Wednesday, March 01, 2006


"A slipstream to a memory"

The other day I was listening to my PSB remix CD and the song "Being Boring" came on. This is one of my favourite songs by PSB, not just because it is good, but also because of the sentiment behind it. It was written in memory of a friend of Neil Tennant's who had passed away and charts life through the decades spent with your friends but never really expecting there to come a time when they might never be around:-

"'cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
Time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend"

On this particular day, the song took me back to 1988.

I was studying for my A levels and was part of a group of four or five close friends who spent a good bit of time together, generally doing daft childish stuff to break free from the drudgery of study for what were at the time the most important exams we had ever taken. A level grades determine what Universities will accept you to do a degree, so they were a VERY big deal!

One of the friends I’ll call Tom – it’s not his real name but it’s not especially relevent. Like me, he wasn't the most outgoing of the group, but he had a quirky sense of humour and was always game for doing ridiculous things which in retrospect could have got us all into a lot of trouble. Some of the things we got up to were quite Pythonesque - a little off the wall, a bit surreal even, and I think most of the "cool" kids thought we a bit of a joke and, whilst they made fun of us, tended to steer clear of our weird little group. Tom and I shared a similar taste in music and TV programmes, and best of all his home was a mere 5 minute walk from our school, allowing us all plenty of time to go to his place to play video games or watch TV during lunchtime or "free" periods when there were no classes.

Tom was also pretty smart, although I think he hid his talents somewhat. He loved art, and was a very talented artist himself. His family had a wealth of information at their fingertips - I shall always remember his parents home, filled with books and videotapes in the hall and living room, all neatly piled up - I don't recall seeing any bookcases or shelves, and with two sisters already studying at university it seemed fair to assume that Tom would follow in their footsteps, fly through his chosen degree course and be very successful.

Anyway, on one perfectly normal school day Tom failed to turn up for class. None of us in our group really thought much of it. It was autumn and perfectly reasonable to assume that he might have a cold and taken the day off as a result. The next day he again failed to show up for registration, and our group of friends decided that at lunchtime we would walk up to his house to see how he was doing, and find out why he hadn't shown up for school.

When we got there we rang the doorbell, but there was no answer. We could see his bedroom window from the front and the curtains were drawn shut. The back of his house was fairly accessible so we decided to scoot around the back to see if we could get his attention there. We peeked in through the kitchen window and saw a figure in the kitchen who, on seeing us, promptly dashed off back into what would have been the hallway and disappeared! I don't personally know if it was Tom, but some friends swore it was, and we continued to bang and shout out for him, and wondered why he seemed to want to avoid us, his closest friends.

The days rolled on, and Tom continued to be a "no show" at school. Rumours started to circulate, and of course, as his friends, we started to get asked questions. We were literally in the dark as much as everyone else. It became clear that the situation was serious when our teachers began to ask us about Tom as well and we soon discovered that for some reason unknown to everyone, Tom had decided to lock himself away from the outside world. Teachers were asking us if we knew of any reason why he was doing this. Had he been bullied? Did we know any reason why he might be unhappy? To be honest, even now, I cannot think of a single reason why, other than maybe the stresses of A level work were playing on his mind. He wasn't bullied any more or less than the rest of us and certainly not to a point where you would do something like that, and as far as we knew he enjoyed our company. We also assumed his home life was fine. His Mum was a lovely lady and always very hospitable.

Anyway, one day we decided to go to Tom's house to see if we could be of any assistance. His Mum came to the door looking distraught and was visibly holding back tears, but asked us to come in to see if we could coax him out. We trooped upstairs and went to his bedroom door, which was barricaded from the inside, and tried to talk to him. Not one of us got a response.

That was the last time I ever set foot in Tom's house.

For weeks and months afterwards we all tried to think of what could possibly have happened to him to make him do such a thing. At Christmas I reached out again by sending him a card. Christmas Day also happened to be his birthday, so it seemed an especially good time to try to make contact. What is surprising is I DID get a card in return. I wish I had kept that card now because I don't recall exactly what it said - I do know it contained a one line message which on first inspection seemed quite innocent, but remember feeling it had a double meaning which came across as somewhat bitter and twisted. I didn't quite know what to make of it. I was so pleased I got a card from him and I think I even wrote a follow up letter to which I got no response. I was unable to expand on that success to make further contact and he was obviously determined to cut off all links with us.

As the years have passed we've occasionally heard rumours about Tom. I've never heard anything concrete to my knowledge - just stuff from a friend of a friend. Someone said he did come out of his room, but was institutionalised, some said he'd been spotted in the locality, but I have nothing to prove that any of this is fact. An earlier rumour that circulated was that he had taken a pair of scissors to his hair and cut it all off, but I've no evidence to say that he actually did. I do remember one day, not long after all of this happened, meeting his Mum in a supermarket. I was with a few friends and we exchanged pleasantries, but you could tell she was in no mood to talk about her son and scurried off very quickly before we had a chance to ask any pertinent questions.

Occasionally I get asked if I ever heard what became of him and sometimes when I get together with friends from that original group he might crop up in conversation, but to be honest what you are reading here is all I know.

I would love to know what happened to him, and even if he doesn't want to make contact with me or be my friend, I'd just like to know he's OK.

"Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties.
I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be
But I thought in spite of dreams
You'd be sitting somewhere here with me."

What a story! I often wonder about people from my past but none of them have as dramatic a story as Tom.
Gosh. It's awful when you think you know somebody, and it turns out there's a side to them you didn't know they had, and they didn't want you to know. Both Ben and I have had friends who have died by confirmed and possible suicide respectively, and we never suspected anything was wrong until it was too late. I really do hope you get some idea of what went on with Tom.
Wow. What a great post Gabby. I often wonder about friends from my past too and where they are now. Some of them I run into around town, others have moved away (something I wish I could make myself do). It's sad to read that you never found out what happened to Tom --- boy - sure does make the imagination go to work. And although I'm not a PSB fan, the lyrics of this tune are great! Thanks for sharing!

oh - as strange as it is (since I never post during the day or while at work) I posted again.....
OGO - It was one of the most bizarre things to happen to a friend and to feel so helpless as well.

Ann - I guess it's just a shame that these people don't feel that they can ask their own friends for help before it's too late...I just wonder if things might have been different if he'd told one of us about what might have been troubling him...

SS - I do sometimes wonder if I might come across him someday - I even did a quick search on the internet before I posted this just in case I found him! I guess I've kind of resigned myself now to the fact I shall probably never know exactly what happened or became of him, but I like to try to think positive thoughts and that maybe he worked his way out of his problems and managed to move on from that. Oh, and I'll make a Pet Shop Boys fan out of you yet! ;-)
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