Michael DeSomer, Friend and Literal Lifesaver


My dear friend, Michael DeSomer.

I found this photo on a stranger’s Facebook Timeline last night, and hope she won’t mind if I share it (her Facebook post is visible to the public).  Mike moved away from San Francisco many years ago, and we lost contact. A few years ago I learned that he passed away in Portland, Oregon in 1995.

Mike was an original, and his friendship kept me alive when I was in my early twenties and going through one crisis after another. The constant, long-term trauma was preventing me from maturing into a real adult, and Mike was patient with that longer than most people would have been. When some less compassionate acquaintances behaved judgmentally and lectured me with simplistic answers, Mike told me I was doing well, considering everything I’d been through.

Okay, he was right, but that was no excuse for me to turn him into the adult I ran to whenever I needed reassurance. The only young person problems I didn’t have were drug abuse, stealing and lying, but I acted so weird some people weren’t sure. Mike knew, though.

I know I fell back on Mike for support more often than I should have, and even he couldn’t tolerate it forever. He was dealing with crises, too, and he rarely said much about them. Here’s an example: A mutual friend of ours was in an undisclosed location and terminally ill, and Mike honored our friend’s promise to keep his situation confidential. I kept asking him about our friend, but never got a clear answer. Then one day he spoke up.

“I have sad news. Jimmy passed away last night.”

I’m not proud of the fact that I burst into tears in front of a friend who was closer to Jimmy than I was. I understood that right away, but didn’t have enough control to pull myself together until later in the day, when I wrote Mike a (hopefully) comforting note and sent it through the mail. I didn’t see his initial reaction to the note, but within a day after he received it he said it made him feel better.  By the way, the note was all about Jimmy, not me.

My initial reaction to Jimmy’s death, and other incidents, put a strain on our friendship. I hadn’t seen Mike for awhile when a mutual acquaintance told me he had moved away.

Mike and I had some fun together, in spite of the panic attacks and other crap I often suffered right in front of him — and in spite of the fact that we didn’t share many interests.  I used to tell him about books I had read or was planning on reading, but the titles didn’t usually interest him.  Mike accepted one paperback which was recommended, but that was the exception.

We usually laughed at the same humor. Once, after I was especially embarrassed about my high-strung behavior, I mailed an apology greeting card with text and an illustration of an ashamed-looking creature on the front:

“It was all my fault. It was silly and uncalled for.”

On the inside of the card, it said, “But I had cramps.”

Right after sending that card, I began thinking it went too far. Mike was easygoing, but I still thought the topic might be off-limits. The card couldn’t be retrieved after the horse was out of the barn, but maybe I could catch up with him before he saw it and apologize for the crude apology. You get the idea of how much eccentricity Mike was putting up with.

I caught up with him early in the day, feeling confident the mail hadn’t been delivered.

The grin on Mike’s face blew that out of the water. We both burst out laughing.

“As soon as I opened that card, I knew you were worried about it,” he said.

Even a young person’s questionable judgment has its lighter side, when you’re among friends.

Mike could be very funny.  Once, when we were discussing an infestation which was taking over my apartment building, he cracked me up with a joke about exiled mice.  I know it doesn’t seem funny in print, but that’s only because I can’t remember the joke.  It must have been 1983 or ’84.  Those were very mousy years in San Francisco. Whatever.  Mike knew something about strategies for dealing with mice, but if he had an infestation he didn’t say anything about it.

To this day, I feel guilty about the fact that Mike was worried about me. I made him worry. He saw me losing weight, and knew it was because of mental health issues. He also had other friends to worry about, and I knew it.

Mike got genuinely angry with me a few times, and I can’t blame him. I had the dumbass girl reaction to that, once.  Right.  Once.

Mike had glared at me and said something to the effect that he couldn’t spend all day listening to my problems.

Holy crap.  I was used to him being more understanding than that.  I began yelling (taking it a good deal farther than Mike had), and after the argument escalated for a few more seconds he got control over himself, hugged me and said something that calmed me down.  He was great, and I was a jerk.

Fortunately, I realized I had taken outrageous advantage of a friend’s kindness and manipulated him into treating me exactly the way I wanted to be treated.  That wasn’t the only time I did something stupid, but if memory serves it was the only time I shouted at the kindest person I knew.

You can’t function in the world unless you’re ready to be strong for some people and know when to push a lingering baby bird out of the nest. I was the proverbial baby bird. Mike made a choice which couldn’t have been easy, and I hope he didn’t feel guilty about any of it.

Michael DeSomer, March 5 (I won’t type the year because he never shared that with me. It’s on the internet, but that isn’t his fault) – August 15, 1995

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