit as long as i live and it literally haunted my dreams that night
2. i was honestly relieved when i got the text yesterday knowing he was no longer suffering

but rather than close out on some downer shit, let me share a story i shared with his girlfriend in said hospital room, and he actually started kinda twitching and kicking when i’d hit the funny parts, which let me know he could kinda hear me (or so i’d like to believe)…

…while john mark had an artist’s passion for life, and an unbelievable intellect, he never had any artistic skill. this is a pic of him showing off his third tattoo, although first professional one in his prized nine inch nails “sin” shirt:

his next one was my doing, but somewhat against my will. my buddy bret and i (the one i stay with in NOLA to this day) had a pledge that we would NOT feed what we feared would be his next addiction – tattoos. it was the early 1990’s, before i got my first and started working in shops, and neither of us wanted to contribute to something he might later regret, even if he asked us to (which he did…often).

so, in fall of 1991 the red hot chili peppers released what i would argue was their last really good album (the one after with navarro was pretty good, the rest have pretty much sucked for me) and the inner art was a collage of all their tattoos. one of them caught john mark’s eye, but the picture was actually smaller and grainier than this:

so i used his mom’s domed magnifier, and re-drew it pretty much verbatim. just pencil and paper, light shading on the black bits. he thanked me, we watched tv for a bit, and i went home. the next afternoon he popped by the house and when i went outside he yelled, “check it out!”, and boosted his sleeve to reveal my sketch, slightly cleaned up, and permanently on his right deltoid.

to say the least, i was pissed.

but what i later came to realize was, whether we were on speaking terms or not, hanging out or not (and for the last twelve years neither was the case, through no fault or reason of my own) he carried a bit of me with him, on his dominant arm, for the rest of his life. in fact, seeing him in the hospital bed at the most emaciated and most drugged up i’d ever seen him (and that latter one is saying quite a bit) i realized that not was i one of his oldest tattoos, i was one of his coolest AND probably the largest. plenty of my art had since ended up on folks (all with my pre-approval, though) but he was the first and he did carry it till the end (assuming his arm wasn’t removed in the thirty-six hours between me seeing him and him passing).

you’ll be missed, bud, even if we hadn’t spoken for quite some time – but i’m glad you’re out of pain.

john mark stone
feb 26, 1972 – nov 19, 2019

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