I dreamed about you again last night. We are laughing; you are funny, smiling, alive. And then I wake up and realise in the darkness of the room that the reason I dream of you is because you are gone.
We haven’t been friends for that long in the grand scheme of things. Not for us the ‘in-jokes’ of the playground, shared youth, or drunken teenage holidays. We are grown ups, mothers, when we meet for the first time.
You live at the end of my road and yet the first time we say hello is when I recognise your car outside the nursery five miles away. The little white Audi with a company number plate. As we talk our boys grab one another and laugh and we realise that they are the ones that the other is always talking about. They are buddies. ‘Little Learners’ in nursery parlance and completely loony in each other’s company.
And once we’ve met each other for the first time, we seem to see each other all the time. I am admiring your vintage-style engagement ring and you tell me about your New Year’s Eve wedding plans.
Then you’re back from your honeymoon and we’re talking again and swapping stories of our shared wish to escape our corporate lives and you cheer me on so I take the plunge and you’re not far behind. We drink tea in your kitchen out of bone china cups that are not ‘crazed’ because you know how to spot a good one and this becomes the strength of your business and soon you are hiring out china to the BA Concorde Lounge for the Queen’s Jubilee and I am excited that you’ve bagged a big one and you are laughing at the strangeness of it all.
Then I’m trying to figure out Twitter and you sit down and teach me because you were taught by a friend who is a dentist and we laugh that I’m from IT and yet bloody clueless about this thing and then I walk you through LinkedIn and we are evens, but you have the nicer teeth and can refer me to your friend.
And then there’s the party between Christmas and New Year when you introduce me and my husband to your friends and you welcome us with champagne, then feed us red wine and cheese that your dad has sent to you, but the cheese doesn’t work as a means to prevent drunkenness and then we are bellowing out Rod Stewart songs and the children are embarrassed and my husband has to look after us all (including my son who shut his finger in a door) and I forget my handbag and have to sheepishly return to reclaim it. And I am mortified but you are generous enough to say “it’s not a problem, we were all a bit drunk”.
And there’s more tea and garden centre lunches and visits to soft play where our boys race around until they sweat and their hair smells so good and their cheeks flush as if slapped. They are Spiderman and Superman, Lightning McQueen and Mater, Thor and Captain America. We drink over-priced coffee and don’t mind the expense for our boys are exhausted and we’ve had time to chat.
You join a team of great women to walk the Moonwalk and arrange events for the village that raise huge sums of money and at no point do you say ‘poor me’ because you have had cancer.
Then I’m out for a run and your husband’s Porsche whips round the corner and I see you before you see me because I have run these country roads for years and know to keep the volume on my iPod way down low so I can hear the roar of an engine and you go home and tell your husband that I was ‘bloody running towards you’ and he agrees I was on the right side of the road but mental to be on that windy stretch.
And we go to a barn dance and you’re both using a Welsh accent and making me double-up with laughter because you’re singing a Goldie Lookin Chain song and my friend thinks you’re actually Welsh, and the barn dance ends too soon so we buy more wine and head back to yours and before I know it you’re both walking me the 200m home just to make sure I get back ok, and in the morning my husband wants to know why there’s a broken wine glass in the bin. It’s your ‘one for the road’.
We talk about school and the handful our boys will be together. It snows and snows, and our husbands are pulling the boys up the lane on sledges. We are side by side in your kitchen of vintage china and family photographs and you talk about your husband and how you are glad he is here with his son and can ‘do these kind of things’. You take photos and videos and borrow my wellies which is a mistake because a foot out of the door means you’re fair game and a snowball is shoved down your back.
For a week your boy rides with mine to pre-school and every morning you kiss him goodbye with both hands clasped to his face and tell him you love him. And you say ‘thank you’ when you don’t need to and take the time to match your headscarf to the rest of your outfit and we drink ludicrously strong coffee that makes my head swim. And the last time I see you we don’t hug but embrace.
And we knew it might come but it happened so quickly, we are stopped in mid sentence, my beautiful friend.
Dedicated to the memory of the beautiful Belinda Harding-Perry