The anniversary

A crescent shape of twinkling lights blocks my vision and makes me feel nauseous.  This is my first migraine since returning to England.  There’s no reason for the sudden attack. I had felt fine only five minutes ago.  I tell my colleague and place my head on my desk until the worst of it passes and my full sight returns.  I make it through the day but go to bed at 8pm with a bruised head.  I wake bright and early and look at the date on my phone:  18th January.   I hear a voice.

Voice:  Hello? 

Me:  Um, hello.  Who are you …. and why are you interrupting my quiet pre-dawn thoughts?

Voice:  It’s me.  I’m you.  Well to be precise I’m 15-year-old-you. You don’t recognise my jet black hair, gothically pale skin and fit young body? (The teenage Simone judgmentally looks me up and down). No, I don’t suppose you do. 

Me:  Alright, alright.  I may not look as good as you, but I have managed to acquire skills you don’t have.  Anyway, I don’t have to justify myself to you.  What do you want?

Voice:  It’s the 18th of January.

Me:  Yes …. ?

Voice:  So it’s his birthday!  Which means that you now know why you had a migraine yesterday …    

Sigh.  Ah, yes.  Sebastian was my best friend through high school and the 18th January is his birthday.  In 1993 on the 17th January Sebastian had just returned from a weekend with his uncle in Melbourne.  We were sitting in the foyer of the Shepparton Capri Twin Cinema.  It was out-of-character for him to be nervous.

Sebastian:  I have something to tell you.

Me (nodding):  Okay?

Sebastian:  Uncle Andrew has offered to pay for me to go to boarding school.  I start next week.

I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach, stabbed through the heart and kicked in the head all at the same time but I smile. “Oh that’s fantastic!  You must be really pleased?!” 

Me at 14, looking overly dramatic and about to go to our formal dance with Sebastian (Mum wanted a photo of my hair so told me to look straight ahead and not smile ...)

Me at 14, looking overly dramatic and about to go to our school’s formal dance with Sebastian

The next day I go to his house to spend his birthday with him.  I give him a drawing I’d done in art class; he’d cried with laughter at it (because it was so appalling) and he’d asked me to give it to him when we eventually left school and went to university.  The gift is two years premature but fitting – one of us is leaving (our) school.  I’m wrenched apart inside, but I show none of this to Sebastian and we have a fantastic laughter-filled day.

It’s a scorching summer and three days later we sit in Saint Brendan’s Church to get five minutes of cool relief on our walk to Sebastian’s home from the town centre.  Suddenly, cantankerous old Monsignor Bones yells from the refectory and then chases us out* which horrifies and tickles us.  We race home giggling like the teenagers we are, but our hilarity abruptly ceases when it’s time for us to say goodbye. I have to go home and Sebastian moves to Melbourne tomorrow.  We sense the gravity of the moment but don’t quite know this is the end.  After spending every day together for four years, this is the last time we see each other.  We write to each other daily for ten months, but our final year of school takes over and with it, our friendship ends.

Since then I’ve been sick (in varying forms) on every single 17th January.  I never remember in advance of the date, it always occurs to me later.  The anniversary of that bad news has been with me for twenty years; literally, a sickening memory.

That wasn’t my last experience of loss, but thankfully it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced grief or crippling heartache; my body’s not as young as it was and I don’t think it can take it!

Afterword

*Sebastian had been singing the then-current hit song “Detachable Penis” which I couldn’t possibly have found funnier (I was 15!) so Monsignor Bones was wholly justified in chasing us out ….

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7 responses to “The anniversary

  1. Yes. I remember the utter devastation you experienced as you knew that the friendship would not survive the geographical isolation. You were so loyal in writing daily to ease his homesickness and loneliness. No wonder you physically feel the loss each year.

    • I was completely devastated. Though I guess that writing thing was a positive – I’ve managed to keep that up with the same loyalty and fervour (let’s just call it unnerving intensity!) for the last twenty years which has very much helped me maintain solid friendships. Especially since leaving Australia. And thank god for the wonder of email.

  2. I wanted to cry, that story was so touching..Do you know what ever became of him?

    • Yes, I do know what became of him. Thirteen years ago I wrote him a Christmas card which I posted to his family’s address in Shepparton (because I no longer knew where he was). I enclosed my contact details and later that week I received a phone call from him (I distinctly remember it as I was sitting at my desk at work and got an immense shock). We met for lunch that weekend! And as for the rest … well I’m not going to put it here for all the public to see so I’ll fill you in when I next talk to you 😉

      • Makes me wonder why we pass up such opportunities. Life could have been very different if we (all) had spoken out or pursed something at the time. How strangely we behave…. Sigh…

  3. Do you remember sending me that photo? I still have it in my album. You looked so grown up compared to me at that age!

    • I don’t remember sending it to you – clearly I was pretty pleased with the way I looked! (And still am, in respect of how I looked then …).

      I think I was born old 🙂 I always looked so much older than I was and I’m desperately hoping that’s a theme that doesn’t continue as I approach forty!

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