‘To Beatrice – darling, dearest, dead.’ Lemony Snicket
Yesterday I remembered her. Maybe because 2016 is ending in such a macabre fashion. George Michael is dead, Carrie Fisher is dead, Debbie Reynolds is dead.
And, to top it all, a friend’s ex partner has died at Christmas, leaving behind three children I love, aged 5, 3 and 1.
Her name was Andrea and we were best friends, twenty years ago.
Like me, she hated being stuck in a small town, even if she lived in a large house with a snaking staircase, her own loft room and a garden with potted lemon trees.
Our lives were similar. We both went to grammar schools, had tutors for the most important subjects – Romanian, Maths, English, French, History -, smoked in secret, and shared bottles of expensive vodka stolen from our father’s drinks cabinet.
When we turned fifteen we joined the same writing group – the only writing group in town. Those afternoons, gathered around a massive oak table, in the empty dining room of an old mansion – stolen by the Communists to be institutionalised – with a terracotta stove crackling in the corner, and the raw scent of snow wafting through the open window (because everyone smoked), were some of the happiest of my life.
One of the writers there would become a succesful poet, with important awards and publishing contracts under his belt and his work translated into several languages. But back then, when I listened to him read, in his barely broken, teenage voice, I couldn’t have imagined that he wouldn’t live to be thirty, or that I’d make a speech at the festival held in his honour.
Like Andrea, B. commited suicide.
When I found out about my friend’s death, I was in Bucharest. We drifted apart when we left home, as it happens, I suppose. She was doing a degree in English, like me, but at a different university: the prestigious State University, so the Government paid for her degree, while I went to a fee-paying school, one of the universities that took students if their grades were good. Mine were just about high enough, but I didn’t fancy spending my summer studying for the inhumane entry exams that Andrea passed so easily.
The week she died Andrea phoned me to ask if she could meet me. It was a Wednesday; I was on study leave. I refused, not knowing that I’ll spend many years wondering what she had to say – if it was something more than borrowing money or having a beer together for old times’ sake.
Sometimes I allow the chilling thought to unfold in my brain, cold as ice. Maybe she wanted to tell me about her intention to commit suicide. Maybe she wanted to be saved. Maybe I was the only one who could save her.
We hardly ever met anyway, so it felt okay saying no. The last time she came to my house, she sniffed cocaine at my dining room table and had more piercings than I could count. Her hair was dyed a vivid blue.
That day, she put the phone down and that was it. The last time I heard her voice. I played that conversation in my head a thousand times – but I found nothing – no clue that she was going to do something so definite as hanging herself from the shower hook with her father’s fishing line.
I still know her phone number. I remember her family had a piano, and that she could play it, although always in secret, as if her middle class background was something to be ashamed of. She was the most anti-ellitist character you could’ve met. The most liberal girl on earth. She would’ve given anything to be born in a simpler life.
Andrea visited my dreams for a year. They were the most horrid dreams, but every time I closed my eyes to sleep, I wished for them. Because I missed her so much. Because I felt guilty. So guilty for all the things left unsaid.
It was spring when she died, and if I could talk to her again, I’d tell her that spring is not the season to die – not in Romania anyway. How could I know that one day I’d miss the perfume of acacia trees, so pungent at her funeral? Or that the scent of the Damask roses after the rain would always remind me of her?
If I could talk to her again, I’d tell her that life is worth living after all. I’d tell her that I miss her.
I’d tell her that I kissed her boyfriend and that I’m sorry. I’d tell her that he was with me when she phoned to say that he was distant and that she thinks he’s having an affair.
I’d tell her that he wasn’t worth it.
I’d tell her to keep writing and get a job – any job – whilst studying. Because all the kids who did achieved more than us, quicker. Because if she had a job, maybe she wouldn’t have time to think about dying, or hang out with people who took drugs.
I’d tell her that I believe in God now – not the God who sent her to her grave without the last rites, because suicide is the gravest of all sins, seeing you can’t ever repent for it; but the God who allowed me to change so that her death isn’t in vain.
I’d tell her this: we now have smartphones, and you would love them.
You would love Lemony Snicket. And you’d love the quote that I have in mind now. I like to imagine your laugh as I type it down, the way I’d imagined it so many times over the years:
‘You will always be in my heart
In my mind
And in your grave.’