Saying Goodbye to a Friend

During the summer of 1984, we were all young, 17, 18 and 19 years old, barely out of high school and with a world of possibilities ahead of us. Lori, Maureen, Kim, Rick and I. Our lives revolved around our favorite music groups – Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Culture Club, Madness, OMD, UB40, Psychedelic Furs, Siouxie and the Banshees – going to concerts, buying records (yes, records) and hanging out together at Baker’s Square on 14 Mile and Schoenherr, which became our de facto headquarters. We were there so often, the staff knew us by name and we even had a regular waitress, Kirby (Don’t Call Me Kiersten). We had part time jobs but we managed to spend just about every evening together, whether at Baker’s Square, Putt Putt, the mall or at someone’s house, listening to music, playing games, going for walks, watching videos…whatever we felt like doing. It was a great time, almost perfect. Life was good.

These memories came flooding back Sunday night, on my way home from the Sarah McLachlan concert at Meadow Brook. I heard the text message alert on my phone go off but as I was still immersed in Sarah’s aura and talking with my friend and fellow Sarah fan, Mike (and not wanting to be rude), I decided to wait until I got home to check my messages. Besides, my phone was in dire need of a charge. So when I got home, I plugged my phone into the charger and looked at my messages. They were from Kim. My jaw dropped.

Rick was dead.

Oh my God, Rick died!

Oh my God, oh my God, OH MY GOD.

You see, Rick was the youngest of our group. We are all 47 and 46 years old now, but Rick was still 45. He wouldn’t be 46 until November. And 45-year-olds don’t just up and die. At least they’re not supposed to. Especially seemingly healthy, relatively happy ones.

The reality of Rick’s death still hasn’t settled in. I have yet to cry. But the regret has. See, I had this hope that someday, even though Rick lived in Florida, we could have a reunion. Get the old gang together. And now that will never happen, and that makes me sad.

Like other groups of friends, over the years we kind of drifted apart. We all have our own lives that involve jobs, families, kids, responsibilities. And we had a bit of a falling out in the late 1980’s which I am not going to get into here because it’s not important, not now, except for the fact that it kept us apart for more than 20 years. A few years back, thanks to the magic of Facebook, olive branches were extended and we are on the road to being friends again. We were very close and that can’t just be erased. It counts for something. We’re part of each other’s history and that will never change, good or bad.

Rick was a chiropractor who, for various reasons, ended up as a flight attendant. In recent years, he had become increasingly dissatisfied with his career and was taking classes to become recertified as a chiropractor. He was talking about leaving Florida. Michigan was on his short list of potential places to go. He talked of at least coming for a visit. The seed of a reunion was planted.

Like many (most? all?) of us, Rick had secrets. But there was one that I’m sure he thought he was keeping hidden, but we knew. He was gay. His partner Bob is the one who broke the news of his death on Rick’s Facebook page Sunday evening. Apparently they had been together for nearly 19 years. None of us knew Bob existed before Sunday. He was such a huge part of Rick’s life and we had no idea. We girls had suspected Rick was gay for years, going back to high school, and always wondered why he never told us he was gay. It’s not like we would have treated him any different. It wouldn’t have mattered.  I imagine our reaction if he ever told us would have been a collective, “yeah, we know.” Why he chose to not tell us is something we’ll never know. (Note – I found out later that Rick did indeed tell Kim that he was gay. Why he confided in her and not the rest of us will remain a mystery.)

Rick wasn’t perfect – he could be rather pretentious, like listing his hometown as the upscale enclave of Grosse Pointe instead of working-class Warren on his Facebook page. He was born in a hospital in Grosse Pointe but never lived there. There were other things too, that again I won’t go into because they’re not my tales to tell. He began to change when he started studying to become a chiropractor, at least towards us. He grew more distant, a bit haughty, even acted like he was better than us. I got a couple of letters from him probably in the early ‘90’s, and he signed them “Dr. Rick.” I thought, come on, dude, I’ve known you since you were 12 years old and you’re going to sign your letters “Dr. Rick?”

But he was still my friend. Despite everything – time, distance, fall outs, break ups, angry words, life changes – I still considered him a friend. I was glad when he found me on Facebook and sent a friend request. Now we were all back together, at least on Facebook. A real-life reunion couldn’t be far away, right?

Rick’s partner Bob said that he passed away in his sleep while they were visiting his brothers and nephew, and right now they don’t know what caused it. He had IBS and some stomach issues, but those don’t kill you. They may make you miserable but they don’t kill you.

Baker’s Square is gone now, replaced by a bank. Maureen and Kim have been married for several years and have kids. Lori is married, too. I’m in grad school. We all have jobs and responsibilities and have gone through both good times and bad times that none of us could have imagined back in the glorious summer of 1984, when all that mattered was when our favorite groups were going to release new albums and go on tour.

But this is different. This affects us collectively as a group. This is something that isn’t supposed to happen, at least not at this point in our lives. This is something that makes silly things, like the “Potential Prince Charming” stuffed frog toy and Sheila E. single he gave me one Christmas suddenly take on a specialness that wasn’t there before.

So on Saturday evening, the four of us that remain – Kim, Maureen, Lori and I – plan on getting together to celebrate Rick’s life. The memories, both good and bad, will flow freely. Photos will be shared. We’ll talk of those days when we were inseparable as friends and sure that we would all be friends forever. Because that’s just how it was supposed to be.

Rest in peace, Rick. You’re with your mom and dad now. I’ll miss you, my friend.

UPDATE: Rick’s partner Bob emailed me recently and said that they determined the cause of Rick’s death was natural causes. He apparently had high blood pressure and some other issues that contributed to his death. It’s still strange to think that he’s gone.

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One thought on “Saying Goodbye to a Friend

  1. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Your friend rick would be proud at this beautiful and heartfelt memorial. I am so deeply sorry….these kinds of things just aren’t supposed to happen. ((((hugs))))

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