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I met an old friend

I met an old friend for a drink tonight. We moved out of our parents' houses and into an apartment together when we were about 18. I hadn't seen her in about seven years and as we were going through the roster of former friends and acquaintances she told me that my old friend Mike is dead. He's been dead for over a year and I had no idea.

He and I went to school together from 2nd grade until 6th. Then my family moved away, but when we moved back to Minneapolis my junior year of high school, lo and behold he went to my new high school. The year after we graduated he went to Thailand and came back...different. He tried to kill himself that year, and I can remember visiting him in the Psych ward at Cedar Riverside, laying with him on his little hospital bed in a room where they had taken away his belt and shoelaces. He was upset because we had always talked about taking a trip together, but had never done it. Once he was released, we took what remains in my memory as the craziest road trip of my life.

My car at the time was a 1986 Chevrolet Nova; my parents bought it around the time that Nora was born. It belonged to my brother after that, and he had put a nice stereo in it, which had been stolen one day when my dad forgot to remove the face and put it safely out of sight. So a gaping hole stared at you from the dashboard when you were driving, and I didn't have the money to install a new stereo. The fan was broken, so the most you could do was turn on the heat or AC and drive really fast with the vents open trying to get air to move through. We piled into that car one night with my brother, Austin, and Peter, a good friend of Mike's and a peripheral friend to Austin and I. He also had gone to St. Charles for elementary school; his family was famous in the neighborhood for adopting nearly 20 children, most of them foreign and many with disabilities. Peter smelled funny, and later years changed his name to Lance.

Because we were so poor, we had worked out all kinds of money-saving tricks. Trick #1 was that instead of wasting money on hotels we would drive straight from Minnesota to Florida without stopping. Our first delay was in Southern Minnesota where Mike insisted we stop in to see a relative of his who was apparently doing his taxes. (Don't ask me...it made sense at the time.) The next stop that I remember was in St. Louis around 3am or some such ungodly hour. Mike peed on the arch, while I tsk-tsked like a den mother. We drove all night, making it to Memphis the following day. I wanted to go see Elvis, but insisted I couldn't do it without first taking a shower. The boys refused my request and said, "It's now or never." (Pun intended.) Pouting, I chose never and haven't been that close to Elvis since.

We made it out of Memphis and into Mississippi that afternoon, where we promptly got lost. We wandered through the backwoods of Mississippi, trying to find our way to a major highway and failing at every opportunity. We stopped and asked for directions several times; kind people would tell us how to get ourselves unlost, and we would nod enthusiastically. They would drive away, and we would all turn and ask each other, "Did anyone understand a word that guy said?"

We finally got back onto a major thoroughfare that took us into Mobile, Alabama. By that time we had been driving for nearly 24 hours and we hated each other. We finally gave in to our sleep deprivation and got a hotel in Mobile, painfully close to Pensacola, our final destination. We slept until the next afternoon, showered the road grease off ourselves and headed for Pensacola. Once there, we hooked up with a Russian girl that Peter knew. She was a nanny for a wealthy family that owned a house on the water, plus a beach house on an island just off the coast. Hell if I can remember the name of the island; all I know is that it was very private and you had to pay a toll to enter it. We got the beach house for nearly nothing, the only thing we had to pay for was the fee for the maid to come clean the place after we left. We spent several days on the beach, drinking Busch Light and having strange Russian friends of the nanny stop by. It was surreal.

We finally left Florida one morning at about 4am -- despite our hard luck on the way down we were convinced we could make it back home without stopping. Mike offered to drive, and sleepily, we all agreed. He asked us if we wanted to go check out New Orleans, since we were so close. We all said no and fell asleep as soon as he started driving. Two hours later, I opened my eyes in the French Quarter. Sneaky little fucker.

Things didn't end all that well with Mike and I. There was the usual When-Harry-Met-Sally-Can-Men-And-Women-Be-Just-Friends bullshit, complicated by his moods, depression and intermittent substance abuse, and further complicated by his strange relationship with a girlfriend of mine. And so, predictably, I feel bad about all the usual "I never got to say goodbye" nonsense. But, really, deep down I hope that he has found some kind of peace. The circumstances of his death in Thailand make me think that he died in the midst of something that was not pleasant. But I hope he's happy now. And I'm sorry I found out so late, too late to see his mom and his sisters and pay my last respects.

So, I guess, in some weird way, this is my tribute. Goodbye, Mike. Somewhere in my file cabinet I have a poem I wrote for you the day after you tried to kill yourself. It's full of clumsy, thick metaphors, but the point is: I wrote it for you.

Posted September 12, 2002 10:07 PM

 

7 Comments

goodbye Mike. A flame that burns twice as bright lasts half as long.

Sometimes the conciseness of a poem doesn't say what has to be said.I lost a friend a number of years ago, coincidentally named Mike (the world can be tough on Mikes, I think). He died of his own hand. Although he and I were very close for a long time, there was something that he and I could never reach within one another. All the same, he left an impression on me. Like the exclamation mark he left on the wall behind him. I wonder about the impression people leave on each other, Meghan. It can be like a bad tatoo or a scar that looks oddly like divinity made flesh. Your road trip story informs a sort of 'rite of passage' into early adulthood, where things happen, and bonds are formed, or broken, and one more ring is added to the oak that stands and bends with the coming of great winds. XO - MK Ultra

Life and deathenergy and peaceIf I stop todayIt was still worth itEven the terrible mistakes that I have madeAnd would have unmade if I couldThe pains that have burned meAnd scarred my soulIt was worth itFor having been allowedTo walk where I have walkedWhich was a Hell on EarthHeaven on EarthBack againIntoUnderFar in betweenThrough itIn itAnd aboveGia Carangi

oh meggy. life is full of friends to whom we'll never say goodbye. it's probably better that way. sweet post.

I agree with mopsa. Life is cruel, and ultimately, we walk it alone. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier when you get news like this.Recently (like last month) my grandmother died. I didn't know her that well, so I didn't even drive the 8 hours to IA for her funeral.When my brother got back in town he had something like this to say about the event: "It was worth going just to see other people talk about Grandma like she was this other person I never knew about."It made me wish I'd gone, and also, conversely, feel fine about my decision not to go, since I'd made the decision in the first place because I didn't know her.So some part of me wishes I'd gone to the funeral--better would have been to visit her while she was sick and dying.

I wonder if he ended up as dinner?

ah, nervous and small...where would we be without your fucked-up commentary?