Updated: Aug 29, 2021
There are people I remember in my life.
I love them still.
“They are Gone but not Forgotten, in my life.”
Whenever I hear those words, the sincerity, that melody, the truth in it,
I run through the corridors the cornfields of my memory.
“They are gone but not forgotten.”
I love them, him, still.
One such person was a young man, not much more than a boy.
He was to die at 25, but for now, there was a phrase in time.
"Dusty, pull yourself up; come on; shush! Hold your breath.
Imagine you’re underwater.”
"I can’t swim, arse-hole.’"
He grunted, struggling to push me over the wall.
“Mr. Arse-hole to you!”
“But I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Well then, pull up and shut up.”
I gave him my best glare, soaking in the heat, my long hair sticking to my face and neck. I felt his hands let go of my feet as I fell without dignity onto a patch of grass dotted with stinging nettles. I had fallen right beneath the pear tree we were intent on raiding.
We were scrumping! My Dad worked in the fruit and veg trade. Clothes, shoes, being warm were often a problem, but I never went without fruit. What was this for?
There was a sudden thud as a large ball wrapped in an Air Force grey coat with two cowboy boots sticking out-landed beside me. The ball unravelled itself revealing national health glasses as always held together with an apologetic piece of plaster, slanted askew a wonderful mass of gorgeous poorly, behaved brown curls. We were trying so hard not to laugh, aware of the impressive bay window a glance away from which the proud owners of the pretty walled garden, into which we had flung our ongoing trespass could easily spot the grey coat tennis ball, and the sweaty, dishevelled girl scratching her stinging nettle wounds in a tie-dye dress, borrowed from a friend. Our ribs connect and ache together in the sweetest, funniest, and most thrilling of agonies. Work began. We filled the Greatcoat. I felt left out and tried to push two pears into my bra. At a young age, I could only manage one lying between two breasts, that were not quite in the room yet.
“Oi! you little buggers! I shall call the police you leave my pears alone!”
Then his voice was gruff, angry.
We had to escape a fairy tale.
He was a monster, a giant,
He was Simon le Gree.
Now much older I hear the chuckle; He was having as much fun as us.
The way back over the wall was a far faster journey than the one that placed us in the walled garden, silently laughing in joined agony, now there was the rush, adrenaline pumping, escape. We were Bonnie and Clyde, but we were better, no car, no weapons, just feet, and our breath and our fate in the heat running, we were running. Challenging our joint ribs our diaphragms which rose and fell like waves in the wind-beaten by our bottled laughter thrown unleashed into the world, unleashed into the hedgerow sending unsuspecting birds soaring far into the sky, we ran like resistance fighters who had just blown up a bridge and turned the tide of a cruel war. We arrived at his home racing up the stairs we, survived an adventure without arrest or injury. His Mum yelling up the stairs
“Have you two eaten, Grotty yelled down
“We’re ok Mum we have Takeaway”.
I heard her mutter about how we could get Take away when the Chinese doesn't open until six. Availability in a small village when hardly anyone drove and cars were mostly a distant dream, meant you knew when shops were open or when they were closed.
We had taken away, our sweet, sweet, stolen pears. Those pears felt as if Delia Smith had cooked them, they were ripe and hot, we ate them flat on our backs on my friend's tiny single bed juice trickling down our face's laughter still volcanic. Lying stuffed with stolen pears exhausted by crime and the labour of laughter repressed and then released, ridiculously pleased with ourselves. We share two earbuds and a battered Walkman and listen to Don Maclean, whilst dancing with our bare feet stomping on the wet, dewy grass.
I am listening to him now! I can’t remember which track we were listening to it doesn't matter we loved them all. We were simply us; There was no need for a sneaky snog or a grope we were simply, prettily platonic. Our joint ribs find themselves and our diaphragms settle. We close our eyes gently our left hands together, beneath the low-pitched ceiling of his parents' ancient cottage, and drift between sleep and belief that the world we could, we should, create would be a better one. The afternoon meandered on into Frank Zapper and time to stay for supper or head for home, the sepia tones of the streetlights were summoning me back.
I rode home happy in my borrowed tie-dyed dress, the roads were much quieter than especially the road from my friends you could ride your bike and look up at the stars, feeling the cooling air hearing layers of minute living, laughter, a raised voice, surveying a fox, as the fox surveyed you. I arrived home to briefly collapse into a wink of sleep. The early morning sun welcomed my face gently while the hum of the A3 bypass brought its familiar and strangely comforting buzz to my ears and the hurried clatter of my Mum's first support of the day echoed through the floorboards, through the ceilings
“See you later, watch the road”
“I know! The road is a river,”
as my sister leaves,
“pick some sugar up on your way home!”
“Ok” as the door slams!
Mum calls out
"I LOVE YOU",
to a sister that has already left and an appreciative door.
The sixth form I attended had already closed for summer, I was Free, albeit there were daily chores expected of me. They are done. Off to my friend, I cycle. I am going at full speed on my daft old bike enjoying the smell of mown grass, the excitement and industry of nature everywhere.
my Friends’ voice rang out.
I stop in the middle of the quiet road and look around with the wariness of a blackbird on a familiar bird table.
“Is that you?”
I see my friend, it is so hot that he has shed his grey coat like a snake's skin and hung it on a scarecrow, it looks like a social metaphor for two world wars, the scarecrow is even wearing very proudly two cowboy boots it was 1981, and it is so hot! My friend lies bereft of a grey coat and cowboy boots, borderline naked for him.
“What are you doing?”
I shouted from my pitched position in the road.
“Nothing, come see this… walk quietly.”
Charlie Brown comes to mind,
“Good Grief what are we nicking now.”
My friend was lying facing down the heat, his national health glasses broken once more, once more held together by a tired plaster awaiting its fate.
“Shush, shush, shush”
I hate it when he says shush, I lower myself gently remove my flip-flops, and sit beside him.
he whispers pointing his arm extended raw, determined, and his ever-present hushedness. Oh, so urgent and intimate and beautiful.
A tiny door mouse has left the safe shelter of the corn and is climbing up a large wild poppy which it sniffs and then takes a deep breath and smells. I am sure that for a second, our hearts stopped beating, as we revelled in a tiny, exquisite joy, a Haiku, a tiny splendour given freely just to us. After our solo performer had scampered away, we lay and talked on the corn we had flattened until the farmer chased us off in a tarried of brilliantly enunciated Anglo Saxon.
Another day in that longest of hot summers
my Mum says as she wakes me up
“I am helping Linda at the Little Chef tonight here’s some money and here's a list, you oversee tea.”
My friend comes over we shop together we drink some of Dad’s homemade wine. My friend seems frantic in some way, he got the hover out and started hoovering but it never stooped he was hoovering the same carpet for what felt like hours, I felt disturbed. I spoke to my Mum she told me that she had been in contact with his Mum. Completely unbeknown to me my dear friend of utter enchantment had a serious drug problem. He went to a posh private school and excelled in the study of coke. I didn’t understand, coke, my idea of living on the edge was two packets of spangles and a cheeky number six nabbed off an older mate that you shared with at least one other mate if not three. I didn’t go to a posh school, maybe I was more privileged than I realized, to me coke came in a familiar bottle at the spar shop, I didn’t like it, although there was something that felt very cozy and warm about the Christmas adverts. Mum told me that she had had strong words with Grotty, her pet name for my friend, my Mum took in loads of kids' adult waifs and strays, but she ruled us all with a rod of iron. Failure to obey, barred, tougher than it sounds when the only youth club locally was our house on a Friday night. Mum was slowly raising a fund for a local girl with Spina Bifida, so asked for a small contribution at the door. Fifty pence would get you plenty of squash, a couple of biscuits, and a Heath Robinson disco. There would sometimes be thirty or forty people crammed into our three-bed semi dancing and flirting under my Mum's ever-watchful eye. Grotty had been told by my Mother in no uncertain terms no uncertain terms
“I repeat NO drugs, in my house!"
There never was, well not from him but that’s another story played out in a different decade. There has been an accident. Grotty had got on the back of Betch’s bike as they crossed a bridge the bike swerved Betch broke his ankle, Grotty sustained a horrible injury to his hand they saved it by grafting flesh from his thigh. He spent hours working with a tennis ball until the graft from his thigh became amalgamated, a part of his hand. There were more terrible things to come. If you have stayed with me this far, you may have questions as to how we met, I have no idea, not a clue. As I write this now, I try desperately to gnaw at the slightest recollection, I can find nothing. He was my Peter Pan, he appeared at my window.
He calls me
“Dusty come over I have met the most fantastic, wonderful people.”
I said intrigued and excited I hadn’t yet learned to be sceptical.
“They are called the Family of love, The Family of LOVE Dust! They are so incredible, every day they expect food and it arrives, Dust, the kids don’t go to school they travel everywhere like Gypsies, they are free-spirited, optimistic, you must come and meet them, drag that bike out of the shed, tonight we will be dining on mushrooms and peaches in their caravan, they have been permitted to stay at Stovolds, a farm that wraps around the cottage where my friend lives bring Smoll (my boyfriend at the time), he will love them.” I dragged the bike out and got there about half an hour later. About two hours later Smoll arrived. It was an amazing evening, intoxicating, an incredible Keats-like sky touching the stubble-plain with a rosy hue. Drums, guitars, singing and clapping, it was wonderful everyone looked so beautiful. I felt beautiful and so happy.
It got late, as Smoll and I were younger than the others, we offered to babysit the children, the elders of our newfound tribe decided they would like to go to the pub, the Star I think, in Godalming. Smoll and I were asked to take care of the kids as the night drew in we snuggled on the sofa, a cry and frightened whispering came from the communal bedding at the back of the caravan. Smoll and I went to check on the kids. Willow seemed to be having a nightmare, we tried to wake her up, comfort her, in our efforts to wake her, her nightdress exposed a huge love bite, her age wasn’t clear but at the very most she was 5 years old. Later we discovered that Noah, their spiritual leader, believed you should train young girls and women to fish for love, "flirty fishing". Forcing his tribe to live on thin air, whilst sending him any money they made from busking, prostitution you name it, cash would be sent straight to him! I am glad that my teenage Boyfriend made me leave when we saw Willow's neck. I still carry guilt in this regard I cannot speak for Smoll or Grotty what I can state is that all of us were too young, we were treading deep water and entirely out of our depth. The caravan was gone the next morning, it took our collective innocence with it. A phone call, Grotty has overdosed he will be home tomorrow could I visit? I would have pulled the shed down to get out my stupid old bike. I had to work; my Mum was worried. Then I was there at the cottage Grotty was there sitting quietly by the fireplace, I sat at his feet determined to save him, the deep dark water would not claim us. He stroked my head.
“You must get this Dust; I do not want to be here. No, no, no, I don’t want to be here, I went there, Dust, I was home. I am leaving accept it.”
For what seemed like a couple of hours, the day turned to night, we cooked aubergines, we washed our hair in apple pectin shampoo, danced with the shared Walkman in the dark. I was sitting by my little sister’s pool table, which was crammed into the double bedroom that the three of us shared. Mum is suddenly there,
“Darling there is something that I need to tell you, ok?”
“Darling it’s Ian”
I had a new boyfriend called Ian.
“He’s dead Darling.”
I was just beginning to learn about Ian. I was shocked and sad and a bit bewildered. Mum saw the confusion and said,
“No darling, Grotty he’s gone.”
I fell through I am falling, falling, descending into an abyss just falling for a minute in my mind, in reality I lost hours, I didn’t breathe then, not sobbing, just wailing. Mum left me to it, she knew I needed to just get it out. I cannot cry anymore, I just stare at the blue baize of the pool table a sudden breeze brushed my face, I heard Grotty's voice
"Don’t I’m alright I’m home."
Against Mum’s wishes, I went to the hospital chapel already haunted by another beloved soul, my Mum and Dad had informally adopted a son another bloody bike accident. I am so glad I did; Grotty wasn't there, he looked like that boy in the cornfield, but the light had gone, it had left for somewhere else. I was the youngest person at the funeral everyone was worried because I didn’t cry, I was still I was calm, I knew, I knew he was now finally resting, in peace. Grotty’s Mum invited all of us back to the cottage, Sheila, his Mum, had made a little shrine, memorabilia photos, not one photo of him was there, gone, gone without explanation, just like the light in his prettily presented corpse.
Where am I now- here is a footnote to my crazy, exquisite mate.
Thank you for washing my hair, thank you for putting up with my experimental cooking. Thank you for Don Maclean, for fires with myrrh in, for door mouse theatre, for piercing the veil. There is a saying that in life you die twice, once when you die and then when your memory is no more. When someone utters your name, you come to life, and you’re in the room once more.
"I wonder if you know that I never understood that although you said you'd go. Until you did, I never thought you would."
I’d like to dedicate this to Grotty and my friend Zappa, who to this day holds a patch that Grotty painted on his jacket scribing the word “Zappa” with the most beautifully painted rainbow beneath it. He still bares that nickname to this day; he still holds Grotty’s memory in the room. Also Don Maclean, the sound track to our phrase in time.