Sometimes, I think back about friends I had who are no longer with me. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with death, mind you. Sometimes, as people, we just outgrow each other. You move, you go to different schools, you get married. Those kinds of things happen and are pretty inevitable in life.

One of these friends I had who fits into this category was named Mike. We all knew him affectionately as Mikey.

We met one summer when my mom moved us to Shawmut Street in Lewiston, Maine. We lived in a crappy apartment, infested with fleas and in a bad part of town at the time. We didn’t notice much of that as children, though, only remembering it when we were older and our tolerance levels for filth and waste have gone drastically down.

What I do remember is that I sort of had a crush on a girl down the street named Sandy (who later became my girlfriend after she slipped a note under our door one morning professing her love for me, which everyone teased me about for days). I had heard of this “Mikey” coming over to our new place and introducing himself to my younger brother and sister but I still hadn’t met him yet. Somehow, I found myself engaged in a water-tossing match late one afternoon with Sandy, using water from one of those kid’s plastic swimming pools. It was me against her and her friend and I was losing…and drenched, pinned down as they hurled water balloons and fired Super Soakers at me.

Out of nowhere came Mikey, screaming in defiance and grabbing a frisbee from the ground, turning it upside down like a bowl, and tossing water at the girls with it. They shrieked, running from the unexpected onslaught of the strange boy.

“RUN!” he shouted to me, as if we were in the middle of Vietnam. Laughing in appreciation, I made my escape. He followed and we met up near an old shed, breathing hard. I could hear Sandy yelling at us, her voice fading as we rounded a corner. We stopped to catch our breath.

“Hey, thanks,” I said to him, grinning. “You saved my life.” I was all bones and pale skin and my tee-shirt clung to my torso like a tattered flag of surrender.

“I’m Mike,” he said, offering his hand. I took it and he shook hands with me. He was sort of chubby, and at the moment he was only wearing shorts. His legs were horribly scarred. Later, when we had hung out more, I asked him why and he apparently had seen some potatoes on the stove and tried to reach one when he was a lot younger. The boiling water dropped on his little body and disfigured his skin, forcing him into physical therapy for years.

“I’m Joe,” I said. “We just moved in the other day. I heard about you.”

“Yeah, your family is cool. Do you play games?”

My eyes lit up. “Yeah, Nintendo and Sega. We only have a Nintendo, though.”

“Do you like Ninja Turtles? I have that for Nintendo. Want to come over and play it with me at my house?”

There was almost no lapse in time from when he asked that to when I said yes. An instant friendship was formed that sun-dappled summer afternoon that would last for years. There were sleepovers, video game marathons, movie outings, family gatherings. We each moved to a few different places in Lewiston here and there for a few years, but never anywhere inaccessible for adventurous Lewiston kids to walk to. His parents were Indiana natives who moved to Maine so that Mike’s father, Mike (Yup, same name), could work at the Bath Iron Works. Sharon, his mother, was constantly cooking us food (a stark contrast to my own home) and they both had a long southern drawl and big hearts.

As I got a bit older, though, our mentalities started to diverge. I became interested in girls and in trying to be ‘cool’ and Mikey was still interested in action figures and video games. We hung out with each other a lot, though, and I even started to make him come to the school dances with me so that maybe we could meet girls there. He would always come and we’d just sit in the bleachers, looking at superhero or basketball cards we bought with our food money for the dance, having long discussions as pre-teen boys do about things like who would win in a fight, Superman or Thor?

I eventually got a girlfriend and I felt bad that he didn’t have one. He seemed to resent being left behind, and I understood that. Once, I felt so bad that I created an imaginary girlfriend for him, dropping letters in his mailbox from “her” with pictures cut from a magazine of a woman with a bright smile and wavy blonde hair. I told him that she was a friend of my own girlfriend and I had told her all about him and she thought he seemed like a cool guy. He seemed really happy at first so I stuck with the charade for a while. After a time, Mikey seemed disappointed that he never got to meet her in person so I had to come up with a way to get out of it without him knowing it had been me all along and hurting him even worse. I felt horrible, and weird, for leading him along in that way but at that age, I didn’t know any better and I was just trying to help. I was satisfied somewhat when he told me that his long-distance girlfriend had written to him for the last time, saying that she needed to move and that maybe they could write when she got to her new place sometime, but that she needed a break because she really wanted to meet him in person and couldn’t. I acted surprised and gave him a pep talk about how he could get a girlfriend if he needed to because that girl was very pretty and had liked him. To this day I wonder if he ever figured it out.

Fast forward again to when Mikey moved back to Indiana. I was heavily involved in college and work life. I had other friends I hung out with more often than I did him. Co-workers, former college buddies. He still wanted to play video games all day and all night, and I just didn’t have the stamina or interest for that any longer except for a few random times. He eventually started working, though his mental faculties kept him from having a normal job with normal hours. Our time together grew more infrequent.

The last time I ever heard from Mikey, we spoke on the phone. He said he didn’t like Indiana very much and that it was boring. I told him he should hang out with some more people, maybe people he worked with. He gave a noncommittal grunt in response. I told him I was going to be getting married, to the woman of my dreams. I wasn’t sure how he felt about that but he seemed genuinely supportive. He listened to me talk about her for almost an hour.

One thing led to another, and I became involved in my own marriage and my home life and work life. Other friends. Family milestones. My separation and impending divorce. I didn’t think about him a lot during all those times, I must admit. We’d grown too far apart. That connection we’d had as young boys back in that water war with the girls had disappeared with growth spurts and life troubles and years. In some ways, I envied him, thinking that he was just sitting at home probably, eating his TV dinners and drinking Pepsi and playing hours of video games at a time, only pausing to sleep or work. I was concerned with trips to the emergency room for panic attacks in which I thought the end of my life was near, massive nosebleeds from stress, animals and family dying. What I didn’t think of was that I had lost a friend, a friend who’d come to my aid when he saw someone needing help, a friend I’d had for years. For all his childish ways, he was still a good person and in hindsight, I shouldn’t have let that connection go completely. I won’t soon forget our childhood times and friendship and I’m hoping that I can still hear what he’s up to every so often, In any case, he definitely deserved a much better friend than I was to him, at least in the end.

Now, as I’m married (again) to the actual woman of my dreams – I wonder what he’s up to and if he ever found someone to hang out with in boring ol’ Indiana. I hope he has, and I hope his mom Sharon still makes that killer breakfast scramble.