I got the news today that a friend who I haven’t seen in years committed suicide two days ago. He was 50 years old – the same age as me, and even though we hadn’t spoken for some time, his death saddened me more than I thought it would have.
“Tuffy” and I met through a mutual friend and then we started dating two girls who were friends, so we spent a few months in each others company whilst trying to impress the young ladies. Even though both “romances” broke up within a matter of months, Tuffy and I still knocked around together for a couple of years after that, gradually drifting apart through work and the resultant moves to other towns etc. His death has made me realise just how many people we lose in our lives. Since the age of 15, I’ve lost friends through death and illness. Now I’m not feeling sorry for myself because death is a part of life, but when you’re a young person - friends are forever and mateship is eternal.
Peter & Ricky were brothers who were 15 & 16 respectively when they died in a car crash in 1977. Ricky was driving his fathers car without a license (his dad was at work and didn’t know this). The local cops saw the boys in the car and knew that Ricky shouldn’t be driving so gave chase. Ricky panicked and a chase ensued. Ricky drove into a telegraph pole at a high rate of knots. He died instantly and his brother Peter – who was a great mate – died at the scene. To this day my mother thanks God that I was out of town when that happened, as she is certain I would have been with them. Who knows – probably would have. Another guy who was out of town at the time of that accident was my neighbour Con – who’d been our neighbour all my life & was also a great mate who spent alot of time with us all. At Peter & Rickys funeral, Con who was the same age as us, told me that his mother had said the same thing to him. Two years later, he rolled his car and died. So that’s three kids I had known most of my life who had theirs snuffed out before they turned 19.
After leaving Bilo, I went to a new school for a year (1977) where I met Len. He was the first bloke at the school to approach me and introduce himself. Ordinarily I would think that the person to do that is the most needy. It turned out that he was just a fucking great person who had a streak of kindness in him a mile wide and he thought that someone should make the move to helping me settle in. I always remember the time Len fell in love with some girl and wrote the goddamn worse poem to her (we were 16 at the time). After I fell about laughing at it, he took it away to “work on it some more”. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day. Len became a cop and we remained mates for 20 years. He was accidently shot during a drug raid when he was 36 years old. We’d lost contact for a couple of years but then got back in touch and had met up several times
In 1978 I met John through work (he was one of the blokes who introduced me to Tuffy). John and I had a shared fondness for beer and Monty Python. He moved from Brisbane for a couple of years and when he returned, he and I shared a house with a couple of others. At the age of 23, two weeks after his engagement party, John’s motorcycle hit a tree, breaking his neck and killing him. To my shame I never saw his family again after his funeral because I just didn’t know what to say to them.
Which brings me to Mick. He was the brother I never had. Our parents were friends and we used to sleep in the same cot when they visited each other – that’s how far back we went. I can never remember a time not knowing Mick. Growing up we shared just about everything together – weekends, sleepovers, fights & feuds… I really don’t think there was anything I did before the age of 16 that he wasn’t involved in. From learning to swim, holidays, sneaking into the drive in, to finding his brother in laws porn stash, we did the lot. I would honestly say that Peter was the best friend, but Mick was my brother. One time, Mick’s wife noted that we would sit in a room and not talk to each other, but she reckoned we “always seemed attuned to what the other was thinking”. I agree - I didn’t need to speak to Mick all the time. At my mother’s 60th birthday party Mick started coughing and brought up some blood. My dad told him to get to a doctor – he did – lung cancer. Mick died before his 38th birthday and left behind a beautiful wife and three kids. That was over 12 years ago and I still cry when I visit his grave, something I don’t do for Peter or my own dad.
I just felt the need to write a few lines about the friends I knew who had made an impact upon my life and then left. On my 50th birthday one of my sisters said “When you die Steve, if you make it to heaven, there’s going to be a hell of a welcome from the boys who went before you”. I’d like to think so.