Gone, but not forgotten.
Great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.
– G. Randolf
Looking back, I don't know what the hell I was doing. I can't find words to explain the way I felt. But it happened and it was natural. I was completely calm and collected, I had no idea what was going on and yet somehow at the same time I knew what was happening before anyone told me. My heart was breaking, and my insides were crying, screaming, mourning. I couldn't process what happened that night or the following day. I still can't.
It was a Tuesday. It was September 2004. I had just come home from school and went about everything as usual. Nothing was different. Nothing seemed out of place. I watched some TV, ate some afternoon tea, contemplated study and decided against it. The computer would have been involved at some point. I was bored and restless. I put on a CD and sat on my bed to listen to it. I didn't dance. I didn't spin. I just sat. The CD finished, but I couldn't move. I didn't even notice.
I brought my knees up to me chest and just sat there. I was aware that the bedpost and backboard were digging into my back, but I didn't care. Nothing seemed to matter. I knew logically the world was continuing on, and that my family were going about their various activities completely unaware of what I was doing. But logic had escaped me. The world had escaped me. Time had vanished, leaving me with only my thoughts as company. It felt like I had sat there for only a minute or two, but when I turned my head slowly to look at the clock, it read eleven p.m. It had been hours and I had nothing to account for the time.
I knew it was going to happen; I wasn't in denial or anything, but it just didn't seem real. Only that week we had been told that she was being moved to a hospice. It was true that the world had become a dark and scary place, but she was alive and there was still hope. She was breathing; there was life. I went to sleep and didn't think of it anymore.
But deep down inside I knew. I think I knew what had happened, even before it did. As it happened. I knew it was going to happen, but that doesn't make it easier. It's always sudden; it's always hard.
It was the calm before the storm.
It may well be that we will never meet again in this lifetime. So let me say before we part, so much of me is made from what I learnt from you; you'll be with me like hand print on my heart.
Just listening to this song, makes me smile. Do you remember the time we almost got me banned from the hospital because we were singing so loud?
When I woke up the next morning, my senses still felt heightened. Or maybe they were depleted. Whatever it was, they were different. There was a calmness within me that I had never felt before and I was seeing the world through different eyes. It didn't last long.
The bus ride was my first indicator. It was quiet, yet the atmosphere was electrifiable as though something was about to happen and was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. It would only take one spark to set the whole thing alight. As it turns out, it only needed one spark. My suspicions were confirmed when she got on the bus. Her skin was pale, her lips taunt with distress and her eyes were motionless and only sought the floor. There were no tears, no questions, no words; but we all knew exactly what had happened.
My body was on autopilot as I walked through the school grounds seeking out my friends. I was sitting down before I even realised. I was crying before I felt the first tear drop. I was on the floor in a crumpled heap, before I even understood what was happening. My world had stopped spinning; and it would never again be the same.
In the distance, across the quad, I could hear the younger students laugh and joke. A ball or two was tossed about; a girl ran giggling towards the toilet block. A teacher yelled into the PA, a warning bell rang signalling the immediate start of tutor group. I didn't see any of this with my own eyes. It felt as though my insides were shattering, each little piece piercing my internal organs. My mind felt as though it was disconnected from my body. It no longer made sense, it had lost all control over my body and it ceased to exist. And then I saw Cathy walk up, her hands dancing to the unheard rhythm of her Discman as her head lulled from side to side. She had no idea of the train wreck that awaited her. As a group of friends rushed forward to meet her, I couldn't move. I stood there rooted on the spot and watched in horror as her face dropped. It was as though I watched in slow motion asshe brought her hands to her crumbling face, shaking her head from side to side pleading with the girls that they were wrong, that there had to be some mistake. I prayed with her desperately wishing for an explanation, for someone to challenge the facts and tell us that we were wrong and how stupid we were to believe in this nonsense. Didn't we have a bullshit meter? But deep inside we all knew that she had died, we just weren't willing to accept it.
My heart broke for a second time.
And a third when the principal called an assembly and they informed the entire school. He choked on his words; I wouldn't have even been able to speak. Her sunshine headpiece held pride of place on the office windows. Everyone's eyes were drawn to it. Just a few months ago, she had performed in the play. Sung and danced like the little battler we all knew her to be. She had stolen the show, and left with our hearts.
Classes were a mess. No one wanted to concentrate when our minds were elsewhere. I couldn't get the image of her smiling face out of my head, of the bounce in her step, or her intoxicating laugh. As my teacher droned on and on about Shakespeare – a man I didn't much care about at the best of times – I found myself increasingly drawn to the world outside the window. The clouds looked fluffy that day, the sky further away. Swaying gently in the wind, the trees looked more worn and stiff, as if the added pressure was too much for them to bear. Straying dandelions evoked unwanted memories, and a fresh flood of memories. Like the song says, we thought that it would rain the day she went away. I didn't like the alternative and couldn't cope with the sunny outlook of the world. I called my Dad; I wanted him more than anything.
Before I knew it, my Mum was at the school. Dad had called her. I tried my hardest not to cry on the way home and eventually crawled into bed, cocooning myself away from the world's existence. The doona and pillows that had once been my sanctuary tonight encased me in my worries and depression as I cried myself to sleep.
Little did I realise the impact this day would have on the rest of my life. I still have nightmares about it to this day.
Time stopped for the week that followed. It became nothing but an abstract term. Days bleed into nights, and nights died into days. Each moment as the funeral approached seemed unbearable and in the end it reared its ugly head.
The morning's sunshine rays woke me on the morning of the funeral. I fought for as long as I could to stay asleep, to shut my eyes away from the pain, as though that could make it better. I clung to my childhood innocence and beliefs, praying that if only I couldn't see the pain or the world, that it couldn't see me. That if I didn't get out of bed that the funeral wouldn't have to happen. That she wouldn't have died. That it was all one big mistake. I began to make desperate compromises with God. If I can hold my breath for a whole minute, she can be brought back. If I could only guess the next song on the radio then she would be ok…
We were asked as a school community to wear our uniforms to the funeral to show our support. In a daze I laid the uniform out on my bed, making sure it was perfectly straight and tidy before going about my morning rituals. It's in this state that I left the house, two hours later in a pair of jeans and a black cardigan, a box of tissues nestled in my bag as my only defence against the world, and my mother beside my side offering a shoulder to cry on. The uniform I left for others. I couldn't bear its strict confines, its association and memories.
The church was packed, as I knew it would be. Everybody knew her. Everybody loved her, a shinning star in all our worlds. We all wanted to be there to say goodbye, even when we couldn't fathom it. How do you say goodbye to somebody you've known for eleven years of your life? How do you let go?
Wherever you are it is your friends who make your world.
The service was beautiful. Your brother stood up and read his poem, the last thing he said to you before you took your last breath. The congregation sank into despair even more then.
Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye for real. Your casket was carried out, and those from school stood side-by-side forming a band on honour. We knew you would have been embarrassed if you had seen it, but you deserved it, and we loved you. I cried even harder as your body went past, your songs playing in the background.
As a group, our year all moved behind you in one solemn mass, everyone hurting the same. As you left us for the final moments, we surrounded each other, one giant hug, pressing against each other as we tried to keep the spirit/essence of you embedded within each of us. Tears weren't enough and words couldn't express what we felt inside. We lost a friend. We lost our ally.
A sperate service was held at the school to remember you.
Like all the other school events, there were performances and slideshows, dedications and stories. I sat through the whole thing unable to understand, still unwilling to accept that you were really gone.
Afterwards, our year went across to your new garden to pay our own private respects. Your family joined us. We had officially recognised the area behind the library, you know near the staff's car park, as your own garden; a place to go when we needed time to ourselves. Time to breathe and time to remember.
Somebody bought you yellow balloons. Together the remaining one-hundred-and-forty-nine of us held hands and let them go, everyone watching helplessly as the balloons rose into the sky and eventually out of sight.
Like you, they were gone, but not forgotten.
It's strange the way the world works. I don't even need to know the date to know that it's approaching that time of the year. Each year on the anniversary of the night you passed away, I am overcome by the same feeling of calmness that I was in 2004. My body relaxes, my brain tunes the world out until there's just you and me and that feeling. It's as though my body has its own built in alarm clock just to remember you.
It's quiet as I walk across the grass, almost too quiet considering the amount of people assembled on the grounds. Walking forward to our usual meeting spot, I'm overcome with emotion. Five years later, and the pain is still raw. Some things just can't be repaired or replaced.
I can hear every squish of my feet on the soggy grass, as I follow my direct path. Its like I'm on auto-drive as I walk toward you. I no longer have to think, I no longer have to feel. Each squelch of my feet accompanies the heavy beating of my heart, my own private percussion band. It's the only thing I have to keep me company. I find you in your usual spot, and slowly lower myself into a sitting position, the damp grass now forgotten. You're the only thing on my mind.
Delicately, I lie out my bag in front of me, assembling my possessions and my thoughts simultaneously. I pull out a single yellow rose, and caress the edges softly before looking towards the sky, trying my hardest to fight back the tears. Its cool to touch, and the silver cellophane rustles as I offer it to you.
I unfold the picture from my wallet next, and smile weakly as my fingers trace the outline of your face. It's the Canteen photo that we took back in school that last year. Your standing there decked out in your sports uniform and seven bandanas, your hands raised and clenched in fists. It as though your issuing a threat to the disease, come on I'll take you on your body seems to say, but it is your eyes that say something different. I've never noticed them before, but they're crying. I think you knew even then, the fight was long lost. The brave little battler that you were, your lips are pressed into a tight smile; you're not ready to show us yet that we're all fighting a losing battle with you.
As tears begin to well in my eyes with this newfound information, I lower the photo to my lap and take the last parcel out of my bag. The bundle of letters strain against the elastic band, as I place them on top of the bag, unwilling to sacrifice them to the wet surroundings. The top letter is still sealed, unopened even now, years and years after you wrote it. I don't need to read it, to know what you wrote, to know what you were thinking and feeling. The rest of them serve as testimony to that. This last letter I cherish as a symbol of hope. The one thing that I hold on to that says there's still more of you left in this ever-changing world.
For a while I just sit still, staring at the letters, staring at the ground, at your headstone. With uncertainty I raise my eyes once again to the sky. It's big blue expanse seems to stretch on for all eternity, so with nothing else to do I lay on the ground beside you and stare above, seeking out images in the clouds, like we used to do. I spot a deformed elephant, a Transformer shape and a star. I'm talking to you out loud before I even realise what I'm doing.
Do you remember when we skipped sport; just to lie on the tennis courts and watch the clouds go by? Or when we found the skipping ropes and frisbies in the sports shed? Still don't know why the school had them. What about the hockey game when Mr. Mac knocked out Liz's front teeth?
For a moment, I'm assaulted with memories of the two of us: the kindergarten photo where were both missing our front teeth; the image of us hugging our stuffed toys on the Teddy Bear's Picnic; the stacks we had in netball and the get-ups we wore to various walk-a-thons and sports carnivals. That day when we finished the forty-hour famine for the first time, and the way we were staring at the clock eagerly waiting for it to tick over so that we could finally eat something other than barley sugars. The list continues; overdosing on chocolate and subsequently singing into old hairbrushes, and the impromptu dance sessions in public. The million of shopping trips we went on, and the image of you in the formal dress that you never got to wear.
Do you know that we shaved our heads for Leukaemia the year after you left? That school became the ambassadors for Bandanna Day because of our year, because of the motivation and inspiration we held over the rest of the school. Because of you…
It hurts to speak and not hear you reply, so I stop talking.
After a short pause, I begin to wonder what you now know. For my own sanity, I have to believe that there's a heaven, a place better than this world, a place where you've gone after you left us. I have to believe that you're watching us. Do you laugh at all the stupid things we do? Laugh when we laugh? Cry, when we cry? Do you know how much you meant to us? To me?
Did you see us graduate and wish that you were there with us? Did you see us acknowledge you? Did you see the awards we developed in honour of you? Did you see the award we gave to you?
I wonder who you'd be today, if you were still here. Would you have attended university and got that degree in journalism? Or would you have gone to tafe and done the photography course you wanted to?
Sitting up, I hug my cardigan closer to my body. I should be going soon, but I can't bring myself to leave. Back home there are assignments to write, and phone calls to make, I'm in the mood for neither.
There's something different about this place today and I just can't put my finger on what it is. The pond seems further away, sort of. Maybe it's the water – it does seem murkier than usual. The old oak off to the left looks taller and the grass seems less green, less vibrant, but that could be because of the mud tracked through it by various visitors.
I love you.
Its only three little words whispered aloud, but it means everything. It's the only way I can communicate to you everything that I'm feeling, it's the only way I can tell you that I miss you more than what I can express in words. I know that you'll understand, you said the same thing to me the week before you died.
A car pulls up in the car park near to us, causing the gravel to emit a low groan as it's forced to shift to accommodate the intruder. The noise is out of place in our current surrounding and all sense of peace with my surroundings is erased. I turn to glare at the perpetrators, and am greeted with a small smile from your father as he nods his head in acknowledgement and turns away to give me a few more minutes' privacy.
Your family have arrived now, and I know its time to leave. I collect my things slowly, placing the flower against your name plaque. I am disappointed to see that the petals are already curling inwards. Nothing beautiful lasts forever.
I'm about to leave, when I remember the letter. From the bundle I peel out a yellow envelope. Your name is scrawled across the front in my messy handwriting, on the back our favourite lyrics. I bring the envelope to my lips and kiss it once before lowering and placing it under the rose.
Without looking back, I start the descent down the small hill and greet your parents with a hug and kiss. Your father asks me about university and I promise your mother that I'll come around for dinner next week.
It takes me a while to turn the key in the ignition and get the car moving, but when I look up, your mum is smiling at me, and waves ever so slightly and I can see your Dad holding the small envelope, his head bowed down low so that I can't see his face.
Instantly I know that he's reading the quote.
I was born to try…
Nothing can become between true friends
I swear my Ipod's broken again.
I'll be driving home from work, listening to a play list of the top songs in today's charts, when out of the blue your song comes on. It was never part of the play-list, and once its heard it'll disappear again. The damage has been done though; all I can hear is your voice singing.
It's always the same. Every year it happens. I'm at a loss for an explanation, other than you're reminding me that you're here.
Time is my only enemy in this world. It ticks by second after second without a care in the world for anybody else. It's moving forward, but leaving us behind. Leaving you behind. And despite my best efforts, I'm not sure how much longer I can hold on. How much longer I can carry this deadweight about me. I don't even know if I want to.
I'll always love you, I know that much. A true friend is there for life, but I can't hear your voice anymore. And with every passing second, the memory of you is beginning to fade.
A/N: Okay so there are some things that need to be explained in this story and I'm going to try my hardest to make sense of it. Before I do though, I want to say that this piece is rather personal to me and I've debated about putting this up here for a while. Having done so, I ask that anyone who does read this, could you please review and let me know what you though? What worked and what didn't? what you liked about it (if anything) and what you didn't like about it?
On the 14th September 2004, a childhood friend of mine lost her battle against cancer. To a large extent Gone, but not forgotten is her story.
The story is told in two parts.
In the first, the narrator would refer to her deceased friend as only 'she.' I felt this impersonal approach heightened the emotional sense of the character, as she was unwilling and unable to speak the name out loud, but also allowed myself some distance from the character.
In the second part, the narrator is visiting her friends gave on the fifth anniversary of her death and is recounting to her friend what has happened since her death. Unlike the first part, the narration takes on a different style here as the narrator begins to carry out a one sided conversation with her friend, referring to her now as 'you.'
Stylistically, I understand this two part system (and changes in writing) is confusing, but when writing I struggled to blend them together; the first section would not work as well with 'you'; and the second did not work at all with 'she.'
The song lyrics mentioned above in italics are from the original Broadway musical Wicked, more specifically the song 'For Good.'
please let me know what you think.