There were three of us.
In the manner of many siblings we had our own brand of humour that none except us would understand. Ours was irreverent, dark and we found great hilarity in our misfortunes and our woefully unsuccessful love lives. At some point we all felt like misfits and Chris was our leader. He had a rare and transforming smile. It was infectious. So too was his laughter, and it reverberated down through me and Ali as if he were touching an electric fence and we were all holding hands.
He was never made for Marlow, never made for the local grammar school, for sixth form balls, picnics at regatta, university visits. He wasn’t destined to be a doctor or a lawyer or an architect. He liked the rough and tumble of life. He would have been a fish out of water in any of those great British institutions.
Was he always lost? I remember even at primary school when he was called up to collect a certificate he would look surly and unimpressed while the other kids beamed. When my father brought him back from his first rugby session, he reported to my mother, “He spent the entire time staring at a tree.” So somehow I always knew he was different.
Chris had trouble written all over him so it was inevitable that he would find his way to drugs (the many wondrous varieties). He started his journey with weed and then skunk. Later he moved onto cocaine, which became a great favourite. Then there was crime, a three-year prison sentence for a botched robbery and an arson charge to boot. We all laughed about what a hopelessly inept robber he was.
We could not set him on the right path. He would swamp himself with narcotics. He would do anything for a high, but nothing was ever enough. This was difficult for me to understand, the need for something so extreme and sustained. That urge to peddle towards the edge of a cliff. I have been more restrained in my habits, though I have sailed closer to the wind in recent years. And if I am at all reckless or if I do indulge in a habit Chris would have enjoyed, I reason that it brings me closer to the memory of him.
I’m writing this because I feel Chris is largely forgotten to all but his immediate family. Even among the four of us I sometimes suspect that Chris taking his own life was an act of sacrifice – that he wanted to enable us to live a quieter more stable life, free from prison visits, policemen’s calls, stolen cars, stolen TVs. Because we have become something of a horribly functional family unit without him. We banter and joke, and are a freaky little clique. At times I find it unsettling, worry that we are too dependent on each other, having come through adversity. Sometimes I think we don’t talk about him enough.
Chris had his ‘soldiers’, a group of lads from the road who looked up to him. But the friends Chris grew up with fell by the wayside fairly shortly after he became ill. The nature of his illness was completely alienating. He was often totally unreachable. I suspect many people found him intimidating. In the kitchen he would loom up with his shadowy dead eyes, smelling of cigarettes, as if nicotine and tar were leaking from his pores. He was brittle and unapproachable.
So his smile was rare. But it was magnetic. And not many people got to see that much of it.
But Chris was generous, loving and he had to be brave. He was something of a comic genius, great at mimicking characters, great at creating bizarre catchphrases that later became in-jokes. He had a spectacular imagination (of course he did, he was schizophrenic) and he loved animals.
I always wanted him to get better.
So now we are two and it’s hard to explain to people when they ask.
“So it’s just you and your sister?”
Happy birthday bro. Miss you.