June 7, 1996.
So long ago, but I still remember that day like it was yesterday.
This was a very emotional post for me…it’s been years in the making, really. Losing friends is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when that friend is gone too young.
It was a Friday. I was 19, and in my room getting ready for my date with JB that night. I had just gotten out of the shower a few minutes earlier, and thought I’d heard someone knocking on the back door of the house. I ran to open it, thinking I had somehow locked my little brother out…but there was nobody there. So I went back to my room, and saw through my window my friend Michael riding his 4 wheeler across our front yard to the neighbor’s house. I decided it had probably been him knocking on the door, but I would talk to him later on.
At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Hindsight is always 20/20, and if I’d really thought about it, I’d have realized that it was really strange that he was doing that. He knew how my dad was about his front yard, and under normal circumstances he would never have driven his 4 wheeler through it.
A few minutes later, I heard an ambulance siren screaming. It sounded really close, so I peered out my window to see where it was. I didn’t see it, but I could hear it. I stepped outside and realized it was at my next door neighbor’s house. I sprinted over there and was greeted by chaos…paramedics everywhere, a few of my friends standing around crying. I had no idea what was going on when my friend Mandy tearfully started hugging me. I did a quick headcount, and realized I didn’t see Michael. That registered as odd since I had just seen him riding over there a few minutes before…then I saw his 4 wheeler parked off to the side.
My friends finally managed to tell me what was happening. Michael had gotten hurt while riding his 4 wheeler…he’d tried to drive into a field and a guide wire strung low across the entrance somehow popped up, flying up the front of the ATV and hitting him hard in the neck. He was struggling to breathe because it had damaged his trachea and broken his collarbone(s), but managed to get to my house (the first one he came to.) When I didn’t get to the door, he went to my neighbor’s house. Instead of knocking on the door, he punched through the door’s window to get their attention…and they called for the ambulance.
He was taken to the local hospital about 15 minutes later. By this time, I had called JB to tell him…he and Michael were best friends. We all flew to the hospital, and once arriving there we learned that they were trying to stabilize him for transport the bigger hospital in the next city. We were all told that it was going as well as could be expected. His parents had arrived at the hospital. We all huddled around, calming down and believing everything would be okay.
I can’t for the life of me remember why, but I got in JB’s truck to go somewhere after they told us they would be transporting Michael in a few minutes. I had not even driven three miles when JB called my cell phone and told me to come back. He wouldn’t tell me why, but I turned around and went back to the hospital.
He was gone. Michael had started fighting the medics and doctors, and a broken bone punctured a lung. At least, that’s what I remember being told. We never really knew why he started fighting. The scene at the hospital that I came back to was horrendous and painful.
The next few days were a blur. I spent most of every day in tears. I replayed that day over and over in my head…wondering if things would have been any different if I’d heard him at the door sooner. I beat myself up over that for a long time. I know now that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but nobody could tell me that then.
The funeral was naturally difficult to get through. JB was a pallbearer. I remember leaning my head on my friend’s shoulder most of the service bawling. Michael’s mom sent his friends cards a week later.
Michael was JB’s best friend, and he was also my childhood sweetheart. We had been friends since we were kids, and we were boyfriend/girlfriend in 5th and 6th grade. I still have that card, along with his obituary, tucked into a box that has eventually found it’s way into the attic. For many years, we kept a framed picture in our living room that I took of Michael when we were kids. Unfortunately that picture has gone missing since we moved, but I can picture it clearly in my mind. When we learned that we were expecting a son, we asked Michael’s mother if we could give our son his name. She told us that she would be honored…and our son’s middle name is Michael.
We still miss him every day. He would have been 33 in a couple weeks. And we still remember him on that day too.