Saturday, 25 June 2011

In Memory of a Friend

Let me tell you a little story.  It's about a handsome young actor, filled to the brim with talent for acting, painting and singing.  With a love of The Beatles, acting daft and dressing up for fancy dress parties.
He was one of my best friends at drama school and we'd often share a (platonic) makeshift bed at parties, he gave the best cuddles and told stupid stories to get me to sleep.  I was his Bambi (reference to my ridiculously skinny, flailing legs in dance classes) and his fag hag - yes he was gay and maybe that was his downfall.
I watched this friend turn from the happiest, most giggly person you could ever wish to meet to a mere shell of his former self.  He was the immaculately turned out, beautifully spoken reader at our wedding, who became what can only be described as a tramp.
You see, he fell in love.  They met on a train - very "Brief Encounter" and so wonderfully camp and fitting for them!  And it wasn't a sordid one night gay stand, they lived together for fifteen years.  They fought like cat and dog, one highly successful in his field, the other a struggling actor.  But they complemented each other and my friend needed his partner.  He believed it was for life and then it all fell apart.
I know this happens every day, all over the world and people move on and get over it.  My friend couldn't.  He didn't want to be doing the gay scene in his 30's, he thought he'd got it sorted.  He didn't want to be lonely.
So, slowly, he went mad.  Quite literally.  His career was going nowhere, he found himself in a manky bedsit (after a huge mansion flat) living with a cat and doing a menial job working night shifts just to keep his head above water.  Working the hours he did, he didn't even have the opportunity to get back out meeting people, even if he wanted to. His sleeping patterns fell out of synch and he became detached.
I was his only friend.  He gradually began to mistrust everyone - my husband included, who he'd always been close to.  When things were at their worst, he believed my husband was "spying on him and was in cahoots with John Major!"
He began to speak in accents and told me that a nose job he'd had done in the past meant he'd been micro chipped and he was being listened to by the CIA.
He was finally sectioned under the Mental Health Act when he was arrested in town trying to set fire to cars with home made bombs.  We cleared his flat for him and looked after his cat while he was in hospital and the memory of his terrifying and sad abode will live with me forever.  A ridiculous amount of crude incendiary devices were stored, a helmet made of tin foil (to keep the voices out) with holes for his eyes and nostrils and cat sick wrapped up in the freezer, labelled "evidence".
I was his only visitor while he was in hospital.  This popular, handsome young man had no one.  It wasn't easy but I kept telling myself he would eventually get better and become his old self again.
He didn't.  Indeed, I feel shame to this day for having to distance myself from him when I began to consider him a real threat to our family - he lived near my son's school and I had to warn them about my friend possibly approaching him at pick-up. My son was very young at the time and still trusted him.
Eventually, he decided to move back to the coast to be closer to his parents and family.  Surely the change would do him good?
He took his life last Easter, finally deciding he couldn't cope with it all anymore.
When I think of him, I never picture the lank haired vagrant who'd turn up on my doorstep, stinking in four layers of clothes with a Catweazle beard, and asking me to cut his finger nails - the drugs they had him on had immobilised the joints in his hands.
I remember the young, vibrant young man I teamed up with on my first day at drama school.  We had our lives ahead of us and had no idea how it would turn out.
I would never have put money on this story turning out the way it did.

I write about a gay couple in my novel Diary of a Mummy Misift - on Amazon for Kindle.
Now also available in paperback at Lulu.

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