When "To Protect and Serve" is More Bone and Blood Than Just Motto
A missing of Mike
The combination of midazolam and fentanyl secreted away in my veins leaves me in an ephemerally sleepy haze. This forced sleep brings about a vulnerability new to me, of being probed from the outside to map my insides. I am the underwater topography of a lakebed.
Moments before my colonoscopy, shoe-horned into a small room in a series of small rooms where people both awaited and recovered from procedures, I was hummingbird-heart anxious. The nerves were new to me because it wasn’t a procedure I was fearful of, tho once you are tethered to an IV and covered by a smock three-sizes-too-big, your mind descends into the depths of what-could-be. My thinking jumped to Mike, Megan’s dad, who I knew was at home in a similar bed, with crisp white sheets and a perimeter of muffler metal. Did his bed also come equipped with wheels? I imagined us together, sprint-racing the halls as our milkweed-silk hair was blown into windswept mohawks.
My second-to-last postcard to Mike, sent on Thursday, told him about my colonoscopy on Friday. My last postcard to Mike, sent on Saturday, told him I was excited about his new hospital bed. By Sunday he was dead. “Dead” feels so disrespectful. Maybe it’s because it’s not multisyllabic enough to offer import to the passing. The word is cut short, like life. Maybe that’s why I loathe it; it’s too close to reality.
“Beyond the pain of someone you love no longer existing, there’s the unexpected pain of living in a world where you are suddenly loved by one less person.” I relayed this to Megan as her dad was dying. It was what I felt when both my grandmother and stepmother died. Tho I didn’t feel it as acutely when Juan died because you can’t feel just one overarching emotion when you are drenched in an avalanche that is also melting. Am I freezing or drowning? Am I dying by too much water or not enough air? I miss the smell of Juan’s beard and the way honey would get trapped in its curls as if he sweat amber.
How I adored Megan’s dad. Mike was born out of time. Even in the small-screen modernism of the 21st century, Mike was cut straight from the fedora formality of a 1940s movie. His mannerisms, also shared by his son Jason, were enunciated and elegant. Mike was the guest you’d desire at every cocktail party, ready with an informative story told slowly and punctuated by a snapback of his head as he hit the humorous sections. Huh, yet another similarity between father and son. He was pressed, tucked, and buttoned up but also had a streak of teasing and openness. Mike enlivened the best vestiges of the past, respect for women and tradition. The first to stand when a guest approached the table and the last to take a seat. He didn’t open doors for women because he thought them meek, but because it was his duty to be polite, to be helpful. A man from the military who spent his career as a police officer and detective, he was duty-oriented.
I didn’t “grow up” with my father. He wasn’t a divorced dad who took me on weekends like Mike did his kids. My dad was a divorced man who saw me a few times a year likely at the behest of my mom or stepmom. In my childhood, my dad was remote, both physically and emotionally. By the time I was in my 20s, our relationship improved, but as a kid, his distance resulted in a shared ignorance of each other. It wasn’t until I met Mike that I realized my dad wasn’t “protective” of me. How can you be when you aren’t around? But Mike was protective. Beyond just his police training, he seemed inherently driven to protect. It was silent and powerful, not ecstatic and showy. He didn’t protect in order to be the white knight or the hero, he protected because it was his duty. Mike’s calm, reach-for-the-gun demeanor and cherubic face defied what was likely a latent power. Not a quick-draw man of pomp but one with aquiline eyesight, observing all angles of the meat.
When Mike first found out I was dating Jim, he tapped his finger on the white-clothed table and said “Give me his full name, I want to run a background check on him.” Ping. The electrodes of my younger self, who longed for a dad who was a blend between Pa Ingalls and Dan Connor, fired in all directions. A father-like-figure wants to protect me, make sure that I’m safe! Ahhh, and there’s the rub of the nub, the protuberance of my psyche that longs to be seen as valuable enough to be kept safe. Mike offered to keep me safe. He was human, but he displayed the type of traditional fatherly mores I was desperate for as a chubby, chatty, lost-to-reality kid.
Earlier this year, as Mike and I stood amongst a crowd at my mom and Megan’s art gallery, we talked of old famous suicides in Omaha. And I shared with Mike the details of my feeling accosted, attacked, investigated by the local police after Juan’s suicide. How Jim nearly went full-tilt Sicilian on them. How after I finally handed over Juan’s long text, the deputy wrote to me, “It's very apparent that he loved you and you loved him - I'm so sorry for your loss.”
As I finished my story, the whole gallery seemed to go silent, cheese-chewing and laughing lessened to a hum, as Mike put his right hand, heavy with the protective heft of a flesh-encapsulated weighted blanket, on my left shoulder and said slowly and intently, “You could have called me. I wish you would have called me. I would have taken care of it.”
Thinking back to that moment now, thinking how true his words were and how deeply I believed him, I am bereft. Empty. Not just for me but for all those he longed to protect. All the defenseless animals and children whom Mike affirmed his allegiance to every time he uttered and re-uttered one of his most memorable Mike-isms, “There is a special place in hell for people who hurt animals or children.” He was the hardest softie I have ever known.