Monday, October 02, 2006

Marshall Hydorn, 1982-2006

Late Wednesday night, the phone rang, and unsure whether I was awake or dreaming I picked it up. A minute later, I learned that my high school classmate and friend Marshall Hydorn had “passed away”, thought it’s extremely difficult to imagine Marshall doing anything as quietly or passively as the phrase implies. True, I couldn’t picture Marshall growing peacefully old. This was someone with “blaze of glory” written all over him, and at the same time it’s impossible to conceive of a presence so vitally alive being gone. I just can’t understand.

Except for some brief correspondence and a few chance meetings, I can’t say I saw much of Marshall the last several years. The Marshall I knew was mainly the Marshall of high school and one or two years after. Partially because he was so enigmatic, his figure loomed large in my consciousness, and there was also something uniquely genuine in him that held no mystery and needed no explanation. That’s the Marshall I want to remember, and despite the circumstances in which his life ended it’s the only Marshall I can remember.

Marshall and I competed together in soccer and swimming, and while he’ll always be known as a fierce individualist, he was also as fine a teammate as you could ask for. Without being violent, Marshall was a warrior, and he carried himself as one. When there were rumblings of aggression from an enemy soccer team, Marshall would stand up with an expression of simultaneous calm and fearlessness that made it clear that he was ready and willing to take them all on. It was a look that could take your measure in an instant, and throughout more than a few tense moments, I never saw anyone fail to back down.

Marshall was no less intimidating in the pool, but it was there that his freewheeling, celebrity side emerged. He cut an unmistakable figure on the deck with his shades, sideburns and shock of black hair, and was one of the few seasonal swimmers to specialize in the 100 yard butterfly, which he swam with bravado. He was an excellent relay teammate as well, fast off the blocks and quick to offer inspiration, often derived from the martial arts movies he loved. My favorite Marshall moment, however, was when I was dispatched to go find him and tell him to put his suit back on because we had a 200 yard freestyle relay to swim in 3 minutes. Marshall, of course, was at the far end of the P.G. High aquatics complex, dressed to the nines and entertaining several female P.G. students, to the obvious resentment of some of their football players. Marshall continued his virtuoso flirting performance for another minute as my blood pressure inched upwards, then changed in a flash and arrived at the blocks just in time to swim a great race. Recognizing greatness, no one said a word about it.

Our senior year was marked by a cultural renaissance of sorts at Carmel High, and Marshall was, as usual, in the thick of it. One of his more remarkable contributions was introducing the practice of Falun Gong, a series of meditation exercises followed by millions and brutally suppressed by the Chinese government. Along with Tom Logan, Marshall established weekly Falun Gong sessions in Room 36, leading the exercises with a strong sense of both spiritual discipline and solidarity with oppressed followers in China. Marshall was seemingly everywhere at once: DJ’ing Asian hip-hop at lunch, forming the breakdancing club, injecting new life into student government, and keeping things interesting in many unofficial capacities as well. One weekend, I was told that Marshall was filming a kung fu movie in Carmel, and to get downtown as fast as possible. Never mind if anyone besides him knew kung fu, or if we had a script or the proper equipment. I’d learned some time before to show up first and ask questions later, if ever. No one had a cell phone in those days, and by the time I caught up with everyone the kung fu movie was several plans ago. It didn’t matter. Life with Marshall was cinema enough.

That was Marshall the persona, and, regrettably, for much of the time I knew the persona better than the person. Marshall the person, for me, was defined by two things: he was up for anything, and if you were in a fix, he would be there in two seconds. There are people who can attest to that much better than I can, but the quality was unmistakable in him. As a friend, Marshall’s life, for better or worse, was a study in brotherhood. As an individual, he was colored by a relentless hunger for truth. I’m not sure if he ever knew how much he really possessed.

The association seems wrong – too mellow, perhaps - but there’s a Jackson Browne song called “The Barricades of Heaven” that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I heard the news. Recalling his own feverish coming of age, Browne sings,

Running down around the towns along the shore
When I was sixteen and on my own
No, I couldn’t tell you what the hell those brakes were for
I was just trying to hear my song…

I don’t know if I ever heard mine, Marshall, but I’ll be hearing yours for a long, long time.