Sunday, 10 May 2015

Letter to a Friend

You've been constantly on my mind for the last couple of weeks. By coincidence the protagonist of the book I'm editing has your name, so as my thoughts are with you, I see your name repeated again and again each day. I hadn't even made the connection until today - it wasn't a conscious decision, in 2011, to name her for you (I tend to think the names of characters find you, not the other way around). I don't base my fictional characters on real people, but she is an art historian, like us, and I wanted her to have a quiet grace and beauty about her, and wisdom - the meaning of the name  you share.

It's over twenty years since we met at the Courtauld Institute. How did that happen? How did the years roll by? I was thinking the other night of how one winter evening in Professor Green's study on the top floor of Somerset House it was your turn to read your paper to the group. There was what, only 25 or 30 of us in the year, and perhaps six or seven of us Modernists gathered around the old wooden table in his lamplit study, with its floor to ceiling bookcases - Picasso, Braque, Gris looking on. You began to read and he stopped you. He asked you to read the beginning again, because it was quite brilliant - just like you.

Did we know how lucky we were to spend our days immersed in art and literature, in twentieth century history? It was intense, dedicated - we loved our work, and virtually all went on to work in galleries and museums around the world. But among a group of smart and ambitious scholars, you shone the brightest. We had fun, too. I remember charabanc trips to Cambridge to see the director of MOMA, and nights sitting in the field next to Kenwood listening to the concerts for free, with bread and cheese, and cheap wine. There were cramped dinners in tiny flats, and impromptu parties on scraps of garden filled with laughter and music, and trips down to Brighton to see you once you'd moved. I remember the last trip before we moved to Spain, sitting on the beach with you and the Booker nominated writer you invited round because you knew I'd started writing. That was typical of you - helpful, gracious, kind.

The days and possibilities always seemed endless. We were a tightly knit group of friends, and whenever we saw one another after months or years we just picked up where we left off. I wish I had the books and books of photographs that are in storage in England here tonight. In the days before digital, those golden days and nights are trapped on film. I wish I had emailed, or called sooner, too. But you know what it is like with work, and family. In the all-consuming blur of early motherhood some days you are lucky to remember your own name, let alone to call an old friend. The thought would be there to contact you, to see how you are, and then it would be blown away by the whirl of everyday life, like an autumn leaf. In this crazy, ultra-connected social media world how sad it is that we still lose touch with those we love in real life.

And now it is too late. It is your funeral tomorrow. Our friends are travelling to a beautiful church on the north coast of Cornwall, just an hour away from where I grew up too in the wild and lovely south west. I am so sorry. I am sorry that I didn't know the noise of everyday life had grown too much for you. I am sorry, and confused that such a beautiful, kind and gentle soul did not know you are loved not only by the family and partner you leave behind, but by all of us, by an old friend whose life was once interwoven with yours, who loved you even though the daily ties that bound us had loosened. Somehow I thought we could always follow them back to one another, one day.

It is too late for me to let you know how much you were loved by all of us. But perhaps someone reading this tonight will pick up the phone, or write a few lines to someone they have been meaning to get in touch with. It goes. Time goes, and you cannot always have the luck of picking up where you left off. If someone reading this is in a dark place, and thinks they are alone, know that even if you don't have the strength or energy to reach out and tell someone how desperate you are feeling, there is an invisible army of people whose lives you have touched in some good way walking at your side and wishing you well. You are valued. You are loved.

If you had let any one of us know quite how bad things had become, we would have been there holding your hand. One act does not define your life. You are not just another suicide - you are a daughter, a partner, a friend, an artist. You had a rare and gentle grace. I am glad to have known you, my friend, and you will be missed. 

On the other side of the world tonight my thoughts are with you, and with our friends travelling south for your last journey tomorrow. I wish you peace for your restless, beautiful, brilliant soul. God speed, and God bless, my friend. 

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