real life

"My friend died and I didn't know"


A strange thing happened to me last night and I’m not sure what to do about it. I googled an old friend’s name.

Googling a face from the past isn’t the strange thing — I’ve done this more times than I’d like to admit. The strange thing is that I hadn’t googled this particular friend before. I don’t know why. She was my absolutely best of best friends in primary school. We even managed to maintain that friendship throughout Year 7 after being sent to different schools. Even then, for a while, we stuck it out. And then time and age and adolescent uncertainty kicked in. Things we took for granted had to be felt out, considered, measured with care. The conversations became a little forced. We saw each other more sporadically, less freely, and then that dropped off too. I don’t know if it petered out or simply ceased overnight, but one day I just didn’t see her anymore. For a while after that I thought about her a lot. And then I didn’t. Life moved on. New friends came and went. We grew up, separately. Irreversibly.

So it’s a strange thing that last night was the first time I’d ever tried to google her. Her name is unique and unforgettable. There are not two of them, of that I’m sure. So to finally see her name online, all three bits, hyphenated like always was something amazing. Something shocking, too.

A few key strokes and a click, and suddenly I was seeing her name in bold font. Large lettering, as clear as the words I write now. Front and centre, featured on a beautifully designed website that reminded me of a scrapbook, or a wedding album. It wasn’t either of those things. It was a remembrance page. Her unique, triple-barrelled name was scrawled on a website dedicated to the dead.

Slowly, as I scanned the pages, the tributes, the farewell messages, I began to accept that she had passed away. My best friend in the whole wide world that was my childhood died three years ago, and I didn’t even know it. At the time, my heart didn’t skip a beat. I didn’t feel the loss or sense her absence. Nothing moved or ended. No moment of realisation or awareness. I didn’t know, or notice, or see. I still wouldn’t know if I hadn’t been bored and avoiding work.

How is that possible? That someone who is so intrinsic to your life, to how you breathe, think and feel, can pass through her own life, and then the afterlife, without even the tiniest of ripples in your own?

How is it possible that my one-time best friend died and I didn’t even notice?

The thing is, I adored her like only a young girl can. I think she felt the same way about me, too. No one has ever made me laugh like she did. Nor loved the same things with the same passion and intensity. At the time it was KISS. We had every record, knew all the lyrics. We could draw each of the members’ make-up in perfect imitation of the real thing, and their outfits were imprinted on our memory way better than the times’ tables ever would be. We could sing the words backwards, literally, like some dwarf-loving David Lynch movie. We belted out their songs at the top of our lungs, making up dances that would make Seinfeld’s Elaine clap out loud. We stalked the gorgeous curly-haired Year 8 boy we were crushing on with frightening intensity. Her dog came when I called him, her little brother hassled me like an annoying little brother should. Her mother baked my favourite dessert on special occasions, and her dad would test his advertising pitches on us both. They included me in their lives as though I had as much right to be there as anyone with the same last name, day after day, year after year. She called me “Nickski”. I called her “Jubski”.


And then it stopped. I can’t say when exactly, and I don’t know why. But it did. And I missed her. Somewhere though I always thought we’d run into each other again. We still lived in the same suburb, despite the school change. We should have seen each other all the time. We could have if we wanted to. Except we didn’t. And suddenly my everything became my history, and no longer the centre of my life. Not part of my life at all.

And now it’s too late.

I’ve spent much of today in a daze, not sure what to do with this information. Whether I have a right to do anything. I forget about it every now and then — just like I’d forgotten about her in those busy periods of my life when there was too much else for my mind to hold on to — and then it hits me like a wall. Hard and impenetrable. Impossible and unforgiving.

I’d like to tell her family I still miss her. I’d like to tell them she was amazing and special and unforgettable. I’d like to say all of this and more. Somehow though I know this won’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. It’s not my place. Not my right. She isn’t mine to grieve — I gave that privilege up a long time ago.

So now I have to find a place to keep her, a place of respect and love, alongside the other things I’ve lost that perhaps were never really mine to have anyway. Alongside my promise to sometimes, every now and then, just remember her. And to hope that my daughters find a best friend like I had, even if just for a little while.

Nicole Hayes is a writer, teacher and editor from Melbourne. She blogs at Melbourne Musing and has been known to tweet here.

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