Mike

Written New Year’s Day, 2023

Yesterday I went to a funeral home and paid my respects to Mike. Mike was the father of one of my best and oldest friends, Tyson. It’s humbling and heavy at any funeral, but to be there for my best friend’s dad was a whole other level. Mike was 78 and he’d been dealing with both Alzheimer’s and cancer for years now. Mike had been in a nursing home the last year or so, and Tyson would go see him every Sunday for a visit. I’d hear about how each week was harder than the last, with Mike going in and out of lucidity. He’d ask Tyson the same four questions, recycling through them like pre-recorded messages. Sometimes he’d step out of the cycle and ask his son with tears in his eyes like a little kid to help him get out of there and take him home. Fear would turn to anger, then like flipping a switch he’d go back to the same pre-recorded questions.

It wasn’t always that bad, but the last few months he went downhill pretty quickly. Early last week Mike’s care was signed over to Hospice so they could give him morphine to treat the pain, as there was nothing else they could do for what was killing him. Within two days he was gone; 78 years with the last two being trapped in his own head.

Nobody likes a funeral. It’s saying goodbye to someone who’s right there, yet they’re not. But it’s something you have to do, if not out of respect for the dead, respect for those left behind in the wake of that loss. I hadn’t seen Mike in years, yet he played such a prominent role in my childhood.

Tyson and I met in the third grade, him moving into our school district and ending up in my class. One day not long after school had started, probably August of 1982, this kid rode by my house on a black and yellow Mongoose BMX dirt bike. I was standing on the side of our house next to my dad’s black 1940-something pick up that I never saw run in my life. I was holding a plastic machine gun doing God knows what, when I see a familiar face in the road. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it probably went something like this:

Tyson: “Hey, I know you. We’re in Mrs. Cox’ class together.”

Me: “Yeah we are. Where do you live?”

Tyson: “Over on Chapman Lake. You wanna hang out?”

Me: “Yeah sure.”

Tyson: “What are you playing?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

From that point on we were inseparable. Either I’d be at his house(which was over across the field from my place on a channel off of Chapman Lake), or he’d be at my house. At first Tyson was usually at our house. Like, he became the brother from another mother and we were either playing with Star Wars or GI Joe action figures, listening to Duran Duran, Prince, or 80s hair metal in my bedroom, or playing pool and darts in our basement. There was also plenty of riding bikes in the woods behind my house. We got along as if we were different halves of the same brain. Like-minded and up for whatever. Of course, there were times where we hung out one too many days in a row and would want to strangle each other. But that’s what comes with the territory.

The first time I ever met Tyson’s dad Mike was when he came to the house to drop Tyson off. My dad was in the front yard washing the car when a state trooper patrol car pulled in the driveway. All of our first thoughts was that my brother had done something really wrong, but then Tyson got out of the front passenger side of the car and we realized pretty quickly this was his dad.

Mike was an intimidating figure in his state police blues; stocky guy with a low, rumbling voice and a face that said “I don’t put up with bullshit.” He was a Navy veteran as well, so he had that military toughness to him as well. But within a few moments of being around him you knew you didn’t have to worry unless you were a complete moron. I remember staying over at their place on the lake as a kid and when I’d say something that made Mike laugh I felt like I’d cracked the world’s toughest safe(much like making my own dad laugh.)

Mike had a great sense of humor and he’d drop colorful colloquialisms as if he was talking to soldiers in the barracks, as opposed to two third grade kids playing Pitfall Harry in the living room. “Drop your cocks and grab your socks” is one that stands out when trying to get two 9 year-olds to get up and around in the morning. I remember hearing him say that for the first time, looking at Tyson in his bedroom, and just laughing uncontrollably. It was funny for one, but two because hearing that kind of stuff just made me feel at home.

Mike would take us to and fro in that State Trooper patrol car, taking us to rent movies or pick up food. Or dropping us off at the All Night Skate that I don’t honestly remember staying for more than an hour of. In middle school Tyson and I were on the football team(a moment for me that lasted about three weeks). Mike was picking us up after practice one day, so when Tyson and I walked out after getting changed we saw the patrol car and went and got in the backseat. Mike oddly wasn’t in the car, so we sat and waited a couple minutes. Then Tyson realized we were in someone else’s patrol car, not his dad’s, and we got out quickly before the other trooper showed up and arrested us for breaking and entering in a police vehicle. Mike showed up about three minutes later.

There was a time when a neighborhood kid told his parents that I cut him with a pocketknife. This was a total fabrication, mind you. I did have a pocketknife, and I showed it to said kid along with three or four other kids. For some reason he decided to say I cut him and his dad with him came to our house to tell my parents. My mom was the only one home at the time, so I was sent to my room to await my dad. Dad got home and came to my room and yelled “NO MORE R-RATED MOVIES FOR YOU!!” before I could even argue for my innocence. I had to go over to this kid’s house and apologize, which I did, for something that never happened. He later changed the story to a sharp weed that looked like a knife. There was no making light of the situation in our house, but when Tyson told Mike about what happened the first thing Mike said to me when he saw me was “Well hey there Rambo!”

It’d been many years since I’d seen Mike, despite Tyson and I being as tight as ever. They had some rough patches in the last few years, but they say blood is thicker than water and knowing where Mike was heath-wise Tyson put those problems aside and reconnected with his dad. He’d visit him every Sunday, visiting with him and even bathing him. Mike had become religious over the last few years and enjoyed going to church, so Tyson would get him ready for church on Sunday. Once Mike could no longer stay at home due to his failing health, he moved into an assisted living facility. Every Sunday Tyson would be there, no matter what. Even at the end when his dad didn’t know who he was or was upset the whole time because he wasn’t home, Tyson was there with his dad.

At Mike’s funeral yesterday I paid my respects to Mike’s wife, Tyson’s stepmom. I gave her a hug and told her how sorry I was, feeling this immense sense of panic and anxiety. Being at my best friend’s dad’s funeral puts things into stark perspective. In-particular, regarding mortality. My own parents mortality, for sure. My dad is only two years younger than Mike. Besides a messed up back, he’s still doing good otherwise. But we’re in those times now where one day you’re fine, the next you’re not. Mike drew an intimidating figure, and one you thought was tough as nails. Now, I’m seeing him in a coffin. Mike’s wife looked at me and said “Out of all of Tyson’s friends you were the only one we liked”, and I felt that going to their house. His stepmom wasn’t the easiest person to get along with for a long time, and I heard stories over the years that were less than flattering, but I never saw that from her. She treated me well when I was over there, and so did Mike. I’m glad I was tolerable, because neither of them suffered fools.

In the end, though, we all go. Some quietly, some less than. Some after a long life, while others don’t get to a birthday cake with even five candles. Mike lived a long life in the scheme of things. He was loved, and he loved those around him. It was a complicated last few years with him and Tyson, but I think at the end there was closure. Those last few years he slowly faded; his signal, once strong and present, slowly got weaker and weaker. Like a station on the radio that you travel further and further from until white noise takes over the presence that once was there.

Mike was a good guy, and I have good memories of that good guy. That’s the most we can hope for, isn’t it?

2 thoughts on “Mike

  1. I’ve been following your blog for awhile now. I want to say thank you for this piece. I lost my dad, February of last year, and it was such a challenging time. Grasping the whole “here one minute, gone the next” is still a struggle. I’m not sure I’ve understood it yet. Your recounting of Mike and your time with Tyson was very heartwarming and real.

    I also work in senior living so reading your description of his Alzheimer’s rang a lot of bells. It was on point.
    It’s a fucking awful disease and my heart breaks so often when I’m around folks who have no sense of time and place.

    Life had a funny way of bringing people into one’s life and then taking them away. The reality of loss is so weird and unreal but yet…it’s the realest thing I think I’ve ever experienced. It’s changed me and continues to change me.

    Again. Thank you. I’m sorry you had to say goodbye to someone who seemed like a consistent presence in your formative years.

    Liked by 1 person

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