Mar 292011
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Micheal Roberts died alone on a dark, icy road outside of Fairplay, Colo. –– probably gasping a breathless scream that came too late as a semi-truck t-boned the car he was driving. Mike was one of the most brilliant people I think I will ever know.

He knew I didn’t belong in the science field long before I was ever willing to admit it, but competing with him made it all worth the pain. Whether it was debating the purest form of science and how ‘God’ might be most likely to communicate to us or whether it was discussing the various ways to harass fellow students from liberal arts or humanities, Mike always reminded me of how miniscule our lives were –– even in death.

I haven’t had a friend like Mike since he died driving from Gunnison to Boulder to visit me. I had transferred from Western State College to CU-Boulder over the Christmas break. Being proud nerds who would start studying in the early hours at a McDonald’s that opened at 4 a.m. –– presumably to cater to the hunters not to dejected, rejected, socially challenged physicists and mathematicians-in-training –– proved neither of us had many friends, so I was looking forward to him visiting in February for his birthday.

Mike wasn’t the best looking of guys and talking to women was a skill both of us were just as likely to leave to our Texas-Instrument calculators (which Mike dressed up as for Halloween one year) as to berate the very female-gender-unit we hypothesized to initiate formal nocturnal relationships with. A gangly 5’11” with an eyebrow ring and a couple lip rings, a trip to Boulder’s infamous strip club, The Bus-Stop, was a must-do for the big day. I waited hours in the university student center for him to call for directions.

Even though there are only a few times a year I let his memory wash over my brain, life really hasn’t been the same since. I’ve never visited his grave, even though I have a photo of him I hang over my desk when times are tough. I’ve never tried to re-contact his sister, whom he adored, even though the college requested on her behalf that I come speak at his funeral. I don’t regret it, partly because of selfishness because I often try to live my life for him.

I survived my degree program in math and suffered through the theory of my first attempt at graduate school primarily through the blind determination and dedication to my dead friend. Many of the “adventures” I embark upon, I attempt to embrace and live twice as hard in memory of Mike.

Death is a pretty big deal. It didn’t take the death of a friend to instill in me that not everyone actually stays present enough to live. These words might sound like just another snippet of lyrics –– but, one day or another, I think we all realize the truth: Nothing sucks more than closing in on death, then realizing you forgot to live.

As busy community members, young professionals, students –– whatever –– we tend to get wrapped up in ‘things’ and forget life … what do we tell the next generation? I’m supposed to speak as a voice of motivation to a local high school this fall and deliver a message of hope, promise and encouragement. As a high school drop-out, what am I supposed to say to these students? “Good Luck?” “Don’t do what I did?” Or maybe “Wear sunscreen?”

I think we tell the youth the same thing we whisper to ourselves when we are being honest: Try to be more afraid of regret for not doing, than the mystery that lurks around the corner on the path less taken. Maybe we should tell them, dare I say show them, that there is more than one path to “success,” multiple ways to live a life worth living and that there is nothing wrong with being.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student at Colorado State University. His column appears Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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