Friday, January 30, 2015

It's a Cold and It's a Broken Hallelujah

It's been a hell of a week. If you've seen some of my Facebook posts from the week, you're aware that the husband of one of my best friends in the world died of cancer one week ago.
Mike was the kind of guy that slid right in to our circle of friends. Had he gone to high school with us, we totally would have hung out with him. He would've been one of "us", that's how closely he matched our general vibe, interests, music & "recreational activities". If I have to explain to you why recreational activities is in quotes, you didn't know us in high school. The "us" I refer to know who you are & anyone else from the 1989 class from Appleton West knows who comprised "us" as well.
I think I have a unique perspective on Jeanette & Mike's relationship, at least the budding beginning of it. She came out to Boston to visit me my senior year in college and reported that she was "interested" in this guy who worked with her mother (of all people) and they had gone on one or two dates by that time. Nothing serious, no expectations, but she was hot for him - girlfriends know these things about each other.
After she returned to Fond du Lac, she kept me updated on when they spent time together.
Then there was the week that went by when he didn't call her. She called me sobbing that he was "a thoughtless mother-fucker" and she was pissed off at herself for "thinking that it would work out." I had not laid eyes on Mike at this point and I was obviously totally loyal to my friend, so I concurred that he was indeed a "thoughtless mother-fucker" for stringing her along.
Then he called.
Then they had sex. Sorry Jeanette, but this is a crucial part of your history with Mike & this story. Her update about the sex was, "Man, I think he was going through the stats of the National League" (baseball) because it wasn't over in under two minutes, as is a common phenomenon for men in their early 20's. We were women in our early 20's and had plenty of experience with "the two-minute magic" but Mike is, was, 13 years older than Jeanette. He had moves. He had experience. He knew how to turn the two-minute magic into the twenty to thirty minute magic, which is very appealing when you're in your early 20's.
They eventually married. Her "g-ma" hand-made her wedding gown. She was stunning and he was majestic. The look on his face said, "Oh yeah, she kicks ass and she's mine." And he was right. He surprised her with a horse drawn carriage ride at the end of the ceremony. One of her attendants was our friend Eric J who told me at Mike's funeral that when he was standing up at the altar during their wedding ceremony he thought he was going to pass out because everyone in the church was staring at the wedding party and this was the first wedding he'd stood up for.
I remember our friend Steve taking communion, which generally isn't a remarkable event except that he's Jewish and "just got wrapped up in the crowd" that was heading toward the altar.
This was way before digital cameras and every time I snapped a photo my camera made a hideous "rrr-rrr-rrr" sound as the film advanced and wrapped around the spokes. Our friend Robb was seated in the pew in front of me and eventually got fed up with the whirling of my camera so he turned around to me and said, "If you take one more picture and that camera makes one more sound, I'm going to snatch it out of your hands and NOT give it back to you." This explains why I have photos of the first half of their wedding ceremony but none of the second half.
One of my pictures from their wedding was on a photo display at Mike's funeral. It includes Mike, me, Kate and Carrie. That photo captures a glorious moment in all of our lives and includes some of my favorite people in the world. I'm truly honored that it was chosen to be displayed as a testament to Mike's life.
I also have the dubious honor of making the first toast at their wedding reception. I was drunk off my ass, rambled on completely aimlessly for several minutes, raised my glass of whatever liquor I was swilling in large quantities and weaved my way back to my seat. My father and my sister were in attendance and after I returned to my seat, my sister immediately walked me out of the reception hall, plunked me in the backseat of my car, gave me a can of Sprite and said, "Just pass out and be done with it." I stupidly said to her, "But they must have liked it (my toast) because they were applauding when I was done." Her response: "They were just being polite."
A few years later Jeanette told me that the hotel where most of the guests stayed (not me as my sister drove us both back to Appleton that night, which I have absolutely no memory of) complained because by the end of the night, there was a large portion of a cheese and sausage platter floating in the hotel pool. I love those kind of weddings.
By the time our 20th class reunion came, Mike had been diagnosed with cancer and had undergone his initial treatment at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He and Jeanette showed up at my parents' house as I had invited "all of us" to reunite there. We spent many a weekend night in my parents' basement engaging in all sorts of debauchery that I won't describe in detail here; if you were there, you know what I'm referring to. At one point Jeanette asked my mom where I was and my mom's response was, "She's downstairs with some of you kids." At Mike's funeral Jeanette's mom Elaine referred to us as "you kids" as well.  My dad's assessment of that reunion evening was, "there are still cars lined up and down Lynndale Drive, but the cars are newer and in much better condition." My friends actually brought beer and liquor to my parents' house instead of drinking what had belonged to my parents at the time.
Mike was a huge Packers fan and during their run up to Super Bowl 36, or whatever the number was when Brett Favre took us to the Super Bowl and we actually won, Eric, Mike & Jeanette, Hays and I would get together at one of our apartments and watch playoff games. I again brought my camera and have wonderful snapshots of those playoff weekends.
Throughout Mike's past six years of treatment, he was a fighter. He would absolutely go to work on the days he was feeling up to it; likely he went when he wasn't feeling up to it because that's how loyal and dedicated to commitment he was. As a result of witnessing Mike's treatment, Jeanette went to graduate school and got her Master's Degree in Nursing and has become a huge advocate for cancer patients, cancer research and the care cancer patients receive.
For those of us who knew and loved Mike, our lives were made richer and better for it. Rest in peace my friend. Tell Jack-Dog and Peanut that we all love and miss them and take good care of them as they will take good care of you.