People do not die in the right order. I never had any faith that they would; I never thought about it very much when I was younger. Now I think about it more than is really healthy.
Annie Beddow – I knew her as Ann, and I don’t quite know why, but I’ll stick with Annie here – who died last week, was my friend and lover in 1994. It wasn’t ever a grand relationship which was going places, and it was, in pretty nearly every sense, an amicable one. We were both at a low-ish ebb at the time, and we helped each other out: she helped me, at any rate. I may not have been much use to her. When the relationship unpicked itself, we saw each other from time to time, bumping into each other in corridors, leaning up against the wall, and she gave me a friendly dose of irony, which was her forte.
She was exceptionally bright, generous with her thoughts and feelings, and at the time – as she told me – I was ‘better than nothing’. I’ve been called a lot worse. We met in strange pubs twice a week and bought each other drinks and played cribbage, at which she was a star. You only had to look at the books she was reading to see that she was always on a quiet quest to push herself further. Not everyone saw her sensitive side at the time, and that was a pity. But they knew her caustic honesty.
Absurdly, I sold her a car, a banger. I wrote a couple of poems she inspired, and which were published; she returned the compliment, although I didn’t see what she’d written until a few months ago. It is hard to say goodbye to someone with whom you’re no longer really in touch. ‘I have no unfinished conversations,’ she wrote. ‘Remember me as a fragment.’
I couldn’t even tell you exactly how old she was: younger than me, anyway. She was settled in herself, married all too briefly last year, did not quite make a first anniversary. You might say I’m not qualified to write about her, but yes, I’ll remember her, and not, as she self-deprecatingly wrote, as a fragment: unless a fragment can be said to be luminous. I learned a lot from her when I needed to learn a lot about the world. I had a lot to thank her for.
Mutual friends have told me how she handled her last few months, which she had been told would be short. She said she had made her peace with everyone, and she lived every day to its limit. She fended pity off. And that was Annie, that was Ann: brave and determined. But far too young.