Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Brokeback Mountain and Simon

He died on a mountainside,
He died on a cold mountainside.
The city couldn’t hold him,
It’s like he lived just for the ride,
And he was a friend of mine.

    - for Simon.

Tonight we went to see Brokeback Mountain and it was a very good film. It was very authentic; they felt like real people and there was no particular agenda to it. It was a very moving story. For once, though, it wasn’t Brett who did all the crying. The closer the film got to the end, the more it resonated with me and when they played the Bob Dylan song ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’ over the closing credits, I just started dissolving inside.

The verse at the top of the post is one I wrote for the song in memory of my ‘little brother’, Simon, a friend I met at university, who died in a climbing accident in 1998. The Chorus sang it anonymously at the Eclecsis concert in 2004, but I knew who it was for.

He was a very outdoorsy person and I loved him for his good nature and his energy. He was the first really close straight friend I had who knew I was gay before we became close. I was very relieved at how much of a non-event my coming-out to him was; he said he’d known a couple of gay guys at school and that it was no big deal – although he later admitted he’d actually made that up on the spot, so he could make the point that it wasn’t a big deal. We were firm friends throughout university, spending many happy afternoons bunking off in Camperdown Park at the adventure playground, or the beach at Tentsmuir.

We spent the golden days of our youth together and then went our separate ways; he went off to join Operation Raleigh for a while and I went off touring with Saga. Whenever I was in Edinburgh with a group, we’d always meet up for lunch or coffee and I have fond memories of sitting in the big bow window of the Waterstones on Princes Street, looking out at Castle Mount, drinking coffee and catching up on each others’ lives. He went on to work for Motorola and I eventually settled in Folkestone with Saga and we saw each other less.

Then one day my sister called me at work and asked when I’d last spoken to him and I couldn’t remember. She’d seen an obituary in the Dundee University Alumni magazine… I was absolutely gobsmacked when I realised he’d been dead a year and I hadn’t even known; my emails had been getting returned as undeliverable, but it was a work address and he’d been talking about changing jobs the last time we’d met, so I assumed that was all it was and he’d mail when he got round to it. I never thought anything more of it.

By coincidence, I was due to be in Edinburgh a month or so after hearing the news so I had one of the most agonising phone calls of my life as I called his father, whom I knew only slightly, to ask what had happened and where his memorial was.

He’d been climbing on Ben Nevis with a guy he knew; just the two of them roped together and somehow they had fallen. It wasn’t until the following day that the Mountain Rescue Team found them and took the bodies up to Inverness to be identified. He’d only been married for six months.

A few days later his father met me to take me out to his memorial near Bathgate at the Motorola plant where he had worked and we spent over an hour standing there, looking out towards the hills and exchanging stories.

I still find myself experiencing things and feeling sorry that Simon isn’t there to experience them too. He’s missed out on such a lot and he had such a lot to live for. The world is a viciously random place to do that to someone. Most of the time memories of Simon are a warm, nostalgic feeling. Tonight though they are in sharp relief and I miss him dreadfully. I miss the kid brother I never had. He was a friend of mine.

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