When I was 18 I met Mike Johnson at a bar in Edmonton. He was working the door for the band. He was sick with a cold. He was wearing a green and yellow plaid shirt. It was the second time I’d seen that particular band since I’d moved to town. The first time was at Blues on Whyte, and he’d been doing sound for them. This time around Mike made a point of going out of his way to talk to me.
He sat down at my table and bent to grab my foot. He pulled it up to eye level between us and asked me with force,
“Why do you wear boots like this?”
That’s most of what I remember of Mike from that night — him asking me about my boots. I must have given him my number or we made plans, because soon after I took the city bus to his apartment for a “date” where we rolled pennies into pages of loose leaf paper and walked down to the corner store to buy a pack of smokes.
He was goofy and kind. He was a year older. He worked a few retail jobs and was a willfully terrible employee at all of them. He shot film and had gone to theatre school to be a technician. He somehow spilled beer on my almost every time we went out. He called his Ibanez his I-been-had. He was weird and sweet and he wanted to be with me because he thought I was funny and pretty and I fell in love with him.
From the time I was 18 to 23 I was with Mike. He was easy to be with. When we moved in together we lived in a shitty apartment above a convenience store where he regularly bought his cigarettes and a chocolate Icy Square. He’d secretly eat the Icy Square on the way back up the to apartment until one day I was with him and the fella running the cash said, “No Icy Square today?” And then he had to buy two from there on out.
We moved to Calgary and eventually into a house in the Sunalta district that was home to some of my happiest memories from my 20s. Mike bought me my first guitar when it was well out of his budget to do so. I didn’t know how to play at all. He encouraged me to sing and write and I was too scared. I didn’t do it until years later, but I always remember that he wanted me to. That he thought I could.
My memories of Mike are so formative of my young adult life that my heart aches with their beauty. Of their humour.
When we were just starting to date he asked if I’d be interested in seeing a play that was written by his ex-girlfriend, Kate. I knew she was several years older than him and I was so curious to meet her that I agreed to go without even considering to entertain a jealous thought. We were seated in the front row when he turned to me and said that this was a play about all her bad relationships. And then, before my eyes, I saw the realization take hold of him.
“Wait. There might be something about me in this show.”
When I was 23 I moved from Calgary to Victoria for school. I’d assumed we’d make it work, but the long distance strained us. After a Christmas at my mom’s we got in his van to drive back to Calgary. We weren’t five minutes from her house when we agreed that the holiday was too hard. It was no fun. And one of us said, “It doesn’t have to be hard. We could just break up.” We drove back feeling happier. Feeling that we’d solved the problem in the best way possible. We could be friends.
We lost touch for awhile after that. I moved to Australia. He got married and then separated. In 2015 I visited him in his home in Washington. We were a decade older. He finally had a beard after never being able to grow one. We spurred each other on with old stories and laughed until tears came at all the wild things we did together as kids. And when the night got too late to carry on, he asked if I’d like to come for dinner at his house the next night. I’d be able to meet his partner. I accepted. It was lovely. She was smart and kind and beautiful and their love for each other was striking to witness.
A year ago Mike died. His death was sudden and heartbreaking. It feels unfair. It feels unreal. He died shortly before I gave birth to my son. We had been texting in the weeks prior and he told me to take my vitamins and do squats because he’d wished he’d done more of both before his kids were born.
I miss my friend Mike Johnson.
I miss him so much.
I know I am not the only one, and I know that the way I feel the lack of him in my life is only a fraction of how it is felt by others.
But I miss him all the same. I always will.