By Rebecca Poulson
I wasn’t at home to receive the phone call from Mum to tell me my brother Adrian was dead. That Tuesday, 24 August 1993, I was still at work, auditing in the glass and marble offices of Arthur Andersen on Walker Street in North Sydney. I was still untangling financial statements of large corporations, thinking the work I was doing was of utmost importance. Now I am haunted by the powerful pain that, as my finger ran down a straight column of figures, my beloved brother was opening his wardrobe door. As I flipped over a page, my brother pulled out a shotgun.
I was focused on promotion and work employee ratings and performance. I was studying hard to get perfect marks in my Chartered Accountancy exams. Perfect marks, promotion and my career were the most significant things in my life that day as my brother lay down on his lonely single bed, put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.
In those few hours, before I got the news, my safe childhood, my loving and affectionate parents, my blossoming adult relationship with my siblings – 24-year-old Adrian and 21-year-old Ingrid – were all as they should be. My life was safe and snug and known. I licked my finger and flipped another page of figures over. The air-conditioning in my hermetically sealed office hummed on. My brother was already dead.
Mum had been staying with Adrian for a few days before his death. Her radar – as both a mother and psychologist – was on alert that all was not well with her son. Adrian was not eating properly and seemed jittery and then depressed. But she did not know, none of us did, the absolute depths of despair and pain he was in. He’d proposed to his girlfriend Sally and she had said no. He’d introduced to me to Sally with great pride when they’d come to Sydney for a date and stayed at my flat overnight. Although I saw a nice-looking girl with an amiable personality, Adrian in his usual utterly-in-love state saw a beautiful princess worthy of his undying devotion, His every gesture towards her was respectful and gentle.
Adrian was also obsessed with becoming a self-made millionaire. He worked hard yet his business was not taking off as he had imagined. Most people can manage through these knock-backs in life. But Adrian was not most people.
We did not know of the illegal shotgun he had brought two years earlier from a farmer for ‘hunting’ purposes, let alone that he’d hidden it in his wardrobe. The farmer was distraught once the police traced the gun to him, said he’d never have sold it had he known. Only a few of Adrian’s close friends knew of its existence. They were devastated when they learnt what he had done with it, putting the gun to rest against his left temple – my brother was left handed, like me – and pulling the trigger.
The night before, Adrian had bluffed Mum into thinking he was okay. He’d eaten a little of the dinner she had cooked him and assured her that he would visit a local psychologist whom he had seen successfully before. Mum had rung and made the appointment for him. When he told her he was feeling better she was relieved, but it was with some trepidation that she left for work the next morning without saying goodbye. The door of his bedroom was firmly shut and Mum would torture herself about that with in the days, months and years that followed. Was Adrian already dead by the time she went to work that morning? Had she slept through a gun-shot report through the thin walls as she lay sleeping on the lounge?
When she returned home a little earlier than usual from her job as a counsellor at the University of Western Sydney, Mum found Adrian already dead and cold, lying on the dark brown quilt he’d had since he was a teenager. She did not see the gun nor the bloody wound on the side of his head. All she felt was his coldness; all she saw were his open unseeing eyes. In a stumbling flurry of panic and pain she phoned 000, telling the operator her son was cold. The paramedics arrived but it was already too late.
Mum called Dad in Lismore, then me at my shared house, and then Ingrid who was working in the city. Dad caught the next flight to Sydney and drove straight to Vincent Road Kurrajong. He’d not sold his house when he moved up to Clunes, a tiny town on the outskirts of Byron Bay, to take up his new job as principal of the local college, a mere seven months before, and the whisper of ‘what if Dad hadn’t moved’ prodded at me. Would Adrian still be here? Dad was Adrian’s open-hearted, no-holds-barred confidant. But I didn’t voice this insidious thought. Dad’s crushing guilt at the loss of his beloved son was gripping enough already.
Dad’s house was a one-bedroomed, weatherboard cottage surrounded by towering ghost gums and three wild untended acres of magnolias, rhododendrons and lily pillys. Dad had bought it after Mum and he had separated the year before after 38 years together. Adrian, Ingrid and I were already adults by then and we’d each flown the family home by the time we hit 18. Mum and Dad were still friends and spent hours talking on the phone. Mum would ring Dad for a specific recipe to cook for her new date; Dad rang Mum about what he should say to a gay man who had made overtures to him, not wanting to hurt his friend’s feelings.
Adrian had moved into the cottage after Dad left, and paid a token rent while he struggled to get his VIP car cleaning business up and running.
When I burst in the door at Glebe, breathless from my peak hour commute, my flatmate gave me the message.
‘Your mum called,’ she said.
‘Okay,’ I replied offhandedly.
‘I think you should call,’ my flatmate insisted, looking at me significantly.
She didn’t know what had happened but must have caught something in Mum’s tone, something that made her cross our usual boundaries of independence.
‘Okay,’ I said, frowning a little.
After my flatmate left I stripped out of my suffocating navy blue suit and silk blouse. I sat on the sagging beige lounge and picked up the phone, not knowing that this call would change my life irrevocably.
‘No!’ I wailed. ‘No no no!’ I clutched the phone hard against my ear. ‘Why, why, why?’
I wanted Mum to change her words, to stuff them back into her mouth as if they had never been spoken, cruel pebbles of truth falling one by one, cutting and flaying me with pain.
I realised with a shock I was no longer standing but kneeling, my shins pressed into the carpet. I heard a rustle behind and jumped. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my flatmate’s boyfriend sidling out and felt a tiny flash of embarrassment. Had he seen my gaping mouth, seen me squeezing our battered lounge as if it were a lifeline?
The embarrassment flared and choked. I didn’t care. Mum was trying to tell me that Adrian was dead. My brother had shot himself. It was so incomprehensible my mind could not put her statement into order. My body had realised the full horror of her statement, the finality, but my brain couldn’t. I didn’t understand. My tall, hyperactive, bouncing, energetic brother was dead?
After assuring Mum that I was on my way, I rang my boyfriend Dave and asked him to come over straightaway, then called Ingrid at her work. Her shocked, hollow voice told me she had already received the news.
‘What number are you on Pitt Street?’ I asked. ‘We’ll come and get you and drive to Kurrajong now.’
Dave arrived to find me clutching a photograph of Adrian I usually kept on my side table. In it he lounged against the banister of the hall in Bowen Mountain where he’d had his 21st, dressed in a teal shirt, a thin leather tie and his head tipped slightly on one side. A small knowing smile curved his lips and he looked so handsome that whenever a new boyfriend of mine spotted this photo they’d ask casually yet intensely, ‘Who is that?’
‘Adrian is dead,’ I said. ‘He shot himself.’
Those words forced through my throat were so painful I only uttered them again twice in the next ten years.
‘When?’ asked Dave, uncomprehending.
‘When did he shoot himself? Did you know last night?’
My brain was already grappling with surreal questions and it was only much later that I allowed the truth to sink in. I had known Adrian’s behaviour was unusual after a phone call from Dad the day before. I listened calmly, but felt shaken.
‘Adrian is acting strangely,’ Dad had told me. ‘Mum is staying with him in Kurrajong. It isn’t anything to worry about but I thought you should know.’
‘Okay,’ I’d said. ‘I’ll try and ring him. Do you think he’d like to stay a while with me?’
‘Maybe. Why don’t you ask him?’
I called the number I had for Adrian, but it went unanswered. I was used to my brother’s unsettled moods and thought this was no different. I could handle them easily, I had grown up with him, and it’s just the way he was.
I tried again the next day, but Adrian’s phone rang out. Did I have the wrong number? Later, I tortured myself with questions. What if I’d called earlier? Was he already dead when I rang? If he’d answered the phone could I have stopped him, changed his mind and prevented us all from plunging headfirst into this nightmare?
The night before Adrian died I dreamt I was in a hospital, the walls and floor blindingly white, while I raced through endless corridors knowing I had to find Adrian, fear and panic pumping within my body. Finally I saw his form lying on a bed and let out a breath of relief as I ran up to him only to see with horror one whole side of his head was jagged and pieces were missing. But his eyes were open and locked intently on me.
‘Oh my God,’ I said. Adrian smiled his little smile, seemingly not reacting or noticing the wound on the side of his head. ‘What happened? Are you OK?’ I gasped.
‘I am OK, Becky.’ he said reassuringly but not answering my question.
‘I love you,’ I said.
He had reached out and gripped my hand in the dream. I could feel it, I still can. It was dry and firm and reassuring. ‘I am OK,’ he said. ‘I love you too.’
In real life, of course, I had never told my big brother I loved him. But I did, adoringly. I still do.
When we got to Pitt Street I silently hugged Ingrid who stood pale faced, tears running down her face as the crowd and push of people walked past, their lives still normal. She was working part-time while studying at Sydney University. We climbed into the back seat of the car, and Dave drove us slowly and carefully through the city streets. We clutched hands so tightly that by the time we arrived over an hour later our hands would seem fused together.
‘I thought she meant his foot,’ Ingrid whispered at one point. ‘I thought Mum meant he’d shot himself accidently in the foot.’
I squeezed her hand even tighter. It was the longest car ride of my life.
Growing up, I was never going to win the ‘who gets Mum and Dad’s attention’ race. When Adrian entered a room, a house or a school, his restlessness filled it. His energy felt strikingly like Dad’s. I joined in his boisterous, creative games yet was wary of his flailing fists as well – I’d been on the receiving end of them one too many times.
I thought of Adrian, aged seven, ensconced in our loving family. We were living on rural land then, outside Lithgow, Mum and Dad juggling to live their dream of self-sufficiency. Bowen Fels, five acres on the Great Western Highway, was one of our sixteen childhood homes. Mum and Dad had bought the house cheap from a Christian family; Christian in the true sense of the word. That family had been barely above the poverty line themselves with five small children, but allowed Dad and Mum, a couple they had only just met, to pay the house price back in instalments. They recognised people who were poorer than themselves. Despite Mum and Dad both coming from middle class affluent English families, their innate sense of justice, compassion and adventure resulted in them both walking away from their lives and backgrounds and private schooling to the new classless society of Australia where they started from scratch. Dad’s school friends, most of whom he was smarter than, moved on to become people of power, CEOs of big companies and politicians. Yet I never heard Dad express regret about turning his back on that life.
We had a hundred chickens and collected the eggs daily, a task I hated due to the risk of encountering ‘the broody chicken’, who would peck my hand viciously when I tried to scoop the eggs from under her. We never knew that fizzy drinks even existed. Every second weekend we drove to the general store and were allowed twenty cents of lollies each. The whole way we planned what we were going to pick – Cobblers, Fantales or jellybeans? The choice was excruciating. Adrian would stuff his all his lollies into his mouth and have eaten them all by the time we arrived home. I’d eat one per day, carefully rationing these treats, while my brother looked on in disbelief at my self-discipline. He’d cajole, whisper in my ear about how the Cobblers were really Indian poos. Even though I scoffed I started to look at the hard brown lollies with suspicion. Finally, each week I would hand them over, Adrian assuring me he would dispose of them properly. I felt a pang at their loss, their hard caramel sweetness was my favourite.
We had no television. Dad was convinced TV was not just a killer of creativity but a brainwashing machine, delivering the advertising of junk food right into our brains. He was always teaching us to question everything we were told. In 1976 Dad received payment for a job done in the form of a TV; the widow who’d employed him didn’t have cash but she did have two TVs. Dad grudgingly installed it at Bowen Fels. He arrived home one gorgeous sunny day to find us all glued to the box. We got a warning. Only 30 minutes a day. A week later we went over our limit and got busted. Dad pulled the plug out of the wall despite our begging. There was no budging. He donated the TV to the local fire brigade.
The next day we were outside playing again. We collected old cow bones from neighbouring farms and made sculptures. We painted at easels on the verandah, the afternoon sun warming our backs. One afternoon a red belly black snake slithered across our feet as we painted, oblivious to our unusual foot warmer.
We had two pigs, Percy and Piggy, who we trained to race with us. Ready, set, go! They’d wait with us at the starting line. Adrian was the only one who ever beat them. The day Dad slaughtered Piggy broke his heart. We had a cow for milk, a huge vegetable garden and laden apple and pear trees. Piggy and Percy were to supply the carnivore line. Unfortunately we didn’t factor in how soft we all were as a family, how we stepped carefully over snails, rescued numerous feral cats and took on friends rejected dogs we could ill afford. We all refused to eat Piggy and Percy lived out to an old age, fat and happy on our supposed farm. We were always down to the bread line with our budget. Mum had a formal education and thus a higher earning capacity but she stayed at home with us, having had three kids within four years. Dad took hard jobs – coal mining, building, whatever he could. He was often working two jobs at once, a day shift then a night shift.
When Dad was at work we tramped back through the paddocks, holding the wire fences down for one another so we could straddle them. One day Adrian had a gleam in his eye as he led Ingrid and me to a paddock further than usual, one I was sure we weren’t supposed to go to, despite his cheery assurances. My role was to follow him and I always did. Only a month earlier I’d spent hours picking hundreds of thorns out of Adrian’s soft flesh and that of his poor friend, Robert. They had rolled off the pig pen roof into a mass of brambles.
The long grass grabbed at our ankles as we strode through, slowing our progress. The buzz of the cicadas eased off as we approached then rose behind us, the shrieking painful in our ears. I hitched my little pack higher. It seemed to be getting heavier and heavier the longer we walked. The rough nylon strap bit into my shoulder. I felt my brother stop ahead and I looked up, stopping abruptly behind him. My sister, one year younger and bringing up the rear, ran into me.
‘What?’ she asked wearily.
We had stopped at yet another fence. Adrian pointed. There in the next paddock stood an enormous bull, placidly chewing the long browning grass. His hide looked dusty and he sprouted two terrifying horns. It seemed at first that he hadn’t noticed us but somehow I was sure that he knew very well there were three children just outside his paddock fence.
‘We have to go through there,’ my big, confident brother informed us.
Ingrid and I gaped at him. We were his unwitting foot soldiers – usually. But this time I felt compelled to speak up.
‘Mum said not to go through any paddocks with bulls in them. We’ll have to go around.’
My brother affected surprise. ‘Around? That’s miles out of the way! I’m going through here, you can come or not.’
He knew my fear at being left alone would outweigh any fear about the bull. I dropped my pack over the fence, eyes riveted on the bull. With my heart thumping loudly, I jumped the fence. Ingrid scrambled over after me. We stalked quietly, holding our breaths, working our way in a large circle around the bull. He stayed put. My brother launched over the fence and started walking. But he seemed put out by the bull’s indifference and started taunting the animal.
‘Na na, you can’t catch me!’ He even added the hands at his temples, fingers waggling, tongue poking out.
My heart almost exploded. My sister’s pale face mirrored my panic. Unbelievable. We picked up the pace. The bull had raised his head by now and was staring right at my brother, who started dancing around on his tiptoes. Suddenly the bull broke stance and charged. Adrian’s face morphed into terror and we all broke into a flat-out run. Ingrid and I scrambled and fell over the fence, turning to watch our brother flying across the paddock.
‘Run faster,’ I shouted, scared witless.
My brother drove me crazy but I adored him. I didn’t want to see a single strand of hair on his head hurt. He vaulted the fence just as the bull thundered down, breathing heavily and snorting. My sister and I watched, with gasping breaths and shaky limbs. As my brother bounded up I waited for his tears, ready to hug and comfort him. But he just brushed himself off.
‘Ha ha,’ he taunted, looking the snorting bull in the eye. ‘You didn’t catch me!’
Later when Mum has asked how our walk was Adrian shrugged indifferently. He shot us a warning glance. But we were well trained by then. There was no dobbing, no matter what the crime.
The first night after Adrian’s death was the worst of my life. The house kept filling with people, the hours passed in a dreadful blur. Unfamiliar people loomed up in front of me, grasping my hands, murmuring things I had only read in Hallmark cards. I stared uncomprehendingly at their moving mouths until in confusion or embarrassment they moved on. One of them was Dad’s old work colleagues, an earnest bearded man who gripped my hand and said, ‘I wish we could have met in more pleasant circumstances.’ I stared, fighting a hysterical urge to laugh at the utter inadequacy of his statement. He moved off quickly.
Covered meals arrived and the dishes were taken away. The driveways became blocked and unblocked as people came and went. The telephone rang repeatedly, each of us taking it in turns to deal with the same exhausting questions. Calls from England rousted us out of disturbed sleep. Awkward conversations would start up then peter out. We were all numb with shock. Mum, Dad, Ingrid and I and Cheryl, who Dad had just started dating, all moved into Adrian’s place. Mum and Cheryl were friends. They still are. It was a testament to both that neither seemed wary or jealous at the situation they found themselves in.
No one slept in Adrian’s room. I ventured in there twice, looked at the stripped bed. How bare and lonely it seemed. The police had taken the gun and bedding as evidence.
‘I should have been here,’ I berated myself over and over again. I should have seen the depths of his despair; I should have left my stupid, unimportant job and driven straight out here, hugged him tight, soothed his jumbling mind and taken the edge of his coldness. What a fucking useless sister I was.
We lay strewn on makeshift mattresses in the living room. Each night Dad lit the open fire in the kitchen. We spent hours watching the flames burn the dry gum branches, the snap and crackle of the eucalyptus oil a familiar part of our family life. On the second night Dad roused in front of the fire and looked at me.
‘Remember when you lifted that ladder at Bowen Fels,’ he asked. ‘That was amazing’.
I scrolled back in my mind but came up blank.
‘No,’ I said. But the word came out as encouragement for Dad to tell the story I no longer recalled.
‘I was building the floor at Bowen Fels and only the struts were up.’
I remembered that bit, the raw timber beams stretching over sickening drop to the cement floor of the cellar below.
‘I mustn’t have propped the ladder properly and all three of you were playing nearby.’
My heart jabbed. We were only two now. ‘I was reaching across to nail something in and the ladder slid out from under me,’ Dad continued. ‘I just had time to grab a beam and was holding on for dear life by my hands. I yelled out and all three of you thought I was yelling at you.’ As Dad barely yelled at us and had never hit us I could imagine the panicked response it wrought in us. ‘You all scattered, but then as I hung there wondering what to do I saw your little head peak around the door. You walked over to the ladder and dragged it to under where I was hanging. To this day I have never worked out how you did it, but you hefted that ladder with all your might so my feet could catch the top of it. I then manoeuvred it back to the beam and climbed down. You can’t remember this?’
I shook my head but stored the memory away proudly. Now I realise that was Dad’s intention. He knew me better than anyone, and despite my frozenness, my lack of tears, my quietness he would have known that a vicious voice had taken up residence inside my head, a voice that persisted I was the most useless sister in the world, that I had contributed to Adrian’s death, had done nothing to save him. Dad’s quiet story warmed me. Maybe I wasn’t stupid, without any redeeming features.
From the sludge of despair certain moments stand out. Mum’s Aboriginal friend, Pearl, standing grounded on the wooden deck of the Kurrajong house.
‘I believe his spirit is all around,’ she said, ‘in the trees, the air, the birdsong.’
I looked at her. Was she about to talk about God? I was getting tired of people’s murmurings of heaven and angels and invisible things that were supposed to make me feel better. But Pearl pointed to a white magnolia bloom perched improbably on its thin stem.
‘I believe he is in that flower,’ she said.
I strained to see Adrian, his essence, any sign that he was in that glittering flower. I yearned to believe. The thought of my brother in the Glebe morgue, which in a garish coincidence was on the same Glebe street I lived in, his body being prodded by strangers, was unbearable. I stared and stared at the magnolia, willing myself to believe what Pearl was saying. But all I could see was a pure white flower bobbing gently in the breeze.
Three days later Ingrid and I sat in the back seat of Adrian’s Commodore while Mum and Dad sat in the front, readying ourselves for the surreal horror of seeing the body of our brother in an open coffin. As we drove down Old Windsor Road the green expanse of the lawn cemetery yawned up on our right. The memory of how as kids we used to lift our feet together, in a superstitious game about dead people, and shriek and giggle whenever we drove past this cemetery flashed through me. I stifled it. A song floated through the car. ‘He’s my brother,’ the male singer crooned out.
I turned to Ingrid. ‘Can you hear what is on the radio?’
She nodded, tears shimmering in her eyes.
Dad turned on the right blinker.
‘This will be a shock,’ he said, ‘seeing his body.’
He was trying to soften the blow. Dad had already seen Adrian’s body. It was the first thing he did, going straight to the morgue from the airport. All deaths by guns have to be autopsied and a report given by the Coroner. Dad had hunched over his son, his lost boy, and wept.
My limbs felt leaden and sluggish but my head was full of helium and light. The lawn cemetery stretched before us, the manicured green and neat rows of headstones trying the mask the fact that the dead lay beneath the ground. There was no messiness here. My whirlwind, skating-on-thin-ice, pushing-the-boundaries, breaking-the-rules brother didn’t belong in this place. This was a cemetery for old, neat people whose turn it was to die.
I tried to appear normal to the obsequious funeral director who bustled forward murmuring practised condolences. His insincerity grated upon me yet still I tried to impress him with my shoulders back, my tearless cheeks, my false bravado. We followed him to a door which he pushed open. Faking bravery, I looked into the dimmed room. A stark white coffin lay on a table in the middle of the room. I sucked in my breath and strode in first, telling myself I should be able to handle this. Dad was close on my heels, knowing me better than I knew myself. As I looked down the breath was punched from my solar plexus, my shoulders retracted forward in a vain attempt to protect myself and my heart. Too late. The shock flew into my body and my world changed forever on seeing Adrian so still and so pale.
‘It doesn’t look like him,’ I whispered.
Dad wrapped his arm around my shoulders so my side pressed against his side. I took strength from the warmth and leaned into him.
‘It is just the mortician’s interpretation of Adrian,’ he said.
I looked down at his slightly puffy face. Adrian had always been so thin. There was a smear of putty at his left temple where the mortician had tried to cover the bullet hole. It was whitish and didn’t match his olive skin. But maybe it was the flush of life that was missing, the luminescence that shimmers under the skin of someone like Adrian.
How could my brother so full of life, of passion and drive suddenly slump so much he could no longer fight his inner demons. Adrian was so impulsive; he didn’t consider consequences, didn’t think things through. This is what I cling to – that when he picked up the shotgun he just suddenly decided to shoot himself. The alternative is that he had planned to kill himself, and buying the shotgun illegally from the farmer years before was part of it all. That meant his desire for death, for escape overrode his love for us. That he felt he couldn’t reach out to any of us wounds me deeply, it’s a scar I will carry forever. It wasn’t until ten years later, faced with my own demons that I could understand something of what he’d been through.
Adrian was always moving, fidgeting, tap tap tapping. If he was forced to sit still his leg would jingle and jerk in protest. Even as a child, he would sleep-walk, forcing Mum and Dad to lock his bedroom door which opened directly onto the then floorless living room. Adrian’s sleep walking seemed natural to me, as if his spirit couldn’t slip into stillness even at night. He told me once that sometimes he would leave his body and look down on himself sleeping. Astral projection, it’s called, a skill some people spend a lifetime striving toward. And here Adrian was, a child, zipping around on adventures while the rest of us slumbered peacefully on.
Dad was pragmatic. His own teenage years had been rebellious – running away from a posh English boarding school at 15 and working on a potato farm in Ireland, incognito, was the least of it. He ended up on the streets of London at one stage, homeless, hungry and cold. He refused to take welfare, and he refused to ask his strict wealthy parents for help. They were on the cocktail circuit and would have been mortified by Dad’s behaviour. Once, picking him up from boarding school after not seeing him for 12 months, they were aghast at his leather jacket, jeans and slicked back hair. They told Dad’s brother, Harry, to give Dad a message. He was to burn his clothes and dress appropriately and then they would pick him up. Without a backwards glance they drove off, leaving Dad standing alone on the side of the road. He was sent to boarding school at 3 years old. The thought of that hurts my heart.
Many people who had a childhood like this become emotionally distant and have great trouble showing affection. It’s a matter of survival. But instead of bowing to the system, Dad fought it, over and over and over again.
‘The problem with Pete,’ an old school friend of his once told me, ‘was he didn’t back down – to older boys, to teachers, he just fought the whole way through school.’
He related how a teacher had lost his cool and started mercilessly beating a small Indian boy, finally hanging him on the coat rack. As he bent to retrieve his stick and continue the beating Dad ran into his eyesight.
‘You can’t catch me, Sir,’ he called, and ran off.
The teacher, in a foaming fury, took off after Dad. Which of course was the plan. The teacher caught Dad and he was severely beaten. Yet again.
But Dad came out of such experiences a loving, gentle person. He wooed my mother with affection and respect. He became a father who constantly hugged his son and daughters, who told us he loved us over and over and over again. He never raised his hand to us once. He never put us down. He listened intently to our wildest dreams and yearnings, nodding his head in support. None of us had any doubt that we were the centre of Dad’s universe, and we could achieve anything; we were smart and kind and creative. That’s what he told us, and that’s what we believed.
I was shocked as I grew older to hear the way friends’ parents spoke to them. ‘Ah, you’re useless, you’re stupid,’ the parents would say. I would stare in wonder when my friend didn’t burst into tears.
Our house became a sort of halfway house for the area, with lost teenagers sleeping on the lounge, bewildered boys whose parents had given up on them flocking to hear Dad’s patient understanding and sympathetic advice. And despite all this he had lost his son. Adrian had slipped through the fingers of my kind, intelligent and understanding parents.
How could you, I thought, leaning over Adrian’s coffin, resting my fingers lightly on his teal shirt. I felt the firmness of his frozen body under my fingertips. Where there should have been warmth there was resistance. How could you have done what you did? It’s a question that tumbled through my mind as I slid down the wall of the shower cubicle, water running to hide my sobs from my flatmates and boyfriend in the months that followed Adrian’s death. How can anyone take a gun, place it against the side of their head and pull the trigger? How, how, how?
The pain of Adrian leaving my life didn’t dissipate over time. I carry him with me daily, the young irrepressible man who now only exists in my memories and in those of others who knew and loved him.
I turned to leave but went back. I leaned over the side of the coffin and pressed my lips to his hard, cold, unyielding forehead. ‘Goodbye,’ I whispered. ‘Good bye, Adrian.’