The week my father died I began working at a bar on campus. Cochrane's. I was one of the DJs. Sayon was another one. He and I would alternate Friday & Saturday nights every weekend. It was a fun time, believe it or not. I did a lot of bar hopping during those days, at Cochrane's, other campus bars and, of course, Chester Street. There were several bar outings in those days that consisted of failed attempts to be noticed by some straight guy or other. What was I thinking? Oh well.
My friend, Bryan, had gotten me the job at Cochrane's. He'd just become the manager there, and was nice, and believed in my DJing abilities. Sometimes during the day when the bar was technically closed, but Bryan was there working on stuff, I'd stop by and visit. There was a cafe a couple doors down from the bar, and I remember stopping in there one day. The two owners were a husband and wife, very kind people. They had a nephew visiting -- an extended visit -- named Mike.
Mike was as nice as his aunt and uncle, but a bit of a cipher. I never discovered, for example, why he was living with them. Something he was running from? I don't know. What I do know is that he is one of the first people in my adult life who seemed genuinely interested in me. Initially I mistook this as some sort of romantic attraction (probably because he wasn't half-bad looking), but in the end, the fact that he just wanted to be friends is good enough.
Mike worked for his relatives at their cafe, and would often check-in at Cochrane's, looking for me. "That Mike guy was here looking for you," was a refrain I often heard from co-workers. I'd then seek him out, and we'd sit and talk, or walk and talk. One evening, as the sun was setting behind us, we took a walk along the banks of the Boneyard Creek as it snaked through campus, talking about various things: how our day had been, what we were up to in life, etc. Somewhat surface-level stuff, but we were intently listening to each other.
About a month into my stint at Cochrane's, we closed down the bar one night so the staff could go on a bar crawl. We hit several campus establishments that evening. In truth, it was an exceedingly festive occasion, one that has always stayed emblazoned in my mind ever since. We headed-out around 9pm and, just as we were leaving, Mike came up (probably from the cafe), and asked what was up. I told him, and he asked to come with. Of course I said yes.
It is perhaps difficult to explain the impact Mike had on me that night, but it was the first occasion I can think of when someone who wasn't my parent sort of looked after me. He was by my side the entire evening, though never in a smothering way. He was able to be social with people, but never strayed far from my vicinity. He made sure I had a drink if I wanted one and, even though we were just friends, it really felt like, 'Hey, I'm out with someone tonight. It's me and him, with others, but it feels like we're here together.'
Alas, Mike was gone from my life almost as quickly as he'd entered it. A month or two after the bar crawl, a week went by without seeing him around, so I hopped over to the cafe to say hey, and his aunt and uncle grimly stated that he was no longer with them. They were covert about where he'd went to. All that mattered was, he was gone. I don't know what happened to him, or what his troubles were, but I hope he's lived a good life since. He certainly helped mine when it was fragile and really needed a boost.