Whilst battling the mixed emotions caused her loss and by tracking down our mutual friends to let them know (there is such joy in finding people who used to be good friends and discovering that they're happy to hear from you, but it is coupled with such sadness that the reason for this reunion is the fact that a person you have in common has died), I did what I always do when I cant say the words I need to say - I wrote them down.
This is my letter to my friend. I wish I'd sent it when she was alive. I wish she knew how much I still cared about her and how much I will miss her.
My darling friend
You were my best friend. We met when we were just 15 and together we navigated the tricky years, and terrible hairstyles, that took us to the adulthood we’d spent our teenage years planning - an adulthood that was never quite what we envisaged, not least in so far as neither one of us married Anthony Andrews (although we did meet him, so part of the plan was achieved).
You were petite and blonde, and very cool. The opposite of my tall, brunette, not-at-all cool-ness. I still remember the first time I saw you – it was my first day at a new school and I was feeling very new, and slightly scared, when you walked into the classroom (a little later than everyone else). You smiled at me. You were definitely the coolest girl in the class. I don’t remember exactly how we became friends, but I think that drama class had something to do with it. Certainly by the start of the next school year we were best friends, inseparable, sitting together in every class we shared - that mad, elusive, inexplicable connection that creates a close friendship had been made.
In our teenage years, I was your fiercest protector - one early boyfriend really disliked me precisely because I was always on your side and, knowing me, probably quite gobby about it. I’m still glad about that.
We did lots of drama productions together – O Level, A Level, school productions, an amateur production of Brigadoon (where we delighted a little girl with our ‘Gwendoline and Cecily’ impression).
Brideshead Revisited will always remind me of you. Not the TV series that created our mutual love for Mr Andrews, but the book. I remember us babysitting one evening, and reading extracts of the book out loud (Sebastian and Aloysius and the ‘bad Italian bears’) and laughing until we cried. I remember skipping school for the day so that we could go to the National Theatre to see Anthony Andrews in a play (Coming in To Land, by Stephen Poliakoff, I still have my copy), it also starred Maggie Smith, but we didn’t care about her (!). It was a beautiful, warm, sunny April day. After the play we ate sandwiches on the South Bank. That was when I spotted Anthony Andrews leaving through the stage door. It was you who insisted on asking for his autograph – but when we got to the stage door you were so overwhelmed that you literally couldn’t speak. I did all the talking, asking if he’d mind signing my copy of the play. He then looked at you. You just stared at him mutely and nodded – he signed the piece of paper you held up with shaking hands.
We loved going to London (we’d often visit Simpsons on The Strand – it WAS owned by Anthony Andrews’ wife’s family after all….) and go to the beauty counters and put on the expensive perfumes – to this day Chanel No 19 reminds me of visiting London with you. We ate strawberries and drank wine in Green Park. I imagined a life when we’d live in London and do this whenever we wanted.
You were so funny. You could always make me laugh. I can still picture you singing the (utterly inexplicable) lyrics of the Echo and the Bunnymen song, Thorn of Crowns. I have that album on my ipod today and every time that song comes on I think of you and smile.
For the next twelve years you were a constant presence in my life. When we’d left school and gone on to different Universities, then new careers, and then new homes, we could only see each other a few times a year, but when we did get together it was like no time had passed at all. Within minutes we were laughing, remembering, finding out what was new. I remember the distinctive spider-scrawl of your handwriting, always legible (unlike mine) and how you never forgot my birthday – I always knew which card was yours before I opened it.
The last time I saw you were heading back home after Christmas and you stopped over at my flat. You had a kitten with you, that you’d called ‘Lepton’ – because he leaped on to everyone’s lap.
We did lose touch when we got older, but you were never far from my mind. Friends and family would always ask if I’d heard from you and how you were. Any discussion of school or youth would always lead to you – you were inextricably part of my late teens/early twenties. Every Christmas I would write a card. Every November 26th I would wish you a happy birthday and wonder what you were doing. As my own oldest daughter reached the age of 15 I would tell her tales of our exploits. I’d watch her with her friends and remember us with ours. I missed you so much. I’m so grateful that we did reconnect a few years ago, but that’s tinged with such sadness that we never got to meet, or hug, or make each other laugh, again.
You will always be in my heart. There you are forever young and beautiful and safely tucked away with my golden memories of our shared past.
I will miss you.
Sleep tight sweetie.