Today was a pretty hard day.
A friend of my family, my dad’s dear friend and faux-arch-nemesis, received a bleak prognosis–he suffered a severe stroke isn’t going to make it through. It is a harsh reminder that our lives can change at any moment, and that living in the present and doing the things that make you the happiest should always be a priority. Luckily for Mike, his life was full of good stories and loving people (as evidenced by the large group of friends gathered at the hospital today and all the other people sending their good thoughts).
Once, when I was 6 or so, my parents and I found ourselves driving along side of Mike, both cars headed from Duvall into Seattle. We probably waived hello, and my dad sped ahead onto the freeway. Mike followed closely behind us, and a few seconds later we heard loud shouting. “Eeemmmmaaaaaa,” he was screaming out the window. “Emmmmmmmaaaaaa!” And in his left hand, he was holding a giant silver cutlass (not a machete–he would always correct people when telling the story–a cutlass), waiving it around while driving 60 miles an hour in the middle of traffic. Sometime later (probably in the late 90s), he would make a deal with me that he would watch Spice World if I would promise to rent The Big Lebowski and watch it without telling my parents. In high school, he tormented my boyfriends by asking them extremely personal questions (loudly) during social gatherings where attention couldn’t be avoided.
There was never a time where he didn’t greet me with the newest rendition of how he was going to kick my dad’s butt or some kind of astrological advice, and it wasn’t uncommon growing up to come home to a vulgar, 10-minute story left on our family message machine. But for all the wacky, child-corrupting and often crass behaviors that he interjected into my life, he was always kind-hearted, funny, and genuinely interested in what I was up to. He never missed a chance to encourage me to be creative, to help make a joke at my dad’s expense, or to ask me about where my life was headed. He made a great cup of coffee, and steered me clear of an interest in bar tending that I briefly held in my late teen years.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like death should be the culmination of our life – all things in our long, great story leading up to the last moment and coming together – but death feels far from any kind of pinnacle or climax. It is such a somber affair for so many people whose lives just don’t deserve that kind of ending at all. For instance, a few years ago when my dad was not so well, I used to dream over and over that the Grim Reaper was coming to pick him up in a shiny red ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertible with a mariachi band playing somewhere in the background (no joke). Now that is the kind of exit someone deserves. No one who waives a cutlass out their window should have to die without having the last word.
If only there could be one more perverse voicemail on my message machine. Instead all I have is this poem, which is not nearly as titillating as a message from Mike Ball, but is beautiful nonetheless.