|Rest in peace. Rockin’ that bowtie. Elsa Klensch is so proud.|
I’m supposed to be writing. An article about hot dogs of all things for a local weekly. Then there’s my novel, which is in pieces, and my semi-workable treatment for a nonfiction book. Instead I’m looking through old photo albums and listening to cassette tapes full of abominably bad dance music from 1987. Because my friend Mike died. He up and died suddenly, tragically, without so much as a whisper. The one in our group who looked forever 15, without a wrinkle or shadow of age upon him. Just a glimmer of grey at the temples to remind us he WAS there back then, and not just born in 1996.
Incredulous, I didn’t find ONE picture of us. All those years spent as friends, roommates for Chrissakes, and not one picture? Sadly realizing this was a reminder of just how much partying I really had done. But on further reflection, I cracked up laughing. We must’ve had a pretty good time to forget to record it.
It seems only yesterday I was writing about a reunion my friend David put on which brought us all together again. Now I’m writing about one of us dying. I’m starting to feel like Ender in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead because every time someone I love passes away I sit down and eulogize. Which can be good and bad. When you eulogize you forget the reality and paint over everything with a rose-colored gloss. The person might have been a total asshole, but if you cared about them at all the eulogy becomes a glowing A+ report card of all their best qualities.
But with Mike this is the truth. He truly was a great guy. You hear that a lot, but seriously, I have never met anyone who ever had a bad word to say about him. Ever.
He was quiet, well-dressed, always a part of the conversation and yet just a “skoche” off to the side. Mike seemed to prefer the outer edges to the raucous middle where all the action lives. I got that so well and often joined him. Speaker of dry humor, lover of fashion. The eye roll, the head tilt. His “What are ya gonna do, that’s just how it is,” shrug of the shoulders. In his black plaid Willi Smith blazer. That’s how I’ll remember him eternally – he wore that jacket everywhere.
Through the years I’d run into Mike every so often. I found it wonderful that even though he was alone, he always seemed content. And now he has gone and there are almost 200 people on Facebook wishing him well. So he wasn’t really ever alone. Not really.
I kind of can’t believe I won’t ever hear his voice again because I still hear it in my head, the way it would lift and fall, the way he drew out his vowels. I loved it so. Musical and lilting like he was always on the verge of saying something scathing, sharp, and dry. But not quite yet just to keep you in suspense. It was lovely.
Mike was a guarded person, very private. But the neat thing about him was in every conversation he made you feel like a confidante. Like the two of you shared secrets. Like you’d known him for decades even if you only just met. Like it hadn’t been 15 years since you’d seen him last, but only a few days. He made you forget you really knew very little of his past life. Unlike me, who tends to go on and on about every little injustice done in her childhood should the moment present itself, Mike rarely did that. He was very present. In that moment, with you, right then.
There’ll be a lot of compliments thrown around at the memorial next weekend, a lot of fuss. He’d hate that I think. He’d be so embarrassed at all those accolades. “Y’all! (drawn out like taffy) It’s just me!” he’d say, hands on hips with a little laugh. And then give you his signature look of feigned pissed-offed-ness, that one eyebrow raised in mock anger. Classic Mike.
Thinking about it all makes me tired. And so sad. I thought there would be time. I thought there would be time for all the plans we’d made, the cocktail lunches, the antiquing trips. Mojitos on the porch when we were both old. Fuck, we’re old now. I was looking forward to seeing Mike again, in Carytown, or at parties. I was always looking forward to seeing Mike again. He put you at ease that way. He made you feel like the conversation you were having right now was great, but the one you’d have over lunch……someday……would be even better. He left you with a bubble of hope.
Eulogies exaggerate. But there aren’t many people I would venture into hyperbole for. There just aren’t that many people whose passing would or will affect me the way his has. And I’m not even sure why. We were friends. Friends who’d lost touch, but hadn’t. Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while, but in some weird way, were still in each other’s lives, if only in our thoughts. We will miss you Noodle. You hated that nickname, but there’s something I never got to tell you. And I wish I had. Only the most beloved friends get nicknames. Peace and much love, Jenée.