For the past five years I’ve joked about “my stalker” – the passionate fan who began following me when he was fourteen, telling me that Just In Case changed his life.
You, in other words.
Your early emails talked about a girlfriend (who never really existed) and were breezy and cheerful, but the truth soon began to emerge.
You were a self-harmer. You attempted suicide on numerous occasions. You were bullied at school. You lived with domestic violence. You were so ugly you could barely leave the house (a lie – you were rather beautiful). You despised himself. And had a secret so terrible, you could never tell anyone.
We talked a little about your secret. We talked a little about everything. I tend not to get too involved with people who email me; there aren’t enough hours in the day, for one thing, and for another, they usually disappear after a brief exchange.
But you didn’t disappear. And there was something about you.
The main thing about you was your poetry. You know perfectly well that I’m a hard person to please. I don’t like much of what I read or what I write or what’s on the bestseller list. Which isn’t to say I don’t like anything. But given a choice, I prefer my theatre, movies, books, poems, etc. to be life-changing. My husband and daughter roll their eyes and make chattering movements with their hands when I come back from any event – nearly always saying, “well, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t life-changing.”
Most things aren’t.
Except that your poetry was.
Over the five years that we wrote to each other, I lectured you a lot. I told you that being gay wasn’t the worst thing in the world. That it wasn’t even a bad thing, once you moved away from your family and your conservative community and realized that an awful lot of the really interesting people in the arts are just like you.
I blathered on about adolescence, how it’s a terrible time for lots of people, but that life gets better. I told you to keep writing, and to stop signing your letters to me with, “I’m going off to lie in a pink bath.” Because it pissed me off and made me feel manipulated.
I tried to keep the conversations more or less to the subject of your writing (and failed). In e-mails and in poems, you had a voice like no one I’d ever heard – savage and angry and tender, intelligent and playful. You had a rare gift.
And I told you to hang on, hang on, hang on. That it didn’t matter that you failed all your English exams. It was because (gasp! imagine!) the people who taught you weren’t themselves clever enough to see how special you were. That it didn’t matter that you weren’t going to university. That what mattered was you. Your gift. Your potential to take the world by storm, once you emerged from the troubled years and began to settle down in your own skin.
“You’ll find it all,” I told you, “If you can only hang on. Love, work, sex, professional recognition, peace. But you’ve got to keep writing and you’ve got to hang on.”
You also told me about the rest of your life. About your (mainly imaginary) sex life, your on-line community of friends, what you were reading. About feeling different and depressed and isolated and sometimes – frequently – feeling as if you didn’t want to go on.
You didn’t hang on. You killed yourself on Friday.
I feel as if I failed you. That life failed you. And the only thing that mitigates the sorrow is that now you no longer have to do battle with the darkness.
You jumped off the highest cliff in England. And your last poem has kept me awake every night since. It haunts me. You haunt me.
I sit with sets
of eleven digits
ditched in my coat
pocket; wrapped in
plastic for whichever
recovery crew decide
to drag me back (over
the edge). Gut; tensed.
Received a text then; saying
that they are on their way but
not detailing when. Lunch; to be
scoffed. Chekhov’s Gun – cocked
as I fall, disgraced; shattering my
face beyond repair. Apollo, I cannot
wait to meet you there. Bring Icarus.
Jake, I miss you. I wish to god you had managed to hang on.
p.s. To anyone reading this, please do what you have to do to stay alive. Writers spend a lot of time in the dark places of the mind and a good many of us are prone to depression even before we start. So find someone smart to talk to. Take the pills. Ask for help. Accept it. Just don’t jump…please. Having something to say is enough reason to stay alive.