It’s Never Too Late To Apologise.
‘I walk along the city streets I used to walk along with you,’ Sandi Shaw’s nasal twang accompanied me as I drove rather than walked the city streets, but the message was apposite. I was going to see, I hoped, someone I hadn’t seen for ten years and with whom I used to walk and play on these same streets.
It’s very strange coming back to somewhere that was familiar but is no longer so, a bit like discarding an old piece of clothing or shoes. They were once indispensible but eventually become trash, the sentimental value being lost in those last moments before they are consigned to the bin.
Not far now I told myself, and will I recognise her? Geez, how long have they had traffic lights here–oh poo, that’s now a one way street, so much for sat nav. Damn, I can’t remember how you get round that way. I indicated and pulled into the kerb and consulted my street map. Once upon a time you could only get them for places like London or the other big cities, but now they do them for whole counties.
I could feel myself getting all hot and bothered, this was going to be hard enough as it was. I mean how do you say sorry after all this time? Where did all the aggression come from–how could I have done what I did and just walked away feeling so self-righteous? But I did. Teenage boys can be so callous–almost dangerously so–and I was one of the worst. Upon reflection, I think I might have been bordering upon psychopathic. Thankfully that’s all changed now and I like to think I’m a relatively empathic and sensitive person–just as well, I’m a General Practitioner by trade.
We moved away from here just before I went off to medical school, must be ten years ago and after I’d destroyed my once best friend. I hoped the flowers I’d brought would be appreciated, for her mother at least, though it won’t bring her back nor will it reduce this sense of guilt I have–nothing but my own death will diminish that–and I don’t plan on dying for a long time.
I still recall the row we had. Peter, whom I loved like a brother, with whom I’d holidayed, double dated and done everything since we went to junior school together just dropped his bombshell.
“Dan, I can’t keep this secret from you anymore, I just can’t.” He had tears in his eyes, something was really cutting him up.
“Pete, we don’t have secrets,” I replied knowing that reality meant we all have secrets we’re afraid to share.
“I do, Dan, and I have to tell you.”
We were sitting on a grassy knoll in the park where we’d played football, cowboys and Indians and war games with the other boys in the neighbourhood. I was leaving a week or two later but I counted on keeping in contact with Pete–like I said, he was like the brother I never had.
I sipped the tin of lager and burped loudly, laughing at my rudeness–if you knew my mother you’d understand my laughing at my vulgarity–she polices us, that’s Dad and I like an etiquette nazi. I burped again and laughed–god it was so common but at that moment it felt good. I blushed at the remembrance.
“I’m going to become a woman, Dan.” Peter said and the tears streaked his face.
I just laughed, I was half pissed but even in that state what he said was nonsense. He was Pete, how could he be anyone else? He was my brother not my sister. I didn’t want a bloody sister. My little world began to feel cracks develop at the edges and I felt suddenly very frightened. “What are you saying? I asked beginning to sober up very quickly.
“I’m going to become a woman–it’s something I always knew I wanted to do–and now I’m going to do it. I just wanted to tell you myself, because we’ve always been such good friends. I hope I can count on your support.”
I sat there staring at him, his lips were moving but the words he was speaking were like a foreign language–they might well have been–I couldn’t understand them. I was in shock. Pete wasn’t Pete he was going to become whatever–some stupid fucking woman.
“What are you saying?” I demanded standing up and feeling betrayed, by this my best friend.
“This is so hard, Dan, I love you like a brother–I’d hoped you’d understand, but I had to tell you before you left.”
“What the fuck? You little shit, you fucking homo–I shared a bed with you on holiday, you little fucking queer.” That was when I let fly and caught him on the side of his face. He fell down crying and I pushed him over with my foot, he was too contemptible to even kick.
“I’m sorry,” he kept saying as he cried and I turned to walk away.
“I hope you’ll be fucking happy, you little twat–piss off and get your dick cut off if it’ll make you happy.” I threw my beer can at him and stormed off back to my house. I was in a funk for days, then packing became the priority and we left.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Peter?” asked my mum.
“No,” I snapped back and sat in the back of the car as we followed the furniture remover’s van out of the street. I never saw him again. That same night he walked out across the level crossing as the express was coming through. I shuddered at the thought. His parents would hardly have enough of him left to fill a shoe box let alone a coffin and how could you hug a piece of steak?
I don’t know what happened so it’s surmise, but I suspect he brooded after our final conversation and my total rejection of his need to change–he was always was a bit moody–and he decided to end it all. But what a way to do it–that poor train driver–and his poor parents. I didn’t find out for months–I was too wrapped up in my own life–medical school is hard work, and I wasn’t the brightest in the class by a long way, so I slogged.
When I found out, I was saddened then felt guilty–had I tipped him over the edge. Then I called up my chauvinism and decided to blame it upon his own weakness of character–he’d never have made it as a woman, hell, he’d never have made it as a man–ergo, nothing to do with me. I did however write to his parents expressing my regret at the loss of my good friend and their son. I didn’t even mention he could be anything else.
I discovered he was cremated and en route, had finally managed to find the cemetery and laid some pink roses on the grave where his ashes were buried. I’d left a card saying, ‘To a friend who was also my sister,’ although the inscription said Peter Elliot. I knew who was really buried there and I offered an apology to her though I knew I could never really undo the harm I’d caused. However, living with it was a punishment I’d never escape as long as I lived.
I stopped at a nearby coffee shop which wasn’t there I when I frequented these parts. The espresso gave me a shot of caffeine which I hoped would enable me to find and speak with her parents. One thing I needed to know, what was she going to call herself–I just had to know it–I don’t know why, perhaps to offer prayers for her soul–or maybe so my own could rest in peace. I didn’t know.
At last, Magnolia Avenue hove into sight. I’d checked in the phone book, her parents still lived here and I pulled up just beyond the house. Since qualifying as a doctor, I’ve done some awfully difficult things, like telling people they only have weeks to live, or that their loved one was life extinct. When it’s a child, boy does that hurt, it’s like standing in a bath of boiling water and speaking words of acid that want to dissolve your tongue and burn your mouth. I like to think I do it professionally, that is with a mixture of compassion and objectivity. Some change from the bastard who condemned his friend to death ten years ago–eh?
I got out of the car and picked out the flowers from the boot. I took a deep breath and turned towards the house–a fifties brick built, detached house with four bedrooms and a double bay window in the lounge and master bedroom. I recognised it, the garden was meticulous and the garage had a new door but it was Peter’s old house.
My shoes seemed to echo as I walked down the driveway and up to the front door. With a sweaty palmed hand I reached out a finger and pressed the bell-push. I heard it ring inside the house. I saw a shadow approach through the glass panel, it was her mum.
The door opened and I was right, it was Mrs Elliott, she was about the same age as my mum but looked at least ten years older. I suppose I would if that had happened to my daughter.
She looked quizzically at me and at the flowers I was holding. “Can I help you?”
“Hello, Mrs Elliott, I’m Danielle Crane–I used to be...”
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