#100HappyDays Day 100 ➝ the Why-I-Did-This Edition

The banner pic is my favorite picture of Micha and me, composed of all my other favorite pictures of Micha I pulled from everyone’s Facebook accounts (sorry ’bout that). She lives on through all of our memories, most of which involve middle fingers. Click here to download the big-ass file; to truly honor Micha, do it from your mobile phone which has a limited data plan.

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.

Micha Correspondence
It’s a good thing I have large enough feet that a leftover shoebox was big enough to hold all of these postcards, letter, and photos that Micha sent over the years.

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 Report Card
Micha’s dominant character trait was judgement, as evidenced by her report card regarding our friendship.

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.

Micha Inscription
Words do have the power to change lives, as does a fear of no afterlife.

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,

Always,

Micha

I love you, too, Micha.  I’ll see you someday soon enough.

Officer Cueball, Southlake P.D.

Tsk Tsk Tsk

Today I read a tweet about Volvos, which made me think of the only friend I’ve ever known to actually drive a Volvo (Katie Thomas). From there, I started thinking about other friends who are equally outliers in their vehicle make & model choices, and I of course remembered Micha & her black Lincoln sedan. In a time when everyone drove CRX-SI’s or Camaros, Micha was bucking trends.

Back during high school, Southlake was seemingly small enough that you could fit it into one of the pockets of your Z Cavaricci pants. One time, Micha got into a fender-bender at the corner of Dove and Shady Oaks. Her car was rear-ended, knocking out the tail light. The Southlake officer attending the scene was a familiar one: a big, meaty individual with a perfectly-shaved chrome dome of a head. We sarcastically referred to him as “Officer Cueball”, and he was always around, it seemed. He wrote me my first-ever traffic ticket, which was my last one when I realized you could get out of subsequent tickets by telling officers, “Sorry I was speeding, but I was trying to get to football practice on time!” After Officer Cueball ensured that everyone was safe, he instructed Micha to get her tail light fixed at some point.

Several months later, I called Micha to see if she wanted to come over. I waited a long time for her to show, but she wasn’t there yet. I started to get worried and went outside to walk around & kill time while waiting for her to arrive. While out front, I peeked through the grove of trees which separated my house from the street, and I saw some flashing lights. I walked down to the creek to get a closer look, and I saw that the lights were from a police cruiser participating in a traffic stop. And when my cat’s eyes kicked in and I could see better, I saw that the perpetrator was a sedan…a black. Lincoln. Sedan.

I gleefully ran back to the house, then sat on the hood of my GMC Jimmy to ride out the traffic stop. Finally, the flashing lights stopped and slowly up the driveway came Micha. As her headlights illuminated me, she got full view of me laughing and going “tsk tsk tsk” with my fingers. In frustration, she sped to her parking spot, got out, glared at me, then said, “Suck it, clown!” before headed inside the house without me.

I followed her inside and found out that it was once again Officer Cueball on the scene. And that when he pulled Micha over, he wrote her a ticket for having a busted tail light, the very tail light he reminded her to fix and never did. I asked her if she said the same thing to Officer Cueball that she said to me, and I got an old-school middle finger.

It’s a good thing that Micha never changed.

Photo Credit: Wiffle GIF

Election Night Post-Script

George W. Bush Expression

It’s nearly 13 years later, and George W. Bush still sucks. But the night of his election was still one of my funnest memories.

That evening, Micha and I were interviewed by Bud Kennedy of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. I finally found a copy of that article, all three pages of which I have pasted below. Now I have all the written proof I need to sue my sister for bodily harm and emotional distress.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

My Twin Sister

This is the story of how I met my twin sister Micha. One might think that twins meet each other before anyone else, but things are rarely that simple in my world.

In the summer of 1989, my parents moved across the Metroplex, from tony North Dallas to the rural community of Southlake.

The timing was particularly hard on me. I was fifteen years old, without a driver’s license, in a new area code — the combination of these three factors made hanging out with my old friends entirely unrealistic. It would be months before I could make new ones at my next school. And since my brother had recently graduated from college, he was moving to Houston for his first job.

On the other hand, the move couldn’t have come at a better time.
Continue reading “My Twin Sister”

I Was Sold

TiVo Series 3I drove into Round Rock for a regular visit with Micha. One of the first things I noticed in her living room was a shiny new electronic component prominently displayed atop her television.

She explained it was TiVo, a brand-new product called a digital video recorder (DVR) that recorded live television for later pausing, skipping, and sorting. I wasn’t too familiar with the technology, so Micha demonstrated its features. I witnessed responsive menus, heard addicting pings whenever options were selected, and I came away fairly unimpressed.

“You know,” I sighed, “that’s neat and all, but I already watch too much television as it is. A TiVo is the last thing I want or need.”

However, Micha’s life had changed as a result of TiVo, so she continued her effort to win me over. She told me how she doesn’t watch more television, but more shows, as she wastes less time by skipping through commercials. Everytime I rejected one of the DVR’s benefits, she fired back with a new feature I should consider. This tit-for-tat continued throughout the weekend.

Sunday came around, and along with it came the Super Bowl. That afternoon we drove to the home of Jay‘s boss Eric for a watching party.

Eric’s sprawling home stood high in the hills west of town. When we arrived, our host took us on a tour. Composed of Tuscan marble, Spanish tile, and Austin rock, the abode screamed Central Texas Mediterranean. The living room featured large bay glass windows, affording grand views of the little people dwelling in the foothills slums below. A never-ending staircase took up to the upper floors, and as we rose I caught glimpse of a side room downstairs. Inside I could see a young boy with a mop of blonde hair. Eric explained that was his son. The child was being supervised by a nanny who appeared to hail from the Pacific. If I didn’t already have money on the game, I would have bet she didn’t speak any English.

Upstairs, we were led into The Media Room, worthy of proper nounification because of its sheer manliness. The chamber was high and deep. Stadium seating on one side stood opposite of a bare white wall that begged to be bathed in the candy-color glow belched from the overhead projector. When informed this is where we would watch the game, all of us scrambled to call dibs on the best seats. I staked claim on the dead-middle seat and found out it was already occupied: sitting on the cushion was a wireless keyboard, or something akin to it.

It wasn’t quite your standard 101-keyboard: although it had a full QWERTY keyboard, an array of function keys and an elaborate tracking device took the place of the 10-digit pad. Eric took notice of my examination and slid over to explain the device. Taking it from my hand, he demonstrated its use. After some quick finger strokes, the lights dimmed, the projector burst alive, and surround sound echoed. Eric explained that each key had its own special function: one would churn through the 100-disc DVD changer, another would raise and lower the window blinds.

“And the coolest part,” he said, “is that you can use this thing to control the DVR, just like TiVo!” Those nearby in earshot snapped to attention at that part, their imaginations drooling in curiousity.

Eric’s wife called for him from downstairs. He handed me back the keyboard and excused himself.

Micha slid over with the shit grin that can only come from vindication. “See, even Eric has a TiVo!” she said, “All the cool kids have one. Don’t you want to be cool, too?”

I parried Micha’s blow. “As I said earlier, I don’t need a DVR.”

She chipped away further at my defenses. “Dude, no one needs a DVR. It’s all about ‘want’. TiVo wants you — don’t you want it?”

The crowd around us begged me to listen to reason. “Once you go DVR, you never go back,” they yearned. But their Jedi Mind Tricks wouldn’t work on me, not this time!

Mercifully, the game started, and all attention was on the Panthers and Patriots instead of me. The first half passed quickly, with more action occurring during the commercial breaks than on the field. The headliners were Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, a pairing that had enough musical potential that we all felt possessed to watch. The two sang Janet’s current single “All for You“. This bled into a medley as “Rhythm Nation” started. The duet was then capped by the more-contemporary Timberlake single “Rock Your Body“.

The two strutted and posed alongside one another. And as the show came to an end, Justin foreshadowed the outcome with the lyric, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” He reached out with his left hand and tore off part of Janet’s black leather bustier, revealing a patch of color that looked just like the rest of Janet’s skin. Then before anyone could process what just happened, CBS changed the view, first to display an aerial shot of the stadium, then to an immediate commercial break.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Wardrobe MalfunctionThe room erupted into chaos. Shouts of “Dude!” and “Holy shit!” mixed with the occasional “No way!” filled the air. Suddenly, their screams were directed at me. “Dude! Dude! Rewind!” they pleaed. Suddenly it dawned on me. On my lap was the DVR-controlling keyboard. Everyone had to know if they just saw 38-year-old black boobie. I would be their savior.

I snapped to attention and scrambled to understand the controls. Eric had shown me everything but how to operate the DVR. So I pressed button after button until something happened. All of the other men in the room, who like me hadn’t read the instructions, offered their unsolicited advice on how to run the complicated machinery.

Finally, I discovered the right combination of keystokes, and before us was an echo of the recent past: the latter half of the concert was once again being broadcast. I tweaked the controls further, getting us near to “the moment”. Precise control was difficult, as I was just guessing how to run the DVR.

Finally, we got the image paused correctly, and a two-foot tit was frozen on the wall.

Then the room became quiet as we became aware of a foreign presence in the room.

Standing in the doorway was Eric’s son. He was rubbing his sleepy moist eyes, as he had just woken up in the middle of the night and was looking for mommy. As he blinked through the grogginess, he was attempting to focus on the weird image on the wall.

The silence was swiftly broken. “Out! Out!” bellowed everyone, as the child’s presence was impacting our participation in Boobgate. Eric leapt up, shuttled his boy out of the room, and slammed the door shut. We continued rewatching the image over and over. And as everyone giddily enjoyed their unity with 200 million other people in having witnessed a nanosecond of unintentional porn, I stood up, raised my finger, and announced, “I’m getting a TiVo!”

I was sold.

And everyone cheered in support.

Photo credit: Entertainment Weekly (via Wikipedia)