One of my favorite people on this earth was named Michael Colin Haner. He was one of my closest friends. And last night, he died.
Most people who knew him called him Haner, sometimes Mike. In my phone, he was listed for years as Haner-Bananer, something I had started calling him when I first met him, 13 years ago. When I wanted to annoy him, which happened often, I called him MSG. This was an inside joke, of which we had many, and it was short for MikeStar Galactica, because, for at least a year, he tried desperately to get me to watch Battlestar Galactica so that he would have someone to talk about it with. I never did watch it, something I now regret, in that way at the end of things when you regret not the big failings, but the small, seemingly insignificant ones. He claimed to hate MSG, and that too became a running joke. Yet, when he signed his emails to me, he always wrote: Haner (msg) in tiny letters so small I almost missed it the first time.
For years, he has called me Baby Ham. It was a term of endearment that he never did explain.
I could call him an old friend, I could call him one of my dearest friends; it’s hard to describe a person who is not only dear for his friendship, but for everything he was: the funniest person I’ve ever known, the most loyal. Sometimes inscrutable, always vain, proud, and surprisingly private. And while he was endlessly cool, he could also be fragile and vulnerable, making his way through this often cold, frankly complex world the best way he could. I sometimes found myself wanting to protect him, which felt both necessary and strange–this absurdly intelligent and self-reliant man who had been independent and on his own since his teenage years. I never told him that either. I don’t regret it. He shrugged off concern in the same way he shrugged off the opinions of other people. He would have said, “No, baby ham, it’s good. You don’t need to worry about me.
Haner didn’t like to be looked after. He liked to be the one doing the looking after. When I got divorced seven years ago, I told him one of the hardest things was getting past three o’clock in the afternoon. My then husband left work at three, and would call me everyday on his way home. It hurt when three o’clock turned to four o’clock and there was no phone call anymore. I told my friend this late one night, the kind of phone call that has gone on so long, you start to tell things you would never tell anyone else. I forgot about it later, but the next day, at three o’clock in the afternoon, my phone rang. The screen read “Haner-Bananer.” He called me at three o’clock that day and the next and the day after that. He did it almost everyday for two years. Even when I was in meetings and couldn’t answer the phone, he called. Even if we only spoke for seconds, he called. It meant the world to me. It was one of the most loving, kind and selfless acts anyone has ever done for me. I could never, ever forget it. I wanted to tell him exactly what it meant to me. I know I didn’t need to, but I wanted to. And I never did.
Despite living in different states, we somehow managed to talk almost everyday for more than a decade. We talked about everything. How we wanted to own an alpaca farm but didn’t want to have to touch or interact with the alpacas. One night, he called before going to a crawfish boil, and when I told him he should take a pie to be nice, he was so mystified at why anyone would take a pie to a party, and we analyzed it so long, discussing every detail of the process, that he ended up being late to the party and didn’t have time to get the pie after all. We talked about conspiracy theories, a favorite topic of his. We talked about his belief that my beagle, Scout, might be a lesbian who was afraid to come out, and how I should let her know that her home was a safe place for her to be whoever she might be.
Once, in the midst of a terrible hangover while visiting him in Southern California, we sat together in a hotel room for hours, and shared a limp, unremarkable foot-long Subway sandwich, watched the same CNN stories repeat over and over again, and discussed how we would handle being in a riot, and what we would choose to loot first (“Burritos,” was Mike’s answer). I remember that day and that sandwich as among the best of my life. He told me it was a Jesus-sub, it had the power to heal hangovers and hepatitis. I thought about telling him it wasn’t the sandwich at all, just that Mike Haner had a way of making you feel better simply by being in his presence. But I never told him that either.
We also talked about how much he loved Rufus Wainwright, but for some reason, he was embarrassed of this. He told me that if I ever told anyone else, he’d hunt me down like a dog. We discussed whether or not “like a dog” meant in the way a dog would be hunted down, or how a dog would hunt someone else down. I never told anyone, until a little over a week ago, when I got the news that he had slipped into a diabetic coma, and it didn’t look good, and I flew to Austin to see him. Mike never woke up from that coma. When I stood by his bedside with his mom, Jeanne and our mutual friend, Kelley, he looked as if he was only sleeping, even with all of the tubes and trappings of the ICU, like he would wake up any minute, look around at us and say, “What’s all the fuss?” Together, Kelley, Jeanne and I stood in his room, while we played his favorite Rufus Wainwright song: Across the Universe.
“Limitless undying love it shines around me like a million suns and calls me on and on, across the universe.”
Since I was a little girl, I have often gotten in trouble for talking too much. My curse in life has always been saying too much, speaking up when I should have stayed quiet. This has led to a great deal of heartache. But as I think about my friendship with Michael Colin Haner over the years, it is a friendship in which we talked so much, about everything, but at the end of it all, I find that my curse is that I did not say enough. Here is what, in the end, I wish that I could have said, here is what I learned from my dear friend, one of my favorite people who has ever walked the earth:
This private, sometimes proud man was one of the first people to show me that it was okay to let people in, that despite great hurt and great sorrow, great disappointment, that I could still have faith in people, that there would be those people to whom I could show those vulnerable, embarrassing pieces of myself to, and those people, those good, special people, would still love me anyway. He taught me to pick a few people that matter and tell them your secrets, because those secrets are too heavy and sometimes too silly to carry on your own. He taught me that when you have a big heart, a Haner-Bananer-sized heart, that you can meet people where they are, without judgment, without demands, without expectations of what they can do for you, and you can love them with everything you have, and you will still never run out of room.
And if you live life in this way, this generous, open, lovable way, and when you can learn to laugh at yourself and to laugh at life, even the darkest, hardest moments, you will find yourself, at the end of everything, surrounded by the limitless, undying love that will shine around you like a million suns. And when it’s time, it will call you on, and on, all across the universe.
I had a dream once that came partially true a few days later, and afterward, Mike called me The Prophet Ham for weeks. It had a dramatic, Old Testament-style feel to it, and I loved it, though I never told him. After that, he would ask me what I had dreamed, to see if anything else would come true. I told him any dream I had over the years that involved him. The last dream I had about him, I called him the next day. We were driving in a car, going 100 MPH along the ocean, with the waves crashing up and around us. I said, “Are we allowed to drive on the beach?” And he said, “It’s my beach!”
He pressed the gas and we sped up even faster, and he was laughing and laughing, the same kind of laugh as when I told him to bring a pie to a crawfish boil. His face was open and vulnerable, his blue eyes bright. He was the very picture of boundless joy, and there was nothing to hurt him then. No diabetes. No pain. No anxiety. No awkward small talk, no fear. All of it in that moment was erased, left only with joy, his whole heart in his face, alive, with nothing to ever hold him back again.
I told him that dream and he said, “I hope that one comes true!”
It never happened.
Or, maybe it just hasn’t happened yet, and that beach, that place, that ride, that joy, is all yet to be. I am, after all, as Mike always said, the Prophet Ham.