I intended to return on an upbeat flow of positive energy but so often it seems that life has other ideas. This post honours the passing of my oldest and dearest friend, Ian McKie. We met at college in Bristol, England in 1962 and immediately it was as if we had known each other forever. As years passed we became inseparable companions. We shared our first writings, our deep love of literature and poetry, the mysteries and beauty of our boho lives, our romantic relationships and heartbreaks, experiments in opening the doors of perception, long nights of drinking wine in the smoky dark cellar bars of Bristol, loud exchanges with friends over existentialism and the relevance of the Beat poets, wild dancing to jazz until dawn then watching the sun rise over the harbour as we breakfasted on bacon butties.
I left England for Canada in 1966 and Ian stayed in Bristol, a teacher now. We stayed in touch by occasional phone call and letter but those were pre-internet days and communication was sketchy and expensive. On the few occasions I flew home to visit my parents we came together again and it was always as if we had never separated. Once Ian came to visit me in British Columbia and we spent a mad month in Victoria reliving our early times together.
Each of our lives evolved on different paths. When email and the Internet arrived we took advantage of it and wrote more frequently. Then there was Skype and we were able to talk to each other again. In the last five years Ian struggled through a difficult divorce, ill health and two cancer scares that ended positively. His physical problems increased but his mind remained clear and our talks were as they always were, full of wonder and humour at the vagaries of life, valuing what we had and how blessed we were to be alive and still be friends.
A few weeks ago Ian didn’t answer my email or my Skype calls and his silence continued. I kept trying, thinking maybe he was sick and in hospital, unable to communicate but would soon be home. After two weeks I was seriously concerned. Ian had never given me any of his Bristolian friends or ex wives’ email addresses or phone numbers. I had no one to contact to ask if he was okay. He had no children or surviving relatives and neither of us were on Face Book. Finally I emailed City Hall in Bristol explaining the situation. They emailed back saying that they had a death certificate for Ian…my friend was gone, just like that, gone…and I still can’t believe and I cry every day for him. Ian was 72.
So I post this in memory of him, to honour our friendship. I also post this in the faint hope that one of Ian’s friends somehow sees the connection on-line and gets in touch with me to tell me about how and when Ian died because I am in need of closure.
Ian, me old acker, my shining main man,
tonight I was told you were gone
away from this world we have shared so long,
an email from a woman at your city hall,
her daily bureaucracy surrendering
to compassion, prompt in her reply,
her paper work undeniable, factual,
an uncompromising and cold goodbye.
So now I understand your silence
but understanding cannot stop these tears.
Where are you now dear one?
Beyond any reaching I can do or think.
This was no way to say farewell.
For weeks I have wondered where you are
fearing the worst but not knowing, unsure.
We should have anticipated, planned, shared contacts
but we never thought it would be as sudden
as this, and you sounded so alive
the last time we spoke. The last time.
Can you find me now my friend? Send a sign.
You know I loved you as a brother
so why did you leave me like this, in limbo?
How did you go? In your sleep without pain
I hope, but maybe I will never know.
Perhaps it was like boarding one of the trains
you loved so much, settling into a first class seat
and watching your life and the world flash by
outside the dusty windows, slowly receding
into the final light of darkness.
And these, my last words to you, rattling
with the iron tracks that carry you home.
A steam trumpet wailing in the night.
Our years were wine, laughter and poems on our tongues,
the beauty of salty, sandy women and fish and chips
by the western sea and pine scented baths
in the late afternoon light from the Channel
and Arthur bringing hot towels and tea,
and windy walks home to your house or mine,
our mothers immersed in cooking, and dogs
wanting to go out, and readings of Eliot.
Can you hear me Ian, out there in the shadows?
Are you not allowed one phone call to me
to say a simple goodbye? Not much to ask
from the Great Mystery after a lifetime of love.
I am torn apart with losing you.
I am as cold and empty as you are now
as I search through soil and stars for you
to be with you one last time.
Do you remember once we talked for hours
of how each of us might greet our death?
As Dylan Thomas’..”do not go gentle..”
or with open arms of spiritual acceptance.
How was it for you my friend, at the end?
Did you “go gentle into that good night”?
Were you alone? I hope someone was there
holding your hand. I wish it had been me.
You are gone, not just down the pub for ciggies,
but gone, completely, never coming back,
however much I write and call your name
you are gone, washed into the darkness on my tears.
I am lost in time, still hearing your voice
sending love through the airwaves of the night,
still feeling your arms around me the last time we met,
still holding you alive in my heart as I always have and always will.