Throw It All Down

Michael Lanahan's life was a puzzle, his death a mystery wrapped in a song.

The thought of giving up longboarding depressed Lanahan. He consulted an herbalist, who suggested that he take warfarin, an anti-coagulant marketed under the brand name Coumadin, to help manage his condition. But patients who take Coumadin are also supposed to avoid hazardous activities; when you're taking a blood thinner, any injury has the potential for profuse bleeding.

Yet Lanahan was finding hazards everywhere he turned. Shortly after his fall, he struck up a conversation with a neighbor in his Capitol Hill apartment building, 21-year-old Annaliz Hilberg. She was having a problem with the lock on the building's back door, and he fixed it for her. After a few more chance encounters, he asked her out.

They walked downtown to Maggiano's for dinner, then continued walking and talking for hours, oblivious to the time. Lanahan took her to the top of a parking garage, where they had a panoramic view of the skyline. They discovered they were total opposites: She was a smoker and a bookworm, he jumped off cliffs into roaring white water. But something clicked.

 
 
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a 
high-stakes player on the party scene.
Mark Manger
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a high-stakes player on the party scene.

A few days later they watched a movie together. It was the second date, so Lanahan did what he was required to do. He told her about his conviction.

"It was difficult for him," Hilberg says. "He said he was scared I would just tell him to get the hell out. But he told me what happened, and it didn't change my opinion of him at all, actually. He was a great guy who had incredible intentions and made me feel like the world and took me out on the best date of my life."

Lanahan explained that he would have to get permission from his probation officer and his THE counselor to continue seeing her. He seemed excited about having it all work out. But when he called her after his next therapy session, he was sobbing.

"I can't see you or talk to you anymore because I'm making bad decisions," he said.

Hilberg thought the call sounded scripted, but she wasn't going to argue. He showed up at her door the next night.

"Aren't you going to get into trouble for this?" she asked.

"It could be six months before they decide we can even be friends," Lanahan told her. "Or we can see each other and hope that things work out."

They talked about the consequences he could be facing. Lanahan boasted that he could beat the polygraphs he had to take regularly. In fact, he said, he'd already found semantic loopholes to leap through. The terms of his probation required that he not "sleep" in Boulder, so when he went up there on weekends he stayed up all night. By the same logic, he could tell his inquisitors that he hadn't been on a "date" with Hilberg, as long as they didn't kiss at the end of it. Hilberg wasn't convinced this would work, but she'd had a crush on Lanahan long before he'd asked her out, and she had since fallen hard.

"I left it up to him," she says. "He said something about how he'd rather regret a decision he'd made than one he didn't make."

They spent long evenings together, watching movies at her apartment or his. They sat in the dark and listened to "Crazy Game of Poker," and he told her about the ritual he and his friends had built around the song, how connected it made him feel to the people who mattered to him.

One night he complained about a pain in his side. He had nosebleeds that wouldn't stop. His urine turned bright red. Oliver Spees hauled him to the hospital, over his protests, and it turned out he was taking nearly toxic levels of Coumadin; his blood had all but lost the ability to coagulate. The doctors gave him plasma and put him on massive doses of vitamin K to counteract the Coumadin.

There were several more trips to the hospital. He missed his THE treatment sessions. "It was the happiest I'd seen him," Hilberg says. "They made him feel so awful [in therapy] and just constantly told him he was this piece-of-crap monster."

He missed therapy, he missed work. Yet he continued to longboard with the WAC regulars. Miraculously, he didn't get cut and bleed to death. Same old Lanahan.

But he wasn't the same. He was making moves, moves that would seem ominous only in retrospect. He joked with Spees about how all the hospital time had prompted him to draw up a will -- "I can go kill myself now," he said. He insisted that Hilberg watch Harold and Maude, a movie about a young man whose hobby is staging suicides.

In mid-October he went to Steamboat Springs with a buddy and longboarded down Rabbit Ears Pass, a perfect adventure that had a ring of finality to it.

On Friday, October 21, he went to see OAR at the Fillmore Auditorium. Hilberg was ill from bad sushi, and nobody else was around to go with him.

His friends didn't know he started drinking again that weekend, getting a buzz on for the concert -- a violation of his probation that could land him in prison. They didn't know that his handlers suspected he was making many bad decisions. They didn't know that he was scheduled for a polygraph the following Monday.

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