It had been two weeks since Johnny’s death.
The morning after we drove home from Caleb’s, Tahlia received a text saying Johnny had died in a car crash, drink driving, nobody knew why. At first, I thought it was just an elaborate excuse Caleb had made so he could skip work, but as Tahls read through the second message, we both realized her words echoed one thing only – the cold-hearted truth. For someone who is rarely speechless, momentarily, I was. Conflicting ideas began to race through my mind, and all at once I became angry and confused; Johnny’s dead, that could have been us, Johnny’s dead, but we were only just talking last night, Johnny’s dead, why didn’t we stay, Johnny, what kind of sick joke is this?
The words escaped before I had a chance to think them through. Tahlia stared back in disbelief, her cheeks turning white.
“Well – when are the Coast boys gonna learn?” I asked defensively.
“Yeah…” she spoke, quietly, “I dunno.”
Shut up, I thought to myself, just shut the fuck up.
I looked at Tahls, sitting cross-legged in her pyjamas, still wearing last night’s smudged mascara and vacantly not knowing what to do; suddenly I felt stupid, fuck – I’m sorry, insensitive, stupid.
“Shit, I’m sorry, Tahls.”
“Nah, it’s all good, I’m fine.”
“Did you know Johnny?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, hesitant, “I mean, he was one of the boys. I’m just worried about the rest of the boys, you know? I dunno if I should call Kale.”
She began scrolling through her phone, forcibly occupied, barely emotional but cool. I climbed out of the caravan, letting the sun warm my shoulders and taking in a deep breath.
During crisis, Tahlia reached out to those who were suffering. She understood pain – the way it could be repressed, expressed and easily concealed. Tahlia knew more than I did when it came to dealing with death; she studied sociopaths and repeated stories of mistreatment and distress, which quite frankly, meant discovering a vast majority of secrets to government rule, serial killers and quick fixes to a better sex.
It felt like I had known Tahlia forever, but we’d only just met for the second time less than a year ago. Our first friendship boomed during early adolescence at summer athletics, two twelve year old girls giggling at boys and making remarks about school, the boys who knew how to skateboard and interrupt learning time and silent reading sessions with cheeky comments. Every Saturday, we competed in long-jump and short distance track; I was always second best, but our mutual understanding of sport meant neither of us were bothered by the competition, our usual sibling rivalry eventually coming first over any weekend distraction. However, our bond grew distant once we started back at school, and in a new chapter, she began attending the only private highschool in our town, a Catholic school, whilst I took my Anglican upbringing and thirteen year old self to Greymouth High. Throughout the next five years, we hardly spoke, but remained connected through shared best friends, which lead to a one-off pash at our mates’ joint-fifteenth's. Eventually, God had His way, and once again our mutual bond was replicated through what has once been described as my first quarter-life crisis, which much to my satisfaction, was more than occasionally in the company of Tahlia’s nonchalant, nomad nineteen’s.
Then, in our second attempt at friendship, we drank wine, drove around at night, got messy, got lost and caught up on Sunday evenings for cups of honey tea, carrot sticks and seasoned hummus. It was a summer we made fun of with boys who were a laugh and boys who were good to laugh at; some evenings we’d blaze and talk for hours about pathetic problems that hastened our over-dramatized lives, listening to gangster rap and singing R’n’B duets. I’d ask, how did we ever get this way, what is wrong with us, and she’d say, Sel, you are a sick fuck, but that’s what we love about you – what’s your next blog going to be about? Then it was just a matter of seizing whatever first came to mind, appeasing this thought for a moment and seeing if it sparked anything relevant which could be written about in a weird, opinionated way, or spewed out violently in an emotional rage.
But was the first emotional hurdle Tahlia and I had experienced at the same time, at the same pace, for a long while. For me, it was an easy jump, but I could see her struggling, and as much as I wanted to, I knew acceptin Johnny's death was something she only grasp on her own; what I didn't realize, it eventually, I would be forced to do the same.
We drove back into town to meet at Caleb’s flat; it was Friday, and I was meant to be going to uni for a day business attendance and practising act. I should have been more prepared for what was to come , but, instead, I directed my focus to the present, the here, the now. Beside the others, I sensed an eeriness to being in the place we’d last seen Johnny, as though there was a soulless draught seepinginto our world, a still whisper counteracting our sorrow. Everybody was quiet and unsettled, sitting on the grass, picking at nothing and making small conversation about what had happened last night. Oh, what sad idiots we were, talking about last night with tunnel vision and point blanks of view.
“Hold up,” I called, “I’ll drive – I’m coming.”
I began to search for Gandalf, and as though he heard me calling, up popped his little brown head, a smug look stapled across his muddy face.
You naughty, little thing.
Gandalf was my bestfriend’s pet rat.
Babysitting him meant having another friend to share midnight snacks and last minute plans with.
“Come on, baby,” I said, “We’re going on an adventure.”