Death has edged its way into the periphery of my vision over the last few weeks.
A dear friend recently and unexpectedly lost her mother; another, granted a longer period of goodbye, her mother in law. My own elderly mother talks of the funerals taking place at her sheltered accommodation.
And now I have lost someone I knew personally.
We were brought together in the early Nineties through Charlotte’s Mag, an independent music magazine (in the days before the internet; I discovered a pre-launch flyer in my tiny local library, of all places). After admiring his work, and hearing about him from fellow contributors, we finally met a few months after the launch.
By this time I was a (very minor) cartoonist and writer; he, a creator of surreal collages, cartoons and humour. I felt dazzled by this tall, bright smiling young man, and not a little intimidated by the passion of his beliefs and his apparent worldliness (he read nihilistic authors! He drank! He smoked! He took soft drugs!)
Over the following months, long letters and even longer phone calls ensued.
I came down to stay with a mutual friend and, at some point over this period (and one which I can no longer recall), we fell chastely, innocently, in love. Somehow, I still don’t know how, this bright young man became my first boyfriend.
Given the 200+ miles, our age and our shifting circumstances, it didn’t last long. In fact I tried to be all grown-up and ended it, for those very reasons. I’d like to remember that we became friends once more but the correspondence petered out and then, shortly after, stopped. All I can remember from the ending was how he joked about self-medicating with various tobacco products.
A year later, still troubled, I wrote to his lovely mother, asking if he was OK. To her credit she sent me a short yet firm card, saying he was fine. And that, unequivocally, was the end of that.
Until a couple of years ago, when I heard his name on BBC 6Music, and heard one of his tracks.
And, quite frankly, stopped in my tracks.
After learning of his musical career I bought a couple of his CDs. A friend pointed out his twitter account. I briefly googled him and discovered his cult status, his blog.
And yet I never contacted him.
Why? Because it was so long ago. Because he was now moderately famous. Because .. I was afraid. I made assumptions about his life, ones which confirmed the darker whispers in my ear: would he remember me? Why would he want to? I forgot who he was all those years ago, and focused on who I presumed he’d now become.
Life can feel like an endless stream of beginnings and endings, of threads once grasped and yet now out of reach.
We all feel people slip in and out of our lives, those who challenge us, change us, transform us or enchant us. How often do we take the time to tell them of the positive impact they’ve had? How often do we extend an invitation to reconnect? I assumed that perhaps, one day, our paths would cross again. I would finally have both the courage and the chance to tell him how proud I was of him.
Alas, that is never to be.
I grieve not only for what was lost with 20 years of silence, but also for the loss of the chance to make that right. For being fearful. For making assumptions.
But I remain grateful and blessed for what I do still have; memories. Memories, which come flooding back in waves, of this clever, funny, challenging man; memories of kisses, of second-hand record and bookshops, of Joy Division and The Cure (with his delight at seeing me eat in the middle of the night), of sharing the honeysuckle in his parent’s garden, of receiving long letters and longer phone calls, of connecting and stretching mentally, and, of course, first love.
I also have his music.
I just wish I could have thanked him for those gifts when I had the chance.
[Edited to add; I recently met someone who was his friend for the last 10 years; please scroll to the bottom of this post for more.]
Photo credit: echiner1