We have all experienced it, that first personal, conscious glimpse into mortality.
When we are young, we hear about the passing of distant relatives that we hardly knew and met maybe once if at all. We heard about some figure on the tv or in movies but they were, still on the tv so the sighs of our parents did not seem to mean much.
But then mortality reaches out and taps you directly. You are just aware enough to begin to understand that life has joys and pains. Then suddenly someone you know, someone close to you is taken from life. You finally realize what it means when they say, “You will never see them again.” This is the story of my first direct, personal realization of the finality of mortality.
His name was Mike Rohr.
Mike had attended my high school during our Junior and Senior years. He was an exchange student but not in the traditional sense. He was an American citizen but his family was constantly on the move. I don’t remember why. They had managed to allow Mike to get into the exchange student program so he could have a proper graduation year with friends, rather than graduating from some school he may have attended for only a few months.
Mike was a cool dude. Lighthearted and quick witted. He was often the class clown pushing the envelope just a bit to get a laugh but always with taste. He never dropped trou or anything like that. But he also had no difficulty shouting out something totally off beat right in the middle of a class. He always hit his mark. He was so much better at math than I was. I am a reasonably intelligent person but calculus hurt. He was a great help to me on that front.
As we neared graduation, Mike was having some socialization problems, especially with girls but also in general, having never really been able to set down roots. Much to my surprise he came to me. Maybe I was not as screwed up back then. Or maybe it was that we had bonded and he didn’t care if the guidance he got came from a social basket case. Still, it felt good that he came to me. He opened up and we bonded even tighter.
On Friday, May 10, 1974, Seals and Crofts was playing at the Coliseum. Most of you probably don’t have a clue who they are but they were a fairly hip pair of folk rockers. They had their share of hits: “Summer Breeze,” “Hummingbird,” “Diamond Girl,” “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” so they were more than one-hit wonders, though they may not go down in rock history well.
My clique, Smedly, Corn, Emma (a guy), along with Mike and a few others got tickets. We were going to make a night of it. Earlier that Friday I bumped into Mike. He was really depressed. The impending graduation, his family so far away, and some girl troubles were piling up on him. We talked for several hours. When he left, he had a smile on his face and a spring in his step. I don’t know what I said or that it even mattered. I think it was just that I was there for him and I made him genuinely aware that I cared.
The concert that night was wonderful. Nothing flashy, just music from a couple of guys that knew their craft and who could entertain an audience. At one point Crofts did an awesome Nose solo; he basically hummed through his nose while plucking or pinching his nostrils to create interesting effects and rhythms. We all enjoyed ourselves and Mike seemed to be on top of the world, miles above the slump I saw him in earlier.
The next day Mike went to the lake with the swim team.
That afternoon, I got a call from one of my clique, Emma.
“Hello.” “Keith, its Emma.” “Hey, what’s up?” “I’m sorry man. Mike’s dead. I thought you should know.” “Emma, that’s a pretty sick joke man.” “It isn’t a joke. He’s dead. It happened just a little while ago. He went diving at the lake. Hit his head on something, broke his neck and drown. I’m really sorry man.”
That horrible feeling of helplessness . . .
His family had the body moved to where they were at the time.
For several days I drifted. Being who I was then I wrote a poem. I am not a poet, not by any stretch of the imagination. If any writing for Mike bears any merit, it is this post. My skills at this are at least a trifling better than my teenage, angst ridden poetry. Nonetheless, I add that poem to this honorarium.
One day while walking along,
I came across a friend with something wrong.
I’d been there, and I told him what I could,
and he smiled as he left, and said he would.
That night, the bird did hum,
and the last nose solo was just begun.
A Summer Breeze filled the air,
and Diamond Girl was also there.
He smiled and laughed, and felt the glee,
of people who care and are willing to see.
The very next day things were great,
until I got a call that made me quake.
It seems my friend with the new found hope,
had, by nature, reached the end of his rope.
He who had smiled and could stand against hate,
lost his life in a dark green lake.
Why did it happen to him?
Why did it happen just then?
Mike in a planned sneak kiss attack on our geometry teacher. The inset is my Seals and Crofts ticket stub.
Roar Mike Rohr.