More than anything I miss the hilarity. The squealing, head thrown back, belly clutching, pants peeing, rolling on the floor, eyes streaming, almost vomiting laughter. There’s nobody I do that with now like that. It started when we were 13 when we found out we had a teacher called Mr. Cock and happened for the last time when we were 49, in the weeks before you died. I was leaning across you as you lay in your bed so I could hear better what you were saying, when suddenly you made choking and gasping noises. As I jumped back horrified, you burst out laughing, your eyes crinkling at the corners and your dry lips peeling back over your teeth. The laughter was weak as were you, and I shouted “Bitch!” at you as we laughed uncontrollably. I can feel it my belly now, and in the twitch at the corners of my mouth.

It’s eight years since you died, peacefully but too soon, and as I predicted, on the full moon. Apart from the hilarity, I miss the truth telling, the secrets of all the “firsts” we shared, the grieving we did for your mother who I loved too, dead kittens, lost loves, babies not ready to be born and all the world’s injustices. We swore oaths, fought, helped each other, cheated in our French exam and experimented with all the things. Our first parent free holiday was a summer beach camping trip where the memories crusted on my skin like the salt of the Southern Ocean. Memories of hilarity, huffs, surfer boys, sunburn, Brandivino and the subsequent vomiting.  Memories of the hopes we had for ourselves and for our future friendship. I miss the safety and solace of a friendship that grew from childhood to beyond middle age.

How can it be eight years since you left? We had long separations when either one of us lived interstate or overseas, but we always came back to each other in exactly the same place. You, living your freedom filled guitar playing life, me with kids and study and social justice work. The joy on your face when I’d turn up at a gig you were playing, having managed to extract myself from my own life for a while. The joy on your face when you met my babies for the first time. You were always ready to love them unconditionally and be their best ever aunty.

I came with you the day you were transferred from hospital to hospice, the ambulance ride another shared “first” for us. “But it’s not the first time we’ve been in a police car together”, you pointed out to the ambulance officer. Laughter. More laughter as you saw your hospice room for the first time, with its garden view and you stated, “this is nice, I could die here”. And the tears when the first palliative care nurse you met had the same name as your mother, and we looked at each other knowing that this was “a sign” and that she was with you for the last part of your journey. The six weeks you lived there, were hard, beautiful and so full of love. Your friends, family and the staff lived your life with you in that room and saved most of our tears for the relatives’ lounge or in my case, the hour-long car trip home.

You planned your own funeral with the help of your music community and when everyone had been assigned their roles you asked what I was going to do. “Me?” I said. And you told me I was “good with words” and that you wanted me to tell everyone about the early years, before everyone else knew you. And it was so important to you that they knew how you were formed, that of course I said yes. And so, on stage at a Melbourne music venue you had so often played, I spoke to the 500 mourners crammed into the room, those spilling out onto the streets and I told them what you were like, what we were like. It was peppered with the word “bitch”, and it was hilarious. I think I did you proud, and you would have approved.

You are the reason I am living my life now in this way. Urgently, like it can be snatched from me at any given moment. After you died, I quit my job to go out on my own as a consultant, and a year ago I moved to France. Not waiting for the right time, not waiting for later, not waiting for permission or anyone’s blessing, but deciding that doing what I wanted to do now, was the most important thing.

I only wish I didn’t arrive here by losing you.

Deborah Nicholson