A Day To Remember
One year ago today, FF & I suffered a tragic loss. Our friend Michael Wagner (Waggy) was killed in a head on collision.
It is beyond safe to say that without this man that we both called friend, FF & I would NOT be where we are today. He played an important role in both of our lives and he is the friend I was headed to meet on November 19, 2008 when I so awesomely ended up meeting FF. Maybe I should start at the beginning.
Waggy’s family owns a very well known, popular convenience store/deli/gas station here in Burlington. My aunt, uncle & two cousins lived just up the street so whenever I would visit we would go buy penny candy (cuz everyone did that back in the day right? Right?!). Waggy’s older brother was a good friend of my cousin’s and I actually remember spending a lot more time with him than Waggy growing up. But as I got older I started running into Waggy more. He began bouncing at one of my favorite bars (which is also the bar where I met FF) when I was in a really dark period in my life. I sought comfort, protection and solace in our friendship. And I think we each gave each other exactly what we were needing at that period of time.
When I met Ginger, my friendship with Waggy suffered. Actually, it did more than that. It died. A few months later I heard he was moving away. He was going to move to North Carolina & make a go of it. I didn’t know him at the time but guess who he moved away with…this guy
They had many mutual friends (it should be said that Waggy knew everyone – that is NOT an exaggeration.) and they started to get to know one another. Waggy wanted to move. He ran the idea by FF and he decided it sounded worth a chance. They made it in NC for 9 months before they realized they just had far too much Yankee blood to make it in the south. While they were in the process of moving home, I was in the process of breaking up with Ginger.
On Halloween 2008 I was leaving this same bar that I’ve already spoken of a few times and I spot this character outside
It was like one of those movie scenes. There was running and jumping and hugging and yelling. I was so happy to see him! All bad feelings got pushed aside. We chatted a bit and I took his (very) drunk ass home. We started chatting and hanging out again but he wanted to go back to how we were before. I wasn’t ready for that…I was once again finding myself in a bad situation and unlike the last time I didn’t want to use alcohol & sex to cope. While he teased me mercilessly about this, he understood. So one night I went to that bar to meet him, I met FF and the rest is history. Well, kind of.
You know how when people die you remember all of the great things people did? You never talk about the bad things or pitfalls. It’s different with Waggy. He would be the first to admit he was a drama king and shit disturber of the kind you read about. He wanted people around him to have fun and all but he was the center of attention at all times. No matter what. I stopped in to see him at the store after the second night FF & I hung out (the first one he remembered, you know the story.) That’s when Waggy told me that FF was an alcoholic who “goes downtown trolling for dirty girls.” Um, WHAT?! (Turns out he also told FF that I was pretty much batshit crazy – although that wasn’t far off and I openly admitted it to him) So as FF & I got closer, we began to shut Waggy out. We did it for our own sanity. We’d each had our experiences and issues with him and we were ready to move on and get to know each other with nobody else’s opinions to sway us. We still saw Waggy on occasion as it was impossible to not to run into him from time to time.
I ran into him about two weeks before FF’s big 30th birthday last year. I told him about the surprise party and told him I was sure his presence would be appreciated (FF & I had been speaking about how we missed Waggy and would like to get a fresh start with him). He said he would be there with bells on. That’s the last time I spoke to him. On Sunday January 10th, 2010 I was just starting my waitressing shift at my second job. FF’s mom had been in town to visit us and I was sad to see the weekend winding down. People were coming in and reporting that the Beltline (a popular road in Burlington) was closed due to an accident. Because BDNF was a firefighter/EMT I knew they don’t just close roads down for no reason – it very commonly means someone has died. About a half hour into my shift I got a text from a good friend that simply said, “Waggy was killed in an accident this morning. I though you should be the one to tell FF.” WHAT?! I didn’t believe it. I wrote back to ask if she was sure. Within minutes my inbox was flooded with words from others that this was in fact true. So, I called FF. I made sure he was sitting down, and I told him.
Waggy and his roommate Travis were driving on the beltline when a young man crossed the center line and hit them head on. Both drivers were killed instantly. There was talk of the other driving being high or texting but there was never any conclusive decision and even if there was, two lives ended tragically that day and nothing will ever bring them back. Travis was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital the same day. Incredible.
Someone offered to cover my shift. I raced home to be with FF. We cried, we held each other, we reminisced and kept saying, “I can’t believe this!” I told him about the surprise party I was planning because I was suddenly unsure as to how the rest of the week would go with services and such. The whole week is a blur of get togethers and blackberry brandy shots and crying and hugs.
We attended the wake. We waited three hours in line to pay our respects. It lasted well over six hours. At best guess, more than 600 people came to share their love of Waggy. It was incredible. It was amazing to see people in line that you knew from somewhere else & wondered what their connection was. The next day St. Anthony’s was packed to the rafters with people for Michael’s mass. There was a reception after but FF & I, along with the NC crew that came up, hit Magic Hat brewery instead. And that night, FF’s surprise Dirty 30 birthday party was transformed into a “Pink for Waggy” party.
Waggy had quite the fashion sense. Pink was his favorite color. he loved to pop his collars – the more the better. he loved big sunglasses and bigger belt buckles. So while FF was blowing out the candles on his cake, we were celebrating two fold. Thirty years on earth for one person and a lifetime of memories for another.
Over the last year, Waggy has been anything but forgotten. Songs make us think of him. Places make us think of him. Dates make us think of him. We remember the good and the bad. We remember the joys and sorrows. And mostly, we remember that Waggy’s memory will live within all of us for as long as we allow. He will never hurt or want for anything. And this man, even in his death, can make people come together and keep him the center of attention – it’s as if nothing has changed even though our world was turned upside down. XO
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you,
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow,
laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Pray smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort,
without the trace of a shadow in it.
Life means all that it ever meant,
it is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity,
why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you
somewhere very near
just around the corner.
All is well.
Henry Scott Holland 1847-1918
Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral