Why don't you mind your own business...
You're goin' back to school...

I don't care 'bout no wheelchair...

I was on one of my regular message boards today and someone had started a thread he called "anomalous phenomenon" in honor of today being Friday the 13th.  In it, he described how he wanted people to talk about little things that have happened to them or their friends that they could not explain.  He suggested, as a way of launching the thread, that we discuss stuff like alien sightings, ESP, ghosts, and whatnot. 

I've always been intrigued by the unknown and the inexplicable.  However, regarding this thread on the board, the most interesting to me was the chance to talk about visits from spirits.  I guess my interest was primarily because I've had a visitation of my own from a friend of mine.  And I thought maybe you'd like to hear about it.

Bear in mind that I do not consider this a Friday the 13th sort of story nor do I consider my friend's life "unlucky."  It was just a coincidence that someone on that board started the thread that got me thinking and on Friday the 13th of all days.

Oh yeah, this will likely be a pretty lengthy post.  Buckle up.

My friend, Mike, was a year ahead of me in school.  He was one of the greatest guys you could ever know.  Literally everyone liked him.  There wasn't a bad thing that could be said of him.  And he would go out of his way to help you with anything.

I became friends with him sometime during either my freshman or sophomore year of high school.  We had a couple math classes together here and there and hung out during lunch or other free periods.  He loved Star Wars, rock music, fast cars (his initials were M.P.H., after all), women, and sports.  And, being originally from Detroit like he was, he very much loved anything related to his hometown like the Pistons, Tigers, Lions, Ted Nugent, etc.  If he wasn't wearing his trusty Pistons floppy cap, which he almost always wore, he was probably donning a Lions ball cap.

But, moreso than anything else, he loved the band KISS (even if they were a New York band).  Obsessively so.  He had every album of theirs on cassette and CD and was working on vinyl.  He had imports, rarities, VHS, books, magazines, comic books, flags, hats, T-shirts, bandanas, etc.  His big goal was to save enough money to purchase the classic KISS pinball machine.

Mike was great to hang out with.  He always had something to say, but was a great listener as well.  There was never a boring moment spent with him.

He was full of life and lived it as much as he possibly could.  He took road trips, frequented concerts, watched sports, you name it.

But he was never able to play sports.

Mike had some kind of degerative disease that ate away at the musculature of his legs.  In the years that I knew him in high school, he was always on crutches.  When he got to college, he was remanded to a wheelchair.

But he never let it bother him.

He never once complained about being on crutches or in a wheelchair.  It was just a part of his life that he accepted and he moved on despite it.

He attended physical therapy on a regular basis in hopes of one day walking and he always believed he would and we, as his friends and family, knew that if there was ever anyone who could achieve this goal, it was Mike.  And, although I wasn't present for it, I was told that at his high school graduation, he crutched his way up to the stage and up the stairs and then walked his way across it to claim his diploma unassisted.

I wish I could have seen that.

When I began college, I was at Iowa State University.  It was the fall of '93.  Mike was now a sophomore at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. 

One day, I received a call from my mom that Mike had died.  They had found tumors along his spine and the official cause of death was some kind of cancer, I believe.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I cried, much like I am now just thinking about it.

Sometime during the day, I took a notecard and wrote some of the lyrics to a song that I loved on it.  The song was "Black Gold" by Soul Asylum from their Grave Dancers Union album.  The line was "I don't care 'bout no wheelchair, I got so much left to do with my life."  Under it, I wrote "Mike, I miss ya man."  Then I laminated it.

His mother called me later that day and asked if I would be a pallbearer in his funeral.  I was shocked and honored and really wanted to do it, but I had no idea how.  I was in the middle of Iowa, nearly six hours from home, with no car and no friends that could drive me home.

I talked about it to one of my only friends out in Ames, a girl in my biology class who was from Omaha.  She convinced me that I needed to at least try calling home and asking if one of my parents could come get me.  I called and my mom said that she was already planning on coming to pick me up.  I called Mike's mom back and said that I would be there and I would be honored to be a pallbearer.

Everything happened at the funeral as you would expect it to happen.  Service, burial, reminiscing with friends and family about the wonder that is Mike.

His mom gave me some of his stuff including several Star Wars books and some T-shirts.  But the thing she gave me that I most prized was a canvas cassette case with nearly all his KISS tapes in it.  I took the laminated card that I had made for Mike and stuck it in the zipper pocket on the front flap of the case.  It's still in there to this day.

That spring, I transferred to Northern Illinois University from ISU.  But, despite being much closer to home, I still never had a chance to visit Mike's grave.

Finally, when summer came, I made the time to visit him.

Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Naperville is surrounded on two sides by the historic section of the downtown, another side by a large field, and the fourth side by a train track.  The way I was coming from, I had to cross a bridge over the tracks to get to the cemetery. 

As I crossed the bridge, I stuck my hand out the window towards the cemtery and announced, "Mike, I'm finally here to see you."

The second I finished this statement, the radio in my car went dead.

I had been listening to some local rock station playing Billy Squier and it cut to dead air.  Not just a couple seconds, either.  It lasted a full minute or more.  However long it took me to get across the bridge, turn left on another street, and then enter the cemetery.  As soon as I crossed the gate into the cemetery, the radio came back to life.  No acknowledgment from the station of any technical difficulties or whatnot. 

I got out of the car and found Mike's headstone.  I visited with him for quite a while.  I don't really remember exactly how long, to be honest.  Nor does it matter as he is my friend and no amount of time is too much, nor too little.

When I got back in my car, I started the engine and the radio came to life playing the song "Black Gold" right at the point in the chorus when they sing the wheelchair line.

I smiled.  I knew it was Mike.

But, just because he always liked goading me, he decided to hammer home the point a bit more.

As I crossed the gate out of the cemetery, Soul Asylum segued into KISS' "Detroit Rock City."

I put my hand out the window and said, "Okay Mike, that's enough for now" (although he has come back once or twice since then, not to mention the times he's visited his parents).

I smiled the whole way home.  And I'm smiling now.



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Season 5 Premiere: Jan. 15 (2 days)
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