Among the many relatives of friends whom I've grown to love, a very special one was my friend's son Mike. I am sure that you have already noticed the past tense in the last sentence; Mike's life came to an end this April, just two months shy of his thirtieth birthday. I liked Mike the first moment I laid eyes on him. Even though I knew he had experienced what some people might consider a checkered past, I had no fear or nervousness about meeting him. After all, I dearly love his mother and his extended family. One of the first things I noticed about Mike was his gentle, sad eyes, followed by his warm, wide smile. "I'm really going to like this kid," I thought. I was wrong. I didn't just like him, I quickly grew to love him.
My friend adopted Mike when he was three months old. Even at that young age, he seemed to know that Julie was his mother. When she picked him up, he put his little arm around her neck. He was going home with his new mom and dad. Mike had the sort of trusting nature that is not a sign of naivety, but rather a pure and gentle heart. When combined with possible genetic tendencies toward emotional health problems and addictive behavior, it left him open to being manipulated by others and sometimes getting into trouble. Since it was not in his nature to willfully manipulate or hurt others, he was unable to recognize this tendency in others. Mike loved his family fiercely, and regretted anything he had ever done to hurt his mother. He missed his father, who had passed away long before I met any of his family.
Mike also loved and was loved by all kinds of animals. Kids thought he was the greatest person ever. He loved fishing, eating at one of the local buffet restaurants, pumpkin pie, and tattoos. On the day that I met him while on a trip to see Julie, we went to a restaurant that had cafeteria-style service. I saw a piece of chocolate cream pie on his tray and I remember thinking I wished I had gotten some too. Toward the end of the meal, someone mentioned the pie. Mike's face went from joyful to sad in seconds. "What? I thought it was pumpkin pie!" I knew right then I had to have Julie take me to the supermarket to buy him a pumpkin pie before I went back home.
A few days later, I asked Julie if I could cook Sunday dinner for her kids. They had conflicting schedules, so we ended up eating two Sunday dinners, but that was okay. While I was talking to Mike, he pushed up his sleeve to scratch his shoulder and I saw a tattoo on his upper arm of Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. I loved it. I think that is when Mike realized that I could easily be his friend, especially when he began to tell me a story about his tattoo. When it was new, he went on his break at work and put some lotion on it. "This girl I work with was right there and she said, it rubs..." "The lotion on it's skin," I interrupted, "It does this whenever it is told." It was obvious that I scored a few points that day!
A few days after Mike's funeral, I heard from his uncle, my friend Thayne, about a memory that Julie had shared about her son. He absolutely loved a chain of buffet-style restaurants in the area, and would gladly go there if given a chance. On one occasion, Julie saw him fill and eat one plate of food, and then a second and a third. The fun of getting to eat as much of whatever he wanted had captivated him. When he got up to get a fourth plate of food, Julie asked if he was sure he wanted more to eat, and he said that he did. She let him go, probably getting a chuckle out of it. A few minutes later, he came back with a plate that contained eight peas. He put it on the table, unable to eat another bite. Will you do something for Mike, Julie and me, dear readers? If you should find yourself at a buffet or salad bar restaurant, please get a plate and place only eight peas on it, and put it on the table for Mike, and all the people you know who have left us too soon. We love you Mikey...