So here I sit. Its been a full day since I learned about Mike's passing. I'm only a week out from attending Heroes Con where I was forced to truly accept the fact that another dear friend, Mike Wieringo, was really gone. I've always directly related Ringo' to Heroes Con so being there without him this year lent some closure to the matter. And now, my other Mike. I think I've lost a good 5 lbs. in water weight in the last 24 hours. I still cant say it out loud. I've tried to and my throat just catches. I'm beginning to wrap myself around the idea that I cant just pick up the phone and call him but, even then, it still hasn't translated in to the reality of what has happened.
So here I sit. As I wallow in self pity, as I contemplate the magnitude of MY loss, an occasional wave of realization washes over me and I think of Mike's other friends, his family. Frank Mastromauro, Mike's best friend. Frank has lost a part of his soul in this deal. Frank was Mike's right arm and Mike his. Frank is a big part of what made it possible for Mike to wage such a valiant battle. Mike's mom with whom he had far more than your typical mother/son relationship. I can recount many occasions in which Mike would speak of her with such pride and love. She's lost her son, her baby,her best friend. Only now that I'm a father can I even begin to comprehend the magnitude of such a horror. My mind can't even go there for more than a moment. How does she pick up the pieces? Mike's fiance. I haven't met her yet and I truly hope to. But Mike did tell me about her in one of our recent conversations. He had a lilt to his voice, an almost boyish tone that said it all. Mike had found true love. I think this, above all else, gives me the most solace in dealing with Mike's passing. He was able to find the one to give himself to completely. Mike deserved that and so much more, but at least he was allowed that. But what about her? How does she recover? Mourning is a selfish endeavor by nature. The suffering of our loved one is over. In that light it is a time for celebration. But we mourn for ourselves for now we are the ones suffering. I cry for us.
So here I sit. I haven't slept much. I dreamt of Mike last night. It didn't make much sense. It was one of those disjointed dreams. But Mike was there. I don't remember much more to the dream other than the feeling that Mike gave off when he was in the room. You've all either heard of or experienced Mike's smile, his radiant personality that preceded him in to any room. I've heard Mike accused of having a big ego and, to some extent, this might be true. You don't accomplish the things Mike had accomplished without a large amount of self confidence and the ego, the hubris to apply it. But that energy, that....radiance. It flowed off him like electricity. Being around Mike made you feel like you just left your stress and worries at the door like a cheap suit. For the time being, everything was cool. Kick back, grab a beer or a video game control (or both) and just relax. The deadlines can wait. "Mike just did 20 covers this week so why should I be worried about a few pages!". Mike was an oasis....for me at least.
So here I sit. I'm remembering driving up to Jacksonville a little more than 8 years ago to pick up Mike and Franky' at a store signing they were doing in Jacksonville. We hung out at the shop which took forever since Mike had to make sure EVERYONE got their sketches and their books signed even though it was way past the end of the event. We stopped off at a great Tai restaurant on the way back. Mike had a really bizarre knack for randomly finding amazing restaurants. We had a great meal and then struck out for my place in Orlando. On the way back Mike began to complain about his hip. He chalked it up to the fact that he had been sitting for most of the day. By the time we got back that evening it was still bothering him. He asked for a pillow to sit on. We passed the next couple of hours watching An American Movie, one of Mike's favorites. We laughed until we cried. The next day Mike's hip was still really bothering him. After he returned home to California he went to the doctor and, not long after, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, at a dinner party at Wizard World Chicago (which is going on this weekend, as I write this, ironically). My wife and I were horrified and had to leave. I prayed that night....and I prayed hard. Mike and I were hanging out a lot around this time. I had some of the best times of my life, quite literally, in the couple of years surrounding his diagnosis. I watched this life-hungry party animal come to grips with his own mortality, give up some of the things he loved more than anything in life, and do it all without breaking that Cheshire grin of his. I'm not saying it never got to him, I'm just saying you would never have known it. He took it all in stride and came out the other side hungrier and more alive than ever before. Wow....just...wow.
So here I sit. I'm remembering my wedding in 2000. This was very soon after Mike's life altering first surgery in which a good portion of his pelvic bone had been removed. Mike had been adjusting to relearning how to walk with crutches and eventually a cane and, after that, nothing. You can only imagine what that must have been like. At my wedding I surrounded myself with my closest friends, my boys....all save two. Of course Mike had things going on. He was recovering. And Franky wasn't going to leave his side. Id be lying if I said it didn't put a damper on my special event. So, the night before the big day, "my boys" took me out for a night of revelry and debauchery. We started out the evening at a pub in downtown Orlando to prime the pump if-you-will. A couple of the guys had left earlier to pick up "my special surprise". Visions of busty blondes were dancing through my head. What could be better than that, right? Wrong. As I stood there, beer in hand, who comes through the door? Mikey' and Franky', of course. Now, I'm a bit of a big baby. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. My first reaction, with tears streaming down my face, was to lunge for Mike and embrace him, all 6'4", 220 lbs. of me. Thankfully, at the last second, I realized that Mike wasn't exactly up for a bear hug so I pulled out before I sent him right back out the door on a stretcher. But damn if it wasn't Mike and Frank. God as my witness, that meant more to me than just about anything I can ever remember. It's the next best memory I have of my wedding next to saying "I do."
So here I sit. Now I'm crying again. Now I'm really wanting to pick up the phone and shoot the shit with you. "Remember when?". I didn't see you often over the years. We live on opposite coasts. But we packed an awful lot of living in to a relatively small amount of time, buddy. So many "remember whens". I swear, Mikey, I thought there would be more. I really did. When I spoke to you on my recent visit to L. A. you weren't well. You were too tired for company. We made plans and said we'd see each other soon.
So here I sit. What now? What more is there to say? This is all just stream of consciousness. Its just therapy. I could go on for days. I'm just trying to work through this. You were like a sun, Mikey'. So many of us relied on you for your light, your energy. We revolved around you. Now that you're gone I suppose all we can do is collapse inward on each other, to rely on one another to get through this. And life goes on. Nature has a way of balancing things out over time. In two weeks time I'll be welcoming my little girl in to the world. You wont get to meet her, Mike, but I'm going to think of you every time I say her name, Reese Hurley-Turner Townsend. When she's old enough to ask, I'm going to tell her all about her namesake. Ill tell her some of our "remember whens"....at least the ones I CAN tell her. That's all I can do for you now, Mikey'. That's the only way I can thank you for being my friend and to let you know how much you mean to me.
So now I need to stand because I've been sitting too long. I'll leave anyone who has hung in there with me this long in this rambling missive with these thoughts. As I mentioned earlier, I'm well known for my emotional nature. I let it all hang right out there. If I feel it, I usually say it. In losing both of my Mikes, there is one thing that I am immensely grateful for. The last words I spoke to each of them was to say, "I love you." I say this often to friends but it doesn't lessen the meaning. Do yourselves a favor and, in Mike and Ringo's memories, tell a friend you love them. You never know if and when you'll get another chance.