I learned a very important lesson this summer: When you have friends, friends you love dearly, you hold them in high regard. You keep your plans with them. You get together, even if it's in dribs and drabs. You keep promises. You stay in touch. You check on your friends' well-being. You take the time out of your own busy life. If you love someone, you tell them. Frequently. You give a lot of hugs and kisses. You help them help themselves. You insist on it. To date, I hadn't done a terribly good job at all of that.
For an inexplicable reason, I had my cell phone on my desk at work that evening in mid-July of this year. I usually keep it in my purse. I had another 1/2 hour to work. A call came in at 5:30 from a local number, which I didn't recognize but answered anyway. It was Amy Isbaner, my friend Mico's ex-wife, chillingly calling me to inform me that "we'd lost Mike" that day. (A lot of people called him "Mike," but I always called him by his Serbian given name, "Mico.")
I sat there listening to her with my work phones ringing off the hook in an utter daze. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He was only 42 years old. I only remember saying, "What? WHAT? WHAT?" and asking her how it happened, and she was only able to give me brief details. I told her, before having to hang up and work, that I wanted to be kept informed of the arrangements and the typical, "If there's anything I can do, call me..." blah blah. It was all I could muster to say.
I drove home from work smoking furiously, in freezing shock, though I hadn't started crying yet. My mom asked me what was wrong when I walked in the door. "Mico died," was all I said. I regaled the scant details I knew at that point, and sat down to pick and poke at my dinner, sans appetite and feeling like I was going to throw up. I texted TOC that I'd lost my best platonic male friend and to please call me on his way home from work that night, which he did. Even explaining it to TOC, I didn't cry yet.
Mico and I had been in and out of touch this summer, our last texting session, looking back at my phone, on May 5th, though we were keeping in touch through Facebook, commenting frequently. His last text was a well-being check on me after I'd broken up with my ex-boyfriend, Christopher, and him telling me if there was anything I needed, "Boobelah," as he called me, I knew where to find him. We had plans for this summer. I was long overdue for a dinner at his house, where he planned to grill me his fabulous fajitas and make his delicious, from scratch "Mico de Gallo." We had plans to meet at my church (where my drums are kept) so we could jam to The Ramones on guitar and drums, which was a long-standing plan we never got around to. He'd played guitar in front of me before, and he was really quite good. He liked to play metal.
I knew very little about his latest relationship with his girlfriend, Crystal, whom I'd never had the chance to meet, though that was another one of our plans. The last I'd heard from him about her was that they'd had a falling out, had unfriended one another on Facebook, and were rocky. I recall, at that point, snarkily posting to his Facebook wall, "Does that mean I can come over for my fucking fajitas now?" and him responding, "Lay off, Annie." So I let it go.
Mico had what he liked to call "Spidey Senses." Premonitions that eerily usually seemed to come true. A sixth sense. He told me a couple weeks before he died that he KNEW a "big change" was about to happen, but he didn't know if it was good or bad yet. Turned out he was absolutely right.
Not one to take particular care of his body, he'd been having transient chest pain and episodic passing out for several weeks, his friends all begging him to have it checked out by a doctor. I referred him to TOC (who is an interventional cardiologist) months before, given he'd had 2 mild heart attacks in the past from too much heavy fun years ago (he used to use cocaine but had been clean for a long time). He had an enlarged heart. I learned that he passed out driving his cab recently, which scared him enough to visit the Lutheran General ER, who wanted to admit him for extensive testing, which the big dope gave his usual "fuck you" to, checking himself out against medical advice. It didn't make sense. He wasn't poor anymore, having come into money after his mom passed away just months prior, and could afford the hospital trip. (A few years ago, he depleted his life savings having survived treatments for lymphoma, found during some dental work.) He thought he was invincible. And he was a stubborn Serbian.
(Once I told all of this to TOC, he hostilely said that Mico's death could've ultimately been prevented had he just stayed in the hospital. He said how sad it was when people chose stupid decisions like refusing treatment.)
Mico's father is elderly and traditional, and thus a traditional Serbian funeral was planned, though that was the last thing Mico would've wanted. He'd have preferred to be cremated, his ashes scattered somewhere in Wisconsin Dells, where he was looking at vacation properties to buy just weeks prior to his death. He believed in God, certainly, as we'd talked about it before, but he was frequently and typically angry at God for his consistent life misfortune. He was convinced he was going to Hell, though I thought nothing could be further from the truth, for he was just a heavenly-type of guy who belonged Up There to shackle the shit out of the Big Guy.
The funeral was on a Friday, when the weather was cool and dark gray clouds loomed over the Serbian Orthodox church. Taking my mom with me for moral support, as by this time I was really a veritable mess, we walked into the church and stood over his handsomely but eerily laid out body. His hair was off. It wasn't how he spiked it up himself. He was wearing a dress shirt from his favorite band, Rammstein. His father walked up to me and I introduced myself to him, telling him I was one of Mico's closest friends. "I TOLD him, you gotta quit smoking and drinking," his dad said, "I TOLD HIM. I BEGGED him, and he WOULDN'T listen to me. It should've been ME that died, not my Mico." I sympathetically listened and agreed.
His girlfriend, Crystal, walked in alone. She had this awful look on her face of utter shock that made her look stoned out of her gourd. Not having dated Mico that long, not knowing many of his friends or family, she sat in solitude during the funeral, as I looked back at her, recognizing her only from the pictures of her on Facebook.
Mico loved thunderstorms. A lot. That was one of our quirks as friends. Texting one another when storm watches and warnings were advised. "Are you watching The Weather Channel? We're in for a big one! I'm going outside to take pictures!" he'd say. One of the fiercest thunderstorms this summer blew over the church just as the funeral began. Latecomers were arriving with umbrellas, soaking wet. Huge, booming thunder erupted through the service, overshadowing what the priest was babbling on about, half in English and half in Serbian. (They really should've given that dude a better microphone for God's sake.)
That thunderstorm was PURE MICO. Voicing his displeasure at the funeral arranged for him and giving one last motherfuck to the universe and to let all of us know he was still there. I believe that with my whole heart. I watched his 3 daughters (one a grown woman, Amanda, one a teenager, Jackie, and the youngest, Rachel) and Amy sitting in the front row, with chills. The tears I could hold back no more.
I didn't follow the funeral procession to the cemetery, but Amy invited all of his friends and family to a celebratory gathering at his favorite restaurant and watering hole, Jimmy's, in Des Plaines. I went alone, and had to get to band by 7pm. I greeted Amy and spoke with her for a while, meeting some of Mico's other friends and greeting his family, though I didn't get to talk with Amanda, who was busy at a booth. While most everyone was drinking, which is typically uncomfortable for me, I ordered a Sprite and asked Amy if Crystal was there. "Yes, would you like to meet her?" she said. "Yes, I would." Crystal was sitting at the bar, still with that dazed look on her face, talking to someone I didn't know. I introduced myself, or Amy introduced us, I don't remember, but we began chatting right away. A really striking blond, I liked her immediately and could see immediately all that Mico saw in her. They'd mended their relationship since I'd last commented with Mico on Facebook, and it was she who sent the Des Plaines Police in to do a well-being check on Mico after not hearing from him for 24 hours, fearing the worst, her gut instincts on-target.
Crystal and I went out into the beer garden for a cigarette or two, and got to know one another. I spent most of my time at the dinner with her, encouraging her to eat, though she hadn't in upwards of 3 days. None of us had. We were all starving ourselves and nearly everyone was on an anti-anxiety drug to get through the last week. Mico's best guy buddy, John, had come out into the beer garden while we were smoking and commented on how many Xanax he's needed in the last several days.
Crystal is special. She and I have corresponded (she lives in De Kalb) since Mico passed away and have formed a unique bond that wouldn't have likely happened had he not died. She's someone I want to be friends with forever. I wish she lived closer so we could hang out. That girl can count on me 24/7 to help her get through this nightmare, which is still very raw to her, naturally. It's easy to tell someone "Life goes on.." but to actually live it is a different story, as is true for anyone who's lost someone they loved. She and I still write on Mico's Facebook wall, little messages to him, thinking in a silly way that he can see them. It's a coping mechanism, we realize that. But if it helps to take a little bit of the edge off the grief, go for it. I remind Crystal that she's got kids to take care of, work to do, and responsibilities outside of pining away over Mico, as we all do. I want to encourage her to be as strong as possible, as I do with Amy and the kids too.
I'm a firm believer in spirits from the great beyond. I talk to Mico, just like I talk to my late father, and I pray to God that they hear me. And I think they do.
A display was set up in the restaurant of pictures of Mico and his friends and family, which I took the time to observe. I thought it was cute that they included his favorite pair of shoes, his trademark Converse All-Stars. And his guitar. And his NASCAR memorabilia. Some of his favorite DVD's. A fitting tribute. Instead of all sobbing, we did our best to celebrate the man he was and always will be in our hearts. Eventually, I had to bid farewell to the gang and head to band, harried but ready for some therapeutic drum practice. His brand new Dodge was parked in Jimmy's lot, Amanda driving it, and I took a picture of it with my phone. His car was there at the party but he was not, nor will he ever be again. For that, my heart just breaks.
(Separately, iTunes is on shuffle and "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd just came on. How fitting.)
Flashback to 2006. I was making friends over on myspace (yes, it was THAT long ago), where I received a kind and humorous message from a man simply named "Mico." He lived in Des Plaines and I lived in Park Ridge, so I friended this new neighbor. We shared a lot in common--the most prevalent being our obsessive-compulsive desire to keep our homes clean, which I found most unusual given he was, after all, a man. He loved to cook, I loved to cook. He went to Maine East, I went to Maine South. We both played musical instruments (guitar and drums, respectively). We both had sarcastic, biting senses of humor. We both smoked and liked to drink. His emails were great. He could write very well, but he spelled like shit. He was high-school educated but extremely smart.
After emailing back and forth for several weeks, in December of '06, we finally decided to meet at Cheeseburger in Paradise, a restaurant in Des Plaines, for a beer. After a long conversation about a stubborn stain he couldn't remove from somewhere in his house, I brought him a welcome gift to the bar: a box of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. (They truly DO work! On everything!) Mico was at the bar with a couple of other female platonic friends, and we met. I found him to be slightly shy but still sarcastic and charming. We hit it off right away.
I was in an alcoholic daze, so I don't remember very much about our early friendship until after I separated from Craig and moved into Camp Swanky, where Mico was a regular visitor. Mico joked that I lived in Camp Swanky South (actually the Northwest Side of Chicago), and he lived in Camp Swanky North. "Where are we gonna meet, Swanky North of South?" he'd ask me. He dug Luke and Luke really liked him, for he was playful and friendly. Luke, being the best barometer of good people for me to be around, gave Mico an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
You could always hear from upstairs when Mico arrived at my apartment. He was driving a vintage Monte Carlo, and would always be blaring heavy metal out the windows. It was before his cab was his chief mode of transportation, back when he was bartending at the Sugar Bowl, our Des Plaines watering hole at the time. A good bartender, he was. Shame on him for letting me drive away drunk as many times as he did, but he was drinking at the same time behind the bar, so his judgment was a iffy at best.
Mico and I each thought the other was really cute, but we never ventured into romance. Our vibe was consistently that of a big brother and little sister. Being an only child, Mico always called me the "little sister he never wanted." We'd comment on how good the other looked at any given moment, but we were never romantically interested in one another. More so, we'd bitch to one another about our failed attempts at romance with other people like two girlfriends would. He was an admitted metrosexual, in touch with his sensitive side, which was very true. Not that he went so far as to get manicures, but the man dressed to the nine's when he wanted to and rocked it out, and took meticulous care of his hairdo, and wore killer male scents that would make any woman want to eat him alive, though his hookups were sporadic and dissatisfying. Never the right girl. Other girls seemed to suck the life right out of him, over and over again, which always made me sad for him.
Though he did introduce me to his single friend, Art, who I ultimately dated during the summer of 2007. It was a toxic relationship, as we were both raging alcoholics, and failed miserably, for which I don't blame Mico, but would often show up at his apartment frazzled and in tears over not being able to find Art, not being able to get a hold of Art, or Art just being a general dickwad. I'd get too drunk to drive and he actually would let me sleep it off on his couch with some regularity. (That was how I met his youngest daughter for the first time. She was sick one day and Amy had to work and Mico had to take care of his kid. I think Rachel was only about 3 or 4 at the time.)
Later, he was on one dating site that he convinced me to join, which was where I ultimately met Christopher. (Thanks a LOT, Mico. THAT TURNED OUT WELL, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!). For our large social circle, we still sought out people to date online. It was somehow safer for the shy side of each of us. Mico always preferred the company of a few good friends to that of a big crowd anyway, as did I.
The times I would take the train downtown to stay with Christopher, Mico would pick me up in the cab from the Cumberland station and drive me home. We'd always meet at the "Kiss-n-Ride," which we called the "Hug-n-Ride," and goddamnit, I ALWAYS paid him for my cab rides. I never mooched a ride from him. He deserved that and more. He could get from O'Hare to the Cumberland station, or from somewhere in Des Plaines, to pick me up in literally 5 minutes. God knows how he did it. But just like driving the Monte, the cab was always blaring the Rammstein and he was smoking a cigarette. His typical cab customer was a "regular," which was usually an old lady going to a doctor's appointment or the grocery store, after which he'd always lend a hand and help the old fogie inside and lug groceries, or put a walker or wheelchair in the car or house. He had a big, giving, open heart and would go to great lengths to help other people. That was just his nature. It's a cliche to say he'd give you the shirt off his back, but he would. Literally.
("Wish You Were Here" just shuffled on. Mico, leave me alone! I'm trying to write, you fucker!)
Mico was very supportive and proud of me sobering up. He had enough self-control, though he liked to drink a lot, to not drink in front of me, and resisted my requests to meet at Jimmy's for dinner, because there was a bar there. Instead, he'd have me over to his apartment and always had pop on hand. He reluctantly would, after I harranged him enough, to let me have some of his pot, which only ever served to get me nauseated and paranoid. But at least he shared. It's a blessing that drug never worked on me, in hindsight.
Our friendship was a lot of give and take, compromise and pacify, soothe and encourage. We loved one another a lot. I welled up in tears preparing to write this blog early this morning, thinking of him again, with both love and anger in my heart. When he died, I commented that I didn't lose a friend, but had gained another guardian angel. And that's absolutely true.
At the top of this page is the only surviving picture of Mico and I together, from 2007, drunk at The Sugar Bowl. My brother from another mother. Mico Curcic, I miss you terribly. I think about you every day. I resist the urge to text you in the parking lot at work while I'm having my morning smoke. I'll take care of things down here as best I can. You better be watching out for me from Heaven.