When I first met Michael, I was part of a small group hosting a room party at NorWesCon. He came into the room, gave me a big infectious smile, and said, “Hi! I’m Michael.” Even though more than half the people in our fannish project are introverts, he was a lot quieter than everyone else in the room, coming off as very shy. He had very recently moved to Washington state from Missouri. He didn’t know many people at the convention.
I have to be honest, here, and say it wasn’t love at first sight. He seemed like a really nice guy. I thought he was really good looking, that’s true. My late husband, Ray, was still alive then, and Ray commented (later, when we were cleaning up after the party) that “the new guy, the super shy one from Missouri? He’s cute. Too bad he’s straight.”
Because Michael had mentioned his girlfriend when he was introducing himself.
I didn’t see him again until the next NorWesCon. We here hosting a room party again. For whatever reason, that year the room party (our room parties were always more like a writers’ group or artists’ jam than a party—for one thing, we didn’t serve alcohol) was more crowded and busy. And the shy guy from Missouri showed up again… except he didn’t come off as shy that year. He’d grown his hair out, he was much more outgoing. And he managed to mention the fact that he worked as a bartender at a gay bar a couple times.
But the first thing he said to me when coming into the room was once again, “Hi! I’m Michael.”
A couple months later, a new season of the British science fiction comedy, Red Dwarf, premiered in the U.S. with marathons on PBS stations. Ray and I hosted a watching party, which we had announced on a couple of fannish e-mail lists. And once again, when I opened the door, I got that irresistible smile and he said, “Hi! I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Michael.”
That was the last time he introduced himself to me. He hung out at the party (which got pretty crowded), and since he’d taken a bus up to Seattle from Tacoma, and the party went a bit longer than he had anticipated, he wound up crashing on our couch. By the next day he and Ray had bonded as if they had been friends for years. We gave him a ride back to Tacoma after we found out how long the bus ride would be.
He and Ray started corresponding online after that. So several weeks later, on a Friday night when Ray picked me up after work because we were going to go out, Ray said, “I think we should drive to Tacoma and surprise Michael at work.” We had a great time hanging out and meeting the regulars at the small lesbian bar where Michael was a bartender.
It got to be a fairly regular thing, where Michael would take the bus to Seattle on a day off (which were usually in the middle of the week) and meet up with Ray, or we’d go to Tacoma to meet up with Michael. Ray had had his first round of chemotherapy by then, and was no longer working. I was grateful that someone was available to hang out with Ray at least some of the times when I was at work.
He was a great friend.
And then, not long after the second round of chemotherapy (the first one had appeared to help a lot, but it hadn’t gotten everything), Ray had a seizure in the middle of the night and fell into a coma. Michael wasn’t able to make it to Seattle before Ray died.
Michael was one of a rather vast group of people who helped me deal with the aftermath of Ray’s death.
I have another confession to make. I don’t remember when I fell in love with Michael. There’s a lot during that first few months after Ray died that is very fuzzy and confused for me. I remember Michael meeting me a couple of days before Christmas to give me a Christmas present and to tell me he hoped I managed to have a good holiday at my mom’s, even though I wasn’t in a holiday mood at all that year. One of my favorite pictures of Michael was taken that holiday season in my living room, next to the Christmas tree that I almost didn’t even put up (except I had a frantic moment where I became convinced that Ray would be upset at me if I didn’t put up at least a little bit of Christmas; which was followed by a bigger panic when I thought about digging into all our Christmas stuff in the basement because I knew I would start crying and never stop, so I bought new decorations that didn’t have any memories with Ray attached to them). I don’t remember that visit at all. For various reasons, I know I didn’t take the picture that time he came up just before Christmas, but I don’t recall the visit where I took his picture.
Somewhere during all that upheaval, I realized I had fallen for him. We had one awkward week where I thought that maybe he was spending so much time with me because he felt obligated because I was grieving, so I tried extra hard not to do anything that might be considered flirty or otherwise showing that kind of interest in him. And he took my sudden emotional reticence as a signal, and he worried that the earlier signs of interest had actually been because he was taking advantage of me when I was in a fragile state. So he tried extra hard just be be a friend and nothing more. Which I interpreted as a sign that he really was not at all interested. And so on, and so on. It was like the middle act of a romantic comedy for a bit there.
But eventually I asked him out on a date. And he said, “yes.”
It was soon enough after Ray’s death that I was more than a bit nervous about how some of my other friends would react to the news that I was dating someone already. I was incredible relieved when I told Kristin, and her reaction was to grin, make a little victory motion with her hands and say, “I hoped something like that was happening! He lights up whenever you come into the room!”
Sometime long after that, he overheard me explaining to someone why I never called him Mike. “Because every time he introduced himself to me, he said, ‘Hi! I’m Michael.'” He interrupted to say that wasn’t true. So the next several times I heard him answer the phone with, “Hello, this is Michael” or saw him introduce himself to someone at writers’ night or a convention committee meeting by saying, “I’m Michael” I would catch his eye and mouth silently, “Hi, I’m Michael.”
A lot has happened since first meeting him at a science fiction convention in 1996. I could go on and on with stories about what a wonderful man he is. I know that over that time, to the extent that I have become a better person, it’s because of Michael. He’s wonderful, smart, capable, kind, unselfish, funny, and constantly helping people. He laughs easily, and he always finds ways to make other people laugh or feel better. I often suspect that most of our friends only put up with me because my weird opinions and annoying quirks are a small price to pay compared to how awesome Michael is.
And I’m okay with that, because he is so darn awesome. And I’m not just saying it because it’s his birthday.
I have one more confession to make. When I started writing this post, I titled it, “He’s my guy.” But that isn’t true. I could never “have” a man as incredibly talented, sexy, warm, loving, kind, smart, giving, compassionate, practical, unwaveringly cheerful even when he’s being cynical, unselfish, funny, charitable, or just plain incredible as Michael.
He’s not mine. I’m his.
Happy Birthday, Michael. You deserve to have the happiest and most wonderful day all of the time, but especially today.