Perspectives from the Mentalist's Best Friend

Good afternoon, loveliest readers. Following the success of A’s series of guest posts for Confessions on daily life with a mental, my best friend Daniel asked if he could add some thoughts of his own. Clearly I jumped at the chance to have these insights, so I fired him off a couple of questions, which, along with his answers, now follow. Enjoy ūüôā ~ Pan

What was it like growing up with a mental friend? Did you know how mental she was? Did you ‘get’ some of her weird behaviour? What, if anything, did you feel you could do about it?

An interesting question, because as a teenager, rather than consider my friend to be mental, I considered her to be interesting; as such, I chose to emulate her behaviour.

I remember running up and down streets carrying a curtain pole. I recall parading around people’s living rooms with a cushion on my head, making stupid noises. I was there when we walked home, unable to afford our bus fares [Pan – having spent our money on alcopops, if I recall], from the near-ish-but-far-to-walk-from large town (approximately eight miles, if my memory serves me correctly) – all the while pretending to be German, talking to every person we met in broken English. They were helpful in offering us directions and admitted that they had forgiven us for “the war” when we insisted on apologising for it (and yes, I’m still laughing about it now, perhaps 15 years later). [Almost literally pissing myself at that one. Ah, memories…].

Oh, almost forgot: we phoned teachers in the middle of the night pretending to aroused horses, cats and vampire bats. Good times.

This seemed to me to be completely normal, acceptable behaviour – and if I am brutally honest, it still does [agreed]. This is how we chose to spend our time and was what made us laugh as children. Of course, society may judge young people behaving like this as being weird, unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous – but this is certainly not how it seemed to be at the time.

But, in saying all that…I was also there the night Pan took her first overdose (I think we were 16). I recall watching her take the pills and I helped her mum force her to spit them out. I was still there that night in the hospital, when Pan informed the staff that if she were allowed to go home, she would kill herself. A sanctimonious A&E doctor curtly replied, “no, you won’t. Manics don’t want to kill themselves”, to which Pan calmly (bearing in mind she’d been hysterical only moments before) explained, “oh that’s interesting, because I do”. [I don’t remember this bit; I hadn’t realised I’d talked back to the supercilious bitch. Good.]

And in a moment of what should have been horror for any young person, that wry smile – infectious when around Pan – spread across my lips; here we had this suicidal teenager who, despite her suffering, still had the audacity and quick-thinking to look a doctor in the eye and calmly tell her that she didn’t understand a word of what she was talking about (though Pan’s mum was naturally mortified).

Who doesn’t love a bit of black humour?

But in all seriousness. I just went with it. When Pan got out of the hospital, we did talk through the issue that had upset her. But we never psychoanalysed her decision to overdose (on ibuprofen? [yes. That makes me cringe now.]). It wasn’t the sort of friendship we had then – again, because it was just normal for me.

If you knew me, you’d know I judge everybody. I can’t help it. It’s a cold part of an unashamedly bitchy streak of mine. I judge people on their clothes, their hair, their reading habits, what music they like, their accents, and the things they say.

With that in mind, the following may be surprising. I think Pandora’s the only person in the world other than my partner that I love unconditionally. As such, she’s one of the few who’s been immune to this cult of judgement – back in school, throughout university, and still today. For her part, she has never formed an judgemental opinion of me, despite supporting/counselling my countless foolish decisions. Perhaps these acts have been made because of some undiagnosed mentally interesting characteristic in my head, I don’t know; as such, either way, I have never formed any judgement on the way she thinks and what she does. Ever. And I never will. I can’t understand the exact thoughts in her head – and again, I probably never will – but I ‘get’ why she has them.

So – growing up with a mental friend? Every day was an adventure. Most days were fabulous. On a daily basis, Pandora painted my dull life with beautiful colours. No one has ever made me laugh as much as her. She knows me inside out – in ways that, almost terrifyingly, I do not know her [you do, my dear. Believe me, you do].

Did I know how mental she was? Yes. Definitely yes.

What could I do about it? Not a lot. But I hope I was one of the things in her life that at least didn’t exacerbate the problem. Although thinking about it…curtain pole/teacher stalking/rollerblading late at night/”Shinobi”-wise – I totally did, didn’t I? [Indubitably. But in the most hilarious and uplifting way possible ūüôā]

To what extent has a physical separation impacted upon your friendship with the mental, if at all?

I don’t like it very much. But I know “the mental”, as she so eloquently puts it, very well in different ways. Her blog outlines in detail what she is up to, so on a very cosmetic level I know how she’s getting on [or did, until I took an unannounced hiatus. Explanations and more for that next week]. And I understand a lot better now what she’s thinking. So that’s nice.

Fundamentally Pandora has always behaved exactly the same with me, so when I see her, we click back in. Since I have been away she has developed her relationship with A, who is now also a good friend, so it’s been great to get to know them as a couple and have – to an extent – a more traditionally ‘civilised’ friendship.

Mental wise? Her condition certainly seems to be to be more complicated now – but then, I read about it on a screen. If she were to talk to me about it face to face – and we have done so, on some issues – it is/would be no different to how she communicated things to me when we were children/teenagers. Still, this blog certainly allows us to have a ‘conversation’ (about mental health) that is often made more difficult in person. But I imagine that’s because of the context, therapy, drugs, triggers etc etc – inevitably, analysis of such difficult issues is more easily tackled in the written word, no matter how close the relationship.

How do you reconcile the teenager you knew with the depths of the person you now do?

Right – I have touched on this a little bit. But she’s very, very similar. Pan has always been deep, though perhaps she is much more considered now in how she speaks. I don’t witness her highs or lows, since I see her maybe only three times a year, usually in a public setting – so she comes across to me as the same girl. And often we will reminisce, so we talk a lot about us as children.

But now, what’s interesting to me is how rather than reacting angrily to her mental health difficulties in the way she might have perhaps done as a teenager – she actually uses them for something constructive. It’s quite inspiring actually.

Perhaps some of the people who read this blog have a certain schadenfreude about the terrifying thoughts that go through Pan’s head and how she reacts to them…But she’s really not a dramatic person. She’s calm, caring, thoughtful, considerate and although she does like the occasional bit of recognition for a job well done, this blog doesn’t exist to win awards or amass some sort of international recognition, or whatever. Rather, it’s to help three groups of people.

  1. Pan – to keep a diary of her progression and an archive of how she is feeling after certain therapy session and/or drug cocktails
  2. To help people like me who are ignorant about mental ill health understand that sufferers are ordinary people leading extraordinary lives
  3. To provide information and a forum for people who are suffering – so they know they are not alone.

She wouldn’t have had the balls to do this as a teenager – no one I knew would have, and most wouldn’t now. To take something like mental illness – something that can be so powerful and destructive – and harness it into something that has been described by influential types in the mental health sector as “beautiful” is, in my mind, the mark of an exceptionally gifted woman.

This side to her, although I knew it was there in ways…well. I don’t think I could have ever imagined from knowing her as a teenager that she had all the facets and experiences that led to the persona we all now know as Pan…Does that make sense? [very much so. I didn’t know this…entity, I suppose, of Pandora existed until relatively recently either]. The Ang Sang Su Chi/Eva Peron/Catherine the Great of the Madosphere? We’ll see [don’t be so melodramatic!!!].

The mental is, of course, mental. As a writing professional yourself – knowing that the mental narcissictally proclaims herself a writer – do you that think she has any realistic occupational prospects in this arena (be honest)?

Ok – she has won more awards than most well-known or full-time writers, and turns in copy that is tidier and requring less editing that the majority of journalists I work with.

But writing is a big job description.

The issue here is in confidence. I can only speak for myself in my own job. I have to attend networking events in rooms with dozens of suits I don’t know, attend dinners and sit at tables with people I’ve never met – and talk to them. I have to interview executives in their offices, over the phone, speak to PRs and have hideous corporate lunches – daily.

Pan would hate all of this shit. [I would…most assuredly, I would].

I had to write a 3,000 word feature once on bio-degradable microwavable packing (I can send you it to read if you want [I cracked up at this. Please send it. It sounds incredible!]) as a freelance piece when I was looking for a job – and I can’t imagine her ever doing this.

But, and I really don’t want to sound patronising here, she has a hell of a lot of raw talent and will dedicate herself to something – but only if she’s passionate about it.

I would LOVE to see her have a regular column in a paper or magazine, edit a serious mental health journal, or – dare I say it – write a book.

This is probably where the future lies – but I know she’s already talking to editors, making strides and breaking into the wider arena. I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. It’s just about planning a strategy and working to it, and I’m learning that Pan doesn’t necessarily tend to let things she’s terrified of stop her from doing what she wants, if she really wants something (although she doubted herself…MIND awards anyone? She was petrified of attending the ceremony, yet she threw caution to the wind and just went). [Very true – I was genuinely terrified of attending the event (fucking anxiety), but knew it would be a travesty, both personally and professionally, not to. I’m so glad now that i forced myself to go, of course – but I managed to get through my agitation and enjoy the night, in part, with Daniel’s help ūüôā].

And that, boys and girls, is a rap.

Can I just add here that I am touched and flattered and have a warm fuzzy feeling inside after reading all that Dan has written here. I know he loves me, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. I love him too ūüôā With a friend like Dan, and a partner like A (whom, obviously, I also love very much), I really have much to be thankful for. You two rock. ~ Pan

The Funeral: Part One

It was a day like no other.

Given her long-term health problems, I had often wondered what Aunt Maisie’s funeral would look like. For such an obstinate woman, she was remarkably popular – as, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, the entire McFaul clan seem to similarly regarded. Perhaps it’s a rural thing; they seem to know everyone within at least a 10 mile radius, and know them well at that. Me, I’ve never even spoken to my next door neighbours.

Maisie’s funeral service was conducted at her home. Hotel California is situated along a dark and relatively quiet stretch of road a few miles outside a small town. As you approach, you crest a hill, which is about 1,000 feet from the house. As A and I rolled up said mount, with the unfamiliar-to-the-place Eimear following us, we were dumbstruck by the sight that greeted us.

Nearly an hour before the start of the service, a line of cars was parked from the entrance to the house right back to us. There were police cones on the other side of the road, in place to prevent mourners from parking there as well. I was stunned when I realised there was even a cop car, ensconced in which were two officers, waiting in preparation for the events about to transpire.

As I got out of my car, I shook my head in disbelief. Not that I care that much, since by that juncture I’ll be dead, but I wondered briefly if I could hope to have even a quarter of this turnout at my funeral. I concluded that this was, in technical terms, Not Bloody Likely.

We waited for Eimear, and as a trio duly proceeded towards the house. Strangely, the vast yard that surrounds it was mostly devoid of cars (save for those of the immediate family) – it turned out, of course, that this was to accommodate the hearse, and the mourners’ cars which would be arriving to cart Paedo, my mother and aunts, and Maisie’s vast entourage of descendants to the cemetery, its gaping six-foot hole for Maisie waiting patiently to be filled.

I made the initial mistake of trying to get in through the front door. There wasn’t even standing room in either of the two rooms onto which the small hall leads. Some random old git offered to try to shift people around in a bid to accommodate us, but I thanked him and demurred, deciding to go around the back. People were randomly standing about in the yard, most of whom could have been Lord fucking Lucan for all I knew them (or perhaps not, since Lord Lucan’s smug face is not exactly an image unfamiliar to the world). I ignored them, and shoved the back door open.

Fortunately for me, my mother was standing in the back hall. I was perturbed to observe Georgie, Aunt of Evil, standing in close proximity, but I ignored her and reached to embrace my mother. Praise merciful God/Allah/Dawkins/Flying Spaghetti Monster: my mother decided to come outside, and free me from the burden of having to stand in such a cramped and oppressive atmosphere.

Frankly, I remember few – if any – of the words spoken between us for some time. I think Eimear, who is what may be politely termed a ‘motormouth’, stepped in to speak of the various inanities of which she is usually full. I lit up a fag and stared at my (new) shoes (new shoes! NEW SHOOOOOES! Did anyone else like Twin Peaks?), desperately wishing the whole sorry thing would just be fucking over.

“Oh!” exclaimed my mother after 20,000 years. “It’s the ladies!”

I looked up, aghast. ‘The ladies’ is a euphemism for my mother’s golf club acquaintances. Aside from converse with Aunt of Evil, the last thing I wanted to deal with was these women. Some of them are nice, genuinely, but several conform perfectly to the traditional golfing stereotypes: gossipy, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, look-at-me-and-my-perfect-hair. There was one there in particular that, although admittedly she and my mother get on reasonably well, I felt was in attendance for the sole purpose of relaying events to her little cronies (Daniel: you know of whom I type).

Unusually, my mother was not horrified that these women had ‘caught’ me smoking (I’m nearly 30, for Christ’s sake!); not surprisingly, she had more important things on her mind. That said, we had been at a funeral of another member of the golf club – a good friend of my mother’s, actually – a few years ago when the subject of baptism curiously and inexplicably came up. As I went to proffer the view that this was a load of shit and that I was grateful that my parents had not presumptuously forced my infant self through the silly process, my mother kicked me under the table, and said, “oh yes, Pandora was christened in such-and-such a Church.” I remember shooting her a look of abject disgust and anger.

Anyway. As if this wasn’t going to be long enough without silly tangential musings. In the spirit of politeness and occasion, I made small-talk with a few of the assembled golfers (of whom, it turned out in the end, there were something like 10 or 12). When one, let’s call her Amy, pulled me aside and said, “Pandora. Congratulations!”, I felt the familiar tug of paranoid anxiety grip me.

“Congratulations?”

“Yes – you know, for your internet writing. You were nominated for an award for it, were you not?”

“Oh yes. That,” I said, feigning a casual shrug.

“Yes, that! Brilliant!”

“Thanks. I didn’t win it, mind you,” I lied. I looked into the woman’s fucking eyes and lied.

“But it doesn’t matter,” she returned, the cause for her emphasis of the word ‘matter’ being the source of some puzzlement to me. “Just being nominated…that’s amazing. Really well done,” she purred, continuing – as is her wont, to be fair – to overemphasise words of little import.

I smiled bashfully, and once again thanked the Flying Spaghetti Monster when someone else just then butted in. I know it’s my fault that Mum found out about the awards ceremony, but in the name of retaining my anonymity – or, more accurately, in the name of protecting everyone else in this so-called life of mine from the sordid truths of said existence – I wished with a fervent passion that she’d not gone around telling everyone she knows. Even the fucking McFauls know about it, and half of this fucking blog is about them!

My relief was short-lived, however, as Aunt of Evil exited the back door and proceeded in the direction of our little splinter group.

She came up to my mother, and prodded her about something. Facing her – literally facing her – became unavoidable. I took a deep breath and nodded at her. “Georgie,” I acknowledged.

“Pandora,” she returned nervously. “A.” At least she had the grace to be embarrassed. A muttered some sort of equally-anxious response.

And, for then at least, that was that. I waited a few minutes in order to feign a politic exit, then told my mother that I wished to observe Maisie’s body.

She led me in, fighting her way through about 4,028,374 (living) bodies, all gathered in one sodding room. She tactfully opened the door to where Maisie lay, and let A and I squeeze through it.

I mentioned in my last post in this series that when Mum and I had seen Maisie’s body at the cuntspital that she looked surprisingly alive, as though she were merely sleeping. I also said that I don’t normally think that about corpses. Here is where my more standard thinking in this arena came back to reality, slapping me like a wet fish around the jowls as it did: Maisie looked fucking horrendous.

The undertakers had tried to do her make-up to exacting standards, but the biology of death dictated that they would fail in their noble endeavour. Her lips, even through her lipstick, were black. Her chin, rigid as it was in its deceased state, seemed to sag beyond her head like some rancid piece of meat. She had one of those expressions that elderly people in care homes who are devoid of teeth are often seen to sport. I won’t say that I was horrified, because I’ve had enough exposure to dead bodies to know what to expect. But, despite having that awareness on a sort of intellectual level, I was…disappointed, I suppose. She looked so fundamentally unlike herself that I couldn’t help but feel sorry that this was going to be everyone’s last image of her.

Like I had in the hospital, I kissed her(/the corpse – it really wasn’t her) on the forehead, and mumbled something or other. I think it was something like, “sleep well,” which is a fucking stupid thing to say. I had, however, said it many times: Alter Ego was fawning around her Facebook account (in between a myriad of deactivations of same) uttering such things and generally behaving like a normal person who’d been genuinely bereaved. Am I bereaved? Was I? Yes, Maisie was a constant in my life, and yes, she was never personally unpleasant to me…but it was so bloody complicated. Do I, will I, miss her – miss her as a niece would normally miss her previously omnipresent aunt? I truly don’t know the answer to that even now, a month after her demise.

By the time we left the body, the service was almost upon us. My mother negotiated her way through the preposterous crowd towards the living room, from which the same old prick of a minister we’d met on the Wednesday was to conduct the service. I tried to get away, but my mother insisted that she wanted me with her, which was fair enough. Pursuant to that, of course, I wanted A with me, which wasn’t entirely fair on the poor sod: I’m not the only one in the relationship that has a distinct and, at times, overwhelming crowd phobia.

I sort of stood in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. One of Aunt of Boredom’s (AKA Maureen’s) two sons stood to my right, with some geezer I didn’t know in front of him. My mother was directly in front of me; Georgie was to her right. Beyond my mother, Suzanne and Student – Maisie’s granddaughters – sat on the edge of the sofa. I couldn’t see any of my (first) cousins, nor did I observe Paedo. But then, the place was that packed that spotting a cunting elephant wouldn’t have been easy.

Somebody thrust an order of service into my hands. Initially askance at this – we had to fucking sing?! – I melted a bit when I saw the picture they’d placed on the front of the document. It was a good photo of Maisie, insofar as such things exist. She was not, in her latter years, an attractive woman – but she looked so happy in this picture. More than that, she looked maternal, loving and – and it pains me to use this word – sweet.

It reminded me of the good things about her: her generosity, her understanding of the many difficulties I’ve faced (well. That she knows of..!), her willingness to put herself out for me (and my abject failure to ever return that favour), the silly yet weirdly (in retrospect) endearing way she’d always insist on you having “another wee cup of tea” before you left Hotel California. I looked at it, and tears pricked my eyes. As they do as I type this.

I tried to avoid looking at the image for the rest of the day, but I failed miserably. Every time I fought to avoid it, my gaze seemed to involuntarily fall upon it. And every time that it did, I felt that little more sad, that little more regretful. I could have done more. I could have been less negative. Yes, my aunt had bad streaks – but, like I am wont to do with many people, it struck me each and every time I saw her smiling face on that silly piece of paper that I failed (and fail) to see the good that was virtually punching me in the face. And I could have done more.

The service began with a desultory warbling of some hymn or other. For whatever reason, I can’t remember what that was; I do remember that proceedings ended with Amazing Grace, apparently a favourite of Maisie’s, but whatever this was I’ve no idea. In fact, aside from a few instances which I shall henceforth relate, I don’t remember a great deal of the service. Frankly, I don’t think I was missing much, but perhaps it is churlish to say that.

The minister prattled on about how we should be comforted by God’s amazing love and all the usual shite that the clergy bring out verbatim at funerals. He even sounded like he was on stage – on stage, and acting poorly. They (whoever ‘they’ are – not TheyThey‘, thank fuck) say that the sign of a bad actor is knowing that he or she is acting, and so it was with our dear friend here. I do remember that I actively didn’t listen to most of this, because (a) I don’t agree with a single fucking word and (b) I’ve heard it all, so many times, before.

As I felt his predictable little voice evanesce away from my ears, an odd thing happened. For want of fixating on something that wasn’t him, my mind punished me by looking at that bloody picture. And I cried. Not “wah wah wah! *sob sob sob*!”, thank…well, thank whatever you damn well like – but tears were there, in a relatively constant stream. The strangest thing about this was that, for possibly the first time in my life – my entire life, not just my adulthood – I did absolutely nothing to fight them.

I remember thinking at one point, “at least they’ll know I’m genuinely grieving,” though (a) I don’t know who ‘they’ were supposed to be (again, not They ‘They’, who would have found the whole thing terribly entertaining had they been in situ), and (b) as discussed above, I don’t know that I am genuinely grieving. Further, the thinking of such thoughts shows clear manipulation. If that was my view, then I wasn’t exactly crying for my own benefit, was I? I was crying for appearances. That is reprehensible beyond any measurable scale. In my defence, the tears were involuntary, but it strikes me that perhaps my failure to do anything about them was a cynical ploy. And that – using someone’s death to appear more human (despite my recent rant about that usage of that word – see me and my bloody self-contradictions/hypocrisy?!) – that sickens even me. Maybe (Old)VCB was right when she diagnosed me with BPD.

Ballrootvicar bollocksed on for three more centuries during which I continued to ignore him with stubborn defiance – but when I heard my mother’s name mentioned somewhere on the periphery of my hearing, I turned my attention back to the man. In whatever eulogy he was attempting to perform, he was mentioning the grief of those family members closest to Maisie. When he got round to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I saw the shoulders of both Student and Suzanne shake piteously. I shed a tear for them, briefly, then watched in some perplexity as Suzanne supportively rubbed Student’s back.

Deep breath. This is hard for me to admit, but I’m going to do it. I felt something that I’ve almost never felt in this sort of context; I felt envy. I envied their closeness, and lamented my distance from it. They are not just cousins; they’re properly family, which to them trumps all. However, more importantly to me, is that they’re not just cousins/family; they’re friends. For those fleeting seconds, I longed so deeply for the comfort and unabated joy of friendship, for ordinary platonic love. I have no ‘real life’ female friends, something that has never bothered me in my life to date. I’m not even sure that it was their shared gender and its more-customary-than-mine female expression (#feminismfail there, Pan) that bothered me; it was simply that I had no friends there with me. Oh, yes, Mum and A were there – but Mum had her own grieving to do, and much as I love A and feel that he is a friend as well as a lover, the relationship is by necessity different from pure, simple friendship.

Daniel lives in England, and even though he left Northern Ireland nearly a decade ago, I miss him every day. Brian and Aaron do live here, but – and mainly through faults of my own, I confess – I rarely see them. Neither of them would have come to Maisie’s funeral even if I saw them every day anyway, and neither would I have expected it of them. If anything, I found it a little odd that so many of Mum’s friends attended, yet here I am whining about having had none of my own.

Whatever the case, I envied my cousins(-once-removed) and their innate understanding of how each other felt, and though I could probably not be good friends with either of them – whilst I like them, and believe that’s mutual, we are too different to ever be close – I desperately wanted a piece of what they had that day, and was briefly overcome with the greatest void of loneliness I’ve ever known. It is often said that it’s eminently possible to feel despairing, gut-wrenching loneliness whilst in a room full of people. I have never seen a more quintessential instance of that dictum.

This is turning into an epic self-pity-party. To get back to the logistics of the event, at some point the random bloke standing to my right was invited to speak. It turned out that he was the “Pastor” from Suzanne’s Church.

Suzanne, rather unfortunately, is a Presbyterian. Any of you familiar with the denomination will probably have guessed where this is going.

He spoke with the casual but wholly palpable arrogance that I’ve always associated with plane hijackers about hell, fire, brimstone – and how an all-loving God will burn you in agony for an eternity if you don’t submit to his narcissism. Now, let me clear something up here: I know there are Christians that read this blog, and I apologise for any offence I’m causing in this rant. Despite not agreeing with you, I have nothing per se against religion, Christianity included: it is this warped, horrible version of it that grates on me so. I don’t believe in God, obviously, but if He does exist, I can’t believe that the fuckwittery of this brand of Presbyterianism can be true. A loving, benevolent force as exemplified through Christ is not the God of which these people speak. I wished, not for the first time, that I came from a Catholic background.

You know, that’s kind of amusing in a dark way. Factions of the McFaul dynasty are viciously (and contemptibly) sectarian – notably ScumFan, but not just him. I have attempted on innumerate occasions to convince the boy that this whole Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland is an absolute load of bollocks, and whilst he hears the words and occasionally makes vague gestures of agreement, he doesn’t listen. And that brings me to what I find funny about the whole thing: if, say, ScumFan happened upon this blog and read about what his grandfather had done to me as a kid, I don’t know what he’d do. However, if he happened upon it and saw the words, “I wish I’d been born a Catholic”, I can almost guarantee that he’d disown me. Pathetic, isn’t it? I love this little country, truly I do – but I detest that that will always be an entrenched part of its heritage.

Anyway, this knobhead Pastor wanked on and on with his bigoted bile, to the point where he annoyed me so much that I started making various small noises or fidgety gestures in a bid to get his attention fixated my expression of sheer disgust. He was so self-absorbed in his vile little world, however, that if I’d kicked him squarely in the nuts and screamed, “you’re a fucking wanker, you cunt!” into his face, I doubt he’d have even batted an eyelid in recognition.

During the so-called prayer that he conducted, I actually started muttering bitchy comments at him. You may recall that a million miles up the page I stated that one of Maureen’s sons, my cousin Marvin, was standing beside me, just behind this pastortwat. Although neither my mother nor the pastortwat seemed to hear any of my misgivings, evidently Marvin did; he looked up at me, caught my eye, and – gesturing to the pastortwat – rolled his eyes. I shot him a knowing grin, which he was quick to reciprocate. I knew that A, behind me, would be seething with boiling rage too, but I was so hemmed in by others’ bodies that trying to turn to him would have been like conducted an ugly 4×4’s three-point turn in a danky bedsit. In any case, due to his visual impairment, A can’t ‘do’ body language, so I had to settle on non-verbal vicar-bashing with Marvin.

After this particular twatbag had finally shut the fuck up, it was time for one more bloody prayer, this time with the bald-headed first bloke. I gazed wistfully into nothing in particular, making a pronounced point not to close my eyes nor bow my head. I never do, incidentally, but I made a concerted effort to make it obvious that day. To no avail, obviously, because the very actions in which I was not partaking were the very actions in which those whose attention I sought were.

Finally, the assembled congregation – all of whom I hope are non-choristers – ‘sang’ a tuneless rendition of Amazing Grace, and the service was over. 10,000 people milled their way out of Hotel California, and into the yard to await the next move.

Maisie’s children and grandchildren went to the coffin for one final look at their (grand)mother, and then her coffin was closed forever, and wheeled out the back door – the door she’d always used to access that house that she’d so loved so well.

This post has been exhausting to write, and – I’m sure – to read. Sorry for the heavy emphasis on introspection, but then, if I can’t navel-gazingly reflect on my own blog, where can I? To be continued as soon as I am able.

Memories

Memories have been bothering me this weekend. ¬†Some are of the more obvious variety, though perhaps not in the way you might think – not in the sense of constant rumination of the¬†minutiae¬†of sexual abuse – but I’ll get to that.

My First Flirtations with Mental Health Problems

My best friend as a child and early adolescent was a girl named Louise. ¬†She led me astray in terms of rules laid down by my mother (and grandfather) more than once, not that I required much persuasion on the majority of such occasions. ¬†Her mother let her do essentially as she pleased and her father appeared uninterested in his family. ¬†So freedom was by and large her’s – and, for those fleeting periods that I was granted time with her, it was by extension mine.

We had immense fun together. ¬†We would talk and laugh for hours on end. ¬†We’d make up ridiculous lyrics to established songs, record them, then fall about laughing at the results. ¬†We would talk about boys (or, more usually, men) as girls of that age are of course wont to do, and we’d piss about with hair dye (a tradition that stayed with me; I get bored easily. ¬†It’s presently blue/purple).

I don’t remember when things changed, or even if they did – perhaps I simply didn’t notice before, or remember a lot of our relationship through rose-tinted glasses. ¬†Even if a shift did take place, it was insidious and spread-out. ¬†I didn’t just wake up one morning and see a difference.

Her first diagnosis was the same as my first, but at that point in-the-future, illness was said to be. ¬†Clinical depression. ¬†Apparently with somatic symptoms in Louise’s case, though I don’t remember that term being used the time; I merely remember that she had a zillion physical illnesses that would keep her off school for weeks. ¬†Perhaps they were her cover story for episodes of depression, rather than being ‘real’ per se – who knows. ¬†It doesn’t matter. ¬†The point is, Louise’s illness was my first proper awareness of and exposure to a mental health problem. ¬†Hindsight dictates that I was probably quite doolally myself well before this, but because my childhood hallucinations and inherent weirdness hadn’t bothered me unduly, or at least hadn’t seemed abnormal, I hadn’t taken much notice of them.

I don’t remember much of how I reacted to her diagnosis, which I think she received when she was about 12. ¬†I do recall her telling me when she’d be back at school after a lengthy absence, and of my waiting eagerly at the window of the Music department, which overlooked the main pupil’s entrance, in order that as soon as she arrived I could rush down to greet her and welcome her back. ¬†My peers were very unkind; they sneered and spat about her absence(s). ¬†I didn’t care; she was my friend, and in whatever way it was, whether it was obvious and visible or not, she had been unwell.

However, what I’ve been struggling with today was a later memory. ¬†It must have been in the summer before I was 15, because my ill-fated relationship with my hideous ex forms part of it. ¬†I don’t remember what I – or she, as they’d met – had told him about her depression, but he must have been aware of it, because I remember using the word ‘another’ in conversation with him about it.

Louise’s mother and grandmother had taken us on ‘holiday’ for a week to a wee apartment in Portrush, a seaside town in the North-West of Northern Ireland that falsely and rather¬†grandiosely¬†believes itself to be the province’s answer to Blackpool (not, I’m sure, that Blackpool is anything particularly extraordinary either). ¬†It had started off extremely well; we sat up half the night chain-smoking, listening to music and pissing ourselves laughing at God-knows-what. ¬†We went skinny-dipping at about 3.30am one of those first nights. ¬†Ridiculous, ill-advised and probably frankly stupid – but it was fun.

The week went on, and with it came a change in her demeanour. ¬†I remember distinctly that she was point-blank refusing to take her Fluoxetine; her mother tried to insist that she swallow it over but Louise literally threw it out the window in an rage. ¬†Her mother asked me, a medication-compliant individual, if I could persuade Louise to at least try them. ¬†Reluctantly, I did – but as you might imagine, it didn’t go down well. ¬†To be fair, I think she eventually apologised to me, but in the¬†immediate¬†aftermath of her scornful outburst, I told her mother that I was going out for a walk to clear my own head.

As someone herself suffering from depression, I understood the extreme depth of feeling and¬†indescribable¬†desolation that it brought, but the thing was that I never took it out on my friends, and even then I was very, very skilled at acting and pretending that everything was OK. ¬†So things about Louise’s condition that at the time I didn’t understand included (but weren’t limited to) her vicious outbursts and abject refusal to take her medication.

Off I went on my walk. ¬†This was in the day before mobile phones were widespread (God, I’m old…) and also in the day before the worst of the development of my phone phobia, so I stopped at a phone box on the main street and called Hideous Ex.

I’m finally getting to my point (900 words later. ¬†Why don’t I have this ability when I’m trying to write stuff that pays me?!). ¬†After a desultory conversation about the weather in Portrush, the subject finally eased its way into being about Louise, and I finally said to Hideous Ex, “she’s had another mood swing.”

She’s had another mood swing. ¬†What an awful thing to say. ¬†What a truly horrible, stigmatic, ‘victim’-blaming way to describe the situation. ¬†No “Louise is depressed,” or “she’s having a shit time of it.” ¬†She’s had – yep, her fault. ¬†Well done, Pandora. ¬†Another – yep, yet again. ¬†Sure that’s all that happens in her sorry life, isn’t it? ¬†Mood swing – yep, spot on. ¬†Her life is defined by mood swings, isn’t it? ¬†Except that it wasn’t of course – she was funny and interesting and¬†charismatic, and was not defined by having depression.

Besides, I used the term ‘mood swing’ to mean depressed, or distressed, or however else you might have described her mood. ¬†The phrase ultimately means nothing, and is furthermore so often used by ignorant or discriminatory members of Joe Public to demonise people with mood disorders – they’re not sick, don’t be stupid. ¬†They’re just a moody fucker.

I was young and naive to matters pertaining to mental health issues, despite my familiarity with Louise and my having recently been slapped with a diagnosis all of my own. ¬†It was a throwaway remark, one that probably seems innocuous to many people reading this. ¬†Nevertheless, in the last year or so¬†I’ve been on such a crusade to attempt to eradicate the stigma of and raise awareness on mental illness that to recall that I was once so horribly dismissive of my best mate’s distress makes me feel tremendously guilty. ¬†I’m a hypocrite. ¬†I find myself furious about the average person in the street’s lack of knowledge or lack of sympathy, or of their downright disdain – and yet in one small statement I exemplified all those things and more myself.

For those interested, Louise and I eventually drifted apart as we progressed through school.  She left the hovel after completing her GCSEs; I stayed and did my A Levels.  We lost touch altogether.  I ran into her one day in the early days of my relationship with A Рabout seven years ago Рand she seemed genuinely pleased to see me.  She told me that she was studying to be a hairdresser and was off to see a rock band that night.  I was pleased that her life seemed to be on track.

Another few years passed. ¬†I was maybe 23 or 24 when my mother ran into Louise’s mother outside the corner shop, and it transpired that her life was anything but on track. ¬†She had never wanted to leave home (and hadn’t). ¬†She had never had a job, nor completed any education beyond her GCSEs. ¬†Her days were spent sitting alone in her room, staring at the wall – perhaps with a bit of musical accompaniment if she was in a ‘good’ mood.

So things were worse than ever. ¬†And she’d recently received a new diagnosis: that of schizophrenia. ¬†Manageable, in most cases, yes – but nevertheless chronic, pervasive and incurable.

I’ve experienced psychosis. ¬†It isn’t pleasant. ¬†I just hope that she is having a better experience with the health service than I have had, and that she is getting the treatment she needs.

Ah Yes…My Psychoses

Yes indeed. ¬†Remember the craic with hallucinating Paedo and all that cal? ¬†Well, it’s not back – thankfully. ¬†Nor are the flashbacks any more intrusive or frequent than normal – thankfully. ¬†However, something has seduced me back into obsessive thinking about what happened with Paedo – or, rather, what didn’t, as my mind would have me believe. ¬†A opines that the fact that I am intending to see Nexus, an organisation specifically in existence to deal with the consequences of sexual abuse, has brought on this current bout of self-doubting nihilism. ¬†I don’t know what I think.

When I was in the process of recovering my ‘memories’ of these experiences, I wrote a post here about False Memory Syndrome. ¬†My mind echoes the concerns I expressed therein. ¬†If memory serves me correctly, I eventually concluded in the post that I couldn’t be imagining things or engaging in a particularly cruel and twisted fantasy.

But I’m not so sure. ¬†How can it be true? ¬†How? ¬†It’s just fucking inconceivable. ¬†Why did I remember parts of it and not others, at least until more recently? ¬†Why are parts still hazy and pixellated? ¬†Why do I apparently ‘know’ some things, but not actually remember them clearly (if at all)?

How can I accuse such a pathetic, pointless, boringly innocuous human being of such acts? ¬†I mean, they’re disgusting, to be sure, but they’re…I don’t know, they’re something. ¬†Paedo isn’t. ¬†He’s a vacuum of characterless nothing. ¬†One is only ever peripherally aware of his existence, because to any meaningful intents and purposes he doesn’t fucking exist. ¬†He doesn’t only not live, he also doesn’t exist properly. ¬†He just sort of is, like I imagine a ghost might be. ¬†He is a half-being. ¬†He can’t be responsible for something that requires effort and, let’s face it, a certain amount of skill (which prevented his ever getting caught).

I still can’t fully grasp the notion of dissociation, which seems ridiculous given that it’s so much a part of my life. ¬†I understand it from an objective perspective – the textbook discussions of it, the technicalities. ¬†But it just feels so…I don’t know, wrong? ¬†Inappropriate? ¬†Untrue? ¬†Whatever the correct adjective, I can’t work out how it fits for me. ¬†Traditionally, I have a good memory. ¬†It’s a large part how I got successfully through school and university with¬†minimal¬†effort – I simply remembered everything I’d been taught. ¬†So how can I have amnesiac bubbles like this? ¬†I know I do have them, thanks to all the times I’ve ‘woken up’ in random places with no idea at all of how I got there. ¬†But it doesn’t make sense regardless.

How do people lose time?  What happens?  I understand the psychological reasons underpinning the phenomenon, but how does it actually physically happen?

Fucking sex abuse. ¬†I can’t remember all of it, so it can’t have happened. ¬†What I do ‘remember’ has been created by my own twisted mind: it’s the only answer. ¬†What a despicable human being I am to create such evil…and from such banality too!

Of course, Rational Me jumps in at this point and cites 7,392 reasons as to why it fucking did happen, but I cannot really convince myself of it despite the ample evidence to the contrary. ¬†Yes, I remember this, I remember that – but I don’t remember everything, and I didn’t even remember a majority of it until recently. ¬†We can bandy about terms such as ‘dissociation’ or ‘fugue’ or ‘amnesia’ or whatever other medical terminology is deemed appropriate, but the key point of this issue is that I forgot. ¬†I forgot something as massive as this. ¬†Children live in strange realms of consciousness, but still. ¬†How can you simply forget a major, formative, immense part of your life like that?

Paedo is a nobody and I forgot.  So how can it be?

The Good Teacher

Yesterday, I read a post by Borderline Boy in which he mentioned a school teacher to whom he was very close as a child. It reminded me just how influential one of my own former teachers has been on my life, and how grateful I am to that man for the kindness, interest and – dare I say it – friendship that he afforded me.

My secondary schooling was, for the most part, bloody miserable. I was a misfit who transcended a number of different social groups, which apparently didn’t sit well with the majority of my supposedly influential peers (most notably the Rugger Buggers and the Hockey Sluts, as they were affectionately known to those of us that were the receivers of their opportunistic wraths). I had a couple of really good friendships – indeed, my two best friends from school are still my two best friends – but I was battling with a then under-diagnosed mental illness and suffering varying levels of verbal and emotional bullying, and with regret I must admit that supportive friends simply weren’t enough to ease the pain of the situation.

Neither was one teacher, of course. But Mike, as I shall call him (later in our relationship we actually were on first name terms, so it doesn’t seem inappropriate), did give me back some faith in the school, which otherwise was either oblivious to or openly contemptuous of my difficulties.

I first met him at the start of my third form (age 14) when I took up a new language which was his primary subject. I remember parts of the week in question very well; the first day back at school led to my first (recalled) major panic attack (still one of my worst ever). I’ll never forget the terror and utter helplessness of collapsing on the bathroom floor, gasping for breath and trying to bang the floor for attention. My mother, who had branded me as a difficult school-hating teenager, simply ignored me.

I don’t remember how I overcame the panic attack, but I do recall later that day making my way to Mike’s room for the first time with a wariness about me that was not just predicated upon it being the first day of term – I was, at the time, scared of Mike himself. He was a formidable figure, physically speaking; extraordinarily tall, and pretty well-built. He (like most of the the rest of them to be fair) would shimmy about the corridors wearing those stupid pretentious “oh look at me and my degree” gowns that grammar school teachers seem to wear with infuriating frequency. His would fly out behind him as he took his giant strides, giving him an almost supernatural air of authority and power. He was, I thought at the time, the quintessential “don’t fuck with me” teacher.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong indeed. The term “gentle giant” is sickeningly trite and cliched to death, but in this case it couldn’t be more true. He was just a lovely man – and unlike quite a number of his colleagues, he was incredibly passionate about his profession, and genuinely gave a damn about his pupils.

It struck me right away, that first day in third form. I was also engaged immediately by his humour, feeling right at home with his dry and cynical but achingly quick wit. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, a soft sort of indescribable but palpable charisma emanated from him, bouncing its way around the room and cheering up all but the most intellectually- and courtesy-challenged pupils.

My depressions lingered, increased and crippled me during my years at school. My friends, for all their support, didn’t really ‘get’ it. I’m not saying Mike did – though I think he would have done – because I didn’t ever discuss the matter with him openly, but one thing he didn’t do that virtually all of my peers and most of the teachers did was judge me for my inability to be the best that I could have been. He didn’t judge me for missing so much school. He didn’t judge me for times during which I was evidently upset. How could he, I suppose – more often than not, he cheered me up, however temporarily.

I went out of my way to spend more time with Mike than that which was allocated in my timetable. I’d drop into his classroom at lunchtime to talk. I’d hover around him in the bus queues. It even got to the point where I was hanging around his house (he was, not particularly intelligently, easily found in the phone book!).

It became a complete fixation for a while; I was utterly besotted with the man. To be honest, in many ways it very accurately mirrored my current obsession with C except that, for a while at least, the attraction to Mike was a romantic one too. For the record, I now see this as some form of erotic transference. Was he a perfect example of my eternal search for a father figure (or at least rescuer) in whom I could trust completely? Almost certainly so, but there was so much more to him and to our relationship than just that.

The ‘crush’ passed, and fortunately I managed to curb the obsession – in fact, it became a kind of running in-joke between us (he having been fully aware of how much I knew about him). There was much potential for (my) embarrassment given Mike’s knowledge of my obsession with him, but at the same time it was something of a privilege to share a secret with this man of whom I was so fond. He’d make a lot of references in class to things that seemed to others to be boring, meaningless or bizarrely enigmatic – but he’d turn round to me, raise his eyebrow a fraction and reveal a subtle but still observable hint of a smile. And I’d have to bite my lip so as not to laugh.

Our relationship developed over the next few years. I stopped stalking him and started properly respecting him, whilst still retaining a strong (non-erotic) fondness. It became evident after a while that it was reciprocated; by the time I got to the point of taking my A Levels, I was (fairly affectionately) considered by the small sixth form class to thoroughly be the teacher’s pet. And I was. I really was.

In some ways, despite the horrible nature of my junior and GCSE years, my A Level years were two of the best of my life. Some people had matured, some had fucked off, I was not forced to take a bunch of crap subjects that have borne me no use in my life whatsoever and, crucially, I managed to escape the clutches of one particular teacher who utterly despised me, and made it openly known. Mike, though, remained a constant.

Sometimes our A Level class was not like a school lesson at all, and quite specifically it was often nothing to do with a foreign languagee. It was not unknown for us to play music, to drink tea and coffee and just chat, or whatever. A couple of conversations with Mike were almost always exclusive to me – discussions on politics or philosophy, for example. He and I would sit there and talk about these things, whilst the others would babble between themselves. Indeed, by the time I reached upper sixth, there were only three in the class and given as the other two were were both Rugger Buggers and regular skivers, quite often the class consisted solely of Mike and me. We’d have these most fabulous of intellectual conversations, ranging from discourse on the EU to debating the finer points of modern existentialism. It was wonderful, and incredibly stimulating.

It’s not that we never did any work – of course we did. What I found to be the case, though, was that because of Mike’s easy-going charm and genuinely held interest in me as an individual, I was much more willing to work hard at his subject than any other. I was a lazy, ambivalent student all the way through school and university, believing (usually correctly) that my intellect was enough to see me through. But Mike’s enthusiasm was infectious, his pupil-centred approach inspiring. So I worked my figurative balls off for him.

In some ways, that hard work paid off. For as long as I shall live, I shall never forget the day of my lower sixth speaking exam, which Mike conducted (and which was recorded for verification by the exam board). It sounds ridiculous to say that the day of a major examination – particularly an oral one, which was always the worst part of studying languages for me – was one of the best days of a person’s life, but in this case it actually, genuinely was. My memory of the actual exam is relatively skewed. I was coked up on fear and its resulting adrenaline, and although I had expected my nervous energy to dissipate instantly upon conclusion of the test, it didn’t. He had, you see, a penchant for teasing his students by prolonging the dramatic tension in such circumstances, and this was no exception. He enigmatically asked me to wait outside whilst he showed the next pupil in, thus causing me to live on my nerves a little more.

It seemed like forever. Realistically, it was probably no more than five minutes – if even that – but it might as well have been half way to eternity for me at the time. Eventually, he joined me in the corridor.

“Look, Mike, will you please just tell me how crap that was?” I begged him.

He looked around as if he were some sort of spy vetting the area for bugging equipment or shady characters. Eventually he turned to me.

“Are you easily embarrased?” he asked.

I laughed in his face (rather nervously, mind you). “I used to stalk you at your home address,” I told him. “Do you seriously think I’m easily embarrassed?!”

“Good,” he said. “Pandora, you have restored my faith in humanity.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” I enquired, genuinely mystified, but almost before I could finish, and to my utter amazement (and probably in direct contravention of every rule in the stupid school’s book for that matter), he put his big arms around me and hugged me tightly.

“You were fucking brilliant,” he whispered.

I was stunned by his behaviour and his words, so much so that it took me a few seconds to reciprocate the hug – but reciprocate I eventually did.

In the moments that followed, I accused Mike of trying to fob me off and making my “fucking brilliance” up to make me feel better, but he was insistent that my performance had been well beyond exemplary. He said if I even did half as well in the other exams as I had just done in the oral, that I’d be flying. He said a lot of things, all of which were positive.

I felt as if I was on drugs. Is that what full blown bipolar mania feels like? It is probably the most elated I can ever remember being. I couldn’t help myself. I remember running around in this thrill of excitement telling everyone how fabulous Mike thought I had been. Most were delighted for me, though when I told my best friend D (with whom I then had a strange relationship, as he was going through an evangelical phase) he said (of Mike’s words to me), “was he being sarcastic?” Fortunately I can now view this response with amusement.

I could go on about that day and the hangover from it for hours; it seemed to have been perfect, and I find myself smiling at the memories. But that’s enough of that particular self-absorption.

The long and the short of the oral exam saga was that, despite it being marked at 95%, it didn’t end up making my results strikingly brilliant (I got a ‘C’ in my AS Level). All seven of us that were in the lower sixth class completely flunked the aural test, and to that end only three of us kept the subject on into upper sixth. Even though I’m sure Mike was disappointed, this exemplified one of the things I so loved about him: he never judged us for what was in effect a failure. In particular I was especially reprieved, because he knew that I had put such significant effort in and had tried to make a success of myself in his subject.

Upper sixth was a nice year; (as stated) the class was so tiny that it was common to get one-on-one contact with the teachers (incidentally, Mike taught the vocabulary and literature elements for 11 hours per week, whilst his colleague Mrs M taught us grammar for an hour and forty minutes, and I often had alone time with her too). Aside from Mike I became quite attached to the native-speaker language assistant that we had for an additional forty minutes a week – his name was Freddy, and we shared many laughs (mostly in English, it has to be said!). I remember crying after my last session with him and making a tit out of myself in assembly, which immediately followed it.

Saying goodbye to Mike after my last exam was even worse, of course. I’d known Freddy for a year; I’d known Mike for five. I took the exam paper up to him that day and we went through it together, mutually concluding that it (the writing element) could have been a lot worse. We swapped mobile numbers. We talked and philosophised. We predicted the results of the other two in the class (I know that’s bad, but it turned out that we were right!). The final bell went. We walked down to the bus queue together and chatted some more whilst I waited for my bus home. It arrived. I held off getting on it for as long as possible.

But eventually the time came when I had to leave – both this gentleman, and this school which, despite how much I’d hated it, was at least a constant familiarity. Mike didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought, which was wonderful; in front of all the children and teenagers standing about, and in front of a bunch of other teachers, he openly instigated a mutual ‘goodbye’ embrace, as I bit my lip to try and hold on to my dignity.

We said our goodbyes, vowed to keep in touch, and I got onto the bus. As it pulled away, I looked for him out the window. He waved first. I reciprocated, with a regretful, bittersweet smile. And then he was gone.

I next saw him the day I went to collect my A Level results. The vow to keep in touch had held true; we’d exchanged quite a few text messages over that summer, and I therefore knew he’d be there on results day. I had topped the class in Mike’s subject, though admittedly a big fat ‘A’ still eluded me. He didn’t care. He was just glad that I had tried my best, had easily got into my choice of university and, quite cheekily, that I’d beaten the other two ūüėČ

I’d taken him this card and a keyring I’d bought him on holiday, telling him that he was the world’s greatest teacher. He didn’t embarrass me by opening it in front of me, for which I am grateful, but I am also glad that I did actually bother to engage in this uncharacteristic sentimentality. Good teachers so often seem to go unrecognised in these strange times, and one that had so posiitively enriched my life deserved to be aware of how much he meant to me.

We saw each other twice more – at the stupid prize night, and when I went into school just to say hello one day. Both of those occasions were in the few months after my A Level results, and are therefore over seven years ago. We did keep that promise of retaining contact for quite a while – up until I took my Masters course, in fact – but contact became more gradual and eventually tapered off altogether. Both of us are to blame.

It is sad. We should both have made more effort, but life seems to get in the way no matter how genuine the original intent or how strong the underlying, historical bond.

It is sad, but it was still such an incredibly worthwhile relationship. I have never encountered anyone else like Mike throughout my education career. The other A Level teachers – Colin, Mrs M and Mrs T – were all pretty good and very encouraging. The Vice Principal that everyone, except apparently me, hated, was one of the few that provided genuine support throughout my mental illnesses. My dissertation supervisor when I did my BSc was supportive and easy-going. I had two inspirational-in-their-oratory lecturers in my post-graduate course.

But I’ve never developed a bond and a friendship with any one of them like I did with Mike. None of them cared quite as much as Mike did. None of them saw their pupils quite as much as real people as Mike did.

So, our relationship might have fizzled out over time, but I will never forget the time he devoted to me nor the interest he took in me. I will never forget his dedication, his intellect, his humour and how much he actually cared. He knew something was wrong in my life, but he also knew that underneath it, there was potential and something to be liked, something that he could nurture and help develop.

He has succeeded. I may have wasted my life and achieved little of real substance – but I am nonetheless a better person for having known him. I think of him often and sometimes still miss him a lot, but bittersweet as the memories can be, I am able to smile sincerely about the time together that Mike and I shared.