A Few Words for a Departed Friend

You might recall that during my last visit to Germany I received word about an old friend and co-worker that was killed in a motorcycle accident. I’m attending his funeral tomorrow, representing the company I work for. His other half has asked if anybody that knew him can record their memories, and share them, so she might compile them for both her and their baby in years to come.

I’ll do my best.

Over the years I have worked here, I have sat at different desks throughout the offices. For a couple of years I sat in a small office at the end of the top floor, alongside a new starter – with the hope that I might take him under my wing – show him the ropes – teach him how to keep putting one foot in front of the other. His name was Steve, he was engaged to be married, and he was a pretty damn good software developer. He could turn his hand to pretty much anything, and quietly got on with whatever he was assigned to.

Over the next couple of years we got to know each other well. We went out to lunch together, put the world to rights, and he came to a number of the ridiculous barbecues we threw each summer. In the years before children we would invite our co-workers and friends over – one year attracted friends from South Africa, Australia, Zimbabwe, Italy, Japan, and Oklahoma – we joked that the various outdoor games taking place in the garden should really have been titled as an unofficial world cup of sorts.

I remember the year Steve brought the “Fire Poi”. He had been learning to perform with “poi” for several months outside the office at work – twirling them around his head annoyingly impressively. As darkness fell in the garden he retreated to his car, and returned with two chains, with balls on the end that he dipped in a flammable liquid and began twirling. Slowly but surely everybody present (perhaps 70 or 80 of us) surrounded him in the garden, marvelling at the roaring balls of fire.

Towards the end of 2006 I began working on a huge project in London that entailed commuting back and forth every day – spending hours on trains, and rarely visiting the office. As summer of 2007 approached, Steve joined me on the project. We would share the hell of the London Underground together at the beginning and end of each day, swap video games (the Nintendo DS was “the toy to have”), and talk about books we had read, movies we had seen, and so on. I dread to think how many hours we spent squashed into the corners of underground trains together.

Quietly one day Steve announced that he had split up with his wife, and was getting divorced. Not long after that, he handed his notice in. Their house had been sold, and he vanished off around the world – not so much to run away from everything, but I think to find himself. The photos that appeared on Facebook over the coming months turned everybody living a “normal” life green with envy. Steve was effectively ticking off a bucket-list of places to visit, one after another.

And then, a year or so later, an email arrived in my inbox. “Are you doing anything at the weekend?”. During this time period we had gone through the tail-end of the adoption process, and now had children. Suddenly going out for lunch was a huge logistical exercise – but we hadn’t seen Steve for a year or so, and jumped at the chance.

And that’s how we met Bryony, and their dog. After a wonderful pub lunch getting to know one another we went for a walk around the nearby park – and our middle girl (who is dog mad) proudly helped hold the lead – downloading the entire contents of her head concerning dogs while doing so. I’ll forever be grateful that Bryony had so much patience for her.

Not long after there was a wedding, and we were invited to the after-wedding party in the evening. I’ve always felt guilty that I didn’t dress appropriately – we had been to a wedding previously where the evening was much more relaxed, so I went with an un-tucked shirt and khaki trousers. Of course everybody was in formal wear (and Bryony looked stunning).

Over the years since we had followed each other’s adventures on the internet, and tried to keep in touch – but as with so many friendships, work, family, life, and everything else conspire – and we slowly drifted apart. But then a friend organised a few drinks one night, and suddenly there was Steve again – larger than life – laughing about stories from years past, still good at video games, and talking about soon becoming a Dad.

That was the last time I saw Steve. He was happy, smiling, and looking forward to the future.

It’s funny how particular moments burn their way into your memory. I remember the exact moment, late one night in a hotel in Germany when I received the awful email from Bryony. I remember calling home, and hearing Wendy’s voice wobble.

Tomorrow we say goodbye.

Steve was a bloody good friend. He had time for everybody, very few enemies, and if you needed him, he was there. I don’t think that’s a bad way to be remembered at all.

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