Of Friends and Memories
Mike Sullivan was the first great love of my life. We met sitting next to each other in the All-State Orchestra clarinet section in high school, and bonded when we discovered that we were both going to Florida State to major in music education. It seemed we were destined to meet and become friends.
Mike was one of those people that everyone loved; his sense of humor was finely honed, and laughter was never far away. I remember being mortified once, as our string methods professor called us in to discuss our laughing in class. I was always the good girl, never having gotten in trouble a day in my life, but when Mike was around, I couldn’t stop laughing. All it would take was one under his breath comment, and I was done for. He had a habit of running and jumping into my arms, sure that I would catch him. It’s no wonder that I have back problems to this day, but it was our signature move, and totally worth it. We were the comedy team of the School of Music.
People called us the Bobbsey Twins, as were joined at the hip. Where one was, the other was not far away. We were always neck and neck in auditions for the ensembles, which we loved- that meant we got to sit next to each other. I have so many wonderful memories of playing great music with my friend, and of our silly antics. Mike was so many things that I wasn’t, but wanted to be. He was outgoing and brave, where I was timid and shy. He drew me out of myself and helped me to grow, to be more courageous in music and in life.
By the time we were seniors, I knew I was deeply in love with Mike. I had tried dating other people, but my heart wasn’t in it. One evening after we went for a run, we had ‘the talk’, and Mike told me he felt the same way. He kissed me for the first time, and I was over the moon with happiness. Something was wrong, though, and I was too naive to know what it was at the time.
We graduated and each went off to teach middle school band, doing our best to visit and stay in touch. It was difficult, though, and we drifted apart. In time I married my first husband, and found out that Mike had come out, being brave as he had always been, standing proud and being who he really was. Things finally made sense to me about his fear of being alone with me, and I think I felt a sense of relief. For a long time I thought that something was wrong with me. There wasn’t- Mike was just fighting a battle with himself.
Life is strange sometimes, and after my husband and I divorced and went our separate ways teaching at different universities, Mike ended up being the clarinet professor at my ex-husband’s university. Before the divorce, I had visited and reconnected with my dear friend. I had him come to Birmingham as a guest artist and we fell into our old routine of jokes and laughter. He held me and cried, apologizing for not being honest with me about who he really was, and I told him he never needed to apologize. I would always love him, and was happy that he could be himself.
A few years later, Mike began to have serious pain in his shoulder. A tumor was found, and it was aggressive. He sought the best doctors in the country for help, but it was too late. I will never forget going to his funeral, seeing his chalk-like body in the casket, hearing a recording of him performing the Mozart Concerto playing through the speakers. It was a surreal experience, and I felt as if my heart would break. This couldn’t have happened to my Mike, someone so full of life, someone who brought so much joy to everyone he met.
The music world is a small place, and most places I go, I meet someone who knew and loved Mike, sharing funny stories about his antics. He was such a wonderful teacher and musician, and a scholarship was set up in his honor at his university. A beautiful composition, “Bright Angel” was written in his memory. I will always smile and laugh when I think of my friend.
I have no doubt he is up in Heaven, drinking cosmos, serving wonderful meals for everyone on his colorful Fiesta Ware dishes, and being the life of the party. And I know that when my time comes, Mike will greet me by running and jumping into my arms. And we will laugh.