April 6th is one of those dates which i can’t ever forget. On this day, 13 years ago now, my friend died in a truely horrible car accident, along with 3 of his other 17 year old friends. I’d known him all my teens, i knew his brothers equally well, we’d grown up in the same village, done many of the same out of school activities, gone home on the bus together every day. Three weeks before his death, as he told me proudly of his new car, i begged him to be careful. I didn’t think £45 was enough to spend on a car. It wasn’t.
His death shocked us all terribly, in fact, i remember all of us just stumbling blindly through that summer, completely horrified by what had happened. It seemed inconceivable that someone so loved, so full of life, could just go. It was simply awful to go to a funeral packed full of children, some of his college friends attended 4 funerals that week. What was worse was the 4 brothers were so close in age, roughly similar to my 4 girls, that we all knew them all and we simply didn’t know what to say or do to help. So mostly we drank. It was an extraordinary time, the kind of time people write about in books like Catcher in the Rye, just unreal and unrepairable. I even smoked heavily that summer and i’ve ALWAYS hate smoking. The odd thing is it was also an incredible, heady summer – summer jobs in pubs, friendships that sprung closely together from nowhere, picnics and parties, village life, having money, late nights being people we had never been and never would be again. It was thrown into such sharp relief with tragedy, that it was like being two people at once, or like finding yourself in a novel by Mary Wesley or Joanna Trollope – all tears and wine and graves and country walks.
Two of us were just about to start our A Levels – in fact, when i dream of A Levels now i dream that i’m retaking because i’ve failed and that i just can’t be bothered because nothing matters anymore. His brother, subsequently my boyfriend, was finishing college. I’ve no idea how i passed anything tbh, i was either drunk or trying to be drunk for months.
And in the midst of that i plunged myself into the middle of his families grief and became part of that family for a while, attending memorial serivces, listening to grim details of inquests, trying to support people when i was just knocked out of my skin myself. When we eventually parted it was bitterly; another of my friends was killed almost identically a year later and there was simply no room for reciprocal support. It was time to move on. I think we’ve only met once since, at another funeral of yet another friend, a few weeks later. Oddly though, he got married on my wedding anniversary, in the same church as i did.
It was a rum couple of years after that – i’ve lost 2 more friends since, both in a different but equally terribly sad way and i almost became immune to it. I got to thinking that i just jinxed people so i stopped trying to find friends. And it took me such a long time to get over the fact that people would die in my life – i was so ANGRY about it. Max helped me over most of it (quite brutally at times), some of it’s just taken time. TBH, i think of N most days but this year i’ve barely thought of him on “the day” – he’s been dead nearly as long as he was alive now. Funny.
I really don’t know why it affected me so much. I suppose it was the death of my childhood in a way, coming at exactly the time that my childhood WAS ending. TBH, he would not have been impressed by how hard i grieved, he’d have laughed at me, maybe sneered at me, he lived life to the full. I think i let it steal several years of my life but looking back, i don’t think it was intentional wallowing, more like i got knocked out of orbit. I think that run of 5 deaths ended my belief in the safety of those i love; if i’m honest, i have no expectation of seeing all my children to adulthood, no expectation of Max and i growing old together. When Fran was born, her cleft was just another “thing” in a list of things that went “a bit wrong without being absolutely at the epicentre of awfulness” if that makes sense?
One thing it did teach me was that emotionally, our bodies do try to heal themselves. A fair while after the crash, i had a series of dreams. Each one quite clearly featured the scenario without him being in it and i woke up feeling i had “dealt” with something. The very last dream i ever had about him, he was in it. He very clearly showed me where he was now and told me he was fine, then shut the door and locked me out. When i woke up, i really was over it. Whatever had lingered on into the following couple of years and stopped me moving on, was gone.
So anyway, this is what i think of, when *I* play Nanci Griffiths.