To say Michaela was larger than life is to minimize her magnificence. An Irish redhead, her round plate of a face beamed her outrageous heart to anyone within shouting distance. A professional actress, I first met her in the play “Gemini” in which she played my Irish-American alcoholic Mother, not too far from the truth of her own life. After that play she always referred to me as her son whenever she saw me.
Michaela had a child of the heart in every city from coast to coast. She was a talented actress with a quality rare in performers, motherly compassion. When we first met, if you weren’t a drinking buddy you were her newly adopted child. She was especially fond of Drag Queens, who she had an uncanny knack for attracting and adopting as her daughters.
Perhaps it was her compassion combined with her Irish roots that called her to use drugs and alcohol in such daunting quantities. Drinking was a secondary art form at which she was quite adept. I heard she once scaled a six foot fence in a nightgown after drinking at least a fifth of whiskey. Michaela and I talked about suicide when I was still young and working with her. She had tried to OD before, but had come through it grateful to be alive.
Writing about Michaela begs that one fills volumes with tales of her outrageous and hilarious heart romping its way through the world. There really are not pages enough to describe her. She was, to me, the mother of all wild women. I got to perform with her several times again, she eventually became a regular guest around our dinner table.
Later in life she took on becoming a nurse in psychiatric ward. I really think this is what killed her. After years of working with the deepest strife of others she developed fibromyalgia – an illness that strikes nurses in particular. I don’t imagine she could but help taking on the suffering of those she cared for. Perhaps this resonated with her own inner strife, magnifying her pain and providing an opening for death to find her.
She was given a standard regime of painkillers for those suffering from this debilitating illness. Given her high tolerance to pain medication from years of drugs and alcohol, its not surprising she would one day accidentally overdose.
Her husband Stephen was a man stricken by his true love stolen from him in the prime of their relationship. Somehow her exit made a kind of sense to him. As if she had just missed a cue and was suddenly gone. Michaela had married a poet, through his grieving I came to understand a much softer, deeper side of Michaela.
I never thought Michaela would go out this way, exiting early, albeit accidentally. While it surely flagged at times, her passion for life seemed insurmountable. I imagine something quiet to have invaded her brightness, pulling her away between breaths, when nobody was looking.
I always thought of Michaela of someone possessing the alchemical power necessary to negotiate these forces. Something in her heritage had surely endowed her with the knowledge capable of keeping the forces of self-consuming darkness at bay. I think this must have been true, but our modern culture convinced her no magic was real, and she abandoned the mysterious abilities that could have saved hers and others lives. Who knows maybe she already had saved thousands, only to slip and fall at an unexpected moment.
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