Places of the spirit


Of course, there are things that run through my head all the time. Often I think I must write about that, but mostly I never get around to it. Until there’s such an application that taps directly into my mind that will be the case.

Today I want to specifically reference the fire that has consumed Notre Dame, in Paris. I feel for the French, and the Parisians particularly, for whom this must feel like a blow to the soul. It feels an unreal event, an affront to nature, something that could never happen and should never happen.

I first walked into Notre Dame about 21 years ago. I’ve been to many cathedrals in my time, but this has always been my favourite. I’m a history buff and knowing that so many momentous events had happened right here was a thrill in itself. There was a deeper, darker connection than that though. I remember standing beneath the high roof surrounded by the immense stone columns and peering at the beautiful stained glass windows and feeling humbled by the meaning of it all. It felt a great spiritual moment.

Places like Notre Dame are living reminders of the wonder and mystery of our existence. We live in the moment so much these days, but Notre Dame had stood for almost a millennia. It teemed with life and history. With luck, it might have gone on for another millennium, or more. I guess that’s true for many such buildings and there are dozens of others who have left me just as impressed – but not so spiritually engaged. Notre Dame felt like a living place to me, not just of history but of humanity as well. I think of only one other place off the top of the head I felt so moved, the Pantheon in Rome.

Notre Dame has not been completely destroyed they say, though the spire has fallen and no doubt the wondrous stained glass is gone – as well as the old, middle-aged wooden structure. It will be rebuilt, as it must, but will it be the same place?

Update: it appears that while the roof and spire have gone and much structural damage otherwise, the bulk of the stonework has been saved – in fact, photos from inside are almost eerie with the area around the altar a pile of blackened ruins tumbled from the roof, while most of the nave seems untouched. Most importantly – and almost miraculously – the famous, magnificent rose stained glass appears undamaged.

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Old photos


What I have done in the last few days: I fixed a faulty clothes dryer; I dealt with a creditor after having referred them to the ombudsman; I’ve begun my ‘spring’ cleaning in the house, as well as in the garage; I had a blood test and sorted out my medical appointments; and, naturally, I did some writing. On top of all that I started scanning some old, pre-digital photos into the system. All and all it has been a satisfying week so far.

Digitising the prints yesterday was an interesting experience. I started with pics taken in the early nineties. I didn’t scan every print – there are too many of them – just those I thought worthwhile or, as Marie Kondo would have it, gave me joy. There were a lot of memories, naturally, and familiar, much-loved faces now departed.

I remembered that time so well but there was a disjoint. It was all so real, yet these people were gone and that time lost to me. It was real, I remembered it, but it felt unreal also. I looked in my face, surprised to find myself so handsome. This is me, I thought, that was me. And now here I am today.

There was a sense of how time slips by, how it changes. I posted something to Facebook about how one day its sunshine, next day rain, and it seemed true. Looking back it feels innocent and even looking at how I was then – open, smiling, a fine figure of a man – I was surprised at the difference, though really I ought not to be. What you realise is that it was all ahead of you then and now it’s mostly all behind you.

I caught up with a friend in Prahran last night to catch a comedy show. I caught the train in sitting by the window quietly brooding and listening to old songs from about the time the photos were taken. I had a refreshed sense of self. You walk around oblivious most of the time, ignorant of anything but the moment and the self you represent at that time. But I had perspective yesterday. That was then, this is now. That was who I was, this is who I am. And what I had knowledge of was of all that has happened since.

I was in love when these photos were taken, though it had gone bad. Not that you can see that in my face. I look like a nice guy. But then there was a journey after that and most of it was fine and if not fine then it was interesting and me throughout, the one constant, but changing in ways I never understood.

I got off the train and stood waiting for a tram. This felt familiar, as did the locale. I’d lived a few hundred metres up one way, over Dandenong road, for a year. And the other way, in South Yarra, I’d lived in my own apartment for about seven years in total. I lived there when the photos were taken, and this street, Chapel Street, the shops and bars and restaurants, I’d paraded by them for years on end, stopping now and then, going in here and there, indulging in this and that, part of the streetscape myself.

Now I got on the tram. I was the same man near 30 years on, the same holiday beard now as I did then, hardened now, more cynical perhaps, less forgiving, certainly less open.

How things might have been different. What if I’d made up with the girl I loved and married her as we had spoken of? What then? But we didn’t, she went on to die of her own hand, and here I am today.

It sounds sort of bleak but I didn’t feel that. I felt robust and full. I’ve made my way, I have my style, this is who I am – this is who I became. But at the same time were highlighted things that I otherwise overlook as just being normal. I had looked at my handsome face and wondered why I wasn’t more aware of it then – but I always did okay, as the saying goes. And I have ever since, more or less, but in a certain way that felt stark to me standing on the tram.

I’ve always been sexually driven, so I thought, but I wondered how I was then. And I was then too, but I was also romantic and impossibly tender. I was a good man. Since I’ve been with I don’t know how many women, hundreds, and a part of me has been closed off and even if I have charmed often in that period or seductive and interesting I’ve been the man women would happily fuck but not necessarily settle down with (with exceptions). And I recalled a woman telling me how I intimidated her – not in any harmful or nasty way, just my surety, my lack of doubt, my invulnerability.

Later, after a few drinks and a show, I sat there and there was another woman I wanted to fuck, no different to any other time. It’s fine to feel virile but is there always a point to it? You could argue that sex is a nihilistic act. It’s a moment in time in which you bury yourself in another. Then it’s over. That seemed the point sometimes but, even so, the urge returns all by itself.

I didn’t fuck the woman last night. There was no chance of that, just a passing whim.

I still have a lot to offer. I’m still presentable. I’d like to be more how I was then, regardless of how formidable I’ve become since. I don’t know if that’s even possible or, if it is, how I do it.

Growing up with the war


About a month ago I picked up a heavily discounted book and, having paused for a moment, went on to buy it. The book was Comrades of War, by Sven Hassell, and if I paused it was because I read it many years ago and was unsure whether I wanted to read it again.

Ultimately, that was the reason I bought it, from a sense of nostalgic curiosity.

It seems to me that when I was growing up Sven Hassell was a best-selling writer in his genre. World War Two was much more recent, though long before my birth, and it still had some relevance in the everyday lives of people – many of whom had fought or lived through it. There were movies made of it and documentaries and I recall that my father would have delivered Parnell’s History of the Second World War, which I would read through for years to come and many times over. On top of that, I remember my grandfathers telling me stories of their war years. It was before my time but it was still there.

At school, there were other kids, war buffs, who knew one thing or another about arcane subjects such as the Spitfire and the Hurricane, or about the U-boats. I was into tanks more than anything else and at one time could tell you everything about the T-34 or the German Panther, and many others. I would search through bookshops and occasionally pool my pocket-money to buy a book about tanks or fighter planes and sometimes fiction. LPs or war books, that was my thing.

Somewhere along the line, I found myself inclined towards the German side of the story. When I was very young I had a customary hate of Germans until one day my grandmother took me aside to tell me not all Germans were bad. It was a relief as one of our family friends had married a German, Joe, who I looked up to.

That conversation opened something in my mind. It gave me permission to look dispassionately at the history. I’d always been fascinated, but nothing was more fascinating than the Nazis to a boy. I still remained interested in the basic hardware of war, and much of the best of it was German, and as I read more, as I became older, I found myself drawn into the story of the German war, fighting on multiple fronts, often against overwhelming odds, and frequently in the most difficult of conditions. My particular fascination was the war on the Eastern front, possibly the most ruthless and devastating war of all time.

I grew to have a grudging respect for the common German soldier. I had to admit the Wehrmacht was a formidable, resilient army, more capable – at least in the first half of the war – than any of the Allied armies. That they survived and often triumphed for so long was testament to their skill and courage, regardless of the ideology they fought in service of. That they were essentially doomed was an extra layer of mystique.

About this time there seemed many novels and memoirs of WW2. A lot of them were written from a German perspective – it seems I was not alone in my interest. Sven Hassell was perhaps pre-eminent of those authors and I snapped them up. Though a lot of it is gruesome and confronting it had an allure to a precocious young teenager. Most of the books written from a German viewpoint shared an attitude – cynical, fatalistic, and threaded through with dark humour. They fought to survive, and for their comrades, believing in the most part that they were on borrowed time. None ever owned up to being a Nazi idealist and most were bitter and disparaging towards Nazi ideology and leadership, and almost all felt disconnected from the society at home. Their battles, their travails, their suffering and the horrors they observed had cast them out from the world they had come from.

For a kid, this is heady stuff, and much more complex than the heroic tales of the ultimately victorious allies which read, in comparison, as boys own. There are pathos and tragedy in the tales from German authors, dark in every aspect regardless of wit or attitude.

Hassell was the perfect writer for a kid because his characters were so memorable. As an adult, they seem almost as caricatures, and I think I sensed that as a boy too. I doubted his books sometimes, unable to reconcile the different tales and changing characters, but I read them all voraciously. Comrades of War was the first of his books and the book I liked most because it felt the most real, but it’s a different experience reading it now from then.

I went on to read other German books. From my grandfather’s shelves, I plucked a few books of Willi Heinrich, most notably Cross of Iron. There was another book which became my favourite of this genre, The Torrents of War, by Igor Sentjurc. I still have a paperback of it, the pages yellowed, the spine broken. I think it’s quite an obscure book but it’s full-on, unrelenting, unforgiving, as so many of these books are.

When I was about 15 I discovered The Forgotten Soldier, probably the greatest of these memoirs. I read that again and again until it fell apart. I got given another as a gift some years ago I’ll look to read again soon. This is the classic book of the German soldier on the eastern front, vivid, tragic and poignant.

There were other books I read, many about the U-boat war, which I was similarly fascinated in. Iron Coffins, I remember was one, but there were others I’ve now forgotten, plus The BoatDas Boot – which is another classic I’ve read many times, moved on every occasion.

As an adult, I got into the stories and books of Heinrich Boll. They all capture the humanity of trying to survive another day in a world made bleak and terrible. They draw you out of your comfortable chair and place you in this foreign world which was yet so real once and so true.

This is a big segment of my life. This was something I was drawn too and have never forgotten since. The darkness of these tales may inform my writing, who knows?

I’ve just finished reading Comrades of War, forty years after reading it for the first time. Today it feels episodic, an attempt to tell the story of a whole war in a little over 200 pages – but then, I raced through the last hundred pages, and felt the same sadness I did when I read it first. You come at these things differently after all these years. It doesn’t mean the same. You read with different eyes, informed now by your own experience and exposed to a world unavailable to the naive kid I was then. It’s a different experience, but worthwhile.

The people you dream of


I had an interesting dream last night. In it were a couple of my friends from primary school, Lindsay and Lincoln.

L1 was always a lovely kid. He was sweet natured and generous. He was a good looking kid with a mop of Beatle-esque hair and a strong physical presence. I remember him as a gentle but robust soul who would do anything to help you out.

L2 was good looking too, blonde instead of brown-haired, but he was crazy as well. He was one of those willful, hard to control kids who marched to beat of his own private drum. I remember him once swallowing a goldfish, and another time a girl called Merryn complaining because he’d flopped out his old fella sitting there looking at her in class.

So in the dream – which is vague – we’re all somewhere down by the seaside when we’re dared to do something we’re not supposed to. There’s a bunch of us, not just L1 and L2, but other kids too and we’re all about 8-9. I seem to be taking the lead and the mission we’re on feels like an adventure, like something we’re supposed to do even if it’s not allowed, as if we need to do this as an expression of the individuals we’re becoming, like one of those things you do in all defiance of instruction because it feels the right thing to do.

So we progress. We travel along the coastline, which is beautiful, to a point where we’ve been expressly forbidden, though we’re still short of our destination. One of the boys is quivering. “My daddy told me not to come here,” he says. But then there’s a beckoning voice, a woman’s voice, alluring at any age, but particularly to an adventurous eight year old determined to prove himself. She’s teasing, recognising our doubts and our fears, and gently playing on them like a siren, “don’t you want too…”, daring us to overcome our reservations. And, at my insistence, we do.

That’s pretty much the dream, but throughout it felt a positive dream, like a movie in a way, like something we’re supposed to do that will make a big difference to the people we become. This is our coming of age moment, and I sense it. And for some reason, out of all the people I went to school with, L1 and L2 are there with me.

Out of curiosity I googled them this morning. I haven’t seen L1 since I was about 20. He was still a lovely kid then, still good looking, though he’d levelled out at about 5’8”, but built square with huge shoulders. I wasn’t sure searching for him, but I found someone with the same name who looks little like the L1 I knew but is in the same area we grew up in. This one is a priest too, or a minister, and though that may seem unusual I remember had become spiritual and was heavily involved in the church. He’d been nothing like that at 10. On the balance of probability, I think it’s probably him – there’s only a head-shot to go by, and the pic I saw was of an ascetic-looking man with close shaved hair. And – looking at the pic again – I realise he’s the spitting image of his dad.

I haven’t seen L2 since we were about 12. Not surprisingly he left school under a shadow. A lot can happen in that time. He was taller than most then, but there’s a lot of growing for all of us after that age, and it’s different for everyone. This L2 I found is a notable architect these days and is about the right age – and the only person I found with his name in Melbourne. He looks roughly like the L2 I knew, older, more lived in. I always figured that part of his problem was he was smarter – more aware – than most, and it’s no surprise if he has in fact made something decent of his life.

I hope so for both of them. Strange to remember them now. Sort of nice though, too.

Treasures of memory


When I was a kid, still in primary school, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and taken out of school for a lengthy time – my memory tells me three months, though that seems a lot. My left lung collapsed and my mu would give me daily physio, and I was on antibiotics. I’ve had chest problems ever since, but that’s where it started.

That was in grade 6. I was about 10 years old with freckles and floppy, chestnut coloured hair. I remember once we thought I might be cured and I was allowed to go back to school, only to discover that I was still crook and should be home. Someone must have called the school to take me out of it, but we were on the verge of a small excursion to Eltham Lower Park where we were to try orienteering. I was given the choice: go home, or go with the PE teacher and help him set it up.

I think there was probably a part of me that refused to chicken out and go home at the first invitation, so I went with the PE teacher. I had a small, childish idolisation of the PE teacher, who represented much that a young boy would aspire to. As you would expect, he was tall and fit and exuded good health. He was good-looking too and had an easy, friendly nature. What I remember from that day was his kindness. I think he was sympathetic to me and wanted to make sure I had a good time. I wasn’t just some token tag-along. It was his decision to ask me in the first place and he made sure I was included in the fun of the day.

I remember it as a strangely intimate experience the two of us going through the park setting up points for the activities to come, him explaining things to me and asking me to help. At other times there was a companionable silence. I’m still grateful to him today for his good heart. I spent another month at home after that.

I remember that before I got sick that every day in class we would listen to an audiobook. There was a book we started which really captured me, but I never heard the end of it because I was taken out of school halfway through it.

It’s a funny thing, for years I’ve searched for that book, out of curiosity more than anything else, and perhaps from a sense of completeness. I didn’t know the name of the book or who wrote it or even how it ended, and for years I came up empty-handed.

This morning I happened by chance upon a book we read at school which had long lingered in my memory, The Owl Service, by Alan Garner. It’s quite a famous book and a great book for children. It made me remember the other book, and so once more I searched for the book I had never finished.

It was a children’s book set in the Swiss Alps. I remembered there was a character I quite identified with for some reason and was sympathetic towards. He was the unpopular kid who couldn’t help himself from being cruel, but he had a sensitive heart. I think that’s what drew me to him, not that I was anything like him except I was sensitive too, and perhaps deeper than I believed.

Even as the young boy I was capable of understanding that this kid was more complex than he first seemed. I could see his pain and how it made him act. He regretted his actions and was burdened by the unfriendly opinions of others that – no matter what he did – he couldn’t change. He retreated into himself, discovered a talent for wood carving, and what promised was a story of reconciliation and redemption – but I left before that played out.

Everyone’s a sucker for a good redemption tale, but me more than most for reasons I don’t understand. It’s the arc of my own fiction, though it’s more complex than that.

Long story short, I found it today. To the usual search terms, I added ‘tragedy’ and there it was: Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St John.

As it turns out this is quite a famous book too, and the character I looked to was Lucien. I think I knew even as a boy that he would end up with the girl – Annette – if he did it right. Being fiction, you reckoned he would.

I now know how it ends and it’s roughly how I would have predicted, though even more rich and sentimental than I might have thought – perfect for a child’s imagination.

I’m very glad to have re-discovered this and am tempted to read it myself from the first word to last, even if it is a children’s book (as I might also The Owl Service).

Memories link and this connects a loop if not completely closing it. How nice it is to recall days of such innocence and love, simple and good. You need that sometimes.

Of consequence


For months, maybe over a year, we’ve been trying to organise a golf weekend away. It’s bloody hard work, either because so and so is busy on this date, or, more often, because no-one will make a call or commit to a decision. I’m the decisive one, by nature and inclination, but then I’m also the one without a family commitment, so it’s a lot easier for me.

The other two don’t make it any easier. One is deferential to keep the peace, and other is a procrastinator – both self-declared. (I’m a controller). It makes for a noxious, dysfunctional process, and some acrimony occasionally, but led finally to a round of golf last Saturday at Safety Beach.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t live up to the occasion, but at least was an improvement on Friday when the temperature didn’t get above 15 and it rained all day. Saturday was maybe a degree warmer, and though pretty bleak, the showers were light and intermittent.

Golf was fun. We had a fourth and played Ambrose. For the first dozen holes, I felt like a robot needing a good oil. I was stiff and inflexible. It had been so long that some of the science had gone out of my game, and it took until about the 14th hole to begin visualising my play. I improved a lot on the back nine, but the 19th hole came at the right time.

We stayed in Capel Sound, which is really just a dressed up name for Rosebud. We went to dinner in Dromana and had a few drinks and JV was laying on his bead snoring by 9.30. Lights out for all of us by ten.

Yesterday we went to breakfast at the place I used to frequent during my banishment to Rosebud. We went to Arthurs Seat then, went for a bushwalk, before going down and up in the new cable car. To Red Hill, we went where we checked out a cheesery before ending up at Red Hill Brewery where we had a few beers and a fresh barbecued beef brisket roll, before heading home. It was lots of fun.

In between all this, other things were happening for me. Driving into Rosebud after the golf I recalled all the many years when I was a kid when we would head down the peninsula for a couple of weeks of summer holiday. I’ve been down many times since and not had the same strong sense of nostalgia as I did Saturday. It seemed strange to me that my memories were not of my last time there – my banishment – but of a time long before that. It was almost as if that experience had reset my memories. What I felt so profoundly was that it was so long ago, but felt so vivid. How can that be?

Soon enough though my memories reverted to that period a few years back when I ended up in Rosebud because I had no other place to go. The prevailing feeling was of dread. I endured it when I was there, you have no other option, but it was a stark existence. I stayed in a converted garage with a bathroom attached. Most mornings I would walk Rigby and end up at the same café on Saturday where I would have a coffee and sometimes a meal and a chat with the waitress. After that – nothing. There was nothing to do, no friends to see, no real life to lead. The one bonus from it is that it forced me to begin writing.

I felt it though. I could feel it in my stomach as we drove by. There was an abiding sense of loss. From where I sat I wondered how I had endured such a bleak life for so long. It seemed so empty and negative, so fucking inconsequential. And that’s what I felt looking back, that I lived a life of no consequence and was, by extension, a person of no consequence. How awful it felt remembering that. I gazed out at the passing scenery and wondered – for all the changes since – how much more consequential has my life become?

It wasn’t a negative reflection, simply an objective assessment. What makes a life consequential? It’s the things you do and the relationships you have, I think. As far as I’m concerned the only thing of consequence I’m doing is my writing, and even so the jury is out on that. As for meaningful relationships, there are few.

It was as if by jarring reflection I was forced to consider these values. As I said, it wasn’t judgemental. It was the sort of objective assessment we rarely undertake. When was the last time you thought about your consequence? Odds are you’re a long way ahead of me.

So I had a lot of fun but at the back of my mind was this, and lead to nothing that was new. I may ask new questions, but the answers are generally the same. That basically means situation normal, more work to do.

The things that come back to you


It was a funny night last night. Rigby was unwell and throwing up, it stormed for a while outside, and later when I switched off the light I couldn’t get to sleep for ages.

After a month or two of sleeping very well, the last few nights have been ordinary. Last night I felt unsettled and restless. I felt it in my stomach as if there was something unwelcome I should be aware of. It teased at me. Naturally, it leads one into reflection.

What thoughts it leads too is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. How does one thing get linked to another? Why does a general sense or feeling call up something seemingly totally unrelated? Is it random? Or is there some true sense to it?

Life has random elements, but I’m generally inclined there is some meaning to it, even if obscure. In this case, I suspect it’s not the details of the thing that matter, it’s the feeling they engender. What is recalled is not the facts, but the emotion. Today’s emotion resonates with an emotion in the past, and what follows are the thoughts associated with it. So I reckon.

What I remembered was a seminal moment in my life many years ago.

I’d been in love with Berni and for about 3 years we’d been on and off. She had wonderful qualities, a mighty heart, a generous spirit – but she also struggled often. A shocking episode abroad with a man had left her with trust issues, and poor self-esteem. At its best, our relationship was vibrant and happy. She had a great sense of humour and took great pride in giving me a rollicking hard time. I thought we would marry, and in fact, I recall one day sitting down with her to map it out. But then, for seemingly no reason it would become hard. It was the cycle of the moon, every four or five weeks she would plunge into despair and I would hang on for dear life. It was very hard and I used a lot of my energy trying to reassure her and make her feel better about herself and about me. That makes me sound noble, but on reflection, I doubt I was as good as that. At times I was exasperated, even angry, sometimes I felt despair. I loved her though and though we must have broken up ten times over the years we made up nine of them.

This story is about the last time when we failed to. I remember it was like yesterday. It makes me so sad and the thought recurs to me all the time – what if things were different? What if I’d done this instead of that? We might have married, who knows, but more importantly she might be alive today.

I always felt as if I was working on Berni. Over time I felt as if her default mood had improved to the extent that she could hope to be properly happy. I remember the day she told me she trusted me. That was such a big moment. I felt as if most of the hard work had been done and we were happier than we’d ever been.

But then I heard about a skiing trip she was going on the next weekend. I had no problem with that except that she hadn’t told me – I heard it from someone else. I felt a little put out and wondered if I was justified. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it but it sat in my stomach like an undigested meal. In hindsight, I can see it was another attempt by her to assert her independence, but I don’t know if I recognised that then.

I didn’t do anything at first, but coinciding with this she had begun to withdraw again. I was so sick of it, especially now when I felt as if we might be past it. I understood – she couldn’t be hurt if she didn’t get involved, but I was a part of that and she – she had to get beyond it if she ever hoped to be happy.

It was a Wednesday night in the middle of winter that I got in the car to drive to her place. I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if I was right. I wanted to talk to her about what was going on but feared that might be the worst thing to do. I was unsure, but the whole thing was taken out of my hands.

I parked outside her home and sat there for 5-10 minutes just debating the pros and cons. 50/50 I would just drive away. Instead, I got out of the car and started walking up a street. I got to the end and turned and was halfway back when a car drove up the street and stopped beside me. Two men got out. What are you doing? They asked. I was salty even back then and said who wants to know. They flipped their police badges at me and said they had someone report a suspicious character sitting in his car and come to investigate. They asked to see my ID and what I was doing there. I explained my girlfriend lived just there and that we’d had an argument. Fine, they said, get in the car – we need to check the story with her.

That’s the last thing in the world I wanted but there’s no arguing with a couple of cops. I got in the car, we drove down the street, and we knocked on the door. “Do you know this man?” they asked when she opened the door. She confirmed she did. The first words out of her mouth after they had gone was to ask – quite reasonably – “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

That pissed me off. I’d done nothing wrong and I’d just been sitting in the back of a cop car. I felt tainted. We argued, to and fro, and I stormed out, that’s it, all over.

And it was. We saw each other occasionally after, and when I cooled down I knew I still loved her – but every time it looked like we might reunite something would happen.

This changed me. I was distraught. I’d been an exuberant personality beforehand, now I became guarded. I had suffered so deeply that I knew I couldn’t face that again so I made myself strong by building a wall. It’s crumbled a bit in recent years, but the remnants remain.

By itself, this is a sad story but there’s a tragic kicker.

We went our separate ways and didn’t see each other. My life went on, I had other flings without giving myself to anyone, I travelled and lived. I thought of her sometimes hoping that she had found the happiness that had so eluded her. I loved her still, loved her soul, she was someone I had cherished. I wanted her to be good.

One day I’m speaking to a friend on the phone and he asks out of the blue, whatever happened to Berni? I was sitting at my desk and on impulse typed her name into google. To my great surprise, a result came up – a funeral notice.

I was shocked. Over the next week, I did all I could to discover what had happened. Eventually, I got onto someone connected to the cemetery. He told me much as I had suspected – that she had taken her own life.

I think something broke in me then. I felt so miserably sad for her. Such a tragic life. And I thought – if only it had been different. If only we hadn’t broken up. If only the nosy parker hadn’t dobbed me and the police take me to her door. If only I’d been more reasonable. If only I’d gone to her the next day and told I was sorry. There were hundreds, thousands of if onlys. I felt responsible, at least in part.

I visited her grave after that. I had too. I drove to the country and spent the night in the town she grew up in and stood by her grave. I’ve never forgotten her. Ever since I’ve felt as if I should make my life worthy of her too – as if I had to live for her as well as me. It’s one of the things that has made me endure and be brave – I could fail for myself, but I couldn’t allow myself to fail for her.

It’s an awful story and a tragic life. It was in me last night. Writing it today I feel it deep. I wish I hadn’t started now – the sadness abides. It’s a true thing though and perhaps more than anything else this has made me into the man I am today. I wonder if that’s why it was in my mind last night – and what it means.