Horror director Wes Craven died today, Sunday, 8/30/2015. This is news I would have shared with my friend Mike. The text convo (because, I think, in text, it’s a ‘convo,’ not a ‘conversation’) would have gone something like this:
ME: WTF!? The Freddy Krueger guy died!? I can’t deal.
MIKE: Condolences. But I never really liked horror films. LOL.
ME: It’s FREDDY KRUEGER!
MIKE: My job is scary enough.
ME: Good point. Let’s watch Caddyshack tonight. OH WAIT. We live 1200 miles apart.
MIKE: Next time we get together. Send me some stuff to watch tonight at work. And no spoilers about MasterChef.
And then I would have sent some recommendations of stuff for him to laugh at during his night shift as a jailor.
The only trouble is, Mike passed away yesterday, one day earlier than Wes Craven. So I can’t text him about it. I mean I could, but I don’t know if my plan covers the next world. What I do know is that there are going to be many moments ahead during which I am moved to tell him about something I watched that he would like, or tell him about something I ate that he would like, or tell him about something that was going on in my life that I just need to talk about. He was there for all of that. And he shared his life with me in that way too. Mike and I were friends.
Mike and I graduated from high school together. I (first) remember him from Senor Johnson’s Spanish class in seventh grade. In fact, oddly, Mike holds a strange distinction in my life as one of four people I remember seeing for the first time, in fact, I remember what he was wearing! A grey sweatsuit! Senor Johnson had called him to the blackboard to answer some sort of question and I remember him begrudgingly doing so. When Mike and I connected many years later (he sparked by his interest in my movie recommendations and I sparked by my interest in the green chile recipe he posted on Facebook one Christmas three or so years ago), I told him that I remembered that. Guess what I got for my birthday? A grey sweatsuit.
Mike was thoughtful like that, and loved connection with others above all material goods. He also loved chicken wings. And beer. And baseball. And his dog Max. I painted a portrait of Max for him that he framed and hung in his apartment.
He remembered a print I liked when we went to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR,—it read “Write drunk, edit sober – Ernest Hemingway.” He had it sent to me. He treasured a late evening we spent gossiping in his Cousin Paula’s basement one night, drinking cheap wine I’d packed in my bag (for the train journey) and a bag of Skittles my son had tucked in there as well, and sent me the same wine along with a 2lb bag of Skittles to enjoy during the Superbowl (Marshawn Lynch! Beast mode!).
In January, Mike, tragically, had a good friend who was killed in a traffic accident helping a woman with her stalled car. I made this rough video for him because he loved when I sang (even put up with me karaoke-ing!) and I sang this song at my stepfather’s memorial years earlier. He told me he loved the video and that he knew the moment at which, during the song, I had trouble not crying. He said he thought I was looking right at him at the end of the video.
It’s odd to me that, now, this song applies to Mike.
This all happened far too fast. I received a message from his sister a week ago today that he only had a few days to live. The most recent text message I’d received from him indicated that I shouldn’t worry but that he’d had his lungs drained after “puking blood.” That message came two days earlier.
And then silence.
My last text to him (before I received the message from his sister) was “Miiiiiiiiiiike?! Bueller? Bueller?”
On Friday morning, thanks to the surprise kindness of a mutual friend from school, I flew to Denver to see him in hospice. I don’t know if it was denial or dumb hope but I didn’t really think that I was flying in to say goodbye. I sat with him as he slept or at least as he lay there on the bed not talking, eyes closed. But as I talked to him and held his hand, though he felt very far away, there were slight attempts at squeezing my hand back. Attempts at moans. Still, it was difficult for me to find him, difficult to connect the Mike I knew to the vulnerable, naked, body, still breathing, moaning, trying to communicate, unable to, responding to the many visitors, basketball and football players I hadn’t seen since high school (MY GOD, their eyes all looked the same as they did 23 years ago), Mike moaned each time someone spoke to him. I wondered where he really was in the room. I felt like he was somewhere above me.
The only time he opened his eyes was when I told him that his hair was ‘getting too long.’ Mike would regularly send me selfies of when he would shave his head, accompanied by “I shaved my head tonight, as I do.”
And yesterday, Saturday, I arrived at the hospice 30 minutes too late. It was instantly clear he had left us. His family stood outside his room. I walked toward them, asked his sister “is he gone?” and was met with a hug and tears. Hugging his father was like hugging him, Mike, their bodies were like carbon copies, and their emotions were equally strong and clear. His mother was also strong, tears in her eyes. I was amazed by her fortitude and her generosity in comforting ME.
I asked if I could go in the room and say goodbye.
I walked into the room and it was buzzing. With his energy. He was all around me. More at peace than I’d ever seen him alive, as we, when we would get a chance to meet, would sit across from each other and talk about happiness and life. Those conversations were, truly, never about peace. Unless they were about how each of us would endeavor to find peace in our lives.
But yesterday, as he lay there, already passed, I found it was easier to talk to him, even easier to hold his hand, really, than it had been the day before and in fact, maybe, it had ever been. I thanked him, told him how much I would miss him, and let him know if he felt, you know, like haunting me at any point that would be cool too.
But, as I know, he never liked horror films, so I’m pretty sure he just, somewhere, smirked, and went along his way in search of humor.
And, I hope, peace.