Tribute to a friend…
I found out a friend of mine died in January from Covid. It came as a complete as a shock as he had only been posting on social media a few days before Christmas, and less than a month later he was gone. He was what I’d call a ‘digital friend’, as we had corresponded over the years on various social media platforms, but never actually met up in person, but all the same, I still felt hugely sad when I heard he’d passed away. He had only just turned 50 on Christmas day.
I went to school/6th form with James albeit in different year groups. He was 2 years above me and he was my first unrequited secret crush. I barely knew him at school, but it was his initials I used to write in love hearts all over my pencil case, as most teenage girls do. Our school had 2 playgrounds, upper and lower ones, as we were situated on a hill in Streatham, South London. Generally speaking all the sporty boys used to frequent the lower playground and play football or cricket. James was really into cricket, a sport I still know nothing about! Every break without fail, he’d be down there, bowling balls to his mates who were batting. Unbeknown to him, there was a young 14 year old girl staring at him from afar wishing he knew who I was (probably several girls actually as he was very handsome). He was a really energetic, smiley lad and always had a great tan. One of these lucky people who only needed to look at the sun and be chestnut brown! The closest I got to speak to him at school was the day his year left and I got to scribble my name and a love heart on the back of his school shirt. I then scuttled away in embarrassment, feeling sad he was leaving. I briefly saw him around in 6th form, still looking very handsome as ever, but then life moved on and we all went our separate ways.
Years later in the early noughties, this thing called Friends Reunited came about. It was new and exciting as you could search for people who you hadn’t seen in years. There was a forum message board where people were talking about their first crushes at school so I casually commented about how I hugely fancied this boy called James, who didn’t know me at all, and how I used to watch him playing cricket, probably with little cartoon love hearts in my eyes. I thought nothing more of it, but then some months later, my email inbox pinged, and it was James saying, “So you used to stalk me eh?” with a wink emoji. There I was, now in my 30’s, my schoolgirl crush had actually acknowledged I existed, and I was blushing so hard sat at my desk at work, that all my colleagues thought it was hilarious. We had a brief spell of emails back and forth mainly just saying what we’d both been doing since school, mostly just chit chat about random stuff. Friends Reunited then kind of morphed into Facebook and we became pals on there too. I didn’t know him that well, or even much about his life as he was very private, but I used to smile at the fact we were “Friends on Facebook”, the odd comments and messages were always funny and warm.
In 2016 my little cat was really poorly with cancer. I’d not corresponded much with James for a few years at that point, mainly just comments on Facebook posts, as you do. But that week when my little cat was ill, James private messaged me to say how much he and his partner were thinking of me, and he hoped Maddy would pull through. He told me they had just got a little cat and he couldn’t imagine the pain of losing her. Sadly I had to have my cat put to sleep later that week, and when she died, he sent me a lovely message of condolence. I never forgot that, and thought, how kind of him to go out of his way to send me, someone he hardly knows, that message. Whilst I didn’t know him that well, it made me see what a genuinely nice guy he was.
In the years after that we corresponded on a few things, and I got to know him a little better. I found out he was a twin (a sister who’d gone to a different school). They were born on Christmas day so I always used to wish him and Jesus a happy birthday every year. I was in his Fantasy Football league the year Leicester took everyone by surprise and won, and he congratulated me when I came top that season. He loved Tenerife and spent a lot of time there, especially after he’d had a bad bike accident and went there to recuperate. He’d discovered Instagram by then and we often commented on each other’s photos. He had a great eye for photography and his holiday photos were always stunning. He went to NYC a year ago and I was so envious as its somewhere I’d love to return to, so I lived vicariously through his photos on his Instagram page. Even only a week or so before Christmas he was still posting funny things on his Facebook page. It just seems surreal that he is no longer around.
I barely knew James on a personal level. So many many others knew him far more than I did, yet I still feel like I’ve lost a good friend and am sad. He was a genuinely lovely, caring guy who still had so much living to do, and he was taken far too suddenly and far too soon. I am so sad for his family, especially his mum and twin sister who are absolutely devastated. His sister’s tribute to him at his funeral was beautiful. I for one, will miss his kindness, humour and wit and I am so glad I got to know him, even in just a small way.
Rest in peace James xx