I’ve never really understood those roadside wreaths and flowered cross displays along a highway at the site of an accident; a fatal accident. Never empathized with the wreath placer, the mourner. That’s not where the victim is, not even their shell of flesh; doesn’t it make more sense to decorate the gravesite, or the home? But this week I feel a little differently. This week I sent an e-mail to an empty address. Oh, the address was still valid; the e-mail hasn’t bounced. But there is no one there to read my “so long” e-mail. I know that no one is there because my friend passed away last Saturday (I tried “died” where I have “passed away”, but I couldn’t leave it; not as a fully contextualized sentence; I need the euphemism.)
Saturday, April tenth, was a great day to be alive in north Alabama. I did some yard work under the spring sun. Mike Bayler, my friend, was riding bicycle as part of a group when his heart gave out on him. I don’t know the details. I don’t need to know the details. I know it wasn’t a prolonged thing, I know that he got to ride on his final day; something he loved to do. Mike (who was often “Mr. Bayler” to me, despite the fact that he was seven years my younger. I’d greet him that way with a nod, “Mr. Bayler.” I know too many Mikes, and it separated him from the others for me. “Mr. Patton;” he would often counter-greet me. I figured he was poking fun at my formality, but now I see that maybe he was distinguishing me from other “Chips” in his life: I see two others signed the online memory book for him at madisonchapelfuneralhome.com.) was a cyclist. He had the gear, the clothes, and he felt the joy of it. He was at one time president of the Spring City Cycling Club, but he was just as happy to be a member, to help others get started, to fix up their “rides”. He helped my wife learn to use her clip shoes; stayed with her for an entire outing, reminding her to unclip whenever they came to a stop so she didn’t topple over.
I didn’t ride with Mike. I worked with him. I traveled on business with him. He took me to howl at the moon in Orlando. The dueling piano bar, I mean. I hadn’t been to one before and not since; but it was a great time. In no way do I sing, but I sang there. No mystery why they call it “the howl at moon saloon”. No pretension with Mr. Bayler.
We also spent a couple days in Oklahoma City; shared a plate of fried cheese with hot pepper jelly at some sports bar, the Super Bowl on their big screen. The second day there Mike saw me say hello to one of the hotel housekeeping maids as we walked past her in the hotel hall, a striking young lady with oddly colored hair, an almondy-silver. I explained to Mike that the prior day I had asked her for an HBO guide, maybe the one for my room had been tossed in the trash by the prior guest. She had looked at me a bit blankly; turned out her English was less than good. She didn’t look Hispanic at all but Spanish was sure what she spoke; if she had looked more Hispanic I probably wouldn’t have tried to talk to her. So it took a minute to communicate with her; and her wrongly spaced and crooked teeth contrasted with the rest of her sharp appearance. Anyway, Mike thought I provided too much detail and kidded me about the housekeeper from Oklahoma City for years.
That project was a small one. Management had been ready to “no-bid” it, but Mike and I picked it up and made it a success, at a time when the company needed successes. In fact, Mike finished it on his own because I took a job in Pennsylvania. And when Mike was in PA on business, he visited and stayed at our house. When we moved back to north Alabama he made sure to invite us to the party that he and his wife, Sharon, were having at their house – helped me get back into the flow here.
They’d gotten married while we were up north. He obviously thrived within their relationship; seven years they were married, that seems short to me right now, but it was the rest of a life to him, and rightly spent.
I didn’t get to hang out a lot with Mike the past year or two – a couple of lunches; a few crossed paths at work. I was elsewhere during his fortieth birthday party last April, but my wife and daughter were there. I was present, however, for this April’s gathering for Mike, but it was visitation at a funeral home. Still there was quite a turnout and I was heartened to see it. I hope that his family, down from Illinois or other parts north, also took some solace in the congregation. I hope it was as obvious to them as it is to me that though he had left their home, he had made a rich life here, and touched a lot of lives here, including mine. So long, Mr. Bayler; good-bye, Mike.