When I may wander mid the clouds
that form when I think far too loud
disturbing thus my reverie
I see such sights no man should see.
Not dusty clouds to cobwebs wed
but glittering smoke, which once thin-spread
reveals to me the shining towers
of cities, beautiful, which house
the fairy nations that there dwell
quite ignorant of heaven or hell
who smile their days and dance their nights,
delight in causing strangers frights,
but best of all, enjoy such life
without the care or daily strife
one sends to plague us here on Earth
and make us doubt our very worth –
for hopelessness and sad despair
are products such as one grows here
and harvests gleefully – cuts down
rejoicing in our every frown
until our chins have reached the floor
– we no more see as once before
but bow our heads in misery
for what we are, we may not be.
Why on earth is it that even years after the event, I still cannot let you go? Your lopsided smile and ugly, grinning, gurning face plague me from hour to hour. I cannot sit in a room without smiling at some returning memory, and as warmth returns to my frozen heart, I take stock. Weighing all of my options carefully, I balance from foot to foot, leaning this way, then that. I am a pendulum, wavering, uncertain whether or whither to swing. I am a clock, stopped still the day you left me, and only now beginning to find my rhythm once more. As the shallow tick-tock of life creeps up my spine and tickles my veins into action, so the thaw begins. I must be wary, lest my wintry organs melt to a spring flood of love, and I, swept along by my own strong current, am drowned by it. Suffocated, helpless. A fisher, tangled and caught in my own nets and snared by traps of my own devising, struggling to break free. Wary indeed. As my love for you had become a mantra – words of comfort to be spoken before sleep and upon waking; My ‘I love you’s with their reedy echo in the damp morning air, somehow growing to a rope with which to hang myself – and swing I did, groaning in pain and tormenting myself minutely with your voice, your face, your scorn, derision, pity. Tearing myself down, piece by piece, until I had ceased to be. Where once I stood, proud and strong, shining brightly for all to see – lay a stone. My rougher edges smoothed to a bland pebble. My glittering core dulled by your swell and smashed on rocks of my own choosing. Broken and without pattern, without hope of re-making, mending, rebirth. I lie here, and I am troubled. That I still harbour feelings for you does not pain me or even shame me to action. Nothing I could do to myself or to others could change that fact. That these feelings grow stronger despite our mutual distance frightens and excites me. I thought I had no more tears, and now I often don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can feel again. What I thought had to have gone forever has returned to me. Now I find myself at a crossroads with a choice. Do I go onward? Or do I turn back?
And she wept long and hard
For the love she had lost.
She felt keenly her heart
Must feel keenly the loss.
But she never did pause
To ponder her fate
For ’tis better to mourn
Than consider the wait.
On the other hand, he,
Not accustomed to pain
Chose to keep his good cheer
And think on it again.
Thus they grew far apart
In their aiming to keep
Their love like a river
Flowing slowly and deep.
Now her eyes are quite dry
As he looks on, bemused.
Little time has gone by
And yet he is refused?
For the clock has run down
Wanting winding, you see.
And where once was love
Lies a strange fantasy.
What now feels like a very long time ago, I said an unwilling goodbye to a friend of mine. Not one of those ‘I’ll see you when you come to your senses’ goodbyes, but a full-on, permanent, ‘Nevermore in this world’. The boy in question had chosen, without telling anyone, to shuffle off this mortal coil. I had just moved house, so I got given the good news several months after the event via his mother, who in the chaos of her own grief, had managed to lose my address.
For various reasons, for which I later felt extremely guilty, I was unable to visit. I had missed the funeral, and in any case, I didn’t really know his family that well, so I wasn’t comfortable intruding on their grief to assuage my own.
Mourning is a strange, and very personal process. People do it in all sorts of different ways. The letter I received from his mother on black-edged notepaper was testament to how well she was faring under tremendous pressure. It took me three hours to decipher the handwriting, let alone allow the meaning of her words to sink in. I spent those three hours in the laundry-room in the basement of the building, with a pile of rapidly diminishing dirty washing, deafened by the noise of the industrial-sized machines, slowly coming to the realization that I would never see my friend again. Life would not be the same without him.
Letting go of someone who has been an almost daily long-distance fixture in your life for several years is difficult. As we were living in different countries, we mainly spoke via the net or by post, usually in the evenings. That year he had been transferred by work to another location just before I moved house, so there had been a break in communications while we both sorted our lives out, during which we sent each other a couple of brief postcards, but nothing serious in the way of deep and meaningful communication. I had no clue he was depressed. None whatsoever. His actions came as a complete shock to me.
You read all sorts of stories about suicides in the papers, usually villifying their so-called friends who were too wrapped up in their own lives and problems to notice someone they cared about was losing the struggle with theirs, and you wonder whether they chose the path they did because you were a bad friend…?
Survivor guilt is not limited to extreme situations such as war or genocide. It occurs in daily life as part of the grieving process. You wonder about the strangest things. ‘There but for the grace of… what? Why wasn’t it me and not him?’ You puzzle over personality traits, ponder what makes someone strong, whether suicide means strength or weakness… These internal debates can last a lifetime without you discovering the answers, and if you let them, they can take over your life.
His mother gave me some strange advice at the end of her letter. She told me to forget all about her son, to ignore what had happened, and to go on with my own life, to live it to the full and to follow all my dreams.
I read her letter over and over for three weeks before I replied to it. I couldn’t find words to say what needed to be said, and nor could I reconcile what needed saying for the sake of convention with what I wanted to say.
I was angry at her for telling me to forget my friend. I couldn’t understand why she would demand that I obliterate all trace of someone who had already left the land of the living. I wondered at the time if she was ashamed of what had happened. I wondered if she was worried as a Catholic about the eternal damnation of her determinedly and avowedly atheist son. I wondered about a lot of things, and I took his photos off the wall in my study and put them in the back of my diary.
I carried him with me for five years, occasionally taking them out to look at them and remember. To remember his advice, his smile, the crazy things he did when he was drunk. To try not to forget, not to let go. I wanted some memory of him to stay with me, a souvenir for this world of a friendship long since dissolved.
And now I have put the diary in a drawer. Somehow I know that I no longer need to carry these physical remnants from the life of someone who is still very much a part of me. I have memories (albeit blurry ones these days) of him which will eventually fade, and I am content to let them do so. I know that he made his mark on the world because he made his mark on me, on my personality, and I need no greater reminder. The way that my mind continues to work is tribute enough.
Goodnight, mon chevalier,