Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mike

Mike the Whip was the first friend I ever had.

His family lived right across the street from mine, on Runyon Avenue in a small New Jersey town.  Mike and I met when we were three years old, and for the better part of twelve years, we encountered all sorts of relatively mild adventures.  Whether we were imitating our hero Evel Knievel or busting light bulbs at an abandoned toy factory, Mike was always the star of the show.  He was fearless, fun-loving, and couldn't say no to a dare.  Everyone should have a friend like Mike the Whip.

For a number of reasons that I won't get into here, Mike's childhood was shorter than most kids'.  When we were twelve, his family moved a few miles away, and we lost touch.  But a couple years later they returned, so Mike and I were classmates in ninth grade.  He'd only been gone a short time, but a lot of changes happen between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and I noticed that Mike was somehow different . . . edgier.  Don't misunderstand, he was still a loyal friend with a good heart, but a lot of the "fun" was gone.  He was more serious about things, and seemed to be expecting the worst in most situations.  For example, our friend Paul and I had been receiving a lot of harassment from a kid named Gordie, who lived down the street.  Nothing too serious, mainly threats and verbal bullshit, but when Mike heard about it he decided to take care of things.  The next time Gordie showed up on our block, Mike walked up to him and without saying one word, blasted him in the jaw with a right hook.

The harassment stopped.

Then my family moved to Southern California and although I never heard from Mike again, I never forgot him.  I've greatly enjoyed sharing our adventures with all of you, and while I'll admit to a certain amount of "artistic license," the Mike that comes across in these stories is a reasonable facsimile of who he was as a kid.  Over the years, I've tried to hunt him down on the web, Google searches and what not, and until recently I had no success whatsoever.  A few days ago, through a friend, I found out that Mike changed his last name when he was eighteen . . . he took his mom's maiden name as his own.  With that information, I was finally able to track Mike down.

Here's what I found out.

After high school, Mike lived for several years in a town not far from where we grew up and worked as a bartender.  After that, he got married, moved to Florida, and became an ironworker.  This is not a great deal of information, but it was something, and I would have been very happy to have learned at least this much if not for one detail.

I was reading it in an obituary from 2002.

Mike the Whip died at age 37 as the result of "a tragic accident at work."  Knowing Mike, he was probably doing something difficult or dangerous that no one else wanted to do, but needed to be done.  That's who he was.

Fearless.

There are many more Mike the Whip stories that I want to share from our youth, but those will have to wait for another time.  For now, I want to remember who he was, think about the man he became, and mourn how he left us far too soon.

Take care, Mike.  We won't forget you.


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16 comments:

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

So sorry for the loss and that you found out in such an impersonal way.

Quirkyloon said...

You do him a great honor by remembering him by his greatest attribute: fearlessness.

That is a life well-lived!

Eva Gallant said...

How tragic to have lost him at such a youthful age. I'm sorry you learned of his death through his obituary.

Suldog said...

Some of my favorite stories that you've featured here have been the Mike The Whip stories. I almost feel as though I knew him personally via the vivid detail you put into those. I'm sad for you, but I am also glad that you had such a good (and entertaining) friend. God bless you both!

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

There will always be people who touch our lives in ways we can't begin to understand, people that stay with us forever even if they're no longer a part of this world. I'm so sorry you had to learn that your old friend passed away but also happy that you had one of those amazing types of people in your life for so long, and that he will live on with & through you forever.

laughingmom said...

Sorry to hear about Mike the Whip - I have enjoyed reading your stories about him from your youth. He would most likely be very honored to be remembered in the way that you have done. I recently had a similar experience in reading about a high schools friends death in an article that honored his step-father. It was heart-crushing. I hope that you continue to remember him as Mike the Whip - fearless.

otin said...

The end scene in "Stand by Me" where the writer is remembering his deceased friend and mentions that we never had friends like the ones we did when we were twelve, always sends chills up my spine. My childhood friend blew his brains out over a girl when he was in his mid twenties. We hadn't spoken in many years, but still a part of my childhood died with him.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Sorry, Knuck.

At my 20th they had a table of pics of the ones who had died. It was unsettling, to say the least.

So. Cal. Gal said...

What Jenn said. I couldn't have put it any better, except to say that I know he'll always be in your heart.

notactuallygod said...

Exactly the trepidation I feel when looking up an old friend;
what if they're gone?
what if they're dying and can't be helped?
and worst of all
What if they're doing better than me? Noooooooo!

lime said...

just a thought. his family may really like to red the mike the whip stories if there was contact information for him that you could follow up on. so sorry for the loss. it's such a sad strange thing to come across.

Jeanne said...

I'm sorry you lost your friend before you found him again.

Andy said...

That's really well done, Chris. Sounds like you had a good friend. So did he.

Anonymous said...

Hey there Knuck,

I'm so sad to hear that Mike left this earth so early. Thinking back on those years, I would never have put you in the same circle as him based on what I knew of you and what little I knew of Mike. Just shows HOW little I knew of him. I remember his chipped tooth and how it gave him such a rakish appearance.

RIP Mike.
Jersey Girl

Fred Miller said...

We stay immortal in the stories about us. You're doing a good job.

Barbara Shallue said...

Ditto what Fred said - I'm glad you're writing your memories of him. I wish you'd been able to reconnect with him. I'm frantically trying to find people from my past, too, and it always makes me sad when I find they're already gone. We don't always have 'tomorrow'. Glad you stopped by my site so I could read this wonderful tribute to a good friend.

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