I was deeply saddened to hear yesterday of the death of an old school friend. It must be nearly thirty years since he and I last met, but still there's something quite distressing about hearing of the passing of someone the same age as yourself. It's as if it's an indication of your own inevitable demise, which of course it is; as we get older and the path before us becomes clearer, fixed even, almost everything becomes an indication of that.
Thirty years is a long time, but it's amazing how memories can come rushing back from the past to shock and surprise us. And so vivid too; almost tangible. The places we ran, the crowd we ran with, and the stuff we got up to. In particularly I'm assaulted by memories of that one long, hot summer when we were tight, and we totally owned the local park. But then, as is often the nature of youthful friendship, it passed.
And now you've passed too, and, and... I don't know what to say. Rest in peace, Jez... and wherever you are now, whatever you are now, live on in my memories, old friend. I will never forget you.
When this news filtered through, those of us who remember Jez, got a splash of cold reality in the face. As I said, there really is nothing like the death of a friend, to give us a clear perspective on our own life. As well as thinking about my own mortality, I started thinking about mortality in general, and I found myself wondering if there were any others from our school year who were no longer with us. So, I asked the others. Between us, we came up with a total of five. Four of them I knew about: The recently departed Jez Bain, who was unfortunate enough to suffer a massive attack on his big gentle heart, while scuba diving in Mexico. The super happy Julie Shaw, who very sadly and very suddenly died of leukaemia just a couple of years after we'd left school. The mischievous, adventure-seeking Sean Kelly, who used up the last of his nine lives some 10 years ago when he pushed his rental scooter beyond its (and his) limits on a mountainside in Greece. And finally there was the forever beautiful Susan McAdam, who was so shockingly and brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend consumed with jealousy. I still can't quite believe the horror of what happened to poor Susan.
But there was another one that I didn't know about; Tony Betts. Struck down a few years ago by bone cancer. I must have missed that one as I was losing myself in Japan. Yes, Tony. Good old Tony Betts. Good old... bad old... mean old systematic bully Anthony Betts. That's right, Anthony 'the cunt' Betts who, along with his sick mate, Richard 'the dick' Mountain, gave me almost more physical pain and mental anguish than I could bear. The memories rush towards me again, and as they do, I can feel the cold sweat begin to break on my forehead.
Died a slow and painful death from the inside out, did he? Turned out to be quite literally rotten to the core, did he? Well, ain't karma a stone cold bitch?
And yet any satisfaction I felt, any wave of hatred I rekindled, passed almost before I felt it. Almost. I did have time to experience a strange new euphoria, but no sooner did my heart begin to race, than it sank like a stone under a new wave of guilt and pity. And once again I was angry with Anthony Betts, and just as angry with myself as I always used to be. How dare he make me feel these emotions again. How dare he reach from the grave and torment me in this way one more time? What gives him the right to do that?
Anthony Betts was a vindictive fool when he was a child. A mean boy who was expert in channelling all his negative energy into whatever hurt he wished to cause. And then, I guess he grew up. I can imagine that he found new ways to bully and manipulate in his adult life, but I'm hoping he also grew out of a lot of his old ways. Maybe he changed, moved on, and maybe he even found love. I really pray he found love... got married, settled down, experienced the joys of fatherhood. I hope he had it all before his life was snatched prematurely from him. Yes I hope he found love... he, more than anyone I can think of, really needed it.