An Old Friend has Passed Away
I got off the Delta airplane at LAX, made my way through the crowds, bypassed the luggage carousel, and stood on the curb waiting for my ride. Ted, not my oldest, but my dearest friend, pulled up next to me; I put my small bag in the trunk of his well worn BMW, and I got into the front seat. We started the business of dealing with LA traffic, when he told me that Mickey, an old high school friend of ours, died yesterday of a massive heart attack. Mickey was 52. I hadn’t talked to Mick very often over the years. The last time we talked was when he called me the day my wife Sandra passed away. He couldn’t have been warmer or nicer. He was generous and asked if he could do anything for me. We lived a continent away, so there really wasn’t anything that he could do, except be in his thoughts.
The last time I saw Mick was on a Saturday night in August of 2008, in Malibu, at my 50th birthday party--the year Sandra and I rented a house across Pacific Coast Highway, on the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This was a very important vacation for us as not only was it a milestone for me age-wise—but much more important, I wanted to make this the best trip in the world for Sandra, who just two months prior found out that her cancer had spread to her liver. We spent the week reacquainting with old friends and family, and sitting in the glorious sunlight, taking in the ocean air.
Mickey and I were supposed to have breakfast the following Monday morning, but I had to cancel because I got this horrible cold and felt like crap. It would have been the last time I saw Mick, and the first time the two of us sat alone together in nearly 32 years. Mickey was my best friend in high school. We played baseball together for three years—one year on the junior varsity team, and two on varsity. He was a tall left-handed pitcher, who, like lots of lefties didn’t throw very hard, but had lots of stuff on his ball. He had long, curly hair and a pretty bad case of acne—but the girls didn’t seem to mind. While I was always looking for a girlfriend, he always seemed to have one. He had a very nice way about him that girls were attracted to. I didn’t have a lot of close friends when I was growing up. I was more of a loner, and didn’t seem to need to hang around a lot of people to make me happy. But Mickey and I became very close—at an age when friendship was important. We learned how to drive at the same time, we went to lots of parties and concerts together—we played all kinds of sports, and just did what high school buddies did. I’ll never forget the time that we were coming home from baseball practice one day and Mick’s transmission of his maroon Oldsmobile went out and he couldn’t put the car in drive. That didn’t stop us though. He just put the car in reverse and drove the three miles or so backwards—across Melrose Avenue and Beverly Blvd.—two very busy thoroughfares. A friend of ours, Jeff, was in another car leading the way—his arm waving –go go go!! I was impressed how Mick maneuvered the car in reverse, and more than a bit happy and relieved that we made it to my house in one piece—without getting thrown in jail. Mick continued home alone the rest of the way—about two more blocks. I guess he made it.
In high school, he developed a pretty serious drug problem, took too many Quaaludes, and when we graduated, cocaine seemed to be his drug of choice. He was over my house one day when a friend of my stepfather’s was there. This guy, Sandy (who we always finished his name by saying, “Sandy Tucker that crazy motherfucker”, had experience with drugs no doubt, and had been on the straight and narrow for a while, and spent lots of time helping people get sober. He was a good looking, curly haired guy who talked loudly and often, and had lots of stories and was, in the word at the time, hip, with his tight jeans and shirt opened to the middle of his hairy chest. He took one look at Mickey and saw that he was strung out on something and confronted him. Sandy was this big, tough guy who stared straight into Mick’s eyes, stood way too close to him, and asked him these pointed questions that I wasn’t sure where he was going with. But there was no question he was challenging him, and it made the small room we were in very uncomfortable. Sandy wouldn’t stop. He kept at it for a long time-too long for my taste. I didn’t know if fists were going to fly, but he targeted him in a way that he had obviously done numerous times before, with other drug fueled friends of his. This was when I knew Mick had a serious drug problem.
About a year after high school, Mick and I kind of lost touch with each other. While I did my share of drugs, the whole drug culture, or drug scene, turned me off—and it seemed that his life was revolving around it. There were too many hangers- on, too much time spent looking for and chasing drugs. After high school he started living with a sweet girl that I kind of had a crush on in high school. They both had drug issues, and they kind of fed off of each other. I went to college, he didn’t. He started working for his father in the car business, and stayed in it till the day he died—and became quite successful, running the largest Toyota dealership in the world. But, like lots of old friendships, we just kind of drifted apart.
When I heard that Mick had died I had trouble reconciling it in my brain. I needed confirmation—I needed to see his obituary in the newspaper before I would totally believe it, before I would tell other people. I don’t know why I thought this. I guess I just needed proof that someone my age, someone I was so close with, albeit a long time ago, could go that fast, that suddenly, without warning. Mick left a 16-year-old daughter and an estranged wife, who he was still very close with. His daughter was his angel, the light of his life.
I guess I now put everything in perspective against Sandra’s illness and death. Sandra and I had the chance to get closer over the three difficult years after her recurrence of cancer. There was no suddenness about her demise--we said everything we needed to say. Mick’s sudden death was different, and it brought a realization abruptly--I will never see him again. A part of my life died with him--and that hurts.