I have not written about P before.
That is partly because I’m not confident that my words can do him justice.
But it’s also because loss can do funny things to people. It can make you claim a closeness that others don’t recognise, as you grapple with your own emotions and try to make sense of them.
I don’t want to do that.
There are others who knew P better than I did, so I’ve waited, because I didn’t want to speak on their behalf.
But he was my friend too, and now the time feels right.
I was eight, when we moved from the Western Isles down to the Borders, and when I started a new school P was one of the very first people to speak to me. He was not like the other boys, who cared little about a new, shy girl joining their class. Instead, P radiated warmth and kindness. He had big, startling blue eyes and an easy smile that he would flash at me across the classroom.
P had a twin brother, who was equally lovely. It took me a while to learn the small markers that helped distinguish them – who had darker freckles, or a slightly more snub nose, or a choppier fringe – and in those early days they would laugh patiently as I would rush up and start chatting to the wrong one.
We all loved P. Everyone in our year. It is something of a cliché, when someone is no longer with you, to say that you’ve never heard a bad word about them, but in his case it was true. He achieved that difficult balance of being good enough at sport and interested enough in cars for other boys to like him, while also being kind and well behaved enough for the girls like him.
He was one of the few boys mature enough to hold your hand if you were paired up in country dancing lessons, rather than screwing his nose up and sidling away like most of the others did. But if it were rugby or football that month, he would charge in for a muddy tackle with the best of them.
In everything he did, P was sensitive to the feelings of others. He made everyone feel like his friend. Where other people would be afraid to spend time with the new kid, or the fat kid, or the stupid kid, in case their lack of cool was somehow catching, P would always take a few minutes out of his day to say hello, and see how they were.
Perhaps the Hebridean connection helped cement our friendship. His grandparents lived on Harris, the island I had just left, and we used to talk longingly about walking on the beaches and fishing for trout. One summer holiday when I was due to head back and visit my Dad, P’s parents offered to give me a lift. The three of us – probably nine or ten years old – squashed into the back of their car. We shared sandwiches, snoozed on each other’s shoulders, and stopped off to stretch our legs at the serpentarium on Skye, where P and his brother handled the snakes with a lot more enthusiasm than I did.
You take childhood friends so much for granted.
Even when you move from primary school to secondary school, and your interests start to diverge, you still see so much of each other in the corridors and the canteen, that it becomes unimaginable for that person to not be there and not be a part of your life. At that age, there are always opportunities to spend time with your friends; I remember a sixteenth birthday party where P and I decided that too many weeks had passed since we’d chatted, so we shut ourselves in a bathroom and sat fully clothed in the bath for an hour or so, nattering away and putting the world to rights.
We may also have drunk a beer or two, and made a clumsy, fumbling attempt at a kiss for the first and only time. But P the joker overcame P the romantic, and the conversation ended rather abruptly when he turned on the cold tap and soaked me to the skin.
P started the same university as me, at the same time, but he didn’t love it and never settled. So he left and got a job instead, before going to a different uni and getting his degree a few years later. As time went on, we didn’t see each other as often, but he was so good at keeping in touch. He would often write long letters in his beautiful, neat handwriting, and if he’d been out at night, he would sometimes call and leave me a rambling voicemail at 2 or 3 in the morning, which I would listen to and laugh at when I woke up.
He was always there for the important moments. He came to our wedding and was not short of willing partners as he whirled around the dance floor in a kilt. A week after DorkySon was born he turned up unannounced on the doorstep bearing gifts; lovely warm baby clothes, big enough to grow into. And he was on the invite list for DorkySon’s Christening, but I never had the chance to ask him.
I saw P just a couple of weeks before he died. I got a text from him one morning saying that he was coming up to Edinburgh, and asking if he could pop round. So he did – several hours later than planned because he’d been having car problems. He sat at our old wooden dining room table, cradling a cup of coffee in his big hands. He chatted easily to DorkySon, who was still just a wee sprout at that time, and got down on the floor to build Lego towers with him.
P was one of those rare, sweet people who was always easy company. No matter how long we left between visits, we could pick up right where we left off, without any awkwardness. Had I known that conversation would be the last we’d have, there are many things I would have taken the chance to say, not least how much his friendship meant to me.
As one of the oldest in our year, P was among the first to hit every age-related milestone. If he were still here, he would have turned thirty this weekend.
Perhaps because we remember how good he was at keeping in touch and reaching out, a lot of his friends have been making contact with each other this weekend. We have been texting and emailing, acknowledging how sad and strange we feel that he is gone. Our lives seem quieter without his laugh, his teasing, his crap taste in music.
But we are sure, every last one of us, that we are better people for having known him.
Happy Birthday, P.
We miss you.