Tag Archives: death

All My Friends: Richard

I am here and it already feels like a mistake. I’d had other options this weekend. They were all good. Number one: Bodger’s stag in St Tropez, second marriage but new fiancée seemingly more open minded than the outgoing Mrs Bodger and so less likely to break down in tears at her own wedding at the reveal in the best man’s speech that her husband had paid to snort a line of coke laid out perfectly in the cleft of some stripper’s arse. Number two: invite to meet Jacinda’s parents down at Sandbanks, two days of making polite small talk with her old man about yields and the best shirt makers on Jermyn Street as the foreplay for two nights of teasing his daughter out of her perfectly pressed clothes and seeing if everyone would still make eye contact over breakfast after they’d heard their pride and joy squealing at me to go deeper, go harder, through their shockingly thin walls for such an expensive house. Number three: boss had invited me to join him for golf and then drinks at some private member’s club he belonged to, promised to fast track me in to both; I can’t stand the prick but I need his contacts and network.

It could just be the coke making me a bit paranoid but I’m not feeling much warmth from my former comrades. Even when I tell them what else I could have been up to this weekend. I stop short of suggesting they should be grateful that I’m here, it’s not like I was crass about it. I suppose it’s a little sobering for them to face into their relative failure in life, funny how we could all exit the same University at the same moment but on such different trajectories. Some of us were always headed upwards. It’s going to be a long night so I retreat to the bathroom to do another line. It will at least speed everything up and make Neil and Jon’s dreadful musical choices a bit more bearable. Will remind me what it was I saw in Clare all those years ago as well. She still looks at me like she’ll dance to my tune so I might as well salvage something from the night even if it’s just a nostalgia fuck.

The coke brings a clarity, a sharpness, to the scene. I can feel palpable resentment from Jon as I start talking to Clare just as I can practically see her sense of conflict between wanting to believe this time will be different and remembering all the times I let her down before. I thought perhaps the intervening years would have given her distance enough to see through my tricks but, instead, they seem to have offered up new opportunity. We haven’t been in touch and the space means that part of me is unknown to her now. I fill that space with the version of me she wants to hear, the version she’s secretly been carrying around for the last ten years, the version that regrets ever letting her go and has come to the realisation that she’s the great, lost love of my life. It’s so easy I almost don’t go through with it. I used to like it when it was a challenge getting her into bed.

Upstairs I realise I’ve misplaced my phone, I was fishing around for it to see if she was up for a few candid photos. She always drew the line at that when we first knew each other, said she couldn’t just turn up at Boots and ask for that set of prints. I couldn’t tell her that you didn’t go to Boots – there were places you sent those kind of pictures – as it would blow my cover, reveal me as the sort of person that did this a lot rather than the constructed person who had never done this sort of thing before but only wanted to now because it felt so special with you. Only you. I must have left my phone downstairs. It was too late to retrieve it. I could hear Clare undressing in the bedroom and I’d necked a couple of viagra tablets – the only downside of my cocaine habit was a literal downside downstairs but it was easy enough to coax some life back into the beast with a little additional pharmaceutical help. I went back into the bedroom, my fully saluting cock leading the way.

……

It wasn’t even Clare that found the body. She’d sat outside, early in the morning, for an hour or so until Neil had woken up on the sofa. The two of them had talked for a while, half heartedly clearing up the detritus from the night before. Joanna had joined them, then Jon, then Lizzie, and finally Jason, nursing a hangover forged in the fires of hell. The six of them had talked quietly for a while, lamenting the fact that Gina hadn’t showed, kicking around memories from a time when early morning reconstructions of the night before had been a regular occurrence. Lizzie had found Richard’s phone, distracted from making another round of tea by the urgent, vibrating buzz of a missed call and then repeated voice mail prods. Joanna had volunteered to rouse him in case the call was important. Clare shook her head, smiled wryly, told them all that she knew she was stupid, knew that she should have learned. Joanna rested her hand on Clare’s arm in reassurance and set off with the phone. All of them hit the stairs a minute later when they heard her shouting.

Later the police found the powder and the pills. Even later the coroner recorded it as misadventure. The funeral was the last time any of them saw each other again.

 

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Go on and make a joyful sound

40. For A Dancer – Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris

As I’m closing in on the end (of writing about 42 records of personal significance, not “the end”) then I thought I should lighten up proceedings by sticking together a few words about death. You know, just to take the edge off all those pieces about depression and anxiety and all that laugh out loud fare. If there are a set of recurring themes in my writing then uncertainty is certainly one of them – this, however, is one point of certainty: we’re all going to die.

The irony, of course, in thinking about death is that it quickly becomes thinking about life. It’s reasonable when confronted with mortality to give some urgent thought to how you’ve lived, how best to spend the time left, and to wonder what it’s all about. That hoary old chestnut. Nothing like a midlife crisis to bring on a sudden search for meaning.

In some respects my chosen position on a couple of things, namely a belief that this is all there is, no second chances, no afterlife, and that there isn’t a higher, guiding force in the universe, can lead to some on-the-face-of-it bleak conclusions. The point-of-it-all may well be that there is no point. Particles reacting and colliding predictably, governed by the immutable laws of physics, but the major events in your life governed arbitrarily; order and chaos, humans with free will running amok amid those immutable rules. I think the tension between the two is important – there has to be a belief that you’re the master of your own destiny else you either give up or write everything off to fate or surrender yourself to something ineffable. At the same time there’s too much evidence of chaos to ignore: planes crash, people blow themselves up on trains, maniacs run into schools with automatic weapons. Tell the innocents in each of those scenarios that they were masters of their own destiny.

So, in my version, perhaps meaning is found in those moments of balance between the chaos and order; in control whilst things are out of control. Perhaps it’s more an acceptance that things are out of control and the prospect of that is so terrifying that it’s at the heart of that loose conglomeration of neuroses and mental health issues that I like to wrap up as “my problems”. Wiser people than me have grappled with it. The broad consensus, secular position seems to be that fully experiencing the individual moments of life, being very present in those moments, is probably as good as it gets, probably as much as there is. Teenage Fanclub’s “Ain’t That Enough” (number 26 previously in this series of posts) and Po Girl’s “Take The Long Way” (number 31) cover this territory far more eloquently than I have here.

Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer” fits within that family of songs albeit it’s the only one of the three that ponders life through the lens of death. The version of the song that I know is the one on Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris’ “Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions” album which, in turn, I’d come to via their brilliant collaborations with Dolly Parton. In truth this is more or less a solo Ronstadt record with Harris adding harmonies (is there any less selfish singer than Emmylou Harris ?) and given the news that she won’t sing again having being diagnosed with Parkinson’s it has acquired further poignancy for me. Chaos up to its arbitrary tricks again.

The song is sung from the perspective of someone saying goodbye at a funeral and reflecting on what it all means: I can’t help feeling stupid standing ‘round, crying as they ease you down. My direct experience of such events is, fortunately, very limited but in all cases Browne / Ronstadt’s next line rings true in spirit to me: ‘cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing, dancing our sorrow away, no matter what fate chooses to play.

The solemnity and sorrow of each occasion was no real reflection of the life that had passed and that we were mourning. That’s not to say that there isn’t and wasn’t value in soberly giving respect to the loss of loved ones but there seems to me to be a difference between that ceremony and the one that the dead might choose for themselves. Do we mourn for ourselves, for the space in ourselves left by the one that is gone ? Speaking on behalf of my future dead self then I’d far rather everyone was dancing. Not some sombre shuffle either: give it your best Jagger strut and, aging limbs allowing, pull a star jump and remember me.

The dancing in “For A Dancer”, of course, doesn’t have to be literal, it’s just a metaphor for living. Browne extends it to wonderful effect in laying down advice from the dead to those left behind:

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

There’s no belief here in certainty (pay attention to the open sky, you never know what will be coming down) but you’d best meet the chaos as well as you can (keep a fire burning in your eye). There’s also something stirring and deeply moving in the unflinching lack of sentimentality in the song’s overall message:

Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
(The world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

Essentially we’re in the same place, with the same conclusion, as “Ain’t That Enough” and “Take The Long Way”. This is it. Experience it, savour it, try to enjoy it and maybe, just maybe, there doesn’t have to be a point to it all. Embrace the chaos.

So you can play this song at my funeral during the sad bit before everyone gets drunk and strikes some poses on the dance floor. It’s about as close to anything in a four minute pop song that gets at the big one: what’s it all about ?

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know.