Thanks Alex

June 8, 2013

This post is about Alex Berman who died recently after a long battle with cancer.

I’m writing this because I want his family to now what Alex meant to me, after all these years, even though I hadn’t seen him since 1996(ish).

In 1994 I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and started attending GHS. This school had roughly the equivalent number of students as the village I had just moved from in Switzerland where I had lived most of my life up to that point. I felt like I had been swallowed up. My heart was still raw from leaving my oldest and best friends behind and I was so. uncool.

Moving to the States was scary enough, but going to an American High school was terrifying. After all, I had seen enough movies to worry that a country mouse like me with a funny accent was going to have a hard time. I’d like to tell you I was completely wrong, but the social segregation and invisible boundaries and codes of coolness which others had navigated for years were completely foreign to me.

The school I had just left had 150 kids, GHS had 2500. I had to catch up on years of Simpsons and everything Jim Carrey had ever been in just to half-way understand the jokes. I realised I wasn’t really going to fit in with the main crowd. I was fine with this. I set my expectation-o-meter on to ‘survive’ and braced myself.

I wore my farewell gifts from my old friends like talismanic shields, that raggedy brown leather jacket my friend’s dad wore in the 60’s and my Red Hot Chilli Peppers shirt, rendered soft and muted from washing. I didn’t know how to be, if being smart was going to make me a target or help me make friends.

I’m telling you this because I want to convey how how nervous I was those first few weeks, how out of place I was. I feared being noticed and being ignored at the same time as I sat in Ms. Smith’s English class.

“Cool shirt” said a voice from behind.

And that’s how I met Alex.

All of a sudden making friends seemed possible. I went from being a complete outsider to feeling almost… normal. He had this breezy confidence and you couldn’t help but be swept along. He was just such a darn nice guy. He was genuine and completely unafraid of being himself. He seemed immune to the normal codes of high school. He treated everybody the same (even the new girl with the funny accent and the worn RHCP shirt). He always paid you his full attention and so you always felt important, like you mattered, when you spent time with him.

Maybe this school was going to work out alright I thought.

I cried when I heard he had died. I haven’t seen him in so long, but I am so very sad that he is gone. I know that he has left behind a huge hole in the lives of everybody who knew him. And I also know that we were all so very lucky to have known him.


Dearest Friend

April 3, 2013

I hope this letter finds you well.

How are you? I know, it’s been ages since you’ve heard from me. I mean really heard from me. Facebook can only do so much. It’s great for providing a fleeting glimpse of our lives, but it can’t hold a candle to those long chats we used to have.

Remember those?

They were over coffee from your pot, over wine, over coffee (Starbucks, those diners and Memphis Belle), over beer at the bar, over tea at my table. Refill after refill. Cups hot, then cold. Then hot again.

I miss that bench we used to sit on, that table we used to rest our elbows on, the rides on our bike, that walk in the dark, past the houses with their lights on, the fruit trees (I would walk you home, then you would walk me home, and again around), the views we used to drink in, the time we would soak up. Those road trips we used to take.

Oh. The road trips. With the music. The loud music, every word known to us. You were (still are?) on first name basis with them all. Fiona, Tracey, Tori, Ani. Remember that concert? That band? That time we played our guitars in front of our friends?

You were so brave, you were kind, you cheered me up, laughed with me, god, we laughed so hard. Sometimes we were sad together, we sat in silence and we sat in tears.

I’m sorry I haven’t seen you in so long. That I didn’t come to your wedding, your 30th birthday, your wedding, your wedding…

That I didn’t visit you and your newborn, hold your hand when you became single, help clean your house when you moved, celebrate your new job with you and attend your father’s funeral. I wish I could’ve. I wish I had. But you know. It was too far, too expensive, to late….

You understand…

I’ve left it so long. Perhaps too long.

But I believe it’s never too late. Never really too late.

Just to tell you that I do remember.


June 15, 2012

Ever heard an old song which reminds you viscerally of a time, place or person?

A song which catapults you back in time to a textured emotional space you had long not thought of.

(But not forgotten, oh no, not forgotten).

A song which temporarily halts your current reality and cradles you in a memory.

What happens to those emotions, the ones at the time we felt we couldn’t contain, our bodies simply to small. Emotions which often burst forth in honest and messy outpourings, like spittle when you suddenly bark laughter.

Do they stay stuck in that past moment, like a lump in the throat of time. Forever linked to person and place.

Do they transform, and if so, what could that be.

What form could they possibly take which could do justice, which would give them an way to exist separately from our hearts.

These songs, like bungee cords between times, snap us back. They remind us of times, places, people but more deliciously, of feelings, vivid and aromatic, both sweet and bitter as only feelings of the heart can be.

Long-distance friendships

January 8, 2012

I recently had a few old friends comment on a facebook thread that they missed me and I was surprised at how much nostalgia and homesickness came flooding back.

The backstory is that I moved to the States when I was 15. I did a couple of years of High School, then went on to do 5 years of university study and work. I lived in the USA for a total of about 8 years. But last October (2011) I reached my 9 year milestone of living in New Zealand.

Officially that makes me more Kiwi than American. But despite the length of time, the years I lived in the USA were formative. I learned to drive there (My old Nissan Sentra, no power steering and manual shift), I learned to kiss (and more) there, how to go camping and bowling. I went to concerts, on road trips and quit smoking. Got my first tattoo, had my first paying job, got fired from a job. I spent hours doing nothing with friends which were filled with laughter, fun and silliness, which created strong bonds. I still feel them pull today.

It’s incredibly hard when people you love, and who love you, live so far away. It’s hard that the people I know who’ve still got my back (and vice versa) are out of reach. Some of my friends have seen hard times and I couldn’t help. When I have my dark moments I can’t reach out to them and then I may question my decision to seek a life elsewhere.

I wonder what it would be like to hang out now, what we would all talk about. How different our conversation topics would be. I’m sure we have all changed and it’s important to clear some mental space around the shape of our memories of people so that we sorta blur the edges of where the memory of them stops and the potential new parts of them start. Creating that space to allows for the new parts we’ve all inevitably grown.

The distance between us also means we can’t catch up and reminisce. Reminiscing to me has a very important function. It allows us to debrief and share how we may have processed our past.

I now have the 20/20 perfect vision of hindsight and can remember, consider and categorise events and people with confidence. But the problem is when you move away like I did, you never get to casually catch up and share our new found insights. There are many events for which I now wish I could go back and properly effect closure.

For example; Remember that time you tried to tell me my boyfriend was controlling? Yup, you were right and a hero for trying to tell me. I’m sorry about that time I wasn’t there for you. I still think we were wrong/right for doing/not doing that thing we did/didn’t do.

And also on a less serious note; remember that time you stayed up all night with me? That meant the world to me. Remember that time we danced in NYC? Still one of the best nights of my life. Remember that joke about the spatula? That Sinatra song? That place? That thing that happened?

When you move away you lose the opportunities to revisit events and say things to people like: ‘You were right’, ‘thank you’, ‘I forgive you’ or ‘I’m sorry’.

So it is because of this that long-distance friendships can take on a bit of a blurry quality. Fuzzy with our projected images of how we might have continued to knit our friendships over time. Yet the connection (for me at least) remains, partially due to how deeply those connections were laid and the quality of the people involved.

I’m deeply sentimental and even though that can be a burden, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So I was making cupcakes with Kadie (3.5) today and we were both making decent gorilla noise impressions (as you do).

So naturally an old friend came to mind.

This is a friend who I’m technically not friends with anymore. We were friends for close to 2 decades and had a falling out some years ago. I kept the incriminating emails and reread them recently. I must say, with a few years of distance from the emotions at the time, I feel quite sad when I see the words which caused so much damage. I was on a pretty high horse back then and I’m sure that contributed to the problem.

But the point I really wanted to make was how strong her presence in my mind was while baking. I just suddenly knew how much that scene would have tickled her.

I’m struck by how connected I still feel to people I haven’t spoken to in years. It’s like the emotions of a relationship has a scent which lingers for years. And I feel it keenly. This characteristic of mine is  hard to cope with at times, because I have so many good friends who live far away from me. It’s not like I can catch up with them over a pint when the spirit moves me.

It also means that I don’t really let people go. I hold on to the memories and can recall how a moment felt, even if I can’t remember where I was exactly. I collect relationships if you will. I’m on good terms with most of my ex’s. I have friends who I’ve known since I was 9. But even if I’m not in touch with people I still care about them. They’ll pop into my head at random moments when something I associate with them happens and I can feel love welling up inside.

It can be pretty hard. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.