The 3rd of June 2011 was a significant day in my life.
It was a gloriously sunny day, much like today, but I was in no mood to enjoy it. I was full of depressed turmoil and had been since I’d discovered I was HIV+ just before the general election the previous year. For four months I had struggled and failed to take my HAART medication that would sustain me for the rest of my life. In desperation that week I had booked a cheap hotel in North London and a train journey leaving that afternoon so I might have some solitude to decide what I was going to do. In truth I felt I had two options, either to attempt to save my life or end it.
I had packed everything I required the day before so I had nothing to do that morning but distract myself until I needed to catch my train. I waked and backed, showered and shaved, made some breakfast and logged on as I frequently did when I had no pressing morning engagements. I very quickly noticed both on Facebook and Twitter that something was wrong amongst my liberal brethren. It reminded me of that dark winter’s day a few years previous when the news of Neil Trafford’s death had spread. I messaged my good friend Lucy Watt and she swiftly responded, informing me that Andrew Reeves had died of a heart attack the night before.
Quietly devastated I calmly skinned up, walked to the pond at the bottom of my parents garden and sat in the wooden chair known as my father’s throne. As I smoked my spliff, silent salty tears fell from my face. To my shame I couldn’t help feeling I was next and wondering how everyone I knew would react to my selfish suicide. I sat there a long time before I pulled myself together.
I caught my train that afternoon and as I crossed the country from west to east I couldn’t stop thinking about all the encouragement Andrew had given me over the last year. The previous summer I had a subtle internet breakdown (see Calling Valhala) which largely and thankfully went unnoticed except for two people, one of whom was Andrew. Over the course of an hour they both spurred me to pull myself back together. I realised my mistake in showering my facebook status with my misery, deleted the post, messaged them both telling what I done in order to protect myself and thanking them for catching me. They both messaged me offering support and encouragement but Andrew went further.
He told me about a similar traumatic experience that had happened to him when he was my age. He also described how he got through it and rebuilt his life. He gave me both hope and more importantly his mobile number telling me to call him whenever I needed support. I was too stupidly shy to do so but he never gave up on me, frequently texting to ask how I was. Hell he even badgered me to apply for some jobs that were coming up in his patch. I feel such an idiot for politely dismissing his help.
As the train pulled into Swindon, Neil’s childhood home and resting place, that quiet calming voice within, that some might call God but I am astute enough to know is the core of my soul, rebuked me.
“How can you be so self-centred as to think only of your pain? You spurned Andrew’s concern and support in life and now you consider rejecting it in the wake of his death, to selfishly place your turmoil above those who for some unfathomable reason love and value you, just so you can know the blissful peace of oblivion. Is that how you’re going to honour Andrew’s memory? Grow up. Take responsibility for yourself. Be that brave boy you have always been and endure. You have survived too much shame and heartache to throw it all away on a whim.”
As the train continued its journey I rallied my courage which had been absent for so long. I got to Paddington and via tube and bus made my way to the Amhurst Park Hotel. I checked in, showered, skinned up and crossed my Rubicon. I have always had difficulty taking medication but that night I downed them and more importantly they stayed down. Then I went outside into the hotel’s garden and smoked my spliff as the sun set to my memories of Andrew’s soulful laughter.
So that’s the debt of honour I owe Andrew Reeves. That’s why in my subsequent post seizure frailty, and with the help of Anders Hanson, Mark Cole and Lucy Watt, I left the safety of my hospital bed to attended his Memorial Service at the Islington Union Chapel. I needed to pay my respects. By his death he spurred me to avert and postpone mine. I am eternally grateful that I was fortunate to have met him.
Tonight there is a vigil in Westminster, by the statue of George V in Old Palace Yard. It’s for the Equal Marriage Bill, something I know Andrew would support. Unfortunately for financial reasons I can’t go but I’ll be there in spirit. And in spirit I believe Andrew will be there too. While I watch the debate on my laptop, I’ll be lighting a candle in remembrance of a friend I knew all too briefly. Who sadly didn’t live to see us take another step forwards towards our rainbow. I’ll be tending two flames tonight: One in my home and the other in my heart.