STORY: I’m thinking about the seasons of our lives this morning, as I lie in bed with my husband, Chuck, in our home in Chandler, Arizona. I’ve just looked at Mike Balaban’s Instagram page, and seeing all those old photos made me think about the life or lives I could have lived, had I made different choices.
These photos are from the early 90s, when I was just coming out. New York’s Big Apple Softball League was the backdrop. I joined when I was 20, and I was sure that I would be the best gay softball player ever. Boy was I wrong. I could barely keep up in the “A” league, surrounded by amazing players like Eric Underwood, Glenn Allan Motal and Orlando Diaz. They were my first gay friends, and they taught me what it was to be a gay man. I wish they had told me that mustaches were out and that I would have better highlighted my own cuteness had I gone clean-shaven!
Mike was the first close friend I ever had to die of AIDS. He was our center fielder, and man was he good. He had the most caustic sense of humor, and I was almost always the butt of his jokes, but I loved him anyway. We were rarely serious, as I took most of my social cues from these guys and they were not a serious bunch, but I remember one day walking toward the field in lower Manhattan with Mike. He was opening up a little bit about his fear of dying, and I said to him, “I’ll be there if you need me.”
It was a rare moment for us. He choked up and said, “Thank you.” And we changed the subject. I lied. I didn’t mean to, but I lied. I tried so hard to be there for him when his health failed in 1993. He lived in New Jersey and I’d call him sometimes daily, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. One time he did, and I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “Terrible!” And I had no idea how to respond, or what to do. I was 22 years old. He was 45. It was the last time I spoke with him. R.I.P., Mike. You were funny as heck and a good, good man.