A year ago, at the end of a very long and challenging term at Drama School, I found out my oldest friend was seriously ill. I was speaking to my mum on the phone, making plans to go to Wales and see her over my 3 week break. During which she told me that she thought, but wasn’t sure, that my friend, Teresa, was in hospital. She’d heard via someone but couldn’t be completely sure as some of the details didn’t match, the girl she’d heard about had two kids (my mum unaware that 6 months ago Teresa had given birth to a baby boy). I knew. I also knew that she’d been ill just after having him. In fact, she’d found out before having him but had to wait until after giving birth before she could start her treatment. My mind raced back to a message she’d sent me months ago, she’d played it down, she’d put a positive spin on it. Why didn’t I read between the lines? Why didn’t I see? I know myself that that in these situations we try and sound upbeat, we talk about treatments and cures, and outcomes. When in receipt of bad news regarding our health, we become carers, we try not to worry our friends and family. We try and manage things. I know this. I’ve done it. So many times. Why did I not see it then?
Teresa and I had been friends since Primary School. We’d lived on the same street, on the same estate. We’d been boyfriend and girlfriend, it was short lived, we were 10! But she was the first person I ever kissed. In High School we were in the same Form, 1P, with our form tutor, Mr Simon Jones. We were in school plays together, Our Day Out and Grease. We remained friends long after we both left school, after I moved to London, Sydney, Manchester. It was a rare visit back to Wales that didn’t include us two catching up. Every Christmas without fail we would meet up, have a drink or a meal or both, and put our worlds to right; laugh over the bad decisions we’d made in the last twelve months, plan the things we were going to do in the next twelve and ponder and hypothesise as to the reasons we hadn’t done the things we said we would last christmas. It was a ritual, it was therapy, it was joyous nonsense, and fuck I miss it!
I got off the phone to my mother and quickly sent a Facebook message to another friend from High School, Teresa’s closest friend, Kate, who I knew would be able to tell me what was happening. She quickly confirmed my worst thoughts, that it was my beautiful friend lying in intensive care, unconscious and fighting for her life. It hit me like a bus. The brutality of life’s randomness. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in a master plan and a master planner, and if I’m wrong, and he does exist, then he’s a bastard master planner!
She was happy; after picking a few ‘wrong uns’ she’d found happiness with her husband, Steve. After trying for a while, she’d had a beautiful daughter who brought her so much love and joy, and then out of the blue, she’d fallen pregnant again and just given birth to a gorgeous baby boy. Why now? Why her? Why?
By the time I got to Wales a few days later, her condition had worsened, friends were going to the hospital in part to say their ‘goodbyes’. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to go. The last time I’d seen her, she was pregnant and looking forward to being a new mum again, I wasn’t prepared to see her now, lying linked up with tubes and wires to machines that were providing her with life, something only months earlier she’d had in abundance. Call me a coward, call me weak, but that was a reality I was not ready to face. A few days later, she lost her fight. She died.
A year later, and it still hits me like a bus. You forget, and then something happens, and then you remember again. I just spent this Easter in Wales, and it was… actually I don’t know what it was. Or maybe, in fact, it wasn’t… it wasn’t the same, and that’s the thing about death, things are never the same. It changes things, it changes us.
At the time, I thought, why wasn’t it me. I’m not with someone, I’m perpetually single, I have no children. I haven’t found the happiness she had. It should’ve been me. Why wasn’t it me? That would’ve made more sense, been less cruel, left behind a lot less devastation and heartache.
A year on, I see that was distorted thinking; a potentially lethal cocktail of grief, depression and low-self esteem. It wasn’t me. I am one of the ones left behind, dealing with the randomness of life’s terrible events. And I am determined to make it count. Teresa was one of my biggest supporters, always encouraging me to go back to Drama School and complete my training, to continue writing, to plough on and struggle through the recurring bouts of depression. She was always there for me.
It was her voice telling me to carry on, saying “Come on, Chic!”, (she always spelt Chick that way in her texts!). It was her voice that got me back to Manchester after the funeral, and kept me turning up to school and going to dreadful rehearsals for the following 6 weeks; and her who helped me keep my mouth shut as I sat through several ill-timed faculty meetings about my ‘progress’ and ‘commitment levels’ on the course. I will not give up. I will be an actor and I will be a writer, and my success will not be measured in money, or fame but in the very act of trying, doing and carrying on; because it wasn’t me and I am the ‘lucky’ one.
Here’s the poem I wrote for her at the time last year. It was all I knew what do… it was all I had.
To my beautiful, wonderful, and oldest friend; Teresa King. Who found true happiness being Teresa Smyth, mother and wife to her gorgeous family. I miss you every day, and always will.
Seasons Pass, but Summers Fall
I sit, I stare, I weep, I cry,
The beauty of your years gone by.
One painful question; a simple ‘why?’
I write you this, a sweet ‘goodbye’.
Spring never came, our winter fell,
Despite dark clouds, you’re a sunny spell;
The longed for summer never dawned,
A hopeful season; a future mourned.
My memories will be your spring,
I’ll hear you laugh, I’ll hear you sing.
Now autumn’s here, what love you bring,
Our golden forest where trees are king.
The leaves have fallen, the year must end,
We won’t forget our dearest friend.
Your love will fall like pure white snow,
But never melt; we won’t let go.
As seasons pass, it’s hard to part;
I love you ‘Chick’ with all my heart!