I’ve struggled to write a story here. I don’t have stories. I don’t see a narrative. I wanted to write some of my memories with my best friend here to have them and save them, so I could look back at them some day. I started though, and realized they’re not for public consumption. They all involve rude jokes or too much gin, but I needed to say something about him.
My best friend James took his own life this week. It’s been over a year since I stood in the same physical space as him, but we shared plans of our next time seeing each other. It went from cabin in the woods to Swedish lake to cocktail bar to art gallery. We had a lot of catching up even though we spoke most days. He took his life before his life was ready to give. This is not a piece about suicide. I’m not ready or generally able to do that. It’s just a piece on him, on us. It’s what I can do now, but I needed to write something because he’s the only one I would talk to about this, and he’s not here.
I have this weird memory of being friends the first time. It’s like the old testament. A mutual friend told me about this genius she’d met. I remember her telling me so clearly — she was basking in the glow of an East London sunset in front of the window of our office. I remember feeling so jealous that he was getting this praise and I didn’t want to meet him.
I remember sometime after that standing on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, he had a bike (not a fixed gear) and was telling me about his girlfriend, and we had just had a coffee and we got on really well. That was the old testament. That was before we were really friends.
Some time between the old testament and the new testament we were mortal enemies. I’ve not read the bible, but I’m assuming there are all sorts of enemies in it.
We were in the same line of work. Mutual friends chose one or other of us as the ‘better’ of the pair of us. It was like digital marketing death match. Indie band cock fights.
Me and my employees were pitted against him in this surreal and totally unnecessary battle of will… I don’t remember what happened around that time at all. I don’t remember how we became friends, and without wanting to jump to the present day too quickly I had to track down old emails to get some clue.
There was nothing. He worked on a band that I was working on in a different way. We were forced to figuratively hold hands on a number of artists. I must have deleted something in between, but I sort of feel like knowing how we both are it is entirely feasible we leapt into that friendship without the bridge. And looking back over the emails you can feel the tension going from tightly gritted teeth to ‘let’s meet for a coffee, babes’.
We both said ‘babes’ and it was tongue in cheek, but then it became a normality.
There was this fallow period and then suddenly like a friendly Phoenix from the ashes, our friendship emerged, as though that day on Redchurch Street were not an anomaly, we were immediate confiding in each other all of the serious concerns about our terrible career paths and all of the mundane crap of our day to day life — which coffee place we preferred, and which Vice writer was further up their own arse.
The hardest thing looking back is there was no direct moment when he became my best friend. I had other friends that maybe I’d go to first in a crisis. That’s not say he was the wallpaper, but he was the stud wall.
Over seven years we got to the point of near telepathy. There was no need to speak to each other regularly, sometimes we’d not have to speak at all. We worked together in an ever fluctuating capacity over the years, and I was so proud of him and he of me. We were like this forced sibling pair without the rivalry and bullshit. He made fun of me and my height and my choice of boyfriend and my ill-fitting jackets and my insecurities in a way that made me know he had his own and we’d be ok if we stuck together.
Never once during the evolution of our friendship was I conscious of how close we were. The intimacy was effortless. We knew every detail about each other’s life. We could make plans as quickly as we could cancel them, we both understood that our individual heads were too busy to be pissed off about it.
Before I got my ‘corporate job which wasn’t all that corporate’, we would commiserate on how hard life was to be who we were. We cared more than other people, we worked too long into the night, we tried harder, we did things differently. He was an inspiration and a frustration. He didn’t know how amazing he was at his job, and from the outside if you’ve experienced it you can maybe understand how infuriating that is.
Once, we’d planned dinner for ages. He ran to my house (in a sporty sense) and we decided that dinner was for the boring and went to the pub. Him clad entirely in spandex me dressed in ‘muted’. I don’t know why but his spandex comfort in an old man’s pub tickled me. We accidentally crashed and consequently won (I think, this may be artistic license, but I’m sure we did well) a pub quiz.
We didn’t often spend time with either of us in spandex, but we started spending time digitally and physically (I believe the kids say IRL) with each other. He became a calm in the storm of what (looking back) is not that much of a stormy life. We both battled our own demons. Call it anxiety or depression or life. Call it whatever you want, but somehow he understood everything I thought before I thought it. And for the first time in my life I was able to understand those things in someone else. I saw pain, I saw success, I saw when he needed picking up and knocking down.
That weird memory of that first time hanging out on Redchurch Street feels like a millennia ago. I doubt he was even wearing brogues or his double breasted cardigan. He certainly wasn’t wearing a vest. All things that I came to appreciate as a part of his personal style. I didn’t know at the time how much he liked the Manics or his jacket with the patches on his arms. I didn’t know anything about him or what his ambitions were. I doubt I thought much about him at all other than everyone telling me I *should* meet him.
“All right, all right, I bloody met him. Get off my back.”
I love that memory of the old testament. I love that we managed to navigate being each other’s nemesis to being what ostensibly ended up being each other’s… anything but safe haven. We weren’t equipped to save each other, but I love that we tried for a while. I’m proud of us for trying.
Some things you should know. If you want to know. He was sensitive. He was easily wounded and hurt. He was hilarious and he had this laugh that I feel maybe rarely exposed itself. Not his regular laugh, it was like this withheld sneeze, uncontrollable silence.
He was interested. He was so interested.
As a side note, you know when you get advice on being interesting and people saying that being interested is the most interesting thing? He was interested. He wasn’t interested to be interesting though, he was interested because he was curious, he loved humanity as much as he disliked most of its manifestations. He was smitten with the success of his friends, and sometimes people he just admired from afar.
He revered people for no other reason than they were people. He saw a value in that, in being a person with a story and a history. He had a history, a painful one that he rarely discussed… it was his way to downplay his own story to make time for yours. He was generous. He was generous with his time and his money and his love and his ears and his brain. He would give until he was exhausted. He would give to a fault. He would give until he was empty.
He cared about people. He would lift them up. He was so proud of the people he loved, whether they just managed to get out of bed that day or they had done something newsworthy, he was so proud to be around people that were trying. If I believed in souls, his would’ve been old. He was determined, slow, and at the same time far too fast. He was uniquely passionate, singularly focused, unconventionally funny.
I don’t think he even knew when he was inspiring. I don’t think he knew when he got someone straight in the guts in saying something so infuriatingly insightful and articulate. He was trusting, he was caring, he was occasionally miserable in a world that couldn’t. bloody. understand. what. he. was. trying. to. say.
He loved art, adventure, he loved beauty. I’ll get to basics, he loved bums. He loved the seaside, he loved being stupid, he loved being smart, he loved the love of his life.
He hated being told he was any of these things and would dismiss you not in an effort to seem humble, but with complete disdain because you as the complimenter had spent time on him even if it was only a minute. He would consider it crass or at least a bit arse-kissy.
He was protective. Of everyone he loved. He wanted to protect them from everything, he wanted to keep them safe. He did that secretly.
Today I found an email from years ago. I have no idea what was going on in my life that made me write it, but I told him I was lonely. I asked him what to do, did he ever feel lonely?
He told me that we were similar, that he felt like that often (but not at that moment), and that I needed to live year by year instead of minute by minute. He told me to wait it out and I’d be okay. I never took his advice at the time, I mean suffice to say I survived, but I would imagine I ignored the words. He did too.
I don’t know why he chose to live minute to minute that day, and I don’t think I’ll ever know nor does it matter. Our telepathic pathways broke down. I could (and sometimes do) feel guilty, like I failed him. But mostly I feel lucky that I got eight years knowing someone who was capable of astounding me constantly.
He’s left a void in me. But I find solace in both the name of our favorite cocktail bar and the quote where it takes its name. “Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.”
I miss you JCP. Today, tomorrow and until forever.