Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I'll Never Forget It, You Know...

My best friend in college was Mickey. He came in as a freshman my sophmore year and we were both in the Mustang Band. We bonded first of all because we were both from tiny towns in Arkansas, only about a half hour or so apart. And then, we became good friends.

Mickey was outrageous, hilarious, loud -- all the things I was not. I felt a little braver and funnier when I was around him. We both did work/study with the band and so we spent many afternoons in the band hall neither working nor studying, but making each other laugh and playing "rocks" (a game with dominoes) with whoever we could round up. I loved it when he would start doing Bette Midler impersonations -- and impersonating Bette impersonating Sophie Tucker. Man, he had every mannerism, every inflection, every gesture down perfectly.

We would go eat at the favorite campus places, go for walks around campus, watch Designing Women in his dorm room. I think the only class we ever had together was geology (of all things) and so we broke actual rocks together, too. And we loved being in the band. He loved his friends pretty passionately. The only time I remember fighting was when we had seen Thelma & Louise and he tried to tell me that based on the Bible women were supposed to be submissive and I told him not to argue about things about which he was ignorant (he didn't go to church, didn't have much use for it). He thought I was calling him ignorant. But we made up.

I don't remember if it was his first year or second that he came out to me as being a gay man. I think I was not surprised, although he was the first gay person I knew that I knew (you know what I mean? I'm looking at you, high school class of 1988). I think he was worried how I would react. And what I said was something like, let's go to my dorm room, I want to get my Bible.

Bless his heart, he did not go screaming in the other direction. So we went to get my Bible and then we walked over to a spot in front of Meadows, a little hidden spot behind the shrubs where I liked to go and read and write and think. I don't know what he thought I was going to read, but I read Psalm 103 and told him God loved him no matter what. I think he thanked me.

Sometimes I would go with him to the gay bars in Oaklawn and watch him dance with the boys. Then we'd go eat a late/early breakfast somewhere and he would grin when women would hit on me, an occurrence which mostly, at that point in my own personal history, left me baffled and slightly shy.

I also went and sat with him in the student senate hearings when the GLBTQ folks on campus tried to get a support group officially recognized. I was appalled by what some students said, some of whom went to my church and waved their Bibles around like so much weaponry.

Knowing Mickey gave me a lot to think about, especially since the Presbyterian church at that time was in one of their periodic upheavals about what to do with the "gay problem." The church I attended in Dallas was discussing leaving the denomination if a report stating that GLBTQ folk should be treated equally was approved by the General Assembly (it wasn't, but some of the members left anyway). So I sat in these Sunday classes and other gatherings for the college kids hearing these discussions, and thinking of him. How could anyone not love him? I loved him.

He helped me be much less lonely during what was sometimes for me a lonely time. And I think he helped me to see what was possible.

The summer after I graduated, that was when I came out. When I look back I can see a very repressed struggle during my high school and college years but at the time I did not really understand that. Not until I kissed a girl by the Guadalupe River in the hill country of Texas. And then I was like, OH, well now everything makes sense.

Mickey was the first person I told who wasn't with me that summer. The first person from my "past" (although he wasn't past, really, you know). I remember so clearly, sitting on the edge of my bed in my little apartment in Hobbs, NM, where I had gone to teach school. By the end of the summer I had accepted the truth about myself, and I wanted him to know.

So I called him up. When I told him, he screamed with delight. He was so happy for me, so happy that I had figured out what he had long suspected anyway. He told me that he had guessed but then knew for sure when we came out of the movie theater the previous winter after seeing Fried Green Tomatoes, and how crazy I became about that movie, how I wanted to be Idgie Threadgoode and made him take me to the store right then so I could buy a denim shirt.

He cheered for me. I will never forget that.

When I came back to Dallas for homecoming, he set me up on my first lesbian date (it didn't take, but that's ok). And he took me to the LGBTQ bookstore in Oaklawn where I bought my first rainbow paraphernalia and lesbian reading material. I'll never forget that, either.

As the years went by we drifted apart, as happens after college. We exchanged Christmas cards here and there, and I would hear news of him through my brother and his wife, who also knew him in the band at SMU, and I would send my greetings. I was so happy to reconnect with him on Facebook last year sometime, and get caught up with his life and he with mine. He continued to be the outrageous, funny guy I had known so long ago. He had found a church he loved, an ONA UCC church, which surprised me because he had no use for God/church in college, but I was glad. He sang in the choir and would post status updates by phone from the choir loft on Sunday mornings. He still made me laugh.

You must know where this is going by now.

Mickey died yesterday. He was found in his apartment. Apparently it was a suicide. At this point that is all I know.

I am so sad, and so angry. And heartbroken.

Oh Mickey. I wish I had told you how much you have meant to me. I'll never forget you, you know.

This one's for you.

8 comments:

  1. Hugs to you... What a beautiful tribute.

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  2. Oh, Towanda, my heart breaks for you...for him...what a loss. What a gorgeous tribute. What a wonderful man and friendship. Let me know if I can do anything as you grieve.

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  3. So very hard to understand....I'm holding you in my heart, my friend.

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  4. so sorry for your loss - and for the loss of the warmth and the laughter that you describe so wonderfully here.

    A hug across the ocean.

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  5. Only just read this. I'm so sorry at the sad ending to this beautiful story.

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  6. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. From both near and far.

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  7. What a horrible loss for you but what a wonderful tribute that must I am sure bring comfort to all who knew Mickey. And thank you for prompting me to call all my 'friends far away' and just 'check in'...

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  8. Thanks, P. Yeah, the day after I learned it I was on the phone with a friend who's out of town, telling her about it. As we said good-bye, I got all choked up and told her, "don't ever let me forget to tell you how much I love you."

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