Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[ BtS ] Leo's Lullabye

Summer of 1999
While a bastion of liberal wonderness during the school year, Oberlin, OH during the summer is... well not the opposite. But the town and residents are just a definite shade more conservative. And, given that Oberlin is a good 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere in a state in the middle of nowhere...

Summers are different.

Early in that summer an interesting character popped in to my life. He found me on some (probably long-defunct) internet site. His pictures: him decked out in goth-style wardrobe; one crouching down like some sort of lion about to pounce... I was intrigued.

His name was Mike or Myke. He was a "townie". And I was now the only other gay person (in a reasonable distance at least) that he knew.

We started to date - taking it slowly. I was, after all, soon to start my last year at Oberlin.

I remember the first time we kissed. He had driven me back to my apartment and we were in the car with Sixpence None the Richer's, "Kiss Me" guiding us on the radio. It was something out of a teenage romance movie, I suppose. Silly perhaps. But it was our moment.

Over the next few weeks I grew to care about him quite a bit. We're both of a sort - feckless dreamers lost in our own heads. We hung out rather frequently either clubbing or just hanging out. He sometimes jokingly called me "Uncle Tosh" in regards to his nephew or friend's child. (Or maybe it was just a future/potential nephew.)

But our relationship was rocky. My state of soon-to-be-leaving and his turbulent emotional swings brought me to end the romantic part of our time together. I admitted to him I just couldn't handle it. At a length of two months (at most) it was my longest relationship to date.

We kept hanging out afterwards, though. One rather traumatizing incident later that winter, however, and... I started to back out of the friendship bit by bit. By the early spring of 2000, I was carousing Cleveland with an entirely different group of compatriots.

In May of 2000 I graduated.

I don't remember if I said goodbye to him or not. I don't even remember if I saw him before I departed for the next chapter of my life in Boston.

Winter 2004
I was now living in NYC and had been there for about a year. Myke and I had regained a little bit of contact but not a whole lot. I got a message from him that he was in town. We tried to catch up with each other but Fate was not playing along and he left without us meeting.

It was shortly thereafter that he told me the news. He'd been dating someone, they broke up, and somewhere along the line he discovered his boyfriend wasn't up front about his HIV status.

Myke was now HIV+, too.

Fall 2006
My life in NYC - 3 years - was a failure and I had returned, tail between my legs, to live with my parents where I'd grown up in Middle o' Nowhere, CA. Contact with most of my NYC and Boston crew was lost as I couldn't bear to face the pain and humiliation. Hope seemed scant. The future: bleak.

The neighbor across the street had a band in need of a bassist. I joined. It's my one lifeline out of my depression, despair, and desolation.

One night, during rehearsal, the notion of a bass riff spilled from my hands. It's simple-ish but tasty little thing - incorporating a bunch of tapped harmonics. After rehearsal I rushed to my room and proceeded to put ideas to computer.

I decided that the entirety of the work (the accompaniment at least) will be nothing but layers of bass playing. A few days later, the structure and textures of a song are in place.

Some time between Fall 2006 and 2007
"I'm gonna die. Will you write a song for me?" Myke asks.

"You're just HIV+ - not dying," I reminded him.

"I know, but..."

The conversation is a tad morbid perhaps but just sorta par for the course for us. I remind him that when people ask me to write songs for them, they usually don't turn out so much in the subject's favor. He doesn't care and wants a song for himself. I acquiesce.

Fall 2007
Earlier that year I finally managed to get my pull myself together enough to get my butt out of CA. I'd spent two months - February and March - betwixt San Antonio and Austin helping a friend through bone marrow transplant. This provided me the seed money to get out of California and, as of that May, I've started another chapter now in the Philadelphia area.

After struggling with the lyrics for months, Myke's song "Leo's Lullabye" is finished. It's a bittersweet tune - trying to capture the essence of both of us being naive dreamers with worlds in our heads and stars in our eyes and ending with the our realities splitting us apart.

I send him a link. He sends me thanks.

Over the next couple of years we'd chat every so often - pretty randomly. On several occasions Myke mentioned the desire to leave Oberlin and start a new life, a new chapter for himself. The reasons vary: job dissatisfaction, lover dissatisfaction, health care dissatisfaction, etc. I invite him to try out Philly and he sounds interested but he never visits.

A couple of times I mention the desire to return to Cleveland and Oberlin to visit and/or gig. But I'm still unbelievably broke and nothing ever pans out.

June 16th, 2010
Myke's body is found in the front yard of the home he shared with his father. It's first suspected that their dogs attacked him and/or that he died of a heart attack out of fright. An investigation is started but I never hear the results.

There's a memorial for him but I can't attend, of course. I'm too poor and can't afford to lose work nor get myself to Ohio.

It's now been eleven years since we met and at least ten since I've seen him last - since I'd seen him period. We never reconnected in person. I never got to see the person he grew into. And by all rights he grew into someone spectacular who found his place and touched many lives.

Life is short. Life is unexpected. Love who you love and make sure they know.

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