2 years ago, I lost my oldest friend. I had gone back to my hometown to attend our Boy Scout troop’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. I was a pretty terrible Boy Scout (I collected all of the arts merit badges — and plumbing, ’cause it was funny), but Mike was one of the people that I was most looking forward to seeing. Sure, we both had our own separate lives now, but he was always like family to me. Plus, I was really looking forward to teasing him for getting poison ivy on his balls at Camp Sequassen, because let’s face it, that was pretty hilarious.
Mike never made it to the party. Only a few of us knew why.
His wake saw over 500 people descend upon our suburban Connecticut town. It was an incredible outpouring of love and support; in a way, that made it worse. Maybe if Mike had seen the amount of people who turned, the number of lives he’d touched — maybe he wouldn’t have thought of his own life as being so expendable.
Maybe. Maybe not.
At the reception following his funeral, a few of Mike’s friends put together a slideshow with memories of him. These were friends that Mike had made in more recent years, especially at college, and most of them had never met his family until that week. The slideshow concluded with a video of Mike performing The Decemberists’ “I Was Meant For the Stage” at an Open Mic night. I had forgotten that he had finally stepped out from the backstage of the theatre and began performing (I think we scarred him in 7th grade during the filming of our home movie sequel to The Story of Rikki-Oh).
If I have ever seen a ghost, it was in that video. I still remember the exact moment during the song that Mike’s mother lost it, when he sang “Mother, please be proud / Father, be forgiving / even though you told me / ‘Son, you’ll never make a living.” I don’t know how much Mike’s college friends knew about his life in high school, but the song choice was frighteningly poetic; my mother even thought it was an original, autobiographical song that Mike had written himself.
That night, I followed the funeral crowd to Mike’s favorite Thursday Karaoke bar, and sang in his memory. It was strange, seeing all of these people with so much love for my friend — and not knowing who any of them were. That’s just the nature of things, I suppose, as we can go on to new places and start different lives. I listen to his friends share memories and stories, and I wish I could chime in or relate, but again, it was a different life for me. Still, it always comforted to know that he had continued to grow as a person, but never really changed at the heart of himself.
Each year, around this time, I try to make my way back to Hamden; there’s always a walk, or a fundraiser, some event in his memory. Everyone else — the friends I met at the services, extended family — they sit together, laughing and chatting and sharing stories. I feel bad inserting myself into their world — I don’t mean to rob their grief for myself, nor do I mean to intrude on their celebration. I know sometimes they wonder who I am, what my connection to their cause is. If they’d ever ask, I’d tell them, don’t mind me; I’m just here for Mike.