I found out yesterday, by the perils of idle googling, that nearly three years ago, my childhood drama teacher had died. More than that, she had ended her own life. I haven’t seen her since I moved away from home. I think that maybe I wrote to her when I first moved away but we hadn’t spoken in over 15 years.

When I read of her death I felt the dullest shock and it won’t go away. Disbelief and a strange muted sorrow surrounds me, it is lurking around every corner of my mind, creeping out to stare at me sadly when my attention is somewhere else. I have found myself thinking almost constantly of what happened to her for the past 24 hours. Maybe I am being mawkish. I hope not. I wouldn’t want, in any way, to insult her memory by indulging in grief that is not mine.

And yet.

Any yet, her death troubles my soul more than I can explain.

Maybe it is because the manner of her death is so far removed from the vibrancy, the gregariousness, the sheer joy of the woman that I remember that I can’t reconcile it. But I didn’t know her well enough to make any assumptions as to what her true self was or what happened. I don’t know. I will probably never know and it’s none of my business anyway.

Maybe it’s because this person affected my life in s surprisingly profound way that I didn’t realise until I read of her death.

I had thought of her often. She is an inextricable part of the life that I set out to create for myself when I turned my back on a much more prestigious career and walked defiantly into the l arts. She taught me when I was a shy, awkward, angst ridden teenager. She encouraged and laughed uproariously at every bad improv we ever did and never failed to encourage us as she watched one god awful 14 year old Lady Macbeth speech after another. At the tail end of my degree I sought her out. I harboured no desire to be an actor but I needed to escape from my degree so I returned to what I knew and calIed her for private lessons. She shrieked with laughter, ‘I told you you would hate it!’ And so back I went.

Her house was a sanctuary, I always arrived early and usually stayed too long afterwards. Looking back, as I dragged myself through the tail end of a degree that I hated, the half an hour lesson at her house shaped my dreams and still does. She was so different from everyone else that I knew and the only link that I had to the life that I wanted. My projections of what my life would be, I now realise, were determined by what her life looked like. And my life, twenty years on, from the areas that I lived in, to the way that I decorated my first homes, to the library of books in my living room are all influenced by that half an hour in her home. I have thought often of returning home for good, of course always with a career and a story more impressive than the one that I have carved out for myself. When I imagined returning home, I always thought that I would see her again. I always wanted her to be proud.

It’s strange isn’t it? How can someone can have such an enormous influence on your life and not ever know it? How can someone that was not in my life, have left such a gap in my heart now that they have gone?

Good night, lovely lady, wherever you are. Thank you, because you helped me on my way to a life that I love and I will never forget you.

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