Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A friend slips away

One of the best aspects of company Christmas parties is that they let you meet the partners of your colleagues.

A few a years ago, my wife and I shared a table with a then colleague and his new partner. His devotion was clear to all and they entertained the whole table with the story of his pursuit and capture of her. She told us that he was the only man to join the group of divorcees who met regularly to chat at the swimming pool while their children went swimming. One day, he called across the group to spring an invitation on her to go to a film with him.

‘Well, yes,’ she said, surprised, and looking around the rest of the group, ‘shall we do that?’

‘The invitation was only for you,’ he assured her, to her considerable embarrassment.

Her best story was about the day when, against her wishes but borne down by the sheer weight of his persuasion, she took him into hospital for surgery on an eye. It was one of those ghastly 
operations where you get a local anaesthetic and remain conscious while someone inflicts brutal violence on a delicate part of your body.

She had remained among the crowd in the waiting room when a nurse emerged and announced ‘Chris Tinker doesn’t feel he can get through this operation unless his soon-to-be girlfriend comes and holds his hand.’ She did and they became, officially, a couple. Hence our meeting over the Christmas dinner table.

The stories were amusing, even charming. Above all they underlined the stubborn determination with which Chris was pursuing his hope of happiness. And the forces behind his drive were easy to understand: he had just emerged from a particularly gruesome divorce, in which he had initially had his children dumped on him, until his wife decided that she had wanted them back. At that point he had fought and lost several court cases, at huge cost, in emotional as well as financial terms.

In the end his ex-wife packed up the children and decamped with them and her new partner to Canada. Chris was a talented colleague prepared to take on a wide range of jobs, and he managed somehow to remain focused on the responsible work he did. At times though it was hard. For instance when he heard for the second time that the arrival of his children from Canada had been postponed, the sheer weight of his despair took its toll on him. This was one of the occasions when, despite his fight to keep working, migraines would strike him as his body forced him to take the time off he so obviously needed and which he grimly combated by sheer force of will.

So I shared his hope that perhaps he was now climbing back out of the trough into which he had been flung. Because he was more than a valued colleague, he was also far too likable to deserve the pain he’d been through.

It wasn’t to be. Last week Chris committed suicide. I don’t know what went wrong, I don’t know what pushed him over the edge. 

I’d failed to keep in touch with him after I lost that particular job, but I’ve heard from some of the friends I made then. They’re as shocked as I am, as much in the dark about what finally happened. Just as he’d soldiered on in the past until ill-health had stopped him, so perhaps he’d struggled recently to give as little hint as possible of whatever was tormenting him until, finally, his will to fight snapped.

Chris can't have been a particularly close friend, or I wouldn’t have lost touch with him. But whenever I think of him I’m reminded of the actor Paul Eddington’s wish for his own epitaph: ‘he did very little harm.
 Chris to my knowledge never did anyone any harm and managed quite a lot of good. Above all, he showed a great deal of kindness to a great many people, including me.

So I’m sorry to take my leave of Chris. It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d never met again. Just because he was still around, the world was by that small amount a gentler place; his death deprives us all of a little generosity of spirit.

He deserved his share of happiness. It’s a bitter shame that he’d lost all hope of achieving it.

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