We all have those relationships that defined us in some way; perhaps your first love, the ultimate heartbreak or the holiday romance. Mine happened when I was 19. For a year and a half, this guy took me on all the highs and lows of love my young heart could handle. The remnants of that relationship stuck with me. I thought of him often even years after our breakup and every now and then would Google him, just to check that he was alright. Recently, one of those Google searches revealed that he’d died – and in pretty shitty circumstances at that. Finding that out sent me into a bit of a tailspin. And so, I find myself here writing this.
I met Mikey in the summer of 2000. I was down in London for a couple of weeks before my big move down here for university. He was working security at an event I was volunteering at. Our flirtation started on day one and before long, we were joined at the hip. Our first kiss gives me butterflies when I think about it to this day. He called me Minty, ’cause I have green eyes. I was 19, he was 26. I can’t remember all the particular things he said to sweet talk me when we first met, but I do know that a few months into our relationship, I found out it had all been a lie.
He was actually 31. He was on probation at the time we met. He’d done a long-ish stretch of time for something pretty serious. By the time he revealed all this to me, I was too far gone. He was such a charmer, he had ways of explaining all these little discrepancies away. He had these big brown eyes with lashes any woman would be jealous of, freckles dotted his nose and cheeks, his smile would melt your heart and he had this laugh that, well, I just chuckled to myself thinking about it. All those things combined – I’d buy just about anything he was selling.
Mikey was the only person I knew when I moved to London. He looked out for me, he protected me. We spent a ton of time together. But then there were these times where he’d just go missing, and was un-contactable. He’d reemerge a couple of days later, full of apologies and explanations. Over time, pieces of the puzzle started to become clearer.
When Things Changed
It turned out, Mikey’s life could’ve been pulled straight from a movie. He’d had an exceptionally shitty childhood. He’d been adopted, suffered abuse, fell in with the wrong crowd, which led to drugs, crime, prison.
When I met him, he was trying to get his life together. He was working as a youth worker in West London.
I think what appealed to him about me was that he thought I was really angelic. I’d only had one boyfriend before him, I didn’t drink, smoke or do any drugs, I’d grown up in a two parent household and was really close to my family. He’d never met anyone like me. He thought hanging around with me would keep him on the straight and narrow.
Being a teetotaler, I didn’t recognise the signs of drug use. I just knew something was off. And then, after many weird little incidents, came the big one. He showed up at my house one night, high – totally hyper and paranoid. He used in front of me that night. I didn’t understand what was happening and I was petrified. When he was done, he left and I didn’t hear from him for two days. I was beside myself. When he finally got in touch, he was full of apologies and explanations, as per usual. He used to have a drug problem, he said. He relapsed the other night, but it wasn’t going to happen again, he was fine now.
And me, being 19, having never taken a drug, looked into those big, brown, sorry eyes, and I believed him.
I’ll spare you all the details, suffice to say, in dealing with an addict, there are levels of complexity there that I was not equipped to deal with at that age. I was out of my depth. I couldn’t save him, stop him or help him no matter how much I tried. And since addicts spend a lot of their time running from the problem or lying their way out of it, your opportunities to do any of that are pretty limited anyway.
We’d been together a year and a half when it fell apart. Once again, he hadn’t shown up when he said he would. He’d gone AWOL, his phone was off and I’d just had enough. I marched over to his flat and found him using. I walked right back out, cried all the way home and decided I was done.
We stayed in touch for months after the breakup, ’cause we just couldn’t seem to leave each other alone. Mikey was all I’d known since I moved to London and it just wasn’t the same without him. I missed him. We were each others sidekicks. He had my back. I wasn’t sure I’d survive in the big city if I didn’t have him next to me.
Over the years, I had braced myself for someone to get in touch with me and tell me Mikey had died. It seemed an overdose was just a matter of time.
In 2009, I was living in Canada when I got a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know, just saying ‘Call Mikey’ with a phone number. It was the middle of the work day. I dropped everything and called immediately. I figured this was it – someone had tracked me down to tell me Mikey had died. I dialed the number, my heart pounding out of my chest, then someone answered. I knew that voice right away ”Allo Minty!’ he said, followed by that mischievous laugh. It was like no time had passed at all. Talking to him on the phone made me smile so hard my face ached. He sounded really good. I never brought up the drugs, nor did he. It sounded like he was doing OK. I was going home for Christmas that year and Mikey was really trying hard to persuade me to meet up with him, but I just couldn’t do it. Even after all those years, I knew my feelings for him would land me right back in the midst of it all and I just wasn’t ready.
He’d tried to contact me again multiple times over the years. The last time was around February of 2015. He’d sent me messages on every social media platform going. It was overwhelming and a bit aggressive. I sent him a message saying look, I’m in a good place in my life right now, surrounded by good people, doing good things and I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me, but I just couldn’t handle it right now. He sent me a sweet message back saying he understood and that he was really proud of me doing what I’d always dreamed of. I hoped he understood that I couldn’t see him not because I didn’t care – it was quite the opposite. It’s so hard to see someone you love continually hurt themselves.
And that was that.
The News You Never Want to Get
Then at the end of last year, I was thinking about him, as I often do, and I Googled him.
The first result was a link from a newspaper, I clicked it.
It said a vicar had been sentenced to four years in prison, based off the testimony of one of his victims, Mikey, aged 47.
As I read it, I thought perhaps it was a coincidence – just someone with the same name and age, but there were too may other elements that identified that this was in fact, my Mikey. As I read on, my heart sank and tears welled.
It turned out, he’d been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2015, so he had to give evidence in court (via a video link from his hospice) by blinking – Motor Neuron Disease being the fucker that it is, having stripped him of his speech.
The vicar who abused him was convicted based off Mikey’s brave decision to testify. Sadly, Mikey passed away before police could get to the hospice to tell him they won the case.
There’s not a single part of that story that doesn’t smash my heart to pieces.
When I think of Mikey’s life, it just makes me so sad. He was dealt a supremely shitty hand right from the start – he never stood a chance. He was truly a victim of his circumstances. Growing up the way he did, having to deal with what he dealt with, drugs and crime were inevitable. To have to battle with all the demons he did from childhood, who’s to say any of us would’ve handled it any differently had we been dealt the same hand?
To have weathered the veritable quagmire of shit that life handed him, to survive all that, only to get Motor Neuron Disease? He didn’t deserve that. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I can’t find details about the specifics – all I know is that he was diagnosed in 2015 and that happens to be the same year he was trying to contact me. I don’t know if he knew his diagnosis when he was reaching out to me, but I’m finding it hard to shake the guilt that I didn’t engage with him.
Logically and intellectually I get that I can’t beat myself up about that (and I’m sure people think they’re helping when they hurl that cliche at me), emotionally it’s a tough one though. ‘Cause I disagree – I think perhaps I should beat myself up a little for that. Maybe he really needed me and that was a time I should’ve got my head out of my ass, moved passed whatever happened and just be there. It’s gonna take me a while to reckon with that.
He made some poor choices, took some wrong turns, but beneath it all, he was a good dude. When we were together, while he battled and tried to hide his addiction, he did his best to be there for me. Looking back, I know that can’t have been easy for him.
Mikey was abused and forgotten about as a child, dismissed as a drug user and criminal as an adult. I wanted to write this so that someone knew he mattered. His life made an impact. Giving evidence in that trial before he passed was so brave and important. I’m proud to have known him, proud to have loved him and am just so sorry about the way his life ended.
Rest peacefully Mikey. Of all things, you deserve peace.