I miss Mike Helmit.  He died in June, just about 8 months ago, and I have been trying to think of some way to express what he was to me, and what an awesome dude he was.

Every evening I come home from school, I take the back roads (not the highway) so I have an opportunity to pass by his apartment complex.  When driving by the apartment complex he lived in I look for him.  Not ‘glance to the spot he used to sit and wave at traffic by reflex’ but I crane my head as I drive past.  Not because I think I’ll see some spectral dude in a wheelchair, but because I still haven’t convinced myself that his death wasn’t an elaborate joke.

That was my reaction the first 24 hours after I found out he’d died.  It was a trick, or a joke, or a mistake.  He couldn’t possibly be dead.  There is no way that Michael James Helmit could possibly DIE, it was his brother and the whole thing is just a big mistake.

I also spent most of that day bawling like an infant, as well.

The funeral was unreal.  Me and my boyfriend were really the only people who’d bothered try to dress up much- I found out he had died the day before the funeral, so there was a big panic for me to find a black dress and I was a teency bit irritated to find that I had done a bit of unnecessary panicking.  I was glad to see that his family had cremated him, as he had really wanted.  (Well he REALLY wanted his body donated to science- he was born somewhat handicapped and wanted his body used to prevent his birth defect happening to others- but he KNEW his family wouldn’t go for it.)  They had pictures and articles of him out everywhere.  My dad told a really great story about him, which I’ll relate in a minute.

Since I mentioned his handicap I’ll try my best to describe it, although I always fail somewhat.  Mike was born with stumps of arms, basically he had arm only up to the elbow.  He had a small bump which he called his thumb (when I was little my brother and I used to push it and he would go ‘beep!’ for us).  His legs were two different lengths, neither the proper one, and his feet were very malformed.  He had a total of three toes between both feet.  His torso was just fine- normal head and body, just unformed appendages.  He built models, he had better handwriting than most people I know, he smoked a lot before he died (not just cigarettes, he was a dyed-in-the-wool-pothead).  He read a lot, he was a great talker, he had the best deep evil laugh.  He did this neat thing where he could whistle and hum at the same time and it sounded like a whirring spaceship.

He loved kids- they gave pretty honest reactions and he was always willing to explain to his kids that he was just born that way.  He hated when parents grabbed their kids and jerked them away.  He hated when people directed conversation to me, when he was clearly in charge.  He could be selfish, sometimes, and he and I fought a couple of times.  He was a little desperate for female companionship, which tended to scare women away.  (I kept hoping we’d find a very curious college girl who’d rid him of his shyness and desperation, so he could find a more long term companion.)  He was opinionated and delighted in upsetting older people who blatantly stared without asking.  He never mind if anybody ASKED him what was wrong, although he wanted to have cheeky shirts made.  You know, ‘Retired Piranha Noodler (out of bait)’ or ‘Former Shark Wrangler’.

When there was  Joe’s Crab Shack in Norman, they had a stuffed crocodile (or maybe alligator) head in the front that they put the after-dinner mints in.  He used to stick his stub in as far as he could and mug like the thing was biting him.  He claimed one of the answers he wanted to give was “Danang, 1969, if I tell you more I’d have to kill you.”  As his brother was a war vet, he found this deeply funny on several levels.

Sometimes he could be petty, and he got dependent if you came by often.  He used to sit out on 48th street, between Robinson and Main.  If you live in Norman, and you drove up that street with any kind of regularity in the last five years or so, you probably saw a guy in a wheel chair waving with a stump of an arm.  He did it as often as he could.

He was a major member of the Society for Creative Anachronism for a while, and he was one of the founding members of Norman’s Artherian Order of Avalon.  He enjoyed going to the Medieval Fair every year because he knew a lot of the major players in the SCA even still, even though he fell out years ago.

He was a former Catholic, and even so he lit several candles for John Paul II when he passed on.  If his family insisted on a burial he wanted to be buried with a cross- I actually made a cross and took it with me to the funeral because I didn’t know for sure.  It was stupid and handmade, but he’d told me he’d considered getting a tattoo just to be sure one went to the grave with him.

I know 90% of the people on my Twitter feed have no clue who it is, and the people who did know Mike need no re-introduction.  My world is dimmer without him.  I still look for him.  I have heard people moving in wheelchairs and turned around, looking for him.

I have heard that when lose a limb, the place it used to be itched.  I think it’s like that when you lose people- you never stop feeling them just behind you or hearing them around the corner.  You never stop looking for them in the places they live.

I drive by his house every evening I come home from school.  I know he’d be proud of me for being back in school.  Sometimes, before I leave school, I think “I should swing by and see Mike, I have a free evening” before I realize that he’s gone.  I drive by and look for him, knowing he won’t be there and that it breaks my heart.

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