This is not the post I’d planned to write today, and this is not the post I want on the front page of this blog, and this is not a post that I would like to have written at all really. But I made myself write it. A few weeks ago I heard an old friend had died. We had been close for a brief, yet intense period, in that fleeting, BFFs for a few months way that pre-teen girls have. We were friends via another friend, so friends by proxy or something in the weird friend hierarchies that exist when you’re young. We didn’t keep in touch and I’d not seen or spoken to her for many years.
Grief doesn’t take that kind of thing into account. Grief turns up in the middle of the brain with files of all the stuff you’ve forgotten, and you wake up crying at 2am with dreams of all the day trips and sleepovers you shared. Even though it was so long ago and for that very short time. I sat wondering mournfully who else I had lost touch with. I wonder how much is acceptable in the course of growing up and how much is just being a crap pal. Wondering how somebody can be fighting luekeamia, being so strong, and so brave, and you don’t even know.
A couple of days ago, Jo, my friend, died. I had known Jo for years via musical theatre where we were part of a large crew. After I left, she’d often borrow me as a pianist when she had an audition to rehearse for, the two of us in a practise room in Urdang. One moment you’re looking up vegan turkey options for thanksgiving; the next moment Jo Reyes is dead. Philly called to tell me. None of us use phones anymore, so I thought it was very weird of her to ring, but I answered anyway. I found out later that when Philly received her own phone call from Anna, she assumed it was a pocket dial and only picked up the phone at the last second. I rang Kelly, and she answered with “this is either good news or bad news, so I’m hoping for good news”. Except it wasn’t. Kelly screamed, and as much as my heart was breaking I was momentarily thankful in a tiny way that it was me talking to Kelly and not Philly. Because who deserves to break the news twice?
Jo. The Jo who I saw just a few weeks ago, Jo who I will not see on Friday to catch up with even though that is what my diary says and my diary rarely lies. Jo whose name is on the door list for Quizney in just a couple weeks, because she was going to try and come after a previous engagement. There is a Jo-shaped hole in the future. Justin messaged me about an evening meet-up the day we heard, and I thought, “Oh great, I’ll crack on now and go fall apart then”, as though realistically, that was a viable option. It wasn’t. Grief doesn’t let you postpone. Instead I just stared at my computer, stunned that my arrangements didn’t finish themselves.
Yesterday was the two year anniversary of Pete’s funeral. When Pete died, I sat on my bed and called everyone I could think of myself. It was a very long list because we knew each other in so many scenarios. The list making and the phone calling was fucking awful. I wish I had started a phone chain instead and delegated the disaster. I felt utterly alone even though I was flanked by the two James’, because I knew nobody had known Pete the way I did, nobody had shared the same journey as us, and now there was nobody to even confide that too. It felt like the stars had dropped out of the sky and like my whole future was being rewritten. Though I did not know it, it was an isolating form of grief.
It is a different grief for Jo. Jo built communities around her and this one is strong. I know, I saw it on Friday; there were tons of us MT people in an upstairs room in a pub and so many people I hadn’t seen for years. People’s primary concerns were each other. I saw pain on people’s faces for Jo, but also pain on Pippa’s face when she suddenly remembered our friends abroad, and the time difference. There was pain in Philly’s face when she realised we hadn’t facetimed Kelly yet. The pain was for each other. Our grief goes outwards: we shouldered the burden together. I feel completely devastated, but I do not feel alone.
I spoke to James, and he went “Fuck. I knew her, we gave her a lift that time from Battersea Barge… I saw her in your Witches show”, and it reminded me of when Pete died and Anna went, “Fuck. From WOLF PACK!”. It made me so grateful that I get the opportunity to work with friends in projects supported by other friends. The only shred of reassurance is I know this grief is surmountable. There was a point after Pete died where I generally did not know if life could continue. Now, I know that grief gets easier: maybe not now, not for a while, but I know that it does. Even on Friday we were cracking jokes and finding reasons to smile amid the atrocity.
It tended to be Jo that instigated meet-ups, but without her, already, I know it is possible for us to meet. I know that this disbelieving bit of grief will pass by, the feeling that this tragedy is not for us and has somehow been delivered to the wrong door. Just as I know that in a couple weeks I’ll stop asking Ryan to collect me from everywhere because I become weirdly paranoid I’ll be unsafe by myself. And I know that the show will go on, that all of us will be able to perform again.
Knowing grief doesn’t make it any easier. It just means there is an end, and that this pit of despair is not bottomless. For now I try to be grateful. Jo was always so grateful, and I rarely am – I just endlessly critique. I am grateful now in some sort of potentially misguided tribute. Grateful to have had a weekend full of rehearsals, and a fortnight ahead full of gigs. Grateful to have this strong community around me, for whatsapp chats and FB groups and organised meets and balloons. I am so grateful that last time I saw Jo she was so happy and so proud of the work she was doing, that everything was falling in place. This is not the post I wanted to write, but today, it’s all I could get written.
Pictures taken on Hampstead Heath