About 100 days ago, a group of us survivors made a vow to participate in the 100HappyDays project. We were drowning in shock and sorrow, and it seemed an engaging project to distract from the pain by instead focusing on happiness. For me, it served two purposes: I needed a balm for my soul, and I wanted to get closer to the other participants who were Micha’s other besties.
For day 100, I will attempt to explain what made Micha so special. Such a thing seems obvious when you met her in person, but there’s so much more to Micha than what you perceive. So in essence, this is the eulogy I wish I had the strength to deliver at her funeral. It’s the hardest post I’ve written in awhile. Be warned, it’s a mix of the dark humor and honesty that permeated our friendship.
Micha came from a broken home. By the time I knew her well, she was already living alone while her family remained scattered around the Metroplex. When we met, I had just moved to Southlake from Dallas, where my junior high years were an emotional apocalypse that resulted in high amounts of mental baggage, while my brother was away at college, leaving me alone with my parents. So it made sense that two separate souls like us bonded so quickly. It’s the simplest explanation of why two random people decided to be brother and sister (the more-complicated one is here).
Micha was career-oriented in all aspects of life, one of her best traits. She showed those traits in high school activities, so they must have been part of her DNA. Later as an adult, she cared both about her job and the company she worked for, a combination I’ve never achieved at the same time. But she inspired me to do both, especially during the short time we worked together at Dell. I saw her advance via promotions and take on greater responsibilities which made her stand out, even in a company that large, and each time I thought, “I can do the same!” — and believed it. She was confident, critical, visionary, engaging, judging, and the person I always wanted to be.
We were the same age, yet she was the older, wiser soul I always looked up to. And when I hit lulls in life, Micha was always the best at helping me talk it out. She less gave me answers vs. letting me figure it out on my own, and her responses were typically unvarnished. Now that she’s gone, I don’t really have anyone like that in my life, and I’ve backslid into internalizing things once again. Don’t get me wrong, I have other best friends the same age, but none of them have the same experiences I shared with Micha. And outside of my family, no one has known me as long as Micha did (twenty-four years). I struggled with the decision to remove her from my iPhone favorites, which I did eventually because it hurt too much to see her name & face everyday following the funeral.
Interestingly enough, our relationship had several identifiable quantum leaps over the years. The first was on the last day of high day of our high school senior year. I bore witness to her evisceration of my ex-girlfriend live on stage, as the two participated in a Lincoln/Douglas-style debate as the final examination of debate class which Micha made sure to win by all means necessary. It was her means to extract punishment against the woman who had broken her big brother’s heart. Not many people would step up to bat like that, and Micha was always as protective of me and her clan for the remainder of her life.
That same day, we also made an explicit decision to keep in touch. Such decisions were a big deal in the dark age before email and texts — long distance calls cost major money, and your options were to either pick up the phone or write letters. We were cheap and chose the latter. During that post-graduation summer, I remained back in Southlake, working a summer job and preparing for school that fall. Micha had left immediately for Lubbock to attend summer school at Texas Tech, a combination of determination and restlessness taking her out west. I’ve kept all of her letters (she told me she did the same), which I can’t read without gesturing theatrically, embodying Micha as if she was speaking them aloud herself.
We exchanged visits between Denton and Lubbock until her graduation, when she and Jay relocated to Austin/Round Rock and we reoriented the commute from west/east to south/north. After a traumatic breakup with my college sweetheart, where I was thankfully shaken out of my comfort zone and prompted to finally leave school, I had the grand vision to move to Austin myself & eventually moved in the summer of 2000.
My relocation resulted in the next of our relationship’s quantum leaps. Both young and kidless, I spent tons of time with Micha and Jay, just us and the dogs Six and Bus. On weekends when Jay was checking off the miles with his bicycle, Micha and I would hang out on Saturdays, adventuring around Austin, whiling away at gardening, sucking up pancakes at Kerby Lane, playing drunk racquetball, and burning down the house. It was such a weekly habit that years later, we’d still call each other early on the occasional Saturday because such mornings weren’t truly Saturdays without a few minutes together.
During my stint in Austin, Micha had just gotten her job at Dell, and the company still had the street cred of a hot startup. I tried hard to get a job there myself, but no one would hire a fresh college graduate with no experience and a fine arts degree. The universe displayed a great sense of irony years later, when after working at Perot Systems in Plano, TX, that company itself was bought by Dell in 2009 for $3.9 billion. The day the acquisition was announced, I called Micha at her desk & bragged about how Dell wanted me so bad they paid through the nose for me! To this day, I still carry around this warped sense of inflated self-awareness.
Unfortunately, a crappy job market pushed me out of Austin in 2001, and I relocated to Dallas, TX for several years. Of course Micha and I kept in touch, but over the course of 13 years she encountered new friends that filled her life more than I could hundreds of miles away. These friends, some of whom I hadn’t really known well until Micha’s last days, are truly amazing — each is liking looking at a mirror, perfect reflections of Micha’s soul and spirit. Each of you — Alex, Jennifer, Jig, Nelwyn, Vaden, Jig, Charles, Laura, and more — were so lucky to be in Micha’s close orbit. You may not know I was incredibly jealous of your access to her, not because I thought it challenged my own relationship with Micha but because I missed being able to see Micha as often as you did.
Micha and I kept few secrets from one another. We often shared intimate thoughts less because of getting things off our chests vs. we just had to tell one another because of some secret brother/sister code. The one secret I never told her: I had feared the worst since that fateful Thursday she called with news of her diagnosis. This is because I come from a family where the worst can and does happen, despite the odds. I give her credit for always being honest with how she felt during her cancer treatment. It’s one thing to put on a brave face, it’s another thing to respect those you love by being both honest and hopeful. If something like cancer ever happens to me, I hope to approach it with the same defiance and zest. It always seemed more like a speed bump to Micha’s life than a hinderance.
Our relationship always had that sense of foreshadowing. We found ourselves together during major moments of global tragedy: once driving around town the night Princess Diana died, another time packing away Julie’s house while north Texas was littered with space shuttle Columbia debris. I’m sure if we were alive then, we’d find a way to be present at Dealey Plaza at the same time. Yet we were also together during some more-intimate yet tragic moments. Shortly after graduation, our high school classmate Jason passed away, as the first of our class to meet such an end. I’d listen to her tell me stories about Jay and Ted shortly after Jay’s father passed away. We regularly discussed her mother Julie’s slow decline. I felt like I was there for all of it, even if I was hundreds of miles away. We’d commonly cold-call (later text) each other just to say, “DIE!”, then hang up. We played the good twin/evil twin model daily, slipping back and forth between the two roles (although let’s admit that Micha is always the evil one).
For awhile, as our families grew and it became harder to escape on the weekends, we settled into a pattern of seeing each other only once a year. One time, I looked up remaining life expectancy, did some math, and told Micha that we only had 40 more times to see one another before we died. Then my Dallas company was bought by Dell, and I found myself traveling to Round Rock every week for a year. I told Micha that these weekly visits counted against the 40 figure. “DAMN IT!” she said while shaking balled fists at the gods. Micha would get a little bit of revenge against me soon enough.
I learned about Micha’s cancer the day of her diagnosis. She called me and said, “You know how you’re always telling me to die? Well, you might get your wish.” Point, Micha. Although shaken by the news, I had the gumption to immediately reply that she’d beat this, if only long enough for me to do the deed myself. Above all, my goal was always to destroy Micha before Reagan had the chance.
Our decades-long joke (besides clown-related humor) was, “the good really do die young — holy shit, we’re going to live FOREVER!” In this case, not just the good but the best died way too early. Did I mention foreshadowing? As I type, I still smile about the fact our friendship allowed us to be that way to one another. Yes, it’s stupid, but the ability to be an adult and stupid/silly was one of the best things about being Micha’s friend — otherwise, life’s too short to walk around with sticks up your ass.
Micha’s funeral was only the few I’d ever attended. I’d done a good job up to that point of avoiding them. The first was for our mutual friend George’s father. We were so young at the time, it was hard to register what was truly happening (after all, us kids were going to live forever, right?). The second funeral was for Archie, Micha’s father. I remember being tardy, because I had gotten lost on the way to its location east Dallas. I went up to Micha after the ceremony and apologized for being late. “No big deal, Matt. It’s only MY FATHER!” she said with equal measure love and sarcasm. When I was driving down to Round Rock last June for Micha’s own funeral, that day’s silliness played over and over in my head. BTW, I was almost late for Micha’s funeral as well.
Besides her friendship, the greatest thing Micha ever gave me was a student bible. Years ago, I had no relationship with God and was a very outspoken atheist. While I was comfortable with this, it always bothered Micha but she never explained why. I found out the reason when she gave me that bible. Inscribed on the inside are words that make me cry every time I read them: “Heaven would be a lonely place without you.” Less than a week later, I met my wife Jenn and my life changed forever for the better. I believe in God now as a result of those two women, having two children, and more so after losing Micha. It has to exist, and Micha has to be there — I will accept no other answer. When I was writing this paragraph, the following verse serendipitously appeared in my Twitter timeline and seems quite apt:
Anyone who is among the living has hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
– Ecclesiastes 9:4
Now 100HappyDays has come to an end. I’m a few days late on this final edition, because this has been the hardest blog post for me to ever write. On day 100, am I happy? Very much yes — my career has taken off in the past three months, my wife is healthy, my toddler girl is exploding in the good ways, and my son started kindergarten.
Am I sad? Undoubtedly so. The pain of Micha’s loss is still sharp, and I find myself crying unexpectedly when my busy mind calms down enough to wander towards memories of her. I apologize to my Austin friends for not keeping in better touch — for example, I haven’t spoken with Jay or the kids because I’m hesitant to talk about my grief. I know I shouldn’t be, but just bear with me while I get my shit together. Time does heal all wounds, even if it’s not enough for my tastes (after all, I’m an American. I want it here and I want it now). I promise I’ll talk to y’all soon.
I’ll end with something said 20 years ago. In one of Micha’s missives from Lubbock, she composed quite a bittersweet letter. It ended with the following:
There is one other thing I would like to say to you, Matt. Because life is so short and one never knows when it is going to end I want to tell you what a wonderful person and friend you are. It takes a special person to put up with me and you do it freely (well usually).
I love you,
I love you, too, Micha. I’ll see you someday soon enough.