… to the inevitable dusk." – Susan Scarf Merrell
I'm the oldest child of Jim and Sue, my sister Meagan is the youngest, and there, in the middle, was Michael (as you can see, my parents had a thing about M's). Unfortunately for our family, the inevitable dusk of Michael Ryan's life was August 23, 2009.
Mike (whom may be referred to as Michael or even Bucky throughout this post) was born July 23, 1980. I remember being woken up by my dad (Papa), getting dressed in a little smocked sunsuit popular with women who were moms in the late seventies / early eighties, and going to Grandma and Grandpa's house. By the end of the day, I was no longer an only child, but instead, an older sister.
To one of the biggest characters you'd ever have the good fortune of meeting.
From an early age, Mike had this habit of pounding his head on the floor when something upset him or he made a mistake. The most memorable time he did this was when I told him we had a new baby sister. He sat at his desk pounding his head against it (he'd wanted a little brother). In those inevitable instances where my mom would ask the rhetorical mom question, "Michael, what am I going to do with you?" his response was, "Put me in the gahbage can" (he never said garbage, it was always "gahbage"). The kid was all of three and thought Oscar the Grouch was the coolest thing ever.
My parents discovered Michael was colorblind when he was in kindergarten. They were called into a parent teacher conference because Mike was being "defiant" in school. The teacher's definition of defiant was Mike always using a rose pink crayon when asked to color something red. Well, my dad being a genetics minor and my mom having a colorblind father, it didn't take a genius to figure out Mike wasn't defiant (that was me), but rather he was colorblind. Which of course often caused hilarity amongst his friends and family, and a lot of parent/teacher phone calls as well. Here are three little tidbits:
- When he was in high school, Michael bought himself a winter hat. It was white with a black Playboy Bunny silhouette. He really thought he was something until we pointed out the hat was actually baby pink.
- In junior high, our art teacher required us to paint a logo. Michael chose Pepsi, which at the time, was red and blue. He got a D on the project because he used royal purple instead of royal blue. Then my mom called and told the art teacher Mike was colorblind. The grade got bumped up to a B, and would have been an A had Mike simply told the teacher he was colorblind and needed help. Important lesson learned.
- At Michael's funeral, I was sitting next to my dad and my best friend was sitting behind us. Being Catholic, they draped the casket in a royal purple cover. My dad and I started snickering, and when Brande' leaned forward and said, "Yeah, you guys are thinking he sees royal blue too, aren't you?" we all started giggling. Inappropriate? Maybe. But he was ours, we loved him, and humor really can be the best medicine.
Bucky (I have no idea why I started calling him that but I did and it kind of stuck) could make me laugh like no other. I was in college when Mike was going through puberty, and if I was having a bad day, I'd call home and ask to talk to him. My parents would try and talk with me, but I'd just snap and say, "I want to talk to Mike," and they'd put him on. And he'd go through this little skit he had between Mr. Sunshine in his really high pitched puberty voice and Mr. Raincloud with this deep raspy voice. He also had a Chipper Chipmunk imitation that he'd do that was pretty endearing.
As he got older and the voice went more raspy than high pitched, Mr. Sunshine went the way of the VCR. And so it was Mike's storytelling that could make me laugh like no one else. Cross my heart and hope to die, these next little snippets are all true stories that really did happen to Mike:
- At his high school's All Night Party (Royal Oak Dondero Class of 1999) they had a raffle. Michael's number was the last one called. While his friend Greg walked off with a mountain bike and Josh got a dorm refrigerator, Mike walked off with a pack of cassette tapes and a cassette holder.
- Mike went to Shrine (Catholic school) for a year. One day he and a friend were bantering in the hallway, and Mike turned to his friend, used his hands to indicate his crotch and mouthed the words, "Blow me." What he hadn't realized was a Priest was in the hallway and had come up on Mike and his friend.
- Mike had been discharged early from the Marines, and still received a pay check. One day he went to go get money out of the ATM and the machine ate his card. A few minutes later, a homeless mute "asked" Mike for money. He explained what had happened and ended with a sad, "I'm sorry but I just can't help you." A few minutes later, the mute came back, handed Mike $5 and had written a note, "You need this more than I do right now. But thank you for making me laugh."
Like my grandpa once said, "Your brother isn't the brightest, but you just can't help but like him."
Bucky and I could argue like no one else, too, but that's another story.
But my favorite moment between Michael and I took place when he was in high school. It was spring and I had just gotten home from college for the summer. We'd had dinner at the house with the rest of the fam' and then he'd gone with his friends and I'd gone with mine to a small carnival at a nearby high school. Well, as I said, it was a small carnival, and so it didn't take Mike and I but a few minutes to run into one another. We talked for a few minutes and then my friends and I were going on to a movie as the crowd was just a bit too young for us. As I was leaving, Mike called out, "Hey, wait a second!" and grabbed my arm. "I didn't say good-bye!" he said, and gave me a quick kiss on the lips (unlike Angelina Jolie and her brother, or even me and Sasquatch, Mike and I's kiss lasted all of two seconds like a kiss between a brother and sister should). As I went to walk away for the second time, I heard one of Mike's friends say, "You just kissed your sister!"
Mike's response was, "Don't you kiss your sister?"
Mike shrugged and said, "Yeah, well, I love my sister."
I love you, too, Michael. Happy birthday, little brother, wherever you may roam.