Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Laughter and forgetting

I met Ali when we were both 13, when I started at a new school. She was in my class and stood out almost straight away (in my memory she has different coloured eyes, like David Bowie, but that might be a flawed recollection). I always knew Ali was a good person, although she had a temper and an an unpredictable wildness about her too: shouting at Gay Ray Jackson, the art teacher, refusing to take off her parka indoors, cheeking him relentlessly until he lost his silly temper, silly man, and stupidly dragged her across the changing room and she fell and hit her head (I smugly advised him "Physical violence is not the answer", for which intolerable insubordination I was damn lucky not to be sideswiped myself). Ali had a gleam in her eye, and was the first girl to wear stretch jeans when they became fashionable in the early 1980s: she looked better in them than anyone. I thought she was beautiful, skinny but strong, and she never seemed to care what anyone thought. She wanted to know what other people were thinking, and she didn't really see barriers the way other people did; she was friendly towards me, although when I was excommunicated on a school trip to Switzerland by the two most popular girls in the class, the wave was too powerful to stand against and she was washed along like everyone else: she was a survivor as well. Never a great and steadfast friend of mine, then, but someone who I admired and who was funny and kind and probably, underneath, as confused as I was.

Ali left school earlier than the rest of us, because she could, and so she did, and drifted to the Highlands where she ended up marrying one of my brother's friends - someone who I still think of as a child, with no more recent memories to overlay the image; so perhaps that's why I find it almost impossible to visualise Ali's life during the 25 years since I last saw her, although I know she had one, with a marriage and children and a social circle.

My sister emailed me this morning to tell me that Ali died. I don't know how or why yet, but sitting at my desk at work properly thinking about her for the first time in years, and visualising her eyes and her smile and her slightly unkempt curls, I felt that sharp stab of loss which was, perhaps solipsistically, as much about me and my memories of the past as it was about her: the past remaking itself into a place where Ali will always be just as I remember her, beautiful and laughing.


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neil creighton said...

Lovely piece, as usual with your writing, the tone just write, a lovely balance between an appropriate sentimentality and wit. You evoke Ali beautifully.