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A Tribute to Mickey

"He was part Aragorn and part Gandalf, part Marlboro Man and part Mick Jagger, and was cool before Don Johnson ever was."


I've had two of my three older brothers die in the last 20 months. 

With one (Jeff) I had repaired damage - the kind between brothers that can keep brothers from being brothers. With the other (Mickey), I hadn't seen or spoken to him in 22 years.

Blood is thicker than water, right? Bruddas

Mickey (pictured above) was the oldest of the six siblings; even at 66, it was too early. 

I'm still at a stage in my walk with God where I'm faced with inviting Him deeper into the healing of a heart that took a lot of wounds at the expense of those closest to me. I was taken aback recently when one of my sisters began to reach out regarding Mickey. She indicated he was very ill, hospitalized for some tests, and would be released to return home and for hospice care. Death

At first, I was pissed if a young voice inside wanted to say, 'And what the fuck do you want me to do about it? He hasn't bothered to reach out to me in a very long time. So, what, forgive and forget?' Her texts to me on the last day of November - asking me to call her as soon as I could - were indication enough that the news was in. 

There was nothing slow, even in my faded memories, about Mickey. He didn't so much move but breeze through life. When my sister informed me that he had passed at 5:45am that morning, I thought back to getting out of bed for the day...and I confess there are days where I wish it could be over for me. Done...clock me out of this bullshit

It wasn't until the following day that I began to feel this odd wave of  memories and melancholy come across my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will. He was the one who taught me how to tell time. He was the one who taught me to tie my shoes. Sweet recall, yes, but there was also the flotsam and jetsam of life shared as brothers. The time I rescued him and his girlfriend after they nodded out, high on heroin, and almost set fire to a room of our upstate New York home. The way he used to yell and hit his very young children - something he could have only learned from our father. Confusing, yes, but Mickey was also (in my memory) a paradox of being larger than life and also out of touch with me and my story.

He was both book smart and street smart. All of the Jamiolkowski handsome genes pooled into the chiseled face, piercing blue eyes, and disarming smile. On the occasions when we would get high together, I always felt like they were moments of initiation into brotherhood together, a secret handshake finally shared between the oldest of the clan and the youngest one wanting to emulate him.

Mickey was in and out of our family orbit like the winds of change that seemed to blow his heart and story around life. I recall his love for the board game Risk, always up for a game with me and one of the other brothers - Jeff and Tim - when he was in town for a family visit or work obligation. He loved to win - after all, Risk was a game centered on global domination. Cliched as it sounds, the world was truly Mickey's oyster - and he devoured it with passion and panache.

Like my mother, he smoked cigarettes like they were an essence of life. Sad but true, in the end it was COPD that took him down and perhaps, like our mother, Rita, he went right on smoking to the very end. "Fuck the oxygen," I could imagine him saying, that wry smile that tipped Mickey's hand every time that it was better to be a rebel than just another passing shadow of a man.

In the rearview mirror of memory, he was always closer to Jeff and Tim then he was to me. As adult males, if he was in town and they were around the Three Amigos would inevitably end up out to the wee hours, carousing as only the Jamo Brothers could. Most of the time I had my head squarely implanted up the solitary ass of my own addiction story at those timeline touchstones, but I can remember feeling left out, abandoned, forgotten by Mickey - not invited, not wanted. Always the Little Brother to the Big Brother.

Even with the dysfunctional family dynamic - histrionics and violence of heart and body put aside - he sired six children...just like his father and namesake, Michael John Jamiolkowski before him. Five daughters and one son (Michael John the IV to keep the legacy intact). Mickey married a Kentucky filly named Ronnie and like clockwork kept her pregnant and bearing. Oddly yet beautifully so Mickey, he named them all with first names starting with the letter "K" - Kama, Kaine (MJ the IV), Katie, Kirsten, Korine (actually Rita Korine, after our mother's first name), and Kora. All of the daughters are gorgeous, Kaine a handsome amalgamation of his father and grandfathers before him. 

As I began to go through the passageways of grief in losing yet another brother, I could see the violence of my father in the ways Mickey would discipline his own children when they were young - the abuse of words and hands, the fiery depths to which he would go from an otherwise lucid and cool demeanor that was his fig leaf for the world.

Mickey was a Warrior Poet to me. Our mother dealt a death blow to me in my early 20's when I was working on a fiction manuscript that I had extremely high hopes for. "Well," she said in a phone call to me while I was still attending Manhattanville College in the early 1980's, "your brother, Mickey, writes but..." I read between the maternal lines to hear: "You're NOT your brother. He's better than you'll ever be."

A week has passed since I learned he died. God has been using this news to prepare me for some heart work that I've been putting off for a while - and, as I said to a trusted heart of a friend in an email this week, "I feel like Frodo packing his bag to leave the Shire." Mickey taught me to tell time as a young boy, so as a man I know what time it is. Mickey taught me to tie my shoes as a young boy, so as a man I go forth with boots on the ground.

Mickey did things I never would: he met Bobby Kennedy and George Harrison, survived the muck and mire of Woodstock, gained higher educational degrees and certifications, traveled the world, rode Arabian stallions across the sands of Egypt, and was a husband and father. He was part Aragorn and part Gandalf, part Marlboro Man and was cool before Don Johnson ever was.

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