I’d heard a lot about you before we met. You were Katrina’s ex and everyone had talked you up as serious eye candy. I’d been told I would be impressed, but I was determined not to be. Instead, I’d hooked my thumb in your direction, curled my nose up and sighed, “So this is Wade huh? Gotta say he doesn’t live up to the hype.” Katrina laughed and later told me she’d never seen you stuck for words before.
Despite this, somehow we ended up the best of friends. It started with a game of pool at the pub, then in the blink of an eye we were out on the town at least once a week, often more – it didn’t matter if it was a night out at The Charles, multiple games of pool, or even as your plus one at family events, so long as we were there together. We were drinking partners, you and I – you did the drinking, while I took care of the driving.
My old gunmetal grey Escort became your snooze mobile. Whether you’d had one beer or many, you’d always fall asleep on the way home, leaving me to pour you into bed. If you were staying at your Dad’s it was my job to try and keep you quiet so you didn’t wake the household. I’m not sure I always succeeded — you were a chatterbox and naturally loud even when I gave you my best librarian shhhhhhhh!
The task was harder if you were staying at your mum’s, I had to navigate the stairs. With me being 5ft nothing, a fireman’s lift was out of the question and on more than one occasion I dragged you by the armpits up those stairs. Even on the nights when you climbed the stairs yourself, you’d want to sit and chat every few steps making a simple staircase journey last an hour or more. But no matter where you were staying I always got you to bed, took your boots off and gave you a kiss on the cheek before leaving and locking the door behind me.
Our relationship confused many people, we were so close that those who saw us together assumed we were dating, but we never had a physical relationship. Perhaps our friendship was too important, perhaps the timing was never right. But whatever our relationship was, we brought out the best in one another. I managed to talk you out of many crazy schemes, while you taught me to be fearless.
After I moved, our lives travelled in different directions. When you called and asked me to visit you in remand, I had no hesitations. You, however, attached a condition to my visits, if I was asked to be subjected to a strip search I was to refuse. You weren’t that important. My reply that of course I would go through with a strip search, if only to hold it over your head for the rest of your life, was met with raucous laughter. All my visits went smoothly, and I never did get those bragging rights, instead, I shared my writing dreams with you, and your challenges sent my writing in unexpected directions.
We’d been out of touch for a few years when Jarryn’s karate lessons moved to a club. Instead of watching him, I had my nose in a book when I felt eyes upon me. I looked up to see you grinning broadly at me. At the time you were working behind the bar, so from then on, instead of reading a book while Jarryn did his high kicks, I’d nurse a coke and we’d chat between customers. You were a father now and each week you’d proudly show me photos.
I never saw you again after Jarryn gave up karate, but I often thought of you through the years – I’ve never been able to listen to “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” without thinking of the night we belted out our screeching rendition at karaoke. I was sad when it was mentioned recently in passing that you had died a few years ago, and my heart broke when I learnt the circumstances surrounding your death.
Perhaps, for me, it was for best that I hadn’t paid attention to the news because I get to remember you as my friend and not as a headline. I get to remember your hair blowing in the breeze as you held your head out of my Escort window, your cheeky grin when you’d been up to something mischievous (handcuff keys delivered a week too late springs to mind!!), the many times you held my hand as we danced (or head banged in-sync) at The Charles, and so much laughter.
I’ll always think of you as my ‘drinking’ partner.