Neil sent me a message the night before he died, asking for my address to send the wedding invitation to. He was watching Muppets Christmas Carol while he wrote them out. He made the kind of joke that he always had; that he didn’t really want me there but if he was inviting all our other friends, it would be a bit awkward if I wasn’t. I told him I was probably washing my hair that day or watching reruns of Magnum P.I.
Chris hadn’t phoned me for years, why was he phoning me now? Chris phoned me to tell me that Neil was dead. I was alone in the house. I lay on the floor and screamed.
I drove to my parent’s house and almost crashed the car when I drove past Neil’s house, eight doors up from where I used to live. I crawled across the pavement looking for my mum and sobbed looking at the front wall. When we were kids, Neil had tried to impress me with Nike Air Max trainers shipped over from America that meant he could jump over anything, a bit like Inspector Gadget. He didn’t; he tripped and smashed his mouth up and ran home crying. I liked to bring this up in years to come when he was trying to talk to girls.
I woke up the day after Neil died already sobbing, my body and brain still working while I slept. My first instinct was to contact Starr but what do I say to her? I send her a message through Facebook (grief’s favourite tool of communication) and tell her that I thought of him as my brother and I loved him. I assumed she wouldn’t reply for a very long time, if at all. She might be crying in the bath or staring off into space or whatever it is you do when your whole life is taken away from you in an instant. You’re probably not on Facebook though. But she was; I had a reply from her within minutes. At the time, I thought that she shouldn’t be replying to me and the other people undoubtedly sending reams of messages. This was her time for family. I couldn’t have been more wrong, I totally understand now, at least from my point of view. Maybe she couldn’t be alone. Maybe she had to reach out to all the people who loved Neil to prove he was here and he was known. I understand; I spend so much of my time reaching out to people through the Internet because I have to feel part of something. I don’t want to be alone in the horror.
At the time, I felt possessive of Neil. I felt angry that people who hadn’t seen him for 15 years were talking about him publically as if they he was their best friend. I wonder if Starr felt like this? It took me a while to realise that I didn’t own any memories of him – I had my own but so did everyone else and they were nothing to do with me.
Two months later, Greg and I are in Oxford for the weekend and I’m sick and just want to sleep all the time. I think I’m pregnant but don’t want to get my hopes up so instead of buying a pregnancy test, I sway around bookshops and vomit in cafes. When we are home, I walk to the chemist before it’s even open. As I’m stood outside at what is the highest point in Southampton, there is an enormous wind and I hear Neil’s voice, as if he is directly behind me.
“I’m with you, kid”
I have never been so scared or comforted in my whole life. I run home crying because I don’t understand what’s just happened. Oh and I’m pregnant. While Greg sits on the stairs, Neil stands next to me in the bathroom while I wait for the blue lines and then I never feel him physically again.
He was there in that moment and in so many others. He stood by me through some of my stranger decisions. I told him I wasn’t going to my English A level exam, despite being predicted an A. He told me I was a dick but came to do a boxercise workout in my parents lounge with me anyway. I would phone him drunk in the night and ask him to come and pick me up because I’d had a row with some idiot boyfriend. He would arrive outside the club, to my horror with Kenny G or Curtis Stigers blaring and begin the lecture on my life choices while I passed out in the passenger seat.
Neil’s generosity came in gifts too. I still wear CK One because he left a bottle outside my house when we were 16 with the note ‘ so you can smell a bit better than shit’. He gave me a gold Playboy ring; I’m still not sure why but I’m sure it was something to make me look bad. He knew I would have to wear it if it was a present; this sums up his humour in a nutshell.
He showed me that plutonic love is real, that no psychologists writing in medical journals that girls/boys/men/women can’t be real friends could ever convince me otherwise because he existed. We existed. For 32 years, I had a real example that we are all just humans who are looking to be seen by others. I know I am lucky to have had that example from birth and it has coloured all of my relationships since. It is the greatest gift he gave me.