Rest in peace, my old friend

This weekend, I found out that an old friend of mine passed away.

I like to think that I’m good with words; however, when it comes to grief, my vocabulary feels awkward and stunted. And inadequate. So, so, inadequate – woefully so. How, I wonder, can words adequately express the confused mix of memories, thoughts and emotions that run through my mind? They all push to the forefront simultaneously, clamouring for attention – demanding it, even – without order or structure. How to put that on a page in a fashion worthy of such a heavy subject?

Perhaps it’s easiest to start with the basics.

Your name was Tim Mcgarrity. We called you Timmy, or Mcgarrity (on account of your army service). Is it bad that I can’t even recall when we first met? It was probably through our mutual friend, Krystel. I do know that it was the year 2000. I was in my final year of high school – a year where, in hindsight, I went a little crazy in quite a few ways. You, if I remember correctly, had dropped out of high school, and you were suffering from a number of personal crises of your own. Perhaps that is what drew us together.

At first I knew you more by reputation than by experience. I recall the shenanigans you used to get up to with Simon, Page, and Dempsey. There was an escapade involving a fire truck which, safe to say, is probably better left unsaid. I recall hearing of this wild lad, this cool chap, who everybody seemed to admire. I recall you showing up to our school a few times – just because you could, not because you were actually enrolled there. As is my fashion, I accepted quite simply that you would never find someone like me interesting enough to befriend.

You proved me wrong.

I remember, quite clearly, the three and a half hour phone conversation late one night which cemented our bond. You were infinitely generous with your time, your words, your friendship – and your spirit. We were hurting, both of us, in ways which neither of us fully understood at the time, and I think our friendship gave us mutual solace. You came to live with me not long after that. As many can probably attest, living with you was like being surrounded by a whirlwind of Tim. It wasn’t just the mess, although there was certainly plenty of that. It was, I guess, the power of your presence – the way your personality filled the space. For someone like me, who had never had a close friend in such proximity for an extended period of time, it was a rude shock to the system, but one which I remember very fondly. We spent many late nights talking, or wandering the streets. We spent many afternoons at the Kincumber Youth Centre, or ‘Youthie’, that semi-dilapidated quasi-home for so many young lost souls. It was there when we discovered our mutual passion for singing during Rebekah’s jam sessions. How many musical threads, long since forgotten, did we weave there with Krystel, Sarah, and others?

I’m still not sure why you joined the army. Perhaps you once told me, but I’ve long since forgotten. Perhaps it had something to do with the fire truck escapade, as someone once told me. All I know is, when you finished your basic training at Kapooka, the first place you came to visit was Kincumber Youth Centre. I’ll never forget that day, when you cruised up in your new Holden Commodore, wearing your camouflage gear and a new pair of sunglasses. Thinking back now, I suspect that was your tortured way of trying to prove to yourself that you had made it, that you were not a failure. If you’d only known how ecstatic we all were to see you, you would never have doubted your success in all the ways that mattered.

You stayed with me again for a few nights, before you left for your Corps School. Again, we shared many late night conversations, only this time we had your car to go cruising around in too. I remember you burnt through twice the amount of your initial paycheck, but much of that was spent on others. That was just who you were.

It was this which laid the seeds that led me to join the army the following year after graduating high school. We know what a disaster that turned out to be – I dropped out of Kapooka after only four weeks. But you, by then a seasoned grunt, never lauded it over me nor derided me for not cutting it in the army that was now your second home. You listened, and you understood. Like you always did.

God, there are so many memories I could share, that I’m finding it hard to reach agreement with myself on which ones to write. Do I satisfy the perfectionist in me and write down everything, in full detail, and go over it with a fine-tooth comb to ensure it’s accurate? No, I don’t think so. It’s 1 a.m. as I’m writing this, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if such detail is the point. No. It’s about who you were, and all that you shared with the world.

So it seems only fitting, therefore, that I recognise you for the amazing send-off you gave me before I went to university. It was several months after I’d dropped out of the army, and I’d finally figured out what I wanted to do – go to university, and study Information Technology. You were posted at Holsworthy Barracks by this time, I think, and you were back on the Central Coast most weekends. So really, in a sense, it wasn’t one single ‘send-off’ you gave me – it was a series of send-offs, over a few months. Nearly every weekend, we went out cruising in your Commodore – usually with Kirra, or Natalie, or Coral, or Jess, or any number of our mutual friends. Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed, although never by you as our generous driver. We never really went anywhere in particular – we just drove, until we found a place that we liked, and we stopped. And we sung – oh, how we sung. At the top of our lungs, with reckless abandon, we belted out numbers by Farnham, Barnes, and so many other Australian classics. I remember you taking me on a trip out to the Blue Mountains to meet with a girl that I liked. I remember your fiery relationship with someone who shall remain nameless, as it is not my story to tell. I remember how you scared the shit out of those deadbeats who were harassing young women at the Skillion by pretending to be a cop. I spent most of the money I had saved up to start my first semester at uni, but it was worth every cent. It was one of the best summers of my life.

And then I moved to Coffs Harbour to attend university. We still kept in contact for a few years, until I moved to New Zealand in 2005. Gradually, I fell out of touch with you, as I have done with so many of my close friends from the Central Coast. It was through no fault of yours – I guess, perhaps, our lives moved in different directions. It seems like such a poor excuse now. I’m not naive or self-centred enough to think I could have prevented what happened to you, but maybe I could have helped along the way. So many what-if’s, so many untrod paths. I guess now we’ll never know.

But I do remember the last time we spoke at length. It was probably about five or six years ago now. We’d been having a discussion on facebook about politics – a subject which we disagreed on quite strongly – and suddenly you skyped me. The distance and the years between us fell away like the thin veneer that they were, and we spoke for hours. You didn’t mention the fact that I’d put on so much weight since I last saw you. I know it seems silly, but that really meant a lot.

And now, just like that, you are gone. At first I thought you’d just taken off for a few weeks to clear your head. Like that time you left your post in Darwin, and turned up a few weeks later in Alice Springs with a new job and a new girlfriend. Only you could carve out such a full and meaningful new life for yourself in such a short time. God, how did it all go so wrong? I thought you were doing so well, man. You’ve left behind a huge hole. That whirlwind of Tim, that storm of warmth and welcoming which were so uniquely yours, affected so many lives for the better. You wore your heart proudly, and unabashedly, on your sleeve as a badge of honour. I’d wager that there was not a single person you ever met who was not touched by your generosity of spirit. Perhaps that was the problem, in the end – you gave out too much of yourself to others, in the hopes that, one day, that hole in your heart might be filled with the boundless love you so craved. The irony is, that love was all around you – it always was. Friends, family, passing strangers – you engendered it everywhere you went, with everyone you met. For who could know you, my friend, and not love you?

Pō atarau
Ka moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pāmamao

Haere rā
Ka hoki mai anō
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei

Kua hinga te totara i te wao nui a Tane. E tangi ana taku ngakau ki a taku hoa. E te rangatira, moe mai, moe mai ra.

And what better waiata tautoko to your life than your own rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes” – so fitting, given the tragic circumstances: