He stood on my step, his weak smile was fooling no-one; “hey buddy” I greeted him as we swapped stares. “Hey” the pause lingered for what seemed an age. He awkwardly shuffled and lent against the wall of my porch. “Listen, I just wanted to say”, his pause was longer this time and I felt I needed to respond or break the silence “Bud, I know”. His eyes brightened, a slight glimmer of a smile twitched. “I don’t need to hear it”, I said. He slid forward, maybe it was even a stumble, I truly can’t remember. I reached out to steady him, my hand grasped his shoulder; this wasn’t the figure of the man I knew only months ago. His woollen jumper hid the signs of his dramatic weight loss. “I’ll beat this” his words, echoed in my head, “we will” I replied. I am never one to openly be emotional, I felt trapped in myself, unable to reach out and support beyond the barriers I had built myself.

This was one of my closest friends, dying of a cancer that I could not even pronounce or understand, but the outcome was the same; a rapid demise with no escape lane. I had witness stages of death before, in family, colleagues and strangers but none had truly affected me I believed. I was always in the moment, the situation had always been controlled, either by myself or those around me. I had banked it most likely and it had never been withdrawn, but this was a close friend and I still couldn’t release the emotions and something I held onto for a long-time. This wasn’t in my mind the person I knew, this was a distance loose carbon copy of the friend and man I had once leant on when I crashed and I was cheating our friendship. I was a fake, how could I be a friend if I couldn’t share.

The conversation that evening was difficult, not the banter of before or the ease of a conversation founded on a long term friendship but that of a door to door salesman and the need to escape and close the door. A few days passed and slowly our communication became less frequent. Still wrapped in my selfish world, I refused to accept I was wrong; it was normal. It wasn’t until there was complete silence that I woke up. This was my friend, there was no cure and I was about to lose him. At that moment, not much different to now as I sit to write this, my chest tighten, my eyes blurred and I silently cried. I don’t know how long I sat there but time flew. I jumped from one thought to another, my mind replaying various situations I had forgotten on purpose or deemed unnecessary. I wasn’t just a wreck by cause of my friend’s situation now but from a host of memories that seemed to flood my thoughts. Each image was vibrant, detailed; I felt I was there again in each one, replaying the situation again and again. I couldn’t escape, I battled to control myself, find a distraction but every action or thought I attempted was blocked by another and then another from the past.

I stood up and saw a brief reflection of myself in the mirror as I gathered my car keys and headed to the door. My eyes were red raw, I was pale in colour and I had a complete blank expression. I hurried out, I fumbled to unlock my car, jumped in and started the engine and drove. I had no destination so I kept driving. I was soon on a motorway and I turned the radio on, each song seemed to ease for a moment and then trigger another memory. My eyes were blurry, I shouldn’t have been driving I was unsafe to me and to others around but I had no fear; I was in a bubble detached from reality. I continued to drive and drive until suddenly I just stopped. I was no-where, a quiet country road somewhere deep in the West Country. I recognised the area but I had never intended to arrive anywhere. The car still running, the night sky had fallen, I stepped outside as the cold winters evening caught me by surprise, my body shivered as I stood and lent against the open car door.

The clouds flew across the sky as if to be racing each other. It was a windy evening and the moon appeared in spurts through breaks and lit the surroundings below. It was then I caught a sight of the landscape, the outline was defined by the twilight. My mind cleared, my heart began to slow as I stared at the image in front of me. My thoughts relaxed and I become focused on that moment. I felt I had just woken, not sure how or why I was there but I knew I was. This was a place I had spent many days, months and years of my life; my home from home – full of childhood and adult memories; still cold I stood content. The realisation of the situation hit home, I had lost and I needed to regain control. I wasn’t ready to give up on my life or my friends; I needed to make a change.

After what seemed like the longest journey back home, I felt I needed to see my friend. Tired and feeling a little dirty from the long cigarette smoked filled car journey, I still headed to his home. As I approached, the lights were out, there was no sign of movement or seemingly activity in a while.

I panicked, was I too late? I desperately searched for my mobile. ‘God where did I put it’, fumbling around each storage cubby. It then dawned on me, I never picked up my phone, in my rush to escape earlier. I turned my wheel and headed back to mine. I jumped from my car before the handbrake had full engaged, scrambling for my keys and prodded and stabbed at the key lock. Finally I managed to control myself and opened the door. Sweeping across tops and opening doors, I frantically searched for my phone. I finally found it buried deep between the sofa cushions. I raced through my contacts and dial his number. ‘Come on, pick up, pick up…’ the phone continued to ring. I tried again and again, the outcome the same on each attempt. I collapsed on to the sofa, my hands shaking, my mind cluttered with thoughts, each one a worse scenario than the last. I was too late; I was sure I was. I sank further back onto the sofa, staring blankly at the wall in disbelief.

An hour or so passed as I sat there in my own self absorbance. I finally came round and realised I needed to shower. I dragged myself away from the sofa and headed to the bathroom. The shower head sprung to life, the cold water trickled down my back as I stood palms lent against the wall, head low exhausted and defeated. A tone softly whispered through the noise of the beating water and stopped then again it echoed softly across the silence. ‘Shit my phone’, I clambered out of the shower, naked I ran wet footed down the stairs into the front room and grabbed my mobile. It was his number on my display ‘Missed call at…’ I pressed call back and waited to connect.

“Hey” his voice broke the dial tone pattern, “Sorry buddy, I missed your call”, I put on the calm collective voice reserved for those unwanted cold calls. “You okay” he had sussed me and it was truly ironic, here was a man on the verge of death and he was checking my welfare. “Yeah, long night bud, that’s for another time, how’s you, where are you?” I threw questions after questions, not really giving him the opportunity to respond, knowing in fact I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answers I really expected. “I’m up at the ward”, I paused for a moment before I replied, “Can I visit?” The sound of laughter broke the silence, “yeah course you can, you don’t need a hall pass”, I smiled as that simple reply brought back some fond funny memories. “Okay I be up soon with Jaffa Cakes”. His laughter grew louder “ok, see you soon”. A sense of relief drew up through my body, before the next shockwave hit me; I was standing in full view, naked in the front room with the blinds fully opened. I dived to the floor and commando crawled through the door to the safety of the hallway, before rolling onto my back and laughing to myself.

It’s at times such as these, we gather together and what was an overwhelming situation finds focus and you see the moment in its true perspective. I don’t know how long I laid on the carpet floor, wet and naked but the relief I felt cleared my mind and I felt positive and in control.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”


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