It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had a very good friend, Mike, when I was high school. We did not go to the same school. We knew each other from summer music camp and we also played in a woodwind quintet together for a couple of years through a high school program at Cornish Institute for the Arts in Seattle. Mike played French horn. I played flute. In addition to being an amazing musician, Mike was smart, funny, and kind. His mother and grandmother had been interned as Japanese Americans during WWII. In high school, he was already involved in activism against racism. Mike and I graduated the same year, after which I stayed in Seattle to attend the University of Washington. He moved to Ohio and completed a bachelor’s in French horn at the Oberlin Conservatory. Mike visited me at college a couple of times when he was home for winter and summer break. I was thrilled that he would take time out to visit me, because he is such a great guy and all. Also, he told me that I should come to Oberlin because they needed good flutists. And also, because he missed me. (Swoon.) Oh wait, I forgot to mention something. I had a couple of big, multi-year crushes in my adolescence. Mike was one of them. And my crush on him was the only one that carried over from high school to college.

We wrote a few times and then we lost touch. After he graduated, he moved to New York and got a master’s degree in French horn from the Julliard School. Actually, if truth be told, I kept writing him and he either didn’t get the letters or stopped answering them. I was pretty steamed at him at one point but not because I still had a crush on him. I was dating John by then. It was because he had been a really good friend. And I HATE it when friends disappear.

In the years following high school, I came to suspect that Mike was gay. I worried that he’d cut off contact with me because he was afraid that I would disapprove. We were both raised in devout Catholic families. Our mothers had coincidentally both attended the same tiny all girls’, Immaculate Conception High School. We were both raised in pretty liberal households but Mike and I had never discussed our views on homosexuality. And times were a lot different 20+ years ago. I thought about writing him but that’s kind of an awkward letter to write. There’s no Hallmark card for, “I think you are gay and if you are that’s just fine with me and if you are not, that’s just fine with me, too. Have a great day!”

Once I learned how to Google, I periodically checked for Mike. He came up in searches frequently due to his activism (fairness for all despite race, sexuality, mental health status, or income) and also the 25 years he spent playing in the orchestra for Broadway shows in New York. But it wasn’t until five years ago that I actually found a way to contact him. Mike’s Facebook account came up on one of my searches. I didn’t belong to Facebook but I joined it in order to reconnect. And he didn’t remember me at first! And although as I suspected, Mike is gay, I don’t think our losing touch had anything to do with that. I think he just got swept away in his busy life.

I have seen Mike twice this year and although I have been so happy to see him more regularly, I have been very sad about the circumstances. His father died last spring. His mother died from ALS a number of years ago, not too long before I visited him in New York. Mike and his siblings all took turns taking care of their father, a month at a time. Mike now has a private acupuncture and herbal medicine practice in New York. He was leaving his business for a month at a time to care for his dad. Mike was also impacted by Hurricane Sandy during the same time period. He has had a really tough couple of years. And Mike is one of the most resilient people I know, which prompted me to write a post about him last March, when he visited me at the time of his father’s funeral, a couple of weeks after my TRAM surgery. (Mike has his own blog and wrote a beautiful post about his father life’s and transition to death. I highly encourage you to read it. You can find it here.)

Mike was in town again last week and I got to spend the afternoon with him on Friday. And although we had some deep conversation we also had fun. He looked less ashen than the last two times I’ve seen him. Mike’s spirit was lighter. We were silly. We were stupid with each other, like old friends are. I told him about the recording I made of my singing for my mom’s birthday. Mike told me that he didn’t remember the hymn by name. (I am suspicious about that.) He asked me to sing it. I sang most of the first verse and then he teasingly commanded, “now the chorus.” People, Mike is a professional musician who went to Oberlin and Julliard and he was sitting right across from me at a restaurant. I did not even have sheet music for that song, only the lyrics. I wasn’t even sure I sang the right notes at the right time or whether all of the measures I sang had the same number of beats in them! So I did what any three year-old would do and hid behind my napkin. Then we giggled like seven year-olds. We asked the waitress to take our photo. She took one photo and then asked us to be goofy. I have a really funny photo of Mike crossing one eye and keeping the other focused straight ahead. Knowing my Facebook posting habits, he immediately made me promise not to post it. (I looked cute in that photo. Sigh.)

Then we went to Lincoln Park, which is on the beach. While there, we fake fought about who the cute man who passed us was really smiling at. It was so fun to hear Mike joke again, just like when we were young. And since we are both in a lighter place in our lives than during our past visit, I told Mike the big piece of historical information I had been holding onto for the years since we reconnected. Now Mike knew that I had a crush on his for a few years. We have discussed that in the past. But what he didn’t remember was that when we were 16, he actually took me on a date! He did not remember but was so excited to hear about it and pumped me for the few details that I remembered. I remembered the super cool purple cotton jumpsuit that I wore. (Oh I loved that jumpsuit. Totally Sheena Easton! Or was it Olivia Newton John? I don’t know but it was totally 80’s!)  I told him that I think we went to a party hosted by one of the clarinet players from youth symphony. The only other thing I could remember was that she was blonde. I remembered that he showed me how to combine Jelly Belly’s into “recipes” (for example, pineapple + coconut + pina colada.)

“Mike, you were frustratingly gentlemanly. You didn’t even give me a hug good night!” He laughingly but sincerely empathized with my high school tendency to love the boys who I would later learn were gay. I know that a lot of it was that those boys seemed a lot safer than the straight boys. I think I would have had a crush on Mike, anyway. As I told him, “Okay, we were not compatible THAT way. But Mike, you had all of the other qualities. You were a wonderful boy and you are a wonderful man.”

It is wonderful indeed to have amazing friends. I am so glad to have Mike back in my life.

9/20/13, Photo by Michael Ishii, Seattle, WA

9/20/13, Photo taken with my camera by Michael Ishii because we disliked the waitress’ photos and he further disliked my photos. Artists…