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I really need to learn that if I’m in a funk — even if I’m coming completely unraveled — I’m not entitled to have someone drop everything and hold my hand all the way until I get my shit back together. Seriously. If I keep holding that against people, I’m going to end up with nobody, ever.

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Dear Mikey,

I miss you.

I feel like I have to tell you that, because although I have my moments, this grief thing is easier than I expected. Part of it is because I know so surely that you wouldn’t want us to be torn up, irreparably damaged, by losing you. It’s also because ever since before you even left, I knew from the inside out that you’re okay and in the best hands — God’s hands — and that I don’t have to wonder where you are or how you are. And I honestly haven’t worried about those things once.

Remember the time you offered to come over every week or two and mow our grass and do the weed whacking and put poison on all our ant beds? You were about 16 or 17; it was right after Danny and I moved in here. I said that’d be fantastic, how much would you want me to pay you? And you shrugged and said “I dunno. Ice cream!” You said, seriously, that would be fine. You never mowed our lawn and I never gave you ice cream, but I never cared, either. It was just such a cute offer.

Gosh, Mikey. I remember little things all the time. All the vacations and reunions… How much we loved to visit Washington. Exploring the plantation. Seeing the dog in the cat suit (lol). Going to see the Cure and Garth Brooks. Going to all those shuttle launches out on the causeway while I was in college, even in the middle of the night. You impressed me by remembering later that Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Tetris tournaments. Intellivision Pitfall. Maniac Mansion. Super Mario (all of ’em). The “fart tape.” The time you put the quilt and the football helmet on your head and danced in Mom’s doorway and didn’t get her attention until you hit the door frame and fell on the floor!

All those times going to Miami. Ever since my first ‘Canes game I’ve been hooked on college football, and for the first time ever, I feel a wave of nausea when I think of football season. I think of the smell of the grass, the sound of the crowd and the sportscasters, all the football talk I used to love. Rankings and scores and depth charts. Rivalries and big games. Remember that article by Rich Thomaselli? It ran right before the 2001 Florida State game. “Big game today.” I’d try to get a reprint, but just the thought of the Orange Bowl makes me want to curl into the fetal position and wake up long after the bowl games are over.

And you know what — I never once went to a UCF game without you. So that’s screwed up now, too. Even looking back on my time there makes me upset, because you went there. We didn’t even go there at the same time. But it breaks my heart to think about the place. Remember the time we saw Adam Sandler perform in the UCF Arena? And he made those sweet little ladies doing sign language by the stage sign stuff like “clitoris” and all the words to “Dip Doodle”?

Hell, remember “I am a simple goat…” ?

If I let them, these things come in a flood. Or rather, a stampede. I love it, but sometimes it just tramples me. Because it was cut so short. This shouldn’t be over.

It still confounds me that you died. It’s like trying to comprehend how a 747 stays in the air. Sure, you understand about lift and aerodynamics, but all the same, sometimes you just stand back and scratch your head and go, “How the hell does that really happen?” That’s how I feel about you being gone.

I’d give just about anything to know you’re still around. I know you’re with Mom and Dad, but I miss you, too. Please stay with Zoey, though. Please, even if you can’t stay with me.

Yesterday I kept remembering that today was going to be June 6. And for a fraction of a second I’d think “I haven’t gotten him anything!” Then I’d have to remind myself that I can’t give you anything. It was an awful thing to be reminded of over and over, tiny stabbing moments throughout the day and getting more frequent until I went to sleep.

What would you have done today? Last year we had a party with the family and the next day, you were on the road, touring with the scum of the earth. Haha. Maybe this year you’d have had a little party with us, then gone out with Lee and John and Don and Laura and who knows who else… people I don’t know. But you’d have been happy. I’d have given you a hug. Zoey would have said “Happy Birt-day, Unca Mikey!” And she would have meant every word of it.

You didn’t make it to 23. But the 22+ years you were here, you lit the place up, man. And the world is brighter because you were in it, even for awhile.

I love you, little brother. Happy Birthday.

Annie