It's just another tragic news story until it's about someone you know.
If you read the Glendale News-Press last week you saw a story about a man who closed the book on his life by jumping from the Glendale (2) Freeway overpass above Chevy Chase Drive.
His name was Michael Ivan Romo.
And he hated it when we used his middle name.
But I need you to know more about him than that and the scant details released in a police report.
He was my Miguelito. And I was Patricio. Still am to his family, in whose home we were all family growing up — a centrally located haven for a group of awkward but amiable neighborhood kids seeking independence, not knowing we were always under the watchful eye of loving, adoptive parents. It wasn't just the pool, ping-pong table and bountiful kitchen that sustained us. It was their grace, generosity and kindness.
Like many, Mike was a son, brother and uncle; godfather, jokester and local boy. But also a sufferer, of depression and demons unnamed; a man searching for peace and answers to questions greater than any of us could ever solve. Remarkable and common, all at once.
He greeted everyone he knew with open arms and exuberant, sometimes ridiculous, greetings personalized just for you. If you knew him, you know what I'm talking about.
In the 30 years I knew him, I don't recall him ever saying a bad thing about another human being and meaning it. As teenagers he never engaged in smack talk — the insulting humor at the expense of others the rest of us practiced. Sure, he tried, just to be cool. But such mean-spirited banter never looked right on him. And he knew it.
As adults he'd listen to your most ordinary anecdotes with intense interest: trips to the market, interactions with your cable company, personal physical ailments. Anything. Mike was on the edge of his seat, paying attention to every detail in awed wonder, making you repeat yourself so he could really understand exactly what happened.
He wanted to be there for the times he simply couldn't be there.
And if you let him tell you a story, pull up a deck chair. His simplest tale took you on more tangents and turns than the canyon road we grew up on.
What I wouldn't give for one last rambling, inconveniently timed call that was an avalanche of affection and more information than you ever needed or requested. I often wanted to tell him that voicemails need only be: “Hey, it's Mike. Call me back.”
I'm so glad now I never did.
All friendships go through trials, periods of disagreement, anger, even resentment. Especially those spanning childhood to adulthood.
But Mike never got that memo.
We use the word “unconditional” a lot to describe love and friendship, to the point the word loses its meaning. But the way Mike loved you, the way he looked at you and embraced you, truly was without condition, restriction or reservation.
Whenever you told him you loved him, that you were always there for him, you'd witness his soul breathing a sigh of much-needed relief.
He’d apologize profusely and annoyingly whenever he felt he hadn’t called enough or if he couldn’t be with you during benchmark moments in your life. He never realized that his love — not his presence — was his greatest gift.
No matter how little we ever thought of ourselves, our routine achievements and mundane lives, Mike always thought you were amazing. As friends go, he set the bar pretty high.
Hermano, I'm sorry for the times I saw your call but couldn't pick up. Sorry for the times I cut you short. Sorry I didn't call you more when I hadn't heard from you in a while. Because those are the times you needed a friend most.
You fought so very long against the relentless tides of torture no one else can see, because battles of the mind are waged painfully alone. And though we will miss you dearly, we know you are free.
That place on Chevy Chase we must all now pass to visit friends and family is not where you came down, mi amigo. It is where you went up.
The last thing the world should know about Michael Romo is not how his life ended. It's how much his life will always mean to those he loved.
You may have known him, or someone like him. He may just be the guy that made you late for work on 12/12/12.
But he was my friend. The best kind of friend you or I ever deserved.
Originally published in the Glendale News Press and Burbank Leader on 12/22/12