James has always had presence, 6’4, a gorgeous smile, the life and soul of the party, everybody loved James.
Every soul could sincerely believe they were James’s best friend, his ability to make you feel special and bonded meant he was everybody’s friend. Adults old or young, children, girls or boys, James got on with them all and they remembered him. Even if you did not see him for years, he’d still be your best friend, you’d still laugh the same and it would be like no time had passed. You still felt you knew him, you still wanted to be around him, you still laughed.
But no one really knew James. Perhaps more importantly James didn’t know James.
Despite his ability to love and be loved by so many, to be ‘just James’ was just too unbearable for James. On the good days he saw what we see, but sometimes he’d get carried away with that which could occasionally rear itself as arrogance. On bad days he saw someone he hated and felt in skin he wanted to shed. Behind the gorgeous smile you never really did know which one of these versions of James you would get.
The real fuel that James needed to conquer his days was belief. For people to believe and trust in him, to reward him for his achievements, to tell him he was capable and special and to believe in him enough just to really like him for him. But more importantly he needed to believe in himself, he needed the validation of others because he didn’t know if he actually liked him.
Instead of that belief – James chose what I call ‘his medicine’ to fuel him. To allow him to navigate life, hide from or face his feelings, blackout what he needed to and have the bravery to face what he wanted to. To be the James he thought everyone wanted him to be, to be the life and soul of the party, to smile the gorgeous smile through the storm in his mind.
James didn’t believe – so he drank his medicine.
The medicine didn’t cure him, it didn’t make him a better person, it didn’t take away the pain, it didn’t fuel the gorgeous smile.
Instead. It killed him.
I sit her and write this in the home that James and I once shared together. A house we made plans and dreams in. A house we moved into with no furniture, no money, not even a fridge or a washing machine. We made it our home. We moved out of London, to the beautiful countryside and we wanted to settle. James wanted to escape the medicine and all the things he felt made him need it. The ironic thing is though that when you move to the countryside, life kind of revolves around the pub, that’s the hub of the community and that’s where you meet people. We never went to the pub, so we never met people.
We had each other and James rapidly built up his business and would come home beaming from work. At the time I was happy for him, to see him happy, but in hindsight now I see that there was an arrogance in his elation and behaviour.
Our best times were spent eating sushi platters for 4-6 people at home watching trashy tv and films, he would drink coke, I would drink diet coke. Going on road trips and crazy singing and dancing in the car to the old school garage raves we used to go to in our youth. I would drink water, he would drink red bull. James could never understand how I always knew the words to almost every song from every era and genre. He was a great and passionate cook and would get so excited about the meals he cooked for us, but the mess he would make in the kitchen was like nothing you have ever seen before! He left me cute notes in my packed lunches and he always kissed me goodnight. He promised he would always clean the bathroom, I’m not sure he ever did. James went to bed early because he was up early for work. I was a student nurse doing long days at the hospital, and often up late writing assignments whilst he snored like an actual Rhino next-door. He’d always bring me treats back from work to see me through those late-night stints. James had a ridiculously sweet tooth for sweets – he would devour sweets every night, now I look back I think the sugar was the best replacement for the medicine he so missed.
At some point the sweets suddenly weren’t enough. James longed for his medicine.
James told me he missed his old life.
He would then have to miss me. He chose the medicine. And just like that he was gone.
I’d like to say it was as simple as the above line, but actually what transcended was weeks of misery, of anger, of tears and living with an impossible person, a selfish person who still couldn’t face that this was all for the love of the medicine, and instead blamed me and spitefully tried to tell me this was all my fault. A person who told me daily they wished they were dead and wanted to take their own life. Weeks sharing space and air with someone who turned the beautiful environment we had created completely upside down, someone who shut down and someone who emotionally manipulated me during every single interaction. Someone who devoured the contents of vodka bottles nightly and who closed the door on me literally and mentally.
And just like that James was gone.
Gone to start his ‘new life’ which could be more like his ‘old life’ that he missed. A life that the medicine could be a part of. A life where his true love would be the medicine.
And the medicine sustained him for the next 101 weeks. It watered down his anti depressants and his sleeping tablets. It provided him with the crutch, it was the other person in the only relationship that James could cope with sustaining. He adapted his world and his responsibilities around spending time in that relationship, giving it all he had. Together they could face the world, they could comfort each other when they wanted to hide. This relationship gave him confidence, gave him the temporary belief he never had, gave him an excuse, gave him pleasure and misery in equal measures, gave him something to occupy the dead time with.
Without it he was lost. He would shake and the colour would drain from his face.
This was one relationship and one home he couldn’t walk out on, she was the real keeper, she won him over, captured his love.
But then she broke his heart. Literally. They spent one last night together and it was one that James would never wake up from. His world just stopped. Just like that. His confused soul drowning in a sea of clear carcinogenic liquid, suddenly he lost the ability to stay afloat, he ran out of lifelines and perhaps the people able to throw him one.
And I still sit here in the house he left for the life that killed him. Whilst it’s been almost two years since James lived here and the house has changed, it represents and reflects me, just me, but somehow his presence is here. Through floods of memories, flashes of moments, smells, light and food that reminds me of him. I grieved the loss of James when he left those years ago, but somehow in a time when we are all stuck at home, losing James at this time and feeling those feels in the home we once shared means I can’t really escape him or them right now.
I’m fighting a daily battle with myself that I wish I didn’t feel grief, compassion and sadness for someone who hurt me so badly, for someone who was never going to be helpable, who was not only never going to believe, but wasn’t willing to try and keep it going. Who wanted the easy option, the ‘cure’, a magic wand? Who somehow felt somewhere beyond his misery that he was entitled?
Regardless of the resentment I feel towards my tears, James was a huge part if my life, I loved him, I adored him, the James I thought I knew somewhere in his heart I believe loved me too. But he loved the medicine more.
The medicine could give him something I never could. Something so powerful it took his breath away.
“You could still be What you want to be What you said you were When you met me You’ve got a warm heart You’ve got a beautiful brain But it’s disintegrating From all the medicine” ‘Medicine’ 2011, Daughter