Music and Mick

Michael Scott Bender from Germantown MarylandI stumbled upon a list of music I created a year ago, a playlist of some of my favorite songs on one of my blogs: I heard the sound of drumming, and tried to remember where I knew it from, and then I remembered. It was Galileo by The Indigo Girls. That’s when I remembered Mick.

I met Mick the Fall my father was dying, in 1994, and was caught in the spell of his gentleness, but he didn’t notice me then. A few months later he ended up at my mother’s house at an open party for the New Beginnings Separated and Divorced support group, a life changing group in the DC and surrounding area. What ensued was the kind of story that belongs in a movie or a book that women read in one sitting with tears and fascination. Maybe one day I’ll write it.

Galileo by the Indigo Girls was one of his favorite songs. He had many favorite songs, but he especially loved that one. He introduced me to the Indigo Girls, and they held me captive for a couple of years until I had to stop listening to them because they reminded me so much of him.

Then I heard David Wilcox, the next singer on my blog playlist. It was David who cemented our connection the first time we talked by phone. When I mentioned David it was as if the phone went dead, the silence was so loud I held my breath. Mick was caught off guard. No one he knew was into Wilcox, and here I, all but a stranger, was talking about him. Hurricane was another of Mick’s favorite songs, a powerful and tragic song about a girl who had a passion for speed in motorcycles.

It’d been 15 years ago that I had met Mick. After we stopped spending time together we managed to keep a friendship, which strengthened the more time had passed. I hadn’t heard both of these songs in years. The music brought back the memories as if they were yesterday, as vividly as a scent can. He listened to music so intently, and was always listening to music when we were together. For a moment I was caught in the emptiness that comes when some one has died, the silence that once was their voice, their humor, their gestures, their playfulness, their stories and their ways. Caught too in the power of this friendship that was so captivating for both of us we couldn’t ever stop talking to each other. Once while listening to a great band I whispered loudly in his ear, “What would be exciting enough for us to stop talking?” “A volcano,” he whispered back. And that was just like that!

A decade after we’d first met, I had moved to North Carolina, and Mick began visiting and considering moving down here to retire. The cost of living was so much less than DC at the time, and the weather was more moderate. For several years he worked with a local realtor to find just the right house with enough space to play music, enough nature to let him feel free, and enough rooms for his friends to visit.

June last year Mick bought his house, in Burlington. I managed to call him the first day he was in it, by chance, since I hadn’t heard from him in a while. I could hardly understand him. He was not in a good way. I rushed to his house as soon as I could and he was very very sick, but wouldn’t go to the hospital because he was waiting for his things to arrive from Maryland. Two days later he was at UNC in Chapel Hill, and I was with his stepbrother, hearing the doctor say – he has liver disease and he is not eligible for a transplant. It was to be the end, the end that he had known about for decades, but he still hadn’t been willing not to drink.

I visited him several times in the hospital, teasing him, reminding him of stories, telling the doctors about him, because they couldn’t figure him out. They asked him when he had his last drink and he said, about 3 minutes ago. I had to tell them they had to be more specific, as Mick was very precise about words. They needed to ask him when his last alcoholic drink was.

He had always told me that we would be friends until the end. Little did I know I would be among family members, and among the last to spend time with him. He taught me so much, drunk though he often was, with his gentleness and attention, his creativity and vitality. He was one of the most alive, most engaging people I’ve ever met. He really did change my life, leaving me with the qualities I admired most in him, and, leaving me free from the addiction that took his life, early, at the age of 54.

My father’s birthday was Mother’s Day, just two days ago. Mick was a lot like him, and his friendship carried me through the grief after my father died. Like soldiers in a battlefield, we pick up what we can of those we have to leave behind, and we keep marching, grateful and sad at the same time.


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