Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Back in September, I entered a writing competition with Elle magazine; 900 words on an event that shaped your life, was the brief. I considered everything, from incidents at primary school, to lifelong friendships, to tattoos, to broken hearts and nasty boys; all lovingly beheld in their shaping of my life. But in the end, I saw this competition as the best possible way to keep alive the memory of an extraordinary girl whose friendship, no matter how brief, helped to shape who we are today.
I didn't win the competition (and I've served Lorraine Candy at work, so I'll be taking this small point up with her, once she agrees to hand over her gorgeous sheepskin poncho), but I didn't want this piece of writing to land on the slushpile with so many of my other ideas. So here it is, just for Hannah, a small tribute to someone who I know is watching over us still, and probably having a right old laugh. We still miss you...
For Hannah and All That Came After – Sept 2011
In a matter of weeks, we will all be celebrating in style as we wave a reluctant ‘au revoir’ to my dear friend Cat, who is off on a much-longed-for adventure around the world, for who knows how long. Rachel and I will be quite lost without her on our continent. One person will be notably absent from the celebrations. Notably, of course, because she would have been the one person who would have encouraged Cat from day one, not to mention seen her off with nothing but smiles and endless shots of Tequila. Our friend Hannah, a passionate and wonderful person, whose life was cut tragically short by The Big C, aged just 23.
I was an idiotic, sullen nineteen year old when I first met Hannah, all mile-high legs and bleach blonde hair; caught up in the throes of a hideous ‘woe is me’ crush (I wish I could tell you things have changed in the eight years since, sadly not true) and desperate to be ‘different’. I paid little to no attention to a future that crept closer and grew ever more uncertain as the fuzzy Uni days flew by. We all lived in the moment I suppose, but not with passion, with denial. Hannah was the girl who made it happen, who approached life with a shrug of the shoulders; the girl who would advance on the intimidated guys staring in clubs to get answers, if nothing more. The girl who realised there was more to her and all that she did, who saw her first diagnosis as a springboard to plan for a brighter future, to gain that place at Uni and fulfil her dreams of becoming an English teacher. I only wish she had got that far. Even in the deepest, darkest moments, she never once questioned ‘why’, she simply beheld a belief in beating it and, when she knew she could fight no more, concentrated on making the dreams of those closest to her come true; by creating a living will, a testament to her giving nature, a need to provide a future for those around her, one that she would not share.
Years have gone by and the three of us, Rachel, Cat and I have remained the closest of friends. We continue to be each other’s confidantes, encouragement, discouragement where necessary, shoulders to cry on and, last year, Cat and I played the roles of proud bridesmaids on Rachel’s Big Day! We are all still bonded, as ever, but not in the wake of the impossible unfairness of Hannah’s passing, but in her incredible vitality for life, even when she was staring death in the face.
They say everyone who comes into your life, comes into it for a reason. Well if that’s the case, I will forever question why we had Hannah for such a short time and why other unnecessary types mess about in our daily existence for so much longer. Either way, Hannah was the sort of person who could instil those feelings of endless possibilities within you, someone who would always tell you to ‘Go for it’ whether ‘it’ be the pursuit of a true love or scaling Mount Everest; even if she does now represent a tragic reminder of the fragility of life in all of us. I cannot help but think she is perhaps a big reason why Cat is following her dreams of round the world travel, or why Rachel and her Husband are in the process of planning a permanent move to Australia. Perhaps Hannah really did lie at the root of my decision to break free from the quiet routine of my existence in Somerset and move to London, to realise my dreams of becoming a writer, or even just become a part of a new city, to start a new life. I’d like to think she is here as I sit, typing this, hopeful of some sort of reward or recognition for my work, or that she is even the one encouraging me to saunter across the High Street where I work and drop my phone number into the hands of my latest crush. Either way, I believe she left us all with a message; to see and do everything you want to; to experience all that you can, because she ran out of time and time, for us, no matter how short, is a gift that we must all cherish.
So here I sit, finally half the embodiment of everything I think I want to be, copper hair, ridiculous shoes, inked body and ever-consumed heart. I’m still planning, celebrating, dreaming, believing the impossible and always inspired by my sweet, but all too short friendship with Hannah, as we all are.
Wherever you may be now, dear friend, I hope you know we are all still going for it, like you would have wanted us to. Our hearts might have sunk when we said goodbye, but we were uplifted by you and your fierce, unapologetic, uncompromising attitude towards an illness that may have taken you from us, but at least taught us something about embracing freedom, about endless possibility and about going for what we really want, if only because sometimes life really is too cruel and too short. And in that alone you, our lovely girl, will forever live on.