Michael Jurisch and I visited Las Vegas together, never lovers ever friends, when we were in our early twenties. I wanted to see Gladys Knight, and Micha agreed to drive. We sat at the front table, close enough to touch both Gladys and her Pips.After the show, we headed home in his trusty VW. On the long uphill grind that led out of town, his Bug threw a rod. It would need a tow, the repair would be expensive, and I had to be at work in L.A. the next morning. I bailed on Micha. He remembered it well.“You grabbed your bag, crossed the road, hitched up your skirt and stuck out your thumb. You almost caused an accident as the cars stacked up, wanting to give you a ride to the Greyhound terminal. You abandoned me, but it turned out okay. I got towed back to Vegas, waited for my Beetle to be repaired, and partied with my friend, Axel, for a few days. ”I felt uneasy, even guilty, about ditching Mike. I didn’t offer to pay half of his repair bill, either. I handled the situation by avoiding him.I saw Micha at a spontaneous shindig at my parents’ house a decade later. I had a three year old son and Mike had a sleeping, two-year old daughter in his car. A blurry photograph from that party shows a swarm of happy Germans, standing in the living room of my parents’ home. Micha, my son and I are together in the front row.
Fast forward to autumn 2009, more than twenty years later. We reconnected via e-mail. Micha had moved back to Berlin and my mom and I were going to be visiting Berlin in a few months. Micha and I would reunite and get caught up.
We hugged and the years fell away. We had much in common-- too much. Failed marriages, riches to nearly rags, and chronic struggles, from which we were trying to mend.
We spent almost every afternoon and evening together after that-- outside during the coldest winter on record, and inside at my mom’s, the warmth of the radiator and cozy cheer of her tiny apartment making us all merry and bright.
My mother and I forced Kniffle (Yahtzee) on Mike, a self-proclaimed “Kniffle Virgin.” Good natured, he joined us at this mind-numbing board game to which many elderly Germans are unduly attached. He and I kidded that it didn’t get much better than Yahtzee with hot tea and holiday goodies, in a warm apartment when outside it was twelve below.
We both knew it was a lie and, at the same time, true. Now we knew what mattered most-- the people who loved us and whom we loved in return.
More than any of my other friends, Micha’s life paralleled my own. We had that cross-cultural thing together. Sorta American, sorta German, never quite fitting into either world. He glorified the American. I glorified the German. He ended up almost exiled in Berlin. I ended up almost exiled in Claremont, close to where we both began as friends, thirteen and fourteen year old kids, in Eagle Rock.
When I heard he was gone, I first cried for him and his family. Then, my tears began to fall for me. He was my buddy, my Kumpel, my close confidante these last few years.
We called each other “Sweetheart” and shared our most shameful secrets, then promptly laughed ourselves silly over them. We propped each other up and, when last we yapped on the phone, we said “I love you.” before we said goodbye.
We made plans to rent electric bicycles this summer and explore the inns of the Berlin forest. I planned to surprise him with the first twenty chapters of my new book-- the sidekick photographer character is based on him.
Plans-- the best laid plans. Man designs and God divines. So much for our plans, Big Guy. When You take people away, there is a period at the end of the sentence, not a comma nor a question mark.
Good-bye, sweet Micha, my dear, dear, beloved friend. Your flaws and foibles are safe with me, and I was always safe with you. How sad I am to lose you.