Every time I walk by this apartment building on Bancroft Street, I look up at the 2nd floor window and think of my friend Mikal.
I first met Mikal around 1980 through my friend Duncan. They were in the same group therapy group. Mikal was an odd duck. A little woman around 60 with a short Napolean-style hairdo. She looked sort of like a little elf. Duncan said she was inclined to be a lesbian. And she made a half-hearted attempt to connect with a woman when she was younger, but quickly gave up on that. Which was typical of Mikal’s life. Which never seemed to amount to anything. You meet a lot of people like that on the social margins of society. They just sort of drift along.
“I’ve been waiting all my life,” Mikal would often say, wistfully. But it was never clear exactly what she was waiting for. Love? Fulfillment? A point to her existence? Mostly she sat alone on her bed, watching game shows on TV all afternoon. While smoking endless cigarettes and drinking 6-packs of tall-can Budwieser, which she washed down with Nyquil cough syrup for that extra kick.
Mikal had a great apartment — the kind of apartment people in Berkeley would kill for today, but was readily available back then, even to people like Mikal on the social fringe. She had a big front picture window that was almost like a solar panel, with a great view of the Berkeley campus, and lower Sproul Plaza right across the street. On the weekends you could clearly hear the endless Sproul drum circle, with the exotic Afro and Latin rhythms wafting up to her apartment. And it really gave you the feeling that you were in a special place; Berkeley, California.
Mikal had two beautiful Siamese cats, Mish and Mosh. They were never let out of the apartment. So, like Mikal, they had pretty much given up on life, mostly just eating, sleeping and sitting in a lifeless stupor. They were more like pieces of furniture than pets. Everything in Mikal’s apartment was kind of like that. Lifeless. She had a bookshelf full of books, mostly dull tomes from the ’50s and ’60, that were covered with dust like they hadn’t been touched in a decade. Her apartment was like a crypt that was slowly entombing her.
I’d sometimes hang out there in the afternoon with Duncan and some of their group therapy friends, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Their primary interest seemed to be their personal problems. That was their main hobby.
Mikal’s main problem seemed to be a need to return to an infantile state. She wanted to be babied, basically. And she was very resourceful at finding social services that would help her. She got free maid service. And Meals-on-Wheels delivered free food. Etc. Then she’d sit endlessly on her bed — like an aging elf on a toadstool — trying to figure out what to do with herself. Waiting and waiting for something.
The last 2 or 3 years of her life Mikal began disintegrating. First she’d be admitted to the hospital for some health emergency and be back out for 6 months. Then after the next hospital trip she was only out for 3 months. Then the next time it was only 1 month out. Then it was just 2 weeks. She was stuck on this relentless downward spiral. That was rapidly excellerating. To it’s inevitable conclusion.
The thing I vividly remember was this one time when the 911 emergency crew came rushing to her apartment to take her to the hospital. They had her strapped to the stretcher and they were about to haul her into the ambulance. But the odd thing was: Mikal had this big, beaming smile on her face. This look of pure bliss. That was her favorite feeling in the world. When she was like a baby surrounded by all these people who were rushing around trying to help her.
The last time she was in the hospital was 1986. She was very frail, with purple splotches all over her face and she needed an oxygen tank to breathe. But she was adamant that she wanted to go home to her apartment. The doctors insisted that if she left the hospital she would surely die. But Mikal insisted. You could tell what she was thinking. She wanted to go home to die.
Later that night I went up to her apartment to check on her. I had a key because I used to do odd jobs for her. Her apartment door was wide open. The room was dark aside from this eerie gray light illuminating from her TV set, which was jammed between channels and hissing out static. Her book shelf had been knocked over and the dusty books were sprawled across the floor. Mikal was curled up on her bed, her eyes closed, and she was kind of vibrating back and forth. I softly called out to her, “Mikal?” But she was already way too far gone, in some kind of subhuman animal state of pure vibrations. I quietly left and shut the door behind me.
At least her wait was finally over.