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Mike's a pretty independent guy. He doesn't much care what everybody else thinks: he's going to wear the clothes he wants to wear, dye his fucking hair, pose in a girly magazine. Well, he doesn't care to the extent that anyone really can. Of course, he worries about how he looks, if people like him. It's just not as consuming as it could be. Too often, too many kids get sucked into the hype. The industry starts spitting out carbon copies of guys with manicured nails, collared shirt, designer jeans, bed head hair--open any magazine to find a guy like that. Mike could be the poster boy for all that crap, but he also genuinely likes it. I've never seen a guy so into his own hair. Well, that wasn't flamingly, openly gay.

Anyway, I see too many other kids doing all this stupid crap to impress somebody else and complaining the whole time. Mike likes his loofahs and his face creams and stupid hair junk, and he's willing to take a lot of flak for it, because he does like it. He's not doing it for anybody else.

So I guess it's kinda surprising for a guy who is that indifferent, that independent, a kid who kinda took it upon himself to grow up, to have had people take care of him his entire life. I know what I said before--he's a mature little fucker. Observant, respectful, learning things on his own, surrogate mother never having to tell him when to wash up for dinner. He liked that independence, that freedom to discover things for himself, and also, I think the situation just presented itself--he had to learn or sink. But it's not as if he just said "fuck off" and went off on his own. For all his independence, he's always wanted, always needed a safety net. First his mom, then his host mom, then his agent, his surrogate mom/dog walker/maid, Kerri, then his business manager. Throw in some coaches and older vets and the kid's never had to venture into anything alone.

He's done a lot of things by himself, but he's always surrounded himself with people who at least gave the appearance of guiding his hand, taking care of him.

Mike said it himself--his agent showed up for his contract, and after, he didn't see him again for another five years. So why was he still around? And his surrogate mom? Did Mike really need her around to make him ice cream sundaes? I know, I thought he was fucking her too, but she really just walked the dogs and made him dessert.

I think, though, that there was a difference between the people who loved him and the people he paid. I mean, obviously, but... It may have been all a guise, his host mom playing mother, Kerri clucking over his on-ice problems, because he never really needed it, but at least it was fucking real. It came from the right place. I think about the last few years, what happened, his father's comment on Mike's new cynicism and...

Look, it fucking sucks when people swindle you. But goddammit, how do you not see it coming? How does it keep happening to you time and time again? When will you finally fucking recognize that you're a fucking millionaire and people like money?

 

And there I go again. Itís so hard not to blame someone. This situation canít be faultless, blameless. A little goes around to everyone or none goes around at all, I suppose.

 

Itís strange. The things money makes possible. It can open most any door. Get you a house built in a week. Buy you a warm place to put it. Changes peopleóthe wayyou look at them, the way they look at you. Something as simple as that, and more.

 

Itís a powerful thing and nobody ever likes to think theyíre that easily swayed by the woo of money. Iíd never change. Itíll never change me. Iím still the same person.

 

Itís laughable, really. How could something that powerful not change you? Itís not always a horrible thing either. It just is. Change is what it is; I donít see why people should apologize when money changes them. Itís bound to happen: time, an earthquake, ice on the sidewalkÖmoneyís the least of things that can change people. Itís not Jeckyl and Hyde; itís more subtle than that.

 

Mike's slide was subtle too, which is maybe why nobody noticed it. I can't get mad at his mom for not noticing. No more really than I can get mad at myself. Looking back, it's easy to see the signs, it's easy to criticize. But when you're there, when you're in the moment, when you want nothing more than your friend to get better, you'll see things that aren't there. You'll see him getting better. You'll brush off the signs, you'll ignore the things you know you shouldn't. When you want that much, it's easy.

I hate myself some times for choosing the easier road. For choosing to ignore the voice itching at the back of my head because I didn't want a confrontation, because I didn't want to believe that maybe my best friend wasn't okay.

I hate myself because I'm convinced that I saw all those signs and made a concerted effort to ignore them. That probably wasn't the case. I think too highly of myself. I make too much out of the fact that I was a psych major. I never finished college, you know. But, surely, his best friend should have seen it coming. Must have.

 

But I didnít.

 

 

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