Monday, 18 June 2012

Farewell to a friend

A couple of days before I went on holiday, I found out (via Facebook, how modern) that an old friend had committed suicide. We hadn't seen each other for many years, but there was once a time when we saw each other every day in that urgent need for constant connection that you have as teenagers, when only a select few seem to speak the same language and feel the same important things with the requisite degree of intensity as yourself.

So it was with L. We met while doing our A Levels, both of us recently released from restrictive Catholic schools into the relative freedom and relaxation of a sixth form college, which among its other melting-pot qualities could could boast an ease in enabling girls and boys to form what were often their first, hugely important opposite-sex friendships. L and I met in History, and quickly discovered a shared love of the West End, non-mainstream music, and old films that was only matched by our shared disdain for Farahs, football, and "funk" (the prevailing mainstream culture of Essex and North London at the time.). We would smoke St Moritz in the refectory and plan our escape, which would always involve a flat in the Kings Road and regular visits to Berlin and Paris. Confined to reality, we made do with lounging around my bedroom listening to 12" singles, and taking black and white photos of one another sucking our cheeks in and looking intense. 

Of course I knew he was gay before he did, as did my mother, who worried about his terribly emaciated frame and the fact that his own mother never seemed to have time to cook him a meal. "Doesn't she care about him at all?" she would ask, as he bedded down on the sofa yet again, having "missed" his last bus because we were too busy taping ourselves singing 'Heroes' upstairs. Things were fraught at home and had been for many years; he was not his father's child but the result of a 1960s fling his mother had had with a Greek nightclub owner, and as he grew older and increasingly unlike his macho, stocky 'Dad', his status as cuckoo in the nest became pronounced and unbearable to all concerned. The spare beds and squat floors of friends were a welcome, if uncomfortable escape for him. 

 His sexuality was seldom discussed directly between us, although once we started hitting the New Romantic clubs I made several unsuccessful attempts to propel him at one or other of the beautiful boys we met, who, more confident than L, were so boldly and so defiantly 'out'. He would panic and cringe, and never short of more definite offers, the boys would drift away and leave him dancing with me to 'Memorabilia' once more. I didn't really mind. Though in an effort to up his nightclub profile, I persuaded him to let me dye his hair burgundy - an experiment which went horribly wrong and left me cramming his orange head back into our sink again and again in an effort to try and rectify the appalling mess I had made, until my mother came in and gave the game away by screaming "Jesus Mary and Joseph, what did you do to his HAIR?". He was angry at me for a day and then forgave me, which given the Heinz Cream of Tomato job I'd done on him, was very generous. 

Then we fell out, badly, and something was said by him which I could never forgive. To make my point I marched into the shop where he was working at the time and berated him horribly in front of his customers and co-workers. He had behaved atrociously, and I met and matched him point for point. There was no way back from there. Without L around I fell in love for the first time, went off to University a few months later and my life took a whole other trajectory. Our paths never crossed, apart from once when I  ran for a Tube train that closed its doors in my face, just as I realised L was standing on the other side of the door, staring back at me from inside the carriage. We continued to stare at one another as the train pulled out of the station, and I never saw him again. 

Ten years ago, he contacted me out of the blue through Friends Reunited (seems so quaint now.). I was amazed to read that he'd married and fathered two children, and horrified to read that his eldest had quite recently died. He was understandably broken and lost, and had become very, very embittered towards the world. We had a reconciliation of sorts, he keen to meet up but me quite resistant, sensing his complexity all too clearly and feeling a reluctance to re-open what felt like an inevitably complicated relationship. I kept it to email, 'listened' and offered support where I could, and always made sure to send a message on the anniversary of his child's death. Contact dwindled, but with the new modern lack of personal privacy I still heard snippets; he had left his wife, he had finally come out, he was living with a male partner, he had a lot of cosmetic surgery, he was happy, he was not. 

He was not. And I am so sorry. 


  1. Fantastic tribute to him...

    It is so sad when you hear these things.

    They only seem to take the good ones early I find.

  2. Oh hell, now you've done it. That was beautiful.

  3. That's so sad, and has me shedding a tear for somebody I never knew, but who represents so many whose lives seemed destined to be difficult for whatever reason. I don't think there's anything anyone else can do - I think some people are tortured by themselves, nobody else can get right into their heads and fully understand or make it better if they themselves can't; all anyone can do is simply to try and listen sometimes - just as you did - and if they'll let you.
    Some touching memories of happier times, too, especially The Great 1980s Hair Dye Disaster.

  4. Thank you all very much for these really kind comments. I'm sure everyone has had a friend like this at a particular point in their lives. C, you are so right when you say that some people seem almost predestined for difficult or tragic lives - I meet them in my work, and L was definitely another. I'm afraid I was sure a long time ago that his life would end as it did, right down to the method he chose to end it.

    That there are happy and touching memories does give a degree of consolation (however selfish.). I like to think that on the night he knocked David Gahan over as we were dancing in a nightclub, L was as happy and carefree as he was ever going to be. And he was so very happy and carefree that night...

  5. It sounds as if he just had a very bad beginning and it neer improved. I'm not close at all to my parents but I never felt neglected or unwanted as L must have. It's a terrible start to give a child.

  6. Hard to read and harder to live through. Having lost touch with so many people over the years I dread the day I find one of them is no longer with us through this sort of medium. Hugs.

  7. I have nothing to say other than that was a touching piece of writing.

  8. We all knew someone like that, didn't we. Horrible to think though, what may have become of them.

    Moving piece of writing there.

  9. So very, very sad to read. I don't know how you do it, but you manage to find the right words, every time.

  10. Thank you Jayne. Thanks all of you.