Oh, no! I’ll assume something totally wrong
For I lack self-control and I cannot deny it
My interests lean to the venal and long
May my silence continue, I’ll try to keep quiet
But sometimes the need to exclaim all at once
When my mouth gets ahead of my brain, I admit it
Can give the impression I’m thoughtless and dense
As words slip past my censor and blurt through my lipstick
I’m careful, not careless; I pay close attention
Avoiding glib phrases and skirting pretence
Sincere of ambition, diffusing all tension
A guard on my tongue but no end to offence
You’d never imagine… I couldn’t believe it!
My opening gambit, caught sight of a plate
An idiot’s here, I can scarcely conceive it
How could I come out with such ejaculate?
An ass just addressed in the major and minor
The whole of the room with today’s foolish bray
I don’t understand why my inner designer
Won’t work with my editing suite as they say
I’ll sit in the corner, projecting ambivalence
Try to ignore just how rosy the glow
My face is on fire with the sum of my brilliance
Perhaps I’d be better to grab coat and go?
We set up this meeting and hoped for clear visions
But as I just proved I’m inept and half-cocked
It might be more prudent to postpone decisions
Until I’ve recovered composure and tact
Wretched, wrenched and soon entrenched
Business head on sloppy wench
Undermined and over-sensed
Swimming through a stew of stench
Fog of fug and quite unbidden
All too late to keep it hidden
Seeping forth as from a midden
Listing lost, to window hasten
For years I felt that a cupboard, a room
Was all of the space I could need
I’d sit there surrounded by books in the gloom
And scribble my thoughts by the light of the moon
Fill my head with the words I would read
I’d not have to worry at all for the neighbours
Or find time to re-paint the bath
For comfortable was just a duvet and PJs
With nothing more needed, no disco or DJs
A candle gave light from the hearth
But somehow we found that with two of us there
It was no longer quite the same palace
The world had grown bigger and started to stare
With the castle we built out of no more than air
At the couple that lived from a suitcase
We struggled, resistant to others’ attempts
To provoke us to find a new shelter
We shivered through winter, and mended the fence,
And in summer we suffered in panting offence
Rigged a fan to the bookshelf to swelter
Then finally when we had reached boiling point
All our options had dribbled away
We agreed it was time that we looked to the rent
To decide our intentions by firm government
We examined our options to stay
Though it took us ten years to find one we’d afford
Now a house we have suddenly bought
Yet still reeling in shock at the sight of the floors
Finding furniture shops and new knobs for old doors
What incredible chaos we’ve wrought
For such jealousy now seems to stem from the tide
Of those others who’d scorn, scowl and scoff
I am tempted to find a new cupboard to hide
Quite confused at the poison that seeps from outside
From their tedious, terminal cough
Though it seems we gave in to their constant demand
It was hardly to match with the Joneses
And though cupboard and room has expanded in ground
We have worked to repair what we needed and found
We have never yet tilted our noses
For at heart I’ve a cupboard I can call my own
With a book and a candle inside it
I vacuum the floors and I dust every tome
For the library walls I can now term my home
Though my friends may but scarcely abide it
For a home is a place that we find in ourselves
With no need for the trappings of glory
To be quite at peace with my own book-filled shelves
While I scribble my thoughts on our heavenly hells
Is but one chapter of my own story
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,
Belgium and Russia, Holland and France
All went to war at the drop of some pants
Stayed for a spell in the ‘melting pot’ there
Until Belgium got out to go towel-dry her hair
Then Russia goosed France and he squealed quite a bit
While Holland was off in a huff for some shit
Things got a bit rough in the bedroom that night
Until Belgium screamed ‘Stop!’ and France turned on the light.
Quite shocked were our countries at what they then saw
They all signed a peace treaty and walked out the door.
If only world peace were as simple a sum
As catching half Europe in half-naked fun.
To those who flirt in quiet carriage
Never realizing the marriage
Witless, stupid, sally forth
Stumbling like pigs in trough
Blind to what we watchers know.
Deaf to sense and subtext-slow,
They chatter on, they fail to hear
The silent screams of these two ears.