tossing and turning Today I grieved.  I literally lay in bed and hid away from the world until it finally got the message to leave me alone.   If I could have, I would have sung a lilting keen for my whole campus to hear – but I hardly have the soprano, nor do I have the compositional talent for that.

Sure, there was a valid excuse for me to stay prone until 4:30 this afternoon.  I am injured, and no amount of medication is alleviating the pain that I feel in my back.  I’m tired of walking around, jarring my back as if there’s nothing wrong with it.  But there’s more to this.  My soul has been sick since yesterday.  Yesterday, I returned a phone call from my mother.  She called Monday, right when I was in the middle of changing for team pictures and trying to figure out which earrings went with which shirt went with which eye shadow.  I hate team pictures – I turn into everything I hate for a few moments for them, so I hate them.  This made me too busy, too grumpy, to talk.  But yesterday I had time.  So I called.

“Do you know Mike T–?”

“Of course I do!”

“What do you mean, of course you do?”

“I-I-We were in the same grade, Mom.  Why?”

“I’m sorry, honey.  He died.  He was found unresponsive in his room…” The rest of it just kind of faded to background noise, registering somewhere in the back of my brain for me to remember later.  I just cried and cried into my pillow, sobs that should have been noisier, but I was trying to keep it together for my mom on the other end.  I know how helpless my parents feel when I cry over the phone, so I hopelessly tried to keep these back.  She apologized again for being the bearer of bad news, promised to send me the family address, and hung up.  Her awkwardness on Monday made so much more sense, and my impatientness with it that much more callous.

I couldn’t sleep last night.  Soooo much pain.  I finally fell asleep about fifty minutes before I was supposed to go to class.  Ha.  That didn’t happen.  I was nauseated just moving around in my bed, I couldn’t make myself eat until dinner.  I barely talked to my roommate.  I just wallowed in misery and pain.  This was how I grieved, because I don’t know another way.  Not when it comes to Mike.

Mike and I weren’t ever close friends.  We went to school together from the Kindergarten to High School Graduation (well, technically the last day of Senior Year, as I didn’t walk, but you get the idea).  He was the class clown, the kind of kid that the braniacs (a.k.a. me) kind of hated because he took away so much class time.  He was an annoying, loud, teasing, freckle-faced pain in the butt – and everyone loved him.  Because, under it all, Michael was so good.  He never teased people who weren’t his friends, he knew they wouldn’t know that for the first time in the history of public schooling it was just a joke.  I never once saw him set out to hurt someone.  Mike wanted to include people, not ostracize them.

Now that I’m older, I can admit with quite a bit a less pathos that I was one of the Untouchables in my grade.  I’m not sure I’ll ever know why, but Mike didn’t care.  When we made the effort to ignore the social boundaries that high schoolers made up, Mike and I got along famously.  We could talk non-stop.  For a few moments, I was cool.  And I knew, that if I ever wanted to talk again, Mike was willing.  Because Mike was good.

It’s probably a good thing Mike and I weren’t closer, he was one of those friends who enjoys doing hazardous things for fun and I already had my fair share of those.  However, considering one moment – one I have considered quite pivotal in my life for years – I sometimes have to wonder if it would have been worth it.  It was in one of the last classes we took together: Freshman Lit and Comp.  I tended toward the arts, he toward the sciences, but everyone has to take Frosh L&C.  We were doing “popcorn reading.”  I HATE that stupid exercise.  The whole point is to get everyone to read by having classmates choose someone else to read when they no longer wanted to, but I was an Untouchable, remember?  I almost never got to read – and everyone was so SLOW!  When I did get to read, the teacher had to make me stop and “popcorn” to someone else.  I never wanted to stop reading.  Well, this particular day was my day.  I loved the story and I got asked to read.  I must have read half a page before the teacher made me choose someone else, but not before Mike said, “You’re really good.”  I know I blushed – compliments were not often payed to me, and certainly not in that tone.  Later, in that same tone of utter respect, amazement, and enjoyment all rolled into one, Mike reiterated his compliment and further added, “You should read books on tape.”  I mumbled a thanks and walked away.

How simple an act that must seem, but it meant worlds to me.  I had secretly harbored just that dream for some time, but hadn’t told anyone.  Mike’s voluntary belief in me brought that dream from an “I wish” to an “I just might!”  Even more in the past couple years, I have begun to make inquiries, making the “I just might” into “I’m trying.”  But now, in light of this death that I have no idea how to grieve – that of a person who featured so little but meant so much – that dream has gone even further.  I can no longer stay in bed, sick to my soul.  But I can, and will, make his belief in me justified.  I may never read books on tape, but I will be actively living up to the belief that one of the best and kindest souls I will ever know expressed so often without saying so.

To Mike: Because you were so good, and so alive.  It’s the least I can do to repay you by still acting like I am.  You are loved, and missed.

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