Someone you didn’t want to let go, but just drifted.
I first met Alf at a church fellowship group. I was in my teens and he was in his late twenties. Alf was a Peter Pan-like character, full of life and fun. An ex heroin addict he'd recently been released from prison where he had become a regular church-goer.
Not perhaps on first sight a natural prospect for friendship but Alf and I hit it off right from the start. I think sometimes very different people fit together better than those who on the surface at least seem similar. We became friends and remained that way for about 10 years all told. I was bridesmaid at his wedding. There weren't many people I'd wear a frilly dress for but in this case I was happy to oblige. I was thrilled to bear witness to such a positive step in his life.
In my mid twenties I went off to college to further my studies but I still came home quite often on the weekend and spent the shorter holidays staying with Alf and his wife Sarah at their home. Sarah and I are still friends.
We loved to smoke spliff together and would dabble in "party drugs" once in a while. We had a lot of laughs doing this. I never really thought about it being bad or dangerous because I wasn't doing it every day. Alf was though. I liked the effect of switching my brain off and letting go of difficult thoughts and feelings. I was working and studying hard so to my mind this was a way of both joining in and having some fun ... some down time.
Alf was doing other drugs from time to time although I was unaware of this. He was drinking at hazardous levels on a daily basis. I wasn't drinking at all back then but I was aware that the level of his drinking was problematic. Seems funny really that heavy drinking was the norm amongst a lot of my friends even as far back as then. I could see trouble ahead but Alf insisted that this was all just "having a good time" and I needed to "chill".
As my post graduate studies and work took me further from home I saw less and less of Alf and Sarah. We talked on the phone but saw little of one another. Their marriage broke down in this period and they split up. It had lasted less than three years. From there his drinking and drug taking escalated from hazardous to chronic in an incredibly short period of time. He was in self destruct mode. He isolated himself from pretty much everyone and deteriorated rapidly in both mental and physical health.
For some time from then on I mostly heard of Alf rather than from him. He was in trouble with the police, getting into fights, robbing people, other things that I won't go into. Whenever I was back in town I would trawl around the old haunts trying to find him. Sometimes I'd be successful and we'd go for a bite to eat. He was not the man I'd known. We'd drifted apart almost completely by this stage. Our daily lives were just so different. It hurt us both to see one another in a way. I understand that a lot better now then I did back then. I wished I'd known then what I do now.
The last time I heard from him was in a letter he wrote saying that he wished he was dead. This not long before his death. He had moved out of his room in shared accommodation and was mostly living on the streets with some overnight stays in hostels. Sarah talked with his old probation officer who kindly arranged for him to stay at a halfway house but he walked out after only a few days. They did not allow drug taking on the premises. It seemed that he was completey engulfed in his old heroin addiction.
A while later I heard that he was killed in a car accident. Turns out he stumbled onto the dual carriageway and directly into the path of an oncoming car in the early hours of the morning. He was probably just trying to walk back to the homeless shelter. According to reports he'd been seen earlier in the evening and was completely wasted. I hope this means he felt no fear or pain, but more than that I feel so very sorry for the driver of that car. What an awful trauma to have to go through and then learn to live with. Just imagine.
I didn't want to let go of Alfie, I think he just decided to let go of life and all of us along with it. He was only 42 when he died. I still miss him and all the laughs and the jokes we shared. He taught me a lot without even knowing it. On the whole my life seems vastly different now to what it was like back then although obviously some remnants remain. I am glad for that.
Hope - Emily Dickinson
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