All of today I couldn’t stop thinking about you. you’re always there, sitting in some distant corner of my mind but, today, you were front and centre.
I’d read about what happened to you in the newspaper. Your picture sat, out of focus, in the bottom corner of the 3rd page. A small headline crowned it, followed by a four-line article. “Body of local teen found drowned in river” my mum had it spread wide open on the table, carefully clipping coupons from the adjacent pages. I had just come down for breakfast still in my pyjamas.
I glanced over her shoulder scanning the article ‘Body found at the mouth of the Seven Sisters river confirmed to be that of 17-year-old Michael Olivier. He was discovered in the early hours of Tuesday morning by a young couple walking their dog. There is no further information at this time.’
“A terrible thing isn’t it? He was your age,” she spoke with the distant concern most people had upon hearing of a stranger’s death. I nodded, silent. Something sat stone heavy in the pit of my stomach and as I seated myself opposite my mother, nibbling half-heartedly at a slice of toast, it only seemed to tighten.
People talked about you that day at school. You didn’t go there. Your school was on the other side of town, but everyone knew someone, who knew someone that went there and something this big got talked about everywhere.
There was a lot of speculation. In English the teacher was called out to deal with a problem child and my classmates, few in number though they were, launched a massive debate over whether it was an accident or suicide. Most people thought suicide, they said that drugs were involved, a poor home life, the death of a family member. I could relate to that, my brother had died two years before.
The picture that they were posthumously painting of you wasn’t the prettiest.
When Andi the girl who sits next to me asked what I thought I just shrugged and said to her in my soft quiet way “there’s no way to know really,” although inside, I was hoping you had never been in the level of pain required to take your own life. Which left accident. Of course, there was the ever ubiquitous third scenario. But, that was seen as too much of a distant impossibility to even be considered.
You influenced a lot about that school day. Our weekly assembly was about coping with death, and how it’s important to talk to someone and not hold anything in. That was because of you, I don’t doubt the people in that room were indeed saddened by your death, though as I gazed at the sea of faces they looked about as grief stricken as my mother had that morning.
On the solitary walk home, my thoughts were occupied by you. I looked at the wood around me, which I walked through every day, and wondered if you had ever walked through here too. Maybe I’d seen you and never known it. Had you felt the sunshine on your skin, dappled through the deep green tree canopy. Did you even like the sunshine? Had you ever tripped over the exposed roots of the oak trees like I had? Maybe you stumbled home through here in the dark as a shortcut after a night out. Maybe that’s what you were doing the night before they found your body, grey and lifeless in the river.
I had to stop, the sensation in my stomach rose up in a crippling wave of nausea leaving me doubled over and fighting for breath. I slammed my hand into the rough bark of the tree I leant against. Desperate to feel something other than this. I managed to scrape off a layer of skin, small pin pricks of blood appeared on my palm.
I told my mum I tripped on a paving stone.
Another article appeared the next week. Front page this time. I saw the horror on my mother’s face first, the headline proudly announced ‘NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN TEEN DROWNING’ it was a large article, covering nearly the entire front page and I remember almost none of it. The two words that stuck for me were the ones I feared of reading for you.
There was a call for any information, witnesses and the like. I hoped for your sake, they got something.
I muttered I wasn’t feeling well and, retreating back to my bedroom, I drew my curtains and hid under the covers where I choked my cries down with a pillow and washed the running makeup from my face with the fur of my favourite stuffed animal.
Later that night after mustering up the courage to emerge from my cave I logged into Facebook only to be met by a barrage of posts about you. Other, more far-reaching newspapers had picked up the story. People had shared them and they came up in my recommended page. A memorial page had been set up for you, lots of people sharing their condolences and concern. Your older sister made a statement thanking everyone and asking for privacy she was the only person who actually knew you that did this. It was, on a certain level, touching. But I found myself getting increasingly sadder every time I logged on. It would eat me up until I was left sobbing on my bedroom floor.
You. A perfect stranger had gotten to me.
I couldn’t find anyone aside from your sister that knew you personally. No mother, no father, no girlfriend or boyfriend. A fist lodged itself in my throat when I realised, that you had never known that kind of love. I had never known it either, but my clock was still ticking, I had a lifetime to experience what you never could.
I wished for you, more than ever, to be alive. It confused me, why I felt like this. I couldn’t be grieving; you can’t grieve someone you’ve never known. But that’s what I was doing.
I waited for more information every day, desperate to know what had happened to you. If you’d suffered. Maybe you were at peace now. I didn’t believe in any God, or a heaven. But for you I wanted to. For you, I did.
They never found who did it. No more was ever known about you or what happened. You know, you’d be my brother’s age now.
I think about you and your sister. And while it is the nature of people to forget I still remember you. But this is the last day, I can’t do it anymore, after today I won’t remember you.
So I wanted to write this. I wanted to say goodbye.