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. (Almost as many times as I've googled my own name to see if some sneaky publisher has released my novel without telling me... Wait. Did I just say that out loud?) 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 where philosophical differences and geography intervened, sending us to different schools in different suburbs across the city. Even then, for a while, we stuck it out.
And then time and age and adolescent uncertainty kicked in and suddenly the slow responses when I called, or the less frequent visits on weekends seemed to mean something had changed, or shifted anyway. Things we took for granted had to be felt out, considered, measured with care. The conversations a little forced, or stiff anyway. 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.
The thing is, I adored her like only a young girl can. I think she felt the same 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, colours and all, and their outfits were imprinted on our memory way better than the 12 times' tables ever would be. We knew their wives' names, their dogs' names... We could sing the words backwards, literally, like some dwarf-loving David Lynch movie. We studied the lyrics for hidden meanings, transcribed them onto the page, moving them around, putting them back where they belonged. We belted out their songs at the top of our lungs, making up dances that would make Seinfeld's Elaine clap out loud. She called me "Nickski". I called her "Jubski". We made up our own language, quoting chunks from it in the schoolground with the arrogant fluency of Kevin Rudd addressing the Chinese parliament.
We rode our bikes down the newly developing Glen Waverley streets, scouting out hiding places amongst the scaffolding and house frames, wrote our names on the bitumen with chunks of chalky clay. We stalked the gorgeous curly-haired Year 8 boy we were crushing on with frightening intensity. She'd report the next day on new sightings after I'd gone home. While I'd wish we could live in the same house so I didn't have to miss out on these moments which I was certain were meant to be ours to share. Her dog came when I called him, her little brother hassled me like an annoying little brother should. Her mother baked my favourite dessert when she knew I was coming, 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. Week after week. Year after year.
And then it stopped. I can't say when exactly, and I don't know why. But it did. And I missed her. I like to hope she missed me too. Somewhere though I always thought we'd run into each other again. We still lived in the same suburb, despite the school change, and by rights, we should have seen each other all the time. We could have if we wanted to. Found a way to catch up, maintaining this friendship somehow, by correspondence, or on big occasions. We could have done that. Except we didn't. And then it ended, and suddenly my everything became my history, and no longer the centre of my life. Not part of my life at all.
So it's a strange thing that last night was the first time I 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 - distinguishing her from the bland cream brick veneer of our childhood Glen Waverley - was something amazing.
And something shocking, too.
It didn't take long - a quick search 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.
It was the only mention I could find, the only reference with all three of her names. The only online evidence she ever lived 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 did not 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 trying so hard not to write.
How is it possible that someone who is so intrinsic to your life, to how you breathe, think and feel, can pass through so easily into her own life, and then the afterlife, without even the tiniest of ripples in your own?
How is it possible my one-time best friend died and I didn't even realise?
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 at all. 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 friend like I had, even if just for a little while.
JWM - Rest in Peace.