Sunday, November 23

A tribute to Superman

Note to reader: This is another, more personal entry. Feel free to skip. Believe me, I’d rather have more motorcyle related material to write about but for now, this is my life.

Friday, November 21, 2008 at 3:37 p.m. my brother Michael died. Not an ordinary death but a brutal one at the hands of a hit and run driver whose conscience has yet to compel him or her to come forward. Vehicular homicide, they call it. Whatever. This individual couldn’t have known Michael, not like his family and friends knew him. To know Michael would make it impossible to objectify him and leave him abandoned on the street near death. Crowded into the ICU over the last few days, especially minutes before he was unplugged, were some of the many people who did know him and love him.

Michael was a really funny guy—even when he didn’t always mean to be. When we were younger and under the same roof, I used to tell him that he should go to Hollywood and hang out on the streets, someone surely would discover him and appreciate this talent. I often added because “I don’t!” I’d say that because I was one of his favorite targets, particularly when we were young. For the most part, I refused to let on to him how funny I thought he was. He called me “Gurl” more often than not, or “Big Sis” in reference to birth order rather than to my size. I’ve always been way too serious and Michael enjoyed making me laugh.

Every girlfriend who came to visit me suffered the torture only Michael could administer. Michael would ask them for a date, tell them how “fine” they looked, and would spend much of the visit pestering them to make him their love interest. All of them laughed and thought he was cute. I just thought he was annoying. He was a skinny kid, imagine the J.J. (Jimmy Walker) character from the 70s sitcom, “Good Times” and you’ll have an idea of just how skinny Michael was—not the dreamboat he considered himself. A couple of days ago, I called one of those girlfriends whom Michael loved to flirt with. She was heartbroken at the news. She asked me to whisper to him that he had to make a full recovery if he ever hoped to have a chance with her. She is a happily married woman but we both knew that Michael would laugh at hearing that and that if there were some way to return to collect on that, he would. But from Tuesday night when he was brought in, to Friday afternoon, he never regained consciousness.No matter what was transpiring in one’s life, Michael could find some odd humor in it. If you could mix Eddie Murphy with Rodney Dangerfield, you’d get Michael. His teasing of me when we were growing up often made me retreat to my bedroom with the door closed. I was forever reading and Michael was forever interrupting that in any way he could. He’s stand there on the outside of my closed door talking with his mouth pressed to the edge, distorting his voice--anything to continue torturing me. Once I bought my own orange juice and put it in the refrigerator and probably put my name on the carton (with three brothers, I often did things like that). Michael told me that he drank from the carton. I was grossed out and royally perturbed. Michael inherited that orange juice. I always had my suspicions that he hadn’t drank from it and said it only make me surrender it to him. As a child, I used to get mad at him for deliberately breathing on me. Yet, when I left for college and came home for visits, one of the first questions I’d ask is, “Where is Michael?”

Two, among the millions of funny, memories I’ll cherish: Michael was about seven years old, which made my other brother eight and me nine. We were sitting in front of the television watching Superman on a hot summer afternoon. My pregnant mother was preparing dinner and my father hadn’t made it home from work. We had no air conditioner so the window to our second floor apartment was open (it had no screens). Michael stood up and announced, “I’m Superman. I’m gonna fly.” He extended his arms and circled the room. We ignored him to watch the real Superman. Michael disappeared somewhere in the house. When he returned we didn’t notice that he had tied a blue plastic bag, the kind clothes are returned in from the cleaners, around his neck and it trailed behind him like a cape. He announced, “I’m Superman, watch me fly.” We ignored him. I saw him in my peripheral vision. Then we heard him say, “Look, I’m gonna fly.” I turned to see Michael sitting on the window ledge. In an instant he was gone!

For another split second I sat in disbelief. I must have been thinking, “Did he just fly?” I jumped up and looked over the window ledge. There he was, in a heap on the ground with that plastic bag in place and blanketing him. I ran to the kitchen to tell my mother who told me to return to the television so that she could finish dinner preparations. It took persistence to make her understand that Michael had somehow exited the room via the window. She ran faster than I thought a mother could. Michael was moaning on the ground. Fortunately, he suffered only a broken arm and a stern lecture from my parents, especially my father, not to play Superman ever again. Just an aside: Michael’s cast had to put on twice because he picked the inside cottony fuzzy stuffing out so much that it weakened the cast and it had to be redone. Warnings to him about how own cast removal followed.Funny story #2. We were up very late at night with my father watching television, so it must have been a Friday or Saturday night. The rule was we could stay up as late as we wanted but when sleep came upon us, we’d have to go to bed. Michael fell asleep and our father told him to go to bed. Michael protested that he wasn’t sleeping. He was given another chance and another. Finally, had was ordered to rise and go to bed. Michael stood up and wobbled, barely able to walk. Except for the glow from the television, the living room was darkened. Michael didn’t turn around as he should have to leave the room. Instead, he walked to a corner of the room, stood there for a brief moment and then we heard something. The sound wasn’t immediately familiar to me. But it was to my father. I remember him yelling, “Boy, what are you doing?” Michael was urinating! Apparently, he was sleeping walking—the only thing that could explain why he went to that corner, unzipped is pants and let go! We later teased him about “peeing” in front of us and sleep-peeing. Our father’s yell bolted Michael alert and our collective laughter turned a black kid very red. Words can never describe his embarrassment nor can words capture the years of teasing that incident brought him. Whenever his teasing got to me, I could always add: “At least I don’t pee in front of people.” His response was usually, “Gurl, shut up!” Then he’d laugh. I’ll have to think hard on it, but I don’t ever remember Michael ever being really mad at me.

Michael was kind-hearted and generous with what he had, which wasn’t much. Still, he wouldn’t hesitate to share part of that with anyone. Judging from the neighbors who came to see him in ICU, it is not an understatement to say that everyone loved him. The men, women and teens who happened to be there when the machines were unplugged, weep openly. I witness women leading their grown sons out of the room. I saw teenagers vowing to find out who did this horrific thing to Michael.

I was somewhat relieved that he would never live with those injuries he suffered. Michael was not the wheel-chair or vegetable type--no one is, really. I was relived that, given that his life was no longer viable, we let him go on the date that we did. That next day, November 22, was my birthday, which forty-five years ago became indelibly marked by JFK's assassination--a day that I remember too well. Adding Michael to that date would have caused me grief beyond measure—and not something Michael would have wanted.Gone now is a man who once tried to fly like Superman.


Postscript: Michael never hesitated to tell me how much he liked both of my motorcycles. In fact, a time does not exist when he wasn't proud of something I'd accomplished.