The best friendships are often the ones you never expected to have. They sneak up on you and catch you unawares: how else to explain two girls who having flitted in and out of each other’s circles for three years end up inseparable?
She was the cool one. Effortlessly, beguilingly so. She probably never knew this, but I wanted to be her. She’d have laughed if she knew.
Yearned to be her actually. Those dimples. That black biker’s jacket. Charmingly unaware of her well, charm.
Not that she’d thank me for such a girly turn of phrase.
It started in the library. Two pals bereft of their bestests, eventually heading to the pub. As you do, when you’re 20 and that’s the best place to idle away an hour or six.
And then a routine. Meet up early in the library, a juice and fag break at 11, lunch at 1, coffee at 3, then tea. A couple more hours in the library then time for a hard earned beer. It was good enough to get us both 2:1s, much to the chagrin of one of our other chums who bemoaned the unfairness of it all. *You two were always out on the piss, how did you do it?* We really did sit down with our exam timetables and work out when we could have a night on the lash.
We were an odd couple in a way. I’m pretty sure I taught her to cook, almost. I was passionately political, she was interested, but not so much. She had better taste in music. And men.
We shared a thing that year for Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. An obsessive thing. Our leaving university presents to each other were the Good Deeds and Dirty Rags albums. Vinyl for her, cassette for me. We nearly wet ourselves laughing at how amusing that was. But I think we both still have them.
And then big grown up life. Ha! Two wee lassies lost in London. We had a routine there too. It involved Saturday morning kids’ TV, boiled eggs mashed up in a bowl, happy hour cocktails at the Islington Filling Station followed by the Comedy Club. Only because it was cheap, and it sold pints of heavy. And had Scottish bouncers which meant we always got in. Like I said, grown up.
And like best friends do, we talked. Endlessly. Ceaselessly. But the funny thing is I can scarcely remember a single conversation. Just the rhythms, the cadences, the comfortable silences, the shared conspiracies, and most of all, the silly nonsense.
In and out of each other’s pockets. For at least five years, when real life really did start to intrude.
A baby for me. She came to visit and said nothing. Was just there, where and when I needed her to be. A riotous honeymoon in Oban for her. With a circle of female friends that only a really good woman could create. Many of them all the way back to schooldays, which says a lot.
And then, the best thing a pal could ever do for her pal. She got married on the day the Queen came to my town when I was a councillor and I was expected to stand in line to greet her. She gave me the perfect excuse not to be there and I can truthfully say that not even royalty kept me from my pal’s big day.
A pregnancy, quickly followed by a tragedy. She marvelled that I drove 500 miles in a day to be at her dad’s funeral. Why wouldn’t I? She was my friend, I couldn’t have imagined not being there. It’s what friends do.
Our thirties beckoned. More babies. More life. Fewer meet ups, but the ability to pick up from where we’d left off: the sure sign of an enduring friendship.
On one memorable night out, when far too much drink had been taken, and much mirth had been had, we had a moment. Not ones given to overly emotional stuff, we had a meaningful conversation. Of sorts.
If you ever needed anything, you know…. and you know, if you ever need anything, like… Yup. Cos you know, you know I’d be there for you. God yeah. And you know that too, if the need, you know… Another beer? Two girls in their best imitation of blokeness. But it was all we needed to say, twenty years down the line.
And while not so entwined in each other’s lives – months would pass with nary a text between us – it didn’t matter.
Our last big night out?
One of those home made gig nights that we should have been too old for, but still reckoned we were too cool for school with. Then a hasty retreat to a comfy bar with seats where we could talk and hear each other. Revelling in our new found matronly status. We ate our breakfast bacon rolls when we got home and shared a bottle of champagne in the garden, looking at the stars, engaging in nothing very much talk, as usual. Giggling like the wee girls we once were, indulging in a little daft dancing. Good times forged on the simplest of pleasures in a goodwill city.
For we knew we were still friends, nearly twenty five years on. Friends who would be there for each other. If ever, like, something you know, big happened.
Which it did. The big C. Faced with the same level headedness all the slings and arrows of life were shown. Get on and get on. It was me who wanted to rage against the injustice of it all.
A year and more which ravaged her but she never really let on just how much. About the pain. Little Miss Stoic who didn’t want the fuss and the bother or people worrying about her unnecessarily, but remarkably honest and practical in talking about it all.
But when they bought a puppy in the summer, I knew. And I knew she knew. But no dwelling allowed, though an earnestly honest chat about how we might both have done things differently, surprised us both on a treasured walk along the beach, our last time together. It was a crisply cold, late autumnal afternoon. With the most incredible sunset which entranced us.
“As long as I have. It will be what it will be. And I take what I have had with me and know it was enough.” Her most remarkable ability to face up and deal with it: I doubt I have ever known anyone braver.
The final text exchange was so typical of her. Telling me they’d had a family viewing of me on the telly and how tickled they all were. She delighted in all her friends’ successes. Was proud of and for us, whatever we did. She was fine, she said, even though she knew she wasn’t. No fussing please, still generously giving of herself to us all.
And now she’s gone. Not even 44, two boys in their teens, a mother who loves her dearly, a man who loves her even more.
A great big gaping void in their lives. And in mine. Not in the day to day sense but a hole nonetheless. It really does feel like I’ve lost a part of me. Selfish I know, when in the scheme of things, I was merely a note, not even a chord, in the arpeggio of her life. And should have been there for her more.
The regrets of course. At thinking she’d come out the other side and there would be time – a lifetime still – to get old on. For more champagne moments in the garden. Discussing books we’d read and enjoyed – male authors only, if you please. Little old lady trips to book festivals. More gigs – always the promise of more gigs. Nonsense chats about the minutiae of life. Basking in the special bond of our love for our treasured boys which only mammies of boys can share. Putting the world to rights. Auditioning for Grumpy Old Women. And then reverting to our youth, turning to our comfort zone of noisy guitar bands.
Gone. Dust. Only tears and treasured memories remain. Half a life spent together, half a lifetime to be spent apart. A full life lived, a life fully loved.
This is not a love song. Oh, but it is. It truly is.