One day in 1984, I was sitting at the kitchen table of my friend’s house, eating breakfast that had been prepared by our babysitter. Mom and Dad dropped me off at 7:30 in the morning at the house where we spent much of our summer.
As I finished a bowl of cereal, my friend Mike came down the stairs from his bedroom wiping sleep from his eyes. He was covered in scratches.
“What happened?” I asked. “Did you get into a fight? Did you fall from a tree?”
Before Mike could answer, his younger sister chimed in.
“Mike and Shane tried to put our cat in the kiddie pool. Three times!”
That’s how I found out cats and water didn’t mix, thanks to Mike.
But that was Mike. Mischievous, a bit manic and absolutely hilarious. Here’s an example: At dusk, Mike and his friends would ride their bikes around the neighborhood, armed with a garage door opener, clicking as they drove by houses and laughing as they watched a garage door go up.
Mike had a good heart that had been bruised and broken before he was old enough to know how to handle it.
I found out this week that Mike recently died. We hadn’t spoken since high school; he was a year ahead of me and I had been dismayed by his behavior during his senior year, over a family incident that I didn’t find out about until years later. As much as I wished I could have helped him, I knew better – that it would not have been my place, that Mike was struggling with how to handle his own heartache.
But my memories of Mike are mostly good ones.
When Mike was in the fourth grade, he loved Michael Jackson – so much that he had a sequined glove and learned to do the moonwalk. When he tried to teach me how to do it, he told me I was hopeless at it, but called me “Moonwalker” for a few more years afterwards.
Our birthdays were one week apart; our babysitter and our after-school programs always planned joint birthday parties for us. We’d complain to each other and to our friends that we had to share a birthday cake.
In the eighth grade, our French class went to a local restaurant at the end of the school year for what we called a “fancy dinner.” As we waited for our parents to pick up us and our classmates, Mike and I had a quiet moment together. He looked at me and said, “You know I always liked you, right?”
To an awkward eighth-grader, this was akin to landing your first job. Even though it never happened with Mike and I, other than some kissing and a 14-year-old’s attempt at a grope, what he told me made my confidence soar. He was a sex-obsessed little ninth grader but the following year, we ran into each other after a spring practice and talked in the middle of the driveway in front of our school. We hugged. It was strangely sweet.
Years later, I was listening to a CD in the rec room with his younger sister and her two best friends, when Mike and one of his friends came charging down the stairs of their house. Mike stopped and grinned sheepishly at us. I thought for sure he was making eyes at one of his sister’s friends. A few weeks later, his sister told me that Mike was hoping to talk to me. A few months later, a teammate of mine read an R-rated note he and a friend had written specifically for her. She thought it was the funniest thing. I told her to throw it away.
Mike left Maryland and found a home out west. He married a woman and had a daughter with her. I’d seen him on Facebook, but was never willing enough to send him a friend request. I always got the feeling that he didn’t want to be associated with that part of his life, all the growing up that took place on the corner of Shore Acres Road and Dunberry Drive.
I don’t know what the circumstances were that surrounded his death. I’m sorry that I never took the chance to reach out to someone who played a significant role in my childhood. I’m sorry I never got a chance to find out the adult that Mike became, or the father or the husband. And I’m sorry I never said a proper goodbye to the person I knew and loved, a person who played a role in my own growing up.