He saw me first.
Both online and in person. Our friendship began because he sent me a message to say, “That sh — you wrote was good.” As first lines go, it did its job. It laid the foundation for one of those rare and beautiful things whispered about in the corners of the internet.
A friendship between writers.
He saw me first when we met a few months later as I found myself dragging my suitcase and carry-on across the miserable downtown pavement of a Minneapolis Fall. He snapped a picture of me from the warmth of his car as I tried to lean away from the wind, barely missing the moment just seconds earlier when I threw my hands in the air and yelled at the sky, “I HATE THE MIDWEST.” He sent it to me later that day captioned, “Where to from here, Melissa?”
My bones were chilled and my hair was matted to my head when I reached the basement restaurant where we were to meet. Sitting down to bourbon, the promise of pizza, and the staff tucking away my bags out of sight, I relaxed. A bit. And then he was there, long legs taking the concrete steps two at a time, until his shaved head peeked out at me from beneath the stairwell.
He was covered in rain.
Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell are two famous writers who had a strong platonic friendship. I told Micah about their friendship awhile back. “Is that those writers who loved each other, but not like that?” he asks. I tell him this is in fact them and it is claimed Bishop said, “I loved him at first sight.” He wants to know if I loved him at first sight. I answer immediately, “I did. Without question. You were forever tall and cold and rainy and lost. I wanted you to be warm again.” He answers with a heart emoji and we both return to working on the pieces we’re writing.
The friendship that was solidified that cold October day has become what it is because we have a strict no BS policy. We edit each other’s work without frivolity. We are liberal with compliments but unashamedly say, “that’s some lazy, shoddy work. Say what you mean. Stop being afraid.” That’s how we are about life too. We challenge each other to tell the truth in our relationships and stand up for what we believe. He claims we are the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of the writing world. I’m inclined to agree though there’s a bit of TayTay and her twenty-five bests tossed in.
I think we have that rainy Minneapolis afternoon to thank for beginning it. We moved from the basement pizza parlor to a cozy coffee shop and over black coffee and chamomile, we were honest about the state of our lives. The truth came out because I asked him what projects he was working on. Everyone else on my trip had given me a list a mile long and he simply said, “I feel like…this is so dumb or pretentious…I feel like what I’m working on right now is learning how to be a human.” I told him it was okay. “That’s not dumb or pretentious,” I reassured him, “It’s just where you are.”
“So, I feel like I’m learning to be a human,” he told me, “And that is a project. I think that a lot of times…growing up as a Christian…Christians aren’t always great humans. And sometimes you trade away your humanity in order to be a religious creature. I want to be a human. So, that is my project.
“What does being a human look like?” I asked.
He thought that was a good question and I wondered if it was one he was asking at the moment.
“Not in so many words,” and philosophical Micah comes out, “What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to have an identity? What does it mean to interact with the Divine? What does it mean to have an identity that interacts with other people? That involves a lot of writing, sleeping, crying, therapy and talking to other people.”
“Obviously,” I felt like I was getting a handle on him, “when you set out to find out what it means to be a human, that’s your end goal.”
“No,” he was firm in this, “my end goal is to not die.”
I think that’s a really good end goal and asked if he believes anything else will come out of it.
“You can’t know. I think that’s part of what it is to explore our space in the universe. Most of my life has been about manipulating my circumstances and surroundings and making the world be what I wanted it to be so I could have the experience of living that I wanted to have. In many ways, the one I thought I was supposed to have because I thought that’s what God’s will was. What I’m just starting to discover is you can’t do that. You think you can but it’s an illusion and you’re wasting a lot of time and energy on creating an illusion that’s both yourself and your surroundings. They kind of conspire together to create this appearance of life that isn’t really life,” he barely takes a breath in this speech.”
“That’s what Jesus was hinting at when He said, ‘If you lose your life you’ll find it and if you try to save your life you’ll lose it.’ I know all the Bible verses in the whole Bible. I’ve known that one forever. I feel like in a lot of ways I’ve spent my whole life trying to save my life, so now I’m trying to learn to lose it. The thing about that is I can’t know what that it will look like. I think trying to know what that will look like or trying to make it look like something specific will defeat the purpose.”
His words were prescient.
He once wrote, “we are living a good story.” And we are, pain and beauty in equal amounts. As I think back over this past year and the battles we both have fought in learning how to be human, I remember how it seemed that for awhile the pain might win. The reality of his end goal to “not die” was brought into sharp relief. I lit candles, to keep the darkness away. I lit so many candles I can’t even remember how many. With each one flame, I would whisper a prayer and the words, “light in the dark, hope in the night, love redeems story.” I prayed so many prayers of hope. And survival.
At one point I even wrote him a letter to tell him the truth about this hard fight he’d been in. I didn’t send it, because I have learned with my friend, (as with most of us) truths are always best swallowed when learned on our own. He came to visit many months later and as we sat there on the giant sectional, I read the words aloud to him and we cried a few tears together.
“It is dead,” the letter read.
“So dead I know you’d feel the clammy coldness under your fingertips if you weren’t afraid to touch it. But you are. You’re afraid to even look at it. So, I sit here and watch it for you. You plan and hope and keep on dreaming of what may be and I want to believe with you. I want to hope with you. My soul is made up of 94% hope. But, brave one, that thing is dead. I have heard your story so many times, I can tell you almost the exact date it died even if you are not sure.
After all the couching crying and laughing and becoming human.
The pain this dead thing causes you is too much. I want you to grieve it. I want to take those clenched up, knotted fists, grasp them in mine, drag you over to that dead body, and say, “LOOK ON THIS. It is dead, bub. DEAD. Do you know what that word means?It means gone. NEVER going to live again. It means passed on to another life. It will never live with you in this life again.” I want you to face it and see it and know it. I don’t want to cause you more pain. I want you to know it so your pain will end. Move forward. Heal.”
We cry that day because this is what he is doing and has done. We cry because I am doing the same thing with my own wounds. We cry because becoming human is the hardest thing. It takes sandpaper to all the rough edges of your soul and smooths them out until you are willing to become the you that you were made to be. And then we laugh unexpectedly, because we have learned how to do this too. Laugh and cry and get angry and resolve it and find joy and peace and hope and be healthy through all of them. And then write about it, so that someone else can say, “me too, yes, I have experienced that also.” This is what we do.
This is my friend, my family. This is not the love story you were expecting, but it is a good, good story.