It’s hard to understand death. The way people just leave. When you don’t see the body they’re just gone. Everyone I’ve been close to since my youth, everyone I’ve observed, all the transient and impactful exchanges of my lifetime, if I live so long they’ll leave. And in the end, there’s only love and rust.
Rust is unfinished business. I have my share of that. Friction inevitably makes for wear and tear. Sometimes people bring out the worst in me. Or they ask for things I can’t give. Or they want me to be something that they need. Some see right through me, see the things I don’t see. In hindsight it turns out the classic mistake is to push people away without a word. That’s clear enough, even if it was easier than confronting the truth, my truth, their truth. Because other people create us, we see our outline in the reflection of their eyes. To turn away without opening up to them, is to lose connection and gain regret, like rust, a patina of needless complication. I still cross the street to avoid the houses where it all went wrong decades after the actual pain was given and received. It can make my journeys somewhat erratic at times. And I imagine the friction runs both ways. As others challenge me, I do the same for them without really knowing it. Our constant appraisal of ourselves and of one another happens under the surface all day everyday. Just acknowledging that I judge others takes some guts.
But when death walks in it makes a mockery of judgement, of my timidity and my insecurities. I marvel at people who have more peaceful access to their emotions. I see that people who feel brave enough don’t need to run, people who know they are loved can take the challenge. Then, when someone leaves, the grief comes easily, for as long as it takes to heal. They trust their relationships. They trust themselves. But if someone you loved in the past dies with truths untold, unrecognised or rejected, it’s difficult. When the friction of unacknowledged truths comes between people who have been important to each other the healing is more complicated. The rust needs to be scraped away first.
Now I hope there is still a chance to make peace inside myself. As my story unfolds, I will sit up on top of Highgate Hill with my memories and balance the brilliance of the old mates with their shadows. In my mind I will walk through old doorways, stand shoulder to shoulder under filament lights, smoking Craven A cigarettes and marvelling at the sheer invention and talent all around me. For the glory of our many noble failures and our absurd and quixotic adventures, I toast the people who gave me my first authentic, independent adult outline through the approval I found in their eyes. As they leave me (and in time I leave them) I value more and more the gifts that they gave the world with their generous, if complicated, charm. We fought for our version of the world, and it was hilarious and just and inclusive and all lit up like a fire sculpture in the back yard of a share house by the river. Our world emerged from the imagination of ratbags gee-ing each other up to swim over the river and steal the garden furniture from the bourgeois apartments on the other side. That was a daring kind of love for life. No price tag was too high. Can we put on a show in this barn? Who’s running the bar? Who’s playing guitar? Who’s counting the cash? Make sure they’re not getting smashed…Ta Dah! Careers were launched as we danced the limbo, children conceived as the catering was getting sorted, the lost were found in the back bar of the Boundary, and the future reimagined in a superabundance of human chain reactions.
Nothing is what we expect it to be when we are young. We grow older. We miss our chance or we rise in the ranks. We sober up or we don’t. One of us will go to all the funerals. Some of us will keep dancing till the end. No one can ever take our heroic past away and it does help to balance my hollow regrets. That’s what I can hold on to in the end. Such love.