I think about her all the time, my dead friend. She accompanies my days. I've been lucky: I haven't had to lose many people to wherever it is they go; not close people, not old friends like Deb. I'm told that it starts from around now. Obviously, I suppose, as I tread lightly towards my half century, others will begin to disappear.
But the line is very thin, isn't it, between the two places, between here and there? I think so. And all to be truly found out afterwards, after our passing. 'Passing' - what's that about? What an odd phrase. 'Passed away'. Away where? when Deb is sometimes so palpable I can see her, hear her crescendo laugh. It is wonderful to me, and an affirmation of life, that a person's impact crystallizes and strengthens in death. No, this may be personal to me - I fully acknowledge - but something has happened to me in losing my old friend. Something powerful and good.
For starters, I have held the life she found so sharp-edged that she had to drink to numb its edges - I have observed myself holding that life to me like a child who has gone momentarily missing and then reappears alive and well, wondering what all the fuss was about. I find I have so much yet to do, and Deb's dying has reminded me. The irony that the difference between our attitudes has turned out to be so monochrome in contrast gives me a wry laugh now and again. But thank God I actually want to be here, I have found myself muttering in a myriad of recent situations of varying difficulty, Thank God I want to be alive. Deb's story is at its saddest in that image of the mental health team seeking permission to break down her door, enter with the police, and finding her there, after who knows how many days, alone.
Wanting to be alive, versus not. There's not much hope of improvement, is there, if this most basic premise can't be met. It hurts my heart that Deb, of all of us the girl with perhaps the most energy in those early years, grew to want to die more than she wanted to live. They didn't mince words, the last time she came out of hospital. She knew that if she carried on drinking she would die. She told me that the urbane consultant, the one who recognised how intelligent she was and told her things straight, had told her so.
So, there has been a change in me. It is a positive happening; an opening; a relaxation; an acceptance of the highest order. It is causing me to reassess and re-group, and I am not the only one: the circle of friends so close in those crucial teenage years, to which Deb most centrally belonged, is back in touch again. The air waves are humming with emails, texts, phone calls and new laughter. It is as if we have sloughed off our previous, too-busy, too-preoccupied selves, paused to wonder at what we all lost in losing each other, and have each in our separate ways (and in some cases separate countries) emerged ready to meet each other again, on equal ground. A dinner in Deb's honour is planned.
Anna-mouse has just stirred: her usual, midnight rising to the surface.
Muuummmy! she calls out impatiently. What are you doing?
I slip from where I type across the landing to her room. She is already heavy with sleep again.
I'm writing, Anna-m, I whisper as I tuck her in.
Something else that happened when Deb died.