Sherman had a lot in common with Mark, and it was eerie sometimes when the four of them would be sitting around the living room watching television. Jenny and Laura would be hyperactively riffing off each other, bouncing about and not paying any attention to the show. Sherman and Mark would share a look, as if saying, "I feel your pain, brother".
Sherman also had the depressive moods Mark remembered from his college days. Thank goodness had grown out of them, into the depressive moods of his middle-aged days.
Mark's son, short in comparison to the rest of his adopted family, was built broad and strong. He had brown curly hair, and the remnants of an astonishing case of acne. The girls swooned for Thomas, or Thom as he called himself now. The family still slipped and called him Tommy much of the time, but they were improving. Thom was the really responsible one of the family, and the only neat freak. He shared a love of cars with Mark, and they worked together often on their old beaters. Thom had a 1968 Volkswagen with starting problems and lousy wipers and brakes. Mark was glad he had involved himself with old cars, so he could bring something to the table when finally behaving as a Dad.
Thom was everything Mark wasn't, in a way. He was confident, and outgoing. He had a head for business, and a lust for profit. And, of course, he was smooth and suave with the ladies. Mark got jealous of that from time to time, and of Thom's beautiful friends. They, male and female, seemed to have sprung fully formed from the brow of Calvin Klein, at least when CK advertisements weren't in their starving heroin addict phase.
He loved the kids, but he was very new to that role of Dad. His own father had been absent, either physically or emotionally, all through Mark's life. All he had to draw upon was his own experience, television shows, and quick glimpses of his childhood friends' fathers. It wasn't much to go on, and so he was never quite sure what he was doing.
Sometimes he gave up, and hid from the responsibility. That was OK, though, since Laura had been raising them long before he had, and was the Real Parent. He wasn't needed, wasn't kept in the loop at all, much of the time. In fact, she was such a super parent that they accumulated a whole batch of additional, part-time teenagers. Laura was tolerant, and a communicator, and bought beer and smokes for the kids. She'd sit out on the porch for hours, dispensing advice from on high while slipping into her warm cocoon of beery goodness. Mark was proud sometimes, however, of the small part he had played in forming these young adults. Although it didn't happen often, sometimes he would get into a serious conversation, teaching them a bit about ethics and morals and tolerance.
Mark regretted the opportunities he had missed. He had such a narrow window, and now it was closed forever. He sighed, and remembered that he had decided long ago that he just wasn't cut out to have children. He was used to the ragged emptiness in his heart that decision had given him.
As far as friends went, he had none, as far as he knew. He had decided to dump most of them when he got involved with Laura, since she met all his needs for companionship. Many of them were pathologically unhealthy, such as Rhiannon and her drinking buddies. Some of them, such as Rita, had already grown beyond him years before. Some reminded Mark of his even deeper, and somewhat darker, past.
Mark had been a mess in college. It took him six years to get through, partly because of alcohol, and partly because his fiance dumped him and threw him out of the house in the fall of his first senior year (he had three). He moved in with a cocaine dealer and a bass player, because he was more functional than the mutually abusive alcoholic couple that was being kicked out. At least Mark never punched a hole in the wall. The dealer, the bass player, and the dealer's supplier would get together for coke-fueled games of Trivial Pursuit, which Mark often won. He had a Volkswagen of his own at this point, until he cracked a fuel line while driving over a curb, drunk. He couldn't afford to fix the car, so it sat in a parking space in the apartment complex. The management had it towed, and he didn't know where. It didn't matter much since he didn't have the money to pay the towing charges or to have the fuel line fixed. He was kicked out of there a year later when he became addicted to crack cocaine.
Then he lived in an old one story bungalow behind the Seven-Eleven, with two waitresses. They would work late shift, and come home and snort coke for a couple hours before crashing. Mark would lie in his bedroom, the head of his bed near the door to the living room, and try to sleep. He wanted to sleep forever at this point. He was living on $200 per month from his father, eating imitation macaroni and cheese, and turkey franks. He slept with the window open so his cat could come and go as he pleased. It didn't matter much, even in the winter, as they couldn't run the oil furnace without filling the house with smoke. It was cracked, you see, and smoked and roared like a dragon. The only heating vent was in the living room, so it would shoot up to 100 degrees and fill with smoke, while the rest of the house stayed cold.
Mark finally found a part time job with an enterprising business major who had started his own word processing company, even though he couldn't type. They used a Radio Shack Color Computer and a daisywheel printer, and Mark was able to earn a few extra bucks. It turned out that he typed quickly and well, even on a crappy "Chiclet(tm)-style" keyboard. The business major, whose name was Dan, was separated from his wife. He wanted Mark to set him up with a room (because of the separation, he was being kicked out of married student housing), and a way to get laid. Mark, desparate to move out of the House With No Heat, snookered his ex-fiancee's ex-roommate into taking them both in. Dan got his own room, while Mark slept on the couch. Luckily, Eve had more self-esteem than Mark thought, and so did not slip Dan even a charity lay.
They lived in this situation for a while, until Dan was driven crazy enough to leave. Eve and Mark and Eve's boyfriend Stan the Navy Man celebrated, sitting on lawn chairs in a living room emptied of Dan's incredibly ugly furniture. Dan disappeared, leaving a 24" woman's bike in involuntery lieu of payment. After Stan moved in to Dan's vacated bedroom, the three of them took Dan to small claims court for the several hundred dollars in unpaid bills.
Stan lasted a year or so, and then Mark finally got his own bedroom, and moved in off the couch. Eve and Mark lived together for a while, until Eve finally worked up the courage to move away. She went to graduate school in biology, and refused contact with Mark in any way. Mark lived in the apartment with his cat, and drank beer and ate barbeque Frito chips every night, after working all day as a contractor at Philip Morris. He never paid any taxes, hiding his head in the sand and ignoring the return forms. He got fatter and even more sure he was repellent to women. It was a dark time, in that apartment, as Mark tried to freeze love from his heart completely. He avoided the dark lows of his times with the dealers and with the waitresses, but, cut off from his emotions as he was, he cut the bright highs as well.
This situation continued until he joined Roy in the flight simulator company, and moved across the parking lot from Rhiannon. After six months of complete starvation (which he actually welcomed, since his mind was occupied and he had no time for self abuse other than that facilitated by his relationship with Rhiannon), he started making a lot of money at the simulator company. He bought a red sports car, and when he moved, a complete set of furniture. He bought a share in a Cessna 150. He spent a lot of money, on a lot of things, but not on cocaine. That one thing was a fairly big triumph for him at the time. However, he was definitely drinking heavily and bound up in the sexless control-dynamics of his relationship with Rhiannon.
Roy, his business partner, was a recovering alcoholic, and a non-drinking one at that. However, over the years, Mark's drinking eroded Roy's self control, and he resumed. The business went to hell at that point. Roy became a hermit, coming out only for beer and cigarettes. He had been diagnosed with emphysema and given one year to live, but kept smoking anyway. Finally Mark had to cut his personal ties with Roy, since all he could do at that point was help Roy kill himself or ignore him completely. He loved Roy too much to buy him beer and smokes, and so shunned him. Roy was alive and active, if not completely healthy, many, many years later.
Mark dated Rita for about eight months. She had been a regular at his own regular dive, a Redneck/Rap joint known ironically as the Library Tavern. Mark was there because of Satellite Trivia, his sole remaining field of achievement at the time. Rita was a large busted brunette, somewhat older than Mark, with a gravelly voice easily linked to her years of chain smoking. She had a New York accent, which he found strangely alluring, and a straightforward sexuality that couldn't be denied. Their relationship was all surface and sex, which Mark needed after years of atrophy. She taught him that women could enjoy sex, with her loud and undeniable orgasms at his touch. However, it finally dawned on Rita that there wasn't going to be any more than sex and surface, no real intimacy. She slapped him silly on Valentine's Day in the parking lot of their other hangout, a blues bar named J.M. Randall's, and that was it. Mark hadn't hit a woman since 1981, and he wasn't going to let one beat up on him.