Saturday, January 23, 2010


Of all the feminine given names that exist the name Michelle has probably had the most profound effects upon my life.
The first that I can think of was Michelle Meridian, the dark, buxom teenage siren of Armenian descent that consented to be my girlfriend for about two weeks when we were in high school, who dumped me after I got into a fight defending her honor, losing half a front tooth in the process, then hooking up with one of my friends who had the advantage of an automobile.
My first wife's name was Michelle. Michelle W. She left me after less than two years of marriage simply because I was drunk and stoned all of the time. Bitch.
And then of course there's crazy Michelle Bachman, the U.S. Representative from Minnesota (see, Michelle Ma Belle 1 & 2). Enough said.
My favorite though, of all the Michelle's who have entered into my life (and pretty much of all the females period, who have entered into my life) did so for only the briefest of time, and did not dump me because she didn't have the chance, due to the fact that we were never together. When our respective paths separated they did so as part of a natural progression, her path taking her in one direction away from me, and my path taking me directly to the shit house.
Listen: I first met my favorite Michelle while working as the Residence Manager at the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center in Pasadena, California. I've written extensively about this period in my life in the book length memoir that is currently being serialized on the blog, entitled Salvation Diary. However I met her much later when I was in the process of editing that work, and I don't remember what the exact date was when we first met, and neither does she, but I'm thinking it must have been somewhere in 1993, the early to middle part... 17 cool years ago.
I do remember sitting behind the front desk in the lobby of the residence in the early evening one weekday, minding my own business, when in walked this young (she must have been Erin's age, mid twenties), stunningly attractive, brunette girl (look at the picture above, dear readers, she hasn't changed at all), coming up to me at the desk, and introducing herself.
"Hi. I'm Michelle _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _," she must of said (or something to that nature). "I'm here to counsel" (or something of that nature).
"Okay," I said. We must have enjoyed some small talk, or some such, as we shared some type of rapport. The Program Director, Dr. Edmund Reitz had previously assigned her certain beneficiaries who she would counsel on a weekly basis as part of their recovery program, and she was what was known as an "intern," a college student, clinical psychology in her case, there to receive credit toward her degree.
I called over the P.A. System for her first client, and she took a seat nearby on one of the lobby chairs. I kept a quite eye on her, I don't know why.
She sat for a moment, taking in all of the various events transpiring around her in the busy building, looking around with wide eyes, seemingly a tad uncomfortable, or at least nervous. Then abruptly she turned back toward me, smiled, then got up and hopped (hopped, I don't know why that particular verb sticks in my head when I think of that moment, but it does) back over to me at the desk, and we began talking again until her first client showed up and I showed them where they could go to talk.
This is what she wrote to me of that moment just a few days ago: "I am remembering that I was just a kid when I met you and I really did follow you around didn't I? Talk about being over my head. I was in undergraduate psych courses which might as well be high school and counseling seriously life-diseased addicts and alcoholics-inconceivable!"
It was at that first "hopping," and talking moment, that I knew we would become friends, and that she was very special.
It's been my experience that most beautiful girls, especially the young ones, either hide behind their beauty, and use it as a barrier to protect themselves, or use it as a weapon bent toward world domination. Michelle did neither. She seemed to be completely without guile or pretense. Exceptionally friendly and bright (I would often open up the downstairs apartment near the front desk so she could watch "Jeopardy" in between counseling her clients). She would later tell me, "I'm very naive. You can tell me anything and I'll believe it." My God, how could you not love her.
Needless to say I was very fond of her, and looked forward to her weekly (sometimes twice a week?) visits, and we would always talk about this and that. As I said, I was editing Salvation Diary at the time, and always looking for a captive audience. I offered my material to Michelle for her critical opinion, which surprisingly she accepted, actually taking my stuff with her to read and later to comment on.
"I have a whole drawer devoted to Rick things," she once told me.
I believe her encouragement at that particular time, her invaluable advice, and technical expertise ("I think maybe you use the word, 'though,' a little too much," she told me once. She was right! I did use the word "though" a little too much. I used it a lot too much. Thanks to Michelle, I no longer do that, though I use it sometimes. Now if only I can rid myself of that nasty "comma" habit), helped me immeasurably, allowed me to carry on, and this blog is a direct result of her support, love, and sincere desire to help all of those 17 years ago.
I owe you a great deal, my friend, Michelle.
We were friends. There was no chance of our becoming romantically involved due to the difference in our age (and that fact that she already had a boyfriend). I was 12 years older than her, around 37, I guess (to this day I remain 12 years older than her), and young, beautiful women in their mid-twenties do not get romantically interested in 37 year old broke, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts unless kidnaping is involved, no matter how "naive" they may be. It just doesn't happen. I knew it. She knew it. We both knew it and accepted that fact without having to discuss the matter. The only one who didn't know it was the Administrator's wife, at that time a Mrs. Strickland, who got a look at Michelle one night after I had invited her to some formal dinner function where I was one of many being honored for something. I don't remember what.
"She's lovely," Mrs. Strickland said. "She should be your girlfriend, Rick."
"She already has a boyfriend, Mrs. Strickland. Michelle is just a very good friend of mine."
Just a good friend. How denigrating. A good friend I think, can be so much more important than anything else.
But of course I was still enamored with my friend. How could any red blooded American male not be. Being an aspiring writer, I wrote her a story entitled "The _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Blues," the blanks being her last name. She says she still has it, along with some Haiku poems I wrote for her. I have a vague memory of what was in it, some kind of fawning description of her many attributes I'm sure, and how sad I would be when we eventually went our separate ways, hence the "Blues," element.
And she did go away.
The last time I saw my friend Michelle was on her birthday (our birthdays are suspiciously close together, 11 days apart as it happens, although she has the distinct disadvantage of being a Libra, rather than enjoying the superior trappings and security of a Scorpio). She had left the counseling program at the ARC by that time, and was working for some private concern in Rancho Cucamonga. I bought a bouquet of roses, drove all the freaking way out there, and presented myself to the front desk of her place of work.
Now I knew for sure that she happened to like flowers. I knew this because I had given her some when she had left the ARC program, at the front desk, and someone asked her if she liked them, and she said, "I'm a girl. I like flowers."
So I knew I was on pretty good footing bugging her unannounced at her new job. I had planned to just drop off the flowers, and make a quick and mysterious retreat, being as inobtrusive as possible.
The receptionist though (there's that dreaded word again!), must have been a romantic, and directed me to wait while she called Michelle from wherever she was working.
She was surprised and happy to see me (I think). Certainly happy to get some flowers on her birthday. And she took the time to pull me into some large utility closet where we sat for awhile a chatted, catching up briefly, before I left, never to see her again.
I believe I spoke to her once more on the phone briefly. And that was it. Until 17 years later. After she had faced some demons in her own life and prevailed, after marrying, and finding a life that is like "heaven," I received the following message via Facebook:
Michelle says, "Wow, I should have found you here first! I just sent a message to you on your myspace. Not even sure you remember me, but I have a few copies of your haiku poems and a short story titled, The _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Blues, that you wrote, so I figured I would try to catch up with you at some point- to no avail until now :) Hope all is well and look forward to hearing from you!!"
My dearest friend, how could I not remember you?
How could I ever forget?

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